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Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act

8. Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): What progress her Department has made in implementing the recommendations of the review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. [177765]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): The Home Office has worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the National Policing Improvement Agency and other key interested parties to produce a new code of practice and disseminate guidance on the operation of the 2000 Act that directly addresses unnecessary application of the legislation and unnecessarily bureaucratic processes identified by the review.

Mr. Wallace: Our law enforcement agencies need to be protected from a few mischievous defence counsel who often seek to get their more guilty clients off by unpicking surveillance operations through the use of technicalities. Recommendation 4 of the RIPA review proposed that decisions by the surveillance commissioner should not be challengeable or questioned in court. Will the Minister tell us what he has done to implement the recommendation? If he has taken no action, will he please consider making such action one of his top priorities?

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman is right. The recommendation addressed an anomaly whereby certain decisions of surveillance commissioners could not be questioned in court while others could, and some defence counsel have sought to exploit that.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, since the review was completed the Court of Appeal has made a ruling in the case of R v. GS and others that in cases involving approval of property interference or intrusive surveillance by an independent surveillance commissioner, the prosecutor’s duty of disclosure is satisfied by his providing the trial judge with a copy of the commissioner’s prior approval, so a trial judge need not revisit or reopen a decision made by an independent surveillance commissioner.

We consider that the ruling goes to the heart of recommendation 4, and closes the “fishing” loophole to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. However, I shall be more than happy to write to him in more detail about what is a complex matter. I agree with his original point that we need to protect our law
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enforcement officers who carry out the very necessary job of intrusion, but we also need to set the right balance between them and those on whom they intrude.

Points-based Migration

10. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What progress has been made on implementation of the points-based migration system. [177767]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): The points-based system is on track to start in 80 days. Initially it will apply to highly skilled migrants who contribute significantly to the growth and productivity of the United Kingdom economy. When it is fully implemented in 2009, it will reduce routes of entry to the UK from over 60 to five.

Rosie Cooper: Does my hon. Friend agree that the correct way to manage economic migration is to base it on both the assessment of how many migrants the economy needs in different sectors and the effects that those migrants are having on the individual communities, rather than just going for an arbitrary limit?

Meg Hillier: I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. We need a clear understanding of what skills the UK needs. That is why we set up the migration advisory committee, which will advise the Government about where there are labour shortages. We have also set up the migration impacts forum, which advises local public sector providers and others about the impact on public services. We will determine whether we need to suspend any of the tiers on the basis of evidence, not an arbitrary cap.

Topical Questions

T1. [177748] Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): My Department is determined to protect the public, particularly the vulnerable, and to help identify and bring to justice those who threaten their safety. That is why I am announcing today my intention to accelerate plans to ratify the Council of Europe convention against trafficking and to review the Government’s reservation on the UN convention on the rights of the child. It is now my intention to make the necessary legislative and procedural changes to implement the trafficking convention before the end of this year as part of our wider strategy to combat trafficking.

We have already achieved a great deal. We launched a comprehensive UK action plan on trafficking on the same day as we signed the convention in March 2007, and we have set up a dedicated human trafficking centre. We are in the middle of the second nationwide police-led anti-trafficking operation, Pentameter 2, which I launched in October. Our reservation on the UN convention on the rights of the child was designed to protect our immigration controls. We will make no
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changes that risk their integrity, but much has changed since we lodged our reservation. Most recently, for example, we put a statutory—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must stop the Secretary of State.

Lynda Waltho: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that it will be welcomed on both sides of the House, although possibly not by researchers who are busily working on speeches for Wednesday’s debate.

I appreciate that there have been problems on the way to full ratification, but I am pleased that they have not prevented the police from carrying out their duties on this matter. I wonder whether the Home Secretary is in a position to expand on the success of Pentameter 2, which, as she began to say, was launched in October.

Jacqui Smith: Pentameter 2 is building on the success of Pentameter 1, which rescued 88 victims and brought 232 arrests. The particular contribution that Pentameter 2 makes is that it has enabled the bringing together of not only the police, but other partners, particularly to develop a comprehensive victim strategy. That includes piloting a model of victim identification and referral, which is part of what will be necessary in order to implement the Council of Europe convention against trafficking. Thus, Pentameter 2 is giving us results in terms of both tackling trafficking, and developing a policy and the procedures necessary for ratification.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): May I start—I am surprised but pleased about this—by welcoming the statement that the Home Secretary has just made about human trafficking? This is something that we have called for a number of times. We will have a debate about the issue on Wednesday, and I hope that the researchers will be pleased, rather than displeased, about that. It comes a little late—things have moved too slowly—but it is a significant improvement, so we welcome it unreservedly.

I shall now move on to what I wanted to ask about, particularly given what was said earlier. Does the Home Secretary agree with her predecessor that there should be no upper limit on immigration—yes or no?

Jacqui Smith: I believe that, as has ably been described today, as we introduce the points-based system we must be clear about strengthening the controls on our borders and in our immigration system. We need to be clear, through the migration advisory committee—as we will be—about where immigration will benefit this country. We need to be clear, through the migration impacts forum, about its impacts. We need to design the points based system to maximise the benefits and minimise the impacts, and that is what we will do.

David Davis: I prepared three consequential questions, one for “Yes”, one for “No” and one for waffle; the House can work out which one I am going to use. The Home Secretary has been trying to ride two horses, yet again. One the one hand, she is trying to talk tough, but on the other, she is presiding over a policy of chaos and confusion. Is she saying that she is
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comfortable with a policy that, on Government figures, requires us to build 200 extra houses every day for the next 20 years? Is she happy with a policy that, in the words of the Minister for Borders and Immigration, who is looking at his notes, puts huge pressure on education, to the disadvantage of poorer children, irrespective of origin, immigrant or indigenous? Is she happy with a policy that puts enormous strain—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have given Front Benchers the opportunity to come in on topical questions and I am not expecting a whole load of supplementaries.

Jacqui Smith: One of the things that I said in my response was that we should seek a level of immigration that maximises the benefits. That is precisely what the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) said on 17 July last year. Once again, we appear to be in agreement on this matter. The difference, however, is that the Government are willing to put into place the structures necessary, as we will discuss on Wednesday in the migration impact forum, with regard to the impact of immigration on housing, for example. We will measure the benefits and then, through the points-based system, manage migration in a way that will benefit this country.

T2. [177749] Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): My right hon. Friend mentioned partnerships with policing in Bridgend. A most successful partnership there has been with F division police and the street pastor scheme. Over the recent bank holiday, they set up a new development, which was a triage centre with the street pastors, St. John Ambulance and a local doctor, and it saw more than 30 people. Street crime was reduced by 7 per cent. and more than 30 people were treated without needing to go to hospital—

Mr. Speaker: Order. It looks as though this is a day for me to interrupt people. For topical questions, I expect a punchy question, not a mini-Adjournment debate.

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend has had the opportunity to talk to me about the success of the street pastor scheme in Bridgend. It is being used in other parts of the country, but what she and the street pastors in Bridgend have ably demonstrated is that when they can intervene at a time when someone is about to commit a violent act or to cause trouble on the street, they can make a difference in reducing such aspects of street and violent crime. That is why the scheme will be welcomed by local people in Bridgend and, incidentally, by police across the country.

T3. [177750] Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) (Lab): I will try to keep my question punchy, Mr. Speaker.Will the Home Secretary join me in welcoming the Prime Minister’s comments this morning about toughening up on knife crime, especially in areas such as Nottingham? Does she share my dismay that 9,000 people were given cautions for carrying knives in this country despite the fact that people are four times more likely to be killed by a knife attack than by a gun? Will she give me the assurance—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

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Jacqui Smith: Quite punchy, and all good stuff. My hon. Friend makes an important point. As the Prime Minister said this morning, we need to look at the work that is under way in London, for example, to ensure that when an adult is caught in possession of a knife, the automatic presumption is that they are prosecuted rather than cautioned, and see how we can spread that across the country. Possessing a knife is serious. It does not make people safer: it puts them in danger because they may get into a situation in which they use that knife. We need to take the sort of tough action that the Prime Minister was talking about, and we will do so across the country.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): A year ago, the Home Affairs Committee discovered a complete lack of joined-up government on bogus educational establishments. Can the Home Secretary assure us that action is being taken to clamp down on the situation pointed out by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)—that many such organisations are just rooms over chip shops in Rotherham—to ensure that they are genuine educational establishments, not bogus, as they have been discovered to be in so many cases?

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): I have worked closely with my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education on some of those questions. When the points-based system starts, we will introduce much tighter arrangements for the way in which colleges are regulated. Colleges will have to report on a mandatory basis when students do not attend, and when we find colleges breaking the rules we will withdraw their licence to sponsor new students coming into this country, effectively ending their ability to offer placements to students from abroad. Those tougher arrangements for policing colleges have to go hand in hand with arrangements to make it easier for colleges to understand whether the student in front of them is the student whom they sponsored. That is why we have to introduce ID cards, I think compulsorily, for foreign nationals. That is exactly what we will do before the end of this year.

T5. [177752] Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Following reports over the past few weeks that the street price of hard drugs—heroin and cocaine—has fallen to record lows, what action is being taken to reverse the deteriorating performance of the Serious Organised Crime Agency in making interceptions of drugs and arresting drug traffickers?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): SOCA works particularly hard to restrict the supply of controlled drugs into the UK. It works not only to interdict drugs at the point of entry but, as I saw recently in Lisbon, to tackle the many drugs that come across from south America and to interdict the ships as they come across. I have every confidence in SOCA’s work to try to restrict the supply of drugs into the UK.

T6. [177753] Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): May I ask a question about cannabis farming? We have recently had three successful busts in Swansea, East, but a particular aspect of them has affected my
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constituents. It is great that we have got those drugs off the streets, but homeowners who have let their properties are now discovering that the properties have been so damaged in order to grow the crops that they are not covered by insurance. They are suffering particular financial damage.

Mr. Coaker: This matter has not been raised with me before, but I shall look into it as a result of my hon. Friend’s question. On the subject of cannabis factories, tackling cannabis on the streets, and raiding and closing cannabis factories at residential addresses, are an important part of the police operations. Last year, Operation Keymer was successful, and I want to see that repeated.

With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, may I apologise to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne)? People were saying “Welcome” to me when I responded to him, and I misunderstood what they were saying. I should have welcomed him to his first Home Office questions as a Front Bencher. I hope that it goes fairly well for him, and apologise for not saying that in the first place.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Does the Minister agree that much more emphasis in drugs policy should be placed on prevention? Is he aware that the mixed messages sent to the young by the downgrading of cannabis in 2004 have resulted in children as young as 12 being treated for mental health problems such as forms of psychosis, paranoia and schizophrenia?

Mr. Coaker: I totally agree with the hon. Lady that prevention is extremely important when it comes to drugs. The important message about cannabis, irrespective of the debate about what class it is, is that it is an illegal and harmful drug. That is the message that we must continue to put across. While we are talking about prevention, I am sure that she will agree that it is incumbent on us, when we talk about education in our schools and about what works, to consider what constitutes effective drugs education and the role of parents and the family.

T7. [177754] Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I was delighted to hear that the sale of samurai swords is to be banned. Will the Secretary of State extend that ban to all bladed weapons? There is a strong feeling in my area among those involved in Mothers Against Knives that that should be done immediately.

Jacqui Smith: When we consulted on adding samurai swords to the violent weapons order, there was clear support for the proposal. We also said that we wanted to go back and look at other blades and other sorts of knives that might well need to be added to that list. Of course, alongside that, we have increased the age for buying any knives from 16 to 18. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as we have mentioned, has talked about the way in which we need to toughen up the prosecution of those in possession of knives. I reassure my hon. Friend and important organisations such as Mothers Against Knives that we will do whatever is necessary to make clear the danger of knives and the implications for people who carry and use them.

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T8. [177755] Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): Now that the ability to make an intoxicating substances order has been introduced in the latest Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, what steps will the Home Secretary take to discuss with the police and others other ways in which to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour caused by alcohol? Will she liaise with colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families to ensure that young people are properly educated in the dangers of excess alcohol consumption?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have now introduced several measures from the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 that enable, for
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example, the police in local communities to move young people—or anybody—from an area where drink is causing a problem and to confiscate alcohol. We had a successful campaign at the end of last year, when well over 3,000 litres of alcoholic drinks were confiscated from young people. We are also working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which is, for example, establishing an expert panel to take forward a review of the latest evidence on the effects of alcohol on young people and will consider how we can strongly convey the message to young people that there are dangers from drinking and that they should not engage in it, not least because of health problems, as well as crime.

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a particular matter. During the armed forces personnel debate last Thursday, I was expressing concern about our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq not always getting the kit that they need, when the Minister for the Armed Forces, as reported in Hansard, column 608, used what I consider to be unparliamentary language, which risks showing contempt for a sensitive issue—particularly sensitive after reports on the death of Corporal Mark Wright over the weekend. Have you had time to consider this issue? If so, what action do you intend to take?

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. The audio and visual records of Thursday’s debate have been checked today. It is not possible to establish what was said from a sedentary position during the hon. Gentleman’s speech, when Hansard records an unparliamentary phrase being used. In the circumstances, both sedentary remarks will be removed from the permanent record. I think that the matter should now be left there.

Several hon. Members: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker: I have cleared up that point of order.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker. During topical questions today, the Home Secretary, instead of making a short statement about her departmental responsibilities, started to make one about human trafficking, which would perhaps have been better made as a separate statement so that Members could properly cross-examine her.

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