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House of Commons

Monday 19 June 2006

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

Mr. Tawanda Machingura

1. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): What progress he has made in ascertaining the whereabouts of Mr. Tawanda Machingura, an illegal immigrant imprisoned for sexual assault of a mental health patient whilst working as a nurse in a local NHS hospital. [77870]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am not able to comment on individual cases within the House. I apologise for the delay in responding to the hon. Gentleman. I was able to update him this morning.

Mr. Baron: I hear the Minister’s response. This foul crime, committed two years ago, caused much concern locally, and all we wanted to know was the whereabouts of this dangerous individual after he was released. Despite writing to the then Home Secretary in April, asking written questions on 10 May, 17 May and 14 June and phoning the Home Office, I hit a wall of silence. It has taken the Minister being dragged to the Dispatch Box to get a simple answer to a simple question. Given the Prime Minister’s promise of transparency on this issue, will the Minister explain why I received no responses to my named-day written questions? Does this case not show that the Government have failed to reassure the public on the foreign prisoners’ crisis?

Mr. Byrne: The lack of response that was accorded to the hon. Gentleman’s inquiries was completely unacceptable. In my view, it highlighted again some of the failings on which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has briefed the House. The processes to which the hon. Gentleman alludes will be part of the review that we are undertaking over the next month and a half.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: I know that hon. Members are standing to be called, but this is a closed question. I must move on to Question 2.


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Deportation (Zimbabwe)

2. Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): If he will make a statement on his policy on deportation to Zimbabwe. [77871]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): The situation remains as set out by the then Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, now the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, on 20 April 2006. We are not enforcing returns to Zimbabwe pending a further hearing listed by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal from 3 to 7 July.

Mr. Stuart: While sex offenders are released and remain untraceable, one of my constituents, Ashleigh McMaster, is stuck in an asylum limbo. Her mother has been attacked and stabbed and her step-father has been hospitalised in Zimbabwe in the past year. Yet this young woman, whose grandfather served in the Royal Air Force for 20 years, and whose father enjoys British citizenship and lives in my constituency, faces the prospect of deportation. I have already asked to have a meeting with the Minister. Will he now agree to meet me to discuss the case of Ashleigh McMaster?

Mr. Byrne: As I have said, I cannot comment on individual cases, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. As he knows from correspondence with my ministerial colleague, fresh evidence was submitted by the applicant, which entailed a further review of the case details.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Minister will be aware of the limbo in which many Zimbabwe asylum seekers live in this country. Zimbabwean asylum seekers will want to return some day to restore Zimbabwe to democracy. As our friends, why are we not treating them as we treated people from South Africa? Why are we not allowing them to work? Many of them are well qualified and, in the meantime, they could contribute a huge amount to this country. Why are we not allowing them to work in this country, to contribute to it and to prepare themselves to go back to a new Zimbabwe?

Mr. Byrne: An important court case is pending that will, I think, change the context in which they are treated. As my hon. Friend knows, it is a valuable privilege to be able to work in this country. We think that it would be wrong to let certain people jump to the head of the queue. A related question has been asked about accessibility to benefits. As my hon. Friend knows, the rights of such applicants are set out clearly in section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): As long ago as November last year we were told that the inquiry into alleged fraud through the ancestral visa route from Zimbabwe was completed. Will the Minister tell me why constituents such as mine, the Mitchell family, have been held in limbo now for more than two years? Those people suffered greatly in Zimbabwe and they just want to get on with their lives. Their parents hold a
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British passport. It cannot be that complicated for the Minister’s Department to process this case, and many more like it.

Mr. Byrne: As the hon. Gentleman knows, some applications were the subject of extensive fraud. It was important and absolutely right that the immigration and nationality directorate undertook extensive inquiries so that it might make the right decisions. If there are specific cases that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about, we will be happy to correspond with him further about them.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just a matter of policy, it is also a matter of process? He alluded to the statement made by the Home Secretary that he regarded the Home Office as being unfit for purpose. Will he guarantee the resources necessary to ensure that cases to do with people from Zimbabwe, and the other cases at the IND, are dealt with speedily and efficiently so that people can get results, and also that no bonuses will be paid to the senior management of IND until those cases have been cleared?

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s advice on human resources policy at IND, and I will take his thoughts into account in the weeks and months ahead. At this stage, I do not have anything to add, either to my own evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs or, indeed, to the evidence of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but the point is well taken.

Mr. Speaker: I call David Davis. [ Interruption. ] It appears that he does not wish to ask a question, so I call Julian Brazier.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): While strongly sympathising with earlier comments by colleagues from all parts of the House, may I raise again the case of Sungaradazzo Mudgyiwa, who is not an asylum seeker but a straightforward illegal entrant from Zimbabwe? She was sent to prison for four and a half years for stealing more than £100,000 from the benefits system and more than £12,000 from the Post Office, but she is still resident in Whitstable and occupies a council house with her teenaged sons, one of whom has recently been served with an antisocial behaviour order for violence and intimidation. Once that case has been heard, will action be taken on deportation?

Mr. Byrne: We made it clear in our evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that enforcement and removals are a critical part of IND business that need to be strengthened. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for reserving my position on individual cases and not commenting but, again, if he would like me to update him on specific details, I am happy to do so.

Under-age Drinking

3. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of the case for additional measures to reduce the incidence of under-age drinking; and if he will make a statement. [77872]


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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): The Government are determined to crack down on those who sell alcohol to children. Through almost 17,000 test-purchase operations funded by the police standards unit, increased penalties in the Licensing Act 2003, and Government work with the licensed industry, the rate of sales to children, measured through test-purchase failures, has fallen considerably. Both the on and off-licence sectors have committed themselves to seek to eliminate under-age sales.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for her answer. She will be aware that the increase in drinking among the young has caused increased vandalism and antisocial behaviour. Is it not time that we looked at giving proper sentences to the people who retail that drink? Can she look at alcopops in particular, and their effect on the increased alcohol abuse prevalent among the young?

Joan Ryan: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He will be aware that young people who reported drinking once a week or more committed a disproportionate volume of crime, accounting for 37 per cent. of all offences reported by individuals between the ages of 10 and 17. I can give him some comfort, however, as the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is proceeding through the House of Lords, will introduce a new offence of persistent selling of alcohol to children, with offenders risking a £10,000 fine and suspension of their licence, or closure for up to 48 hours. The majority of 10 to 17-year-olds who have drunk alcohol in the past 12 months reported that they had obtained that alcohol from their parents, so there is a message both for the industry and for families.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) about alcopops, will the Minister look again at the way in which the Portman Group is supposedly regulating the matter? It is time for Government intervention, because that advertising is targeted at youngsters, creating a problem that should not exist. Will the Government undertake to look again at the way in which the Portman Group is allegedly regulating that activity?

Joan Ryan: The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the document on social responsibility standards for the production and sale of alcoholic drinks in the UK that was released last November includes guidelines on the marketing of those alcoholic drinks and supplements the existing guidelines from the Advertising Standards Authority and the Portman Group’s code of practice on the packaging, marketing and sale of alcoholic beverages. We must keep the matter under review, because those drinks are particularly attractive to young people, but I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that many retailers take their responsibilities extremely seriously and ask young people for proof of their age when they purchase drinks. However, many young people get older people to buy their drinks, so
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has the Department liaised with the police to ensure that when youngsters are seen drinking publicly in our communities they are apprehended and their parents find out about it?

Joan Ryan: My hon. Friend may be aware of the alcohol misuse enforcement campaigns—AMEC—of which there have been four, which have been very successful. They are aimed at shop owners who sell to under-age young people and do not ask for proof of identity. They also target those who are under age and purchase alcohol. Those measures are designed to deal with young people who purchase alcohol and others who purchase it knowingly on their behalf, and it is important that the measures and powers available to the police are used, because when they are used, they have some success. We know, for instance, that the number of young people who report using alcohol has dropped, inasmuch as the proportion of schoolchildren who have never had a drink is at its highest level— 42 per cent. Clearly, there is much more to do in this regard, but the powers exist and we encourage their use both in the AMEC campaigns and outside those campaigns.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): My constituent, Blake Golding, was savagely attacked outside a Milton Keynes nightclub by a young person on new year’s eve 2005. Since then, his mother, Marjorie Golding, has run a campaign—which has attracted over 100,000 signatures, is the subject of early-day motion 385 and was the subject of an Adjournment debate in the House last year—to change glasses and bottles in nightclubs to plastic. Does the Minister think such a measure would help to curb the rise in alcohol-related violence?

Joan Ryan: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He will know that among the measures that local authorities and the police have been taking with local public houses in the run-up to the World cup, they have recommended and in some cases insisted that they use plastic glasses. Clearly, the police think that that is a measure that works in public houses where there is a problem. Other measures, such as drink banning orders and alcohol disorder zones, are also being used to deal with unruly public houses.

Child Pornography

4. Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What further steps he plans to take to stop pornographic images of children being downloaded from the internet. [77873]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): We continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies, the new Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, industry and international colleagues, to tackle the downloading of such images. I have recently set the UK internet industry a target to ensure that by the end of 2007, all internet service providers offering broadband internet connectivity to the UK public prevent their customers from accessing those websites.


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Helen Goodman: As my hon. Friend knows, BT is blocking about 35,000 attempts every day to download child pornography from websites. Can he explain whether the announcement that he has just made about the target will be a compulsory regulation for the ISPs, which is necessary in order to cut the market and end child abuse around the world?

Mr. Coaker: We are determined to tackle that abuse, and our abhorrence is shared across the House. We expect 90 per cent. of internet service providers to have blocked access to sites abroad by the end of 2006. The target is that by the end of 2007 that will be 100 per cent. We believe that working with the industry offers us the best way forward, but we will keep that under review if it looks likely that the targets will not be met.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Given that the registration of sex offenders who pose a continued threat to children is as low as 30 per cent. on registers in operation in some states in the United States, whereas the equivalent figure in the UK is well over 90 per cent. on the sex offenders register, does the Minister agree with the Minister for Children and Families, the right hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) who stated in 2002 that

precisely because it would drive some of the most serious sex offenders underground? If that is the case, why do the Government seem to be revisiting an idea that was so summarily rejected by the Minister’s predecessors?

Mr. Coaker: As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced, we are considering all those matters, and we will reach our conclusions in due course. The Government’s aim is to tackle access to child pornography on the internet, sexual abuse and sex offenders, and we will come up with the best policies to do so.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for his positive response to my ten-minute Bill. Is he aware that children’s charities and credit card companies are working together to see whether credit cards can be used to block access to child pornography? And will he tell us when schedule 3 to the Data Protection Act 1998 will be amended to allow us to end that despicable crime?

Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for pressurising the Government to take further action. The order that she has mentioned was laid on 13 June.

Knives

5. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): How many offences involving the use of knives or other bladed weapons have been recorded by the police in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement. [77874]


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7. Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): What steps are being taken to tackle knife-related crime. [77877]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): With the exception of homicides, the recorded crime statistics do not separately identify all crimes involving knives and sharp instruments. Of the 4,141 offences currently recorded as homicide between 2000-01 and 2004-05, 1,211 involved sharp instruments. On 24 May, the Association of Chief Police Officers and I launched a nationwide knife amnesty to encourage people to hand in unwanted knives. The amnesty runs until the end of June, following which forces will undertake robust enforcement actions, education and community engagement work. Concurrent with that, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is currently before Parliament, contains a number of measures to tighten still further the control of knives.

Michael Gove: I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He may be aware that 10 years ago I worked with Frances Lawrence, the widow of the murdered head master Philip Lawrence, in order to secure action to deal with the scourge of knife crime. At that point, the then shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), assured me that dealing with knife crime would be a priority for a future Labour Government. Since then, public concern about knife crime has risen—in my constituency, one school pupil, Natashia Jackman, was attacked in the precincts of her own school, and we are all aware of the recent tragic murder of Kiyan Prince. Will the Home Secretary tell me what he and his ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills are doing in order to ensure the safety of schoolchildren against that particular scourge? And what will he do to honour the promise so freely given by his colleague 10 years ago?

John Reid: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the matter is a major public concern. Although I have been at the Home Office for a relatively short period, I have already indicated that I am reviewing the situation and considering the options on the possession of knives. I am giving serious consideration to suggestions that the maximum sentence for possessing an article with a blade or point in a public place should be increased, which is a measure of the seriousness with which I treat the matter. I would not like the hon. Gentleman to think that we have not acted previously, because we have, but I accept that the level of public concern obliges me to re-examine whether we should make sentencing even more robust in that area.


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