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20 Feb 2008 : Column 363

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Like my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, I support many of the proposals, but will the right hon. Lady now answer one of his questions: what will be the costs of this package? Also, can she tell the House how many failed asylum seekers there are in the UK and how many will be deported next year?

Jacqui Smith: This is, of course, a Green Paper. Part of our work will be to examine the costs of the proposals as we build on them. On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, because of the improvements that we have made, we are now processing asylum seekers through the system far more quickly and more effectively, and the figures on asylum seekers coming into the country are at historic lows.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Despite changes to the application process, citizenship ceremonies in my council, Enfield, are often rendered meaningless by applicants’ lack of command of basic English. What assurance does the Green Paper offer that the system will be improved?

Jacqui Smith: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman believes, as I do, that citizenship ceremonies can play an important part in welcoming people to the UK. It is precisely because we feel that being able to speak English is an important part of becoming part of our community that we are proposing not only that highly skilled and skilled workers gain English language qualifications before they arrive in the country, but a requirement at the point at which they enter the probationary citizenship period to progress in English language skills, before moving on to full citizenship.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I very much welcome the recognition again today by the Home Secretary of the enormous benefit that Britain as a whole and constituencies such as mine have gained from those who have chosen in recent decades to make their home in this country. They have enriched our community in every aspect of our lives.

My right hon. Friend will, however, be aware that there is still considerable concern about the backlog of immigration and nationality cases to be dealt with by her Department. Although much improved, there is a long way to go. Can she assure the House that none of the proposals in the Green Paper and the accompanying statement today will exacerbate those problems? Will she assure us that the progress being made towards giving certainty and clarity to people who are already in the country and want to bring their relatives here to settle will be maintained, so that the uncertainty and resulting distress are minimised?

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Jacqui Smith: I can assure my hon. Friend that the improvements to processes that we have seen in recent years will continue. Furthermore, the simplification of the law on immigration will ensure even more certainty and fairness in the future.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) talks about the backlog, and we know that there are about 500,000—perhaps more—illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. Although I have some interest in the Home Secretary’s idea of probationary citizenship—she rightly says that if people commit a crime they will be expelled, whereas the process will be accelerated for those who do good work—how can we be assured, when she cannot even say how much the system will cost, that those who commit a crime will, in fact, be expelled and will not simply add to those 500,000 people residing illegally in the UK?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is confusing a range of different matters. We have massively improved performance on decision making on asylum cases. Last year, we deported from this country a record number of foreign national prisoners and we shall double the resources that we put into enforcement activity.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I was wrong earlier. The Conservatives did not oppose the doubling of the enforcement budget; they just sat on their hands and abstained.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I remember my immigrant grandparents telling me how difficult they found it to master the English language. I believe that the reason that they managed to do it was that they had to. Does the Home Secretary, who rightly emphasises the importance of mastering the English language, agree with Trevor Phillips and others, and will she therefore give the authority of her office to a condemnation of those agencies and local authorities that insist on translating documents and other papers into the languages of the countries that people have left, rather than helping them to master the language of the country that they have chosen to come to? Will she give a definite indication that that practice must stop?

Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made it clear, as have I, that we probably should refocus resources from translating into supporting people to speak English. That is why we have trebled the support for English for speakers of other languages since 2001 and why we are clear that being able to speak English should be one of the requirements for citizenship, as that will help people to integrate better into our society.

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Criminal Justice (Raves)

1.20 pm

Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I beg to move,

Last July, I had an Adjournment debate on illegal raves, in which I described how devastating raves can be for farmers, local residents and the surrounding environment and wildlife. I know that Members on both sides of the House have, like me, received heartfelt complaints from constituents about raves held in their area. This is not just about Norfolk; it is an issue that affects rural communities across the country. My constituents have told me about the appalling mess that those attending raves can leave, including syringes and other drug paraphernalia and even human excrement. Farmers have told me of terrified animals, unbearable noise levels for hour upon hour through the night, and the impact of the antisocial behaviour of rave attendees.

The Government have talked tough on antisocial behaviour, and we have seen the introduction of numerous initiatives designed to tackle antisocial behaviour on our streets and in our towns, but what about our rural communities? Farmers in the country have to endure hundreds of trespassers entering their land in convoys of 50 or more vehicles, rubbish strewn over their fields and drug use on their land. There is huge damage to the environment and property. The clean-up and repair costs reach into the thousands. That cannot be a fair way to treat people who are trying to make an honest living. The countryside is not a theme park, and its residents have every right to protection under the law.

I want to make it clear that I and other Members have not been raising this issue in such a persistent way in order to be killjoys, or to deny others pleasure and fun just for the sake of it. I am sure that those who attend these unlicensed events enjoy themselves enormously, but that enjoyment comes at a very high cost to those living in the area. This is not a victimless crime.

There are excellent venues for licensed live music events—High Lodge in Thetford forest, for example—where people can enjoy concerts that are properly and safely organised. Unlicensed music events have nothing to do with the altruistic values of young people. They are hugely profitable to the organisers, who employ a get-rich-quick formula that tramples on the rural economy. Costs are minimised, no tax is paid and there is no regard for anyone, or for anything but profit. Even if no charge is made for people attending a rave, money changes hands for drugs and alcohol. Rural communities must deal with the terrible repercussions, week in, week out. Last week, it was the village of Weeting in my constituency that suffered. This is simply not fair.

The problem lies in the inadequacy of current police powers. The police in Norfolk are working extremely hard to tackle raves. They are gathering intelligence on organisers, and collaborating with neighbouring forces in order to pool resources. However, the police are looking to the Government to allow them to be more proactive. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act
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1994 gives the police powers to direct those preparing for a rave away from a site, and to remove any vehicles or property that they may have with them. These powers are not enough.

Despite the distress that an unlicensed music event might cause to local residents, or the damage that it might do in rural areas, the existing definition of a “gathering” stands in the way of appropriate policing in rural areas. The law seems to suggest that because loud, continuous music is disturbing only a relatively small number of people in a rural community, it is acceptable. If successful, my Bill would expand the definition of a rave to address that issue. It would create two new offences: of organising a rave, and of transporting sound equipment for use at a rave. People convicted of organising such events would face a tough penalty, providing a strong deterrent. In short, my Bill would make it much easier to prevent raves from happening in the first place.

The police have told me that they have the necessary intelligence on regular organisers, but that can be frustrating because it is not an offence to organise a rave. I shall illustrate that point. Last week, riot police were called out to disperse more than 1,000 revellers as they congregated in my constituency. More than 100 police officers, with dogs and a police helicopter, were used. The operation was, to Norfolk constabulary’s credit, successful. However, I dread to think how much it cost. Norfolk police are already struggling with a tight financial settlement, without needing to spend an exorbitant percentage of police funds on stopping raves. Under the Bill, the police could have used the intelligence that they clearly have in order to arrest organisers and seize equipment before the event happened.

During my Adjournment debate last year, the Minister was genuine in his support for local residents who suffer the effects of raves, but what positive action has been taken since then? The Minister passed my comments to the sub-group on raves, which has been set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers working group on public order. It has now been six months since that took place, and I have heard nothing more.

In the light of the fact that little progress seems to have been made on this issue since last summer, I am pleased to present my Bill to Parliament in the belief that, if successful, it will make a substantial difference to the lives of those affected by raves. Members of the National Farmers Union and of the Country Land and Business Association have expressed their support for what I am doing, for which I thank them. I now urge the Government to lend their support, so that the police can have the powers that they want, and so that local people can feel protected from this persistent and destructive form of antisocial behaviour.

The Bill’s sponsors come from across the House, which indicates just how widespread the problem is. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Christopher Fraser, Sir Paul Beresford, Mr. Laurence Robertson, Sammy Wilson, Mr. Humfrey Malins, Mr. Julian Brazier, Dr. Tony Wright, Mrs. Siân C. James, Mr. David Drew, David T.C. Davies, Mr. Dai Davies, and Bob Russell.

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Criminal Justice (raves)

Mr. Christopher Fraser accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 powers in relation to illegal raves: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed [Bill 69].

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Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 4)

Motion made and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 January],

Question agreed to.

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Treaty of Lisbon (No. 5)

[5th allotted day]

[Relevant document: Third Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee of Session 2007-08, Foreign Policy Aspects of the Lisbon Treaty, HC 120-I.]

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I also inform the House that I have placed a seven-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, in order to allow as many Back Benchers as possible to be called.

1.28 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I beg to move,

Today, we have an opportunity to debate the EU’s common foreign and security policy and the improvements to its delivery as a result of the Lisbon treaty. The idea of European foreign policy—it was first called “political co-operation”—goes back almost to the foundation of the European Economic Community in the 1950s. It was given new life in the 1980s and then enshrined in the Maastricht treaty of 1992. It was all but broken by the Balkan wars of the 1990s, so I think it appropriate that, as we discuss the foreign policy aspects of the Lisbon treaty, it should again be on the western Balkans that European eyes are fixed. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will say a little about this particular case, which illustrates the value of the common foreign and security policy, before going on to address the detail of the changes envisaged by the treaty.

On Monday, the Government announced their decision to recognise the Kosovo assembly’s declaration of independence. We did so confident that Kosovo’s accession to independence in this way is entirely consistent with UN Security Council resolution 1244, which also continues to provide a sound legal basis for the NATO and EU missions in that area.

The situation on the ground in Kosovo remains calm, but yesterday there was an attack on two border posts in the north of the country. NATO forces intervened robustly, dispersing the crowd and taking control of the crossings. Nobody was hurt, but it is important that we all underline that violence by any side is unacceptable. The Government are concerned by suggestions that some in the Serb Government think that the attack was justified. The atmosphere in Serbia is more tense. Demonstrations in Belgrade on Sunday night inflicted serious damage on the Slovenian embassy, but subsequent demonstrations have passed off without trouble. A mass rally is being planned for Thursday and, to their credit, political leaders in Serbia have called for it to be peaceful.

The Government’s approach has been to promote discussion and dialogue until it was clear that there was no way to bridge the gap between Belgrade and Pristina and in those circumstances to seek the full implementation of the Ahtisaari plan; and to emphasise the need for a regional approach that offers economic and political support to all the countries of the western Balkans.

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Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I put it to the Foreign Secretary that, important as these matters are, they are not directly relevant to the scrutiny of the treaties that we are discussing? If he wants to make a statement on these matters, he could do so outwith the time for this debate, instead of taking time from Back Benchers who are limited to making seven-minute speeches because he has designed the timetable of the Bill to grandstand on these occasions for his own benefit instead of replying to points put to him by Back Benchers on matters pertaining to the treaty.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before the Foreign Secretary replies, I should say that if anything irrelevant to the debate had been heard, the Chair would have intervened earlier.

David Miliband: I assure the hon. Gentleman that in the time that he has just taken, I could have concluded the relevant section of my speech.

Fourteen other European countries have joined the UK in recognising Kosovo, as have the US and six others.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend say something about today’s reports that hundreds, if not thousands, of Serbian paramilitary or police officials are being sent into the area around Mitrovica? If that is the case, will he send a positive statement about the future of Serbia and its association with the European Union to try to— [Interruption.] Conservative Members obviously do not think this important, but this is in Europe’s heartland and it is important that we in Europe are able to assess the situation and do something to help the people of that region.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sorry to have to intervene a second time on the issue of relevance, but if we pursue that line we will be moving away from the main theme of the debate. Enough has been said on that subject, so the Foreign Secretary should proceed with his speech.

David Miliband: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was going on to say that the framework that Sir John Major agreed at Maastricht has, with some improvements, helped the European Union not just in the Balkans, but further afield, too. That is why I am clear that some of the amendments tabled by Opposition Members, which would attack the foundations of common foreign and security policy and European security and defence policy, put ideology before logic. In a world with shared challenges requiring co-ordinated responses, CFSP and ESDP are crucial aspects of our response.

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