Previous Section Index Home Page

Knife Crime (Lancashire)

11. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): How many incidents of knife crime there were in Lancashire in the last 12 months for which figures are available; and if she will make a statement. [254647]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The Home Office publication “Crime in England and Wales 2007-08” shows that there were 361 knife and sharp instrument offences in Lancashire in 2007-08. Lancashire police are taking part in the tackling knives action programme, implementing an intensive programme of enforcement and prevention action focused on teenage knife crime.

Mr. Hoyle: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he would agree that far too many knife crimes are taking place in Lancashire. My constituent Jessica Knight is one of those statistics. She almost died. Thankfully, she is making a recovery, although it is very slow. This House wishes her well. We are doing something about knife crime, but we want to do more. Will my hon. Friend look to ensure that peer pressure is put on young people not to carry knives and that we find the extra money and resources to educate people in schools? The Music Café in Chorley is an alternative to being on the streets, carrying a knife. We have to do more. Will he do more and what can he tell us today?

Mr. Campbell: I am sure that the whole House will join my hon. Friend in sending our best wishes and thoughts to Jessica Knight, his constituent. The House will also be aware that her assailant was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum tariff of 12 years.
9 Feb 2009 : Column 1106
That shows the importance of enforcement, which is a key part of the tackling knives action programme. As my hon. Friend said, a key part of that programme is working with young people to educate them through whatever media we have at our disposal, finding out what message works best for that group and sending out the strongest message, which is: “If you carry a knife, not only do you put others in danger, but you put yourself in danger.”

Alcohol-related Crime and Disorder

12. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to reduce levels of alcohol-related crime and disorder. [254648]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The most recently published report, “The impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on levels of crime and disorder”, found that crimes involving serious violent crime may have reduced. Local residents were less likely to say that drunken and rowdy behaviour was a problem. The Government announced a new mandatory code of practice to target the most irresponsible retail practices, a £3 million cash injection for crime and disorder reduction partnerships and for partnership activities in 190 areas, and a further £1.5 million for police enforcement in priority areas.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: In a survey carried out in the north-west, almost 72 per cent. of Macclesfield residents expressed deep concern about the amount of drunkenness and antisocial behaviour fuelled by alcohol. Andy Smith, the chairman of Pubwatch in Macclesfield, blames the superstores, which hugely discount strong lagers and beers. People who go into a supermarket can buy any amount of alcohol and drink it on the street, but those who go into a pub are disciplined and subject to the survey of the staff of that pub. Would the Minister encourage drinking in pubs and would he give them more help and less regulation, rather than no regulation, which is what exists for superstores?

Mr. Campbell: The reality is that the problems to which the hon. Gentleman refers can be caused by either on or off-licence sales. We are working with both sectors to try to reduce the problem. We are working with retailers through the challenge 25 scheme, for instance, to stop under-age drinking. We are also working to ensure that those who misbehave are the ones who are penalised. We are looking at a range of measures, targeting not only supermarkets, but public houses and clubs, through a mandatory code of practice, so that by working with the industry, whether on or off-licence, we bear down on something that, as he said, is still causing a problem in a number of areas.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): We are seeing pubs close at the unprecedented rate of four or five a day around the nation. In parallel with that, we are seeing the phenomenon of breweries being unable to find permanent licensees for some of their premises and having to deploy temporary staff. Will the Minister tell us whether, as appears to be the case, there is evidence that such staff are not as rigorous at complying with licensing regulations, and whether the police and
9 Feb 2009 : Column 1107
others are paying special attention when disorder is linked to premises that go through a temporary landlord perhaps every three or four months?

Mr. Campbell: We are aware of the rate of pub closures, but I want to point out to my hon. Friend that it is more than the restrictions and regulatory burdens that we might place on premises that is behind those closures. We take very seriously the issue of staff in pubs, which is why we need to ensure that they have not only proper training but the confidence to challenge people about their behaviour, particularly in regard to buying drink for under-age youngsters. We will go on with that work.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): While I strongly applaud the hon. Members who have spoken out in defence of conventional pubs, may I ask the Minister whether he is happy with the arrangements for planning permission for all-night clubs? In particular, does he think it right that the council considering such an application is not allowed to take account of representations from affected residents unless they live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed premises? Even those who live on the access routes to and from the premises cannot be consulted.

Mr. Campbell: One of the important measures to which the hon. Gentleman is referring is the Licensing Act 2003, which gives an unprecedented amount of influence over such decisions to residents—and, indeed, to the police and others. They have the powers that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It is up to the licensing and planning committees rigorously to enforce the powers that they have.

Topical Questions

T1. [254661] Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are announcing today the outcome of our review of visa regimes. We are introducing new visa requirements for Bolivia, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Venezuela. Visitors from those countries will need a six-month visa and they will need to provide their fingerprints before travelling here. Those travelling via the UK will need a transit visa. Those new requirements are in addition to the existing requirements for a visa to live, work, study or marry in the UK. They form part of the biggest ever changes to strengthen Britain’s border security through stronger overseas checks, tougher border checks and robust enforcement action within the UK.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. Will she tell the House what discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues and the police about whether the police currently have adequate powers to investigate Members of either House of Parliament who are suspected of the common law offence of bribery?

Jacqui Smith: No, I have not had any discussions with police colleagues about that.

9 Feb 2009 : Column 1108

T6. [254667] Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating North Yorkshire police on using online crime mapping to give people in North Yorkshire and York a monthly update on whether the police are winning the battle against crime? Will she also join me in welcoming the fact that crime in York has fallen by a further 3 per cent. this year compared with last year?

Jacqui Smith: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police and their partners on that reduction in crime. He makes the important point that people need to see what is happening in their local area with respect to crime, and that is what crime mapping now allows across the country. As we develop that, people will also expect to be able to see what action is being taken by the police and others to bring to justice those who cannot abide by the rules in our communities. Building on the progress that we have made with crime mapping everywhere will enable us to provide that information for the constituents of everyone in the House.

T2. [254662] Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): This weekend, we heard reports of a database to track and store the international travel records of millions of people. We have also heard about the increasing loss of supposedly secure data being reported to the Information Commissioner. Will the Home Secretary tell the House what aspects of British behaviour she does not want to be recorded on a database, and whether she would be happy for her own holiday records—her seat bookings and holiday reservations—to be put on a database, given her Department’s record on data protection?

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): The hon. Gentleman says that we heard about the matter this weekend, but the programme referred to in the weekend press has been known about and debated in this House for four years. It is part of the shake-up of border controls. The introduction of e-Borders allows the Border and Immigration Agency to track movement in and out of the country, which is necessary to control our borders. It is, of course, done proportionately— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman dismisses my answer; I take it that he agrees with the hon. Gentleman for the front page , the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who is clearly more interested in scoring political points than he is in controlling our borders.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Before the Department for Transport’s consultation on road safety ends, will the police and the Home Office contribute the view that if we lower the alcohol limit for drink-driving, we could save more than 50 lives a year?

Jacqui Smith: Of course we will want the police and, indeed, ourselves as the Home Office, to make a contribution to that debate and that consultation. It is an issue that I know my hon. Friend takes very seriously; it is certainly very important for the confidence of the public in our ability to clamp down on those who still choose to drink and drive.

T3. [254663] Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The Home Secretary told us earlier about her conversation with Professor Nutt. Will she explain
9 Feb 2009 : Column 1109
whether his apology related to the views that he holds, or the fact that he expressed them? Is it not clear that the Home Secretary and almost everybody in the country has lost confidence in Professor Nutt, so why does she not sack him and his motley crew and save taxpayers some money?

Jacqui Smith: I made it very clear to Professor Nutt that I felt that the views he expressed in his article over the weekend were inappropriate, as I have already described. I sought assurances, which he gave me, that in his role as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, he would limit himself to providing scientific advice to the Government, which is the statutory role of the council.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): About a year or two ago, a unit was set up by the Metropolitan police to look at killings—honour killings—of young women. It was thought that many deaths of young women that may have resulted from such killings were recorded as suicides or accidental deaths. The Met decided to look further into them to find out whether there were any honour killings among them. When will we receive the report from that unit?

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on the issue of so-called honour-based violence. I am not sure exactly when we can expect the report so I will look further into the matter, but she will be pleased to know that the Association of Chief Police Officers recently issued guidance on honour-based violence so that police forces across the country can take it into account. Forced marriage and honour-based violence are horrendous crimes. It is thanks to people such as my hon. Friend and many others across the House that we have finally started to look into, expose and deal with this issue as the serious crime it is.

T4. [254664] Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): There have been calls across the House this afternoon for police officers to spend more time on the beat, to police more visibly and to work more efficiently. In that regard, is the Home Secretary aware of the successful trials in Bedfordshire giving police officers hand-held personal digital assistant devices, which has led to officers spending a lot of time on the beat and policing much more visibly than before? Does she think that that scheme could be spread across the country?

Jacqui Smith: Not only am I aware of that, but I know that it was funded through Government investment. We have made £50 million or possibly even £75 million available so that police officers across the country can be provided with hand-held devices and can spend more time, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, on the front line.

I am a little disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not take the advice of his Whips Office and ask, “What recent estimate she has made of current police force strength?”—one of the questions suggested by the Opposition Whips. If he had done so, I could have said—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

9 Feb 2009 : Column 1110

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What weight does my friend give to the views of the Information Commissioner who recently said that DNA samples taken from people not convicted of any crime should not be held indefinitely?

Jacqui Smith: I give very considerable weight to the views of the Information Commissioner. As I made clear before Christmas, that is the reason why—although there are strong arguments and real results relating to people who have been caught and convicted from the use of DNA, and even in relation to those who have not subsequently gone on to be convicted—I think it is nevertheless important that we have a system that is proportionate and in which people have confidence. That is why, for example, I made it clear before Christmas that the DNA profiles of those children below 10 should be removed and why I will make further proposals this year for looking at the retention periods, dependent on the particular circumstances of individuals.

T5. [254666] Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Although far too many people are allowed to come and settle in this country, the vast majority of those who do are decent, law-abiding people, so does it not sully their reputation and undermine community relations when the Government allow to stay in this country people who have been convicted of crimes in absentia in their home countries—crimes as serious as murder—just because that conviction was in absentia? I understand that legal action would be required to override a very dubious court ruling to prevent that practice. What does the Home Secretary propose to do to change the law?

Mr. Woolas: I take the right hon. Gentleman’s question very seriously indeed. It is right that we deport people who have committed crimes; earlier, I gave the House some figures on successes. In cases such as those he raises, sometimes there are difficulties in data sharing with foreign countries. We are improving that situation significantly, particularly through the EURODAC proposals. On the specific point, if he has a case in mind—he has raised similar issues before—I will be more than happy to look into it. I reassure him and the House that we will do what we can to protect our country.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): My constituent, Enid Ruhango, was tortured and raped by Ugandan forces and fled to the UK in search of asylum. Instead, she was incarcerated in the Yarl’s Wood detention centre. The chief inspector of prisons described her treatment as disgraceful, yet this woman is still unable to carry on with her life and has still not been granted indefinite leave to remain. May I implore the Home Secretary finally to look at that case personally and allow this woman to carry on her life with the people of Leeds, where she now belongs?

Mr. Woolas: I have received representations on that case. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that people are detained in Yarl’s Wood only where independent tribunals and the independent system have looked at their cases. That is not to say that in all cases the decision to maintain detention is kept, but we need that power. I reassure him that we are looking at that case.

9 Feb 2009 : Column 1111

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am rather concerned by an answer that I received from a Home Office Minister last Wednesday in relation to the Forensic Science Service—a world-class organisation that is leaking staff at an alarming rate, with a net loss of more than 300 posts in the last six years. As the FSS was threatened with privatisation some time ago, will the Minister reassure me that the Government intend for the FSS to stay in the public sector, staffed and resourced at a level appropriate to its public importance to the police and the criminal justice system? It is not going to be covertly privatised, is it?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): May I put on record our support for the FSS and the important work that it does? We are looking at a programme of investment over the next few years to allow it to meet the challenges that it faces—not only in this country, but abroad. I can tell my hon. Friend that no decision has been taken about what he describes as the privatisation of the FSS and we leave the options open.

T7. [254669] Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): May I invite the Home Secretary for a night out —either a Friday or a Saturday night, I am flexible—in Bournemouth? She would see not only what a good job Bournemouth police are doing, but how overstretched they are in dealing with the 20,000 or so visitors who come to the seaside resort and the vibrant town centre. If she came to Bournemouth, she would see that the police are not able to look after the policing in Bournemouth because of overstretch—the police manning formula does not take into consideration tourism or, indeed, the number of visitors. I urge her to come to Bournemouth, to see the problem and to help to remedy it.

9 Feb 2009 : Column 1112

Jacqui Smith: I had a couple of good nights out in Bournemouth over the Christmas break, although unfortunately the hon. Gentleman was not with me at the time. I agree with him that the Dorset constabulary is doing an extremely good job, which has resulted in a reduction in crime. It is working hard to ensure that Bournemouth is—as I discovered for myself—a good place to visit as a tourist, but I feel sure that the cut of 38 police officers that would be a consequence of his party’s proposed Home Office spending cuts would only make that job more difficult.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Can the Home Secretary give the House an unequivocal answer to the question “Has any arm or agency of the British Government been complicit in any way in torture?” Yes or no?

Jacqui Smith: I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made the Government’s position in respect of torture absolutely clear in his statement last Thursday. When there was a suggestion of any form of complicity, I did what I thought was the right thing to do, and referred it to the Attorney-General for investigation.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): An increasing number of cars contain so-called black boxes—vehicle data recording devices. For more than three years the Government have been considering what guidance might be issued to police forces, for instance, on the use of the data from such devices in possible prosecutions. Can the Minister tell me when a decision will be made and guidance issued?

Mr. Coaker: All I can tell my hon. Friend is that these matters remain under discussion and that, as far as I am aware, no decision is imminent.

Next Section Index Home Page