Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. Woolas: It would not be right to comment on individual cases. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take up the matter with me, I will respond in due course. On the general policy of detaining children, it is, of course,
18 May 2009 : Column 1193
a last resort, and we have programmes to consider alternatives. However, regrettably, on some occasions, people who have not co-operated with the decisions of the independent tribunals and courts and would, in their view, otherwise abscond, face detention.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I think that this is the third time that I have asked this question of the Home Secretary and the Minister, but I am totally bewildered. Why can the Minister not get on top of cases of mums or dads who are married to or partners of British citizens—their kids, who are British children, run around my surgery—but cannot resolve their status? They might, yonks ago, have arrived here as illegal immigrants, but the problem is a no-brainer: they are not going back anywhere, so why cannot we get their papers regularised so that they can work and enjoy life? The problem is not small, but endemic. I have it every week in my constituency, and I do not want to wait till 2010 and 2011 to resolve it. When can those cases be resolved? Common sense should prevail.

Mr. Woolas: I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance. I refer him to the comprehensive information that we have provided to the Select Committee. The legacy cases for failed asylum and immigration problems are being got through at a pace. Under policy and law, we rightly have to look at each case on its merits. We are doing that and we are on track to complete that in the timetable that the Home Secretary outlined. If I may say so, we are doing a good job of it.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Does the Minister of State agree that the effective removal of illegal immigrants is an important underpinning for public confidence? Does he also agree that it is just as important that the Government take the steps that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and I have raised with them to break the link between people coming here to work and those who settle?

Mr. Woolas: The answers to the hon. Gentleman’s questions are yes and yes. It is important that temporary settlement rights do not automatically become permanent settlement rights and that that is made clear. One of the advantages of the points-based system is exactly that. It is backed up by the border control of counting in and counting out, which I know my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and he have supported. We have today introduced two new countries to the effective visa regime, and it is also important that those visas are counted in and counted out. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for that policy.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Has the Minister given any more thought to the idea that if someone fails in their application for asylum, appeals and fails again, and is then told that they have no right to be here and no further right of appeal, that decision ought to be picked up in person, so that that person is not informed by letter and allowed simply to disappear into the community?

Mr. Woolas: There is much merit in that suggestion. When a failed asylum seeker’s appeal rights are exhausted, the procedures that we follow are critically important. However, we are regularly subject to legal challenge on
18 May 2009 : Column 1194
that, which mostly results in the UKBA winning the argument and winning the case. There is a constant campaign, if I may use that word, to ensure that the law is enforced, but I nevertheless thank my hon. Friend for her suggestion.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): The Minister talked in his initial remarks about the steps that he had taken to strengthen the UK borders. Could he explain to the House how reducing the number of diplomatic posts that process immigration and visa applications is improving and strengthening our borders?

Mr. Woolas: I thank the hon. Gentleman; I know that the issue is important for his constituency. There is a misunderstanding abroad on that point. Partly as a result of security measures in some countries, but partly also as a result of change in management and improvements in efficiency, we now operate on a hub-and-spoke basis. It is important to recognise that our contracted agents are the first contact with the applicant, for both the application and the pick-up. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the number of positions that are designated to individual posts, rather than the number that are geographically located at such places, he will find that there has been an improvement through the hub-and-spoke approach.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Minister will remember my raising the case of the 5,000 illegal immigrants given clearance to work in the security industry by the Security Industry Authority 18 months ago. Can he give the House a categorical assurance that none of those workers is still working in the security industry?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman knows that someone in my position can never give an absolute categorical assurance at a specific point in time, and no Minister could. I agree with him, however, that it is important for the confidence of the system that that is seen to be done. When we are able to report on the issue, he will see the effectiveness of the UKBA under its new structure and management.

Chris Grayling: I think that most people in this House and outside it would expect Ministers to have something of a handle on the issue 18 months later and to be able to give a clear answer. Let me then ask him two questions. We established two months ago that only 35 of those people had been deported. How many more have been deported since and where are the rest?

Mr. Woolas: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has a campaign on the issue, but a campaign should be based on the facts. He well knows that not all those people are liable for deportation, so his question is trying to move the goalposts. I appreciate that that is good propaganda; it is just not good policy.

Identity Cards

6. Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): What assessment she has made of the likely uptake of voluntary identity cards in the pilot scheme in Manchester. [275715]

18 May 2009 : Column 1195

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Identity cards will start to be available to British citizens resident in Manchester from the autumn, at a fee of £30, and will, I am sure, become popular with members of the public who want a convenient and secure means of proving their identity.

Mr. Leech: I thank the Secretary of State for saying that with a straight face. Could she tell the House how low the take-up needs to be before the Government realise that they have very little public support and that the ID cards scheme is a complete waste of money?

Jacqui Smith: The most recent research on the national identity service as a whole has shown, as research has consistently shown, that about 60 per cent. of the British public support the identity card scheme and less than 25 per cent. disagree with it. People will have the opportunity—and have already begun to take that opportunity—to register their interest and, in Manchester, to get the security and convenience that comes from being able to prove their identity far more securely than they can now.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The cost of identity cards has surged by a further quarter of a billion pounds to the present figure of £5.3 billion, which excludes every Government Department apart from the Home Office, and also excludes businesses, citizens and many sectors of society. Does the Home Secretary believe that there is a risk that the Manchester citizens who signed up for the card—no doubt in the fiction section of the central library, while having a continental breakfast—have signed away their privacy for life and given a blank cheque to this and, perhaps, future Governments?

Jacqui Smith: I know that my hon. Friend would not want the facts to get in the way of an amusing question. He is wrong: the costs have not increased in the way in which he suggests. Last year, we were able to demonstrate a reduction of £1 billion in the cost of the instigation of the national identity service over the next 10 years. The cost for the people of Manchester to take up this opportunity on a purely voluntary basis will be £30, and we will see how many of them want to take up the opportunity.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Can the Home Secretary not acknowledge that, whatever the precise figure, it is an enormous one, and that the scheme is never going to happen because no sane Government will pursue it? So why does she not chuck it?

Jacqui Smith: There are already people in this country who have identity cards in their hands and in their wallets. We have already issued 30,000 identity cards to foreign nationals, and by November this year that figure will be 75,000. The hon. Gentleman might want to wish the scheme away, but it exists in this country now. I believe, given the level of support that we have consistently maintained for identity cards, that a sane Government will recognise the benefits to individuals of being able to find a more secure, more convenient way of proving their identity, which many of us have to do often in our lives. When we put that alongside the security that
18 May 2009 : Column 1196
comes from being able to tie our identity to ourselves in a modern world, we can recognise the benefits. Also, as I pointed out to the House either at the previous Home Office questions or the one before, the idea that there are large sums of money to be saved by doing away with the scheme is completely fallacious. Anyone who suggests that will have a black hole not only in their plans for security but in their financial plans.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): With every month that passes, it becomes clearer that the ID card scheme will never be introduced, yet, as the Home Secretary has just said, at last month’s Home Office questions she was determined to tell us about the new contracts that she had signed to create the system. There are billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at stake, so will she pledge today to publish the details of those contracts and the break clauses in them, to remove any suspicion that she is trying to tie the hands of her successors and land the British taxpayer with a huge and unnecessary bill for a discredited policy?

Jacqui Smith: I made clear and announced to the House the costs of breaking those contracts. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not proposing that I put commercially confidential information into the public domain—leak it, perhaps? We have been completely clear that, of the total cost of implementing ID cards, approximately 70 per cent. would need to be spent in any event, just to implement secure biometric passports. I presume that Opposition Members are not turning their backs on what every other Schengen country is going to do: put fingerprints into secure biometric passports. The operational costs of issuing ID cards in addition to that will be recovered largely from fees, so, as I said earlier, the Opposition’s suggestion that there is a large amount of money to be saved by scrapping the ID card scheme suggests that there is a black hole not only in their plans but in their finances.

Crime (Public Transport)

7. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): What steps she is taking to reduce levels of crime at bus and railway stations. [275716]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The Government fund schemes such as the secure stations scheme to reduce crime at transport hubs, with extra CCTV cameras, better lighting, and customer help and information points.

Mary Creagh: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Last October, a 21-year-old woman was assaulted, robbed and raped at Kirkgate train station by a Romanian national, Ali Majlat, who has been given an indeterminate sentence and will serve a minimum of five years. What reassurance can my hon. Friend give my constituents that this evil man will be deported as soon as he leaves prison, with no leave to return? Will my hon. Friend also please knock some heads together at Northern Rail and Network Rail, to ensure that we get a live CCTV monitoring system so that the British Transport police can monitor what is going on at Kirkgate station?

18 May 2009 : Column 1197

Mr. Campbell: This was a grave and hideous crime, and my sympathies go to the victim. As my hon. Friend says, the perpetrator is in prison—and I think most people would expect him to serve his sentence in full and then be considered for deportation, which is exactly what is happening. On my hon. Friend’s other points, I would be happy to meet her to see what else can be done.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Although the Government gave a very reassuring answer to the original question, does the Minister agree that many railways stations and even bus stations are unmanned at night and that in many cases those stations are very dark—almost like a morgue—and that there is a huge backlog of expenditure required to install the CCTV cameras and lighting that would make those stations much safer, particularly for the young and the elderly who are frightened to use public transport at night?

Mr. Campbell: The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter on behalf of his constituents. Policing at stations and, indeed, station security is, of course, the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Transport, but I would be quite happy to raise the hon. Gentleman’s point with my colleagues.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): The safer transport team based at Walthamstow Central bus and tube station has had a really good effect on bringing down crime levels in the area, but one issue that does not help to persuade people that this is actually happening is the diversion created in people’s minds by the use of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2006 to stop and search people who have been taking photographs in and around the bus station. Will the Minister look at how that law is operating? We recently had a ludicrous incident when an Austrian tourist who was taking photographs of buses was stopped and searched. That does not help.

Mr. Campbell: We are looking at that. My hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is in discussions on exactly that issue.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): We all know that if police officers spend more time on the beat, crime will be cut. Four years ago, the Home Office told us that police officers spent only 19 per cent. of their time on the beat. Can the Minister tell us today what the latest figure is?

Mr. Campbell: What we need to be measuring is the length of time that police officers spend on front-line duties, not simply “on the beat”. The hon. Gentleman is aware that if police are literally on the beat, they are obviously not involved in front-line policing. As soon as officers undertake some policing, it means they are carrying out front-line duties, which is subject to a different measurement altogether. The figures have been rising in that respect. What we need to do is not just have police officers with more time for front-line police services, but guarantee the number of those officers. Given the funding commitments—or lack of them—from the Conservative party, I am not sure whether police officers will be there to spend time on whatever duties.

18 May 2009 : Column 1198

Trafficking (Children)

8. Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What her most recent estimate is of the level of trafficking of children into the UK. [275717]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre’s “Strategic Threat Assessment” published last month, is the most recent study into child trafficking. It found that 325 children were identified as potential victims of trafficking or exploitation from data supplied covering the period 1 March 2007 to 29 February 2008.

Mr. Crabb: I am grateful for that reply, but the Minister will have seen the report from the Home Affairs Committee last week, which painted a grim picture of a growing modern slave industry here within the UK, where abused children are some of the principal victims. What practical steps is he, along with other ministerial colleagues, taking to ensure that all relevant agencies coming into contact with trafficked children are aware of the issues, to end the culture of disbelief that unquestionably still exists among some professionals, and, most of all, to put a stop to our care homes effectively becoming holding pens for trafficked children?

Mr. Campbell: We are concerned about children who are suspected of being trafficked, particularly if they go missing from care. The national referral mechanism is an important part of identifying those who may be victims of child trafficking. The young runaways plan brings together, across government, partners that are important in that process. The hon. Gentleman mentions local authorities; there will be increased guidance to them. They, at the end of the day, are responsible for children in such situations.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) is absolutely right to raise the issue of care homes. Last week, The Guardian reported that 77 trafficked Chinese children went missing from a home in Hillingdon, and hundreds more have gone missing in the past 10 years. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for coming to the Select Committee seminar last week, but will the Minister tell the House when she will be in a position to report back to the Prime Minister, who has asked her for an urgent report on the situation in care homes? Does the Minister not agree that the way to stop children being trafficked is to bring together the origin, destination and transition countries and put our faith in organisations such as Europol, which exist to try to stop this horrible practice continuing?

Mr. Campbell: My right hon. Friend is exactly right, and I pay tribute to the work of his Committee and to the important opportunity offered by last week’s seminar, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary attended. There was an important sharing of views on these matters. He asks when the Home Secretary, and indeed the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, will report back to the Prime Minister. I believe that that will happen shortly—within the next few weeks.

18 May 2009 : Column 1199

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): Are the Government aware that they may be on the wrong point, as most children are trafficked from China and Vietnam? That being the case, should not the asylum-seeking provision be lifted for those children, because what we need for all Chinese and Vietnamese children is special screening by the border and immigration services—otherwise, children will always go missing from care homes?

Mr. Campbell: May I first place on record our appreciation of the hon. Gentleman’s efforts? Few in the House have done more to achieve progress on this matter and I pay tribute to him. That screening, I am advised, is in place, but it is important that we have the closest scrutiny, particularly of the groups that he refers to. That is why it is important that we work in those countries to stop the flow of those people. We must also work hard here: it is not always easy to identify the age of a trafficked child, so we must have the mechanisms in place to proceed to identify exactly who the individuals are.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that, were we to reintroduce the recording of embarkation details—I think we are going to do it—that would help enormously in stopping the trafficking of children, because we would know whether a person had travelled out alone and returned accompanied by five or six children?

Mr. Campbell: Yes, we are doing that, and it is an important step forward, as are the operations that we run at key airports, which are having an effect on the number of children whom we suspect are being brought into the country and trafficked.

Next Section Index Home Page