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House of Commons

Monday 27 October 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked—

Human Trafficking

1. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): What assessment she has made of the steps necessary to be taken prior to ratification and implementation of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings; and what estimate she has made of the cost of such steps. [229769]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Although we are largely compliant with the convention, some changes to legislation and procedures were required before ratification and, following a cross-government effort, the necessary legislation is now in place. The total additional economic costs to the UK of implementing the convention are estimated at approximately £16 million over three years. How that is calculated is outlined in our recently published impact assessment.

Mr. Steen: Given that only 10 of the 27 European Union countries have ratified the convention, when the Home Secretary ratifies it for us later this year, will she ensure that her approach is compassionate, thoughtful and caring towards the victims of trafficking? They have endured terrible problems and suffered tremendous trauma, and they need help in the form of psychological assistance, accommodation and a thoughtful country that understands the plight that they have been through. Many of them feel that this country wants to throw them out as quickly as it possibly can.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman has done some fine work in raising this issue, and he rightly says that victims must be at the centre of our response, as is the case in our action plan. That is why we have announced the 45-day reflection period and the one-year temporary residence permit for victims—both measures exceed the minimum standard outlined in the convention. It is precisely why an important role of Pentameter 2—the enforcement programme—is to identify the best process for dealing with victims, and it is also why we have made additional support available to those who work with victims.

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Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend considers the steps necessary to implement the convention, will she consider action against child trafficking? Will she reflect on the fact that, in many instances, children who are trafficked into this country disappear from social services’ care within 48 hours? It appears that problems associated with internal data sharing in health and education bodies and social services are leading to a lack of protection for our children. Will she urgently look at this nationally and internationally?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are very concerned that some children whom we suspect have been trafficked go missing from local authority care. That is why we welcomed the additional support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which, with our support and that of Comic Relief, is running a 24-hour advice line for practitioners. It is also why, last year, we published multi-agency guidance to all front-line staff on how trafficked children can be identified and safeguarded, and why we need to build on the work of the “Young Runaways Action Plan” published on 16 June. I assure her that we will continue to raise these issues across Europe and internationally when we have the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Newsquest took the lead in removing sex industry adverts from its local newspapers, recognising that such adverts support a lot of this human trafficking. What can be done to encourage other news organisations to encourage their local newspapers to follow such a good example, particularly when advertising revenue is falling? Newsquest really took the lead on this issue.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. My hon. Friend the police Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Women and Equality met the Newspaper Society precisely to try to encourage newspapers not to carry the sorts of adverts that promote and expect a demand for women who have been trafficked into this country. Such a demand is abhorrent, and should not be advertised.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State have a publicity campaign to encourage people who came to the United Kingdom as children and were used in this country as slaves—modern-day Cinderellas—in their adolescence and childhood to be aware that when, or if, they are able to escape bondage, there is a special place to which they can report that will help to detect those who perpetrated these things against them and who continue to do such things today?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend raises an important point. One of the reasons for setting up and funding the UK Human Trafficking Centre, which has already run some important publicity campaigns and provided fundamental support to police and others for whom this should be mainstream business, was to examine how we can help victims to be confident about coming forward and to recognise that when they do so, they will receive support from the police and others, not only for themselves, but in order to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators.

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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): It is estimated that 43 per cent. of those people who are trafficked end up being sexually exploited. What guidance has the Secretary of State given the police to ensure that such people are properly protected? What more can be done to bring to justice those heinous thugs who are responsible for this modern, 21st century enslavement of people in this country?

Jacqui Smith: The Pentameter 2 enforcement campaign was important because it enabled the police and those supporting victims not only to rescue them, as is very important—167 people were rescued as part of that campaign—but to identify how we could provide support for them. I agree that we need to bring people to justice, and that is why I am pleased that we have so far achieved 90 convictions for trafficking under the legislation that we introduced. I hope that we will see more convictions in the future.

Antisocial Behaviour

2. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): What recent assessment she has made of measures intended to address antisocial behaviour. [229770]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): There have been three independent reports in the last three years—by the Home Affairs Committee, the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office. The NAO report found that antisocial behaviour orders work, and that two thirds of people behaving antisocially stop after the first intervention, rising to more than nine out of 10 by the third intervention.

Laura Moffatt: I am delighted to be the first to put a question to my hon. Friend the Minister. I wish him the best of luck in the future.

For the first time, the residents of Black Dog walk in my constituency will have a peaceful time because a person who has been harassing them is now, after three antisocial behaviour orders, in prison. Through the ASBO process, how can we further protect those residents when that person is released?

Mr. Campbell: I know that my hon. Friend takes such matters very seriously, and so do we. Any breach of an ASBO says more about the individual than it says about the law itself. If someone breaches an ASBO, it should be clear that they could face a custodial sentence, as happened in this case. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s constituents welcome the measures that have been taken and will welcome such measures in the future.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am sure that the Minister would agree that antisocial behaviour is a serious matter to many law-abiding citizens. Could we not treat it more harshly—and transparently harshly—by making offenders, especially young ones, undertake community projects such as removing graffiti and chewing gum, and picking up litter from the streets? In that way, they could help to put right the wrong done to, and improve, the community in which they live. Let us treat such behaviour more seriously, and more transparently seriously.

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Mr. Campbell: We do treat it seriously, which is why we have a range of measures in place, not only ASBOs, but a range of powers available to the police and local authorities. The hon. Gentleman raises several important issues, not least of which is community payback. We are seeking to extend its use, so that the community can actually see the punishment and the tough action taken against offenders.

Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): I too welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time. I know that he will do a first class job as a Minister.

Up to 400 car cruisers occupy the Asda car park in Blackwood in my constituency on a Thursday evening. The police have used dispersal orders to try to break up the gathering, but it still takes place. If I had my way, I would seize the cars and put them in a crusher. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss my modest suggestion and ways in which we can bring to an end this antisocial menace that causes grief to my constituents?

Mr. Campbell: Even the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas) hopes that my right hon. Friend would want to take the drivers out before crushing the cars. [ Laughter. ] A range of measures is available, and we would encourage the police and the local authority to ensure that all those powers are not only available, but used. Of course I would be willing to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss this important matter.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What does the Minister believe might be the consequences for antisocial behaviour of the recent fashion among some local authorities, my own included, to turn off street lights in the middle of the night?

Mr. Campbell: I would have thought that if a local authority were taking such steps, it would have reason to do so. Local authorities would need to demonstrate that such action would not have a detrimental effect on the level of crime or antisocial behaviour in that area. I hope that they would take such issues into account.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The drinking of alcohol in the street leads to antisocial behaviour. What research has been undertaken into the effectiveness of street drinking bans in local communities, and will he support my campaign for such bans in towns such as Dawley, Oakengates and Madeley in Telford?

Mr. Campbell: I know that my hon. Friend takes this matter very seriously. Of course, we want local authorities, including his, to take account of every power that is available. I do not think that anyone could complain that we had not made a range of powers available to local authorities. It is, of course, up to the local police and local authorities not only to take those powers into account but to show which one is most useful.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): When drinking banning orders were launched to curb drink-related antisocial behaviour, the then police Minister, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), said that they could have

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However, three years later the current Minister has admitted that they still have not been brought into effect and that he will be taking stock of whether there is any need for them at all. Will the Minister confirm that drinking banning orders will be scrapped, and indicate what other measures he now considers to be unworkable, unnecessary or otherwise surplus to requirements?

Mr. Campbell: We are disappointed that local authorities and some police forces have not taken those powers into account and done something about them. We will be conducting a campaign in the near future, and I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he is looking for that we intend to scrap the powers.

Kingsnorth Climate Camp

3. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): If she will investigate the policing of the Kingsnorth climate camp; and if she will make a statement. [229771]

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Tactics and strategy on policing major events such as the Kingsnorth climate camp are operational matters for the local chief officer.

Norman Baker: I regard myself as a supporter of the police, but I cannot condone what I witnessed when I arrived at Kingsnorth. I think that I was the first MP to do so. I witnessed unnecessarily aggressive policing, unprovoked violence against peaceful protestors, an extraordinary number of police on site and tactics such as confiscating toilet rolls, board games and clown costumes from what I saw to be peaceful demonstrators. In the light of what I saw, and of what other MPs witnessed, will the Minister arrange for an independent inquiry into the matter, conducted by either the Independent Police Complaints Commission or by a different police force?

Mr. Coaker: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the IPCC is available, as an independent body, to look into any complaints that are made about the police and the way in which they have conducted themselves. I hope that he has made the comments that he has made here to Kent police so that they can be investigated. If he feels that that process is unsatisfactory, he knows that it can then be taken to the IPCC. I would have thought that that would be the appropriate way forward. Notwithstanding the points that he has just made, 70 police officers were also hurt—although none seriously—at that protest.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says, but I had a constituent and friend who was arrested at Kingsnorth for so-called “aggressively picking up litter”, which puts an interesting connotation on what he was trying to do. That case, clearly, is ongoing, but will my hon. Friend at least consider the way in which these major demonstrations are handled and the way in which people who want to demonstrate peacefully about an issue about which they feel strongly have their rights secured? Will he also consider how to ensure that the police who have to control these demonstrations are protected? That did not necessarily work at Kingsnorth.

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Mr. Coaker: It is absolutely right that people should have the right to go out and protest peacefully, whether they do so through climate change camps or any of the other demonstrations that we can think of. People in this country have a right to do that. However, it is also right that that should be done in a peaceful and proportionate way, according to the law. If my hon. Friend’s constituent wishes to make a complaint, he should, as I said to the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), go to the police force concerned in the first instance. If that is not satisfactory, he should go to the IPCC. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I believe that, in this case, the police struck the correct balance.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that despite what he said about injuries, no protestor has been convicted of any crime of violence at any of the climate camps. It is not just the IPCC that has jurisdiction over the matter, because the Government are offering to pay half the £5.9 million cost of policing. Given what the Minister has just said about peaceful protest, will he assure the House that every Government Department that has been in contact with the police over the policing of the climate camps has given absolute priority to the right of peaceful protest?

Mr. Coaker: I can only repeat that the right of peaceful protest in this country is absolute. The hon. Gentleman mentioned people being charged and so on; 100 people were arrested and, of those, 46 were charged with offences ranging from obstruction and public order offences to possession of a bladed weapon. Of course, the Government will consider representations made to them, but as I say, I think that police have acted appropriately and proportionately in this case.

National DNA Database

4. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What her latest estimate is of the number of people without criminal convictions whose records are stored on the national DNA database. [229772]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): There are about 857,000 people on the national DNA database who do not have a current criminal record on the police national computer, but that figure includes those who have been convicted and had their records deleted and those for whom proceedings are still ongoing, as well as those who have never been convicted.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister will be aware that two people in the latter category—S, a juvenile, and Michael Marper—have a case that is being considered by the European Court of Human Rights. Will the Minister confirm that, if their case is successful, he will take steps to delete immediately the records of everybody who falls into that category and will not leave it to people to apply for such deletions to be made?

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