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statistics arent a help but gun crime is down.
That is an extraordinary claim. This years Home Office report contains one set of figures that cannot be rigged: gunshot woundings. The figures disclose that gun-related killings and injuries have increased fourfold since 1998. Does the Home Secretary recognise that if she cannot even count gun crime, she certainly cannot cut it?
Jacqui Smith: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, what I actually said is that gun crime has decreased by 13 per cent. in the past year. That is correct, but what I also made very clearand have made clear, too, in my subsequent actionsis that I believe that the use of guns is a serious problem, particularly in relation to gang-related violence and their use by young people. That is why my priorities have been not only extra investment, but extra action focused on the areas where it is most likely to make a difference, and why that action is now under way.
David Davis: That does not get us past the fact that gun crime has quadrupled under the right hon. Ladys partys Government. She also claimed that Labours toughto use her wordfive-year minimum sentence for anyone over 18 possessing a gun is serving as a deterrent, so will she explain why the five-year sentence became law for 18 to 21-year-olds only this year, rather than four years ago when the original law came into force, and why the law is so riddled with loopholes that only one in five convictions of over-21-year-olds involves the enforcement of that five-year minimum sentence? Is that her idea of being tough on gun crime?
Jacqui Smith: What I do know is that in 1995 the average sentence for the possession of guns was 12 months, and that, following the action that this Government have taken, the average sentence is now more than 47 months. That is because we have been willing not only to take the tough decisions, but to put them through the House by voting for themoften in the face of opposition from both main Opposition partiesand then to put them into operation.
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): All police use of firearms is subject to the usual law on the use of force. Under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, the police may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances to effect an arrest or to prevent crime.
Mr. Wallace: With more and more guns in circulation and in the hands of criminals, and an increasing terrorism threat, our armed police are being asked almost every day to make the toughest decision of all: whether to open fire. Will the Minister consider looking at having rules of engagement guides across the United Kingdom, as was the case with our security forces in Northern Ireland, to ensure that clarity is given both to the public and to the police about exactly where they stand, and so that if there are any incidents no one gets hung out to dry and everyone gets protected?
Mr. McNulty: I certainly accept the hon. Gentlemans point about that split-second decision that our armed police have to make in such circumstances; it is a critical decision. The Association of Chief Police Officers already sets such guidelines andwith all due humilityI think that the House is happier that that is the case than it would be for me or any other Minister to set such guidelines.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Is it not now more common in Britain for police officers to carry gunsand, particularly following the Jean Charles de Menezes incident, is it not the case that people need to have confidence about the moment of decision when they are used? There might be benefit in having a wider public debate, and greater public awareness of how police come to such split-second decisions and in what circumstances they can decide to shoot.
Mr. McNulty: I think that, overwhelmingly, the public do have that confidence. That is borne out, at least in part, by the figures. Although, as has been suggested, there has been a significant increase in the number of incidents in which armed police were deployed, the number of such authorised operations compared with the number of incidents involving the actual use of firearms was about 0.04 per cent. in 1996-97 and 0.048 per cent. in the last full year, 2005-06. There means a range of five to nine incidents when firearms were actually used. Therefore, notwithstanding events such as those at Stockwell, such confidence exists, and if there needs to be more awareness, we can look into that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier):
Data obtained from the police national computer in June 2006 provides the latest available information on this issue, but I have asked officials to provide more up-to-date information as soon as that is available, and I have also asked that
data both on those arrested but not subsequently convicted and on those who have been convicted be included in the DNA database annual report from early next year.
Mr. Crabb: The Minister may be aware of the case of my constituent, 75-year-old Geoffrey Orchard, who was wrongfully arrested and received a written apology from the police, but who still cannot get his DNA information removed from the database. I know that the Minister will say that she cannot do anything about that case, but does she really understand the enormous extent to which good will and support for the police and for her Department are being undermined by a system in which DNA information is being recorded aggressively, but removed in a haphazard way and on a discretionary basis, dependent on police force area?
Meg Hillier: It is worth stressing that a persons DNA being on the database does not suggest guilt; it is simply a registration of their DNA and basic biographical information. It is also worth asking which of the crimes solved thanks to the DNA databasethe 452 homicides, the 644 rapes and the more than 8,000 domestic burglariesthe hon. Gentleman wishes had not been resolved as a result.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Does the Minister agree with Lord Sedley about the potential benefits of a DNA database of all citizens? If so, will she and the Home Secretary volunteer samples to boost the database and help in the elimination of cold-case suspects in drug and other offences?
Meg Hillier: There are no Government plans for a universal database such as Lord Justice Sedley has suggested. However, I and other Ministers would welcome a debate about the DNA database, which has grown. Unlike the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), I studied it when it came into forcewhen I was doing A-levelsso we have different perspectives on the matter. Because it has grown to include more than 4 million people, it is important that we get the chance to debate how we proceed. I have already asked officials to look at the design of the forms on which people give their permissionif they have given it voluntarilyfor that information to remain permanently on the database.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker):
We have provided practitioners with a toolkit to tackle antisocial behaviour, which they operate according to local priorities. In Wirral, a multidisciplinary antisocial behaviour team operates many initiatives, based on prevention and enforcement, that engage, educate and promote awareness among young people, engage with residents and tackle antisocial behaviour in families. Neighbourhood policing
is also important in combating antisocial behaviour, as I witnessed on my visit to Bromborough police station in Wirral.
Ben Chapman: Does my hon. Friend recall from his visits to Wirral that what bothers my constituents in particular about local policing is that officers are constantly withdrawnalbeit to important duties elsewhere on Merseysideand that that situation will be greatly exacerbated when Liverpool is European capital of culture in 2008, especially in the absence of more Home Office funding? Does he agree, however, that a key way of combating antisocial behaviour is not just bobbies on the beat and more laws, but considerably less tolerance?
Mr. Coaker: One of the key reforms that the Government have introduced is neighbourhood policing, which, as my hon. Friend knows, has been introduced in every area from April 2007. However, from April 2008 there will be a dedicated neighbourhood policing team in every area, which means that his constituents in Wirral, as elsewhere, will know that officers who are supposed to beand who one would expect to bein their area, are there, policing. With him, I saw for myself the important and good work that police officers and police community support officers are doing in Wirral. He will be reassured to know that they told me that their approach is to ensure that they enforce the law, and to have zero tolerance of the so-called lesser offences that, as he knows, are often the very ones that drive our constituents mad.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Had my hon. Friend stopped two minutes before visiting my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman), he could have visited a superb pubwatch scheme run by publicans in Neston and supported directly by the Neston police. One aspect of the scheme that has helped tremendously has been the roll-out, with the support of Cheshire police, of CCTV, thereby providing a fantastic network. Will the Minister help to promote such schemes and expand them to other parts? I am thinking especially of the sharing of information across the border with the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South.
Mr. Coaker: Neston sounds like a place where I should have stopped. Pubwatch schemes up and down the country provide a huge benefit not only to licensed premises but to local communities in which they operate. The schemes operate in many different ways in different areas, and it is for local areas to decide the best way for their schemes to operate. The most successful schemes share information not only with pubs and licensed premises in their own area, but across borders. I am sure that people from the pubwatch scheme in Neston will have heard what my hon. Friend has to say.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): In the year to mid-2006, net migration into the UK was 176,000, which was about 82,000 lower than the year before and in line with the year before that. Projections are a matter for the Office for National Statistics.
Bob Spink: I thank the Minister for that response. With all due respect, the Government said that 13,000 people would come and yet well in excess of 600,000 have done so, putting intolerable pressure on local authorities, schools, houses, jobs and the national health service. The Government made this problem. What are they going to do to resolve it?
Mr. Byrne: The report to which I think the hon. Gentleman refers was one by the university of London, not by the Government. He is saying that in making immigration decisions we need to take into account not only the economic benefits to Britain, but the wider consequences. That is why, when we begin introducing the points-based system in 140 days time, we will be listening not only to the voice of the business community when we take those decisions, but to the voice of public servants.
Mr. Vara: During the Labour party conference, a member of the Government, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan), made comments that were widely reported in the press. He said that as far as immigration is concerned, people
have no real confidence in official figures.
Given that no Minister rebutted that statement at the time, will the Minister confirm that he agrees with his colleague? After a decade in power, when precisely will the Government sort their act out on this crucial issue?
Mr. Byrne: My own position on Home Office figures is well documented. The most important figures, which sit at the heart of the hon. Gentlemans question, are how many people are coming into this country and how many are going out of it. As he will know, that became a difficult number to quantify when the Conservative party phased out exit controls in 1994. That policy was wrong, which is why we are reintroducing exit controls, along with systems to count people in and out of the country. I hope that the Conservative party will support that approach.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): In recent years, Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland have had a large influx of people from the new EU states, particularly Poland. Does the Minister accept that such migration can often be a force for good? Many of those people are settling in some of our council estates and taking houses that previously could not be let to the indigenous population, and as a result the estates are now seeing some regeneration.
My hon. Friend is right. The former First Minister, Jack McConnell, was a pioneer of measures to attract new foreign students to Scotland. That policy is enormously important because international education
brings about £12.5 billion a year into our economy. Along with the economic contribution that migrants make, which was worth about £6 billion in 2006, in parts of our economy migration is incredibly important.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister accept that although inward migration in small doses might well be beneficial to the economy, the scale of inward migration that areas such as my own have experienced undermines our ambitions to make my constituency a zero-unemployment zone, because jobs that are made available as a result of Government activity are overwhelmingly then filled by inward migrants, who are often better skilled than those whom we are trying, with considerable effort, to get into jobs? Will he take that into account when determining how many people should be allowed to enter in future?
Mr. Byrne: Absolutely. That is why I said, in response to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), that when we decide how many points new migrants will need to come into this countrywhen we introduce the points system next yearwe must not only listen to the voices of the business community and of higher and further education, but consider the wider impact of migration. It is only by balancing those two things that we can reach a position where we can seek a level of migration that maximises the benefits. Those are not my words, but those of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green).
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Does the Minister agree that while we have seen significant migration from eastern Europe since the accession of the seven states in 2004migration that the Government certainly did not foreseewe have also seen significant increases in the number of work permits issued to workers from outside the EU, which has now increased to more than double the figure in 1997? That number is entirely within the control of the Government, so when will they take hold of this issue and draw the link between migration and the sort of issues raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) and housing demand, which the Government have revised upwards and now stands at one third of housing demand? When will the Government stop talking and making a pretence of acting, and do something? Finally, will the Minister say whether he wants to see the figures limited or reduced?
Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman is once again rehearsing the arguments for a cap on migration, which we have heard for a couple of years now from Conservative Members. It started as a cap on refugees in 2005, but that policy was put in the bin by the hon. Member for Ashford in December. Then we heard about a cap on overall immigration, but we then heard in August that that would be only on economic migrants from outside the European economic area.; in other words, it would not include EEA nationals, dependants or students. In fact, it would not touch 80 per cent. of the inflow last year. The hon. Gentleman will therefore forgive me if I am unclear about precisely what he and his party are proposing.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that many of those who raise such concerns about migration, especially those on the Opposition Benches, are actually hiding very negative attitudes towards ethnic diversity in our society? Does he also agree that much of the economic success of London and the efficiency of its public services is due to people who have made their homes here and made it the prosperous city that it is? We should pay tribute to them for the hard work that they do and the commitment that they make to the wider community.
Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend has been in the House for far longer than I have, so he will have greater insight into the answer to his first question. On his second question, he is right when we consider the number of work permits for people to come and serve in our national health service, which we have expanded at record pace over the past 10 years. Around a third of work permits are issued to people to work in health and medical science and their contribution has been instrumental in improving the health service to its position today.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Minister accept that immigration is one of the major concerns in the eyes of the electorate? It has been in position 1, 2 or 3 for the past two years. It affects housing, education, law and order and the health service. Will he try to make the balance between those leaving the country and those coming in more equal, so that we do not dramatically increase the responsibilities of this country? I believe that the Minister shares my concern, so will he put it into practice?
Mr. Byrne: I am now completely lost. When the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who is not in his place, had to drag his Front Benchers to Westminster Hall before the summer to interrogate them on how the Conservative party would set a cap, he proposed a cap that would mean zero net migration. The hon. Member for Ashford said that he could see no magic in that and that there
I must part company with him.
So the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will forgive me if I am now slightly confused about the policy that the Opposition propose. Indeed, I am not alone in that. When the hon. Member for Surrey Heath was asked 14 days ago whether a Conservative Government would reduce migration, he said no. Thirteen days ago, presumably after an encounter with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), he said that the
one word answer was an inaccurate way of explaining what immigration policy was...it wasnt the perfect answer, I absolutely grant you that, yes.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): May I draw the Ministers attention to a business in my constituency that relies on work permits to get specialised staff? It is experiencing real problems with the Border and Immigration Agency over repeated checks on the existence and size of the business, which are getting in the way of running an economically viable business.
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