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Home Department

Volume 524: debated on Monday 7 March 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

Immigration System

1. What steps she plans to take to decouple temporary residence from permanent settlement in the immigration system. (44040)

The Government have pledged to break the link between temporary migration and permanent settlement. Settling in Britain should be a privilege to be earned, not an automatic add-on to a temporary way in. We have already announced that we will introduce a new permanent limit on non-EU economic migrants, with a reduction in the number of visas in the next financial year from 28,000 to 21,700, a fall of over 20%. The Government will consult later this year on breaking the link between work and settlement.

My constituents are largely concerned not about people who work here temporarily, but about people who work here for a short time and then can settle permanently. Is there not a case for a review of the criteria for permanent settlement, to try to avoid this kind of practice?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her supplementary question. We will review the entire question of permanent settlement including the criteria for it as part of our review of the whole immigration system. We will make announcements on that shortly, but I can tell my hon. Friend that we have already tightened the settlement criteria in April, by introducing, for example, a new criminality threshold so all applicants must be clear of unspent convictions when applying, a new income requirement for skilled and highly skilled migrants applying for settlement, and reform of the English language requirements.

Regardless of whether applicants are applying for temporary or permanent residence, and of whether they have friends in high places, should we not restrict the admission of foreigners convicted of paedophilia offences?

I understand where the hon. Gentleman is trying to lead his question. Of course there are rules on that offence in relation to exclusions from the United Kingdom. Decisions on exclusions are taken by the Home Secretary on the basis of evidence put forward by the UK Border Agency.

On temporary residence, is it not clear that under the Government’s plans students are welcome to come and study in this country, and, indeed, should be made welcome? However, is it not part of the inheritance of this Government that large numbers of people have used the study route as a means of coming to the country to work, rather than to study? Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that this Government will bear down on bogus students and bogus colleges who abuse the system?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and I am happy to give him precisely that assurance in relation to the stance this Government are taking. It is perfectly clear from the figures that, sadly, all too many people have used the student visa route as a means simply of coming to the UK to work. There are some very good examples of colleges that exist in name only, such as the college that had two lecturers covering 940 students. I hope there is cross-House agreement that that sort of abuse must be stopped, but we do want to ensure that legitimate students wanting to study legitimate courses at legitimate institutions come here.

Is it the Home Secretary’s intention to scrap identity cards for foreign nationals, and if so, how will that assist in preventing individuals who are here on visas from overstaying?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no: the biometric residence permits will continue.

Local Crime and Policing Website

Since its launch on 31 January, our street level crime mapping website has received almost 400 million hits. The website is a strong example of this Government’s commitment to greater transparency in public services, by giving communities the information they need to hold their local police to account.

I have received a number of positive comments on the crime website maps. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans or initiatives to add anything more to them?

Yes, the Government intend to build on the information currently given. There are six trailblazing police forces looking at how this can be done, including Lincolnshire police and West Yorkshire police, who are looking at how we might supply sentencing outcome information so the public know not only that the crime was committed, but what happened afterwards in the criminal justice system.

In the interest of transparency, will the Minister consider adding to the value of the mapping crimes website by including figures on the dozens of police who will not be on the streets because of the huge cuts his Government are imposing on our police forces?

Oh dear, the hon. Gentleman has missed the point. If he looks at the website, he will see that the neighbourhood policing teams are shown alongside the area in which the individual lives. Every force up and down the country is committed to protecting neighbourhood policing, and those officers will remain on the streets for the public as savings are made in the back and middle offices.

Antisocial Behaviour

The Government recently launched a consultation on reforming the toolkit for dealing with antisocial behaviour. The proposals will reduce the bureaucracy, delay and cost that hamper the police and their partners. We are also working to help police forces improve their service to victims by, for example, supporting eight police forces in trialling a new approach to handling calls on antisocial behaviour.

Does my hon. Friend agree that community partnerships and statutory partnerships are key in dealing with antisocial behaviour?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The nature of antisocial behaviour means that the main emphasis in tackling it lies with the police, because much of this behaviour is crime, but other partners, such as community safety partnerships, play an essential role. We support that and it is recognised in the toolkit for civil orders. We have stripped away some of the bureaucracy that got in the way of getting those partners to do the job that they are needed to do.

May I encourage my hon. Friend to liaise with police authorities about deploying safer neighbourhood teams on the basis of places, not artificial ward boundaries, as such an approach would allow coverage to extend into the crucial evening period, when a lot of antisocial behaviour takes place?

There are certainly operational issues associated with the tasking of safer neighbourhood teams. I know from my hon. Friend’s constituency the importance and emphasis that the Mayor of London places on those teams. I am sure that he will have heard clearly the message that my hon. Friend has sent about the importance of discretion at the operational level.

What can be done to engage young people early in order to prevent their engaging in antisocial behaviour?

The issue relating to young people and antisocial behaviour is important. It is also worth recognising that most victims of antisocial behaviour are young people themselves. The Government are focused on intervening early: the early intervention grant, which is worth about £2.2 billion, will support activities to help young people start off in a positive way. Clearly, young people can be victims of antisocial behaviour, which is why it is important that we take action early to prevent it in their communities.

Does the Minister accept that in dealing with adults involved in neighbourhood nuisance, low-level violence and intimidation, antisocial behaviour orders have been an invaluable part of the toolkit? Will he give an assurance that they will continue to be available to police and local authorities seeking to reduce antisocial behaviour?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are consulting on a new toolkit, whereby the tools are reduced in number to five core ones. The problem is that ASBOs have been used less and less and the number of breaches has increased. We are clear about the need for civil orders, which is why we are consulting on the new powers. They are better tailored and will ensure that the civil standard of proof is used to make the orders easier to obtain. They will also be able to put in place positive requirements to break patterns that may lead to antisocial behaviour and crime.

In Bristol, the police have made very good use of the antisocial behaviour legislation—the acceptable behaviour contracts and ASBOs—to tackle kerb crawling and on-street prostitution, which blights the lives of many residents of the Eastville area of my constituency. Can the Minister assure the House that any replacement for the current antisocial behaviour legislation will continue to give the police the powers to tackle this problem?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting that specific example and I hope that her community will take part in the ongoing consultation on the new toolkit, which will last until the middle of May. We are clear that the existing powers remain in place until such time as a new regime is introduced, but we are very focused on it being practical, supporting communities and having the effect that people want it to have in bearing down on antisocial behaviour and the crime that can lead from it.

Can the Minister confirm that more than 10,000 police officers, many of whom are in neighbourhood teams tackling antisocial behaviour, will be cut over the next two years? The Thames Valley police force, which covers the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, said the following about possible local youth centre closures:

“the loss of those services would mean more opportunities for young people to get involved in crime and antisocial behaviour”.

So with cuts to front-line policing and youth services across the country, how exactly does the Minister expect his rebranded, weaker version of the ASBO to maintain progress in combating antisocial behaviour?

I do not accept that this is some sort of weaker tool. There is going to be a more effective suite of tools with which to bear down on antisocial behaviour. Let us not forget that it was the last Labour Home Secretary who suggested that the previous Government had in some way been coasting on antisocial behaviour. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has reminded me that Thames Valley police has said that it will be protecting neighbourhood response teams. It is also worth highlighting that the Mayor of London recognises the importance of safer neighbourhood and community teams and of delivering on the antisocial behaviour agenda.

I do not know whether the Minister has seen “Minority Report” in which precogs predict where and when serious crimes are going to occur, but will he assess a less futuristic and more practical technique that has been advocated by Peter Neyroud, the ex-chief of the National Policing Improvement Agency, and by the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, which could cut reoffending and antisocial behaviour? The technique flags up the criminals who are most likely to reoffend, thereby allowing resources to be concentrated on them and halving prisoner numbers, saving money and improving public safety in the process.

I am not sure whether Philip K. Dick is bedtime reading for Peter Neyroud, but certainly the whole idea of prevention and acting earlier is very much at the heart of the consultation in which we are engaged on antisocial behaviour. I am certainly clear about the role of prevention and the need to act early in breaking patterns of offending before people become too engaged. I will certainly look at the research to which he refers.

Illegal Immigration

6. What further steps she plans to take to control illegal immigration; and if she will make a statement. (44045)

UK Border Agency enforcement officers are continuing to crack down on immigration crime and remove illegal migrants. Our proposals to tackle abuse by foreign nationals using student visas to gain work in the UK, alongside new plans to toughen up marriage and family routes, will further tackle illegal migration into the UK.

As Members of Parliament, we are approached all the time by constituents who want to marry somebody from abroad and it is only humane and right that we should try to help them, but our job is made doubly, even trebly, difficult by the existence of sham marriages. What is my hon. Friend doing to tackle the problem without making the system so bureaucratic for everyone else?

My hon. Friend identifies one of the key loopholes that did exist in the immigration system. Last summer, I asked our enforcement teams to focus on sham marriages, and 53 sham marriage operations were undertaken, resulting in 126 arrests. Between November and January, a further 86 operations followed that up, focusing on sham marriages, with an additional 29 arrests. This has been one of the big loopholes in our immigration system, but we are becoming ever more effective in closing it.

In seeking to strike the right balance on student visas, will the Minister and the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that they will listen carefully to the representations of universities in the UK, including mine in Exeter, and of our reputable language schools, which say that the current proposals would be devastating to their sector and to the economy as a whole?

We are indeed speaking to many universities and listening to their representations, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has met the vice-chancellor of Exeter university. I am sure that when our proposals are put forward, universities will discover that they defend the rights of legitimate students to come here to study legitimately at legitimate institutions. At the same time, we will also crack down on the huge and widespread abuse of the student visa.

Which three countries are responsible for the largest number of illegal immigrants into Britain and what specific steps are being taken with those countries to take those people back when they are caught?

By definition, illegal immigrants do not go through the system, so it is quite difficult to give accurate figures about where they come from, but we know the main routes by which people come into the country, one of which is from Asia, through Turkey into Greece. We are working very hard with both the Greek and Turkish Governments to stop that route and minimise the problem. One of the most effective things we are doing is improving our border controls at Calais, which mean that the number of people who are identified as coming across illegally into Britain is now running at about a third of the level it was 18 months ago. That is a significant strengthening of our border defences.

Any action to control illegal immigration depends upon a properly staffed and effective border agency which can both detect and remove illegal immigrants. With cuts of 20% and job losses of 5,200 for the UK Border Agency, detection and enforcement officers are already warning that their work is being undermined. The Government are talking tough on illegal immigration. Is the Minister sure that the Home Secretary has given him the resources to deliver?

Yes, absolutely. The hon. Lady will, of course, recognise that the reason there must be cuts in public services is the appalling state of the public finances that her Government left us with. We are confident that by using technology, better intelligence and flexible working, we can maintain and improve levels of border security with fewer staff. I invite her to consider the example of Calais. We can now check 1.5 million lorries a year, and in the past year we have found just over 9,700 individuals trying to cross illegally, compared to just over 29,000 in 2009, so the new system that we are operating does work.

Police Forces (Paperwork)

The Government are committed to reducing bureaucracy. We are scrapping the stop-and- account form, and reducing the amount of information to be recorded on the stop-and-search form. Doing those two things saves up to 800,000 man-hours a year. We are returning certain charging decisions to the police. That will save up to a further 50,000 man-hours per year. We are working with the police to sweep away a further range of the red tape that prevents officers doing what they and the public want them to do—getting out on the streets and cutting crime.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past 14 months the Wiltshire police force has undergone four separate inspections by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary lasting three working weeks and costing the force £60,000, and no meaningful recommendations have been made as a result? Does she intend to reform this box-ticking regime to cut the burdens of police bureaucracy and paperwork still further?

I was not aware of the specific figures for Wiltshire. I realise that this is an issue. That is why the Policing Minister has been working with HMIC on reducing the bureaucratic burdens of the inspection regime by ensuring that we maintain an effective inspection regime, and he will inform the House on this matter in due course.

I commend my right hon. Friend on her efforts to improve on the just 11% of time that the police are visible to the general public, but may I press her on what actions she will take to reduce the unnecessary amount of time that police officers spend in court, especially as delays continue to be endemic?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. In looking at saving police time so that they can do the job that we want them to do, we need to look across the whole of the criminal justice system. That is what I am doing, together with the Justice Secretary, the Attorney-General and the Policing Minister, who is also a Minister in the Ministry of Justice.

I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to reducing police bureaucracy. As she knows, in October last year Jan Berry published her report and made 32 recommendations. How many of those recommendations have now been implemented? Will the Home Secretary continue Jan Berry’s term of office so that this is not just a one-off piece of research, but a continuing monitoring of the bureaucracy in our police service?

Jan Berry did a valuable piece of work looking at bureaucracy in policing. We have already implemented a number of the recommendations that came out of that. I have referred to the restoration of some charging decisions down to local police, the more proportionate approach to inspections, and revising the police performance development reviews. We are taking the work forward in a slightly different way. There is a programme board led by Chris Sims, the chief constable of west midlands, which is working with the Home Office and identifying further areas of bureaucracy that can be scrapped.

Police Numbers (Greater Manchester)

It is a matter for the chief constable and the police authority to determine the number of police officers that are deployed by Greater Manchester police within the available resource.

Crime levels went down under the previous Government. That is a well known fact. The chief constable of Greater Manchester estimates that around 1,500 officers will be lost because of the cuts. Can the Government justify that?

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that there are also 4,000 police staff working in Greater Manchester police. There was a huge increase in the number of police staff employed by police forces under the previous Government. The chief constable of Greater Manchester police said in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that

“there was already a recognition, certainly in Greater Manchester Police, that some of our headquarters operations had got too big.”

Forces can and must make savings in back and middle offices while protecting the front line.

The Minister has not really responded to the real issue on this. Will he tell the House unequivocally—and repeat his view—that when we see the number of police officers reduced in Greater Manchester, as we will, it will have no impact on crime?

We are absolutely determined to maintain efficient and effective forces, and every chief constable I meet, including the chief constable of Greater Manchester, makes the same point. The chief constable said last week, after being misquoted on the matter:

“We need to have an intelligent debate about the cuts and see the opportunities, not just the threats.”

The Government insist that it is possible to cut 10,000 police posts nationally, and up to 1,500 in Manchester. I should point out to the Minister that they also plan to cut nearly 1,600 back-office staff. We know from an answer that Baroness Neville-Jones gave in the House of Lords that there is no formally agreed definition of front-line police services. If those are not cuts to front-line police services, we would like to know what they are. Can the Minister get to the Dispatch Box and tell us exactly what the definition of police front-line service is, because if he cannot, how can he protect them?

I have defined it on a number of occasions, including in a written answer. Let me repeat it for the hon. Gentleman: front-line policing

“includes neighbourhood policing, response policing and criminal investigation.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 194W.]

There can be savings in the back and middle offices, as at least a third of all spending is in those areas. If he thinks that there is no definition of front-line policing, how can he be so confident that there will be cuts in the front line? His position is nonsense.

Immigration Bail Conditions

12. If she will bring forward proposals to change immigration bail conditions to make them consistent with proposed conditions for control orders. (44051)

The Government see no need to review the range of bail conditions that may be imposed in immigration cases. We will continue to seek bail conditions that enable us to manage the threat posed by the individual. These will vary from case to case.

I hear that answer, but how can it be right that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission is able to impose conditions on people, perhaps those who have been granted indefinite leave to remain, on charges that are not disclosed to them, that restrict their communications and movement and force relocation, conditions that the Government say are unacceptable in control orders? How can that be right for people in those circumstances?

SIAC deals primarily with cases where an individual poses a threat to national security, so we must take all the issues surrounding those individual cases extremely seriously. As such, SIAC sets bail conditions that it considers necessary to control any risk of absconding and the threat posed to national security, whether or not the individual absconds. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that SIAC has enormous responsibilities and takes them very seriously in each individual case.

I agree with the question from the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller). Will the Minister go one step further than is being suggested and make both immigration bail conditions and the conditions for control orders more like regular bail conditions?

My hon. Friend will recognise what I have just said about SIAC, which you will be pleased to hear that I will not repeat, Mr Speaker. The conditions for immigration bail and for control orders, and for the regime that will replace control orders, have rather different surrounding contexts than the setting of normal bail conditions, so it is entirely reasonable for SIAC to come to different conclusions and have different powers.

Student Visas

We are considering the responses we received following closure of the recent consultation on reform of the student immigration system, which closed on 31 January. We are concluding our analysis of responses and will announce future plans for the student system in due course.

I thank the Minister for his reply. May I press him to reassure legitimate English language schools, such as the Winchester School of English in my constituency, which he has visited, and higher education institutions, including the university of Winchester, that new B2 English entry level requirements will not wipe out a critical source of their respective revenues?

My hon. Friend is right: I have visited that language school in his constituency and admired its work. One proposal in the consultation was to raise the English language requirement from B1 to B2, because we believe it is right that students should have a good command of English to complete their course. In responses to the consultation, universities and others have expressed concern about that proposal, and we are considering those representations as well as the many others that we have received.

Does the Minister recognise that, if the changes to student visa entry requirements are wrong, it will have a devastating impact on our universities and other educational institutions?

I recognise, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, that we need to strike the right balance so that the brightest and best students can come to this country and benefit it both in the short and the long term. At the same time, however, we recognise that we need to crack down on the many abuses of the student visa system under the previous Government, which have led to the widespread lack of confidence in our immigration system. Of course we need to strike a balance between those two demands, and we are confident that we will do so.

May I suggest to the Minister that all he has to do to deal with the unintended consequences of the proposals is to look at the findings and recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament? All problems would be dealt with.

It is a universal truth that reading Home Affairs Committee reports always leads to greater enlightenment. I have read the relevant report, and I always absorb the Committee’s reports, but I will redouble my efforts to ensure that I am familiar with every last detail of every report.

We all agree with the Home Secretary that bogus colleges should be closed, and most seem to be in the private sector. She and the Immigration Minister will know that further education colleges’ fee income from foreign students is £42 million, with a contribution to the economy of £80 million. We have 184 colleges that are registered as highly trusted sponsors, with more than 20,000 international students. When can they expect to know what will happen about non-degree courses? It does and will affect the budgets not only of colleges, but of universities.

The hon. Gentleman is right that the main abuse that we have found has been in private sector colleges at below-degree level, which is why one principal proposal on which we have consulted is that nobody will be able to offer a course at below-degree level unless they become a highly trusted sponsor. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, on the whole, public sector bodies that apply for highly trusted sponsorship obtain it successfully, but many private sector bodies do not have such status, and that is one key distinction that we need to maintain—that only people whom we can trust to do the job properly should be enabled to bring foreign students to this country.

Police (Complaints)

16. What assessment she has made of the trends in levels of complaints against police forces in England and Wales in the most recent period for which figures are available; and if she will make a statement. (44055)

The police complaints statistics for 2009-10, published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, show an 8% increase in recorded complaints against the police in England and Wales over the previous year. It is right that citizens should feel able to hold the police to account for the service they provide, and improving police accountability is a top priority of this Government.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary. May I raise a matter that I have raised with the authorities before, which is about the practice of kettling, first, at the G20 demonstrations, then at the student demonstrations last autumn and, even, on new year’s eve, when dealing with crowd control? Does she have any further thoughts that she can share with the House on how the increasing number of complaints about the practice can be dealt with in an effective and long-term manner?

Of course, within the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, we are putting forward some proposals to enhance the complaints procedure against the police, and we have been doing that work in consultation and discussions with the IPCC. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will also be interested to know that the senior officer in the Metropolitan police with responsibility for public order has recently made several announcements about how containment will be dealt with in future, making it clear that, should containment take place, toilets and water will indeed be provided, and that an individual will be available on site to ensure that those who are vulnerable or wish to leave are able to leave such areas.

Human Trafficking

Combating human trafficking, including the sexual exploitation of women and girls, is a key priority for the Government. We are committed to tackling organised crime groups who profit from this human misery, and to protecting victims. We are due to publish our new strategy on human trafficking in the spring.

Will my hon. Friend make sure that the review deals with trafficked children who are placed in local authority care, where one would hope they would be safe, only to go missing and often to be re-trafficked? That is an appalling state of affairs. I hope that she can give me some reassurance that the review will deal with this very distressing aspect of trafficking in the United Kingdom.

Yes, the Government acknowledge the difficult and important issue of children going missing from local authorities. At a national level, we are strengthening the arrangements in place to support vulnerable young people by placing the national strategic policing responsibility for missing children within the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. In fact, its thematic review deals explicitly with the issue of trafficked children going missing from local authorities.

But does the Minister agree that if we were to adopt the European directive on human trafficking, which specifically provides for a guardian for trafficked children, that would be a real step in protecting the children to whom the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) referred?

At the moment, local authorities are, in particular, employing good practice around the use of interpreters and making sure that the places where children are placed are kept secret. As I may have mentioned before in this House, we are looking closely at the text of the European directive and considering its merits, and if we conclude that opting into it would benefit the UK, we will apply to do so.

Police Numbers (Crime Levels)

20. What research her Department has commissioned and evaluated on any relationship between numbers of police officers and levels of crime. (44059)

The Government believe that police forces can make savings while protecting the front line. We do not accept that reducing costs will cause an increase in crime. What matters is how resources are used and how officers are deployed.

The Minister will know that in south Wales we have already seen the announcement that 250 front-line police officers will lose their jobs. When I attended a meeting a couple of weeks ago with our police authority, it warned that a further 320 front-line officers could lose out as a result of the cuts. Is the Minister seriously telling the people of Wales that crime will not increase as a result of that enormous loss in front-line policing capacity?

I do not accept that the reductions in head count in that police force or in any other will impact on the front line, and I very much doubt that the chief constable would agree with that. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what the Home Affairs Committee concluded in its recent report:

“We accept that there is no simple relationship between numbers of police officers and levels of crime. The reduction in the police workforce need not inevitably lead to a rise in crime.”

That is a cross-party Committee.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that this is about how police forces are deploying their officers. In North Yorkshire, we have a particular problem with rural crime. I would be most grateful if he would meet me and other rural Members to discuss this issue. Farms and farm property, in particular, are being trashed because we simply do not have enough cover in rural areas.

I would of course be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue. I understand the importance of dealing with crime in rural areas just as we must deal with crime elsewhere. The police cannot act alone, and it is very important that there are effective partnerships with, for instance, the farming community so that, where possible, there can be a concerted effort to deal with this problem.

Human Trafficking

In September, in defending the Government’s failure to opt into the European Union directive, the Prime Minister said:

“We have put everything that is in the directive in place.”—[Official Report, 15 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 873.]

At the same time, he implied that the directive is not in our national interest. Is it not the case that it is both squarely in our national interest and goes beyond the measures that we already have in place? Will she therefore take the opportunity of the 100th anniversary of international women’s day to commit to this House that the Government will sign up to the European directive when they get the opportunity?

I thank the hon. Lady, but not for the first time I repeat that we are looking at the directive’s text and considering its merits. If we conclude that opting into the directive will benefit the UK, we will consider doing so.

The question refers to the date on which the new policy on human trafficking will be announced. I congratulate the Government on recognising the need to change the policy, but may I urge a big society solution? While the policy is being considered and drafted, perhaps the key non-governmental organisations could be involved in co-operating—not just consulted—so that the overall policy is a big-society solution.

I thank my hon. Friend. Indeed, the Minister for Immigration met those organisations recently and I have no doubt that we will take that forward. Our common-sense and extensive strategy will try to prevent trafficking in the country of origin, do more on the border to stop it coming in and, if it is in this country, do more with policing.

Asylum Improvement Project

The Home Secretary and I, and our officials, have discussed aspects of the asylum improvement project with a number of corporate partners. The National Asylum Stakeholder Forum, the Scottish Asylum Stakeholder Forum and the Still Human Still Here coalition have also discussed the project recently.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will he establish pilot schemes and where exactly are they likely to be?

We have established a number of pilot schemes already. There is one in the north-west concentrating on using early intervention to help asylum claimants. We have set up the early legal advice project in the west midlands, and a project to attempt to improve the flow of decision making in London. If those pilots are successful, we will of course move them on to a national scale.

Student Visas

This morning, I met a young Chevening scholar from Iraq who is studying for an MSc in engineering and robotics at Sussex university. He is hoping to go back to his country to make a contribution when he has completed his degree course. Will my hon. Friend confirm that we want as many overseas students like that young man as possible to come to the UK, because they enrich our university life and take the skills and knowledge that they acquire back to their home countries when they complete their courses? Will he confirm that while seeking to achieve that, we also want to bear down on the abuses of sham institutions that have been set up to bring about immigration abuses?

I think the hon. Gentleman is gearing up for an Adjournment debate on this subject. I do not know why he gave such a full question, but it was very helpful and we are grateful to him.

As ever, I agree completely about the helpfulness of my hon. Friend’s question. He presents the House with an extremely good example of what should happen, in that a foreign student came here to learn on a high-quality course and to develop skills that he can take back to his country. As is crucial, he is planning to leave at the end of his course. That is precisely the sort of thing that benefits our university system and brings confidence in the immigration system. What does not do that is students coming here and simply staying. Published information shows that of the students who came here in 2004, more than 20% were still here five years later in 2009. That is the kind of thing that we must investigate, to establish whether those people are still genuine students or are just exploiting the system to work in this country.

Last week, the Minister for Universities and Science told the Home Affairs Committee that he wanted foreign students to come to this country, but admitted that he found Government policy in the area “fuzzy”. The Select Committee was told on the same day by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), that he wanted a cut in immigration but an increase in the number of students coming from Latin America. What exactly is the Government’s policy on the future of the student visa entry system?

Under the student visa scheme, we want good students to come here to study genuine courses at genuine institutions. Under the previous Government, of whom the hon. Gentleman was such a distinguished supporter for so long, the student visa system became the single biggest loophole in an already chaotic immigration system. That is why we are having to deal with it. It is significantly the biggest route of immigration into this country—about 60% of visas are issued for students. That is why it is so important that this Government get a grip on the failures of the previous Government.

Topical Questions

The Home Office is committed to protecting the public and to freeing up the police to fight crime more effectively and efficiently. The House will shortly consider the remaining stages of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which is aimed at empowering the public to hold the police to account for their role in cutting crime, before it moves to consideration in another place. Tomorrow, Tom Winsor will publish the first part of his independent review of police pay and conditions, which will help to ensure that police forces can protect jobs and keep officers on the streets.

Will the Secretary of State join me in praising Greater Manchester police, Rochdale council staff and community mediators who managed an English Defence League demonstration in Rochdale this weekend extremely effectively? It was clearly shown that Rochdale residents stayed away from the protest and that our town has no appetite for the EDL.

I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the work of the Greater Manchester police and the professionalism that they showed in dealing with the EDL march that took place in Rochdale at the weekend. It is in keeping with responses from police forces up and down the country to such marches. I understand that the policing operation was a success and that the demonstration took place with minimum disruption. I also join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the work of not only the local authority but the Rochdale community and the approach it took to ensure that the protest was largely peaceful and that there was co-operation, tolerance and restraint from community leaders.

T2. With many councils claiming cuts in their Supporting People grants, what action will the Government take to monitor the provision of vital services, and what leadership will they give in providing services nationally? (44066)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Central Government have sent a clear message about the importance and vulnerability of the sector. To send that message and set an example, we have ring-fenced £28 million of funding for violence against women services. We hope and expect that councils will follow suit.

Last week, the Home Secretary confirmed to the House that under her new arrangements, someone who is barred from working with children could still get a job as a voluntary teaching assistant without the school or the parents knowing that they were barred. Now that she has had a few days to think about it and about how concerned parents will be, has she changed her mind?

I think what matters for parents is the decisions that are made about individuals who play any part in dealing with their children, in a school or any other setting. As I made clear to the right hon. Lady last week, information that informs the decisions on barring will be available as part of the check that I would expect employers to make in such circumstances. We have a simple view: employers must take some responsibility for ensuring that they make the appropriate checks and judgments about who should be involved in dealing with children.

The right hon. Lady said last week that employers would get “exactly the same information” as the barring authorities. However, Home Office officials have told some people in the charities something rather different. Will she therefore confirm whether employers will be given “exactly the same information” as the barring authorities? If so, why not give them the barring authorities’ expert recommendation about whether someone should be barred? Parents want to know that the teaching assistant in their child’s classroom has not been previously barred by the experts from working with children. Safeguarding children is too important to have such loopholes. I urge her to listen to the experts and think again.

Of course safeguarding children is important—we all have that as top priority. Of course, the regime that is in place will in future cover those who deal with vulnerable adults as well as children. That is important. The information that informs a decision on barring will be available as part of the check so that a decision can be made. However, as the right hon. Lady has raised a query about that, I am happy to write to her with the detail on it so that she will have that to inform her questions in future.

T3. On a similar theme, law-abiding volunteers and employees in Bedford and Kempston are quite fed up with having to get a new Criminal Records Bureau check each time they change jobs. Can the Home Secretary tell me how those checks will change to avoid that ridiculous duplication that so debilitates so many volunteers and employees? (44067)

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Many people write to me about the problem of having a new CRB check on each occasion. The new system will make the check portable. An employer will be able to go online to see whether an individual, who will have a unique number, ever had any information on them and whether anything has changed since they first had a check. That will make the whole system simple and quick, which will encourage volunteering, which is part of the purpose.

T4. Given media reports that police patrols are being scaled back because of the price of fuel and that Gwent police spend £4 million on their car fleet, including fuel, what action are the Government taking to help our local police officers to keep their patrols on the road? (44068)

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman’s question is about fuel prices, which are not a matter for me, or taxation, or patrols. I repeat, however, that we are committed to working with police forces to maintain, and indeed to improve, the visibility and availability of police officers on patrol by making savings elsewhere in police forces.

T8. At this difficult economic time, what steps is the Minister taking to make it as straightforward as possible for British businesses to take on highly skilled foreign workers, albeit under the auspices of the immigration cap? (44072)

As my hon. Friend knows, we are introducing a new system for tier 1 and tier 2 for work-based visas, and at the same time we are speeding up the visa both for businesses and for more general visitors. The biggest single complaint has been about the delays in the issuing of visas. I am happy to assure him that we are concerned about that. We are already beginning to see improvements, so that in many of the key markets where we need to operate our visa system is working better than ever before, and we are meeting our service standards.

T5. When responding to an earlier question on the trafficking strategy, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), said that it would include elements of prevention, action on the border and policing. Does she recognise that a very important element of any anti-trafficking strategy is victim care, and that victim care is usually provided by voluntary organisations? The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), the chair of the all-party group on human trafficking, spoke of a big society solution. Can we have a big society participation in the anti-trafficking strategy? (44069)

I think we would encourage the big society to get involved at all levels, but as the hon. Lady says, victim care is extremely important. We are providing accommodation and advocacy and all the things that are necessary to help the unfortunate victims of trafficking out of their terrible situation.

The previous Government’s figures demonstrate that only one hour in seven was spent on patrol by the average patrol officer. Given the Government’s anti-bureaucracy reforms, will the Home Secretary advise us on her view of the number of hours the average patrol officer will spend on the beat?

We are absolutely clear, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said in response to a previous question, that we want the visibility and availability of police officers to increase and improve. The latest figures from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary show that 11% of officers are visible and available at any one time—[Interruption.] Before we get chuntering from Opposition Members, that is not to say that other police officers are wasting their time—of course they are not—but visibility and availability need to improve.

T6. Hundreds of my constituents have signed a petition supporting the reopening to the public of Sowerby Bridge police station. Will the Minister urgently consider the matter, because it is at the very heart of the community and would play a huge role in preventing and tackling crime in the area? (44070)

We do not directly control whether police stations are open—that is a matter for the chief constable and the police authority—but there are other ways in which the police can improve their visibility to the public. For instance, they can set up bases in supermarkets. It is not just about buildings; they can also share facilities with other organisations. However, these are matters for chief constables to decide as they find effective ways to be visible in their communities.

In the past six weeks, the Minister for Immigration has answered about 50 statistical questions from Members, including me. I say “answered”, but in two thirds of these cases, it was not possible for him to provide sound information, either because the data were not recorded or because they were not quality assured and may not have withstood typical audit scrutiny. What assessment has he made of the quality of management information in the UK Border Agency?

I am not sure that my hon. Friend is exactly right. Where an answer makes it clear that the information is management information, it simply means that the data are not Office for National Statistics-quality statistics. However, those answers will include statistical information, even though it might be slightly rough and ready, precisely because I am determined, when we have the information available, to make it available to hon. Members as part of the Government’s commitment to transparency.

T7. Northumbria police force is losing more than 1,000 jobs, including 300 front-line police. As a result, young recruits promised a job last year have now been told that those jobs are no longer available. What guarantee, therefore, can the Secretary of State offer to the people of the north-east that crime will not rise as a result of the cuts? Furthermore, how can she reassure those who have worked so hard to win a job that they will be prioritised— (44071)

I refer the hon. Lady to the response given by the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to an earlier question on this matter. The Government have made it absolutely clear that there is no simple link between levels of crime and the number of police officers. Indeed, that view has been supported by a report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs.

Will the Minister responsible for antisocial behaviour assure me—in relation to the review he will be conducting—that when antisocial behaviour is aggravated by the victim’s disability, it will be taken into account when considering the severity of the disposal?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting this issue, which is at the heart of the call handling pilots launched at the start of the year to identify vulnerability, and to ensure that there is better join-up between the police, local authorities and the health service in order to ensure that where there are specific issues, they are identified more speedily and more effectively. Bullying and intimidation linked to disabilities are utterly reprehensible and unacceptable, and the system needs to improve to identify where these problems are occurring.

T9. Will the Minister inform the House of when his Department intends to review the current definition of an air weapon under the Firearms Act 1968? (44073)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Home Affairs Committee has produced its report on firearms generally. We are still considering the issue and will respond to the report in due course.

Residents of Hastings and Rye warmly welcome the additional information from the crime and policing website, but is the Home Secretary aware of the additional service it provides to women who may be coming home late at night and might feel vulnerable? That is particularly important ahead of international women’s day tomorrow.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. I am pleased to tell her that I was able to join the Prime Minister in meeting a group of readers from Company magazine recently who were raising exactly the problems of women walking home at night. I was able to point them to the crime maps as a useful tool.

T10. Will the Minister confirm that the police officers working in Northumbria force’s public protection units dealing with serious crime such as child abuse and domestic crime are classified as front-line police officers? (44074)

This morning I attended the opening of the Kingswood one-stop shop, which includes a fixed police presence. It is the first time that the police have had a base in Kingswood since the previous Government closed the local police station. Will the Minister commend South Gloucestershire council and Avon and Somerset police for their collaborative working to ensure that front-line services are protected, and further consider how police authorities and local councils can work together to ensure that services are shared for public benefit?

I thank my hon. Friend. That provides a very good example of innovative ways of working that can increase the visibility of policing, and the co-operation between the police force and other agencies provides a perfect example of the way we need to go.

When asked to justify the cuts to policing in Greater Manchester, the Minister for Policing, and Criminal Justice said that cuts could be made to the back office. May I tell him that at least 1,600 police staff are being made redundant in Greater Manchester on top of the 1,377 uniformed officers? I ask him again how he can justify that.

We are looking to police forces first and foremost to take cuts in the back office, but that is not just about individuals; it is about improving procurement and collaborating with other forces to make savings. Significant sums of money—hundreds of millions of pounds—can be saved by better procurement, better IT services and collaboration between forces.

It is clear from my own experience of Leeds Rhinos and its legal firm Chadwick Lawrence that the current immigration system for foreign international sports people is inherently biased against rugby league players. Will the Minister meet me and representatives of the Rugby Football League to look at the criteria, so that this problem—

I would, of course, be happy to be enlightened about the immigration system as it affects rugby league.