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Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making his points on this important topic. I am not sure whether he was talking specifically about Zimbabwe or in general, but on the general point we think it is
right to look at each case on its merits. Those who argue for a general blanket amnestyI accept that the hon. Gentleman is not asking for thathave to accept that it can be self-defeating as we have seen in other European Union countries, and that it can, in fact, bring about more misery and hardship and, of course, more profit for the people traffickers.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I sympathise with the Minister on the difficulties facing him, but he must concentrate on the issue of the Zimbabweans who are already in this country. The facts are that there are already more than 10,000 people here, that they cannot be returned forcibly to Zimbabwe and that the Government are preventing them from working legally while they are in this limbo. Does the Minister really think this is either economically sensible or morally acceptable, or is he prepared to use destitution as an arm of his asylum policy?
Mr. Woolas: Let me reassure the House that the Government do not use, and have no intention whatever of using, destitution as policy. Indeed, the Government have on occasion been criticised by Members on both sides of the House for providing support, particularly for those people who, as I said a moment ago, through no fault of their own cannot return to their own country but where it has been deemed that they should do so. However, I repeat the point I made to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) that one has to strike a balance between providing proper support within the law and not having a policy that would make the situation worse. That point should be considered by the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and his colleagues.
The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): It is vital that the police are able to deliver for the public in the most efficient way. That is why we are scrapping the time-consuming stop and account form, reducing by up to 80 per cent. the amount of time taken to record crimes, and investing £75 million in new technology to help officers work smarter, thereby freeing up officers to focus on addressing peoples concerns.
Mr. Bailey: I thank the Minister for his reply. More specifically, can he tell me what assessment he has made of the impact of the use of hand-held high technology devices issued to front-line police officers on reducing police bureaucracy?
Mr. Coaker: We think that the fact that we have made increasing numbers of these hand-held devices available to front-line officers has made a significant difference. I was recently in Staffordshire talking to police officers there, and they were demonstrating the use of these devices and talking about the difference that they were making. I should point out that 10,000 extra hand-held devices have been made available to front-line officers, and that figure will rise to 30,000 by 2010.
Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): What specific reforms, if any, is the Minister contemplating to make local police more locally accountable, and how would such reforms allow local people, rather than Home Office officials, to set local police priorities?
Mr. Coaker: If the hon. Gentleman looks at our proposals regarding the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, he will see that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary only recently announced the councillor call for action, which will be implemented from April this year to allow local councillors to have more say in what happens with local police forces. Moreover, the policing pledge talks about the public having more chance to influence the police through face-to-face meetings; neighbourhood policing teams are out there meeting people; police community support officers get out there and deliver leaflets; and e-cops, which we see in Leicestershire, allow people to e-mail their concerns. All those things allow people to influence local policing in their area, and are very much welcomed by everybody I meet.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for his visit to Stafford a fortnight ago, when he met the chief constable, Chris Sims, and representatives of the senior leadership and the police authority. Crucially, he also met police officers and PCSOs. Does he agree, as a result of that day in Stafford, that Staffordshire police really are now leading the country on cutting out unnecessary paperwork, streamlining criminal justice systems and keeping police officers out on the front line for longer? Is that not why Jan Berry held the first meeting of her group that day in Stafford, to provide recommendations to police throughout the country?
Mr. Coaker: Cutting bureaucracy is an essential part of the work that we are doing, and talking to front-line police officersas both my hon. Friend and I did that day in Staffordshows the impact that that is having. It is not me who is saying that it is having an impact, but police officers themselves. Staffordshire is one of the four crime-recording pilots, and Staffordshire police have looked at a whole range of measuresnot only the use of hand-held computers, but forms relating to a variety of crimes, including stop and account. Not only Staffordshire but other police forces that have played a part in these pilots are demonstrating to forces across the country the serious inroads that can be made into unnecessary bureaucracy.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I agree with the Minister that communication with our constituents needs to improve, but I doubt whether it will come as a surprise to him to learn that most of my constituents do not see crime as virtual or in e-mails, but in reality. What they want to see is more police officers on the street and less bureaucracy, so it is very concerning that the Minister is talking about e-cops; what people want to see is real cops.
And they do see real cops. I bet that the neighbourhood policing teams in the hon. Gentlemans constituency demonstrate such visible policing and the presence on the streets that everybody wants to see. By reducing bureaucracy and through the changes that we are making to stop and account forms, through the work that Jan Berry is doing and through crime recording
pilotswhich have shown that it is possible to reduce bureaucracy in respect of a whole range of crimesnot only will communication between constituents and the police improve, but we will see the increased numbers of police that everybody wants to see on the street.
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Four years ago, the Home Office told us that police officers spent only 19 per cent. of their time on patrol. Can the Minister tell us what the latest figure is?
Mr. Coaker: Of course, the hon. Gentleman is using one particular measurean on-patrol measure, which, as he knows, takes no account of any interaction between police officers and members of the public; all that it counts is when somebody is actually out there on the street. It does not account for a police officer who stops and speaks to someone in a car or who speaks to someone whose shop has been robbed. Any of the normal things that we would expect a police officer to do are not counted, which is why we introduced a new measure called the front-line policing measure.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): The majority of people who drink enjoy alcohol sensibly, but we are determined to take action to reduce the health and social harms caused by those who do not. We have recently announced actions to combat the problem, including a new mandatory code of practice to target the most irresponsible retail practices, a £3 million cash injection for crime and disorder reduction partnerships for enforcement activities in 198 areas and a further £1.5 million for our priority areas to tackle underage sales, confiscate alcohol from under-18s and run campaigns to tell people what action is being taken locally to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder.
Nia Griffith: I am sure we all want to find more ways of reducing alcohol-related crime in our town centres, such as the Behave or Be Banned campaign that is running in my area. In the light of my talks with the mayor of Llanelli about creating an alcohol-free zone in the centre of the town, may I ask the Home Secretary what success such zones have had elsewhere and what other measures she would recommend to reduce alcohol-related disorder?
First, I commend my hon. Friend for working with her local colleagues to make use of the tools that the Government have put in placeI believe she was referring to a designated public place order in this case. We take very seriously the responsibility to make clear to local partners, such as the ones to whom she refers, the tools that are available. That is why we have been running a series of regional workshopstwo have taken place and one more is due to take placewhich have been extremely well received. Alongside the sort of local activity that she is talking about, the use of Government-provided tools and the new initiatives that we have recently announced will help to ensure that
those people who want to drink sensibly can do so, but those who cause harm to themselves or others will be prevented from doing so.
Jacqui Smith: No, and nor do independent assessments, including the report on the impact of the Licensing Act 2003, which was published in 2008. It showed that the overall volume of incidents of crime and disorder remained unchanged, and that there were signs that crimes involving serious violence may have reduced and that local residents were less likely to say that drunk and rowdy behaviour was a problem. I do believe it is important that the elements of the 2003 Act that provide more opportunities for local partners and police to limit the unacceptable activities of licensed premises should be used more, and that is precisely what we are trying to enable people to do at the moment.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I wonder whether the Home Secretary has time in her busy week to come with me to visit Tesco, where she would be able to see the unacceptable practices still being conducted by the supermarkets. They are selling alcohol very cheaplythree for the price of oneand putting all kinds of promotions before people to enable them to buy more and more alcohol cheaply. That is what contributes to our disorder. Will she not accept that the Government must have a floor price on the alcohol sold at supermarkets in order to tackle this very serious problem of alcohol-related crime, especially at this time of the year?
Jacqui Smith: During my busy weekend, I was able to take a trip to a supermarket. As I think I said the last time he questioned me about this, my right hon. Friends Committee made some important recommendations, and those have certainly fed into the proposals we are making to help counter alcohol-related disorder. We carried out a considerable research study with the university of Sheffield on the impact of minimum pricing, and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made clear, given the current economic climate in particular, we do not intend at this moment to introduce the sort of minimum price to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) was referring. However, we certainly have not closed off that option for the future, and the Health Secretary is already undertaking more work into the impact and consequences of that particular form of action.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): I disagree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on which I serve, but I accept that there is a point to address about people tanking up on cheap supermarket booze at home before unleashing themselves on the streets. I agree that it would be wrong for a Government to set a minimum price for alcohol, but will she encourage the supermarkets, which talk an awful lot in our constituencies about their social responsibility to the community, to think of this issue as part of that responsibility? Perhaps, given our particular problems, they should be encouraged, voluntarily, to be a little more responsible.
Jacqui Smith: Perhaps I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that my visit to the supermarket over the weekend was not made to tank up before I hit the streets. However, I agree with his point about the social responsibility of supermarketsresponsibility that I know they also take seriously and which I am sure they would want to manifest publicly.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): This weekend, a further five street pastors were commissioned in Bridgend. That brings the total to 46 individuals from 17 churches giving their time to support the police in tackling antisocial behaviour and inappropriate drinking, and helping people who are distressed out on the streets of Bridgend when, on a Friday or Saturday night, they have gone out for a social occasion. Is that not another way in which we can reclaim the streets for ordinary law-abiding people so that people can enjoy a night out without having to be intimidated and threatened?
May I also advise my right hon. Friend that the street pastors are now not only covering that 10 until 4 in the morning slot, but going on to one of my estates and working from 6 until 8 with youngsters, which will also improve life on that estate?
Jacqui Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for inviting me to Bridgend to see the excellent work being done by the street pastors alongside the local police force and the local authority. I was impressed by that partnership. As she says, it was already showing considerable results on the streets and I am pleased to hear that it has been expanded.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): Despite the Home Secretarys promise of more legislation, the Home Office still has not got round to implementing existing alcohol legislation on the introduction of drinking banning orders. Will she confirm whether the Home Office was unable to reach agreement with the Ministry of Justice on the cost of implementing the orders, estimated at £32.5 million under the MOJs controls on downstream costs on the courts and legal aid budgets, and whether the Home Offices legislative hyperactivity is finally catching up with it and it is becoming an unlikely new victim of the economic downturn?
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): We are grateful for the work of the Migration Advisory Committee. The committee provides expert independent advice on where the country needs economic migration and where it does not. The Government have decided to implement the committees recommendations in full, and in addition to retain social workers on the UK shortage list while the MAC considers evidence of relevance to their inclusion.
Mr. Woolas: The idea, of course, is that, through the committees expert advice, we can identify where there are skill shortages in order to place those shortages on the migration list under the points-based system, but also, crucially, to provide for training and skilling for British workersfor my hon. Friends constituentsto get jobs. As part of that approach, we also have specific measures for Scotland to identify those sectors of the economy where there are particular short-term problems.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The Minister will appreciate that Scotland has different population and immigration requirements from the rest of the UK, yet the MAC list has as additional groups only care home nurses and fish filleters. In his assessment, what difference will that make to Scottish population problems? Do we not need significantly more help than that?
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman is being slightly unfair, as he has missed out quality controllers in the fish processing industry, which in Scotland is extremely important. As I said, the UK list covers Scotland so that within those sectors that apply to Scotland and to the rest of the UK we can provide for training and skilling in skill shortage areas, for the benefit of his constituents. It is a fair and tough policy, but flexible for local economic needs.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Given that more than 70,000 skilled workers have come into the country in the past three years under the skilled workers scheme and that the Home Office does not know where any one of them has found a job or whether they have found skilled jobs, and given that unemployment is now rising, what steps are the Government taking to control the scheme?
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. It is precisely because of the concerns that have been raised that we have introduced the points-based system and the criteria that we can apply to skills within the different tiers of the system. As a result of that system, we can provide reassurance to our constituents that their concerns are being put foremost and we can match the skills shortages with the skills training programmes for British workers while applying the criteria of the tiers within the points-based system to control migration.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): What further thought has the hon. Gentleman given to the proposals put to him by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and me arising from the balanced migration campaign and the need to break the link between peoples coming here to work and their apparently now automatic right to settle?
Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to be in the middle of a pincer movement, which is a very effective one, if I may say so. The hon. Gentleman is right. It is important to break the link between peoples coming here to work for a specific purpose under the skills shortage scheme or the high skills scheme, or under other smaller schemes, and their automatic right to settlement. It is very important that we break that link and that is what we are doing.
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