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The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question about Prevent. I hope that he would accept, as should everyone in this House, that yes, we should have a strategy on pursuing terrorists, and yes, we should have a strategy on ensuring that we are prepared for terrorist attack, but that it would be strange indeed to have a strategy that did not concentrate on preventing young people, in particular, from being radicalised in the first place. Having developed the strategy, of course we have to ensure that the money is used effectively on
behalf of the taxpayer and is not finding its way into the hands of extremists. There is absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever. This money is carefully audited, not just by us but by the Department for Communities and Local Government, on a continual basis.
Mr. Hands: In 2005, Tony Blair announced that Hizb ut-Tahrir would be banned, which we support, but that never came to pass. Further, the Government should put a total ban on Hezbollah. Can the Secretary of State tell us why Ministers have been so slow to take action against these extremist groups?
Alan Johnson: Going back in history, the hon. Gentleman will find that it was a previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who let these people in in the first place. Secondly, we are a functioning democracy that is very careful about the organisations we proscribe, which should be those that particularly and specifically refer to the use of violence to meet their aims. That level has not been reached. Organisations across the country-and Members of Parliament, actually-would look askance if we used the legislation to proscribe organisations that should not be proscribed under its terms. It is absolutely right that we do not give a gift to these radical organisations by using the proscribing legislation unwisely.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the defining characteristics of today's terrorism is the constant search for new methods of inflicting terror, and that in response, therefore, we have to try to harness together the innovative tendencies inside Government and across the private and academic sectors? May I commend, through him, the work of Charles Farr and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in identifying publicly, through the national security strategy and the science and technology strategy, the areas of research that they would like academia and the business community to pursue? Will my right hon. Friend continue to issue such guidance so that we can harness the whole community against terrorism?
Alan Johnson: My right hon. Friend played a very distinctive role in formulating the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. It was absolutely essential that we brought together the various strands from across the Government to concentrate on these issues, and Charles Farr is leading the operation magnificently. My right hon. Friend is right to point to an aspect that is not often referred to-the race against time to find new methods of technology to thwart the increasing ingenuity of those who seek to destroy our society.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend is monitoring the effectiveness of the Prevent programme, will he give his urgent attention to the need to push more resources into prisons, which are clearly a place where many young men are converted to violent ideologies? Will he also consider the criticism currently made of Prevent that it is spread far too widely in being aimed at an entire community with a particular religious belief instead of being focused on the people who are really the problem?
We are looking at prisons all the time; I work closely on that with my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I do not accept my hon. Friend's second
point. I am not saying that the Prevent strategy operates perfectly, but we can point to areas of the country where it has been extremely influential. It is not aimed at one particular group of people: it is aimed at helping Muslims within communities to argue effectively against those who seek to radicalise the whole community and at working with them to do that. Without that partnership, it would not work at all.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): Does the Home Secretary agree that spying on innocent Muslims could destroy relationships within the community and between the community and the police? What steps has he taken to ensure that citizens' rights to privacy are respected and that surveillance under Prevent is proportional to the threat?
Alan Johnson: Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Prevent has absolutely nothing to do with spying on communities; spying on communities has absolutely nothing to do with Prevent, full stop. The article carried in one national newspaper, not picked up elsewhere, refers to two areas-Waltham Forest and Islington-which we are looking at very closely. We can find no evidence that there is any substance in those allegations.
I agree that if Prevent were used to spy on communities, it would be worthless. However, many people from those communities would come to this Dispatch Box and speak up for the policy if they could. Guidance, which is very strictly adhered to, ensures that there is the necessary proportionate response and that any use of Prevent is in accordance with the guidelines that we publish.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In 2007, the Government announced an increase of more than £100 million on Prevent and another £240 million on counter-terrorism policing, among an overall counter-terrorist, security and intelligence expenditure of £3.5 billion, which has rapidly increased. What are the Government doing to review the effectiveness of all that expenditure, as well as the Prevent programmes, some of which critics believe have been counter-productive?
Alan Johnson: We review the programme all the time, and various committees, including the Intelligence and Security Committee, call us to account. It is right that Opposition Front Benchers should also call us to account, but although many people attack Prevent as counter-productive, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who would be entitled on Privy Council terms to know exactly what is one under Prevent and the whole Contest counter-terrorism strategy, do not believe that.
Certainly Prevent would be counter-productive if the newspaper story that was carried in one national paper a couple of weeks ago were true. It is not-we can find no evidence of that. Misrepresenting Prevent and exaggerating issues under it is one thing, but we as calm and rational politicians should ensure that we keep to this important part of the strategy. Preventing young people from becoming radicalised is probably the most crucial part of our whole strategy.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
Will the Home Secretary agree to meet me to discuss the Islington experience, since he has just referred to it in answer to a previous question? May I invite him to read the report
produced by the Institute of Race Relations called "Spooked!-How not to prevent violent extremism", by Arun Kundnani? It is an interesting report and will show him that other aspects of the Prevent agenda are effectively stigmatising an entire community.
Alan Johnson: The answer to the first question is yes-of course either I or a member of my ministerial team will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. Secondly, he points to one particular contribution to this debate, of which there are many. It is a valuable one, but it is not in isolation and many other reports have made points contrary to the ones in that report.
The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): The policing Green Paper published last July introduced measures to reduce bureaucracy and free up police time, including scrapping a police time sheet, releasing 260,000 police hours, and axing the stop and account form, releasing an estimated 690,000 hours. Those measures and more help put more police on the beat. We will review the matter still further in the policing White Paper later this year.
Bob Spink: Will the right hon. Gentleman thank Essex police for putting more beat bobbies in Castle Point? We need them to counter disgraceful behaviour by youths around a new school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties that has been placed on Canvey Island, which is causing residents and businesses absolute mayhem. Does he agree that EBD schools should be located very carefully within communities? This one should certainly have been moved to central Essex-
Mr. Hanson: If there are concerns about any issue at any location, the first port of call should be to talk to the local beat officers, as part of our neighbourhood policing pledge, about what should happen at local level. I do not know the circumstances, but I would be happy to refer this exchange to the local chief constable for examination. However, the hon. Gentleman should raise the matter with the local forces, who are best placed to deal with it under the policing pledge.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): At the weekend we changed the clocks, making it light at 6 o'clock in the morning and dark at 6 o'clock in the evening. Does my right hon. Friend believe that that is helpful or unhelpful to the criminal classes, and to police on the beat?
I think that ultimately the criminal classes will try to find ways to undertake crime, and the police will always find ways to stop them, whether it is dark or light. However, I shall refer my hon. Friend's
comments to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is the appropriate Department to regulate these matters.
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): The public rightly want to see more visible policing. Four years ago, the Home Office told us that police officers spent only 19 per cent. of their time on the beat. Will the Minister tell us what the latest figure is?
Mr. Hanson: I do not have those figures to hand, but I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman. However, I will say this: no matter how many police are on the beat, they must be doing something right, because crime is down by 36 per cent. over the past 12 years. Indeed, the figures that came out last Thursday show that overall crime was down by 4 per cent. I hope he will recognise that the police are doing a good job, servicing the public very well, reducing crime and ensuring that the safety of the community is paramount.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Smart use of some technologies that are available to police is helping them to reduce time wasted in bureaucracy. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to evaluate the pilots that have been undertaken to improve services to the public, such as the use of palm devices in Thames Valley?
Mr. Hanson: We are undertaking ongoing evaluation. My hon. Friend will know that some 18,000 hand-held devices have been put into the system over the past 12 months and we continually look at how we can reduce bureaucracy and get police focused on the front line. Indeed, very shortly we expect a further report from Jan Berry, the police adviser on these matters, which we will publish for the House and which I believe will set a further trend for the next 12 months and beyond of reducing bureaucracy still further.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): Three independent reports have confirmed that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. The National Audit Office reported that two thirds of people stop committing antisocial behaviour after one intervention, rising to nine out of 10 ceasing after three interventions. The Home Office has recently commissioned a consortium of Aberystwyth university, Swansea university and an independent research organisation, Applied Research in Community Safety, to undertake an evaluation of the comparative effectiveness of ASB interventions. It is expected to report in the spring.
I have not heard of the Children's Secretary doing any such thing. I agree absolutely with the Secretary of State for the Department for Children,
Schools and Families that our action, reducing as it has the public perception of antisocial behaviour as a major problem by 19 per cent. in just four years, is working, and the whole Government support that view.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): My right hon. Friend recently said that North East Lincolnshire council had to get its act together on tackling antisocial behaviour. What is he expecting the local authority, social landlords and the police in that area to do to get a grip on this subject?
Alan Johnson: A number of things, but what I said on 19 October is that just as the policing pledge gives a certain confidence to the public that they will get a standard of service wherever they live, given that there are 42 different police authorities-43 if we count the transport police-so we should also have a certain consistency of treatment right across the country on antisocial behaviour. My colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Communities and Local Government and I have asked the crime and reduction partnerships to ensure that that is the case over the coming months. With that and other measures, we can ensure that the public, no matter where they live, have an expectation of a certain level of service.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): In December we met our targets to conclude 60 per cent. of new cases within six months. That means not only that decisions were taken early but that in a significant proportion of refusals, removal from the UK was effected within six months of application.
Mr. Jackson: Why are Members of Parliament routinely sent letters by the Border and Immigration Agency advising them that cases of individuals applying for asylum and indefinite leave to remain will not be resolved until July 2011? Is not that a sign of a failing and dysfunctional Department, or as we heard earlier, is that the policy of this Government-
It is important not to confuse asylum with immigration. The contrary is the case: the reason why the former Home Secretary, who is in his place, set that target was to ensure that Members of Parliament could be confident that their constituents' cases were being dealt with. To be fair, as we have reported to the
Home Affairs Committee, we are getting through the legacy backlog at a significant rate. The date is that by which we must have completed those cases; it does not mean that all the cases with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing will take that long.
Richard Ottaway: The Minister has announced that, as a result of reorganisation in Liverpool, Croydon will be the only centre in the UK that will deal with walk-in asylum applications. That will have a profound effect on the borough of Croydon. Why has he made that decision? What assessment has he made of the impact on the borough of Croydon, and will he campaign for extra funding to address the inevitable pressure on services that will result?
Mr. Woolas: I do not accept the premise of the question. We have been able to make the change because of the significant drop overall in the numbers of asylum applications, from 57,570 in 2002 to 23,210 in 2008. As we bring forward renewed applications with further information, we are requiring those people to have face-to-face interviews in Liverpool. I would imagine that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy. The impact on Croydon, which is provided with £30 million a year for children, will be minimal as a result of those background facts.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know from his own casework that many of the people in the legacy stream have been waiting for a considerable number of years, and their lives are on hold because there is nothing they can do to progress their current status. Is the July 2011 date a firm one, and can he bring forward some of the cases?
Mr. Woolas: The Home Secretary has allocated extra resources to ensure that we can get through the legacy backlog even more quickly. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), that is very much an end date. Members will see cases coming to their advice surgeries as a result of the success that we are having in getting through those cases. I point hon. Members to the new tracker service, as introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier).
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): It is now more than three years since the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), famously promised to make the asylum and immigration system fit for purpose. Since then, fewer than half the legacy cases have been concluded. The backlog of applications under the new asylum model increased by more than a third last year, and last week the existence of another, previously unknown, 40,000 non-asylum legacy cases was revealed. In a spirit of generosity, we do not expect the Minister to solve all those problems at once, but can he say which of the various disasters he is presiding over is his top priority this week?
The hon. Gentleman calls for the Government to manage the migration system, but he then opposes the very measures that we have introduced-
such as the comprehensive electronic borders-to do so. The cases that he has mentioned-cases, not people-are being got through apace. As I have said, the record of this Government in deciding those cases shows that 60 per cent. are decided in six months, as opposed to 22 months in 1997. Who has got their priorities right?
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