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The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): Compared with the first quarter of 1999, applications from Chinese nationals have increased by 180 per cent. in the first quarter of this year.
Ms Russell: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Earlier this year, I visited China with a number of parliamentary colleagues and, at first hand, we heard from our embassy and consular staff of the amazing demand
Mrs. Roche: We are having continuing discussions with our colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but, as the House will know, there are difficulties with the way in which the Chinese Government carry out redocumentation. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to refer to the civil penalty, which has been very successful, and the appalling tragedy at Dover. We must make a concerted effort to combat that evil trade and the civil penalty is playing its part: since implementation, the number of clandestine entrants arriving through south-east Kent has dropped by 23 per cent. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will now drop her opposition to the civil penalty.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): The Minister will be aware that Britain is being promoted in China as a soft touch for asylum seekers, who receive free national health service treatment and social security, neither of which are available in France. What is she doing to have the Chinese authorities place under arrest those gangsters--those facilitators--in China who promote Britain as a destination? It is no good her talking to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is patently doing nothing. When will her Department actively ensure that those facilitators in China are arrested?
Mrs. Roche: I would take the hon. Gentleman a lot more seriously if he agreed to support our civil penalty, which gets to the heart of the matter, and if he had not backed the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald when she opposed our plans to withdraw social security benefits and introduce the national asylum support service. Once again, the Tories say one thing and do another.
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Are Ministers seriously considering the benefits that would arise in the management of asylum seekers--whether from China or elsewhere; whether legal or illegal--were the United Kingdom to introduce a national identity card system? When one begins to analyse that approach, does not the message come through that such a system would greatly reassure the wider public?
Mrs. Roche: With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that that is the issue and we have no plans to introduce such a system. We must deal with those who seek to undermine the asylum system. Like many Members of the House, I owe a great deal to the stance taken by this country over the centuries on giving protection to refugees. I do not want anything to undermine that. Let us continue to provide sanctuary for those genuinely fleeing persecution.
15. Ms Claire Ward (Watford): What representations he has received from the chief constable of Hertfordshire regarding police numbers in Hertfordshire and pay levels; and if he will make a statement. 
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): The Hertfordshire constabulary had 1,767 officers on 31 March 2000, which is 43 more than it had 12 months earlier. I understand from the chief constable that he is projecting a further increase in police numbers this year and that the force target for the constabulary is 2,083 officers by 31 March 2001.
The chief constable has written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about pay levels and the force's concern that the cost of living in Hertfordshire may have an adverse impact on the recruitment and retention of police officers.
Ms Ward: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that many Metropolitan police officers live in Hertfordshire and that as a result of the pay increase for Met police officers serving since 1994 there is now a differential between those officers and Hertfordshire officers of £6,000 a year? That is obviously encouraging many Hertfordshire officers to consider transferring to the Metropolitan police service. Will my right hon. Friend consider these issues and ensure that the police negotiating board deals with them with some urgency?
Mr. Boateng: I understand my hon. Friend's point. The police negotiating board is considering this and a range of other issues in relation to pay and conditions. I will ensure that my hon. Friend's concerns are drawn to its attention.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): Given the pay differential between officers in Hertsmere and Hertfordshire and those in the Metropolitan area, will the Minister bear in mind the need for more police officers in Hertfordshire, especially in view of the growth of offences in violence? There has been an increase of 15 per cent. in such offences; and robberies have increased by 68 per cent. Hertfordshire is rapidly becoming a much less safe place in which to live. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the reliance that he has placed on crime and disorder strategies, and especially the anti-social behaviour order, of which only one has been issued in Hertfordshire in response to all the violence that has taken place?
Mr. Boateng: The level of crime in Hertfordshire is still lower than the national average. Crime is at a lower level now than it was at the time of the general election. There are more serving police officers in Hertfordshire now than when the Conservative party had stewardship of these matters.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): My right hon Friend the Home Secretary recently published guidance in the form of a booklet entitled "Anti-Social Behaviour Orders: Guidance on drawing up Local ASBO Protocols", and a copy has been placed in the Library. That guidance is supported by training seminars and a variety of other means.
Maria Eagle: I welcome the fact that an increasing number of local authorities and local crime partnerships are making use of these orders. However, does my hon. Friend agree that it is not enough to have one or two orders per local authority area? They should be used where appropriate, and they should be seen by local crime reduction partnerships as a tool of early intervention and not as a last resort.
Mr. Clarke: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by her city council, Liverpool, which I have visited. It has developed co-ordinated work between a variety of different agencies, which delivers in that way. There is a need to examine the range of orders that is available, and not only the anti-social behaviour order, in taking the action that my hon. Friend recommends.
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Does the Minister accept that one of the issues relating to the use of these orders is the overall level of police resources? In that context, will he tell us when he expects to be able to announce final conclusions on the overall element of rural sparsity funding in the police funding formula?
Mr. Clarke: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the announcement that we made last Thursday. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of it. The announcement included about £650,000 for Cumbria, which I think will be well appreciated.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): We estimate that about 30,000 port asylum applicants at present have permission to work. In the case of in-country applicants, the available information indicates that about 14,000 applicants have been given permission to work in the past 12 months.
Mr. Clark: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. As a new Member, I was appalled by the time that was taken before decisions were made. Many families lived their lives in suspension, being unable to make any plans. I recognise that the time taken for initial decisions has been reduced, but what further steps are being taken to increase the speed of decisions?