Obviously, we will consider what actions would have to be taken in that situation, but we believe that we have a strong case and that no breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights is taking place. We believe that there is the right balance
between rights and public safety in the system that we operate. We are also clear that the DNA database is an important tool to help police detect crime, and we have no intention of doing anything to undermine their work.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Scandalously, 100,000 children who have never been convicted of any offence are on the DNA database. What about people who work with children, and who have never been convicted of a crime, but who are on the DNA database and find their future employment prospects blighted?
Mr. Campbell: Yes, it is the case that some young people can be on the database if they have been arrested and their DNA and fingerprints have been taken. Those under 10 in England and Wales could be on the database because consent was given by their parent or guardian. On employment, what my hon. Friend says would not be the case. The information to which he refers is not held on the DNA database, and a future employer could not use it to discriminate against a future employee.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that if there is a good argument for the retention of DNA samples in the circumstances that we are describing, it would be far better for the Government to make the argument for a comprehensive DNA database straightforwardly to the House and the wider public, so that we could debate the merits of the proposal? If he is looking for an opportunity for such a debate, I notice in the Order Paper that there is a chance for a general debate on a home affairs related topic next Thursday.
Mr. Campbell: The Government have no plans to bring forward such a database, not least because of the cost that that would involve. The hon. Gentleman talks about making a strong case; let me make a strong case to him. In the past year, the DNA database has helped to detect the criminals involved in more than 83 homicide cases, 184 rapes and 7,000 burglariesthat is a strong case.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulty of securing convictions in rape cases, to which he alluded. Will he reassure me, my constituents and the victims of rape crimesthere were 540 such victims last yearthat the DNA database will continue, and will continue to be successful in solving rape crimes and other crimes?
The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Phil Woolas):
We are delivering the biggest shake-up of border security for a generation, and we are already seeing the results. The agencya new single border force that combines the Border and Immigration Agency, UKvisas and Customs at the bordersees 25,000 staff working across 135 countries. Already, thousands of
illegal migrants have been barred from entering Britain, while millions of pounds-worth of dangerous drugs have been removed from our streets.
Mr. Hands: May I begin by welcoming the Minister to his new position? One of his first acts in his new job was to write to me about the immigration status of Hammersmith resident Hany Youssef, who has been given discretionary leave to remain, despite the fact that the Home Office itself says that he appears on the United Nations list of those belonging to or associated with the al-Qaeda organisation. Can the Minister tell us why he has been given discretionary leave to remain? What reassurance can he give my other Hammersmith constituents who are, understandably, very concerned?
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue on a number of occasions and, of course, he is right to do so. My letter goes into some detail about the law and the rationale behind that decision, but let me give him the reassurance that he seeks. The measures that are being put in place to control our borders, to count people in and count people out using the e-borders system, and the introduction later this year of identity cards with fingerprint data on them will mean that we have the strongest and most secure borders for many, many a year.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend assure me that the agency and posts abroad are prepared to implement the new immigration regulations that come into force later this year? I am thinking specifically of the increase in age from 18 to 21 for spouse visas.
Mr. Woolas: This gives me an opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for bravely campaigning on the matter, along with others, over a number of years. I can give her that assurance. It is in the best interests of this country, of our community and of the individuals.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I welcome the shake-up to our border security that the Minister spoke about earlier. Can he tell me how many illegal immigrants we have got rid of in the first 12 months and how many he thinks remain and need to be got rid of?
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman is right to imply that it is illegal immigration that most concerns the public. That is why I am pleased to be able to report to the House that the successes that have been achieved mean that we are now stopping one illegal immigrant every eight minutes. On the issue of foreign national prisoners, the figures have improved as well. Since April, when the agency came into being [Interruption.] Those on the Opposition Front Bench are chuntering away because they do not like the facts. Facts are very stubborn things, and the facts are that we are getting illegal immigrants out of the country more quickly than we did before.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that as the country goes into recession, the defence of our borders becomes more, not less, important? As skilled workers are laid off in our constituencies, what changes to the points system will the Government make to ensure that those workers get first chance for any vacancies, rather than those vacancies being filled by workers coming in from abroad?
Mr. Woolas: The Government are doing everything they can to mitigate the effects of the global economic downturn, but my right hon. Friend is right to point out that the British public will want to see that all is being done so that vacancies and shortages can be filled by people from our country. The points-based system allows us to look at the skills shortages. I am pleased to say that Professor Metcalf and his advisory committee have submitted their report. We are considering that report and, as my right hon. Friend implies, we have the possibility to change criteria to help those jobs go to where we want them to go.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The biggest task for the Border Agency is indeed the implementation of the points-based system, so can the Minister confirm, first, that the only group covered by the points-based system and not covered by our proposed annual limit are foreign students; secondly, that he told the House last week that he would take no steps to cut the number of foreign students; and thirdly and consequently, that the claims that he repeatedly makes that the points-based system will be more wide ranging than our proposed limit are entirely bogus?
Mr. Woolas: So now we have it. We have the admission that the Opposition do not have a population cap. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, first, for clarifying that. Secondly, it is the case, as he confirms, that our points-based system covers more people under the migration system than their system does. On the point about students, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the policy. Under the points-based system, the Government will have the ability to look at the criteria within the different tiers, as he knows, to ensure that the right criteria and policies are being met.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Is the Minister aware that many families in this country have sought asylum from war-torn countries and have very strong cases for gaining permanent residence here? Their cases have been delayed by the UK Border Agency and they are forced to live without any benefits or support. In many cases, they are forced to beg. They are willing and able to work, but are denied that right and forced to live off the largesse of friends and family. Does the Minister not think it time to look seriously at the misery and hardship that many asylum-seeking families and their children face in our society while we parade to the world our regard for human rights?
Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend raises the difficult issue of delayed asylum cases. The whole House would agree that it is right and proper that asylum seekers should be processed not only firmly, but quickly. That is why the focus of the Governments effort, with success, is to clear the backlog and ensure that we are processing cases better. We are now processing 60 per cent. of claims to conclusion within six months; 10 years ago, the figure was 22 months just to get to an initial decision.
The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The police service has a good record at retaining staff; it is one of the strongest such records in the public sector. The resignation rate has remained stable in the past five years, at around 1.5 per cent. I am also delighted that we have reached agreement on a three-year pay deal for police officers from 2008-09 to 2010-11.
Mr. Jones: A recent survey of members of the North Wales Police Federation found that more than 50 per cent. of the officers questioned reported levels of morale at the lower end of the scale. When they were asked what measures could be put in place to enable them significantly to improve their performance, the top three answers were that there should be more police officers, that bureaucracy should be reduced and that there should be fewer targets. Does the Minister consider that the low morale found in north Wales is representative of the police in general? What is the Home Office doing to address the bureaucratic, target-driven culture that is clearly contributing to it?
Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman will know that police officer numbers are at historically high levels. He will also know of the measures that we are taking to reduce bureaucracy, not least the appointment of Jan Berry as the reducing bureaucracy champion. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will know of the confidence measures that we are taking to reduce the number of targets and to have a single force area target. No doubt all those measures will be welcomed in north Wales, as they have been across the rest of the country.
I know about the survey that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but should point out that resignations in north Wales fell between 2006-07 and 2007-08. As well as talking about the problems, we can point out the successes of the police in order to raise police morale. Not least of those successes has been the huge reduction in crime in north Wales and across the rest of the country.
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): On the subject of morale, the Minister will be aware that the National Black Police Association recently called for a boycott of the Metropolitan police. Will my hon. Friend continue to work with the association on issues of recruitment and retention and does he agree with me that a boycott is not ultimately in the interests of the police force or of the communities that the association seeks to serve?
Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend has been a champion of the police and of policing in his constituency. He speaks from a position of strength when he talks about the importance of diversity in the police force. Recently, I met representatives of the National Black Police Association and I have been at the launch of a branch of the National Association of Muslim Police in the City of London. I will continue to have such meetings and make such visits.
As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary asked me to look into the whole issue of diversity and ethnicity in the police service. I have just given my right hon. Friend that report. The point is extremely important, and we will look to do something about it in the not-too-distant future.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does the Minister agree that one way to improve police morale is to ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service does not lose evidence and that its staff turn up on the correct date at the correct time so that the polices hard work in bringing people before the courts can produce a hearing in the court and, I would hope, secure some sort of conviction?
Mr. Coaker: To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, nobody would disagree with those comments. The relationship between the police and the CPS is crucial, which is why Crown prosecutors are now resident in police stations in order to work with the police so that those prosecutors do not make mistakes in respect of the process and there is a better chance of getting measures to court. He is right to point out the need for that close co-operation. We discuss that with our ministerial colleagues and, in the light of his question, I will do so again, because it is an important matter.
One aspect of police pay that is causing a problem for morale in the police forces around the border of the Metropolitan police area is that fact that the Metropolitan police get £4,393 a year more, as well as free travel into the Met police area, than the police in my constituency, who work side by side facing similar levels of crime? Will my hon. Friend reassure me that he is considering that issue?
We are aware of the issues to do with the so-called south-east allowance in terms of officers leaving forces around London and going to work for the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary considers that a serious issue and is discussing it at the Police Negotiating Board. Far from cutting that allowance, as is being discussed by the Conservatives, we continue to see it as important and we will try to reach a proper and fair conclusion to those discussions.
The police were demoralised by the Home Secretarys shocking breach of trust over pay last year. In the light of her decision on 15 October to end consultation on the new police pay review body during this Parliament, will the Minister confirm to the police service that it is now the Home Secretarys principled view that the Police Negotiating Board and arbitration represent the best machinery for deciding police pay and conditions?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the police pay deal recently announced by my right hon. Friend has been welcomed by all sides. He will also know that as part of that deal, we said that the new pay review body would not be part of the forthcoming policing and crime reduction Bill, and the Government do not intend to introduce that body during this Parliament.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a good proxy measurement of morale in a police force can be higher than average levels of absence in that force? Is he aware of the yardsticks that are used by HM inspectorate of constabulary to establish what is wrong when there are higher levels of absence than average? Does he think that local management can be improved, as it probably can in one northern force that has reviewed the shift system in an ill-considered way without properly consulting the police officers in that area, with the result that morale has sunk and absence has soared?
As regards local consultation and negotiation, all the things that one would expect to happen should happen, and they usually do. Notwithstanding recent media reports, the sickness and absence rates for each police officer have reduced by three and a half days since 2001. In many respects, using the sickness and absence rates, which show the number of days for which each officer is absent from their police service, is a good proxy to show a decline in those absence levels. I hope that has been achieved because of some of the things that my hon. Friend pointed out as good practice.
Mr. Burns: Will the Minister confirm that between 2005 and 2007, the number of successful police raids on cannabis factories doubled from 2,500 to 5,000? Does he believe that there is any correlation between the increase in cannabis factories and the reclassification of cannabis as a class C drug?
Mr. Coaker: The number of successful raids on cannabis farms has increased, and one of the ways we wish to deal with supply is through the reclassification of cannabis from C to B. In particular, it is important that we take account of the sort of cannabis that is now available on our streets, which is skunk, a super-strength cannabis. That is why we intend to put before Parliament the necessary measures to reclassify cannabis from C to B. I notice that the Leader of the Opposition has also changed his position on what class cannabis ought to be.