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2 Dec 2002 : Column 607—continued

Rural Crime

14. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What the incidence of rural crime was in (a) April 1997 and (b) April 2002. [82316]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): A comparison of the British crime survey figures for 1997–98 with those that I announced in July shows that, for rural areas, burglary was down 44 per cent., violent crime down 35 per cent. and vehicle theft down 34 per cent.

Miss McIntosh : Will the Home Secretary take the time to come and visit Thirsk, one of the market towns in the Vale of York, where burglaries of both homes and properties appear to be on the increase? Will he consider closely the question of improving closed circuit television cameras, to ensure that the clarity of the picture is sufficient to be able to apprehend criminals, rather than merely showing the crime that they have committed?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I would. I am very pleased that the community safety partnerships have been using resources allocated by the Home Office to extend

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CCTV, and I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Hambleton crime reduction partnership in a neighbouring area on being one of only two groups in the country to be awarded beacon status for their efforts in crime reduction in rural areas.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statistics and the downturn in crime in rural areas, but there are also hot spots in rural areas. In my constituency, there is a lot of car crime and vehicles being dumped, and we would like to see more high-visibility policing in the rural area. What resources can he make available to allow to that to happen?

Mr. Blunkett: I hope that, later this week, we can indicate the necessary resources and encouragement to help forces to recruit and to use those recruits effectively in terms of imaginative single manning where appropriate and, of course, show the importance of restoring the rural element to police funding, which will help across the country.

Travellers

16. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): What steps he is taking to tackle antisocial behaviour by travellers. [82318]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): The Government are committed to tackling all forms of antisocial behaviour. That is why we will introduce an antisocial behaviour Bill in the current Session. In addition, we have announced new proposals to deal with unauthorised encampments and the problems of antisocial behaviour that can sometimes arise from them.

Ms Drown : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. We have been promised some more detailed guidance—I understand that my hon. Friend's Department is working on it with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—and we had expected to receive it during the summer. When will we receive that guidance? Although many travellers pass through Swindon and cause us no difficulties at all, some serious antisocial behaviour has been associated with travellers, and we would like to have the guidance to be able to improve the way in which that is managed.

Beverley Hughes: My hon. Friend and, indeed, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) have made me aware that they have a particular problem in their area. She knows that, in relation to unauthorised encampments, we have promised new legislation to evict from unauthorised sites where local authorities have authorised sites. The strategic and operational guidance to police and local authorities will be forthcoming very shortly and, in addition, there will be funding to build more authorised sites.

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Young Offenders

17. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): What measures he is taking to tackle persistent youth offenders. [82319]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Wills): We are tackling the causes of persistent youth offending through our work to overcome social and economic exclusion, and we are coupling that with tougher action to bring home to persistent offenders the severe consequences that will follow continued offending, including antisocial behaviour orders, acceptable behaviour contracts, parenting orders and local child curfews.

Mr. Love : May I commend the excellent work being done by the Enfield youth offending team, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary visited earlier this year? Its restorative justice programme is nipping in the bud the sort of behaviour that leads to antisocial offending. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to expand that type of programme so that we can address the sort of antisocial behaviour that leads to youth offending?

Mr. Wills: My hon. Friend is right. We have to take a range of measures to deal with this problem. The sort of measures that he mentions are very welcome, and we know that they are beginning to work. The proof of the success of the measures that we are taking is that we have reduced the reconviction rate by 14.6 per cent. during the past five years, which is important, and that we have delivered on our pledge to halve the time between arrest and sentence. My hon. Friend will agree that those measures are working. We want to see more of them, and we will continue to fund them.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Does my hon. Friend agree that the social inquiry reports that are sometimes produced in court when young offenders appear before magistrates and in other courts are inadequate? Does he also agree that, because the wider family context is often relevant, it would be helpful in

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the raft of legislation that is to follow to make family reports available to criminal courts as well as family courts?

Mr. Wills: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and we will certainly consider it very carefully in framing the legislation.

Police

18. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): What plans he has to increase and enhance the role of support staff in the police. [82320]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn): We are keen to enhance the role of police support staff. Community support officers are already being deployed in London, and we expect up to 1,200 to be working by the end of March. Today sees the implementation of section 38 of the Police Reform Act 2002, which enables chief officers of police to designate suitably skilled and trained support staff to exercise certain police powers.

Gareth Thomas : I am grateful to the Minister for that response. On the issue of community support officers, does he share my puzzlement that although many police forces are actively recruiting community support officers, as they believe that that will improve the effectiveness of their force, North Wales police have decided not to do so, ostensibly because of lack of funding? Would he agree to discuss this issue with me in the near future?

Hilary Benn: I would be pleased to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend. Under the scheme, as he will be aware, forces were invited to bid. From memory, 27 forces were successful, all of which bid first time round. A new round of bidding will occur in the new year. Speaking for myself and my constituency, I cannot wait to see the arrival of the community support officers who will be deployed in West Yorkshire, because of the benefit that I know that my constituents will derive from their presence.

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Northern France

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on illegal immigration from northern France.

As the House knows, since the beginning of June I have been in negotiations with the French Government to tackle illegal immigration from France, focusing on making substantial improvements in border controls, improving security at freight depots and the removal of the magnet of the Sangatte centre. This morning, I held further talks with the French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy.

I am very pleased to tell the House that we have today agreed that the Sangatte centre will close by the end of December, and will be handed back to the owners, Eurotunnel. That is four months earlier than originally anticipated. As the House knows, the centre has been a magnet for illegal trafficking of immigrants since October 1999. More than 67,000 people have passed through the centre since that date. Its closure is, therefore, an extremely welcome achievement and a major contribution to stemming the tide of clandestine entry into the United Kingdom.

I wish to place on record my appreciation of the positive way in which Mr. Sarkozy has approached these negotiations over the past six months and for the good faith that he has shown throughout our talks. I am grateful, as I know those concerned will be, for the decisive action that he has taken against illegal immigration in the Calais area, including the deployment of 1,000 gendarmes and substantial enhancement of security measures.

The French Government have taken away and re-housed some 500 people so far. Just as importantly, however, I have agreed with the French Government a range of measures to establish immigration controls and border security operations in northern France, effectively moving border security to France. The extension of those measures to other ports along the French coast and, in future, to Belgium ensures that instead of dealing with the symptoms, we address the causes of our present difficulties. I can also tell the House that we have opened discussions with the Netherlands.

As the House will recognise, this is a transformation in our border security. It is far better to stop people entering the country illegally than to have to send them back, with all the time wasting and expense that that entails. These measures build on the progress already made. The security measures at Coquelles and Frethun have now been strengthened. The number of clandestines arriving from Frethun has fallen from almost 400 in April to a handful in October. By Christmas, 100 per cent. of the freight traffic travelling through Calais port each and every day will be searched.

Co-operation between our security and law enforcement services has led to the arrest and disruption of six major trafficking gangs operating in northern France over the past few weeks. Almost 250 people have been arrested for people smuggling this year. Immigration officers have been operating in Calais since

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20 August. This operation will develop rapidly following today's agreement into a full, joint immigration control as early as possible next year. These actions have been significant in sending a signal, and today's announcement will complete the message to those seeking to traffic human beings across Europe to the UK.

To ensure that we play our part in getting Sangatte closed immediately and, of course, for good, I have agreed that up to 1,000 Iraqis can come to the United Kingdom, not as asylum seekers but on work visas. This is a one-off exercise. They will be temporarily housed for up to three months while we undertake job matching. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for his co-operation. In this way, we will ensure that those who might have reached Britain clandestinely will now pay taxes and national insurance and will not be subject to continuing support from the British taxpayer. We will also take a limited number of Afghans under family reunification, determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.The remainder of the Sangatte population, together with those with whom the French have already dealt, as well as anyone subsequently arriving in the area, will be handled by the French authorities.

I can also tell the House that I intend to ensure that the UK's economic migration channels are available to those from countries that currently generate significant unfounded asylum claims. Legal economic migration strengthens our economy and underpins our coherent policy of managed migration. I believe that we should all unite against those who are currently arguing for a complete block on all immigration to this country, and I challenge the shadow Home Secretary to join me in this regard.

This agreement with the French Government is a further piece in the jigsaw of radical reform to our asylum, immigration and nationality programme. Taken together with the new Act—which was passed against considerable opposition, especially in the House of Lords—it will give us the capacity to manage properly entry into this country. I do not today pretend that we have reached the end of the road. We have only just passed the new legislation and we have only just reached agreement with the French. We cannot, therefore, be expected yet to have achieved the results that will come to fruition only from the implementation of these policies. This is a substantial step forward, however, which no one predicted just six months ago.

I want to finish with this warning. We can put legislation in place, we can reach agreement with our French counterparts, and we can debate these issues in the House, but they will come to nothing without a substantial change in the administration of the system. I am making it clear today to the immigration and nationality directorate that we expect a step change in the operation, efficiency and competence within the system and in how it is handled. I shall hold to account senior managers in my Department for an entirely different approach and a step change in the results that we now expect to be achieved.


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