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Asylum Seekers

9. Helen Jones (Warrington, North): What assessment he has made of the effect of the employment concession on the total number of applicants for asylum in the UK. [130330]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): We believe that the concession, which has operated since 1986, acts as a pull factor for applicants who wish to find work in this country but do not qualify for asylum. Several other European countries have no such concession to allow asylum seekers to work. We are keeping the need for the concession under review, especially in the light of the substantial progress we are making on speeding up asylum decisions.

Helen Jones: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that, while the employment concession can operate in favour of traffickers by allowing people with unfounded claims to work--often to pay their debts--it is also true that there are many genuine refugees, who need help and support to find work? They have valuable skills that they can contribute to this country. Will she ensure in any review she undertakes that their interests will be protected and that their skills will not be lost to the nation?

Mrs. Roche: I agree with my hon. Friend. We must ensure that we have a firm response to those who, by trafficking and other means, try to undermine the honourable concept of asylum. My hon. Friend is right to mention refugee integration. Later in the year, I hope to announce a full programme for that and to illustrate the wonderful contribution that refugees have made to this country over the decades.

My hon. Friend is also right to highlight the contribution that those seeking to migrate legally to the United Kingdom may make. I am happy to say that tomorrow I shall announce a new innovator scheme to attract people with creative business ideas to the United Kingdom. The scheme will create a route of entry for

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individuals who can bring economic benefits to our country, but do not qualify for entry as entrepreneurs under the existing rules.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I am interested in what the Minister has said because it seems to fly in the face of what the Government are pleased to call joined-up government. My constituents are worried about congestion on our roads, the number of houses that will have to built on the green belt, the great pressure on hospitals--[Interruption.] I am glad that Labour Members find pressure on the hospitals interesting.

Madam Speaker: Order. Let us have the question.

Mr. Robathan: My constituents are worried about the great pressure on hospitals and schools and that, if they are over 45, they cannot get a job. I do not understand how letting more economic migrants into the country is likely to change my constituents' perspective. Will the Minister comment on that?

Mrs. Roche: Clearly the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber without reading the question, which is about the work concession for asylum seekers. I respectfully remind him that the concession was introduced in 1986.

European Convention on Human Rights

10. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): What assessment he has made of the impact the incorporation of the European convention on human rights will have on political parties in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. [130331]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): We do not anticipate that political parties will be covered by the definition of public authorities for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr. Barnes: Is the Minister aware that many United Kingdom citizens, who are correctly on electoral registers, can neither vote for nor join the major political party in this country--the Labour party? I am referring to Northern Ireland. Will not those rights, which the citizens of Northern Ireland lack, be affected, at least indirectly, by the human rights convention? Is not it a good idea for the Labour party to organise in Northern Ireland? That might begin to end some of the sectarian nature of politics in the Province.

Mr. O'Brien: We do not believe that the way in which a political party allocates its membership or decides to organise itself internationally will come under the Human Rights Act.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Can the Minister tell us how the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill will square with freedom of expression--the fundamental tenet of the European Commission of Human Rights--given that, under the Bill, the composition of a Parliament will determine the funding and, therefore, the Labour party could currently spend £9 million on a referendum on the euro, but the

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Conservative party could spend only £5 million? How does that square with the fundamental tenet of freedom of expression and fundamental democracy?

Mr. O'Brien: Legislation has shown that it is possible to regulate the financial operation of elections and that that does not contravene the European convention on human rights. The legislation is clear on such matters, and it also deals with the transparency of the financial affairs of political parties. We want to ensure that we comply with the European convention on human rights--indeed, we will be obliged to do so--and nothing in the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman refers will cause us to breach it.

Hilda Murrell

11. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Pursuant to his answer of 6 July 2000 to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), Official Report, column 299W, on the death of Hilda Murrell, when he expects the investigations by the Forensic Science Service into the remaining forensic evidence in the Hilda Murrell case to be complete. [130332]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): The progress of the investigations by the Forensic Science Service into the remaining forensic evidence in the Hilda Murrell case is a matter for the Forensic Science Service and, of course, the West Mercia constabulary to whom it will report its findings. I understand that the West Mercia constabulary would be happy to brief my hon. Friend on the progress of the investigation.

Mr. Dalyell: I would like to meet them.

Mr. Boateng: I will ensure that such a meeting takes place.

Madam Speaker: That is the sort of exchange I like.

Police Numbers

13. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): If he will make a statement on his projections for police numbers on 1 March (a) 2001, (b) 2002, (c) 2003 and (d) 2004. [130334]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the outcome of Spending Review 2000 for Home Office services on 19 July. We are currently discussing the detailed implications of that announcement for police numbers with the police service. However, we expect that the number of police in March 2002 will exceed that which we inherited in March 1997. Moveover, we expect that, in March 2003, there will be the highest ever number of police officers in this country.

Mr. Paterson: I hope that the Minister is right because, in April 2000, the West Mercia force was 101 policemen down compared with April 1997. Who will train those policemen? West Mercia could recruit 200 officers, but it

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could find only 40 places in the national training college. How does the Minister plan to increase capacity and when will those places be ready?

Mr. Clarke: Places are ready at the moment, but that is precisely the issue that we are discussing with the police service. I am slightly disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge the fact that, last Thursday, West Mercia received £1.158 million of the £15 million special funding for rural areas this year. That will help to increase police numbers.

Gillian Merron (Lincoln): My hon. Friend will be well aware that a further reduction in crime figures in Lincolnshire was announced this month. That, together with the considerable amount of extra Government resources, including extra moneys for rural police forces, will make a career in the police force ever more attractive. Will he consider developing a national strategy of work in schools so that young people consider a career in the police force as a more attractive option to provide a greater number of recruits?

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. I congratulate the Lincolnshire force on beginning to decrease the figures. That is, of course, the test. It is a tribute to all those involved. We shall launch a major national recruitment campaign later this year, including close work in schools of the kind that she recommends. I am glad that we agree with the approach that she suggests.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I welcome the additional money for rural policing that will come to Somerset, but why was Somerset not included in the first place? How will the Minister monitor the adequacy of police resourcing for rural areas in police forces where there are also large urban areas?

Mr. Clarke: Monitoring is an important part of the statistics that we published a week ago. For example, there is a wide variation in crime against the person and so on in the districts in Avon and Somerset. I have the figures in front of me, and the hon. Gentleman has them at his disposal. The purpose of publishing figures at the crime reduction partnership level and at basic command unit level is to allow the kind of informed debate about performance--which is key--to which he refers. I hope that he will join us in trying to drive standards up in the way in which we seek to do.

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