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David Davis: I thank the Home Secretary for that answer. When I put the question to him, I was careful to use the Prime Minister’s exact words. I note that the Home Secretary did not use the same words, and I understand why—because we have to deal with realities at the Dispatch Box, not overblown rhetoric. In terms of reality, may we have some facts on the 1,023 foreign
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prisoners released without consideration, who were referred to earlier? As of today, how many have been deported; how many have been detained; how many have committed further crimes; and how many does he expect to deport, and by when?

John Reid: On the last question, as the right hon. Gentleman does not himself engage in overblown rhetoric, he would not expect me to give him an expectation at this stage by which time all of this will be completed. What I can do is give him what information I have; I can do no better than that.

Of the most serious offenders, which the right hon. Gentleman will recall include rape, murder, manslaughter and sexual abuse against children, the current figure, having updated the categories by two methods—one is by redefinition, to include some serious offences that I thought ought to have been included in the first place within the more serious category; the second is to have scrutinised, or rather the police to have scrutinised, each case out of 800 on their way to 1,023, with a view to previous offences and reoffenders—is 35, of whom 26 are already under control. All of them have been considered, and the initial consideration has resulted in deportation decisions in 29 of them. Two only have been not considered for deportation, and I am asking for details of why not, and one has been deported. Of the more serious categories, we now include in that 144, of whom 55 are under control—the House should remember that some 70-odd of these were recategorised only a few days ago as being more serious—129 considered, 115 decisions to deport, 15 not and six actually deported. I shall not go through the rest of the details, but I will supply them to the right hon. Gentleman in writing.

Police Community Support Officers

4. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of police community support officers. [70207]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): A national evaluation of police community support officers was published on 26 January this year. The report found that PCSOs have been well received by the public and that they are valued for their visibility and accessibility. They are helping to restore respect in local communities by providing reassurance and tackling antisocial behaviour and low-level crime.

Tony Baldry: Thames Valley police estimate that over the next 18 months they will need to recruit between 26 and 32 community support officers in my constituency to provide proper coverage. So far, they have recruited just six. There appear to be two problems: vetting, which seems to be very cumbersome, and funding. The Government fund only 75 per cent. of the posts, so Thames Valley police have to find the 25 per cent. from other Government programmes, which does not seem particularly joined up. Indeed, at the moment, Horton hospital is funding two of the community support officers. I must tell the Minister that between the spin and the reality lies frustration.

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Mr. Coaker: Vetting is extremely important to ensure that the right calibre of people become police community support officers. We are providing significant funding for neighbourhood policing, including for PCSOs, over the next two years, and we have made it clear that our investment will be maintained after 2008. However, community safety is an outcome shared by a number of agencies, and it is appropriate that other partners contribute and that money is used from the safer and stronger communities fund and the neighbourhood renewal fund. If all those agencies work together, we shall see PCSOs not only in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency but across the country.

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab) rose—

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Jane Kennedy: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the House. May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to his new portfolio on the Front Bench? I look forward to holding him to account in the friendliest way possible in the weeks and months to come.

In Liverpool, 69 community support officers are ably supporting the police and are well deployed and appreciated. However, Liverpool city council also employs 39 street crime wardens and, to the dismay of the chief constable, they wear an almost identical uniform to that of police officers. Will my hon. Friend keep an eye on such otherwise laudable anti-crime initiatives, which have the potential to create confusion and undermine confidence in excellent community support officers?

Mr. Coaker: I thank my right hon. Friend for her welcome. I hope to ensure that I work in such a way that the accountability of which she talks will be a matter of pride for both of us.

The matter of uniforms issued to PCSOs is an operational one for chief officers. However, I believe that the common standard uniform set out by the Association of Chief Police Officers distinguishes PCSOs from police officers, while clearly identifying them as members of the police family. I congratulate Liverpool city council on its street wardens and on the work that PCSOs are doing in my right hon. Friend’s area and others to reduce crime.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): May I add my congratulations to the Minister? My recollection is that as a Back Bencher serving on Standing Committees considering police and criminal legislation he was extremely robust in encouraging Ministers to take tougher action. I hope that that zeal has not been lost now that he finds himself in their position.

The Minister will recall that a major issue of dispute between the Government and the Opposition was giving community support officers the power to detain people for up to 30 minutes, and it was decided to trial it in a few forces. In how many forces do CSOs now have the power of detention, and on how many occasions, as we suspected, was 30 minutes not adequate to enable a real police officer to turn up to turn detention into arrest?

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Mr. Coaker: I say to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I served on the Committee considering the Anti-social Behaviour Act in 2003, that I shall certainly maintain a robust attitude to antisocial behaviour and to crime in general. I do not have the figures on the number of areas where the power to detain has been given to PCSOs, but he will no doubt be pleased, as I am, that the Police and Justice Bill, which is before Parliament, contains a measure to standardise the powers for police community support officers across the country, one of which will be the power to detain for 30 minutes.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate

5. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): What steps he is taking to clear the backlog of cases at the immigration and nationality directorate. [70209]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): We have published our five-year comprehensive strategy for immigration and asylum. The issue of backlogs cannot be viewed in isolation from that overall strategy. We have developed plans to deal with immigration applications including the points-based system and the new asylum model, so that we do not simply get into the position of recreating a problem of backlogs in future. We think that we have got on top of the challenge of intake, and that has given us an opportunity to turn our attention to backlogs, which increasingly will be our focus. That has been possible only because of our redesigning of the managed migration processes and our reducing asylum intake.

Keith Vaz: May I congratulate my hon. Friend on retaining his position in the Home Office despite the fact that so much has changed around him? In the 19 years I have been a Member of Parliament, hon. Members on both sides of the House, including me, have criticised the chronic malfunctioning of the immigration and nationality directorate. Indeed, before my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) resigned as Home Secretary, he referred to its systemic failures. Will the Minister confirm that there is no question of any bonuses being paid to IND senior officials until the entire backlog of cases has been cleared, and all outstanding matters have been resolved?

Mr. McNulty: May I start by thanking my hon. Friend for the welcome which, I think, he extended to me? I thank him, too, for commenting on the recent improvements in performance, but I afraid that it is not for me to discuss in detail at the Dispatch Box human resources, or pay and conditions for any civil servant, for reasons that he will understand. Staying on top of the backlogs at the IND and dealing with them is a matter to which we are devoting serious concentration and effort.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Does the Minister expect the IND’s work load to increase when foreign prisoners facing deportation claim asylum at the end of their sentence?

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Mr. McNulty: That is always a consideration that we must bear in mind, not simply in the light of the existing difficulties with foreign national prisoners but as a general point and a matter of law. The hon. Lady makes an entirely fair point.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Is there anything special about the IND, because it seems to lose a large number of files? In approximately one in 20 cases with which I deal, I receive an answer saying that the file has been mislaid or lost. Something has gone wrong, as that increases the backlog and people’s frustration. My constituents may be prepared to wait if they know that their case is being considered, but it is dreadful for their file to be lost or mislaid, so something must be done.

Mr. McNulty: Any loss of files is dreadful, I concede. It is frustrating not just for Members of Parliament but for the applicants, so we must address it. My hon. Friend will know that, together with UKvisas, we have arranged a range of activities, seminars and so on for Back Bench MPs on the range of IND business. Such matters are dealt with competently and fairly when they are brought to our attention, and hopefully we can deal far more swiftly with complaints from Members and their constituents.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister will be aware that one big reason for those delays and backlogs is the fact that immigration officers are trying to meet Government targets instead of doing their proper job. Last night, “Panorama” revealed that the Prime Minister’s target of removing more failed asylum seekers than there are new applications took precedence over everything. One immigration officer said:

Will the Minister admit that chasing a narrow target means that backlogs build up and dangerous criminals are let out on the streets, and that meeting the Prime Minister’s target has become more important than running an efficient, firm and fair immigration system?

Mr. McNulty: I do not believe that that is the case. I freely accept that there has been a concentration on the tipping point target, not least as a result of pressure from the Opposition, the public and others, but it is absolutely not the case that that is to the exclusion of everything else that IND does. I do not dispute the fact that its work is sensitive, or that it is undertaken by dedicated members of staff. It is not advisable to traduce them, and I caution him against what might be termed fatuous casual empiricism.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of the case of Osama Obade Sattar—a nine-year-old Dundee boy stranded in Pakistan because he was refused permission to return to the UK on his mother’s Pakistani passport. This morning, my office received a call from UKvisas advising that young Osama could apply for a Pakistani visa to allow him to return. Given that he was born in Dundee, he has lived there since his birth, and both his parents are British citizens, can we not find a better solution? What reassurances can my hon. Friend offer the understandably distressed Sattar family?

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Mr. McNulty: Again, I cannot discuss a particular case at the Dispatch Box, but I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend afterwards to look into the matter further.

Probation Service

6. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): What steps he is taking to improve the monitoring of offenders by the probation service when released from prison on licence. [70210]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): In a statement to the House on 20 April this year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) outlined a number of key proposals to improve the management of offenders on licence. Taken together, if the lesson is learned from recent reports, those proposals will result in greater protection for the public, particularly with regard to the supervision of the most dangerous offenders.

Stephen Hammond: I thank the Minister for that answer, but he must accept that Home Office funding cuts have meant that only 10 per cent. of potentially dangerous offenders are interviewed by the Parole Board. Surely the Home Office must accept some responsibility for that. Can he tell the House what he and his new colleagues will do to rectify that situation?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I can only reiterate the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about what we want to achieve—to get fairness into the system, but to make sure that public protection is paramount. My predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), put in place a number of measures. We will also consider the inspector’s report on the probation service and report to the House when we are in a position to do so.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): May I first associate myself and my hon. Friends with the earlier remarks and the condolences expressed on the tragic death of Special Constable Nisha Patel-Nasri? Will the Minister confirm that the report of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation on the murder of Naomi Bryant by Anthony Rice identified flaws in the interpretation of the Human Rights Act 1998, rather than in the Act itself? Does he therefore agree that, rather than denigrating the Act as a whole, it would be wiser for the Prime Minister to agree with the Attorney-General, who said last week that the Act

Mr. Sutcliffe: The Naomi Bryant case was outrageous, and our condolences go to the family members. I refer to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the Human Rights Act and its interpretation and application. We will consider all those issues when we respond in due course.

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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I join others in welcoming the Minister and his new colleagues to the Home Office, and wish them greater success than their predecessors. The Minister will know that Home Office documents have revealed that an average of 7,846 criminals are arrested, cautioned or convicted while on probation every month, and that they are responsible for a total of 10,206 offences. He spoke a moment ago about public protection. Will he offer the House the assurance that we expect—namely, that he is interested in public protection, and that he will provide the necessary political leadership and engineer the proper strategic management? Without all those things, the rest is but words.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his welcome to me and to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the new team. Clearly, the problem has been going on for some time. That is why we introduced the National Offender Management Service and why we are looking into what needs to be done. I take very seriously the inspector’s reports on recent cases. We will make sure that we are able to protect the public, which is our paramount priority. The status quo cannot continue and things must change. We are putting change in place.

Police Force Mergers

8. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): How many representations he has received (a) opposing and (b) supporting the merger of the Essex police force with the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire police forces. [70212]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): It is not possible to provide the statistics in the way that the hon. Gentleman has requested. However, we have received a range of submissions, many of them proposing a solution that differs from our original proposal. They will all form part of our continuous consideration.

Bob Russell: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, but does he accept that there is very little support in Essex for merging Essex police with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire police forces, two counties with which Essex has very little in common? What is more important—holding the line on a wrong decision made by his predecessor, or getting it right? Here is an opportunity to be a hero, rather than a villain.

John Reid: Hope springs eternal, Mr. Speaker.

This is not a decision that offers the choice of getting it right or pursuing the strategic objectives of my predecessor, which were based on considered evaluation by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. It is clear that the present strategic structure of our police services is not fit for purpose in many ways. Therefore, the status quo is not an option. The strategic goals
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outlined by HMIC, and the work that was done by my predecessor, point us in the right direction. I have not had time, to be honest, to consider these matters in the considerable detail that would be wished in the hon. Gentleman’s area and in many other areas, because of other events over the past week. I will be turning my mind to how we achieve this strategic objective in the not too distant future. I hope to be able to return to the hon. Gentleman with fuller detail.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us in the area of the Bedfordshire police are concerned that whatever the reconfiguration between the counties, resources should be released into front-line policing? I welcome the extra 24 police officers that we have in Luton. Will my right hon. Friend ensure, as part of the reconfiguration, that Luton has parity with other similar police forces? That would mean that we would have an additional 60 to 70 police officers. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that reconfiguration will give us the extra resource that we need on our front line?

John Reid: I know that my hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for the interests of her own area. She will know that there are a considerable number of police officers on the beat and in the forces who were not there when the new Labour Government took office in 1997. There are about 13,000 more police officers. In addition, far more of them are on the beat than previously. Neighbourhood policing teams, as well as the back-ups from antisocial behaviour personnel and community wardens, and so on, mean that the capability of the police in combating crime and restoring order is far greater.

It is true that any restructuring will be aimed at further enhancing that capability. That is the intention. This will be costly, but we have already made it plain that although restructuring will be expensive we have undertaken to meet the net reasonable costs that arise as a direct result. At this early stage, I cannot speak with great authority about the position on the street in Luton. I undertake to educate myself on that in the not too distant future, and to write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I beg to differ with the response that the Home Secretary made to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). Essex is the size of a small European country and—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. It is not the function of Question Time to allow hon. Members to differ with Ministers. The purpose of Question Time is to put questions to Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman puts a question to the Minister, I can help him out.

Mr. Newmark: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to know from the Home Secretary whether he will do what his predecessor agreed to do, which was to listen to the people of Essex, who voted unanimously for a no in keeping an Essex police force independent.

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