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Student Visas

Mr. Speaker: I call Miss Kirkbride. The hon. Lady is not here, so I call Mr. Evennett.

6. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the system for processing student visa applications. [306220]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will take questions 6 and, I believe, 25 together.

Mr. Speaker: Order. It might help if I point out that the grouping was of questions 5 and 6, but as I have just indicated, question 5 no longer applies.

Mr. Woolas: The implementation of tier 4 of the points-based system took place on 31 March 2009, replacing the previous arrangements for overseas students to come to study in the UK. This ensures that only those colleges and schools which provide quality education and take responsibility for their students are licensed to bring in international students. We continuously monitor the systems, and where improvements can be made we will make them. The Prime Minister recently announced a review of certain elements of tier 4.

Mr. Evennett: I thank the Minister for that response. Last month the Prime Minister gave his first speech on immigration for some 18 months. Having ignored the warnings about loopholes in the immigration and the visa systems for so long, why is he now rushing to implement a policy that will hurt legitimate language schools?

Mr. Woolas: That is slightly unfair. The introduction of tier 4 was in part to clamp down on the area about which I know the hon. Gentleman had been concerned-the so-called bogus colleges. We estimate that about 2,000 of those shut down or ceased that part of their operations. In a cat and mouse game, in which we are dealing with attempts at illegal immigration, continuous review is sensible. On the language point, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider my letter to hon. Members which emphasises that we have issued a consultation to look at what can be done, not a set of definitive proposals, as he seems to fear.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I hope the Minister will not take any lessons from the Opposition, given their general approach to foreigners and immigrants to this country. It must be a good thing if foreigners
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come to Britain and then speak English with an English accent, not an American accent or some other sub-English accent. Our universities need foreign students, both for economic reasons and for Britain to have a spread in the world as those students go back to their own countries as graduates. I ask my right hon. Friend to err on the side of British universities in this sensitive case, rather than respond to the xenophobic fetishes of the Opposition.

Mr. Woolas: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The value to the United Kingdom of overseas students is very great indeed in cultural and economic terms. It is a question of getting the balance right. We have evidence of abuse under the old system and under the new system, but we are confident because the number of students coming to this country from overseas has increased and we have better controls over those visas.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Minister will recall my championing last summer of the cause of two Patagonian women who wanted to come to Wales to brush up on their Welsh language skills. Both were turned down, but one came in on appeal. It emerged that these matters involve a 40-hour round trip from Patagonia to Buenos Aires and five weeks' wait-and the whole thing then being processed from New York. Is it not possible to introduce a simpler and more sensitive means of dealing with such cases?

Mr. Woolas: Only if the hon. Gentleman can guarantee me that in the case of somebody who gets a student visa but turns out not to be a student and abuses the system and overstays, he will not raise complaints. The two cases in question, which I personally looked at, were not compliant with the immigration rules, and no Government can ignore that fact.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Minister will have seen the press reports at the weekend indicating that the student suspects in the Manchester terror investigation earlier this year had been cleared to work in the security industry. Does the Security Industry Authority carry out the same detailed background checks on all overseas applicants for work in the security industry as it does on all British applicants?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman returns to his theme of the security industry and immigration. I hope he will support the Government in our new procedures both for security industry regulation, which we introduced, and for tougher visa controls. The answer to his question is yes.

Chris Grayling: So the answer is yes. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the application form guidance notes for foreigners expressly state that they do not need to submit an application that has been countersigned by a reputable British referee-in contrast with the requirements for a British applicant?

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman is trying to present a case that is simply not borne out by the facts. The fact is that there are immigration rules, and I again ask him to support our new border controls, because on that he continues to try to have his cake and eat it. Those are the ways in which we check the validity of people's working rights in this country.

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US-UK Extradition Treaty

8. Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the operation of the provisions of the US-UK extradition treaty. [306222]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): The UK keeps all its extradition treaties under scrutiny. The Government's view is that the UK-US treaty is working well.

Danny Alexander: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that answer, but Gary McKinnon's legal team has been forced to launch a fresh legal challenge in the High Court. The Home Secretary claims that his hands are tied, but many lawyers-including Lord Carlile, the Government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation-tell him differently. Why is he putting this grossly unbalanced immigration agreement with the US over and above the interests of a very vulnerable British citizen?

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman asked a question about the US-UK treaty. The only argument that I have heard about the treaty being imbalanced is that of probable cause versus reasonable suspicion. I have not heard expressed anywhere another argument about why it may be imbalanced. That was, indeed, the gist of the debate that took place in the House in 2003-04, when the issue was put before Members.

In the case of Gary McKinnon, the issue is completely and absolutely academic. There is no reasonable suspicion involved; there is no probable cause involved; and Gary McKinnon has admitted to many of the offences. The hon. Gentleman may have a question about Gary McKinnon, but it does not relate to the issue in his original question about an imbalance in the UK-US treaty.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): In the latest edition of Vogue, Hilary Clinton describes our Foreign Secretary as

She has obviously not met the Home Secretary! Given that very close relationship between Britain and the United States, however, and given that the Home Secretary says he has no more legal powers to intervene, surely the best course of action is a diplomatic resolution to the problem. Will he talk to the Foreign Secretary so that he can talk to Hilary Clinton to see whether this matter can be resolved?

Alan Johnson: This matter can be resolved by ensuring that the treaty we have with the US is enforced. This matter can be resolved by upholding the law. The courts have decided and the prosecuting authorities have decided that Gary McKinnon is accused of very serious charges and should answer for them in the US. That is not the role of any politician or any judge; it is the role of the prosecuting authority. On 5 November in a debate in the other place, the ex-Law Lord Lord Justice Lloyd made it plain that that was absolutely right. The US authorities have given us a whole list of assurances that Gary McKinnon will get full treatment for his illness from the American authorities; indeed, a long list of the
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treatment that will be offered was quoted by Lord Justice Burnton in the High Court as being extremely impressive.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): With the increase in cybercrime and the consequential complexities in international jurisdiction, what consideration has the Home Secretary given to cybercrimes committed and originated in the United Kingdom being appropriate for extradition?

Alan Johnson: I do not believe there is a case for looking at this in the context of a completely separate review of the treaty. We have a situation where a number of crimes are committed in the UK and we have another crime-a terrorist offence-committed against the US by someone in the UK, a British citizen, who did not leave this country at all. It is a question of what the prosecuting authorities decide in this case. Let me quote to the hon. Gentleman, because it is relevant to this issue, what Lord Justice Burnton said in the High Court in July about this particular offence. I think that it would apply to other offences where a crime is committed in another country over the internet. He said of Gary McKinnon:

I believe that the legal profession is quite capable of deciding-to use the terminology-the forum in which any of these allegations should be prosecuted.

Early Intervention (Nottingham)

11. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will visit Nottingham to discuss the effect on crime statistics of the city's early intervention programme. [306225]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): The Government recognise the importance of early intervention, and I was therefore interested to hear about the good work being done in Nottingham when the Cabinet met there recently. I would be pleased to make a further visit and have also arranged to meet my hon. Friend on 16 December.

Mr. Allen: Does the Home Secretary agree that we are doing very well-I refer particularly to the crime and drugs partnership in Nottingham-on conventional crime, volume crime, and acquisitive crime which are amenable to better policing, CCTV, better locks and so on, but we still have to work very hard on violent crime, which is often produced by social inadequacy, poor parenting and traumatic experiences in childhood? Does he agree that that is exactly the sort of offending that is amenable to early intervention so that we can grow a generation of young people who are socially and emotionally capable and far less likely to commit violent crime?

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Alan Johnson: I do agree with my hon. Friend; indeed, I pay tribute to the work that he has done with Members in all parts of the House on early intervention. In Nottingham, I saw for myself the family intervention programme working extremely well, and doing so because it takes an holistic approach to the underlying problems that are causing offending in the first place. It is not an easy option: there is a non-negotiable element that the parents of the children involved have to undergo. That is a very important element, and I have never seen it operating any better than in my hon. Friend's constituency.

UK Border Agency

13. Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): What mechanisms are in place at the UK Border Agency to ensure compliance with agreed internal processes and procedures for handling cases and contracts. [306227]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): Processes for handling commercial contracts are ensured by contract approvals. The mechanisms are: up to £1 million, financial and procurement delegations; £1 million to £40 million, joint approval committee, which is a UKBA internal mechanism; and above £40 million, the group investment board of the Home Office. The level of governance is commensurate with the level of investment required.

Mr. Pelling: I am grateful for the Minister's answer. The reputation of the UKBA is very important to Croydon, where it is a major employer. How well do these procedures also apply to those who will investigate performance, and therefore might abrogate a contract, and to outside consultants who are assisting the UKBA?

Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I recognise the work that he does on behalf of the UKBA, which is an important part of his constituency. Contract compliance is ensured by the monitoring of the contract at a local level by the operational unit and the commercial team within the area, and of course all those contracts are subject to Treasury guidelines. On his point about the awarding of contracts, that is subject to the normal rules, and I am satisfied that we are compliant within the Croydon operation.

Police Counter-Terrorism Units

14. Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): What assessment he has made of the performance of police regional counter-terrorism units against their objectives. [306228]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I receive regular assessments from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which has concluded that the network of regional police counter-terrorism units and counter-terrorism intelligence units means that a well-located, operational platform now exists for targeting the top national priorities in terrorist investigations.

Patrick Mercer: I am most grateful to the Minister, but there are only four counter-terrorism units up and running, and another four counter-terrorism intelligence
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units, which are minor organisations. What plans do the Government have to expand those minor units into fully fledged ones?

Mr. Hanson: I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have increased the number of police officers involved in counter-terrorism by 70 per cent. over the past four or five years. Only two weeks ago, I indicated that we would invest about £579 million in 2010-11 in developing the counter-terrorism network still further. We want to do that because of the serious threat, and we are committed to that £579 million for next year but must look beyond that in the comprehensive spending review. The key point is that this is a priority for Government.

North Yorkshire Police

15. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What plans he has for the future funding of North Yorkshire police; and if he will make a statement. [306229]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The recent pre-Budget report confirmed that sufficient funding will be available in the years to 2012-13 to enable police authorities to maintain current numbers of warranted police officers and police community support officers.

Miss McIntosh: There has been a general drift towards increasing the number of community support officers as opposed to regular police officers. Although they perform a welcome role, they do not have the same powers as regular police officers, including the power to arrest. In the streets and rural areas of the Vale of York, we have seen an increase in antisocial behaviour. Will the Government now confirm that rather than pump-priming, they will ensure a regular supply of funding for community support and regular police officers in the Vale of York?

Mr. Campbell: The priority, as set out in the pre-Budget report, is to ensure that police authorities have the resources for front-line officers, whether they are warranted officers or PCSOs. It is up to chief constables and police authorities to make best use of that funding, because they decide on operational matters.

Domestic Violence Advisers

16. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): How much funding his Department has allocated for independent domestic violence advisers in the next 12 months. [306230]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): This year's funding has already been allocated, and a further £4 million will be available in 2010-11 for IDVAs and multi-agency risk assessment conferences.

Andrew Stunell: I thank the Minister for that rather woolly reply. May I draw his attention to the fact that in Greater Manchester, the number of recorded incidents of domestic violence has risen from 56,000 to 64,000 in three years, but only one in eight results in an arrest? Bearing in mind that the perpetrators are always known,
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does he believe that that record is satisfactory? Will he now give more support to the vulnerable victims of domestic violence in Greater Manchester and elsewhere?

Mr. Campbell: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the recently announced strategy for ending violence against women and girls is anything but woolly. So is the £13 million that will support services. At a time of financial constraint, it indicates the Government's priority on these matters. He will know that local agencies also need to address the matter as their priority, because it is they that bring the most resources to the table.

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