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Mr. Byrne: If my hon. Friend has specific concerns into which I can look I shall be happy to do so. As part of the introduction of the points system next year, businesses that want to sponsor migrants to this country will need a licence and I hope that will make the system both tougher and more efficient.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): When looking at net migration the Minister will obviously take into consideration those coming in from Romania and Bulgaria—people for whom special arrangements were put in place. Can he tell us now, or will he report in the future, about the lessons learned from the procedures put in place for Romania and Bulgaria and tell us whether they might inform immigration policy in future?

Mr. Byrne: The decision on whether restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria should remain in future is of course a matter for the Cabinet. That decision will come up in the next month or two in line with our commitment to review restrictions within 12 months of their introduction. I think the restrictions have been successful, but when a decision is made we will of course publish the evidence on which it has been made—evidence about the benefits of migration as well as evidence about the wider impacts—to the House and the public.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I am not surprised that the Minister is confused, because he seems to spend so much time reading the details of our policy that he has not had time to develop his own. He knows that he is not convincing anyone with his policy, because his private Home Office research, which has fallen into my hands, tells him so. It says:

Can he confirm his response to the crisis? The first point that the Government make in response, in their private document, is that regional press officers are

Not immigration officers, not police officers, but press officers. Does the Minister recognise that such a response is precisely why the immigration system is in crisis and precisely why the Government’s reputation is shot to pieces?

Mr. Byrne: That was a hopeless attack on the Government’s immigration policy. It is not to the hon. Gentleman’s credit to make such arguments. He should look at the introduction of the points system, advised independently for the first time, at the sweeping changes to our border security over the next 12 months and at the introduction of ID cards on a compulsory basis for foreign nationals. Those are the measures that will render our immigration system fit for the future. Those are the dimensions of our policy that he should be debating.

Drug Trafficking

11. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What action the Government have taken to reduce levels of drug trafficking since 1997. [157287]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Government have delivered a wide range of effective measures to reduce levels of drug trafficking since 1997. They include tough new legislation, an increase in convictions for those caught drug trafficking, investment in global anti-narcotics initiatives, the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and a dramatic improvement in our performance on recovery of the proceeds of crime. The Government recently published a consultation paper, “Drugs: Our Community, Your Say”, the responses to which will inform our new drugs strategy to be implemented from April 2008 onwards.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Has he seen what the Evening Standard says today about a new form of cannabis called skunk? Does he have plans to reclassify that drug?

Mr. Coaker: I have seen the front page of the Evening Standard, which refers to the increasing strength of cannabis and the prevalence of skunk. As my hon. Friend knows, the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look at the reclassification of cannabis and we await what it has to say.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): It is not just drug trafficking that should worry the House; it is human trafficking. Why do the Government not ratify the Council of Europe convention? If they did so, it would become effective legislation. Nine have already done so; one more, and it would become an effective instrument. Why have the Government not done so?

Mr. Coaker: When it comes to trafficking of any sort—drug trafficking or child trafficking, which is an issue of particular interest to the hon. Gentleman—he will know that we must have everything in place to ensure that the ratification of the Council of Europe convention means something. We have measures still to take with respect to law enforcement and victim support. All those services need to be put in place. When they are put in place—we are working towards doing that, as the hon. Gentleman will know—we will be in a position to ratify that Council of Europe convention.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Although I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) about people trafficking, to return to drug trafficking, may I say that the figures given by my hon. Friend the Minister are replicated by those from Brighton and Hove? Is he aware that, as a direct result of Operation Reduction—a combination of policing and drugs treatment—226 drug users have been referred for drug treatment within the past two years? Can he guarantee that that excellent programme’s funding will be extended for a further year?

Mr. Coaker: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has done in Brighton, and all the people involved in the work that has gone on there. The 226 people whom she refers to in Brighton and Hove form part of the record increase in the number of people going into drug treatment. That is, of course, the result of record investment by the Government in tackling
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the harm that drugs cause. What has happened in my hon. Friend’s constituency should be replicated across the country. A successful drugs strategy needs tough law enforcement and the education of our young people, and we need to ensure that we get more people into treatment, so that those people who have problems with drugs receive the help that they need.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Does the Minister agree that, in combating drug trafficking, the police and the other agencies should rigorously enforce the existing legislation? Does he also agree with the Association of Chief Police Officers when it described calls by the chief constable of North Wales for the decriminalisation of all drugs as a counsel of despair?

Mr. Coaker: We agree with the ACPO statement, and we disagree with the chief constable of North Wales. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, which gives me the opportunity to put that on the record. Of course, dealing with the problem of drugs in this country requires tough law enforcement nationally and internationally. He will be interested to hear that, only last week, I visited a new initiative undertaken by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, where a maritime analysis operations centre has been set up, working with other European countries and involving the military, to tackle ships that are bringing drugs, generally cocaine, across the Atlantic ocean, to interdict that movement of those drugs. So the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: tough law enforcement must be a part of any successful drug strategy.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I welcome the reduction in the misuse of any drug, whether legal or illegal, but does my hon. Friend the Minister recognise that enforcement action can have unintended consequences, as evidenced by the shift from the smuggling of low-tetrahydrocannabinol-content cannabis from places such as Morocco to the large-scale farming in rented properties of high-THC-content cannabis all across Britain? I can report that, in the past three or four months, Bolton police alone have captured 20 houses where farming is conducted by Thai and Vietnamese criminal gangs.

Mr. Coaker: I accept my hon. Friend’s point that, at times, when the law is enforced in one area, the crime is displaced to another, but the important issue is surely that we enforce the law. If, as he quite rightly points out, we have seen an increase in home-grown cannabis from so-called cannabis farms in domestic properties, the police need to enforce the law rigorously with respect to that. Indeed, they are doing so. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) will be interested in the important fact that, when the police have taken tough law enforcement action against cannabis farms, they have often in some circumstances found trafficked children, whom they have then referred on to the appropriate agencies.

Police Numbers

12. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment she has made of the likely effect of budgetary plans on future police officer numbers in the east midlands. [157288]

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The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): I met the police authority chairs and the chief constables from the east midlands most recently on 6 September, and I shall continue to listen to their views. My hon. Friend will know that no final decisions have been made on police funding settlement for the comprehensive spending review years. Full details of the provisional settlement will be announced in late November or early December.

David Taylor: The five police forces of the east midlands cover a rapidly expanding population of well over 4 million people with a police spend per capita of £157 or about 76 per cent. of the English average of £206 per capita. That makes it very difficult to deliver on policing priorities such as improving protective services. Will the Minister agree to meet representatives of the five authorities—Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire—again to discuss the financial position and to plot out a way ahead for all concerned?

Mr. McNulty: I am happy to do that, and I shall return to that point shortly. It is an error to use a per capita figure for police spending, given the distinct nature of all forces, urban-rural splits and other factors. However, despite that erroneous use of data, I shall of course meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues. I have an extant request for a cross-party meeting from one of our colleagues in Nottingham and a Conservative colleague, but I am more than happy to meet as many east midlands MPs, of whatever hue, as it takes.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): Although the announcement that the Minister is prepared to meet MPs is welcome—I am sure that Conservative Members will wish to join in—does he accept that the five regional forces have worked hard to increase their capability and improve their interaction on protective services? Does he acknowledge that the last thing that my constituents in Daventry want is a reduction in the number of police officers, whether it is induced by a shortage of funding or by a conscious decision by the police authority?

Mr. McNulty: I am happy to accept the latter point. The hon. Gentleman will know that across the five forces officer numbers have increased—by the most in Leicestershire, where they have increased by 14-plus per cent. In addition, the numbers of support staff have increased by between 32 and 70 per cent., crime is down in each of the areas, and over the past 10 years Government grant has increased by between 10 and 22 per cent. I am happy to meet MPs from the area and representatives of the five forces to discuss these matters, but that is the context within which those discussions should take place.

Drug Screening

13. Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): What progress has been made in approving a roadside drug screening device for use by police. [157289]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Forensic Science Service has been engaged in drawing up the detailed specification essential for such a device. The specification will be issued shortly; it will then be for manufacturers to prepare devices in line with that specification and to submit them to the type approval process.

Mark Hunter: Given the estimates that fully 18 per cent. of drivers killed in road accidents are under the influence of drugs or have traces of drugs in their system, will the Minister explain the inordinate delay in introducing roadside tests, given the fact that permission was given four years ago, in the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003? Why are the Government dragging their heels so much on giving the police the assistance they need to deal effectively with the problem?

Mr. Coaker: The Government are not dragging their heels. The scientists are putting together a specification; when they have done so, it will be made available to manufacturers to enable them to produce a device allowing roadside screening for the presence of certain drugs. The hon. Gentleman will know, however, that the offence is not necessarily the presence of illegal drugs in someone’s body, but the impairment that they cause, and the field impairment test is currently available to police officers to use at the roadside.

Police Time

14. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): What proposals she has to maximise the amount of time that police officers spend on duty outside their stations. [157290]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): My hon. Friend will know from replies to earlier questions that we are using a range of ways to ensure that police officers, including those in Blackpool, spend more time on duty outside their stations. They range from wider implementation of mobile data units to—crucially—the implementation of neighbourhood policing and the additional front-line support provided by police community support officers and other police staff.

Mrs. Humble: I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he take the opportunity to congratulate Lancashire police force on coming top in this year’s performance assessment? One of the reasons why it came top is the introduction of modern technology; the new personal digital assistants and mobile data terminals allow them to link directly to the main computer to report crime, and give them access to information. That has freed them up for an extra hour every day in which they can be out on the beat.

Mr. McNulty: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, except for on whether there are things called league tables when it comes to police performance. As a West Ham United fan, I do not recognise league tables of any description; I find that it helps to get me through the football year much more easily. She is right, and I saw much of what she describes when I was in Fleetwood. We had a nice cheese sandwich in the
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Fleetwood Arms and discussed, among other things, how neighbourhood policing is developing in Lancashire, and the application of personal digital assistants and a range of other IT equipment. Those developments are taking place in police forces across the country, but it is to Lancashire’s great credit that it has led the way in the application of such devices, and in the implementation and roll-out of neighbourhood policing.

Inward Migration

15. Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): What recent estimates she has made of projected levels of net migration into the UK. [157291]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): The Home Office has never produced future projections of migration numbers. That is a matter for the Office for National Statistics.

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Mr. Wilson: The Minister will be aware that net migration to the UK has included a rising number of foreign criminals. Despite repeated inquiries, I have been unable to obtain answers to the following questions: how many foreign nationals have been detained in UK prisons in the past five years, what was the nature of their offence, and what happened to each prisoner on release from prison? If the Government have nothing to hide, will the Minister today commit to answering those important questions?

Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman will know that the police do not collect crime data by the nationality of the perpetrator, but that is yet another reason why the introduction of ID cards for foreign nationals, which his party supported during proceedings on the UK Borders Bill, is so important. So what a shame it was to see, in the small print of the announcement made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) in conference week, that he will shut the system down.

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Clostridium Difficile

3.32 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about clostridium difficile.

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): The Healthcare Commission’s report on the outbreaks of clostridium difficile at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust is a truly shocking document. On behalf of the Government and the national health service, I would like to apologise to all those who have been personally and directly affected, and to offer my condolences to the families of those who have died. Clostridium difficile is the major cause of serious bacterial infectious diarrhoea. It can colonise the gut, causing inflammation of the colon and in the worst cases it can prove fatal. It is normally controlled by the presence of other bacteria, but when those are killed—for example, by antibiotic treatment—it can grow and cause disease.

Tackling health care-associated infections is a priority in the NHS operating framework. In October 2006, the code of practice on the prevention and control of health care-associated infections became a statutory procedure. We have made it clear that tackling HCAIs should be a priority for all local NHS organisations, and the aim is to reduce the number of C. difficile infections by 30 per cent. by March 2011. Mandatory surveillance of C. difficile infections was extended to people aged two and over from April this year—previously it applied only to patients aged 65 and over—to help with local monitoring.

We have doubled the number of improvement teams that are helping trusts to reduce hospital-acquired infections. We have announced deep cleans within all trusts, and we have published new guidance on uniforms so that staff are bare below the elbow. That assists with hand washing, which is crucial in countering such infections. We are also creating a new regulator with stronger enforcement powers, who will be expected to inspect, investigate and intervene on health care-acquired infections.

In July, we made an additional £50 million available to reduce HCAIs. The MRSA cleaner hospitals action plan has been expanded to cover clostridium difficile. It has already had an impact on efforts to tackle MRSA, and it is expected to have a similar effect on C. difficile. While all those measures are crucial, the report from the Healthcare Commission on Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust shows that we need far more vigilance and determination in our drive to eradicate hospital-acquired infections. The NHS chief executive has written to every NHS trust today, appending the Healthcare Commission’s report seeking reassurances from every NHS chief executive that infection control is regarded as a major priority in every NHS organisation.

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