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Immigration Rules (Students)

14. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): What plans she has to amend the immigration rules in relation to students undertaking temporary work in the UK; and if she will make a statement. [218101]

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The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): The Government’s new points system is now being introduced. It replaces some 80 different routes into the United Kingdom with just four. The final stage is the student route, and during the summer I will publish a statement of intent explaining in detail how it and other routes will work.

Peter Luff: The Minister will know that he and I have an honest disagreement on the role of the seasonal agricultural workers scheme in respect of agricultural students coming here to work, which I believe is essential for the future of British growing, but which he does not. May I have the meeting with him or one of his colleagues in the Home Office that I asked for in a letter to the Home Secretary more than a month ago to explore this important question, which I think threatens British food security apart from anything else?

Mr. Byrne: I would be happy to have that meeting. As the hon. Gentleman says, we have an honest disagreement about whether, in my words, we should relax immigration control in eastern Europe and make it easier for people from east Europe to enter and work in the UK. I think we should toughen the system so that it is impossible for low-skilled migration to come in from outside the EU, but I recognise that there will be labour market issues that we will need to confront, which is why I would be happy to have that meeting. I do not anticipate restrictions in the student route being so draconian that overseas students cease to be a source of labour for the agricultural industry or others, but perhaps we should schedule that meeting on the back of that statement of intent, when it is published.

Topical Questions

T1. [218112] Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): My Department is responsible for helping people to feel secure in their homes and local communities. Recent fatal incidents highlight the tragedy of knife crime, which we are determined to tackle. That is why I announced the establishment of a new national knife crime programme to focus action in eight police force areas. The work, being led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alf Hitchcock, will include stepping up targeted stop-and-search operations, a tough approach to reviewing the licences of bars and clubs where there is violence, working with accident and emergency departments to improve information sharing, and providing knife referral schemes for young people convicted of knife-carrying so that they understand the full consequences of their actions.

Mrs. Moon: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but what reassurance can I take back to my constituents in Bridgend that this media-generated plague of knife crime is not necessarily taking place across the UK, but that there are specific areas that have serious problems that the Government and police are tackling while other areas remain relatively safe in respect of knife crime?

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Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she and her constituents can be further reassured by the fact that violence against the person recorded in the Bridgend crime and disorder reduction partnership area fell by 12 per cent. over the last year. It is because we need to focus on those areas where knife crime is a particular issue that I have asked DAC Hitchcock to focus the knife crime programme in those police force areas where we need to make the most difference and where knife crime is, understandably a concern for people both locally and nationally.

T2. [218113] Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): The impact of knife crime has been felt all across the country, including in my borough of Bexley where, tragically, there have been three murders involving knives during the course of this year. Is the Secretary of State aware that my constituents feel that her comments at the weekend show that she is rather out of touch with what the public want? What they really want is to have the police on the beat, and for them to be more freed from paperwork and restrictions so that they can spend more time catching the perpetrators of knife crime.

Jacqui Smith: And that is precisely what the hon. Gentleman’s constituents are getting with neighbourhood policing teams in every area; the Flanagan review recommendations, which the Government are putting into operation; and more mobile data machines so that the police can stay out on the beat. However, I believe that they also want the investment that the Government have put into providing the knife arches and search wands and other tools for the police to use to collect knives and catch those carrying them. They also want the investment that we have put into sending a very strong message to young people that carrying a knife does not make them safer, but makes them more likely to have that knife used against them or use it against somebody else, with all the tragic consequences that brings. There is not one simple answer to this, which is why we have a wide-ranging strategy to tackle knife crime including, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, ensuring that there are police officers and police community support officers visible on our streets, and I hope he will support the development of neighbourhood policing.

T5. [218116] Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Last week, many of my constituents were alarmed at a rumour that had been put out of a secret Government plan to close the local passport office in Newport. I do not ask the Minister to give me information about a configuration that has not yet been completed, but does she agree that spreading rumours of that kind is simply irresponsible, alarmist scaremongering?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): I agree with my hon. Friend, and I can reassure him that there are no plans to close the Newport passport office.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Home Secretary trailed in the media on Saturday her plans to force knife offenders to confront victims face to face in hospitals, and the Prime Minister announced them this morning. What prior estimate did the Home Office make of the measure’s impact on reoffending rates and
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of its viability? Is it correct, as is now being trailed on Sky News, that this aspect of the Government’s policy has already been abandoned?

Jacqui Smith: No, it is not. May I welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman to his role? I hope that he remains in that role, even when others return to this House. What I made clear over the weekend is that I believe, as I said in my first answer to topical questions, that it is important that we develop knife referral schemes that will enable young people caught in possession of knives to face up to the consequences of their actions. Such schemes should include their attendance at weapons awareness workshops, where graphic and detailed information on what happens when someone is stabbed and what the wider consequences are for them and their families, as well as for the victim, the victim’s family and the community, are brought home to them. Such schemes could include visits to hospitals, or doctors visiting them so that they can talk to health care professionals, hear graphic details about the impact of knife wounds and better understand what happens when somebody is stabbed. We are not—I have never said that we are—proposing to bring young people into wards to see patients.

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I say to the Secretary of State that this is an opportunity for Back Benchers to come in and that a long statement is not required at topical questions? If she wants to make a statement, she can come to the House and make one.

Mr. Grieve: Grateful as I am to the Home Secretary for her remarks, she has not really answered my question, which was very specific. I get the impression that, in fact, she has slipped away from her previous statement on Saturday that in order to make people realise there is nothing glamorous about carrying a knife, knife offenders would be taken into accident and emergency departments in hospitals. I think that she has now abandoned that, but I would be grateful if she would give confirmation. Moreover, if, as I believe, she has abandoned it, what sort of impression will that send out to the public? It will give the impression that the Government are constructing policy in three days and abandoning it in three hours, and that this is gimmickry.

Jacqui Smith: I am sorry, but the hon. and learned Gentleman is just plain wrong. I have made it clear throughout that knife referral projects should bring young people face to face with the consequences—the gruesome injuries that can be caused—of knife crime. Of course, I never said—nor would this be sensible—that young people would be trailed through accident and emergency wards while people are being treated. The point here is whether he agrees with me or not. Should these be the sorts of things that we are developing with the Youth Justice Board? Will he support us when we roll them out in September, or is he more interested in opposition for the sake of opposition?

T10. [218121] Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend say what she is doing with other Departments to examine the labelling, promotion and display and pricing of alcohol, in particular the minimum price of a unit, to stop the
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deep discounting of strong alcoholic drinks, particularly to young people, which is causing such chaos?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): My hon. Friend has raised this topic on a number of occasions, and I can reassure her that we are examining all the points that she makes. We are awaiting a review that the Department of Health is conducting into pricing and promotion. When that is completed we will examine its conclusions, take into account the points that she and other hon. Members have made, and decide on the appropriate way forward.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): The Home Secretary will know that her proposal, which she apparently stands by, to take young offenders to see victims in hospital, is very similar to the US Scared Straight programme, which was found to have increased crime, not reduced it. Does she agree that evidence-based policy is crucial, and that that makes the case for a research unit—perhaps a beefed-up and independent National Policing Improvement Agency—that would evaluate and assess what works to cut crime?

Jacqui Smith: Once again, I make the case that I believe—as does the Youth Justice Board, with which we are working to develop these knife referral projects—that there is value in young people coming face to face with the gruesome consequences of knife crime, including hearing directly from health care professionals, where appropriate. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that that is a good idea, he can say so, but I believe that it is, and that is why we are working to develop it.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Although I welcome the thrust of what the Home Secretary has said, I have reservations about her proposals for hospital visits. It would be much better to take perpetrators to prisons to see the effect for them if they continue their behaviour. Will she accept the words of her new police knife crime tsar, Alf Hitchcock, who says it would be much better for the political parties to leave their politics aside when discussing this important issue? Will she convene a meeting with the Opposition parties and other stakeholders to ensure that we produce some long-term solutions to this difficult problem?

Jacqui Smith: May I reiterate my earlier point that we are not proposing to bring young people into wards to meet patients? However, it would be a good idea to bring young people into contact with health professionals, perhaps through visits to hospitals, so that they understand what knives can do to people. My right hon. Friend is right to say that another element of the knife referral project should include young people meeting offenders to find out exactly what it means to be imprisoned, and the possible consequences for the rest of their lives.

I agree with him: I hope that the knife crime programme will achieve a clear view about the methods that will make the most difference to reducing knife crime, and that we can work together on that. That is what I have always sought to do, and it is a shame that some people are looking for opposition for the sake of—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I am reluctant to stop the Secretary of State, but it appears to me as though a statement should be made to the House. I repeat: topical questions are for Back Benchers, and answers should be short and sharp.

T3. [218114] Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Just a few moments ago, I had a meeting with some young people from a school in my constituency and they were horrified to learn that the detection rate for violent crimes against the person is only 51 per cent., even given modern technology. That sends a clear message that half of the people who commit violent crimes will not be caught. What can be done about that situation?

Jacqui Smith: There is much more that we need to do to ensure that we catch people who are responsible for violent crimes, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would be horrified, as would mine, at the suggestion that scrapping the DNA database or doing away with CCTV cameras would help to catch violent criminals.

T4. [218115] Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Was the Home Secretary as surprised as I was by the words of Baroness Manningham-Buller in her maiden speech in the House of Lords? She was responsible for the Security Service until just last year and she said:

for 42 days—Does the Home Secretary therefore think that she should reconsider her proposals?

Jacqui Smith: No, because I have always made it clear that we always listen carefully to those whose responsibility it is to investigate up to the point of charge—the most senior counter-terror police officers in this country. We have listened, for example, to previous heads of MI6, who believe that the policy is an important way we can help to counter terrorism. I have never resiled from the fact that it is a difficult policy to get right. That is why I have sought to find consensus, but I shall continue to do what I think is the right thing for this country’s security.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Would it not be sensible for the Cabinet to reconsider the whole
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issue of the 42 days pre-charge detention? Surely the former director of MI5 cannot be accused of being soft on terrorism. Next time, my right hon. Friend might find it far more difficult to get the proposals through the House of Commons—the Democratic Unionist party might not be around.

Jacqui Smith: It sounds as though I have not yet managed to convince my hon. Friend. As I said, I shall continue to do what I think is right in this House and outside it for the security of the country.

T6. [218117] Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): May I press the Home Secretary further on the answer that she gave my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper)? Does she agree with the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, who said over the weekend that the former head of the security service allegedly lacked experience in the investigation and prosecution aspects of intelligence operations?

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Tony McNulty): I am very grateful for the chance to clarify my comments. If at any stage they were interpreted the wrong way to suggest anything other than the greatest respect for Eliza Manningham-Buller and her 33 years of public service, that was not my intention. The simple fact is that the Baroness Manningham-Buller’s experience is entirely in the intelligence dimension and not in investigation and prosecution, which is where the 42 days comes in. That is a simple matter of fact and I was not in any way casting aspersions on the huge service that she has given to this country.

T8. [218119] Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Before someone can be dispatched on a hospital visit or even made to attend a weapons awareness workshop, they have to be caught. What is the Home Secretary doing to ensure that police use more robustly the powers to search that they already have?

Jacqui Smith: That is what I am asking Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alf Hitchcock to help to ensure happens in every area. That is why we have invested in, for example, search arches and wands, which are being used increasingly around the country to deter and catch people who carry knives. That is why I personally believe that CCTV cameras, for example, are very helpful in tackling crime.

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House of Lords Reform

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on House of Lords Reform. I am also today publishing a White Paper on the subject.

In my statement to the House on 19 July last year, I said that I would continue to lead cross-party talks on reform of the Lords. Those talks have included Front-Bench representatives of the main parties from both Houses, as well as representatives of the Cross-Bench peers and the bishops. The talks have made good progress and I am most grateful to all those who have served on the group. I pay tribute to them for their constructive contributions and readiness to consider alternative proposals. Our discussions have been much informed by the work of others, including the Public Administration Committee, informal cross-party groups, the Cunningham report and above all the report of the royal commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord Wakeham.

The basis for our talks was the outcome of the votes in the House of Commons in March 2007. The House voted then for a wholly elected second Chamber, and for a mainly elected second Chamber and rejected all other alternatives by a large margin. Their lordships took a different view and voted for a fully appointed second Chamber and rejected all other alternatives by a large margin. However, as I said in my statement on 19 July last year, reflecting the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 3 July last, work taking forward House of Lords reform had to be based on the will of the House of Commons, which is the primary Chamber in our legislature. The proposals we make today are consistent with the 2005 manifesto commitments of the three main political parties.

The White Paper sets out how a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber might be created within a bicameral legislature in which the House of Commons retains primacy. The White Paper reflects the considerable consensus reached in the cross-party talks. Inevitably, we did not reach agreement on all issues. In some instances, those taking part have asked that the White Paper record their difference of view, which of course it does.

As I indicated to the House in my statement on 19 July last, our intention is that the product of the cross-party talks would be the basis of a

It has therefore never been the intention to legislate in this Parliament—as I said last year. The White Paper represents a significant step on the road to reform, and is intended to generate further debate and consideration rather than being a blueprint for final reform.

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