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Police (New Technology)

6. Mr. Tipping: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how he intends to fund developments in new technology to free police officers from paperwork and administrative duties. [18987]

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The Minister of State, Home Office ( Mr. David Maclean): The development of new technology for the police service is one of my highest priorities and resources are being provided accordingly. The private finance initiative has a major part to play in bringing forward new systems which will streamline the administrative burden on the police.

Mr. Tipping: Is this not a Government who have piled one lot of paperwork on top of another through successive Criminal Justice Acts? Is this not a Government who have cut the number of police officers by 186 between September 1992 and March 1995? Is this not a Government who plan to cut capital expenditure next year by £23 million? Are those not prime examples of the Government saying one thing but doing another?

Mr. Maclean: That was a prime example of an hon. Member being handed a question which he did not understand and reading it out verbatim. If he bothers to look at the facts, he will find that we are revolutionising police work by new systems--[Hon. Members: "Reading."] If the hon. Gentleman bothers to look at the facts, he will see that we are revolutionising police work by the introduction of the new national automated fingerprint identification system, NAFIS, costing £100 million; of the Phoenix police national computer, also at enormous cost; and of the new digital radio systems for the police, on which development work is proceeding apace, which will cost about £500 million. All in all, we have spent £750 million on police technology during the past five years and we expect to spend the same during the next five years.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that detailed and helpful response to the original question. Does he accept that closed circuit television is also a new technology, the installation of which in town centres can be of immense benefit to the police in reducing and deterring crime? Will my right hon. Friend consider sympathetically an application that is shortly to be submitted to his Department by Macclesfield borough council and the Cheshire constabulary for the installation of closed circuit television in Macclesfield, a development that is widely supported by retailers, local people and their Member of Parliament?

Mr. Maclean: The people of Macclesfield have no better advocate for their CCTV system than my hon. Friend. We are not just sympathetic to CCTV technology; we have positively encouraged it, with the £5 million of taxpayers' money that we put into the scheme last year and the £15 million that we are putting into it this year. With the future promises of expenditure on CCTV, we believe that we can have a further 10,000 CCTV cameras around Britain.

Mr. Winterton: And in Macclesfield?

Mr. Maclean: We shall consider carefully all applications, including that from Macclesfield, and the hundreds of others that I expect to receive.

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7. Mr. Madden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what date he received from the Foreign Secretary his decision supporting India as a candidate for designation as a country where there is in general no serious risk of persecution. [18988]

Miss Widdecombe: It is not the practice to disclose ministerial correspondence between Departments, but I can confirm that the proposal to designate India and the other six countries, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred on Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, represents the joint view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Madden: Is it not extraordinary that the Government are so reluctant to reveal when the Foreign Secretary confirmed that India was to be a candidate for designation and that the Home Office and the Foreign Office have still not published the information on which that decision has been taken? Bearing in mind the reports of Amnesty International and Asia Watch that systematic and serious human rights violations are taking place in virtually every state in the Indian union, a popular insurrection has been under way in Kashmir since 1990 and serious human rights violations take place on an almost daily basis in Punjab, is that not an extraordinary scenario, in which neither the Home Secretary nor the Foreign Secretary can say that this is a country where there is no general risk of persecution?

Miss Widdecombe: It has never been the case that where a country is declared to be generally safe, we say that there is therefore no risk whatever to any individual within that country. We have made it clear, and I should like to make it clear again, that individual applications for asylum will be treated on their merits and that it will not be the case that, just because an applicant comes from a designated country, the application will therefore be refused in every circumstance. Even at the moment, from those countries from which we refuse a high percentage of applications--98 to 99 per cent.--a small number still get through. We would not expect that position to change.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes: Will my hon. Friend confirm that, while those who have a good case for asylum--even though their country is on the designated list--will be received into Britain as, rightly, they always have been, many of my constituents with ties and family in India will greatly resent the inference of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) that India is not a friendly, democratic country and one with which we should have good relations?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I can only echo what he said. The designated list is designed to enable us to deal with countries that produce a large number of applications, of which a large percentage are found to be without foundation, and which are generally recognised as safe. That does not--I say this again because I do not want any misunderstanding on this point--negate the individual claimant's right to have his or her claim fully and properly considered.

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Mr. Khabra: I fully understand the concerns, rattlings and prejudice of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) about the Indian situation. Does the Minister agree that Pakistan's treatment of minorities is worse--the country that my hon. Friend blindly supports?

Miss Widdecombe: I can only repeat that if individuals from Pakistan, India or any other country on the list can make a case that shows that they individually have a well-founded fear of persecution, they will be looked after according to our time-honoured tradition of being a haven.

Crime Prevention Initiatives

8. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action his Department is taking to improve the co-ordination and promotion of crime prevention initiatives. [18989]

Mr. Maclean: A new Crime Prevention Agency has been set up to promote the co-ordination of crime prevention strategy and the effective delivery of crime prevention initiatives on the ground where it really matters.

Mr. Bellingham: Does the Minister agree that, although it is essential that no effort is spared in catching and bringing criminals to justice, crime prevention is still very important? Is he aware that in King's Lynn a comprehensive CCTV scheme is now in place and that it has already had a remarkable impact in reducing crime? Will he join me in paying tribute to the borough council, the police and local business men who got the scheme off the ground? Further to the characteristically robust question that was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), I suggest that he contacts the borough council in King's Lynn to find out how it is done.

Mr. Maclean: The last suggestion of my hon. Friend might be rather dangerous. Our hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) does not need to do that; he can get the Home Office guide, which we have helpfully produced so that all who wish to install CCTV can see how it is done. I believe that it quotes the example of King's Lynn, which is famous for its success in CCTV. Of course, CCTV is not only in King's Lynn but in Fakenham, Norwich, Breckland and the Breckland five towns of Thetford, Dereham, Attleborough, Swaffham and Watton.

We are not pushing ahead with just CCTV. Crime prevention is crucial. The Crime Prevention Agency is pushing ahead with initiatives on secured car parks and initiatives to reduce car crime, lorry theft and theft of heavy plant and equipment, and is looking at all aspects of technology in the fight against crime.

Mr. Cohen: Is it not time to tighten up with stringent mental health and suitability checks before any application for a gun licence is approved?

Mr. Maclean: We should first wait to find out the full facts before any hon. Member jumps to conclusions about what the solutions may be in future. All I can say, judging by the information that I have had so far--we should

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await the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland today--and having looked at the recommendations of the Firearms Consultative Committee, is that I have not seen anything that could have prevented yesterday's tragedy. All of us, as legislators and politicians, should be humble enough to accept that some things may be beyond our ability to solve or control.

Dame Jill Knight: May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that on top of all the very important initiatives that have already been placed on record by the Home Secretary, it is also important to have one more try with the BBC, with those who produce films and videos and, in particular, those who license them, because there seems no doubt that they have a copy-cat effect in many cases? May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the film "Natural Born Killers" should not just be temporarily placed back but be put in the waste bin for ever?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend has made a characteristically correct point, which the House should consider carefully. Comment overnight has tended to focus on weapons and their availability and use, but perhaps we should also look at the beginning of the cycle, and ask what makes someone want to commit such an act in the first place. I have read in history books that many people returned from the first and second world wars with a lot of weapons, but only in the past 20 years, during which films and television have shown violence of this nature, have such incidents taken place.

Again, however, it may be dangerous for us to speculate in that way until the facts have been fully established. For the moment, I prefer to console the bereaved, and to offer them our sincere condolences, and our prayer that they may one day discover peace.

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