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Community Support Officers

17. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): How many community support officers he expects to be based in Suffolk. [6869]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): At the end of March, there were 6,300 community support officers in England and Wales, 34 of whom were based in Suffolk. We will provide funding to support an increase in their number, to a total of 24,000 CSOs in 2008. Later in the year, following discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, we will announce what funding will be allocated to each police authority, and I am sure that Suffolk will take full advantage of that investment opportunity.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The community support officers that we already have in my constituency are greatly valued by those in the community, which looks forward to having some more. Our local newspaper—the Lowestoft Journal—publishes a report of every crime that is committed in the town each week and it shows that burglary and car theft are decreasing dramatically, but that much of the
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remaining crime is criminal damage, often committed by quite young people. Will my hon. Friend say something about how CSOs can work with schools to target some of those young people who are responsible for a great deal of the criminal damage?

Mr. McNulty: One of the most encouraging developments as we have implemented the establishment of CSOs has been the imagination and innovation shown across a range of different forces about how to utilise them. I shall be encouraged if Suffolk goes down the road of getting CSOs, working with the wider Suffolk police force, to get that awareness of antisocial behaviour, criminal damage and other elements right into schools, where it belongs.

Alcohol-related Crime

18. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): What powers are available to (a) the police and (b) local authorities to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder. [6870]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): A wide range of legislation is in place to help partners to tackle that problem. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill introduces further powers by enabling local authorities and the police to create alcohol disorder zones for targeted action and by introducing a new drinking banning order, on-the-spot 48-hour exclusions and a power for the police to impose 48-hour closures on pubs, clubs and off-licences that persistently sell to under-age drinkers.

Mr. Love: I thank the Minister for that reply and congratulate her on those moves to deal with the issue. As in many communities throughout the country, it is a major problem in the town centres in my constituency and is leading to a great deal of public concern. Will she ensure that those measures are fully implemented and that police forces and local authorities are doing everything that they can to bring this problem under control?

Hazel Blears: I know that my hon. Friend has been particularly active, together with his local authority and his police force, in tackling those issues. Two areas of his constituency are now controlled alcohol zones, where drink cannot be taken on to the street. There are joint enforcement visits between the police and the council, and joint tasking is going on as well. I am happy to congratulate my hon. Friend on his involvement, but he is right to suggest that more needs to be done to ensure that decent people can enjoy a good night out in his town centre on Friday and Saturday nights, without facing the kind of disorder that we see all too often.

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Zimbabwe (Removals)

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): With permission, I should like to make a statement on the return of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe.

Like all issues of removals, policy in this area is inevitably difficult and sensitive. On 16 November last year, the then Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality—now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne)—announced the lifting of the temporary suspension of enforced removals of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe. The effect of that announcement was to make the process of removals to Zimbabwe the same as for every other country in the world.

In short, the Home Office assesses cases on their individual merits, providing protection to those who need it and seeking to remove those who do not. Thus Zimbabweans who meet the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Geneva convention are granted asylum. If they do not qualify for asylum on that basis, but there are other circumstances that make them particularly vulnerable and engage our obligations under the European convention on human rights, they are granted humanitarian protection or discretionary leave. If their application is refused, they have a right of appeal to the independent asylum and immigration tribunal. If the appeal is unsuccessful, it has been judged safe for that particular individual to return to Zimbabwe.

As the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality made clear on Friday, we keep the country situation, together with any new information, under review, and we will continue to do so. While that examination continues, it is the position of the Foreign Secretary and me that there are not sufficient grounds to reverse last November's decision. As before, it is clear that there are Zimbabweans in need of international protection. In particular, members of the opposition in Zimbabwe or others who establish that they have engaged in activities that will cause them to be persecuted by the Zimbabwean Government will continue to be granted asylum.

In the 15 months to March this year, we granted asylum or discretionary leave at initial decision to 270 Zimbabweans, with no substantiated reports of mistreatment on return, but not all Zimbabweans who claim asylum in this country genuinely face persecution. It is an important part of ensuring an effective and fair asylum system that those found not to be in need of international protection are removed from the UK. The blanket suspension of all removals to any country can only encourage those who seek to get around our controls for reasons nothing whatsoever to do with their political activity or fear of persecution.

That is why, in my opinion, we are right to look at each case on its merits. We will examine with great care each individual case before removal and we will not remove anyone who we believe is at risk on their return. As part of this, we will remain in close contact with civil society and opposition parties in Zimbabwe. My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has sent us representations about a number of cases and I have
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asked my officials to examine those carefully, and of course we will consider other representations about other individuals.

There are a number of Zimbabweans currently in our removal estate. As of this morning, 57 were declining to accept their meals in an effort to press their case for non-return. Conditions around their health and well-being are being carefully monitored and managed.

Our policy on returns does not in any way change our categorical opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that political persecution, abuses of human rights and denial of basic freedom persist in Zimbabwe, and we will continue to provide asylum to those Zimbabweans who need our protection. We will also continue bilaterally and with our international partners to push the Government of Zimbabwe to end human rights abuses and to restore democracy, so that all Zimbabweans can, in time, return safely to help build a prosperous and stable country.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for his statement.

The Government's entire policy towards Zimbabwe is a miserable failure. We would not be facing the issue that is before us today if they had shown a clearer lead in the past, put greater pressure on Governments such as that of Thabo Mbeki in South Africa and forced the issue on the agenda at the UN Security Council in New York.

In 2002, the Prime Minister promised to

Since then, Mugabe's repression has become worse. He has now rigged three elections, sent tens of thousands of people to an unwitnessed death in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and waged a brutal campaign of demolition and destruction, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Words are no longer enough. We have a duty to act on behalf of the oppressed people of Zimbabwe. The Government are failing in that duty. Instead of action, we have confusion.

Not for the first time, the Home Office and the Foreign Office are at odds with each other. Last time, it was over the way in which Home Office officials were granting visas to immigrants from Romania, despite warnings from the Foreign Office about the migration scams that they were involved in, leading to massive increases in migration on an improper scale. This time it is even worse—the lives of innocent men and women may be at stake.

As the Foreign Secretary was busy telling his G8 counterparts that Mugabe's violent crackdown was a serious international concern, the Home Office was insisting that it was safe to send detainees back into the hands of the regime. According to a senior Foreign Office source quoted in this morning's newspapers,

I have no doubt that these are difficult decisions, but can the Home Secretary answer that senior Foreign Office official and explain how he is sure that it is safe to send anyone back? The Home Secretary said in his statement that he would not remove anyone who was at risk on their return. Can he therefore confirm that Home
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Office officials lost a tape recording sent to the electoral organiser of the Movement for Democratic Change, Mr. Kulinji, which suggested that he would be tortured if he were returned to Zimbabwe, but having lost the tape then continued with his deportation process until it was suspended this week? How does the Home Secretary make that correspond with what he said earlier?

The Foreign Secretary has today denied any rift with the Home Office despite recent press reports suggesting that he had tried to stop the planned deportations. Can the Home Secretary categorically confirm that the Foreign Office has not tried to intervene to stop his policy of returning people to the Mugabe regime? The right hon. Gentleman referred in his statement to the Government's categorical opposition to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Will he go further and agree with the Opposition that we are witnessing crimes against humanity on a massive scale? If so, will he tell the House whether he took advice from the Foreign Office before ending the moratorium on deportations to Zimbabwe last November? Did it recommend ending the moratorium: yes or no? If not, what was the Home Office's basis for the change?

We have often heard from the Government that a moratorium was being abused by people pretending to come from Zimbabwe, and I think that the Home Secretary repeated that today. How many cases were there of that abuse?

It seems to many people that the change in policy was based not on evidence, but on a need to look tough when the Government's asylum policy was being called into question. People are rightly concerned about their failure to get a grip on the immigration and asylum system. They are trying hard to act tough, but there are still 250,000 failed asylum seekers living in the United Kingdom. The number of deportations is falling and it could take more than 20 years to clear the backlog that the Government have built up.

We need a long-term coherent strategy to sort out the chaos rather than a series of headline-chasing gimmicks. [Interruption.] Yes, and I look forward to debating that fully with the Home Secretary in the weeks ahead. Today, however, he has to answer for the latest display of chaos and incompetence in Whitehall—a display that may see men and women returned to a country that is patently unsafe. As he admitted in his statement, it is a country where "political persecution, abuses of human rights and denial of basic freedom persist" while countless failed asylum seekers from other countries are allowed to remain here.

A system that the Government once promised to make firmer, fairer and faster has descended into one that is shambolic and shameful. In the past, the shambles have cost the Government time and the taxpayer money. Today, we have to hope that it does not end up costing innocent people their lives.

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