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Neighbourhood Policing

4. Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the neighbourhood policing pilot schemes. [59225]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Hazel Blears): All 43 neighbourhood policing basic command unit pathfinders—there is one in every force—are making good progress in developing and implementing locally specific models for neighbourhood policing, and they are supported by an Association of Chief Police Officers-led neighbourhood policing programme team.

Mr. Wright: Next Thursday, I shall launch the neighbourhood policing pilot model in Hartlepool. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Thank you. As part of that pilot, we will get an additional 36 police officers, which will help to reassure the people of Hartlepool. In order to maximise such reassurance, however, the public need to be confident that they can get hold of those additional officers. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the punters on my patch can get hold of local police teams?

Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend has a long, consistent and proud record of campaigning on crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour in his constituency. I know that he will be delighted that his area is one of the pathfinders for the programme and understand that 15 ward-based teams and three support teams will be in
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place by 3 April. All the details of the dedicated neighbourhood officers will be publicised in advance, so the public will know who those officers are, how to contact them and how to have their say on local priorities in Hartlepool.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): The Minister will understand why those of us with a suspicious mind think that this roll-out may have something to do with the elections on 4 May. The trial schemes that we have had in Bexley from the Metropolitan police are very welcome, but we need the assurance that these are not notional jobs and that real policemen are to be allocated to these schemes, which are then left in place. In practice, we have seen that they are sometimes taken away and so become somewhat fictitious.

Hazel Blears: I had the pleasure of visiting Bexley just a week or so ago. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is no coincidence in terms of the local elections. In the past few weeks I have also been to Barnet and to Hackney to see the safer neighbourhood teams. There are now 285 safer neighbourhood teams across London, and there will be teams in every ward by the end of April. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that they comprise real, substantial police officers and that they form part of the extra 14,000 police officers whom the Government have introduced, together with the extra 6,000 community support officers whom we have introduced and funded.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I very much welcome the fact that in my constituency a neighbourhood policing pilot area is due to start shortly, and I welcome the extra police officers and police community support officers whom we will get as part of that. Is the Minister aware, however, that people from ethnic minority communities who have worked for the local council as neighbourhood wardens are proving reluctant to move over to become police authority employees as PCSOs, and does she have any plans to address that issue?

Hazel Blears: I am delighted that so many Members are now experiencing the benefits of neighbourhood policing. The particular issue that my hon. Friend mentions has not been raised with me, but I will certainly look into it. I am delighted not only that many of our PCSOs are members of a variety of ethnic minority communities, but that a much higher proportion of them are women than is the case among police officers. PCSOs therefore represent a good way in which to get extra diversity into our police service.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Metropolitan police has announced that in order to complete its safer neighbourhood team project and have a community police team in every ward this year, it will be necessary to transfer a significant number of officers from serious crime squads in the capital. These are both important priorities. Does not the Minister agree that instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul, it would be better to cut bureaucracy and paperwork?

Hazel Blears: I think that the hon. Lady will acknowledge that the safer neighbourhood teams comprise additional officers and additional police
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community support officers and that they are extra resources for the people of London to ensure that they have very good, dedicated local neighbourhood policing. Clearly, serious crime must also be dealt with, and I have no doubt that the Metropolitan police is doing just that. In terms of tackling bureaucracy, the hon. Lady will know that we have not only abolished a    whole series of forms but introduced video identification, which is saving police officers thousands of hours of officer time. The introduction of fixed penalty notices has also saved a huge amount of officer time and led to much more effective policing.

Kurdish Asylum Seekers

5. Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): What UK immigration policy is on returning failed Kurdish asylum seekers to Turkey. [59226]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): The UK immigration policy on returning asylum seekers to Turkey is the same as elsewhere. All failed asylum seekers from Turkey who have exhausted their appeal rights are expected to leave the UK. If they do not, we consider it entirely reasonable for us to enforce the return of that individual where it is safe to do so.

Mrs. James: I thank my hon. Friend. I have given him advance notice of my question about the case of Mrs. Ayse Siringul. Mrs. Siringul is a Kurdish asylum seeker from Turkey who has suffered severe abuse in that country and very poor treatment here in Britain. She is making a valuable contribution to her local community in Swansea, East, and I would be extremely concerned about her and her children's welfare should they have to return to Turkey. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would look again at this case.

Mr. McNulty: I thank my hon. Friend for giving me notice of the case. She will know that I am unable to discuss the specific case of an individual at the Dispatch Box. However, I am aware of the background and I will write to my hon. Friend in due course about the points that she raises.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): In view of the Government's intention to reintroduce the obligatory use of vouchers for failed asylum seekers, can the Minister clarify what has happened since April 2002, when the use of those vouchers was scrapped by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who described them as

Mr. McNulty: As ever, the hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, is wrong. He should read things other than The Guardian and get a life. We are not reintroducing vouchers. From April 2005, when section 4—a prelude to removal from the country—support was introduced, it came with vouchers. The amendment that the House of Lords passed and that we will discuss when we consider the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill would provide for far more flexibility than simply granting vouchers for food and
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accommodation. It would expand provision to support in kind and for goods and services, which is more than sufficient for the extremely limited group of failed asylum seekers who are on section 4 support. The hon. Gentleman should not talk about the reintroduction of things when he clearly does not know what was introduced in the first place.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I urge my hon. Friend to be careful about returning asylum seekers to the Kurdish part of Turkey, given that the Turkish Government have a long way to go on human rights, especially for Kurds, and because of the concerns that Amnesty International, among others, has raised about article 301 of the penal code and the restrictions that that places on peaceable democratic dissent in Turkey, especially from the Kurdish community. Will he assure me that he will reconsider the position of the Kurdish community in Turkey given the human rights situation?

Mr. McNulty: I thank my hon. Friend for returning us to the question—that was kind of him. On a country-by-country basis, we always keep our information about minorities under review. In the context of the 1951 convention, the individual circumstances and history of each case are paramount in determining not only the asylum claim but whether, if the claim fails, it is appropriate to return individuals to their country of origin.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Does the Minister accept that there is some inconsistency in our considering asylum cases and sometimes granting asylum to Kurdish and other Turkish citizens while supporting Turkish accession to the European Union? How, in principle, could a common arrest warrant apply if Turkey was a member of the EU?

Mr. McNulty: Unusually, the hon. Gentleman confuses six different aspects of Government policy. I hope that he takes a generous view of all six.

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