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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): The number of antisocial behaviour orders issued, as notified to the Home Office, from 1 January 2005 to 30 June 2005, in the local government authority area of Coventry city council is 12. During that period, a total of 142 ASBOs have been issued in the west midlands criminal justice system area.
Mr. Cunningham: Does my right hon. Friend recall that Coventry Members of Parliament pushed for the introduction of ASBOs? Indeed, Coventry was one of the first places in the country to use them, but how many people have reoffended in Coventry and the west midlands?
Hazel Blears: I congratulate my hon. Friend and many other Members of Parliament who have pushed for tough and swift enforcement action against antisocial behaviour. My hon. Friend's constituency is one of our Together Action areas, which have been at the forefront of leading the fight against antisocial behaviour.
I do not have the specific figures that my hon. Friend has requested today, but I shall write to him with the details. In action areas such as his, the number of people who believe that antisocial behaviour is a big problem has reduced from 25 per cent. only two years ago to
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19 per cent. now. That drop of 6 per cent. is a tribute to the people, the police and the local authorityall of them have genuinely taken action.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): I am sure that the Minister agrees that making an ASBO is of no value if it is not enforced. What will the Government do to reduce the paperwork burden on the police so that they have the time and opportunity to enforce the orders that the courts make?
Hazel Blears: The hon. Gentleman will know that we have made about 9,000 forms obsolete. We have also introduced video identity parades, and parades that used to take weeks to arrange can now be done in a matter of hours. We are trialling hand-held computers in a whole range of forces, so that police officers do not need to go back to the station so often. The police have also issued more than 170,000 penalty notices for disorder. This has saved them thousands of hours of police officers' time, which can now be used to tackle the problems that the public think are a real priority.
Mr. Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that antisocial behaviour orders have been warmly welcomed in local communities, not least by the many young people who make such a positive contribution to society. She will also be aware, however, that some people in this field seek new measures to make it easier to obtain antisocial behaviour orders, fixed penalty notices and other measures. Will she set out for the House what measures there are in the respect action plan, published last week, to make it easier for the police and other agencies to obtain antisocial behaviour orders, fixed penalty notices and other such measures?
Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend is right to say that people have used these powers to great effect in some areas. Indeed, the police in Wolverhampton have been closing crack houses, and they have secured 25 antisocial behaviour orders, which has made a real difference. Under the respect action plan, we want to consult on a closure order that will give the right to close either residential or licensed premises within 24 or 48 hours, to bring respite to communities that are suffering from serious antisocial behaviour. We want to ensure that there is a power for conditional cautions, so that people can be made to do visible unpaid work very soon after engaging in their antisocial behaviour. We also want to make antisocial behaviour injunctions and local authority injunctions work better. There is a whole range of enforcement issues in the respect action plan. Hon. Members will know, however, that it also contains
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
(Con): Is the Minister aware that it is very difficult to apply for and obtain an antisocial behaviour order? Is she also aware that 40 per cent. of them are breached, and that a
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pathetically small percentage of those breaches end up being prosecuted, especially among the under-16s? What is she going to about that?
Hazel Blears: First, I reject the hon. Gentleman's assertion that antisocial behaviour orders are virtually impossible to obtain. There are now 6,500 antisocial behaviour orders across the country. I do not have a league tableI do not want to judge people on how many orders they havebut many police areas and local authorities have now got their act together and are able to obtain the orders. The hon. Gentleman said that 40 per cent. of the orders are breached; 60 per cent. of them are not, which means that peace and harmony have been brought to those communities. When they are breached, it is vital that enforcement action is taken swiftly in the areas that are using these powers.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): There have been some 1,371 voluntary returns to Iraq since July 2003. In 2004, the Home Office announced its intention to commence an enforced returns policy to Iraq. As with all nationalities, removals will be enforced on a case-by-case basis, and the immigration service will return people only to those areas of Iraq assessed as being sufficiently stable and where we are satisfied that the individual concerned will not be at risk. The first enforced returns to Iraq took place on 20 November 2005, when 15 Iraqis were removed on a forced basis.
Ann McKechin: The Minister will appreciate that a large number of Iraqi applicants have now been residing in the United Kingdom for more than three years. They come from the parts of Iraq to which we are unlikely, in the short to medium term, to be able to guarantee them a safe return. As a result, they are left in a very unsatisfactory limbo. Will the Minister consider either granting an amnesty to these people or allowing them to work for a limited period until we can determine whether the security position in Iraq, especially in the Baghdad area, is likely to improve?
Mr. McNulty: My hon. Friend has asked an entirely fair question. There are no plans for any such amnesty for asylum seekersfrom Iraq or any other nationwhose applications have failed. In relation to whether those who cannot immediately be returned should be allowed to work or afforded some kind of temporary status, these matters are always kept under review, so I would never say never.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East)
(SNP): I welcome the Minister's commitment to a case-by-case review of the forced return of failed asylum seekers to parts of Iraq deemed to be safe. Given the deep anxiety not just about that but about removal of asylum seeker families with children to many countries that, though nominally safe, are in reality in turmoil, with large amounts of violent
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civil conflict, will the Minister give a commitment to a case-by-case review of the forced return of asylum seekers with families to places such as Congo and Sudan as well as to Iraq?
Mr. McNulty: I can only repeat what I said in my previous answer. All cases that are deemed ready for enforced returns are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, regardless of the circumstances and regardless of the country. Rather than narrowing that down to particular segments of the failed asylum seeker community as the hon. Gentleman suggests, I would prefer to keep it at the level at which the personal circumstances and the circumstances of the country for that individual, on a case-by-case basis, must be paramount. I repeat, however, as I said last week, that it must be in everyone's interest that when people, for whatever reason, fail in their application for asylum, we must collectively do all that we can to ensure voluntary rather than enforced returns.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): As the recent report on the DNA expansion programme confirms, the national DNA database is a key police intelligence tool and provides the police with around 3,000 intelligence matches each month, which are critical leads for police investigations. There has been a fourfold increase in the number of detections obtained through the use of DNA between 1999 and 2005. The database is helping to secure more convictions and bring more offenders to justice.
Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. He will know that 88 murders once considered cold cases have now been solved thanks to the DNA database. Three of those were in Wales, and 11 stranger rape cases have also been solved in Wales as a result of the database. I urge him not to listen to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who says that it is an intolerable attack on human rights, or to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who seems to think that it is an irrelevance. Will the Minister push forward with the DNA database so that we can solve more cold-case crimes?
Andy Burnham: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend's points. In particular, people who have been arrested for offences and whose DNA has been held have been linked to 3,000 offences, including 37 murders, 16 attempted murders and 90 rapes. Those leads are giving justice to families who could not previously have their case concluded. The database is extremely important and provides the police with a vastly important intelligence tool. We should celebrate its expansion rather than, as some others have done, seek to nit-pick and carp at every available opportunity.
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