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Indefinite Leave to Remain

4. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What investigations he has initiated into the granting of indefinite leave to remain by officials at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. [41772]
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The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): Investigations regarding the conduct of officials responsible for indefinite leave to remain applications are carried out as and when necessary. There are clearly established procedures for initiating such investigations and for staff to raise any concerns that they may have. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that the Home Office takes all allegations of misconduct extremely seriously.

Keith Vaz: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the allegations made by Anthony Pamnani of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, who has said that applications for extensions of leave are routinely granted? In his words, they are based on whether the applicant is good looking or ugly. Assuming that that does not represent a change in Government policy and that he condemns such practices, and bearing in mind his commitment to increase the service given by IND, what steps will he take to ensure that there are sufficient staffing levels to make sure that IND is the truly efficient and effective organisation that we would all like it to be?

Mr. McNulty: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I can tell him without reservation that there is no indication of a change in Government policy. I take the complaints of misconduct made by this individual, who used to work for IND, extremely seriously. To that end, on the day that the article appeared in a daily newspaper I instructed the director general of IND to present to me how the matter would be investigated. That investigation is now under way. It is headed by the non-executive director of IND, with support from within. I have undertaken also to publish as fully as I can the results of such an inquiry. We take these matters very seriously. If part of the equation, to which my hon. Friend alludes, is that more resources need at least to be considered in terms of the public inquiry office at Lunar house, I shall look at that.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Now that the Minister has, as he has just said, insisted on an internal inquiry, he will accept that a great deal of transparency is required to restore public confidence in the system. In that context, was the Home Office given any evidence of similar abuses by immigration officers before the allegations in The Sun on 3 January?

Mr. McNulty: In response to the hon. Gentleman's second point, not to my knowledge. Certainly, nothing has been put before me in any regard. Of course, it is an internal inquiry. At this stage, that is right and proper. I said that I will publish details as fully as I can. If any of the investigations reveal irregularities and misconduct that may well lead to disciplinary and/or criminal procedures being invoked, depending on the seriousness of the charges. I shall neither pre-empt the report nor bind the hands of the individual who is preparing it by saying that I will publish the entire thing. It may well be for reasons relating to disciplinary and criminal matters that that is not possible. However, I shall publish it as fully as possible given that caveat.
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Community Support Officers

5. Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): What assessment he has made of whether there is a need to increase the numbers of police community support officers in rural areas. [41773]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): The Government have made a commitment that by 2008 every area in England and Wales will benefit from dedicated and visible neighbourhood policing teams. To support this commitment, we will increase the number of community support officers to 24,000 by 2008, and we are making significant additional resources available through the neighbourhood policing fund. All 43 forces will benefit from this expansion.

Barbara Follett: I welcome the extra funding that has been made available, and urge my hon. Friend to try to ensure that large villages situated several miles apart, such as Knebworth and Codicote in my constituency, receive their own dedicated community support officer with transport. At present, Knebworth and Codicote share a CSO who, in turn, must share transport with several other officers based elsewhere in the county. That reduces the amount of time that he can spend on the beat and makes policing less effective.

Andy Burnham: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's question, which shows that, such is the success of CSOs, communities increasingly want them to be in two places at once. Hertfordshire constabulary has 110 CSOs, but aims to have 359 as part of the expansion to which I referred. It is for the chief constable to decide how those officers are deployed, but I am sure that he will have heard her wish that the communities of Knebworth and Codicote should be better served once that expansion is complete.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Does the Minister accept that CSOs, as welcome as they are, should always be in addition to, and never in place of, police officers? Can he give the House an assurance that, following amalgamation, there will be more police officers in rural areas, not just more support officers.

Andy Burnham: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is indeed the case that CSOs are additional to police officers. He will know that the strength of the police force is significantly greater now than it was in 1997. CSOs are playing an extremely valuable role, the very nature of which means that they are out and about in their community and highly visible. They are increasingly valued by communities, but he is right that they should always be additional to the basic policing strength. It is for chief constables to decide how best to deploy the resources at their disposal.

Victims of Crime (Support)

6. Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): What recent steps he has taken to support victims of crime. [41774]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): The code of practice for victims of crime is now in place to deliver new rights for victims, and from April victims can enforce their rights through the parliamentary ombudsman. We have increased funding for victims, and Victim Support's funding has increased from under £12 million to £30 million. In our Green Paper, "Rebuilding lives: supporting victims of crime", we set out plans to improve support for victims of crime by refocusing the criminal injuries compensation scheme to provide more financial help for those most seriously injured and immediate, practical help for other victims through victim care units.

Mr. Austin: I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. The whole House will welcome measures that show victims that we are on their side, but can she ensure that judges are properly advised by the Lord Chancellor to ensure that victims receive full compensation to reimburse them for losses caused by criminal activity? How can we do more to help people such as a constituent of mine, who is due to receive only half of the £8,000 loss that he suffered after being deceived into paying for stolen goods? He will have to wait two years for it, because the crook only has to pay it weekly, even though the police have seized his assets.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right that one important way to make criminals pay for crime is to recompense victims. We have put more effort into compensation orders, but the current collection level is unfortunately only 60 per cent., which is inadequate—it is better than it used to be, but it is still inadequate. My hon. Friends in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Solicitor-General are working together to ensure better enforcement of compensation orders and fines, including blitzes, the roll-out of the Courts Act 2003 and other actions, which I predict will improve the situation in general and for my hon. Friend's constituent.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): Is the Minister aware that the families of murder victims can pay as much as £7,000 to obtain copies of the transcript of the trial of the accused? Such families are often so traumatised by the trial that they need to read the transcript in order to come to terms with events and to decide whether to seek an appeal. The Home Office has talked to a few people about making transcripts free to families, but that has not happened so far. Victims' Voice and Justice for Victims in my constituency are getting daily calls about the matter, so will the Minister make those transcripts free?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Lady is right that that is a concern, particularly when victims have been bereaved through homicide. The national victims advisory panel has discussed the matter extensively, and we are currently investigating whether it is possible to use new technology to make written records from tape-recorded records. We are continuing to investigate making the transcripts of trials available to the bereaved, but although we are closer to resolving the matter, we are yet to find a solution.
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Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I welcome everything that the Government have done to improve support for victims, but once the sentence has been handed down, most victims lose track of what happens to the offender. What plans does my hon. Friend have to give victims the right routinely to know whether fines are paid, whether community sentences are served, whether drug treatment orders are complied with and the length of prison sentence actually served?

Fiona Mactaggart: My right hon. Friend is aware that the victims code includes improved rights for victims, which cover, for example, the release of a dangerous offender from prison. Appropriate rights for victims are the first step, and we are discussing with the victims advisory panel what further rights should be available to victims. We will also discuss the matter with the new victims commissioner, when they are appointed—the appointment process will begin shortly. Under the victims code, some of the rights to which my right hon. Friend has referred will be available to victims, and for the first time from April, if a victim does not get those rights, they can appeal to the ombudsman.

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