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Child Murders

10. Bob Russell (Colchester): If he will publish the findings of monitoring by his Department of the number of child murders. [29857]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Beverley Hughes): Although violent crime generally, as measured by the British crime survey, has shown a reduction in recent years, the appalling crime of killing a child fluctuated between 96 and 143 cases a year in the five years up to 2000–01. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that statistics on such killings are published each year. Obviously, the Government are determined to try to bring about a permanent reduction in the number of such cases through a range of measures across government.

Bob Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for that broad reply, but surely she and the Government must be aware that the number of child murders perpetrated by family members has increased by 50 per cent. in the past year or so. Does she agree that a possible cause of that rapid increase is the cuts in the amounts made available to social services and the criticism and undermining of social workers? Will she have words with her ministerial colleagues to ensure that social services are properly funded and that social workers are given all the encouragement that they need?

Beverley Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there has been an overall increase in child murders this year and that most of that rise is accounted for by perpetrators who are family members or who are known to the child. However, this is a single year, and as I said, the numbers fluctuate considerably, so it is far too early to conclude that this is not a temporary rise and that the level will not fall back again as it has in previous years.

Certainly, the Government have done a great deal since 1997 to strengthen child protection procedures in the guidance "Working Together to Safeguard Children", and through the introduction of a new, robust and more consistent framework for assessment to try to identify circumstances in which children might be at risk within their family. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise that the funding situation is directly related to the rise in numbers. All local authorities prioritise this area of work, notwithstanding the many calls on their budgets. None the less, following this year's rise, we will be watching the situation very closely.

Antisocial Behaviour Orders

11. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour orders and how to extend their use. [29859]

The Minister for Criminal Justice, Sentencing and Law Reform (Mr. Keith Bradley): Last Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced important proposals to increase the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour orders. They include extending the

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power to apply for ASBOs to the British Transport police and registered social landlords, introducing an interim ASBO that can be issued prior to a full hearing, extending the power to make ASBOs to county courts and allowing ASBOs to "travel" with the person when the behaviour is likely to be repeated elsewhere.

We have also commissioned a review of ASBOs. Furthermore, every crime and disorder reduction partnership will have a co-ordinator to ensure that an effective strategy is in place to tackle antisocial behaviour.

Judy Mallaber: I welcome the proposals to improve the effectiveness of antisocial behaviour orders. In Amber Valley so far, one order has been taken out as apparently the only mechanism for tackling a long-standing case of antisocial behaviour, about which correspondence going back 10 years was passed on to me by my predecessor.

Will my right hon. Friend also conduct a survey and review of the availability and training of the solicitors whom the responsible agencies can use to pursue ASBOs? It has been put to me that the agencies are inhibited by the fact that the police have only one solicitor who deals with civil litigation, and that a non-unitary district council has similarly limited legal resources.

Mr. Bradley: Obviously, I am pleased that my hon. Friend welcomes the use of ASBOs. Hon. Members throughout the country have experienced cases of ASBOs tackling antisocial behaviour effectively. I am also pleased that she welcomes the review.

My hon. Friend made an important point about legal resources. Although a separate survey will not be conducted on that, the review covers the legal resources of partner agencies to deal effectively with applications for ASBOs and the legal costs of those applications. It is important to consider the matter carefully. When the review is published, I hope that my hon. Friend will find some comfort in the responses that we received.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): We welcome the Home Secretary's announcement last week about the improvement of ASBOs. However, will not the Minister admit that it is too little, too late? The Government stated that they wanted 5,000 ASBOs a year to be used. In the past three years, only 486 orders have been taken out. The community policeman of the year, PC Anthony Sweeney of West Yorkshire police, said that they are unworkable. Are not the Government worried that even after the Home Secretary's announcement, ASBOs will simply be a bureaucratic waste of time and money?

Mr. Bradley: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman believes that ASBOs are a waste of time. I believe that they are welcome in our communities throughout the country as a new and effective tool for dealing with antisocial behaviour. The purpose of the proposals announced by the Home Secretary is to ensure that they become more comprehensive. We are looking at their operation to ensure that they are as effective and efficient as possible. I believe that the Government's general plans,

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for tackling antisocial behaviour, in which ASBOs play an important part, will continue to be welcomed. I have listened carefully to the Opposition's denigration of them.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I am pleased to say that in Doncaster the council has taken steps to establish an antisocial behaviour unit in conjunction with partners. The use of ASBOs is beginning to speed up through greater training. However, local magistrates and the youth offending team have told me that they could well use a secure unit in the Doncaster area for those 15 to 17-year-olds who are hard-core, persistent offenders. Will my right hon. Friend consider setting up secure units in places that would be better served by such provision locally? I suggest that Doncaster is one of those areas.

Mr. Bradley: My hon. Friend is right that partnership working is the most effective and efficient use of ASBOs. A good relationship between local authorities, the police and the extra agencies that have been included in the proposals is the best way to promulgate good practice. In my constituency, the relationship between the local authority and the police has been effective in tackling some of the most persistent offenders.

I shall consider further measures for tackling antisocial behaviour; we shall also examine sentencing policy in light of the Halliday review, and perhaps the extension of provisions such as intensive supervision and surveillance

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programme orders through the youth courts. I shall consider my hon. Friend's proposal for Doncaster carefully. We need firm, effective action to ensure that our communities live in peace and harmony.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Is it altogether surprising that there should be such a low take-up of ASBOs when the evidence appears to be that the Government are very slow in making use of other powers that they have to deal with antisocial behaviour? Is it correct, for instance, that the Government have failed to implement section 53 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000? There are 100,000 people who are in breach of their probation, who could be prosecuted for committing two breaches of probation, often of an antisocial kind, and could be sent to prison.

Mr. Bradley: Once again, we have an Opposition trying to undermine the measures that we have introduced to tackle antisocial behaviour and crime in our communities. Effective measures that have public support are constantly undermined by the Opposition. The provisions in the legislation that we have introduced will be rolled out to ensure the most effective use of the orders. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman listen more carefully to the Leader of the Opposition, who always urges a spirit of co-operation to try to tackle the problems in our communities. Once again, words and practice are completely at odds.

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Opposition Day

[10th Allotted Day]

Asylum Seekers

Mr. Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.31 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I beg to move,

I hope that the House will bear with us if we try a minor experiment. Opposition day debates have almost always been used for bringing the Government to account by criticising an aspect of the Government's record and seeking some defence and explanation. That is a useful part of the work of the House, but on this occasion we want to follow a different pattern. It is not our intention to point to Government failure, although there is some in this area, but to seek to explain the cause of the difficulties that the Government have encountered, and try to suggest, in a constructive spirit, how those might be remedied.

This is an opportune moment to do that because the Home Secretary is about to publish, perhaps in the next few days, a White Paper on asylum and related matters, and it is our belief that, although some of the measures that he proposes are likely to prove effective and all are likely to be well intentioned, the package as a whole is very unlikely to achieve its aims, because it fails to address a huge lacuna in the current arrangements.

These issues were brought before Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) in a notable debate in Westminster Hall on 29 January 2002, and have been discussed on and off in the back corridors of Whitehall for some years, so I pretend to no originality, but it is also the case that most of the country has not been aware of the cause of the greater part of the problem with which the Home Secretary is wrestling on asylum.

Why was it only under this Government, who are perfectly well intentioned on asylum, that the issue suddenly attained such prominence? It was not the case that for the first time in recorded history there were many refugees and many people claiming refugee status. It is probably true that there has been something of an increase in the number of displaced persons during this Government's tenure, especially in Europe, owing to many causes of which the House is aware. However, that is by no means the largest part, or even a very significant part, of the explanation for the great rise in the number of those seeking asylum specifically in the UK.

I do not think that there is any dispute between the Government and ourselves—indeed, the answers that the Home Secretary just gave me in Question Time reinforced that point, and it is evident to both sides of the House—that towards the end of 1997 the bilateral agreement

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between the UK and France, which had governed both immigration and asylum, fell away, or at least those parts of it that related to asylum fell away.

I do not in the least seek to blame the Government for what happened. No doubt the Home Secretary will, rightly, point out that in the original bilateral agreement it was provided that at the inception of the Dublin convention those parts of the agreement would fall away. That was arranged by a Conservative Government, so no blame attaches to the present Government for the fact that shortly after they came to power, the bilateral agreement fell away.

However, the Government have now been in power not for a few weeks or a few months, but for almost five years. In any event, we now need to look forward rather than back. The cause of the vast increase in the number of people seeking asylum in this country is almost undoubtedly the falling away of the bilateral agreement and its supersession by the Dublin convention.

A moment or two ago, the Home Secretary answered my very specific question—about how many people coming from France and seeking asylum in the UK had been returned to France under the Dublin convention—by saying two things. I fully subscribe to one of them, namely that the Dublin convention is not working and he therefore does not know the answer to my question.

Secondly, he said that a considerable number of people—rather more than 6,000—who had sought entry to the UK had been automatically returned to France. I do not doubt it, but what the Home Secretary was not at pains to point out is that those people were not seeking asylum but were other sorts of immigrants. Of course, the bilateral agreement with the French authorities, which was signed by a Conservative Government, continues to operate with regard to those who are not seeking asylum. The problem relates to those who are seeking asylum.

Let me illustrate, in very broad orders of magnitude, the scale of the problem with which we are collectively dealing. The official statistics suggest that just over 90,000 people seek asylum in the UK annually. There are rather more than 30,000 people—about 5,000 more, I think—in a similar position in France, which is just over a third of the number here.

The astonishing fact is that nobody knows how many of the people who seek asylum in the UK come directly or proximately from France. I do not believe that the Home Secretary is concealing any information; there is no published information that allows one to establish the figure exactly. However, estimates have been made, and I believe that there are figures for specific ports. So far as one can make out, about 30,000 people probably come into this country from France seeking asylum every year.

If we subtract that figure of just over 30,000 from the just over 90,000 people who seek asylum in the UK, and add it to the 30,000 or so people who seek asylum in France, we come up with a surprising and illuminating result: by reinstating the effect of the bilateral agreement between the UK and France in respect of asylum, one could achieve a rough equalisation. I am not speaking in exact figures; I do not think that anybody knows those—I certainly do not. However, there would be a rough equalisation of the burden of dealing with asylum applications in France and the UK.

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In other words, roughly speaking, 60,000 people would be seeking asylum in each of the two countries, rather than the present figures of about 30,000 and about 90,000 respectively.

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