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House of Commons

Monday 26 October 2009

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

Committee of Selection


Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked-

Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act

1. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): If he will bring forward legislative proposals to repeal section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. [295125]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): Mr. Speaker, may I say what a pleasure it is to be back and to serve under your chairmanship for the first time? It is interesting how much has occurred. I have given birth to a baby, and an awful lot has occurred in Parliament in that same period.

My hon. Friend raises an important point, but we have no plans to review section 24 before we know the outcome of directive 86/609 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, which is currently being debated in the European Union.

David Taylor: Campaigners and politicians are rightly concerned by a 14 per cent. increase in the number of animal experiments licensed by the Home Office in 2008, yet section 24 denies them the information on which they can properly debate the direction of policy. Will the Government urgently review the operation of this democratically dubious legislation, despite any understandable concerns that they might have about animal rights extremism?

Meg Hillier: The situation is slightly more complex. There are two points in my hon. Friend's question. One is about the total number of experiments. It is important to say that we do not have a percentage cap on the number of experiments that can take place, so more science can equal more experiments. We make an effort to ensure that most of those experiments are done on the least sentient animals, and that wherever there is an alternative, that has to be used.

On section 24, there was a review in 2004 prior to the Freedom of Information Act coming in. Another review was scheduled for 2006, but that was delayed because of a court action. That finished in 2008, at which point the draft European directive was published. It makes sense to align ourselves with that draft European directive, which borrows from the best practice in Britain, before we look at transposition, hopefully in the summer of next year.

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Will the Minister acknowledge that despite Labour's promise to cut the number of scientific procedures involving animals, levels have risen to numbers not seen for up to 20 years? Until
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we legislate appropriately for greater transparency in this area, how does she envisage implementing the Government's promise?

Meg Hillier: I refer to my earlier point. It is a simple maths lesson, in a sense. If more science is proposed, more experiments are likely to come before the animals scientific procedures division to see whether it is acceptable to carry out those experiments. At all times the Home Office inspectorate looks very carefully at the suggestions put forward, ensuring that only experiments that can be done only on animals are agreed. If not, alternatives have to be used. We have also invested an awful lot of money in the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research-NC3Rs-to reduce the use of animals in experiments, but more science in the global context is something that we should welcome, even if it sometimes leads to perverse outcomes, as in this case.


2. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What his policy is on the use of Taser guns by police forces; and if he will make a statement. [295126]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): We are committed to providing the police with the equipment necessary to protect the public and to do their job safely. The police use of Taser in England and Wales has shown that it provides an effective option for police when dealing with violent or threatening situations.

Norman Baker: The Minister will be aware that Tasers have been implicated in the deaths of more than 300 people in the United States, and that their use varies enormously in the UK with, for example, Tasers having been used 224 times last year in West Yorkshire, as opposed to 345 uses in South Yorkshire. Does he agree that it is important to introduce more sensible controls, and will he limit the use of Tasers to authorised firearms officers and exclude their use against children, 18 of whom were zapped in the UK last year?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman will know that Tasers have been used 4,818 times up to March 2009, and in none of those instances were serious injuries or deaths reported; nor was there evidence of public difficulty with Taser use. I understand that there may well have been reports of difficulties elsewhere, but that is not the experience in the United Kingdom. That is because we have issued proper and effective guidance to police forces, which allows strong regulation of the use of Tasers. I believe that goes far enough. There have been only 21 occasions when Tasers have been used on under-18s, and in all those cases, no incidents of injury have occurred.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Tasers are effective at incapacitating potentially violent individuals at a distance, but the vice-president, training, for Taser, Mr. Rick Gilbault, has recently advised that a Taser should not be aimed at the chest area when incapacitating an individual. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those views will be reflected in any future guidance?

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Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We have clear guidance on the use of Tasers, including an independent medical panel which moderates on their use and gives guidance accordingly. I will certainly draw colleagues' attention to those views and to my hon. Friend's comments.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Is not the increasing use of Tasers another example, along with the decision to put armed police patrols on the streets of east London, of the slippery slide towards US-style armed policing in this country?

Mr. Hanson: Actually, no, because Tasers are used to reduce violence and the risk of injury, and to support officers in preventing violence against themselves or, on some occasions, by the Tasered person, through either self-harm or incidents that might lead to the harm of others. As I have said, there were 4,818 incidents up to March and not one single serious injury or death. We need to have guidance, but it is proportionate and designed to help to reduce serious violence.

Crime Reduction Grants

3. Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): What plans he has to extend the availability of small business crime reduction grants; and if he will make a statement. [295127]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The £5 million small retailers capital grants fund will help secure small independent retail shops in areas that are at most risk of crime. There are no plans to extend the scheme, but other aspects of the retail crime action plan are helping to tackle retail crime in every area.

Mr. Whittingdale: Is the Minister aware of the Federation of Small Businesses survey that found that crime against businesses costs small firms about £13,500 each? Although I am sure that the businesses within the 50 priority areas have taken up the opportunity with enthusiasm, I think it curious that they bear a remarkable similarity to a list of Labour local authorities. Why do not businesses in areas such as my constituency in Essex have the same opportunity to apply for help?

Mr. Campbell: The criteria for the scheme were deprivation, crime rates and the proportion of the small retailers that we were most interested in helping. The criteria were agreed by the retail crime steering group, and the FSB is not only an active member, but it agreed with the criteria and the principle. I should point out that Chingford, which is part of the seat of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), is not a Labour area.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): It is very important that we support small businesses and prevent crime against them, but we have to back that up with a Forensic Science Service that can protect the public and ensure that crimes are solved. Why is the Minister overseeing a criminals charter through the closure of the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Chorley,
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leaving people to have to go from either Wetherby or Birmingham to parts of Cumbria to protect the public and ensure that crimes are solved? Will he reflect on it-

Mr. Speaker: Order- [ Interruption. ] I am not being very kind at all. When I say "Order", the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. We have had an enjoyable Cook's tour, but it is time for the answer.

Mr. Campbell: I commend my hon. Friend on the inventive way in which he got the Forensic Science Service into his question. However, I point out to him that, if we are to ensure that there is a service to support not only business but the whole community in the fight against crime, we must have an efficient and effective service. That is what the transformation programme is all about.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Following on from the previous question, the Minister still has not explained to us how on earth crime is going to be solved within four hours and crime scenes visited within four hours when laboratories at Chorley, Birmingham, and Chepstow in my constituency, are being closed down. What is the point of giving money to small businesses if crime is out of control because we do not have the forensic science laboratories to catch the perpetrators who are responsible?

Mr. Campbell: It is essential that we have schemes, such as that which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to ensure that crime does not get out of control. However, he will know that the transformation programme took all those issues into consideration, and the model that the Forensic Science Service is moving to will ensure that it provides throughout the country the efficient and effective service for which he is looking.

Work Visas

4. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): If he will make it his policy to allow those whose applications for work visas are under consideration to work until final determination of their case is made. [295128]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): Those who have leave to work in the United Kingdom at the time that they apply for an extension may carry on working until their new application is decided. Those who do not have leave to work in the UK when they apply for permission to work must wait until their application is decided. We have no plans to change that.

Harry Cohen: My advice surgeries are filled with people who are going to be granted the right to stay but are not allowed to work. If we take Mrs. Pierre-Louis, who is married to a British citizen and has an eight-year-old British son, we find that her only mistake was to fill in the wrong form at the Home Office. She has now received the sack, even though her employer, the council, acknowledges that she is an excellent care home worker. What do the Government have to say to people, such as Mrs. Pierre-Louis, who lose their jobs; and why is the policy implemented so harshly against such people?

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Mr. Woolas: If there is a particular case that my hon. Friend would like me to take up, I shall look into it. However, the application for the permit is due within three months of its ending, and on this matter we have set a target of achieving decisions on 75 per cent. of applications within four weeks. Mr. Speaker, I can report to you that we are achieving decisions on 94 per cent. of applications within four weeks.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): How can any of us have any confidence that the UK Border Agency is fit for purpose? I had at my constituency surgery on Friday someone who lives in my constituency and who has been waiting for nine years for the UK Border Agency and its predecessors simply to process his first application for consideration as a refugee. Am I the only person in the House who has completely lost the will to live in respect of the UK Border Agency having any competence to deal with work permits, asylum applications or anything else? This is an organisation-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think we have got the drift of it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Woolas: I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not lost the will to live. I do not know the details of that case, but my experience, having been in this job for more than a year, is that things are often not as they appear at first glance. We are dealing with the backlog very successfully now, and I point out that our decision rate is much quicker than it was 12 years ago. Resources are being put into place, decisions are being taken and cases are coming to light. I ask him to look into that case, and if he wants me to take it up, I will do so.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I agree strongly with the thrust of the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), but does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that we should seek to ensure that all immigrant workers are paid the minimum wage, so that they are not treated as a pool of cheap migrant labour and so that existing trade union agreements are not undermined?

Mr. Woolas: It is very important that this point is taken on board, because this country welcomes legal migrant workers; they contribute to our economy very significantly. In order to protect those people, they have the same rights as domestic workers. Illegal migrants, and legal migrants who are paid below the minimum wage, undermine confidence in the migration and minimum wage systems. The exploitation of any worker is not acceptable to this Government.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Over the weekend, we have heard some pretty controversial reported comments by a former adviser to the Government about their immigration policy. May I invite the Minister to put the record straight? What was the motivation behind the very rapid increase in immigration under this Government?

Mr. Woolas: If one takes a responsible and reasonable look at the statistics, one will see that it was an earlier Act that brought about significant increases in immigration in this country. The most significant milestone in the history of migration policy since the second world war,
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in my view, was the abolition of border controls in 1994. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I throw the question back at the hon. Gentleman: does he now support the border controls that we have put back into place?

Chris Grayling: I think a lot of people will notice that the Minister has made no attempt to answer my question. What Mr. Neather, the former adviser, said was that the policy of rapid expansion was done to put pressure on the right. Would it not be utterly disgraceful for any Government to decide immigration policy that was in the interests not of the country, but of a political party? Was that what happened?

Mr. Woolas: I do not know to whom or to which reports the hon. Gentleman refers. If he wants to take the views of someone with a political motivation, that is up to him, but I repeat that the Government have reintroduced border controls-electronic borders-despite opposition from the hon. Gentleman.

Chris Grayling indicated dissent.

Mr. Woolas: It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head and smirking about it. The facts are that his party abolished border controls, that we have reintroduced them and that he opposes them.

Prevent Strategy

5. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): If he will assess the value for money of his Department's expenditure on the Prevent strand of its counter-terrorism strategy. [295129]

7. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): If he will assess the value for money of his Department's expenditure on the Prevent strand of its counter-terrorism strategy. [295131]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): Prevent is an essential aspect of the Contest counter-terrorism strategy designed to safeguard our country and its citizens. The Prevent strategy aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism through a variety of initiatives focused on local communities. Delivery of the strategy, expenditure and impact, is monitored routinely to ensure value for money, and effectiveness.

David Tredinnick: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but is not the great problem that there is no guarantee that that money is not finding its way into the hands of extremist groups? When is he going to have a proper audit of this expenditure to convince the House that it is going to the right place?

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