I am more than happy to congratulate Durham constabulary on what it has done with the special police force, and I take this opportunity to congratulate the specials on their 175th birthday, just last weekend. Specials are often overlooked in what
constitutes the growing police family these days, but up and down the country they play a very important role alongside police community support officers, warrant officers and police staff in doing what we need our police forces to do. I shall certainly take away the point about the stipendiary paid to specials, and see whether that can be put into the overall mix of police pay generally.
The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Home Secretary announced on 20 July our intention to consult on a possible review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This is part of our ongoing programme to look at custody and related processes, a key objective of which is to simplify and streamline procedures to free up police officer time for operational activity outside the police station. That is why, for example, we have enabled the arresting officer to grant street bail, and use street disposals such as fixed penalty notices and penalty notices for disorder; and why, in 2002, under the work force modernisation programme, we allowed chief officers to designate civilian staff to carry out functions previously performed by the arresting officer, such as escort, detention and case preparation tasks.
Mr. Austin: I thank the Minister for that answer, but what progress has been made on work force modernisation to release officers from the burden of paperwork and get them back on the street tackling crime, arresting criminals and cracking down on antisocial behaviour, which is what my constituents want them to do?
Mr. McNulty: I share my hon. Friends concerns. We are having discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers and are about to move to the next phase of work force modernisation. I think everyone would agree that having a record number of police is not sufficient if more and more are not out on the streets. I know that the right hon. Member for Witney agrees with that, because he referred to that, too, in one of his speeches. The use of civilian staff and the serious consideration that chief constables are giving to the role played by warrant officers, whether on the streets or in police stations, are important factors. Chief Constable Bob Quick is considering those, and will report to us shortly.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): I welcome in principle the Governments review of PACE, but does the Minister accept that the key to it is finding ways of altering the law so that less paperwork is required, not simply finessing the current situation and handing tasks over from experienced custody sergeants to civilians, which, because of inexperience, may result in acquittals?
I am afraid I do not agree with that. We must get the balance right between the bureaucracy and paperwork and the policing, but policing does not stop with the arrest and placing in custody of individuals. There is then the evidential trail, and all that follows in the criminal justice system. The hon.
Gentleman is right: the key is the balance. If that requires more civilians to do some of the back-office and preparatory case work, that is entirely right, but this is not as simple as clicking your fingers, twisting your heels and going off to Kansas, and bureaucracy disappearing.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the Minister share my concern at the amount of handwritten documentation that must be produced by police officers following arrests? Surely we should consider the use of information technology. Police officers could use laptops to record information, or, if they will not do that, they could simply dictate their reports into a machine.
Mr. McNulty: I agree. IT is one of the matters being examined as part of the work force modernisation programme, including the increasing use on the streets of hand-held computers that can be plugged in for downloading purposes on return to the office. This too is about getting the balance right, but it costs money. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who I believe is one of the tax cutters, will tell me how it could be achieved when £21 billion had been taken from the public purse by his party.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister seems to ignore the reality of what happens with our police. A few weeks ago I was doing what Members in all parts of the House doaccompanying a police patrol on a Friday night. The police were confronted by an abusive and potentially violent young man. After they had settled the incident, I asked them why they had not arrested the young man, as they certainly could have done. They said that if they had arrested him, it would have taken the whole three-person patrol out of action for three hoursthe crucial period for patrolling the town centre. Is the Minister not worried about the fact that after nine years of government by his party, the police are afraid to use their arresting powers because if they do they will be prevented from doing their real job of protecting the public?
Mr. McNulty: With respect, they are prevented in part from implementing legislation passed by this Government in the teeth of opposition from the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. Of course we need the balance between paperwork and bureaucracy, and proper policing. Along with ACPO and the Police Federation, we are trying to ensure that that balance is maintained and to enhance the modernisation that has already taken place. However, the hon. Gentleman is living in cloud-cuckoo-land if he thinks that that is all that happens in policingand I would not believe PC David Copperfield either, because that is more of a fiction than Dickens.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Tackling antisocial behaviour is among the Governments highest priorities, and the antisocial use of mini-motorbikes remains a nuisance and a danger to many people. That is why the Government's Respect taskforce has led the way in addressing the misuse of mini-motos and go-peds. We recently published a step-by-step guide for practitioners, and provided additional finance for communities affected by the problem. Those initiatives have helped the police and local authorities to pursue robust enforcement measures such as immediate seizures, destruction, noise abatement notices and antisocial behaviour orders.
Charlotte Atkins: I welcome the Home Secretarys response, but can he tell me whether the summer campaign to seize mini-motorbikes was a success? Despite all the enforcement measures that he has listed, it concerns my constituents in Leek, Biddulph and other areas that the issue of antisocial behaviour is not high enough on the list of police priorities.
John Reid: My hon. Friend makes a good point. There are powers for the tackling of go-peds and mini-motos, which are a danger and a chronic nuisance to many people not just in her constituency but elsewhere, but she is right to say that enforcement of those powers is patchy throughout the country. That is one of the reasons why we spent some £200,000 over the summer on an information campaign to try to heighten the awareness of practitioners such as local authorities and police forcesas well as that of the publicof the ways of tackling the nuisance that lie in their own hands.
The campaign has been a success in many areas, although it has been used to a limited extent in my hon. Friends area. I believe that there has been one seizure and five warnings, which is a relatively small result compared with that in many other areas. However, I hope that the increasing availability of information will encourage local authorities and police to take action against something that is becoming a terrible nuisance for many people.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Three years ago, I spent some time dealing with the tragedy of a youngster who was killed as a result of a collision caused by another youngster on a motorcycle. This weekend I spent some time with a family that had lost a 19-month old youngster as a result of a four-wheeled vehicle that was apparently stolen and driven by other youngsters. I accept that the figures show that the number of such crimes leading to fatalities has, happily, gone down considerably. However, will the Home Secretary review the way in which young people are educated so that they understand that potential fatalities can be caused by that sort of behaviour? The best way is to show them the results, to persuade them that their own younger brothers or sisters, or they themselves, could be the next victims, as opposed to the people who cause the deaths.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very pertinent and important point. While these vehicles can legitimately be used off the road on controlled tracks and areas, when they are used on the roads in a haphazard fashion they are dangerous not only to other people but to the
lives and limbs of the young people who are driving them. I was recently in Manchester and saw some examples of what can happen. The unguarded chain on those vehicles, for instance, can be a lethal weapon. And everything sits on top of a plastic fuel containerwhich is a fireball just waiting to happen if used in the wrong circumstances. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, which is why we ran the campaign over the summer months to inform local authorities and the police as well as the public about the problem. In Manchester, I believe that there have been about 116 seizures of mini-motors, and many of them were destroyed. I agree that it is important to send out the information, and I can also inform the hon. Gentleman that we will keep the matter under review.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): Tackling sexual crimesabove all, rapeis and always has been an important priority for the Government. Over the past three years, we have made nearly £6.7 million available to support victims. Specific targets on rape have so far been set at local level within the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. I can tell my hon. Friend that we shortly hope to publish an action plan on sexual violence and abuse.
Lynda Waltho: I appreciate and welcome the finance and support given to rape victims so far, and I accept that targets have been set locally through the local partnerships. However, there is enormous variation in the rate of convictionsfrom 0.86 per cent. in Gloucestershire, through 6 per cent. in the west midlands where my constituency is located, to nearly 14 per cent. in Northampton. Surely such variation suggests that a stronger lead is needed on the conviction targets.
Joan Ryan: We think it right to set targets locally, and I would ask my hon. Friend to reflect on how we have dealt with domestic violence, where targets are also set locally. There, we have increased the conviction rate and we are replicating some of the methods that we used for domestic violence to deal with sexual violence. In particular, funding was made available this year for the first time to set up independent sexual violence advisers. We have also adopted some important measures, introducing specialist rape prosecutors in every crime prosecution area. Certainly the conviction rate for crimes such as rape, at just below 6 per cent., is unacceptably low. We are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers on the production of guidance for the police and we have overhauled the law on sexual offences. We are also introducing procedures to make it easier for victims of sexual crimes to give evidence.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD):
I entirely agree with what the Minister has said about many of the issues relating to targets, but one of the real obstacles is the lack of a common approach from police forces across the country to the victims of rape.
We need a properly resourced programme to ensure that all victims of rape are given equal opportunity to receive the support, advice and guidance that they need to pursue prosecutions.
Joan Ryan: I take the hon. Gentlemans point. We have issued guidance to local crime and disorder reduction partnerships on how to tackle sexual violence, and how to develop a local strategy for doing so. We are also working with ACPO to produce guidance for the police. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that support for the victims is one of the most crucial parts of the process. That is why the independent sexual violence adviserswho work so well in the context of domestic violence, as I have saidcan make such a difference. They work with the victim from beginning to end of the process. The victim will be supported more fully, whether they decide to report the offence or not. If they do report the offence, we hope that that will lead to an improvement in the conviction rate.
Laura Moffatt: No one wishes to prevent the safe use of mini-motorcyclesmy three sons were taught by their father, who was an RAC Auto-Cycle Union instructorbut we must be concerned about young people who cause a danger not only to themselves but to many other people on our streets and in our parks and open spaces. Is there anything further that we can do to help Sussex police, who are taking an active role in dealing with the problem, to tackle that antisocial behaviour?
John Reid: As my hon. Friend says, the legitimate use of such vehicles in controlled circumstances is broadly supported by the Government. Well-managed legal sites can divert people away from the illegal use of go-peds and mini-motos. She is also right to say that we need more information and guidance. The Respect taskforce, which is addressing this and other issues of antisocial behaviour, is committed to supporting any area experiencing problems with mini-motos. The taskforce has produced guidance for practitioners on tackling misuse, a public information leaflet has been produced for retailers, and workshops were run for practitioners at the September academy events this year. The taskforce also runs a website and hotline for anyone who is interested in the issue. I commend all those to my hon. Friend as means by which information on this disturbing antisocial trend can be made available to her constituents, and to the authorities.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with his colleague in the Department of Trade and Industry about introducing stricter controls on the sale of mini-motorbikes, and with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency about their compulsory registration?
John Reid: I believe that the existing controls are sufficient. As I pointed out earlier, the present powers stem from at least two Actsthe Police Reform Act 2002 and the Road Traffic Act 1988and include powers of seizure, powers to destroy, warning letters, acceptable behaviour contracts, parenting contracts, dispersal powers, noise abatement powers and antisocial behaviour orders. As well as that range of powers, we also encourage legitimate use. At this stage, we are not of the opinion that mini-motorcycles should be banned completely, but where they are being misused we have made available a range of powers. Those are being used throughout the country, albeit patchily, and we are attempting to spread their use more widely.
18. Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): What the average time taken was to reach an initial decision on an asylum application (a) in respect of people held at (i) Harmondsworth and (ii) Oakington and (b) overall in the latest period for which figures are available. 
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne):
The time for initial decisions at Harmondsworth and Oakington was 14 days and 12 days respectively. Overall, 76 per cent. of
initial claims are decided within eight weeks, compared with 20 months in 1996. My briefing then reads: These figures are taken from internal management information and may be subject to change prior to publication in official Home Office statistics.
Martin Linton: If it takes only 14 days at Harmondsworth and far longer for asylum seekers in the community, does not that show that it is in the interests of asylum seekers for the Government to have reception centres so that asylum seekers can sort out their right to stay much more quickly, and be allowed to work more quickly? That will help refugees do what they what to do, which is to pay their way; it will also, incidentally, save the taxpayer money.
Mr. Byrne: We use detained fast track when we are certain that there is a high likelihood of removal. It is one of a range of tactics. On the continent, of course, tactics are different; there is much greater use of reception centres. The important point for my hon. Friend is that when we look across Europe we see that the UK is now 14th for asylum applications per capita. In the last quarter for which data are available the fall in applications in the UK was 24 per cent., while the fall in the EU was just 11 per cent. When we look at the range of tactics deployed in the UK compared with many other countries we can see how far ahead we are.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance in relation to the Department of Healths major policy announcement made through the newspapers after the House rose in July that it is out-sourcing to DHL NHS Logistics and most of its purchasing and supply operations worth about £4 billion per annum. The policy was implemented on 1 October, while we were still in recess but was not announced or debated on the Floor of the House. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health on 16 August raising questions of policy and parliamentary accountability, eventually to receive a reply from her Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), dated 16 Octobertwo months laterin which he relied on, and attached a copy of, a letter from his predecessor to the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) dated 9 July 2005, saying that a copy could be found in the Library. The Library confirms that a copy of that letter was placed there only on 16 September 2006a full 14 months after it was written and, intriguingly, a month after my letter and the press coverage in the early part of the most recent recess. I am sure that the House will draw its own conclusions from that, Mr. Speaker, but far from deterring me from smelling a rat, could you advise me as to whether it is for you to investigate the quality of ministerial responses or whether it is a matter for the Leader of the House, in the light of his recent pronouncements about the quality of ministerial responses? I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman is in the Chamber today.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week, a Member of the House of Lords used parliamentary privilege to name an alleged victim of rape, despite the fact that the law guarantees any such alleged victim anonymity for life. Regardless of the circumstances of the particular case, surely that will hardly help more rape victims to come forward. If a Member of this House were to use parliamentary privilege in the same way, Mr. Speaker, can you advise whether you would rule him or her out of order?