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As I outlined in my statement, the press reporting was wrong. The arrests were not brought forward by weeks; as I said, they were brought forward by a matter of hours. That goes for all the planned arrests, and the police were satisfied that the operation was carried out as they would have carried it out had it happened several hours later. So, in relation to the hon. Gentlemans
second point, I do not believe that there has been any lasting damage, either to this investigation or more widely, from the events of 8 April.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the nature of the current validation, as he describes it, of colleges. As I outlined, there have been just over 2,000 applications for colleges to go on to the list for the points-based system. Of those, 1,500 are now on the list and 500 have either been refused or have withdrawn during the process. All the 1,500 will be visited within the next 12 weeks; a third already have been. As I also said, I have asked officials to focus enforcement activity on those colleges that either previously accepted international students and have not applied to go on to the list, or, even more urgently, on those that have applied to go on the list and, for whatever reason, were refused.
As I outlined in my statement, some thousands of students have leave to remain under the previous system. In 50 per cent. of those cases, that leave will be tested or will expire within a year; for the vast majority, that will be the case within three years. Also as part of the enforcement activity, I have asked officials to focus on those colleges, and therefore those students, about which there may be concerns in the near future.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about the international nature of criminality and the information around that. It is precisely to do better on that issue that we are working both internationally and within Europe. We asked for the review carried out by Mr. Magee so that we could look at how we could better use information, particularly that which comes internationally. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to do more work on the issue, but that is under way as well.
On the hon. Gentlemans final point, I should say that, as my the Minister for Borders and Immigration, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), and I have pointed out on numerous occasions, our work through e-Borders will enable us to put right the gap in our ability to count and monitor people in and out of the country. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that ability was removed from us as a result of the actions of the previous Government.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Can I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the circumstances that led to the photographs being taken in Downing street do not lead to further pressures on the rights of photographers, both professionals and amateurs, to take photographs in this country, especially as this event coincided with an incident in the past few days where somebody was allegedly challenged by a police officer for taking photographs of a bus garage? We need to learn lessons from the event and draw together the common-sense work being led by my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to come up with the right code of practice to ensure that photographers can do their jobs and amateurs can take photographs with freedom.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, who has met the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to discuss his concerns. I see no reason why the unfortunate events on 8 April should limit the ability of photographers to take photographs, and neither do I believe, as he knows, that some of the
limits result from recent legislative changes that we have made, as has been suggested. There is more work that we can do to ensure that photographers are clear that their right to take photographs is protected in all cases where it is not causing a specific risk. That is certainly a right that my hon. Friend and I would uphold.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Does the Home Secretary agree that if the crucial objective of safeguarding national security, on which she has rightly placed so much emphasis this afternoon, is to be achieved, it is essential that there is among those in authority a shared understanding of what constitutes a threat to national security? That shared understanding clearly does not exist as between her and the Director of Public Prosecutions. If he is wrong on such a fundamental matter, how can she have confidence in him? If he is right, how can we have confidence in her?
Jacqui Smith: As the right hon. and learned Gentleman quotesor purports to quotethe Director of Public Prosecutions, perhaps it would be helpful if I pointed him to paragraph 30 of the DPPs lengthy statement of last week:
One of the principal concerns at the Home Office was that whoever was responsible for the leaks in question may have had access to Ministerial papers and that there was a potential risk that highly sensitive material relating to national security might be disclosed. This damage should not be underestimated and once the pattern of leaks was established in this case, it was inevitable that a police investigation would follow.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): Without prejudice to any ongoing operations or any inference about judicial proceedings, I am sure that the Home Secretary would agree that if any misuses are discovered in our immigration and visa system, then of course we must have an open mind and try to strengthen it. However, can I tell her that there is a common awareness of two things? First, whatever needs to be done, the present visa regime is much more stringent and strict than it ever was before, including in March this year, and certainly more so than that which we inherited. Secondly, the way not to protect national security is to set our face against or dismantle e-Borders, the use of biometric technology or identity cards. That makes as little sense as trying to protect a house against burglary by taking out every lock and dismantling the burglar alarm.
Jacqui Smith: I completely agree with my right hon. Friend. He knows, because he was involved in much of the early planning and preparatory work, about the strength of the toughening of the regime that is now in place under the points-based system. I share his analysis. It is easy to talk about security, but if one opposes the methods of counting and monitoring people in and out of this country, opposes the methods that help us to tie people to their identity, and opposes the methods of ensuring, where necessary, that that security is in place through technology, all that one has left is empty talk.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con):
While in relation to certain recent incidents the police have understandably received what might best be called a bad press, would
the Home Secretary agree that both outside the capital, as in this case, and inside it, the police do an enormous amount, often at personal risk to themselves, to protect the British public from mayhem, violence and destruction? For that, they deserve our gratitude.
Jacqui Smith: I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is wholly right that the police should be held accountable when things go wrong, but it is fundamentally important that, as I believe we have, we remember and provide support for the role that they play every day in keeping this country and those within it safe. I have to say that in this operation, the flexibility that was shown, the planning that was in place and the execution of the operation demonstrated British policing at its most effective.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Home Secretary rightly referred in her statement to increased activity to verify the qualifications of those who apply for student visas here. Are she and the Foreign Secretary having any discussions with the Pakistani Government to pursue organisations that habitually issue students with certificates that turn out to be bogus, or individuals who appear to be sponsors of those students, and to take action against them in Pakistan?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We have now put in place work with the Pakistani authorities, particularly through the Higher Education Commission in Pakistan, to verify the academic qualifications that are presented to us by those who seek to enter the UK as students. She makes a very useful point about whether there is scope for pursuing further work in Pakistan on people whose documents, because of the tighter checks that we have put in place, are shown to be bogus or forged. That is certainly an area that we want to examine and work on closely with the Pakistanis.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Mr. Quicks leak is one of a long line of breaches in information security, and it is clear that there is widespread ignorance of data protection procedures across some key agencies. In light of that, will the Home Secretary undertake an urgent review of the knowledge and awareness of both senior and junior figures in those agencies, to ensure that overall awareness of the manual of protective security is up to date and that this mistake does not happen again?
Jacqui Smith: First, it is important to say that what happened with Assistant Commissioner Quick was not a leak. It was an unfortunate episode for which he has paid an extremely high price. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that all of us need to maintain extremely high standards when it comes to dealing with information that is potentially sensitive or may relate to national security, I wholeheartedly agree. That, of course, is why I will always put a high premium on protecting that information, which is used to protect the British people.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab):
Given the real threat to this country from international terrorism, does the Home Secretary agree that the language that the Home Office and the Government generally use must be very carefully
chosen? The public do not understand when something that is quite clearly not an issue of national security is treated as it has been. I refer, obviously, to the case of the honourable Member of this House. The public saw, despite hugely scarce resources in their own communities, hordes of police officers trailing around after an individual Member of Parliament over something that ended up having nothing to do with national security, as should have been clear from the beginning. Does the Home Secretary not think that that is really what is bringing our handling of international terrorism in this country into disrepute?
Jacqui Smith: First, I do not think that the way in which we handle international terrorism in this country is in disrepute. Secondly, as the previous question suggested, we all have a responsibility to safeguard information about which there might be concerns if it got out. Thirdly, as I have said, the DPP himself pointed out that given the systematic nature of the leaks that had been identified, the damage should not have been underestimated. Once that pattern of leaks was established, it was inevitable that police investigation would follow. Once that police investigation [Interruption.]
Jacqui Smith: Once that police investigation started, it was, of course, for the police to follow the evidence without fear or favour. It was, as rightly happened last week, for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether it constituted the basis for a charge.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is the Home Secretary expecting the 12 people who were arrested to be charged with serious crimes soon, or were the arrests speculative and part of a fishing expedition against others? We need to know, given the length of time that they are being detained.
Jacqui Smith: The arrests were certainly not speculative. The right hon. Gentlemans serious point is that, as we have previously discussed at some length in the House, given the potential risk of terrorist attack and the nature of that risk, the police and security services felt that public security was best served by intervening earlyat the point that they did. Such circumstances bring specific challenges to police investigations. That is part of the reason for the specific arrangements for extended periods of pre-charge detention for arrests under the Terrorism Act 2000, which these are. The priority for the investigation is to investigate and, as I said earlier, release or charge as soon as possible.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): In the light of that answer, I stress that concern was expressed at a meeting of the Pakistan Welfare Association in Slough that the young men arrested include people of good family, those who are innocent and so on. My constituents responded positively to my response that we have a fair justice system here, but they require quick and transparent action. Will the Home Secretary reassure the House that we will get swift reports about what happens?
I recently wrote to the Department about the behaviour of Gerrys/FedEx in Pakistan, which I believe to have been corrupt in some cases. I wonder whether my right
hon. Friend could put in place steps to ensure that that organisation does not interfere in the visa operation in a corrupt way.
Jacqui Smith: On my hon. Friends second point, I will look out her letter and respond as quickly as possible. On her first point, I agree that communities understanding is important in such circumstances. The results of the investigations will become clear reasonably soon. I also believe that, as has been the case throughout the process, it is important that the police, community groups and local authorities work closely alongside local communities to explain what is happening and the reasons for that, as far as possible. I know that such work will continue in each of the affected areas.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): May I ask the Home Secretary about our prestigious postgraduate research institutes, such as Imperial college and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine? What assurances can she give the House that we know what research is being conducted? In laymans terms, what is at the back of the fridge? When I spoke to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. OBrien) when he was a Home Office Minister, there were signs that those institutions were reluctant to collaborate with our security and intelligence services on the bogus grounds of academic freedom. These people need to be probed, and no assurances have been given to the House that that is being done. That is the danger.
Jacqui Smith: I do not think that academic freedom is always a bogus defence, but I agree with my hon. Friend that if there are security concerns about the specific activities of higher education institutions, they should not be immune from consideration. I assure him that, in examining the nature of student visa applications from international students, specific attention is paid to those for courses that could involve technologies that might be subject to national security considerations. Specific consideration is therefore already given to that in the application process.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the Home Secretary understand my puzzlement at the fact that she has chosen to make a statement that was wholly empty? She could say nothing at all about the arrest of the alleged terrorists because of the contempt of court rules that we all know about. What she could have done was make a statement about the policing of the G20 demonstration or her Departments role in the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green). Indeed, she could have made a personal statement setting out the reasons for her resignation, all of which
Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that he is going very wide of the statement. I know what the right hon. Lady could have done, but that is not what she did. She made this statement and that is what he must question her on.
Mr. Hogg: I entirely understand, Mr. Speaker, and you are entirely right. Then would the Home Secretary explain why she has chosen to make this statement? Is it to enlarge her political life by giving the false impression of activity? If so, let me tell her that it will fool nobody at all.
Jacqui Smith: The right hon. and learned Gentlemans question has entertained him. When there have been a large number of arrests on terrorist offences, it is the responsibility of a Home Secretary to come and report to the House in the way that I have doneand in the way, incidentally, that I undertook to do on every such occasion during the discussions on the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008. Mr. Speaker decided that an urgent question that had been tabled about the G20 was not appropriate to be taken today. However, I note that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had really wanted me to talk about the DPPs statement last week, he or any other Opposition Member could have tabled an urgent question on that topic, and no one did.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am interested to hear the Home Secretary express confidence in the border security regime of this country. However, last week on the BBC, the former Mayor of London said that
whatever changes you make to student visas...They
will find a way round it. If it isnt students coming in it will be tourists.
Jacqui Smith: I think that Ken Livingstone was probably making the practical commentI am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with itthat it is our responsibility, whether in our border security, our intelligence or our law enforcement, to ensure that we are as fully resourced and effective as possible in identifying where a terrorist risk might occur. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, although we have been extremely successful in foiling terrorist attacks, the nature of terrorists and those who seek to perpetrate such attacks is that they will increasingly try to find ways around even improved security arrangements. That is why we need to remain continuously vigilant and keep strengthening the systems in the way that we are.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on her tough action over many years to protect the public from terrorists. She knows that 6,000 of my constituents work on the front line against the terrorist threat in London. They want her to continue with her tough action. Will she therefore continue always to put public safety first, as she has in the past, even though regrettably that sometimes compromises terror suspects personal freedoms?
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