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House of Commons

Monday 15 November 2004

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Mr. Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts: Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 Highways (Obstruction by Body Corporate) Act 2004 Human Tissue Act 2004 Children Act 2004

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Community Support

1. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of (a) community support officers and (b) neighbourhood wardens. [197729]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): Community support officers and wardens have been widely welcomed across the country, wherever they have been deployed. Twenty-seven forces have undertaken evaluations, which are now being collated and will be published in December. The Nuffield Foundation funded a report by Leeds university, which was published on 28 October, and an independent review of wardens was published in May this year.

Simon Hughes: The Home Secretary will know that my borough joins in the view that community support officers and wardens are welcome. Indeed, we already have 72 neighbourhood wardens and we are looking forward to a further 30.

I would be grateful if the Home Secretary would look further into a London-wide issue. The neighbourhood policing fund, as I understand it, will contribute £24,500 per community support officer, whereas the average cost of recruiting and training CSOs in London is £28,500. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the Metropolitan
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police and the 33 London local authorities will not be disadvantaged when they put in bids in the future, as other authorities around the country are doing?

Mr. Blunkett: For understandable reasons connected with recruitment, the Metropolitan force took the view that salaries should be generally higher than in the rest of the country. It now has 1,800 community support officers and, as far as I am aware, faces no difficulties with recruitment. We will ensure that London is not disadvantaged, but it is a fact that the Met's own evaluation reveals a 70 per cent. improvement in reassurance and confidence in policing in areas where CSOs have been heavily deployed.

John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that community support officers have played a crucial and effective part in the creation of ward-based neighbourhood teams, which have started to spread across the London boroughs. There are two in my own constituency, led by Sergeants John Fish and Paul George. The schemes have proved very effective and are highly thought of, certainly in my area. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the funding of the Met is sustained at an appropriate level to ensure that the future creation of neighbourhood teams continues at the present rate? All wards in Greater London should have neighbourhood teams as soon as possible.

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We saw the scheme working well when I was in Bexley with the Prime Minister last week. The £50 million allocated by the Chancellor this autumn will fund additional community support officers across the country. The Metropolitan force will receive, of course, a generous share of the fully funded posts for the forthcoming 12 months. In addition, there is the neighbourhood policing fund allocation and the police grant. As I said last week, we are doing our utmost to ensure that the police grant provides encouragement for forces to sustain and continue the investment that they are already making.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Bearing in mind that the local government settlement in Wales will be 4.8 per cent. and the North Wales police force requires 7.4 per cent. just to stand still, does the Home Secretary realise that there will have to be a substantial real increase in the police grant for Welsh police forces? That applies if community support officers are to be retained, let alone further recruited.

Mr. Blunkett: I have a great deal of sympathy with forces trying to ensure that they can manage competing demands. However, given the funding that Welsh police forces have generally received over recent years and the substantial specific funding they have received not just for community support officers but for the introduction of Airwave, DNA forensics, reinforcement of training and other programmes, I do not accept for a minute the hon. Gentleman's figures on what is needed to stand still. I hope that Members will weigh with a degree of common sense the claims made by police authorities at the moment, because we are trying to ensure that their original fears can be allayed.
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Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): I thank the Home Secretary for visiting my constituency last month, where he saw at first hand the excellent work and effectiveness of community support officers in the Weston community in Weymouth. I ask him to ensure that Dorset gets its fair share of the £50 million that he has announced so that we can extend community support officers to other communities such as Portland in my constituency.

Mr. Blunkett: I will certainly do my best to do that. I may tell my hon. Friend that that was the first visit I have ever made during which I met the entire majority in one day—[Interruption.] It was a great pleasure to do so.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The similarity in uniforms of police community support officers and police constables is such that many of my constituents have been fooled into thinking that there are more police on the streets of Upminster. Is not that what the Home Secretary really means by effectiveness?

Mr. Blunkett: I think that the hon. Lady will find that there are more uniformed police on the streets of her constituency, thanks to the enormous investment we have made and as part of the 13,000 uplift in police over the past seven and a half years. It is very important, however, not to confuse things. What we are seeing on our streets is a uniformed presence with the authority to be able to work with local people to find solutions. The Nuffield report found that where those officers were deployed correctly alongside and working to uniformed police officers, they had a dramatic impact on reduction in crime.

There is a simple message here. Not a single Member of this House has to have community support officers or has to press for additional resources for those officers for their area. If the hon. Lady is so strongly against them, I suggest that she starts to petition in her community against deploying community support officers. I am sure that the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner will take what she says very seriously when it comes to the allocation of resources to her constituency.

Illegal Immigration

2. Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): What plans he has to visit Dover to discuss the impact of his measures to control illegal immigration. [197730]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): Unfortunately, I have no immediate plans to visit Dover in the near future, but I welcome the opportunity to highlight the impact that the asylum and immigration measures that we have taken have had there. We have significantly strengthened our borders by the closure of Sangatte, by deploying new detection technology in France and by developing our juxtaposed controls in northern France, culminating in full United Kingdom immigration controls in Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk since 3 October 2004. As a result, clandestine entry in Kent fell by 65 per cent. during 2003, compared with 2002. That fall has continued in 2004, with a 23 per
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cent. decrease in clandestines in Kent in the first six months of 2004, compared with the last six months of 2003.

Mr. Prosser: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I assure him that it reflects the situation in Dover, where illegal immigration and working have been reduced hugely. Does he accept that there is still far more to do? Although the number of asylum seekers coming through the port has reduced to just one or two a day, which compares well with figures we had in previous years, we can still take further action. Does he agree that the introduction of a secure identity card will go further towards cracking down on illegal immigrants and on traffickers and illegal working?

Mr. Browne: I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I agree that the introduction of a secure biometrically based identity card will go a significant way further to secure our borders.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): How?

Mr. Browne: A sedentary voice asks "How", and the answer is comparatively simple: it will be done by ensuring that those who are in this country legally have to have a biometrically based identity card. We are confident in the knowledge that the absence of such an identity card—which has, of course, been part of the culture of this country—has been a pull factor to illegal immigrants for many years.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser), I may say that there is further evidence on the impact of our measures. The number of detections in Calais increased by 36 per cent. in the first six months of 2004, compared with the first six months of 2003. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary met the French Interior Minister Mr. de Villepin in Calais only this morning, and he was shown evidence that when Sangatte was open there were routinely about 2,000 asylum seekers in the Calais area. The police in France now know that there are only about 100 at any given time.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the number of work permits granted in-country has more than trebled? Will he say where all those people come from and whether or not they are all perfectly legal?

Will the Minister also tell the House why Amin Buratee, from Whitstable, was picked up at six in the morning one day last week, just six months before he is due to take his A-levels? His entire family in Afghanistan has been murdered, as is accepted by the Home Office. Could not he at least be allowed to get as far as his A-levels? Is it really necessary to pick soft targets to massage the figures?

Mr. Browne: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question because it is important for the House to know that the number of work permits granted has increased significantly. As he knows, applications for work permits are made by employers. They are a reflection of the needs of employers and can be granted only if the
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criteria are met. Work permits do not necessarily mean that those who are granted them will receive entry clearance to remain in or enter the country.

I understand why the hon. Gentleman raises an individual case, but he will understand why I cannot, as an Executive Minister, go into the detail of that case. In general terms, all cases are robustly and fully examined by the immigration and nationality directorate and by the independent appellate authorities before any removal action is contemplated. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want me to re-judge cases that have been judged by the independent appellate authorities or to substitute my decision for theirs as to the appropriate action in any individual case. I hope that he does not seek to persuade me to do so.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I take my hon. Friend the Minister back to Dover, which is the subject of the question? No doubt the work of Dover harbour police has complemented that of the immigration authorities and Customs and Excise. That good practice should be extended to all the ports in the UK, because the absence of a national ports police service leaves us vulnerable. Will my hon. Friend consider the provision of such a service for ports that have no policing to tighten them up?

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. He will know that a review of border controls is under way, involving all the agencies that operate at the border. The issues that arise will be considered in the context of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and I will ensure that those responsible take into account what he has had to say.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): Between May and September, 91,000 people from the new member states of the EU applied to register to work here. Last week, the Minister accepted that up to 40 per cent. of them—or 35,000—were here illegally before 1 May. May I ask the Minister two simple questions? First, if they were here illegally, how did they get here? Secondly, in May, was he or anyone else in his Department aware that they were here illegally?

Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question because it gives me an opportunity to highlight what an astounding success—

Mr. Malins: Answer the question.

Mr. Browne: I will in a moment.

The hon. Gentleman's question gives me an opportunity to highlight what a success opening our labour markets to workers from the EU accession states has been, in terms of servicing the gaps that existed in certain sectors and skills.

Mr. Malins: Answer the question.

Mr. Browne: Well, the hon. Gentleman poses the question on the basis of a false fact. I did not accept that 43 per cent. or anything like that number were in the country illegally—

Mr. Malins: It is in Hansard.

Mr. Browne: I venture to suggest that that is not in Hansard, as the hon. Gentleman suggests from a
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sedentary position. What I did say was that about 43 per cent. of those who registered had either said that they were in the country before 1 May or did not answer that question—[Laughter.] Well, let me explain to those who cannot work it out that that means that some of those people were probably in the country before 1 May, but it does not mean that they were here illegally—[Interruption.] With respect, it does not say so, because—

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): You are in a mess.

Mr. Browne: The number of—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members must let the Minister answer.

Mr. Browne: Even if the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) were right in coming to the conclusion that those people were definitely here illegally, our position in relation to such people would be no different from that of his party when it was in government—or, indeed, that of any Government anywhere in the world. No Government anywhere in the world can know the number of people who are in their country illegally, and no Government in this country have ever been able to give that figure.

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