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Net Migration

4. Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the level of net migration to the UK. [134276]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): Not as many as I hope to receive once the migration advisory committee and the migration impact forum are up and running over the next few months.

Mr. Clappison: We all recognise the contribution made by migrants and the undoubted benefits of some migration. As part of the debate, will the Minister accept that recent net migration—running at 400,000 in the past two years alone—has been historically unprecedented, and that the pressure on housing and public services is unsustainable? All of that is due, in no small measure, to Government policy changes. To put it in the Minister’s terms, should the bar be set higher or lower? Under his points-based system, will either he or the migration advisory committee have the power to set a limit?

Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman is right that net migration is up in the UK, as it is across the advanced west—the figure for Britain is the same as the OECD average. When we make migration decisions, we must consider which parts of our economy need migrants and which do not, on which we need independent advice. The hon. Gentleman is right that we must take into account the wider impact of migration on communities. We plan to bring together public services up and down the country so that, when we make migration decisions, we do so in full knowledge of the impacts on communities up and down Britain.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My hon. Friend has the sympathy of the House and the country in the tasks that he is undertaking. We must realise how difficult it is to stop the hundreds of thousands of people across Europe and the rest of the world who wish to make their way to this island paradise—especially after 10 years of Labour Government. But surely he realises that his points scheme deals only with legal immigration, and it is not the legal immigration that is causing problems. Illegal immigration, and bogus asylum seekers, are undermining the status of the legal immigrants, whom we welcome to Britain. Will he assure the House that his methods will reduce the number of illegal immigrants and bogus asylum seekers getting to this island?

Mr. Byrne: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. If we are to tackle illegal immigration, we
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must stop illegal journeys and illegal jobs. That is exactly why we have published plans to set up a second offshore border control to keep our borders more secure, and why we have said that we will increase spending on immigration policing by £100 million next year—a measure that the Liberal Democrats voted against. Both measures, however, must be underpinned by a different way of identifying whether people are who they say they are, which is why biometric identity technology is so important. That underpins biometric visas and compulsory biometric ID cards for foreign nationals. That is why it is such an error for the Conservative party to pledge that it will close that system down.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Will the Minister put the Blairite spin to one side, and tell us by how much the annual number of immigrants to the United Kingdom will fall in the year following the introduction of his new points system? A ballpark figure will do.

Mr. Byrne: I do not know whether I have given the hon. Gentleman a misleading impression, but I am not the general secretary of a Soviet-style central planning system— [Laughter.] I do not sit, together with my colleagues, in an office in the Home Office deciding what the needs of the British economy will be next year. We need to understand where in our economy migration is needed and where it is not, which is why the migration advisory committee is so important, but in setting the bar we must take into account the wider impact of migration, and that is precisely what we plan to do.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The increase in the number of doctors and dentists in my constituency would not have happened had it not been possible to recruit dentists from foreign countries. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that people filling essential posts in this country for which there was no local candidate will still be given fast-tracked immigration status and fast-tracked work permits?

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend is right to say that migrants from abroad have performed vital roles not just in our economy but in our public services. In the last couple of years people coming to this country from the new accession countries have provided some 2,500 jobs in the NHS and NHS dentistry, and that is before we take into account the number of people from eastern Europe who are working in our social care sector. If there are roles that cannot be filled locally, both our public services and United Kingdom businesses should have the chance to fill them with the right people from abroad.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Will the Minister acknowledge that the net immigration figures were unacceptably inflated last week by the failure to deport two Libyan terrorist suspects, which even the judge described as a threat to our national security? Is it not time we accepted that the Human Rights Act 1998 is bad law, and that we need a new Human Rights Act that will balance matters involving people’s individual rights against—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. That is rather wide of the question.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Is the Minister aware of figures released last month by the Department for Communities and Local Government which showed that house building is now roughly keeping pace with household formation from indigenous sources, but also that household formation from immigration is due to reach about 73,000 a year? What prospect is there of ending house price inflation and giving people a chance to own their homes at a reasonable price while net immigration continues to run at those unacceptable and out-of-control levels?

Mr. Byrne: The right hon. Gentleman has made an important point, which underlines the need for us to take account of the wider impacts of migration on society when making immigration decisions. The points-based system gives us a flexible way of either raising or lowering the bar that people must cross to come to this country, but I do not think our decision on precisely where the bar sits should be based on an economic rationale alone. We must take account of those wider impacts, which is why the migration advisory committee and the migration impact forum will be so important.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): An assessment of the figures relating to people migrating to the United Kingdom for a year or more shows that about a quarter say that their reason for coming here is to undertake a course of formal study. How confident is he that appropriate assessments are conducted in relation to the institutions and courses that a substantial number of people coming to this country are about to attend and undertake?

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend is right to underline the contribution that foreign students make to the economy. We estimate that last year foreign students brought in about £5 billion to the education system in Britain, but we have to ensure that the colleges to which people are going are legitimate and that people have the right qualifications in order to undertake those courses. That is why we will be investing up to £20 million next year in a compliance network of Border and Immigration Agency officers to check that colleges are not bending the rules.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister’s widely acclaimed charms cannot disguise the fact that his actions are largely ineffectual, mostly because the Government have no idea how many people have come here. The Office for National Statistics says that only 56,000 Polish citizens entered Britain in 2005, yet mysteriously the Department for Work and Pensions tells us that 170,000 Polish citizens applied for new national insurance numbers in 2005-06. They cannot both be right. Will he admit that, as long as the Government fail to secure our borders and to know how many people are coming here and staying here, immigration policy will remain the single biggest failure in the long-term shambles that the Home Office has become?

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Mr. Byrne: That is an absolutely extraordinary claim from the hon. Gentleman, who I hold in the highest regard for the contribution that he has made to Opposition Front-Bench immigration policy—he has injected a degree of humanity into it that was not there a year or two ago. He will not have any credibility arguing that point when it was his party that began dismantling exit controls in 1994, and it is his party that has said that it will shut down the biometric identification system, which will support biometric visas and biometric identification in Britain and which is vital to our counting people in and out. As an alternative, he proposes to set a limit. That limit does not apply to the European Union; it does not apply to asylum seekers; and we have yet to find out whether it applies to family members. Even though I think it has—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Judy Mallaber.

Child Abuse (Internet)

5. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): What further steps he plans to take to stop access to images of child abuse via the internet in response to the annual report of the Internet Watch Foundation; and if he will make a statement. [134277]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Government welcome the report of the Internet Watch Foundation, which was published this month, and congratulate the IWF and their partners on their work and achievements.

We continue to work very closely with the internet service providers industry in the UK to ensure that blocking mechanisms are in place to restrict access to the sites identified by the Internet Watch Foundation. We are aiming for every ISP to support the blocking mechanism by the end of 2007. Additionally, the Department is supporting work by the British Standards Institution to develop a kite-mark for software products that PC-owners can use to block access to the sites at software level. That will be available by the end of the year.

Judy Mallaber: I congratulate the IWF, mobile phone companies, ISPs, the police, the charities and the Government's taskforce on making the UK a country that has virtually eradicated the hosting of those disgusting sites, but the IWF report showed that an increasing proportion—90 per cent.—are hosted in the US and Russia, and that the images are getting worse and more disgusting. What action can the Government take to encourage and to help those countries to improve their performance in blocking sites? Will my hon. Friend consider discussing with his Foreign Office colleagues organising an intergovernmental conference with Russia, the US, the European Union and the UK to stop children being abused and raped in front of the camera for profit?

Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for her question, the sentiments of which I know will be supported by all hon. Members. Just to reiterate the points that she made, 83 per cent. of all illegal child abuse websites that the IWF identified were hosted in the US and Russia, and 90 per cent. of those victims
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were under 12 years of age. What is increasingly worrying is the severity of the images that are posted on the sites. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. We are looking to work through the EU, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and other international bodies to see what we can do to encourage some of our international partners to take a more effective approach to blocking those sites. Hosting a conference is perhaps one of the ideas that we need to look at.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): In his parliamentary answer in February, the Minister said that he would publish the research report on the exploitation and abuse of children in this country by a funded organisation, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—CEOPC—and that that would give us an idea of the nature and scale of child abuse and exploitation.He undertook to publish it by April. Will he produce the rabbit out of his hat this afternoon?

Mr. Coaker: I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot produce the report that he mentions today. However, the report that CEOPC is in the process of producing is extremely important. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will look at it in due course, and we will publish it as soon as possible. It deals with child abuse—as the hon. Gentleman knows, because of his work in that area—but also with child trafficking. The Government want to expand our knowledge and understanding of the extent of this problem and the numbers involved. We will publish the report as soon as possible.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is time that the servers themselves policed such sites as come into this country? People with computers use those servers, and it is time the servers did the policing. Can a hotline not be set up so that complaints can be made about such illegal sites coming through our computer systems? Should not ISPs be forced to put up such information on their sites so that it can be passed on to the necessary people?

Mr. Coaker: We are trying to make progress through self-regulation and, as my hon. Friend knows, we have good relationships with internet service providers and mobile telephone operators. We have a target that by the end of 2007 all of our operators will have blocking mechanisms in place. Good progress is being made: almost 90 per cent. of those images are being blocked by our ISPs. They also provide that if people access such sites a message pops up informing them that they have accessed illegal material. We are considering what message ought to pop up on the computer screen, and examining the possibility of making it a tougher law enforcement message. However, to answer my hon. Friend’s question, what is important is the relationships that we have with our international partners. The key to tackling this problem lies in greater co-operation with other countries.

Police Stations

6. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): How many police stations have been closed to the public since 1997. [134278]

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The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): The management of the police estate and the allocation of resources are matters for each chief officer and the local police authority responsible for assessing needs in each locality.

Philip Davies: West Yorkshire police has been closing police stations to the public, not because it wants to or it thinks that that is a good idea, but because it is underfunded to the tune of £15 million a year under the needs-based funding formula that the Home Office set. Shipley constituency now has no police station open to the public at any time of the day. Does the Minister not agree that if there is to be effective neighbourhood policing, there must be neighbourhood police stations that are accessible to the public?

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman’s starting premise is entirely wrong. West Yorkshire police are closing some access to the public at some stations, as part of a reconfiguration based on their assessment of local needs, and of the most effective way to police the entire west Yorkshire area. I wish to make it clear that no police station in west Yorkshire will be closed as a result of such changes. Patrol and neighbourhood police officers will continue to be based at the same stations serving local communities. A local resident in west Yorkshire recently said that he felt that in his town the public would be better served if there were not a public helpdesk, that having a non-emergency contact point as suggested by West Yorkshire police would be a viable alternative, that in many cases pedestrians and elderly people believed that police stations were not in the appropriate locations, and that the posturing and overreaction to the proposals—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Dr. Iddon.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): When I served on the police parliamentary scheme in Greater Manchester I visited some disgraceful police stations that were built during the Victorian period. I congratulate the Government on supplying many Greater Manchester police forces with brand-new police stations, including one in my Bolton constituency. I invite my hon. Friend to come to Bolton to see the new headquarters, which is superb.

Mr. McNulty: I have previously tried to arrange such a visit, so of course I will come to Bolton to see how Greater Manchester police are responding to the policing needs of Greater Manchester’s communities. It is not for me to tell any local authority how it should configure its policing, and as I said, I agree with those who suggest—as the individual to whom I referred earlier did—that posturing and overreaction to proposals does not help at all: that individual was a Conservative candidate in west Yorkshire.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): After 10 years, the Government must answer for their record. More than 500 police stations have closed, only one in eight stations is now open for 24 hours, one third of all forces have no 24-hour stations at all, the 101 national non-emergency number has been shelved and the promised 8,000 community support officers have been cut. That is at least two manifesto commitments
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broken. Is this what the Home Secretary meant yesterday when he said that he intended to build better relationships between the police and the communities that they serve?

Mr. McNulty: I can only repeat what we have said many times at this Dispatch Box: there are record numbers of police officers, and in the past 10 years there have been record levels of resources. I repeat: it is not for the Home Office to tell each and every authority up and down the country how best to police their local areas by telling them what police stations should and should not be open. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) made the entirely fair point that we are a good way through the refurbishment and renewal of the police station element of the police estate—after 19 years of sheer and utter neglect under the last Government.

Dispersal Zones

7. Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the impact of dispersal zones; and if he will make a statement. [134279]

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): Between January 2004 and 1 April 2006, the police used the power to disperse unruly groups in more than 1,000 designated areas. They have succeeded in tackling under-age drinking, joyriding, noise nuisance, the antisocial use of fireworks, the harassment and intimidation of residents, and many other such transgressions. That is yet another example of our commitment to empowering local communities to tackle the blight of antisocial behaviour.

Barbara Keeley: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The police in Salford used a dispersal order and zone very successfully to get rid of disorderly behaviour at Ellenbrook shopping precinct, where large groups of youths were gathering and intimidating shop staff and local people trying to shop there. Given that success in Salford, does my hon. Friend agree that we need to continue with dispersal orders and zones, antisocial behaviour orders and parenting orders to tackle such disorder and antisocial behaviour, rather than expressing the somewhat pious hope that we have heard expressed recently that young people might start to behave?

Mr. McNulty: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Sadly, I do not have intimate knowledge of the Ellenbrook shopping precinct, but I am sure that it is in a far better position than it was before the use of dispersal zones. We are very clear that the respect agenda, antisocial behaviour measures and broader such powers are liberating communities throughout the country from such behaviour, in ways that simply were not happening before the introduction of the legislation. Anyone who thinks that this is a consensual position, and that it would continue, should listen to the fluff and drivel that we heard last Monday from the Leader of the Opposition.

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