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House of Commons

Monday 9 February 2009

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—


1. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): What steps her Department is taking to ensure young people are aware of the dangers associated with drug use. [254636]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): The Government provide information about drugs to young people through universal drug education in schools, and through the Frank campaign. That campaign aims to prevent drug use among young people by changing their attitudes and perceptions towards drugs and drug users.

Barry Gardiner: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. I am aware that a review is taking place to consider the status of khat. It affects many families in my constituency, particularly in the Somali community. Their young people have come to me and asked to meet the Home Secretary, so that they can explain to the Government the problems that they, as young people, face when drugs such as khat become predominant in their community. Will she agree to such a meeting?

Jacqui Smith: Yes. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell)—the Drugs Minister—has already met representatives of the Somali community, but my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) makes an important point about the strong views of young people. I am certainly willing to meet him and young representatives from his constituency and from that community.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The dangers associated with drug use are supposed to be reflected in the drug classification system. Is it the policy of the Home Secretary and the Government that that system should be based on evidence, or should it be based on something else?

Jacqui Smith: Yes, it is our view that the system should be based on evidence, but it should also be based on the considered view of those responsible for policy
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making, and should take into consideration the impact that changes in classification are likely to have on the use of, and harms caused by, drugs, and the impact that that has on the criminal justice system. That is why it will remain the case that our advisers will advise us, and we will decide.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I wonder whether the Home Secretary has seen the comments in the weekend press by Professor David Nutt, the chairman of the Home Office Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs? He says that in his view, ecstasy is less dangerous than horse riding. I will not ask the Home Secretary whether she has tried the drug, or whether she has ridden a horse, but I want to know when she plans to meet Professor Nutt to tell him whether she agrees with his comments.

Jacqui Smith: I spoke to Professor Nutt about his comments this morning. I told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article. I am sure that most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug-taking. That makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy, and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs. I made it clear to Professor Nutt that I felt that his comments went beyond the scientific advice that I expect from him as chair of the ACMD. He apologised to me for his comments, and I have asked him to apologise to the families of the victims of ecstasy, too.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Last month, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse published figures that reveal that nearly 25,000 young people aged under 18 are in treatment for drug and alcohol problems. Is that not an indictment of the fact that the Government did not do more earlier on drug prevention, and the fact that just 12 per cent. of the drugs budget was spent on prevention? There is no evaluation at all of many of the activities.

Jacqui Smith: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the progress made by those working in the drugs field over the past 10 or 11 years. Overall drug use and class A drug use among young people are now at their lowest levels ever, as measured by the British crime survey. Among school pupils, overall drug use has fallen. The rate of frequent drug use among pupils has also fallen. The people involved in that work should be congratulated, unlike the hon. Gentleman’s party, which proposes cuts to the Home Office budget; that would certainly impact on our ability to counter the harms caused by drugs. I hope that he will back up his words with words advising his Front-Bench team to put back that money.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have to be a little cautious when legislating on drugs misuse, because if we legislate in the wrong way, we may merely displace the problem to another area of drug misuse—for example, the problem may move from one substance to another? That is one of the difficulties.

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Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend has a strong record of working on such issues. That is why I am sure that he agrees that the fact that there is falling drug use, throughout drug use, particularly among young people, is important. All of us will be concerned to make sure that we continue with that important progress.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary’s remarks on the comments made by Professor Nutt, but will she go a little further and suggest to him that the sport of horse riding provides discipline, whereas drug-taking not only wrecks—and indeed ends—lives, but fuels crime? The two are completely incomparable. Will she go a little further than she did in her statement just now and perhaps suggest to Professor Nutt that although he might be appropriately named, he is in the wrong job?

Jacqui Smith: I made completely clear my view that there is absolutely no equivalence between the legal activity of horse riding and the illegal activity of drug taking, and that will always be the basis on which I make decisions about drugs policy.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I am sure the Home Secretary will agree that part of the messages sent out to young people about the dangers of drugs relates to enforcement. As she knows, as part of the changes to cannabis reclassification, a new enforcement regime was brought into effect, which includes cannabis warnings, yet her colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), has conceded that one of the issues with cannabis warnings is that they are not recorded. There is a certain amount of intelligence locally about who has what, but it is rather hit and miss. Does the right hon. Lady agree with that view?

Jacqui Smith: I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that, with the advice of the Association of Chief Police Officers, we will now ensure that there is a clear process of escalation as a consequence of being caught in possession of cannabis. That is a result of the change to the classification that we have made and the work that we have done with the Association of Chief Police Officers. The hon. Gentleman is right. One of the issues arising from that is how we record any instances—the one and only instance—of cannabis warning, and we are working with the National Policing Improvement Agency in order to make sure that it is possible to do that in future.

Sexual Violence

2. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the adequacy of services for victims of sexual violence; and if she will make a statement. [254637]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The Government are extending the network of sexual assault referral centres and independent sexual violence advisers so that all victims will be able to access those services over the next three years. We have also invested £11 million in specialist support services.

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Fiona Mactaggart: I welcome the substantial progress that has been made through SARCs and independent sexual violence advisers, but has the Minister read the “Map of Gaps” report produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the End Violence Against Women campaign, which shows that in one in four local authorities there is no specialist service for a survivor of sexual violence, and that that is particularly a problem in the east and south-east of England? Does he have a plan to deal with that?

Mr. Campbell: We welcome the publication of “Map of Gaps,” although we believe that it does not give a complete picture of statutory provision or of the work of some voluntary organisations. We agree with the publication that more needs to be done, and more will be done. We are working to see SARCs in each of the 43 police districts by 2011, but my hon. Friend will also be aware that much good and important work is done locally, and we are working with local agencies, producing guidance to ensure that commissioning of services is where it needs to be.

Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): The Basingstoke rape and sexual abuse centre, along with many other rape crisis centres, does an excellent job to support victims. Why do the Government not do one thing that would really help those centres and adopt a three-year funding cycle, as suggested by colleagues on the Opposition Benches, to try to put an end to the financial uncertainty that so many of those crisis centres still face?

Mr. Campbell: The Government provided £1 million extra this year to rape crisis centres, and I am informed that no rape crisis centre has closed since that period. We value the work of rape crisis centres and are working with local partners to see how best they can be funded, but coming from a party that will cut investment, suggesting a commitment to a three-year period is asking a lot.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): Will the Minister commend the work of ChildLine, the Devon office of which recently reported a 20 per cent. increase in calls from children over the past three years? Although we know that not every call is genuine, and there can be concern about creating an atmosphere of fear, is it not right that ChildLine provides a fantastic service for children, many of whom are abused by people on whom they should be able to rely? Is it not important that they have a lifeline?

Mr. Campbell: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman and happy to pay tribute to the work of ChildLine.

Crime (Illegal Immigrants)

3. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What procedures are in place to deport illegal immigrants convicted of a criminal offence. [254638]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): Last year, the UK Border Agency met the target that we set it to remove more than 5,000 foreign criminals. We now consider for deportation all non-European economic area foreign nationals sentenced to 12 months or more.

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Hugh Bayley: Mr. Dun Lun Hu, a Chinese national who evaded deportation for five years after his asylum application was rejected, was convicted of selling counterfeit goods in a Yorkshire court in August but was then released on bail by magistrates. I am pleased to say that he has now been deported, but I would like to see the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice working more closely together on such cases. When a court knows or learns in the course of proceedings that a person is an illegal immigrant evading deportation, should it not hold the person until the Border Agency has had the opportunity to seek detention under the immigration rules?

Mr. Woolas: I have looked into that case, about which my hon. Friend has rightly written extensively. I am pleased to confirm that the gentleman concerned was detained and subsequently removed from our country. Sometimes, of course, there are difficulties with court rulings, but my hon. Friend is right on the general principle.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): After several questions over a number of months, why is it still impossible to get a straight answer from the hon. Gentleman’s Department about the number of residents in the Peterborough constituency who are applying for indefinite leave to remain and the number of those who have had their applications refused? Why is the Minister not in a position to tell me how many residents are in that situation? Is that any way to run an immigration system?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer. He has asked lots of parliamentary questions that I have answered forthrightly, although not always to his satisfaction. The particular point that he has made is about constituency boundaries; we have, of course, been able to provide data by administrative boundaries, but it is not always possible to provide them by constituency boundaries. The figures that I have given him are robust.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Minister aware that a container lorry full of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan recently arrived in my constituency? It is hard not to admire the human courage of people who have risked their lives in travelling across two continents, but surely that is not a reason for granting asylum. Does he agree that at a time when a lot of British lives are being lost in Afghanistan, and when much of that country is under coalition control, one could argue that we should not be taking any asylum seekers from that country?

Mr. Woolas: I am very aware of the incident to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I congratulate the diligence and bravery of the UKBA staff; he also did so in the local papers, and I thank him for that.

On the general point about policy towards Afghanistan, I agree that our forces there are doing a heroic job. Under the Geneva convention, of course, asylum is looked at case by case. We do, of course, now deport people to Afghanistan.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): In November 2007, the Government admitted that thousands of people cleared by officials to work in the security industry were
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working in Britain illegally; one of them was even guarding the Prime Minister’s car. How many of those thousands of people have now been deported?

Mr. Woolas: I am more than happy to engage in correspondence with the hon. Gentleman on the specific figures. However, I note from The Sunday Times that the hon. Gentleman, whom I welcome to his post, is now against our border controls that involve counting people in and counting them out. He has described that as evidence of a “Big Brother” state. I ask him whether he is still in favour— [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, he cannot have border controls and make statements such as those that he made on Sunday.

Chris Grayling: It is hardly surprising that the hon. Gentleman does not want to answer the question. Last week, Ministers were forced to come clean and admit that only 35 of those more than 3,000 people working illegally in the UK had been deported. That is despite the fact that, at the time, the Home Secretary said:

Why should anyone have confidence in the Government when they cannot even evict illegal migrant workers when they know who they are and where they are working?

Mr. Woolas: The Government are removing illegal migrant workers—one every eight minutes. The hon. Gentleman can play politics with this issue, but does he mean that he will rewrite the Geneva convention? Does he mean that he will ignore the independent decisions of judges? Does he mean that, as he said in The Sunday Times yesterday, he opposes the e-border controls that allow this country to protect its borders? Which is it?

Policing Policies

4. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What steps she is taking to ensure that policing policies take into account local community priorities. [254640]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Addressing community priorities is key to effective local policing. That is why we are cutting red tape to free up the police to focus on local issues. We have removed all top-down targets except one—namely, to improve the confidence of the public that their priorities are being addressed and to set out minimum policing standards in the pledge, including monthly community meetings.

Nia Griffith: When people in my constituency go through the ordeal of reporting crime, they are anxious to see the culprits punished. Will my hon. Friend tell me what guidance and advice his Department issues to police forces about the use of cautions, particularly relating to serious crime such as sexual offences or violence?

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