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Children (Sexual Exploitation)

5. Mr. Shaun Woodward (St. Helens, South) (Lab): What his plans are to combat the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children within the UK; and if he will make a statement. [171320]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The Sexual Offences Act 2003, which came into force on 1 May, includes offences that criminalise trafficking into, within and out of the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The offences carry a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. The Act also introduces comprehensive offences covering the sexual exploitation of children.

Mr. Woodward : The provision of safe accommodation for children who are victims of this appalling trade is essential if we are to break the cycle and protect children more. It is also essential because a trade that is estimated to be worth $7 billion a year requires us to do all that we can. Given the Government's commitment to establishing a safe house, and the establishment of Integrated Care's first safe house for these children, what proposals have the Government to support them further and to expand the safe houses service?

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his determined pursuit of this issue. We know of the new safe house established by Integrated Care and believe that it provides an important service to which all local authorities can refer children. It is for local authorities to decide how best to discharge their responsibilities to children in need under the Children Act 1989—some choose services of this kind, while others opt for foster care or other provision—but I am certain that the safe house will be a useful resource for social services departments to consider when dealing with trafficked children. Our new legislation will ensure that children in such circumstances are given better protection.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential for joint working to take place between the immigration service, the police and social services at every port—and I mean every port in the country—to ensure that children who may be being trafficked are identified at that crucial
 
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stage, that they are given all possible help, and that all possible work is undertaken to deal with those who are trafficking them into the country? Will she have further discussions with the Minister for Children to ensure that that crucial aspect of joint working goes ahead based on the best practice available?

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. Friend, and I note his continued commitment to the issue. I think that, like me, he will welcome the additional work that has come out of the Sexual Offences Act 2003: tough new offences, better collaboration between social services and immigration, action to prevent the problem by working with source and transit countries and, as he pointed out, other appropriate support for victims. We are working across key agencies at principal entry points to identify children at risk. Operation Paladin has just been concluded. It involved a range of different authorities dealing with unaccompanied children, or children accompanied by someone other than their parents, to see what situation they are coming to and what the child protection issues are. We will be learning the lessons from that. Child victims of trafficking are likely to need welfare services and, in many cases, protection under the Children Act 1989. We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that that happens.

Prison Capacity

6. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the impact of the long-term prison population projections on prison capacity. [171321]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): It is estimated that a continuation of recent trends in the use of custody would result in a prison population of 93,000 by the end of the decade. The reforms that we are making should enable us to rebalance the system and achieve a stable and lower population.As a result of the investment that we are making, there will be 79,500 available prison places by 2006.

Ross Cranston : I know of my hon. Friend's personal commitment to prisoner welfare. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 means that there will be more robust community sentences and a reduction in the number of short sentences, which are ineffective in reducing wrongdoing, but there is concern out there that the increase in the number of prisoners and the small number of new places coming on stream make the situation unsustainable. Can he give an assurance that that pressure will be relieved in the near future?

Paul Goggins: My hon. and learned Friend is right to point to that pressure. We will continue to expand the capacity of prison places. By next year, we will have 77,600 prison places. By 2006, we will have 79,500 places. He is right to point out that many very short prison sentences are a waste of time. They are long enough for people to lose their homes and jobs but not long enough to do the resettlement and educational work that such
 
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prisoners need. It is far better for non-dangerous offenders, particularly first-time offenders, to be dealt with in the community with a robust community sentence.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given the projected increase in the prison population and the urgent need to cut recidivism, the hon. Gentleman will certainly agree, as he has just indicated, that prison education must be a top priority. In that context, what proportion of people currently leaving prison still can neither read nor write and what is the Government's public service agreement target for improvement in that regard?

Paul Goggins: What I can say to the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that he will be pleased to hear this, is that, as this has been an area in which the Government have invested, we have seen a significant increase in the number of people who learn to read and write while in prison. The most salient point is that, last year, 50,000 basic skills qualifications were gained in our prisons. Those prisoners can now read and write, take their place in society and reform their behaviour.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that one of the key objectives of the National Offender Management Service was to reduce the projected figure from 93,000 to 80,000 by the end of the decade. Can he tell us exactly how he expects NOMS to do that, because it is not NOMS that will be in charge of sentencing policy, but the Sentencing Guidelines Council?

Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right. In the end, it is not politicians or legislators who send people to prison, but sentencers. That is why the role of the Sentencing Guidelines Council will be central to our reforms. The chief executive of the National Offender Management Service has a key role to play in informing the council about what is effective in sentencing. The NOMS will provide, for the first time, effective management of offenders through the whole system, joining the bit of the sentence served in prison with the bit served in the community. By doing that, we believe that we will further reduce reoffending rates.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Minister is responsible for planning for the prison population. So serious is the overcrowding in our prisons that 64 per cent. are over the limit for keeping prisoners in decent conditions and 15 are over the danger line for safety as we speak. There are more suicides and self-harming by prisoners and the justice unions report increases in acts of organised indiscipline, hostage situations and threats. What is the Minister going to do about this shambles of Government policy? Will he speed up the prison building programme, or will he rebalance the programme by letting more and more prisoners out early to join the 1,100 who have committed further crimes while under curfew orders?

Paul Goggins: Those figures are not correct, but I welcome the hon. Lady's concern for the welfare of the people in our prisons. For example, it is welcome that she is concerned about the number of people who committed suicide in our prisons last year. I hope,
 
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therefore, that she will join us in supporting the strategy that I put in place for reducing self-inflicted deaths in custody. But services such as that cost money and given she and her colleagues want to wipe £700 million out of the budget of the Home Office, where would that money come from? I have set out our prison-building programme and the extra places that we intend to provide, but that costs money. We will provide it and she would not.

Designated Public Places Orders

7. Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of designated public places orders. [171322]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The effectiveness of DPPOs is being monitored and evaluated in the trailblazer areas that are focusing on tackling the antisocial street scene. Those areas are Camden, Westminster, Brighton and Leeds. As of March, around 100 authorities have been operating the system successfully. This indicates that they have been found useful.

Mrs. Campbell : What would my hon. Friend say to the Liberal Democrat leader of Cambridge city council who, despite petitions requesting DPPOs totalling thousands of signatures, has refused to use the legislation on the grounds that it is, he says, impractical and illiberal?

Fiona Mactaggart: I would say that he was a hypocrite. I have noticed the eagerness with which his Liberal Democrat colleagues in election campaigning have said that they would crack down on the yobs. We know from the British crime survey that 44 per cent. of all victims of violent crime describe their assailant as being under the influence of alcohol at the time. Yet, in practice, when we provide effective tools to deal with exactly that problem, they fail to use them. Typical.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Has not the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) provided a first-class example of how the Government's proposals to control violent and drunken youths—while perhaps well meaning—have failed because the cost, red tape and hassle involved in getting antisocial behaviour orders, curfew orders and now designated public places orders mean that, despite the Government's spin, most councils do all they can to avoid using them?

Fiona Mactaggart: The world that the hon. Gentleman describes is not the one in which I live. I have noticed how our efforts to ensure that we slim down the things that need to be done to obtain an ASBO—as well as our work on the availability of interim orders—have meant that, where there is a dynamic and effective partnership between the local authority and the police, the order is a useful tool for dealing with antisocial behaviour. At last, we have the methods to tackle the problem, but I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members are determined to put it down. They are wrong; they should
 
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welcome these powers, like the people of Britain in the communities that are the victims of antisocial behaviour.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Inspector Frank Firth in my constituency, who has successfully used those orders on several occasions to great effect, which has been welcomed by local residents? Does she agree that the one further development that would be welcome would be the courts underpinning those orders by using custodial sentences to reinforce them when necessary?

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I apologise to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), whom I should have welcomed to his new place. I got carried away and I hope that the House will forgive me for my enthusiasm on this occasion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) pointed out that, in his constituency, that power is being effectively used because of the determination of his local police service. Where there is effective collaboration between the police and others, it is a very useful power indeed. I agree with my hon. Friend that it depends on the effective use by courts and sentencers of their powers, and I am glad to see the participation of magistrates and others in some of the academy events and other "Together" events that are being organised to support the antisocial behaviour strategy. They are part of a partnership to deliver an effective clampdown on antisocial behaviour and drunkenness in our communities.


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