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All the measures that I have outlined are designed to build public confidence in the fight against crime and are matched by concrete achievements in freeing up the police to ensure that they can focus on the issues that
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matter to people. We are removing all but one target set from Whitehall, in order to deliver improved levels of public confidence, scrapping the stop and account form and streamlining the process of crime recording for police forces. We are providing the police with the tools that they need to do their job, with 10,000 handheld devices in the past year and 20,000 more to come over the next 18 months.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement today, which is very much in line with recommendations that we in the Select Committee on Home Affairs made in our report “Policing in the 21st Century”. However, we recommended that every police officer should have a handheld computer. It is not sufficient for some forces to have the facility and for others not to. Also, the devices should be compatible, so that Lincolnshire can talk to Leicestershire without using a different system, which is one of the problems that our police forces have encountered.

Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend’s Committee produced a good and important report. If he looks at the speed with which we have funded and developed the ability of police forces throughout the country to have handheld devices, he will see that I share his ambition to roll out this important system quickly. He also makes an important point about compatibility. I will talk later about ensuring better collaboration among police forces. The National Policing Improvement Agency is currently leading work to ensure greater compatibility not just between handheld devices, but among all the information systems across police forces, which I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend is important.

Just as police forces must look to their neighbourhoods, so they must also look to each other to collaborate where needed to tackle crime at all levels and to ensure the best use of resources. We will legislate to strengthen the provisions for collaboration, whether in the back office or on the front line of operations. We will also give the police, other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors additional powers to improve the recovery of criminal assets, because criminals should not be able to squirrel away their ill-gotten gains. I make no apology for doing all that I can to ensure that they get the message loud and clear that they should not profit from their criminal activities.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): On the subject of collaboration, I am sure that the Home Secretary will agree that there is no place in a civilised society for the vile practice of human trafficking. I very much appreciate what is being done in our country to stamp out that evil practice, but what co-operation is she receiving from her counterparts in the countries from which those sad individuals come?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I will say something about human trafficking later, but his point about international co-operation is crucial. For example, we are currently working with other countries in the European Union, as part of the EU’s action programme on countering trafficking, precisely to address some of the issues that he has raised.

It is central to delivering confidence that justice is done and that it is seen to be done. I want people to know that we are 100 per cent. behind them when they stand up to gangs, drug pushers or other criminals. The
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provisions in the coroners and justice Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor will have more to say about later, reinforce that point. There will be a further opportunity to debate the new scheme for protecting the identity of vulnerable witnesses at trial. We will also extend those provisions to the earlier, pre-trial stages of an investigation, so that we can protect witnesses in gang-related murder cases.

The policing and crime Bill will also establish the fair rules that prevent low-level crime and disorder from taking root in our communities. It will introduce measures to tackle binge drinking and set the framework for a new mandatory code for responsible alcohol sales. Most people, even in the House, know how to enjoy alcohol responsibly. Alcohol-related violent crime has fallen, but there is a minority of people who run out of control and ruin things for others. We will give the police the powers that they need to tackle the crime and disorder that stems from excessive drinking. We will take tougher action against retailers and bars that sell alcohol to children and ensure that the industry plays its part in ending irresponsible promotions such as “all you can drink” offers.

Keith Vaz: I thank the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. What she has announced is excellent news, given the recommendations that we in the Home Affairs Committee made in our report. However, the supermarkets are still selling alcohol too cheaply. Will her measures include a floor price below which supermarkets will not sell alcohol? If we address one sector—the pubs and clubs—but do not deal with the supermarkets, which are selling alcohol as a loss leader, we will not solve the problem of alcohol-related crime.

Jacqui Smith: I do not want this debate to become a love-in—

Keith Vaz: It will not become a love-in.

Jacqui Smith: No—some hope.

My right hon. Friend’s Committee made some important points and pressed us on precisely those alcohol-related issues. It is of course the case that responsible promotions will—for example, through their impact on all licensees, in both the on trade and the off trade—impact on price. However, having asked the university of Sheffield to conduct research into minimum pricing—which my right hon. Friend drew attention to—we now have some very useful evidence. Given the current economic climate, it is important that we do more work and think carefully about how and whether that work would make an impact on the harm that we would want it to impact upon, but in a way that did not disproportionately affect others. However, the issue is certainly a live one, as my right hon. Friend pointed out.

Mr. Grieve: May I turn to 24-hour licensing? The Home Secretary knows that our party believes that the decision to introduce it was a mistake. There were some reports in the press that there might be changes to the conditions and greater local discretion. Can she tell the House about that and whether the Government intend to move in our direction?

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Jacqui Smith: The element that I am outlining with respect to a mandatory code would enable specific conditions to relate to all licensed establishments, as well as providing for probably a larger number of provisions, which could be applied locally to more than one establishment, which, incidentally, would cut some of the bureaucracy involved in the Licensing Act 2003.

Mr. Ellwood: The Home Secretary is being extremely generous in giving way. On responsible drinking, she will be aware that traditional pubs take their duties seriously, but unfortunately 36 are shutting every week. Fortunately, VAT is decreasing, but duties are increasing to compensate and when VAT increases again, duties will remain where they are. How does that help traditional pubs to continue with responsible drinking? Also, on the supermarkets, when the Government came into power, the cost of a pint of beer in a pub was twice what it was in a supermarket. Today, a pint in a pub costs seven times what it costs in a supermarket. The Government surely need to look into that.

Jacqui Smith: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is advising me on the price of beer, on which I have to confess I am not an expert. I am not going enter into future decisions about tax levels, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to.

Strong and safe communities need local people to be given a fair say in the rules that we all live by. My hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) have argued that case very strongly with respect to lap-dancing clubs. We will tighten the controls on lap-dancing clubs, giving local people a greater say in whether those clubs should be allowed to operate in their neighbourhood.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s intention to assert more control over lap-dancing clubs, the expansion of which into residential areas is of great concern to many communities, including mine. [Interruption.] I would like to speak without being heckled by the Opposition Front-Bench team. When will my right hon. Friend provide more details of what the legislation will say? In particular, is she going to use the definition of “sex encounter establishments” and what will happen to existing licences and those that may be granted during the transitional phases before the policing and crime Bill becomes law?

Jacqui Smith: I reiterate the point that my hon. Friend has been assiduous in campaigning on behalf of his constituents on this issue. We intend to spell out in the policing and crime Bill how we will define these clubs and how we will provide local people with the opportunity to have their say. The Bill will impact, in response to my hon. Friend’s final question, on new establishments and it will provide for what I hope will be reasonably regular reviews of the licensing of existing clubs.

The policing and crime Bill will set out new protections for vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, by tackling demand for prostitution and strengthening existing arrangements to deal with sex offenders. Although
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we do not always agree on the detail, I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for her campaigning on this issue. I want to make sure that people think twice before they pay for sex, especially if it is with a victim of trafficking or someone forced into prostitution against their will and for another’s gain. This month, with particular respect to trafficking, the UK will formally ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on human trafficking—a spur for every state around the world to renew their efforts to tackle the evil trade in human misery.

We know the importance of having a strong border to stop traffickers, to disrupt smuggling and to clamp down on illegal immigration. Our borders are already among the most secure in the world and the numbers charged with protecting them are at an all-time high, but we are determined to make the border even stronger as we take forward the biggest overhaul of the immigration system in a generation. We are already issuing biometric visas as a matter of course to anyone applying to travel here. We are reintroducing border controls and exit checks and will soon be able to count non-European economic area nationals in and out of the UK.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): The Home Secretary may be surprised to know that this is intended to be a helpful intervention for her. There have been some stories in the press and on the radio this morning that the Government intend to insist on checks within country, requiring people to carry these ID cards in country so that the police can check them. Will she please scotch those rumours right now?

Jacqui Smith: My first reaction was that when I need the right hon. Gentleman’s help, I know that I am in really big trouble! However, he has been helpful and I am extremely happy to scotch the rumours, as he puts it, because the intention is to enable identity checks only at the border. I am sure that we will have future opportunities to make that even clearer than we have up to this point.

Simon Hughes: These are important matters and Liberal Democrats have always argued that we need a proper and clear immigration policy and proper controls. However, I do not understand why we need further legislation on matters that it seems to me could easily have been in the previous Bill, if not in the one before that. I still fail to see any common border force, which we have argued for, integrating the police, immigration and customs into one force at all our airports and seaports. Why are we not moving towards that rather than playing around and tinkering once again—for the third year in a row, I believe?

Jacqui Smith: I am just coming on to explain what is in the Bill and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that it is very far from tinkering; it is, in fact, a means of bringing about and making stick the largest reform in immigration—both at the border and in country—for many years. The border, immigration and citizenship Bill will give UK Border Agency officers the integrated immigration and customs powers that they need to deliver even greater protections at our borders. It is right that we have tough systems in place to ensure that people who come here have a right to do so and it is
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right to have tough but fair rules in place to make sure that only those with the skills we need can come here to work or study.

Last week, tiers 2 and 5 of the points-based system were introduced, allowing us to control immigration by raising and lowering the bar depending on the needs of the economy and the country as a whole. Last week, too, we issued the first ID cards for foreign nationals—opposed by Opposition Members—to protect against identity fraud and illegal working, as well as to make it easier for people to prove that they are who they say they are.

The Bill also sets out plans for major changes to what we expect of migrants before they can earn British citizenship. British citizenship, is a privilege. There will no longer be an automatic right to stay here after five years. From now on, newcomers will have to speak English, work hard and play by the rules if they want to stay and build a new life in Britain. As the Bill introduces those new responsibilities, we will also create a new duty for the UK Border Agency to take into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in its operations.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I really welcome the duty to safeguard the welfare of children, but will it have any impact on the detention of children?

Jacqui Smith: The duty clearly relates to the detention of children. We are already working to ensure that the detention of children takes place only in extremely specific circumstances, usually when the detention of the child alongside the family for a few days prior to deportation is probably the most important way to keep the family together. Sometimes the detention is just overnight, simply to identify whether someone is a child in cases where there is some uncertainty about it. I agree with my hon. Friend that more work needs to be done and we will undertake it to ensure that children’s interests are served, while also ensuring the interests of the country and maintaining the integrity of our immigration system.

The measures we are bringing forward, together with our commitment to strong enforcement of the law, including the doubling of the UK Border Agency’s enforcement budget over three years, will deliver an immigration system that is fair but firm.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I have heard all sorts of stories over the last 12 months about people who are effectively buying certificates to demonstrate their knowledge of English, so I am wondering whether my right hon. Friend is satisfied that the people getting either indefinite leave to remain or citizenship who need English are actually acquiring the English language rather than just paying someone for a certificate to demonstrate the fact.

Jacqui Smith: We certainly believe that the requirements for English and, of course, knowledge of life should be robust. Where allegations have been brought to our attention, we have investigated them. If my hon. Friend is concerned that the problem has become more systemic, I would be willing to look into it in further detail and to raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

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As I said in my opening remarks, the motivating principle for these measures is that the law must be on the side of those who do the right thing and those who need the most protection. Just as important as the principle are the clear steps that I have set out today, which we are taking in those Bills to put principles into practice. The measures demonstrate again the Government’s commitment to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable and the interests of the law-abiding majority, and I commend them to the House.

1 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I listened with care to what the Home Secretary had to say and I am sorry that she sat down before I could ask her about an issue of some importance, which dovetails with the responsibilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—that of piracy. I hope that we might hear something about it today. Piracy concerns an issue of law and order, and before moving on to the main part of my speech I must say that I have been increasingly mystified as to our apparent inability to take action when the law as I have always understood it, albeit rather ancient, is very clear.

Mr. Ellwood: There is confusion in the Navy and other parts of the armed forces as to where we stand with regard to piracy.

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): We are against it!

Mr. Ellwood: The Secretary of State shouts that the Government are against it, but perhaps that needs to be made clear to those who are doing their duty off the coast of Somalia, because they do not know what this Government really think. They do not know whether they are breaking the law if they arrest or indeed shoot somebody; nor do they know whether the person concerned will ask for asylum as soon as the arrest is made. That needs to be clear and it should not be a laughing matter for Government Front Benchers to giggle about.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is a need for clarification both of the law and our ability to prosecute pirates in this country, which is easy and perfectly clear-cut, and of the puzzlement that we seem to be confined to a policy of self-defence. My understanding of the state of the law is that it ought to be possible to take proactive steps to suppress piracy within international law. I very much hope that we will hear more about that.

On the substance of what the Home Secretary had to say, although I can welcome some aspects of her speech, there are many others that I cannot, because the Government’s record on home affairs and justice is not a happy one and is at variance with the aspirations set out in the Queen’s Speech.

The Government have presided over the virtual doubling of violent crime since they were elected, while their incessant red tape and regulation have tied the hands of the police. Indeed, some announcements that are now being made on the subject are merely rolling back red tape and bureaucracy that the Government previously introduced.

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