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The hon. Gentleman also suggested that the City of London police provide a model that might be emulated in the policing of the rest of London, but it is worth highlighting some of the issues and arrangements within
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the Metropolitan Police Service. I do not agree with the prescription that the Met should be broken into smaller units as per the City of London model. London faces problems, particularly when it comes to more serious crime and the threat of terrorism—which he and I both mentioned—which need to be dealt with on a city-wide basis. It is noticeable that when it comes to the threat of major disorder, even the City of London police, which we agree is a good force, cannot always cope on its own and often must call in assistance from its bigger neighbour, the Met. Were the hon. Gentleman to carry out a detailed study, he might find that the management costs of the City of London police are rather higher than those of the Metropolitan police, which is the price that it pays for being a small independent force. There is nothing for nothing, and the City chooses to sustain that position with Government support.

I agree that any police force must be responsive, localised and properly accountable. Borough command units and local neighbourhood policing mean that we are moving in the right direction on that. Of course, this Government created the MPA to give direct accountability to the Metropolitan police, perhaps having learned something from the City of London police. As I mentioned, safer neighbourhood teams are doing a fantastic job in every ward in London and we are seeing falls in crime. In my constituency, which neighbours the hon. Gentleman’s, there have been considerable drops in crime in the past three years, thanks partly to that measure.

Having said that, I expect the City of London police to remain independent, but that it will collaborate across force boundaries when necessary. I am pleased that the City of London police operate seamlessly with the Met and British Transport police to protect the public and businesses in London. Cross-border or pan-London events require such an integrated approach, which tests operational protocols that override territorial boundaries. Planning for major events such as the Olympics or the recent grand départ of the Tour de France in London is carried out on a collaborative basis, and we all benefit from such cross-working. As I mentioned, we have seen good collaborative work on terrorism—the City of London police make a vital and unique contribution to counter-terrorism policing in the capital, which extends far beyond the square mile, and which will play an important role in major events such as the 2012 Olympics.

Fraud and economic crime are key areas of work for the City of London police. The Government have recently provided some of the £28 million of fraud review funds for the financial year 2008-09 to the City of London police. The force deals not only with those issues but some that resonate beyond the City boundaries, such as protecting the integrity and reputation of the world’s most important financial centre. As the hon. Gentleman said, the force has carved out a role as a specialist in tackling economic crime, and has a well deserved reputation as a leading authority on it. The Home Office, in partnership with the City of London corporation, has provided additional funding to the City of London police force to enable it to fulfil a lead-force role in the investigation of serious and complex fraud, not only in the square mile but throughout the south-east of England.

I recently met single points of contact on identity fraud who were interested in the work done in the City of London on fraud in general. Those people worked in
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different public organisations, including police forces up and down the country, and they welcomed the resource available to them on that specialist area.

The additional funding has enabled the City force to increase the size of its economic crime department, and it has been able to take on more cases, including providing assistance to other forces in the south-east to investigate large, complex fraud that falls slightly outside Serious Fraud Office criteria, but which it is nevertheless important to investigate. That frees up officers in the provinces for other work, for which they might be better equipped.

Mr. Field: Given the seamlessness of the relationship, the importance of the City of London police for tackling economic crime in the aftermath of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the setting up of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which needs to be worked on, and the importance that the Government and all Londoners attach to the Olympic games, which are only four and a half years away, why does the Home Office not ensure that there is a proper, or at least a comparable, funding arrangement in place for the City of London police, on the basis of the 2.5 per cent. floor that applies in the rest of the country?

Meg Hillier: Given the time, I shall talk about some of the funding issues. We agree that the City is doing important work on a range of issues, for instance, in Operation Halo, the national cheque and credit card database, which links to other forces and the financial services industry. Operation Halo means that intelligence can be collated and analysed quickly and leads to targeted operations against criminals. More recently, Operation Archway, the national centre for gathering intelligence on the notorious boiler room fraud, by which innocent investors are sold worthless shares, is another example of the force’s specialism.

It is worth saying, in the time I have available, something on the funding settlement for the next three years, which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing on 6 December. The unique status of the City of London police is well demonstrated by the settlement. Like every other force, the City receives a police grant from the Home Office; the House must approve the allocation that the Government will suggest in the new year—the hon. Gentleman will doubtless have the chance to raise his concerns at that time. However, the Government also provide funding to the other 42 forces in England and Wales through the revenue support grant. That provides the floors that ensure that every authority receives a minimum increase in funding. For the three years of the current comprehensive spending review, the floor is 2.5 per cent.

For the City of London police, however, the extra support comes as part of the whole settlement for the City of London corporation to provide services such as education, social services, police, highway maintenance and so on. The corporation is treated as an education authority for the purpose of funding floors. This time, the floor for education authorities is 2 per cent., which is less than the police funding floor. In previous years, the funding floor has been higher for education authorities than for the police, which benefited the corporation. It is a case of swings and roundabouts: some years the corporation does well, but this year it receives slightly
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less. Clearly, the Government cannot change the City’s classification as and when it suits. There have been jam years, but there have also been bread-and-butter years—this year is a bread-and-butter year for policing.

It is for the corporation to decide how to allocate the funding with which it is provided between the services it supports. I have no doubt that the corporation values the service it receives from the City of London police and will provide the appropriate funding. Clearly, making the best use of resources is a requirement for any police force, so I am pleased to congratulate the City on scoring a “performing strongly” rating—the best possible—in the Audit Commission’s annual survey of police use of resources.

The City of London police plays an important role. The force will continue as a separate and independent entity, although it will work with partners when required to do so. The force has a well deserved reputation on financial crime and is well equipped to meet the challenges ahead. Forces up and down the country will benefit from its expertise—for example, working alongside the Metropolitan Police Authority in areas in which it has competence. It has been a great pleasure to debate this matter with the hon. Gentleman, and I would be happy to talk further with him on the issue of special constables in the City of London, because there will be matters that we can consider more widely, such as how they are trained and how that might benefit others.

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Asylum Seekers

4.30 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): This will be the last debate in Westminster Hall before Parliament rises for the Christmas recess. All over the Palace of Westminster, hon. Members, staff and Officers of the House are getting ready to depart to spend Christmas with their communities and families. It is probably appropriate, as we are in the Christmas season, for the House of Commons to spend just a few minutes debating a group of people for whom there is absolutely no room at the inn—failed asylum seekers.

Let me begin by saying that I bow to no one in my support for the Government’s policy of firm but fair immigration control. I do not approach the issue from a theoretical point of view. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, I am probably in the top 10 of Members of Parliament for dealing with immigration cases. I am supported by an excellent senior caseworker and his devoted team of volunteers. Because I have done so much immigration casework in my 20 years in Parliament, I take very seriously the issues that the Government are trying to deal with. None the less, precisely because failed asylum seekers are so marginal and because there can be no group of people for whom there is less public sympathy, I think that it is important, as a test of the Government’s commitment to human rights, to spend a little time examining some of the allegations of abuse of failed asylum seekers during deportation.

I want to draw a number of issues to the attention of Ministers and other hon. Members. The first is the use of private security companies to carry out the work. I do not think that that is appropriate and I believe that there is some relationship between under-trained, underpaid private security personnel and some of the alleged abuses. Another of my concerns relates to the Government targets for forced repatriations. I understand the point of those targets. None the less, a target-driven culture is a culture in which perhaps some of the personnel carrying out the work are inclined to cut corners.

The substantive issues are the allegations of physical abuse, which I will detail later, and the allegations of racist abuse. Ministers will be aware that airlines are very reluctant to be involved in these deportations. One airline, XL Airways, has bowed out of the Home Office contract altogether because it has been so horrified by some of the incidents on its planes. Let me say at the beginning that it is difficult to be specific about the scale of the problems, because it is in the nature of things that many of the people abused will have returned home and are unable to bring complaints against the Home Office. It is also difficult for them to take legal action after assaults, partly because they may have returned home, but also because of the lack of police investigations, an ineffective complaints procedure, the way in which they are treated when they lodge a complaint, and the problems that asylum rights groups have when compiling information. I regret that the recommendations of the Government’s own complaints audit committee on this matter have not been implemented.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I acknowledge what my hon. Friend has just said. Will she concede that it might be helpful if we at least knew the number
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of times that airlines have refused to carry deportees because of concerns on the part of pilots for the safety of the aircraft and all its other passengers? That seems to happen on quite a few occasions.

Ms Abbott: That is an important point, to which I will return at the conclusion of my remarks.

As Ministers will be aware, in 2004 the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture prepared a report on allegations of harm by removals staff. In all 14 cases on which it reported, it carried out medical examinations, but it also found that, beyond the 14 cases that it investigated, there were other allegations of harm occurring in detention. As a result of the examination of the 14 cases, the foundation found a pattern of abuse and it highlighted four main issues: the use of inappropriate and unsafe methods of force that carry a higher-than-acceptable injury risk; the use of force even after the removal attempt had been terminated, often out of sight inside escort vehicles; the continued use of force even after the detainee had been restrained, through the use of handcuffs, for instance; and the misuse of handcuffing. The foundation’s analysis suggested that gratuitous force was being used. In four of the 14 cases that it considered, the people disclosed that they had been tortured in their country of origin, suggesting that their psychological state would have been affected by that further abuse.

The Medical Foundation’s report stated:

It raised specific concerns about the misuse of handcuffs, which can lead to nerve damage. There was evidence that physical force was used after handcuffs had been applied, which is considered unnecessary and dangerous. There were also reports of verbal and racial abuse during deportation.

The Medical Foundation recommended that an automatic medical examination should take place of any individual who is the subject of a failed removal attempt. That has not happened. It recommended that, for allegations to be investigated properly, the victim should be allowed to stay in this country to pursue any legal course of action. That has not happened. Most important, it recommended that those involved in the physical removal of failed asylum seekers must receive comprehensive training in the proper use of restraint techniques. That is one of the issues on which I shall press the Minister today.

In 2005, a report by the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns documented 35 cases of abuse during removals that had been referred to solicitors firms. Most of the 35 allegations were against Group 4 and Loss Prevention International—two private companies involved in those removals. The majority of the incidents took place on the way to or at the airport. The injuries included cuts, swellings and bruises, nerve damage from handcuffs, sexual assault, groin damage, cracked shoulders, fractured fingers, psychological problems and serious
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head injuries. Most recently, campaigners on this issue believe that there may be 200 allegations of abuse.

Let me talk about a particular case, which received some publicity. Beatrice is an asylum seeker from Cameroon who has a history of psychological problems and suicide attempts following the murder of her husband in Cameroon. She was taken from Yarl’s Wood detention centre and put on a plane in handcuffs and leg bindings. She alleges that when she complained of feeling unwell, one officer said to her, “If you do not go quietly, we will beat you.” Another said, “I’m very sorry, but I have to do it. If we don’t bring you to Cameroon, they won’t pay us.” Her head was forced between her knees and covered with a jacket. An escort clamped his hand over her mouth and kicked her legs. When they arrived in Paris for a stopover, she saw two French policemen and tried to escape, but was tripped over. Two policemen held her down on the floor. As she struggled, she was kneed in the groin so hard that blood poured from between her legs.

During the consequent flight to Cameroon, Beatrice suffered five panic attacks. When the plane arrived, a British policeman who happened to be on the flight, together with two other passengers, reported her to the Cameroonian officials because she seemed so unwell. When asked to walk unaided, she collapsed. She alleges that the escort team attempted to bribe the Cameroonian immigration officials to take her but they refused. She was eventually returned to Heathrow in a wheelchair and immediately taken to Hillingdon hospital, where she was treated for severe genital bleeding and multiple bruising. A psychiatrist said that she was “traumatised by events”. In October, an immigration judge ruled against the Home Office and released her on bail.

I would like to think that that was an unusual case and that the officials involved have been disciplined or reprimanded in some way. I would like to hear from Ministers what has happened. Nobody, not even a failed asylum seeker, should be treated in that way. No woman should be treated in that way by people acting for a British Government. It is not necessary and it makes a mockery of our claims to be a country that subscribes to human rights and the various human rights conventions.

The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, along with the organisation Medical Justice, is compiling a dossier of such cases. As I said earlier, they estimate that about 200 cases are known to various asylum rights groups, solicitors groups and visitors groups, and that number is by no means exhaustive. They passed 10 cases to The Independent newspaper, which reported on some of them. Three cases have been passed to the Home Office. The Home Office asked to see all 200 cases. However, I would say to Ministers that there are serious problems about passing cases on and the campaign groups involved are unwilling to do so without assurances that the victim’s name will not be made public without their consent and that the victims will not come to any harm by the Home Office or its contractors.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for giving us that harrowing account of what happened to one poor lady who was being removed. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of it, but is she concerned that, as I understand it, the Home Office and British missions
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abroad do not follow up what happens to returned asylum seekers who must remain in the country that they have been returned to? Many of them are obviously in enormous danger, particularly if their return is made known to officials at the point of entry.

Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which I will return to in my closing remarks.

I was making the point that, although the Home Office has asked for this dossier of 200 cases, there are difficulties in passing these cases on, because the victims are worried that they will come to harm if they report what has happened to them. However, the campaigning groups are trying to get permission from the victims to pass on the cases.

The other issues that the campaigning groups have identified in reporting all these assaults, apart from the victims’ fears, are difficulty with investigation, because the relevant CCTV footage would have been wiped; potential witnesses being dispersed; and difficulties in contacting those witnesses. There have been cases where witnesses of these types of assault on planes have been intimidated by removals officers.

Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, has examined detention centres and one of the points that she made in a report last year was that we are dealing with failed asylum seekers

In fact, there are more controls and checks on the removal of livestock from this country than there are on the removal of failed asylum seekers. Earlier, I spoke about the culture of targets and the contracting out of this removal service. Of course, among the problems of contracting out are the lack of accountability and the level of training.

I am afraid that the annual report of the Border and Immigration Agency’s complaints audit committee sheds light on the fact that the Home Office is still not dealing with complaints in a systematic or fair way. This afternoon, I would like the Minister to respond to a number of points. First, when will it implement the recommendations of that committee? Secondly, what training do removals officers receive, particularly in safe methods of restraint? Thirdly, what specific targets are given to private companies? For instance, in one of the cases that I spoke about earlier, the officer involved said that staff would not get paid unless they removed the woman to Cameroon. So, what specific targets are private companies given and how do these affect their work? Fourthly, what is the follow-up of failed asylum seekers who are removed to find out what happens to them and whether they are subject to violence? Finally, do Ministers have the figures on how many occasions airlines have refused to take failed asylum seekers because they are concerned about some of the scenes taking place on their planes?

So here we are, on the verge of the Christmas holiday. This is not the most cheerful of subjects and, as I said, it is not a subject that most of the public are too concerned about. However, it seems to me that, in trying to construct an immigration system that is firm and fair, the way that that system treats some of the most vulnerable people in it is important.

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Earlier in this Session, I used the opportunity of a debate in Westminster Hall to draw attention to the plight of children in detention. This afternoon, I want to ask the Minister to give the House some assurances that, just because somebody is a failed asylum seeker and they have to be forcibly removed, they will not be subject to abuse, violence and treatment that is unbefitting of a country that is meant to be a beacon of human rights in western Europe.

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