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House of Commons

Monday 18 May 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—

Sexual Assault Referral Centres

1. Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): What funding her Department has allocated to sexual assault referral centres for 2009-10. [275709]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): In 2009-10, £1.6 million has been allocated for sexual assault referral centres—SARCs. As part of the 2008 funding round, £659,000 was allocated, and a further £941,000 was announced on 15 April this year.

Lynda Waltho: I welcome that fantastic news about funding, but when I met women from Women’s Aid a few weeks ago they were concerned that funding, although welcome, may be diverted from rape crisis centres and that they will continually have to reapply for funding from different pots of money. Will my hon. Friend reassure me that that will not happen? After all, rape crisis centres were set up for women, by women, for a specific function that is slightly different from that of sexual assault referral centres.

Mr. Campbell: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We value the work of rape crisis centres and SARCs, and that is why we continue to invest in both of them. However, it is right that we look at co-ordinating provision where possible to ensure that we make the best use of funding.

Water Cannon

3. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What discussions she has had with police forces on the use of water cannon by police forces in policing demonstrations. [275712]

The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Home Office, working with the police, keeps all less lethal technologies, including water cannon, under constant review. There are no plans to introduce water cannon at the present time.

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Mr. Prentice: The police have been severely criticised for their kettling technique, which they used in the G20 demonstrations a few weeks ago. Will my friend assure me that there is no question whatever of the police using Tasers for crowd control?

Mr. Coaker: To reassure my hon. Friend, I have said to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that Tasers should not be used in public order control situations, and Tasers were not used during the G20 demonstrations. Officers equipped with Tasers raided a residence in an operation to arrest individuals suspected of criminal damage at the G20 protest. My hon. Friend makes an important point, however: there is a right to protest in this country, and Tasers are not appropriate for use in controlling such demonstrations.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Three weeks ago, four environmental protesters dressed as suffragettes superglued themselves to a statue of Viscount Falkland in Parliament. They were arrested for demonstrating unlawfully, held in detention for a total of 18 hours and given hugely restrictive police bail conditions, such as not being allowed even any contact with each other, although they were friends. Does the Minister accept that there is widespread controversy about the way in which lawful and peaceful protests are policed—as evidenced by the solicitors of the climate camp protestors today echoing our call for a full judicial inquiry? Does he agree that an inquiry would provide useful public guidance to the police on policing lawful and peaceful protest?

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman will know that there is always a balance to be struck between protest and the rights of law-abiding citizens to go about their business and the protection of property. That balance is difficult for the police sometimes to maintain, but notwithstanding the case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, we have an excellent example outside Parliament currently of the police dealing with quite a difficult situation—controlling the Tamil demonstration but at the same time trying as far as they can to allow access to Parliament. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, however, and he will know that Denis O’Connor, the chief of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, having been asked by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, will consider the whole issue of public order and tactics. We await that review with interest.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): The Minister of State’s reply to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is both measured and reassuring. Can I invite the Minister of State to confer with his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in order that those Ministers can explain once and for all to the Government of Sri Lanka, a country that I recently visited, that the British police are not in the business of seeking to restrain or disperse protestors by the use of water cannon simply because they are holding placards or waving banners of which that Government happen to disapprove? It is not the British way.

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The Foreign Office and Foreign Office Ministers are engaged in discussions with the demonstrators outside Parliament and, indeed, with the Sri Lankan Government
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about the whole issue of protest. In this country, people have a right to protest. That is what is going on outside, and in my view and that of many people, the policing of that demonstration, by facilitating protest but as far as possible allowing the public and Parliament to go about their business, is a testament to the police. It is sometimes difficult for the police, because people may say that something ought to be done about Tamils who are sitting in the road, for example, but the only way to move them, if they will not move, is by force. The way in which the police have tried to persuade people to conform is the right way forward.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Does the Minister not accept that what is going on in Parliament square is an absolute disgrace? It is an abuse of the right to protest. For seven weeks, the square has effectively been under semi-permanent occupation by the Tamils, and people going about their business in London have been disrupted. Why will the Minister not answer me when I ask how many police days have been devoted to the demonstration and how much it has cost? The Minister has told me that the Home Office does not keep those figures and that they are a matter for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Who is in charge of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner? The people of London should be told how much the demonstration is costing.

Mr. Coaker: The fact is that the number of officers and the amount of resources deployed are an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The only point that I make to the hon. Gentleman is that, far from being an affront to democracy, what is going on out there is a victory for democracy.

Having said that, I should also say that of course there are issues about how any demonstration is policed. However, I pose this question to the hon. Gentleman: what would be the effect were the police to conduct a clearance operation, bring the tents down and forcibly remove people, including women and children? Then we would see a protest from the other side of the argument. We have to look at the issue in a proportionate, sensible and measured way. We have to try to facilitate protest while trying, as far as we can, to ensure that people can go about their lawful business.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I agree completely with what the Minister just said. However, it raises the point of what counts as the “community” for the purposes of the Association of Chief Police Officers guidance on keeping the peace, for example. That says that the impact on the community is the first consideration in these circumstances. Does the Minister think that when protests are being policed, the “community” must include the interests of peaceful protesters themselves and that the matter is not exclusively about keeping the traffic running?

Mr. Coaker: I absolutely agree, and I think that anybody would. Part of a protest is the individual demonstrator’s being able to demonstrate and to say and do what they want, within reason. Alongside that, the police, while facilitating the protest, have a responsibility to try to ensure, as far as possible, that traffic keeps moving and that people who are not interested in the demonstration can go about their business. The only
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point that I was making was that the police are doing a very good job with what is happening in Parliament square at present. To go back to the original question about the use of water cannon and other such equipment, it is encouraging to see our police policing such a demonstration in normal uniform, by and large.

Michael Savage

4. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): For what reasons she decided to prevent Michael Savage from entering the UK; and if she will make a statement. [275713]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Michael Savage was excluded for engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and by fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence. The exclusion is in line with the strengthened policy on exclusions that I announced to the House on 28 October last year. In his radio broadcasts, Mr. Savage has spoken about killing 100 million Muslims, and he has spoken in violent terms about homosexuals. Coming to the UK is a privilege. I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life.

Michael Fabricant: Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s answer, she will be aware that the things of which she accuses Mike Savage are also illegal in the United States of America, and he has not faced prosecution there. Does she realise how ludicrous her ban is and the disrepute into which she has put this country in the eyes of many right-seeing—and, indeed, left-seeing—people in the United States? Does she also plan to ban Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and other middle-aged, white, ordinary American radio presenters?

Jacqui Smith: I subscribe to the view, as expressed by another Member of this House, that

Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he was right. Frankly, if the hon. Gentleman believes that it is appropriate for somebody to use words about Muslims such as,

then he has a very different set of values than I have, and I want to ensure that those are implemented in the decisions that we make about who we do and do not allow into this country.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Many of us would agree with the thrust of what the Home Secretary has said. On the other hand, had that person come to Britain, he would find the great politeness of the people from her Department who welcome people to this country, but quite the rudest notices in the world. She—or someone—has removed “please” and “thank you” from every notice that her Department puts forward to visitors and returning people. Could she make Britain’s welcome to those whom we want a good deal more polite than it is now?

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Jacqui Smith: We have tried to improve the notices at our borders. It is important that when people enter the UK it is clear to them that it is the UK border and that we have certain conditions in place. My hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration is taking up points about the welcome to people coming to this country. The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about our wanting to welcome those who come here in good faith—those who will make a contribution to this country, and who come here for holidays—and to differentiate between them and people such as Mr. Savage who clearly have no place in this country and would have no welcome here.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Home Office’s production of a “name and shame” list was a self-evident gimmick and demeaning to Government, and it has led to a completely avoidable legal action that is producing splendid publicity for Michael Savage. Does the Home Secretary think, on reflection, that that was a mistake and the wrong way for the Government to behave?

Jacqui Smith: No, I do not, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s party leader that we need to be clear about who we will and will not accept into this country. We need to be clear about the values that we have. Where someone preaches hate and foments hatred in the way that has happened in this case, where they provoke others to serious violence, and where they use phrases such as, in relation to somebody who said on his radio programme that he was gay,

then it is right that we express our view about that. We recognise that coming to this country is a privilege, and we will express our values in terms of those we exclude.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): If Savage had said what he said about Muslims about Christians or Jews, what would be the reaction?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Had an Islamic preacher said the equivalent about killing 100 million Jews, there would rightly have been outrage. There would have been—as there have been from Conservative Members—calls for that individual to be excluded. In developing our policy, we have taken an even-handed approach in saying that if people foment hate—if their aim is to drive division between different faiths and potentially to cause inter-community violence in this country—then they are not welcome in this country.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): If it is an even-handed approach, could the Home Secretary explain why we have welcomed back to this country from Guantanamo Bay two UK residents, but not citizens, who are not only suspected terrorists in Afghanistan but wanted on murder charges in Spain?

Jacqui Smith: We have, for some period of time, taken a position of wanting to see Guantanamo Bay closed. In order to help to facilitate that, we have accepted back, and in fact sought the return to this country, of those who are nationals and have previously been resident in the UK. I think that President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay is the right one, not
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solely because of the individuals there but because of the ability that that gives us internationally to take forward the sort of values that we hold, and the US holds, in fighting and tackling terrorism.

Illegal Immigrants

5. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to remove illegal immigrants from the UK. [275714]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): The immigration system is undergoing the biggest shake-up in a generation. We have strengthened our borders, started the roll-out of local immigration teams, introduced civil penalties for rogue employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, and introduced tier 4 of the points-based system for students. We are committed to removing those with no right to be here, targeting the most harmful first. Last year, more than 66,000 people were removed from the UK or left voluntarily, including a record number of foreign criminals.

Andrew Selous: Many of my constituents want to know the reason for the huge delays in the Home Office, which lead to the failure to remove illegal immigrants, who then acquire the right to stay in this country. The figures show that the number of removals fell in the last quarter of 2008 and was lower than in 2007. Why was that?

Mr. Woolas: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. The trend of our removals is significantly up. Of course, we have difficulties with some countries that refuse to issue documents, and that must be taken into account. However, there is steady improvement, as the report that the chief executive of the UK Border Agency gives regularly to the Home Affairs Committee—I see its Chairman in his place— shows.

Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): We would have far fewer illegal immigrants to remove if we were even more effective in reducing the flow of illegals from northern France to Dover. What progress has the Minister made in setting up a secure holding centre in Calais? What benefits will flow from that?

Mr. Woolas: I thank my hon. Friend for the question. Given his constituency, he knows more than most, if not all, about the issue. Let me reassure the House that the people trying to get into our country from Calais are not queuing up; they are locked out. Our bilateral conversations with the French have produced good progress. We will have a high-level bilateral meeting next month, when we hope to finalise the next stage of our reform to put in place what is already one of the most effective border controls in the world.

John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Can the Minister tell us why a four-year-old boy with medical problems has been imprisoned in Dungavel in Lanarkshire?

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