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Police Numbers

18. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): How many front-line police officers there were in England (a) in 1997 and (b) at the latest date for which figures are available. [306232]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): In March 2009, 125,891 police officers, 87 per cent. of total strength, were deployed to operational roles in England and Wales. Improvements in how forces match work force resources to demand from the public across the range of force functions will further improve responsiveness, public confidence and value for money.

Bob Spink: I thank the Minister for that reply, and credit where credit is due, the Government have kept their promise and put more police on the streets, which was very necessary. Will they consider special constables specifically? They do a wonderful job in Essex, as I am sure they do in other constabularies. Will the Government have a drive to get more special constables?

Mr. Hanson: Indeed, the hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. We will have a special constables promotion weekend to celebrate that very shortly, and one thing I have done is write to all hon. Members to ask them to participate. I am also-this comes from the White Paper-looking at how we can deploy special constables to help with deployment issues, so that we get full-time officers working on other areas, where their skills are more needed. The hon. Gentleman's point is very important and one that I support.

Policing and Crime Act (Section 14)

20. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): What plans he has to publicise the change in the law contained in section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009. [306234]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): The Home Office's "Tackling the Demand for Prostitution: A Review" document recommends a campaign aimed specifically at sex buyers to raise awareness about trafficking for sexual exploitation. We are currently considering how a campaign can be used to highlight the change in the law and its effects.

We are also updating the Home Office circular on policing prostitution and work with other criminal justice agencies. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), who has responsibility for crime reduction,
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wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on 11 December to outline this matter in detail.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank the Department for that letter, but one thing that shocked me when I launched some research was how few men had ever been arrested for soliciting. One hundred and three men who had paid for sex were interviewed, but only 5 per cent. had been arrested, meaning only five or six men. The risk with the new offence is that men do not think they are going to be successfully prosecuted. Can the Minister promise me that the prosecution and publicity strategies will go hand in hand, so that men who pay for sex from exploited women know that they risk getting a criminal record?

Mr. Hanson: Absolutely-my hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point and was instrumental in bringing that legislation forward. It is absolutely vital that we ensure both that prosecutions take place and that the legislation has a deterrent effect. We are now looking, with colleagues such as those in the POPPY project, representatives of which met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, to look at how we can promote the issue early in the new year, to ensure that we do what we are trying to do, which is reduce prostitution and soliciting on the streets of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on her relentless campaign to ensure that section 14 got on to the statute book. May I make a suggestion to the Home Secretary? One of the best ways of discovering trafficked women would be to have another Pentameter operation. Pentameter 1 and 2 were very successful-the latter involved 830 actual arrests. Is he considering a Pentameter 3, which would involve all police forces in a campaign to outlaw the trafficking of women?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the participation of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough in bringing that law to fruition and the importance that we give to how it is implemented and examined. We are certainly considering the hon. Gentleman's suggestions, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is looking into these matters.

Police Numbers (Northamptonshire)

21. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many police officers there are per 100,000 population in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England. [306235]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): Northamptonshire had 196 police officers to 100,000 of the population as of 31 March 2009, compared with 266 for England and Wales.

Mr. Bone: The Minister has already made it clear that Northamptonshire is under-served by police officers compared with the national average. What makes that worse is that only 10 per cent. of police officers' time in Northamptonshire is served on the beat. Have not this Government completely failed in getting police officers on the beat in Northamptonshire?

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Mr. Hanson: Those officers who are on the beat seem to have reduced overall crime by 19 per cent. over the past five years, so whatever they are doing, they are doing something right. I do not recognise the figures the hon. Gentleman used. On the earlier bureaucracy question, we said that only 20 per cent. of time is spent on paperwork. Sometimes paperwork is important, because it leads to convictions and reduces crime still further.

Police Services (Administrative Burden)

24. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the administrative burden on police services. [306238]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer given some time ago.

Mr. Vara: I am grateful to the Minister for referring to his earlier answer. He will recall-after he has checked his notes-that in his earlier reply, he referred to a report published by the Home Office on 2 December. That report mentions that the 27,000 portable hand-held computers given to officers are ineffective because they lack the proper programs. Does he agree that it is bad enough that officers have excessive bureaucracy, but worse still that the equipment they have to deal with it does not work?

Mr. Hanson: As I said, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier. We are very concerned about bureaucracy, and he will know that £80 million of taxpayers' money has been invested in hand-held devices, reducing bureaucracy by some 30 minutes per officer per shift, by taking them away from paperwork and putting them back on the front line. That is an investment to which this Government have been committed, and-if I can be political-it is one of those investments that the Opposition may find it necessary to cut.

Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Given that complaints against the police often lead to a considerable amount of administration and given that what complainants often want is simply a better service from their local police, will my right hon. Friend consider giving the Independent Police Complaints Commission a remit to improve services in addition to its current responsibilities for complaints?

Mr. Hanson: In the White Paper published two weeks ago, we proposed additional responsibilities for the IPCC. We have also ensured that we strengthen the role of police authorities. One of the key issues is to remove direct elections, which the Opposition favour, and strengthen local democracy through police authorities, which the Government favour. Those are key issues in improving the redress that citizens have when police systems, sadly and occasionally, fail.

Student Visas

25. Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the system for processing student visa applications. [306239]

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The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave several moments ago.

Mr. Mackay: I am not sure that the Minister fully answered the earlier question, watching as I was on the screen in my office, about referees being confirmed as British and suitable for purpose. Will he now answer that question?

Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for asking the same question as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). When the right hon. Gentleman gets to his office tomorrow, he can read the reply in Hansard. The serious point, of course, is that there are different strategies for checking on the eligibility and suitability of those people. This question has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that is why we have re-examined the system to ensure that it is robust.

Topical Questions

T1. [306240] Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): The Home Office puts public protection at the heart of its work. The pre-Budget report provided good news for the police, recognising their importance to the public and to the Government in delivering safe and secure communities.

Jessica Morden: Two new groups of street pastors have recently started operating in Caldicot near Newport in my constituency. They are doing a fantastic job helping young people who get into difficulties on nights out, especially in the run-up to Christmas. Does the Home Secretary agree that that is an excellent volunteering initiative and that street pastors offer reassurance and help the police to tackle antisocial behaviour in the night-time economy?

Alan Johnson: I do agree: street pastors are a crucial part of the community effort in many parts of the country, including Newport, to make our streets safer, especially on busy evenings such as Friday and Saturday. I have met street pastors myself in various locations and my hon. Friend does a service to her area by raising their profile and raising this issue in Parliament. They deserve widespread praise.

T3. [306242] Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Home Affairs Committee was told that there were no plain-clothes officers deployed at the G20 protests, but we now know that there were at least 25. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need guidelines setting out the roles and responsibilities of plain-clothes officers when they are policing public protests?

Alan Johnson: The House will be aware that Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary did a very important report on this issue, which was widely welcomed. In fact, I cannot think of a single area in which it was not given a warm welcome. We have carried over those recommendations quickly into the White Paper, and we will implement that in relation to how we police protests, including how plain-clothes police officers react.

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Jacqui Smith (Redditch) (Lab): I recently wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) about the case of one of my constituents who was unfortunately burgled and was surprised that the burglars focused almost completely on taking jewellery and other gold. He believes, as do I, that this may have been prompted by the burgeoning of cash-for-gold adverts on our television screens and in our newspapers, often with no identification required to obtain money in exchange for gold. My hon. Friend helpfully replied that he was carrying out a review in this area. May I encourage him to involve trading standards officers in that work and to consider legislation as quickly as possible, perhaps even in the Crime and Security Bill?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this important matter. We are concerned about burglary, particularly in these difficult economic times. We are considering the issue and we would envisage involving trading standards, even though staff are already working hard. If legislation is necessary, we will legislate.

T4. [306243] David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): A recent audit report on the UK Border Agency refers to £9.6 million that was incorrectly paid out for asylum applicants following a data management failure, and £1.4 million paid to landlords for properties that subsequently turned out to be empty. Will one of the Ministers tell us whether anyone was prosecuted for that, and may we have a fuller explanation than the two sentences in the report?

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am of course familiar with the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The asylum support system involves more than £100 million of public expenditure-a figure drastically reduced from previous years, as we get in control of the system. The housing element of that is subject to the difficulties, which he will recognise as a constituency Member of Parliament, in the private housing market. That is why we have taken the report so seriously and made improvements.

T2. [306241] Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the lessons of the Cardiff violence reduction project, led by Professor Jonathan Shepherd, were rolled out across the country, that would not only help the police and reduce the number of victims, but make a considerable financial contribution to the national health service? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the key lesson is not only that of partnership, but that of taking a clinical and scientific approach to understanding why bad things happen?

Alan Johnson: My right hon. Friend has made a huge contribution to tackling crime in this country, both in opposition and in his early days as a Home Office Minister of State. He could make no bigger contribution than through the work he has done with Professor Jonathan Shepherd in Cardiff-the results are truly remarkable, and it is now in the operating framework of the NHS to comply with this. I see no argument for a local hospital not submitting data to the police service,
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given that this is not only important in tackling crime, but crucial, as my right hon. Friend says, in reducing costs to the NHS. This is a win-win situation, which is why the Cardiff model, including the use of polycarbonate glasses, is now being used right around the country.

T6. [306245] Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Estimates are that we have 2,000 irregular migrants in Croydon-a number that might increase as a result of the closure of the Liverpool walk-in asylum centre, given that Croydon is now the only inland asylum centre. How many more irregular migrants will there be in Croydon as a result of that change, and specifically, how many unaccompanied asylum seeker minors? That will lead to extra pressures on public finances.

Mr. Woolas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the continuing dialogue we are having on that important issue, which comes about, as he knows, as a result of the improvements and changes we made in Liverpool to ensure that further representations need a face-to-face interview. The overall picture is good, because the numbers are coming down. I cannot answer him specifically-of course, time will tell-but we have been in constant contact with his local authority since the announcement was made.

T5. [306244] Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): Following on from the strategy that was recently announced to tackle violence against women and girls, which will include some reforms to the criminal justice system, what plans does the Secretary of State have to make comparable reforms to the asylum system in relation to women and girls who have suffered similar forms of violence in their countries of origin?

Alan Johnson: That issue was raised during our very wide consultation on violence against women and girls. The publication of our strategy is not the end of the issue; in fact, it is the beginning. We have looked at taking out certain strands, including the issue my hon. Friend mentions, getting much more information on it and tackling it as part of the ongoing strategy.

T7. [306246] Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Following the Chancellor of the Exchequer's helpful interview recently, will the Home Secretary confirm that the identity card scheme is going to be scrapped?

Alan Johnson: My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making it absolutely clear that the ID card will be voluntary. The ID card will be of benefit to people in Manchester and the north-west, and more and more people are seeking to have one. I have one myself-in case nobody in here knows who I am-which I can show the right hon. Gentleman afterwards. Tomorrow we will be making a further launch in Blackburn, to great public enthusiasm.

T10. [306249] Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): What is the problem with extraditing to the United States Nosratollah Tajik, the Iranian whom the Americans want under our wonderful extradition treaty? Is it not a fact that there are many people in London, including those in our security and intelligence services, and the banking and financial sector, who do not want him to go to the United States? How is it right to extradite Gary McKinnon and not this fella?

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