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9 July 2007 : Column 1182

Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman has pursued this line of inquiry for some time and with some interest both in this Chamber and on the Home Affairs Committee. He is wrong to say or pretend that the full picture is about deportation, when so much of the important work is not just about undertaking deportations, often with assurances, but excluding those people who should not be here. Looking into the role of exclusion and removal as well as deportation is therefore important. Over the past couple of years, there have been about 176 occasions on which the previous two Home Secretaries used their powers to exclude or remove people. That demonstrates a very clear readiness to use the available powers to protect the United Kingdom.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): On the very question of deportations, does the Minister agree with the previous Home Secretary’s statement of 24 May, in which he said that the deporting of criminal and terrorist suspects was being prevented by the European convention on human rights—a situation that he described as “outrageous”? He further claimed that it was leading to a situation in which

Does the Minister agree with the previous Home Secretary on the ECHR, and, if so, what is he going to do about it?

Mr. Byrne: The then Home Secretary provided a full answer to that question at the time. The judgment under ECHR is one that dates back, if my memory serves me correctly, to 1996, and is known as the Chahal judgment. We believe that it prevents us from weighing the right considerations in the balance when we are making those decisions, but that is precisely why the UK Government are seeking to intervene in the Dutch Ramsey case, as we want the correct balance of considerations to be applied when taking such decisions.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): Before I ask my question, may I tell the Home Secretary what a good job the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), has done on the trafficking of human beings and that the all-party group, as well as many other non-governmental agencies, are grateful to him for that.

When the Home Secretary goes to Croydon, will she have a word with the Paladin team, which deals with missing children, and ask how it is that 183 children have gone missing from local authorities in the last 18 months? No one seems to know where they are and nobody cares about them. Should not the Home Secretary now take a serious interest in the number of children missing from local authority care who are never found? Should she not be doing something about that?

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is grateful for the praise. The point about how we look after children who arrive here and claim asylum—the so-called unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—is an important one. We think that it is vital that the Border and Immigration Agency, along with other agencies, have a closer relationship with children while they are in care. That is why we suggested introducing tighter reporting arrangements for children. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that when it came to debates in Committee, it was his party that opposed those measures.

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Computer Crime

7. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to tackle computer crime and online fraud; and if she will make a statement. [147908]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): May I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) for his remarks? I think that my wife, and perhaps my children, would be surprised at his pronunciation of my constituency!

The Government have recently legislated to reform the criminal law to ensure that the Computer Misuse Act 1990 is fully up to date and able to cope with developments in e-crime. We continue to work with industry and law enforcement partners on crime prevention initiatives, including Get Safe Online, and we maintain regular contact with stakeholders to monitor the effectiveness of our efforts.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He will know that anyone with a credit card, which I guess is most people in this country, can receive e-mails saying, “Please can you send information about your card, because it needs to be updated”. That is what they call phishing, which is wrong and can lead to computer fraud.

There have been more and more instances of such e-fraud. Yet it seems at times that the police do not turn up any more when they are contacted, because the tide of such crime is rising higher and higher. The Minister said in his answer that there were numerous agencies to tackle that crime, but what steps are he and the Home Office taking to try to ensure greater co-ordination between those agencies to stem that ever-rising tide?

Mr. Coaker: Part of the solution is for people to recognise the real risks that may be involved in so-called advertisements on the internet, and our education programme Get Safe Online seeks to achieve that. As for co-ordination, the hon. Gentleman will know that as part of its remit the Serious Organised Crime Agency has an e-crime unit, which I have visited and which is dealing very effectively with some of the most serious aspects of internet crime. Meanwhile, we await a business case from Commander Sue Wilkinson of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who will give us ACPO’s views on what we should do about a co-ordination unit.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Co-ordination on a cross-force and indeed a cross-border basis is mission-critical. Legislative changes may be necessary to enable money to be chased, because if we do not chase the money we will never get to the root of the crimes. My hon. Friend is right to praise the work of Get Safe Online, but will the Home Office use some of its advertising budget to promote that work to the parents and businesses who could benefit from it?

Mr. Coaker: I think that the easiest way in which to answer my hon. Friend’s question is to say that of course we will consider his suggestion. As I have said, education abut the internet is crucial. We will think
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about the budget: at present the Cabinet Office funds Get Safe Online, but we will consider whatever we believe may be necessary to make use of the internet safer.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): Since April, it has no longer been possible to report incidents of online banking fraud directly to the police. Instead, victims must notify their banks, which have discretion to decide whether to refer the matter to the authorities. Does the Minister accept that that sends a confused message about the seriousness with which this type of crime is treated—although it has risen by 45 per cent. in the past year—and suggests that his Department either cannot cope or cannot be bothered with e-crime?

Mr. Coaker: It certainly does not indicate that the Department is confused. Nor does it indicate that the Department is not bothered about the whole issue. What we have done, with the agreement of ACPO and the Association for Payment Clearing Services, is change the system so that instead of going to the police station and not being sure what response they have received, people will tell the banks when they believe that fraud has occurred. The banks will then determine whether it has occurred, collate the reports, and give them to the police. That means not only that people will be recompensed for losses they have incurred but that the law enforcement agencies will be able to detect patterns of criminal activity, as a result of which far more perpetrators of fraud will be caught and dealt with by the courts.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): I do not expect my hon. Friend to safeguard foolish people from giving details of their bank accounts or passing their money to conmen, but is he as anxious as I am to ensure that necessary safeguards do exist? I want to be certain that if I make a purchase online from a small company using my credit card details—or if one of my constituents does so—that company has a firewall to prevent others from hacking into the system, taking my details, and using my card to purchase other goods. Will small, and indeed large companies have a duty to safeguard my details, and how will that be achieved?

Mr. Coaker: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right that it is not only members of the public who have a responsibility to protect themselves—one of the purposes of Get Safe Online is to encourage people to be aware of the difficulties they might face—but that small and big companies also have a responsibility to protect their customers. We are constantly in discussions and negotiations with them to discover what more they can do in that regard so that we ensure that we minimise fraud.

Illegal Immigrants

8. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): What steps she is taking to enhance the effectiveness of the measures in place to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the UK. [147909]

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Liam Byrne): There are two key steps to countering illegal immigration: biometrics to lock visitors down to a single identity, and intercepting and stopping illegal immigrants as far from our shores as possible.

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Mr. Evans: I endorse what the Minister has said, but Migrationwatch UK states that there are 875,000 illegal immigrants in the country, and that 50,000 of them are detected every year but only one in four are returned home. We should thank goodness that we are an island. May I suggest three steps? First, we should link fingerprints to passport details in the worst offending countries so that no one can say, “I’ve lost my papers”, in between boarding an aeroplane and getting off it. Secondly, we should have a national border police so that we can secure our borders better. Finally, when illegal immigrants are detected and they fail asylum procedures, 100 per cent. of them should be returned to their country of origin.

Mr. Byrne: I saw some of the news associated with that Migrationwatch report. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, since exit controls were phased out from 1994 it has been difficult to know how many illegal immigrants are in the country; that is why we are introducing a system to count people in and out. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is a good idea to keep the problem as far away as possible from our shores. We are now introducing biometric visas, which have already led to us finding 4,000 people with an immigration history we had reason to be suspicious about who were trying to get back into the country. E-borders, which screens people at check-in, is already up and running and has already resulted in 1,000 arrests. Increasing our offshore border control will be an important part of what we do. However, more money is needed in order to remove more people who are here, but when we brought forward proposals this year to raise visa charges to provide an additional £100 million for immigration policing, Front-Bench Members of the hon. Gentleman’s party sat on their hands in Committee.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. Does he agree that human trafficking is extremely damaging to the home economy, potentially devastating to the lives of the individuals who are trafficked and very profitable? Will he undertake to talk to the Serious Organised Crime Agency with a view to increasing the scope of offshore controls of such illegal immigration?

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sure that he is aware of and welcomes the measures in the UK Borders Bill that ensure that where human trafficking or human smuggling offences are organised or perpetrated anywhere on earth we now have the chance to prosecute them. I will raise the matters he mentions with SOCA, which I am meeting in a few days’ time.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): May I draw the Minister’s attention to a written answer he gave me on 14 June, Official Report, column 1234, where he told me that there was no evidence to support speculation that illegal migrants were entering Scotland via the Faroe islands? When he gave that answer, was he aware of the report in The Scotsman newspaper on 4 June which stated that two groups of
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Asian men arrested for entering the country illegally had told the authorities that they had done so by travelling to Denmark and on to the Faroe islands and then to Shetland? How much evidence does the Home Office need before it can see a risk that is so blindingly obvious to the rest of us?

Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman did not, I think, give me the dates of the evidence in The Scotsman, which is a well-researched newspaper, and the answer that I gave him. If he has specific allegations to give to me, I will have them looked into.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister knows that one of the reasons why illegal immigration is an attractive option for too many people is that there is the possibility of an amnesty for those who are here illegally. He has spoken out against such an amnesty, but other more senior Ministers have spoken in favour of one. During the notorious “Newsnight” debate between the Labour deputy leadership candidates, the successful candidate—now Leader of the House—was asked about such an amnesty and said:

I think that she is wrong and the Minister is right. Can he reassure the House that the deputy leader of the Labour party has no influence whatsoever on the Government’s immigration policy?

Mr. Byrne: My policy on amnesties remains unchanged.

Biometric Identity Cards

9. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the potential effectiveness of biometric identity cards in helping law enforcement agencies to tackle terrorism. [147910]

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Liam Byrne): Constant assessment by the police, Security Service and the Home Office continues to confirm the value of ID cards in disrupting terrorism by linking individuals to a single identity.

Mr. Kidney: In respect of combating terrorism, can my hon. Friend confirm that the security services advise that a biometric identity card would be of value, and can he particularly say what their reasoning is for that advice?

Mr. Byrne: The House will remember words said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) who quoted some of the material that has been found in al-Qaeda training manuals encouraging would-be terrorists to proliferate the number of identities that they have. It was the former director general of the Security Service who put it well when she said:

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Flooding (England)

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about recovery efforts following the recent flooding. Above all, I would like to express my deepest sympathy and the sympathy of the whole House to the friends and families of those who have lost their lives. Our thoughts are with them.

The scale of devastation in the flood-hit areas is enormous. Our current assessment is that 31,200 homes and 7,000 businesses have been affected. Many roads and rail links remain closed. Schools have been damaged. Agriculture has been hit hard and the lives of thousands of people have been disrupted.

The recovery effort will need support from across central, regional and local government, businesses and voluntary organisations. The Prime Minister and I have agreed that the Minister for Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), should take the lead to co-ordinate Government support. He has been working closely with colleagues across Whitehall to do so and I am grateful to him for all the work that he has done so far. He, like my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary, has visited some of the worst affected areas. Indeed, just this morning he met the chief executive officers of key affected local authorities. We will follow that up with a further meeting in Leeds on Wednesday, and other visits from colleagues are planned.

Media reporting has tended to focus on particular areas such as Hull. But the fact is that a large number of areas and a very large number of people have been affected across the country. We recognise that and our commitment is to mobilise assistance to every community that has been affected.

I myself have visited communities in Toll Bar in Doncaster, and in Sheffield. Physical damage is the most obvious effect of flooding, but I was struck by its emotional impact, too. I have met people who have been devastated by what has happened: such as the elderly man living alone who had lost not just his possessions, but the phone line that was his link to the outside world. Luckily for him, his daughter was around to help him. I recognise, too, that many others feel angry about what has happened. We must help them to try to pick up the pieces of their lives.

I have also met some of the brave men and women who have made a real difference at a difficult time. Families and friends have helped each other out. The fire and rescue service, the ambulance service, and the police have done an excellent job. Local authorities have stepped up to the mark and I would like to acknowledge their resourcefulness, and the way that they have prioritised to give most support to the most vulnerable. The voluntary sector has really come into its own.

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