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7 Feb 2007 : Column 322WH—continued

The first point relates to intelligence-based policing and a focus on the resources that that needs. Secondly, in today’s age we can do better in technical terms in linking the security business with the police for incidents of the type that I have described. The vehicles have global positioning systems in them, which allows people to map precisely where they are. They have an alarm system that links the vehicle back to the headquarters of the organisation and allows people there to say, “This vehicle is being interfered with. An operative is being attacked.” What is needed is a relationship to a local police force that can respond in such instances. I do not believe that it is beyond wit to devise a communications system that makes direct communication quicker. I am not saying that that would have prevented the incident in Swadlincote from happening. Swadlincote police station was about 45 seconds’ drive from the store where it happened.
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Swadlincote is a small town—nowhere is very far away—but the police station was very close. Of course, if we could short-circuit the system whereby a call is routed back to Group 4 and then to the local police and make it possible for the police—in this case, the Derbyshire force—to be aware of an incident happening and respond rapidly, that would make the window that the criminals have a little narrower.

The other issue is cash-protection measures. I have touched on some of them. Again, I think that there is scope for co-operative work between the security industry and the Government to identify tools that are particularly useful in nullifying the value of cash that is taken through the criminal activity that I have described.

The third area is planning controls. People put in a cash machine where they think that it is most convenient for a shopper. They do not think about the needs of the people who replenish the cash. That is an important criterion that should be insisted on. If people are installing a machine, they need to place it very close to vehicular access, so that someone can load the machine safely, without having to walk halfway across a car park, exposing themselves to the possibility of attack by a criminal who has planned that. Again, if we could narrow the window of opportunity, that would be excellent.

I have to say that I have been disappointed by the responses that I have received on the issue to date; I have raised it previously. Thus far, it is felt that it is not necessary to give clear guidance that says exactly where a cash machine should be placed. I think that the industry itself could take action by insisting that, if a company is going to replenish a machine, it should be safely located at a point where its operatives can reach it efficiently.

Clearly, there is also an opportunity to install closed circuit television. Tesco, in response to the incident in Swadlincote, invested in CCTV. Obviously, the men involved were disguised and masked. Nevertheless, CCTV would make it a little more likely that key clues in an incident could be identified so that the miscreants could be pursued afterwards.

Ms Barlow: On that point, my hon. Friend might be interested to know that one of the three such attacks in Brighton and Hove last year—in one of which a handgun was used—was taped only because a public transport vehicle passing by managed to capture it, which was of great assistance to the police. Does he agree that local authorities should do their bit by installing more CCTV in such places?

Mr. Todd: Again, I agree entirely. There is obviously a role for the retailer. Tesco has decided to invest in additional CCTV at the relevant locations. That is necessary, but other agencies could assist.

Now I want to touch on the point that my hon. Friend made earlier—randomising delivery arrangements. In Swadlincote, the Tesco staff told me that they could set their clock by the delivery of the cash. Unfortunately, if they could do that, so could the criminals. I have suggested, and Tesco took the initiative with Group 4 to suggest itself that they alter the routines and make the time when the cash turns up less predictable.

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David Taylor: Randomising is of course a huge step in preventive terms, but in some cases there has been evidence of internal collusion involving members of staff of large establishments. That still needs to be tackled, does it not?

Mr. Todd: Sadly, that is undoubtedly true. I must admit that it did occur to me when I saw how frequent attacks on Tesco were in my own area that there must be some collusion in one organisation or another. I am assured that that was not the case but, obviously, internal intelligence, from within large organisations, can be a source of criminal activity.

My last point is that the criminal activity that I have described is clearly a matter for the Serious Organised Crime Agency—SOCA. One of the issues that causes many campaigners to despair is the continued classification of the activity as, in effect, a business crime. It is not a business crime. These are often violent, always organised criminal activities, which are based on criminality beforehand, in the sense that they normally involve the theft of a motor vehicle at the very least to facilitate the crime, and spawn further criminal activity afterwards. There has been a tendency to regard these as crimes against a business—a little akin to shoplifting or something of that type. These are serious crimes, committed by evil people, who, as I have tried to show, put at risk the lives of the workers, customers, shop staff and others who may be bystanders at the time. The issue should be one of the dedicated SOCA priorities. I hope that on that and the other points the Minister can give me some reassurance.

4.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) on securing the debate and on the customarily clear way in which he presented his points. It seems to me that we are becoming good friends in Westminster Hall on a variety of issues. I also welcome my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and for Hove (Ms Barlow) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), and thank them for attending the debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire stated, this is not the first occasion in recent times that the issue has been raised. As recently as the middle of last year, the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who was then an Under-Secretary in the Home Office, addressed the issue in response to a debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin).

I know that the deep concern that my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire expresses on the issue was prompted by a vicious attack in his constituency. I understand that the villains who perpetrated that particularly nasty attack have been arrested and charged, so that is one good point. We want to ensure, should anyone commit such a crime, that they are arrested and charged, so I am pleased
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about that. I would like to make it clear to my hon. Friend from the start that the Government find any crime that involves violence or guns unacceptable. We are sending out a strong message that crime of that nature has no place in the community or on the street, and perpetrators can expect to receive considerable custodial sentences. On the specific point about SOCA, if there is evidence of links to organised crime, SOCA will take that into account and support local police forces where appropriate.

I pay tribute to the British Security Industry Association and its chief executive, David Dickinson, for the excellent work that it and its members are doing to raise the profile of the problem of cash-in-transit attacks, and for the initiatives that they are developing, such as the safer cash initiative. I had the pleasure of opening its new headquarters in Worcester, and when I was there I saw that initiative in operation. I have no doubt that it is a valuable tool with which to tackle CIT attacks.

Like my hon. Friend, I congratulate the GMB union on its work to raise the profile of the issue and on its representation of its members. I understand, however, that there is frustration within the security industry community, which feels that insufficient priority is given to the issue. That concern is shared by my hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, who recently met representatives from the security industry, the GMB union and the BSIA. As a result of that meeting, he wrote to the chief officers of police forces in the areas where such attacks are most prevalent to establish how they are responding to the issue. We have received responses from all the forces concerned, and my officials at the Home Office are analysing them to outline what the next steps should be and how we can take a strategic approach to reducing the incidence of such attacks.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire that GPS technology could be deployed to enable improved contact with and response from the police. That is an important point: the greater use of technology would enable us to tackle the problem more effectively. The liaison between the GPS on vans and local police forces is being looked into. The responses that we have had from police forces suggest that there is now more scope than ever for the industry to make use of tracking technology to improve the capture of offenders, recover cash and deter people from thinking that they can commit this kind of offence and get away with it. My officials will discuss all that with representatives from the industry when they next meet to ensure that the Government play their part. I reassure my hon. Friend that we very much take on board his points about GPS technology and that we are working with the industry and the police to implement them.

I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend regards the work of the east midlands regional intelligence unit so highly. There is no doubt that the capability of the unit has contributed greatly to the response to organised crime. He asked about funding. In the 2005 Budget, the Chancellor made available £10 million for each of the periods 2006-07 and 2007-08 to tackle the gap that has been identified in the police’s response to level 2, or
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regional, crime—crime that falls between volume crime and serious organised crime.

In consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers, we agreed that the money should be used to create nine regional intelligence units around the country. As the east midlands region has a particularly acute problem with level 2 crime, it was agreed that a regional operational capability should be developed there as well. The funding allocated to the unit was initially £2.5 million for 2006-07, and ACPO proposes expenditure of £3.5 million for 2007-08, with additional funding to be provided by regional forces. My hon. Friend will know that funding after that will be subject to the spending review, so no longer-term funding decisions have been made. However, I have heard my hon. Friend’s point.

Mr. Todd: Bearing in mind that the comprehensive spending review has been made in the Home Office, unlike in many other Departments, is not there scope for a longer-term commitment to be made?

Mr. Coaker: All I can say to my hon. Friend is that, whatever overall budget allocations have been made, there is always room for discussion on these issues. The point of these debates is to listen to what is said and to reflect on it. That is what I am saying to him without giving any commitment to future spending.

My hon. Friend also talked about how we could use the planning system to reduce the areas of vulnerability for CVIT—cash and valuables in transit—crews. Planning is a key area that we need to consider closely. In supermarkets, docking stations can be integrated into the security measures to provide a secure and safe environment for the delivery of cash.

Ms Barlow: Will the Minister comment on parking spaces outside outlets and the importance of local authorities in their provision?

Mr. Coaker: That is a good point. I know that the issue of parking spaces to deliver the cash is often raised. We are discussing that with local authorities to see whether we can reach a more satisfactory solution that will benefit local parking arrangements and give greater security to those who deliver cash.

There are 55,000 ATMs in a variety of places that often require security personnel to move large amounts of cash over pavements and through shopping precincts. Obviously, those personnel are being put in vulnerable positions. We are trying to use the planning system to address the vulnerability of cash in transit. Designing out crime should therefore be central to the planning and delivery of new developments.

The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Home Office jointly published “Safer Places: The Planning System and Crime Prevention”, which provides the guidance that my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire mentioned on the layout of buildings and spaces to reduce the risk of crime. Local authorities and others involved in new developments should take those considerations into account to design out crime.

Mr. Todd: Surely the advice should be absolutely specific. The document, although welcome, is a general one, and we should focus clearly on the location of cash machines and safe access to them.

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Mr. Coaker: Police forces themselves include specialist crime prevention design advisers. One of the points that the guidance makes is that crime prevention should be a key part of any new development. Many authorities that have good practice will involve the specialist crime prevention design advisers in their work to try to secure the outcome that my hon. Friend seeks.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) (Lab): Has the Minister seen a press release that many hon. Members have received from a company that discovered a technical breakthrough: the use of dyes? Will he reiterate, for the benefit of everybody, that there is no single, simple, technical solution? The problem with dyeing can be seen by considering the example of £20 notes. They say:

Many banks, including the Bank of England, are replacing dyed notes with proper notes, so there is no single solution. What the Government are doing with the BSIA, the GMB and others is to show that the problems are complex and that only complex solutions can deal with them.

Mr. Coaker: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. As he says, we are working with the BSIA and we are talking to the GMB and everyone involved because there is no single solution. The use of dye or other technical methods might help, but there is no one particular solution. All of us need to work together to try to find a reasonable solution.

In conclusion, we are working hard to reduce robbery. This is an important area of work. There are ongoing discussions to try to reduce the risk of attack for ordinary security personnel who are going about their business delivering cash. We live in a society where cash moves around much more than it did before. All the points that have been made are important. We need to design out the problem and to work together to solve it. In addition, we must put out the clear message that people who perpetrate offences such as those that occurred in Swadlincote will be arrested and dealt with severely by the courts. As I said, I am pleased to report that those people have been arrested and charged, and we hope that they receive the sentences that they deserve.

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Deportations (Zimbabwe)

4.30 pm

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I am pleased that this topic has been selected for debate so soon, because it is of outstanding importance. I had better hurry, because I believe that there will be a Division in the House at some stage. [Interruption.] In fact, here we go—

Frank Cook (in the Chair): Order. Indeed, you spotted it before I did. A Division has been called, so I shall suspend the sitting.

4.30 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4.56 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Johnson: As I was saying, I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for granting this debate on a matter that is of fantastic importance. What seems to have happened is that a nightmare in Zimbabwe has produced administrative and moral chaos in the Home Office. Letters have been sent to people threatening them with deportation when they cannot possibly mean that. We have in this country hundreds of thousands of illegal people, about whom the Government seem to know nothing and can do nothing. People from Zimbabwe who should not be here are allowed to stay, and people who have 100 per cent. British ancestry are being denied any right to stay here. They are being sent back to a country that has descended into tyranny and lawlessness, and from which they have severed all links.

As I hope the Minister knows, this debate arises from a letter written to me by one of her colleagues, in which he confirms that the brother of one of my constituents, Natasha Samways, of Goring on Thames, must return to Zimbabwe. He is called Mark Coleman, he is 28 years old, able-bodied, law-abiding and willing to work, but he is prevented from doing so because he is a failed asylum seeker. The letter that the Minister’s colleague sent to me concludes:

That seems to be a threat. We gather from the letter that if Mr. Coleman fails to leave, the intention of the British state is that he may be arrested, taken to an airport and returned to Zimbabwe by force.

Mr. Coleman is not alone in receiving that message about what the British state intends to do to people in his position. The Home Office has placed advertisements in The Zimbabwean, a London newspaper much read by the expatriate community, saying exactly this: “If you don’t have the right to stay, then you will be deported.” Before we turn to what the Home Office might mean by that threat, let us consider, without being too histrionic or dramatic, the fate that awaits people such as Mr. Coleman, and hundreds of others who find themselves in positions like his or even worse.

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