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19 Mar 2007 : Column 571

John Reid: May I express, through the hon. Gentleman, our sympathy for the family of Kodjo Yenga, who was so tragically and awfully attacked, and say how sorry we are for what they are undergoing.

We look at everything that can contribute towards a solution. I have not pretended to be offering a solution today, because I do not think that it is within the power of the Government alone to do so. As I said, personal and parental responsibility as well as the local community must be involved. However, there is an obligation on Government to give a lead and provide the powers, the authorities and the assistance to enable the community—in partnership with us—to fight these terrible incidents. We will look at any means necessary to do that.

On the particular issue that the hon. Gentleman raised, we have to be careful to recognise that, in taking some steps, we may with the best of intentions alienate the very communities that we seek to engage in partnership. I do not say that that is an easy question to resolve. The point that he has put to me has been put to me by people from all different backgrounds in the community. In the meantime, however, I think I will concentrate on the measures that I have brought forward today.

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend has had the chance to meet Hackney police and hear from their lips how crime has dropped by 16 per cent. in Hackney. There were nearly 3,000 fewer victims in the past year. However, the number of stabbings rose by a third in the same period and, as other Members have said, 25 per cent. of the victims of stabbing are aged between 15 and 20 years old. That is a big concern for those of us in Hackney with concerns about our young people.

My right hon. Friend has explained all the hard measures that are in place in terms of sentencing, but could he outline what plans the Home Office has to put money into communities to support parents and community groups who are keen to tackle this problem from the inside rather than at the end point when someone has committed a crime and created a victim?

John Reid: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I very much appreciated her assisting me to meet members of the safer neighbourhoods team—police, local councillors and many other local people—who are working in partnership and taking the matter into their own hands as well as their own heads so as to improve the local community. My hon. Friend is right to say that that cannot be done without local partnership and that is why, in answer to the specific question that she raised, I can tell her that, in the last couple of weeks alone, we have announced an additional £500,000 through the Connected fund to be made available to those in local communities who are fighting against the gangs who would use violence of any sort. I can also tell her that, in October, we will raise the age at which someone can purchase a knife from 16 to 18. I therefore hope that we are moving forward both in addressing the problem of young people using these weapons of violence and in assisting those in the community who are trying to combat that.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I join the Home Secretary and other hon. Members in passing the House’s condolences to the families of Adam Regis,
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Kodjo Yenga, Father Paul Bennett, Keith Platt and other victims of knife violence.

More than 230 knife-related violent crimes are reported every day. Youth Justice Board polling suggests that more than a quarter of all school pupils have carried a knife in the last year and nearly a third of all homicides now involve the use of a sharp instrument, yet Ministers emphasise the view that the terrible tragedies of the past few days are isolated incidents. Although I hear what the Home Secretary has said about the new measures to be brought forward, including those on the use of data and providing more qualitative assessments of the incidents and the information that is available, when will the Government recognise the full impact of the social and family breakdown and drug abuse that underline the causes of these appalling crimes? Is it not time that the Government focused more on the issues that will deliver more order on our streets rather than simply on delivering more laws and legislation?

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman should be careful of two things. The first is that in an attempt to understand the complex causes he does not fall into excusing it by referring to family backgrounds—

James Brokenshire indicated dissent.

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I am cautioning him. It is one thing to understand the complexity of causation and another thing to provide an alibi for it. There is no excuse for using knives or guns to inflict such terrible damage on anyone.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman talks about the incidents not being isolated, but I have not in any way attempted to minimise the situation. I have said that it is no consolation even to know that the level of knife-associated violence is stable. However, we should not brand the large majority of young people as associated with this. They are the potential victims, not the perpetrators. No one is threatened as much as young people. Furthermore, it is not just young people or black people who are threatened; people of all ages are threatened when there is an acceptance of this situation.

I am the first to accept that this is a complex situation, but, if one looks at addressing the underlying causes—if they are deemed to be, in part, poverty, lack of education, family background, unemployment and deprivation—what the Government have done in every one of those fields stands far better comparison than anything the hon. Gentleman’s Government ever did in the almost 20 years that they were in power.

Immigration and Nationality Directorate

7. Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): What progress is being made on the review of the immigration and nationality directorate; and if he will make a statement. [127795]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): Not only did we hit our target for 2006, removing a record number of illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers, but we have now published proposals to back our immigration service with extra powers, extra resources, new identity technology, and concerted action not just across the Home Office, but across public services as a whole.

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Kitty Ussher: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. While we are on the subject of Home Office reorganisation, does he recall the evidence given by Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch UK, to the Committee considering the UK Borders Bill, on which my hon. Friend and I both sit? On Tuesday last week, Sir Andrew Green said that a reorganisation to create a single border force, as proposed by the Opposition, is the “last thing” that should happen at this juncture—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Supplementaries should not be about the Opposition.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister’s original response was unbelievably complacent. Will he confirm that, according to the director general of the immigration and nationality directorate, there are 1,300 foreign criminals who have served their sentence and whom the Department has failed to deport? They are either still in prison or in immigration removal centres. Two of those removal centres have recently been smashed up—one of them only last week—precisely because of the presence of hardened criminals. When are we going to see some practical results from the review instead of the non-stop stream of meaningless management-speak that has so far been the only outcome?

Mr. Byrne: It is not entirely clear what the hon. Gentleman proposes. I assume—in fact, this is the only conclusion that I can draw—that he thinks that we should let those people out while their cases are reviewed and while they drag their cases through the asylum and immigration tribunal. It is true that the measures that we propose in the UK Borders Bill will allow us to expedite their deportation and I look forward to the support of the Opposition. The real step backwards would be to cancel ID cards, as the hon. Gentleman proposes. They are precisely what Andrew Green spoke in favour of in the evidence given to the UK Borders Bill Committee. He added his voice to the voices of not only Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, but Sir Ian Blair, Lord Stevens and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). The hon. Gentleman is increasingly setting himself up as the Luddite of law enforcement.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): In the review of the Department, will the Minister look at how long things take? Does he share my shock at the fact that he can be within his published deadlines and yet more than half of the applications decided take more than 70 working days? That is because of the long deadlines for uncharged applications and because 10 per cent. of charged applications can take more than 70 working days. Will he speed those figures up?

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. There are plans, which we set out in the IND review, for exactly the kind of acceleration that she is looking for. However, where detailed checks need to be made as part of someone’s application, it is right for immigration officers to do those checks so that we can be clear that we are giving the right entitlements to the right people.

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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): The hon. Gentleman sent me a helpful letter after I wrote to him about temporary admission. Does he agree that far too many people are not reporting back after they have been granted temporary admission and that, in fact, the rules relating to people who are granted temporary admission need to be tightened up considerably? Does he think that if there is any doubt at all in the minds of immigration officers, these people should be detained?

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. As he knows, I tried to write as detailed and thorough a response to him as possible, and I apologise for the slight injection of a delay that resulted. It is important that we keep those who apply for leave in this country under the closest possible review. Part of that involves ensuring that we have the systems to count people in and count people out of the country. We said something else last July: when there are people seeking asylum in this country, we should ensure that they are subject to electronic monitoring, or, when necessary, tagging. I hope that we will be able to hit that target, as we promised, in April.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The review of IND will inevitably concentrate on issues relating to the three important announcements made in the past 12 months on the points-based migration system and the creation of the shortage occupation lists and the migration advisory committee. Will the Minister either give us a brief outline of the situation regarding those three important matters, or tell the House that he will come back soon to make a fuller statement on them?

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for that question. Last year we did indeed set out proposals for a migration advisory committee that would advise us on where in the economy migration would make sense and where it would not. I am delighted that the response to the consultation that we undertook showed that the proposal was overwhelmingly popular—this is another example of a popular Home Office measure. We will soon be able to bring forward the response to that consultation and the practical measures that will follow.

National Identity Card Scheme

8. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): When the network of enrolment centres required by the national identity card scheme will open. [127797]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): The Identity and Passport Service is opening 69 new local offices, starting later this year, to meet in person and interview first-time passport applicants. Interviews are intended to deter and detect fraudulent passport applications.

David Taylor: We are told that the seductively named enrolment centres are, inter alia, essential to meet International Civil Aviation Organisation biometric passport requirements, but surely they could be met without the need for imposed attendance by digitising
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existing normal passport photographs. Is there not a risk that far from being the centrepiece of efforts to combat terrorism, illegal immigration, identity theft and benefit fraud, the centres could eventually help to create a hackable electronic leviathan containing 60 million detailed dossiers that could prove irresistible to international gangs of counterfeiters?

Joan Ryan: The majority of attempted frauds that are detected at present involve first-time adult applicants for passports. It is thus important that we take appropriate measures now to tackle that identity fraud. Although it might be a little inconvenient, asking people to travel something like 20 miles to a
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20-minute interview to protect their identity is reasonable—it is certainly seen as reasonable in all our research.

My hon. Friend will know that as we move forward into 2009, we will, further to protect people’s identities, have to introduce the fingerprint biometric on the passport to ensure that our passports do not become second-class documents. Having 69 locations at which people can easily enrol their biometrics and have their biographical interview will thus make a big difference to how straightforward people will find the process and will enable us to protect people’s identities, which is seen as reasonable by the majority of people in this country.

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Modernising Medical Careers

3.34 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on modernising medical careers.

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): In the written ministerial statements of 7 and 13 March, I set out the Department of Health’s plan for an immediate review of the first round of the new national recruitment and selection process for doctors in postgraduate training. As part of the modernising medical careers reforms of postgraduate medical training, new specialty training programmes will be introduced in August 2007.

To support implementation, a new national recruitment and selection process was introduced earlier this year, facilitated by the online medical training application services. That process sets out national recruitment and selection criteria and documentation and standards, thus replacing the countless local application processes that had previously been in place. The new arrangements were developed with the help of the medical royal colleges, trainee doctors and others. We will continue to work with them to ensure that trainee doctors are properly supported and fairly treated, and that the NHS is able to train and recruit the best doctors for the future.

Doctors have been applying for their preferred specialty training programme since 22 January and interviews have already begun. A large number of posts will not be filled in the first round and we have stressed to those interviewing in round 1 that they should not appoint unless they are absolutely satisfied with the calibre of candidates. It is clear that there have been concerns about the selection process, and that the process as a whole has created a high degree of insecurity amongst applicants, and, indeed, more widely in the profession. We therefore commissioned an immediate review to establish what had gone well and what needed to be improved to create greater confidence in the process.

The review is independent. It is being led by Professor Neil Douglas, vice-president of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Members of the review group include representatives of the royal colleges, the British Medical Association, the four United Kingdom health Departments and employers. The review group has considered a wide range of evidence and listened carefully to the concerns of the profession and NHS employers. As a result, the review group has agreed, and the Department is implementing, immediate action, but the group will also continue its work throughout March.

The review group decided that round 1 should continue, with a number of changes to strengthen implementation at every level. All eligible applicants for level 3 and 4 specialty training will be guaranteed an interview for their first or second choice of training post. All applicants at ST1—specialty training level 1—who have not been shortlisted for any interviews will have their applications reviewed and may be
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offered an interview in round 1. If not, they will be offered career guidance and support to enter round 2. All applicants for ST2 who have not been shortlisted for interview will be offered a face-to-face review with a trained medical adviser to determine whether they meet the shortlisting criteria. Those who meet the criteria may also be offered an interview in round 1. Those who are not selected for interview will be offered support to enter round 2.

As a result of those changes, agreed and asked for by the review group, we expect more than 5,000 more doctors to be interviewed in round 1. We will also publish on the MMC and MTAS websites details of competition ratios by specialty and entry level to help applicants to consider their options for the second round, together with further advice and information for candidates. In addition, further significant changes will be made to the application form and the scoring system to improve selection in the second round. The revised approach will be tested and agreed with the royal colleges, junior doctors, postgraduate deans and employers. I am very grateful to Professor Douglas and his colleagues for their continuing work on the review group. We will publish the group's final report once it is completed.

Mr. Lansley: Having dragged the Secretary of State here to make a statement, I am truly sorry that it fails to answer most of the key questions. Before I reach those questions, however, let me ask the right hon. Lady why neither she nor any other Labour Minister took the trouble on Saturday morning to join 12,000 junior doctors who were marching because of their concerns about the arrangements. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I went, and we listened. Had the Secretary of State come, she would know why the process has been such a shambles. Those junior doctors would have told her, from their personal experience, how years of training, clinical experience and academic achievement are being thrown away. They would have told her how they want real training, not a dumbed-down system in which they go down from 21,000 hours of training to only 6,000 hours. Why did the Secretary of State not just listen as junior doctors related their experiences?

Let me ask the Secretary of State these questions. First, how many applications have been made and how many training posts—real training posts—will actually be available in England? Secondly, will the review group that she talks about really be independent? Junior doctors need to know that they will have additional representatives on the review group. Indeed, will she appoint to the review group some of the consultants who have decided that they cannot proceed with the interview process as it is, so that they are represented on the review group, too? That would be advisable. Will she promise that the consultants who do the interviewing and shortlisting will be able to see the full application, not just parts of it, and that applicants can send a full CV to those who are doing the shortlisting?

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