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"the agency still has a long way to go before it is operating as efficiently and effectively as it needs to do."
Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman's point is unfair. As I have explained to the Select Committee, whose Chair is in his place today, the 40,000 cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers are part of the process of getting rid of the backlog and archiving those cases. This is being done precisely to show that we can deal comprehensively with all those backlog cases. As I have said, significant improvements have been made in all the main target areas-asylum processing; removals; border controls; and arrests at the border-as well as in dealing with the legacy cases, with which the Select Committee has been concerned. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the big picture is one of significant improvement.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Of course UKBA needs support, so has the Minister considered employing troops who have been injured, thus giving them a purpose in life? Has he considered whether we should have talks about the establishment of a border force regiment to stop our borders being porous?
Mr. Woolas: My hon. Friend has raised this issue before and has written a detailed letter about it, and I see value in his proposal. Of course these people could bring many attributes to not only our border control but our immigration processes, which is why I have agreed to consider his suggestion.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): A few moments ago, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), the Minister said that he believed in the discretion of immigration officers in dealing with applications for student visas. Will he tell us what proportion of applicants for student visas are seen by an immigration officer before they arrive?
I accept the point behind the hon. Gentleman's question, but he is confusing two issues. There is the issuing of the visa in the overseas post-of course we see all applicants because we take their fingerprints, and identity fraud is, of course, critical-and there is then the matter, to which his question relates, of the discretion of the border officers at the airport or port. I think the hon. Gentleman agrees that officers should not be able to make a decision without any criteria. There have to be reasonable grounds for suspicion,
because the decision could be challenged. We are trying to get the balance right. I think that I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have responded to the concerns of the immigration officers.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): The number of young people stating that they had consumed alcohol in the previous week is down from 26 per cent. in 2001 to 18 per cent. in 2008. However, those who do drink are consuming much more. The steps we have taken include publishing the youth alcohol action plan, commissioning the chief medical officer's guidance on alcohol consumption and providing £1.5 million in priority areas to tackle under-age sales and to confiscate alcohol from under-18s. We have also run communication campaigns to tell people what action is being taken to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder in their local area. The legal requirement on those selling alcohol to seek age verification is an important element of the mandatory code that will come into effect later this year.
Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he say what discussions he has had in order to implement what he has just outlined with licensing authorities or local authorities as regards the licensing of small stores in neighbourhoods where there are large numbers of young people roaming about at night?
Alan Johnson: We have had discussions with the sector over many months. Of course, we are moving from a voluntary code, which has not worked, to a mandatory code. The views of everyone concerned are being taken into account. A small but significant group of irresponsible corner shop owners and so on thrive on the fact that the responsible part of the sector has age verification rules at the moment and takes action to try to cut down these problems. That can mean that the problem sometimes migrates to the smaller stores. We are talking to the sector, to the industry and to licensees, and that will be shown in the success of the code.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I thank the Government for what they have done in taking this issue seriously. Does the Secretary of State accept that it is always right for the police to involve parents, where possible, when under-age young people are caught in possession of alcohol in public? Does he accept that my private Member's Bill, which became the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, makes that a requirement?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for pushing for this over a long period of time. Of course, the Policing and Crime Act 2009 will allow the police to confiscate alcohol without having to go through the difficult and convoluted process of having to prove that the youngster concerned intended to drink that alcohol. It can be confiscated without taking those measures.
That and a number of other important initiatives that are being introduced as part of that Act will make an enormous contribution.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): Alcohol-related violent crime has fallen by a third since 1997, and the 2008 review of the Licensing Act 2003 found that serious violent crime at night was down 5 per cent. since its introduction.
The alcohol provisions in the Policing and Crime Act were introduced on 29 January, including greater powers to tackle irresponsible drinking. Our £1.5 million cash injection into priority areas will include funding for an information campaign to tell people what action is being taken to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder in their local area.
Ms Keeble: I warmly welcome the implementation of the code to which my right hon. Friend referred in his answer to the previous question. The price of alcohol is going down in Northampton, where it is targeted at students, from £1.50 a pint and 50p a shot, so will my right hon. Friend say whether he will consider the introduction of a minimum price to provide a floor below which the cost of alcohol cannot go?
Alan Johnson: I see that there is Back-Bench support for this. We have been looking at this issue for some time, and the important first step is to get evidence to show that we can link increasing violence to it, and that we can link health issues to the pricing of alcohol. We know that those things are down to alcohol, but is pricing a mechanism that can be used to help the problem? We commissioned the university of Sheffield to provide the most comprehensive study yet of this issue, and we are still examining that report before coming to a conclusion.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Home Secretary accept that under-age drinking, particularly of alcohol that has been bought in supermarkets and other stores, and antisocial behaviour are rising in market towns such as Thirsk? Will he therefore consider adopting a radical strategy to prevent that sort of under-age drinking from leading to antisocial behaviour?
Such behaviour may well be rising in towns such as Thirsk. I have quoted the British crime survey figures which show that alcohol-fuelled violence is down. Consumption by young people is also down; the problem is binge drinking-the hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to that-and the problems that it can cause. I believe that one of the answers for towns such as Thirsk is the so-called Cardiff model, which can be replicated in smaller towns. Under that model, the police, licensees, the local authority and the national health service get together to tackle these issues. In the first year that the model was used in Cardiff, there was a 60 per cent. reduction in the amount of crime associated
with violence on Friday and Saturday nights. Part of that was to do with the introduction of polycarbonate glasses, but there is a whole range of measures that can be brought to bear if the police are helped by local authorities, the NHS and other agencies in tackling these problems.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): In keeping with my departmental responsibilities, I am pleased to announce that, from today, young people aged 16 to 24 who live in Greater London can enrol for a national identity card. Our call centre is taking hundreds of calls a day from members of the public who are keen to get a card, and thousands of application packs have already been requested since the cards were officially launched in November 2009.
Tom Brake: On 14 December, here, the Home Secretary pledged to address how plain-clothed police officers should react in public protests. In contrast, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on these matters has said that she will not issue guidance because officers should not be deployed in that way, thereby neglecting the fact that 25 such officers were deployed by the City of London police at the G20 protest. Who leads on this issue: the Home Secretary or ACPO?
Alan Johnson: We have asked ACPO to produce guidance as part of our response to the White Paper of December last year. ACPO is producing guidance that will come before Ministers shortly, of which a key criterion will be that all officers who take part in such activities should be identified by a number. The guidance will be produced shortly.
T3.  Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am applying for an ID card. I want to know the practical effect of abolishing the national identity register. Surely all the information that I must give to get an ID card-my name, address and date and place of birth-has already been given in my passport application. Will not the abolition of one database while the other is left in place make absolutely no difference?
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is one thing for the Conservatives to oppose the ID cards that they supported on Second Reading in December 2004 and that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) also privately supported in a ten-minute Bill in 2002-it is one thing for them suddenly to flip-flop on that-but it is another thing completely for them to say that one can have a biometric passport, which they support, without a national identity register. That is complete and utter nonsense.
T2.  Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con):
What is the view of the Home Office on the right of prisoners to vote in general elections? I know that there are a number of cases pending on this issue, based on
human rights grounds, and I should like to know whether I should ask to go canvassing in Shepton Mallet prison next weekend.
T5.  John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Ever since I raised with the Prime Minister the question of policing distribution in Nottinghamshire in early December, I am pleased to say that 84 police have been permanently redeployed to the north of the county. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Her Majesty's inspectorate, which is currently looking at Nottinghamshire police, look long, hard and deep at why it required an intervention on the Floor of the House before those police were properly redeployed?
The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): My hon. Friend will know that there has been a redeployment of officers to his constituency and there are still record numbers of police officers in Nottinghamshire. The inspectorate is undertaking a capability review, which I expect to be completed within the next four or five weeks. It will give a view on the potential for future policing of Nottinghamshire.
T4.  Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Home Secretary will be aware that Kent police have accepted that they behaved inappropriately in indiscriminately using section 44 powers at the Kingsnorth power station demonstration, as well as behaving in other ways that are unacceptable, including assaulting peaceful demonstrators, as I witnessed with my own eyes. What lessons is the Home Secretary drawing from that incident to ensure that police tactics do not replicate it in future?
Mr. Hanson: There are a number of lessons to be learned from the Kingsnorth incident, and Kent police are looking at those. One of the wider issues has been the policing of protests generally. That is why, in the White Paper before Christmas, we indicated strongly that we needed to examine the issue, draw up guidance, and work with ACPO and authorities to do so. We are in the process of completing that guidance, which I hope to bring before the House after the general election.
John Reid (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): The Minister will understand that I take a particular interest in the effectiveness and efficiency of the Home Office and its administration. In the light of the recent capability review, may I extend my congratulations to all those in the Home Office who have brought about such improvements in recent years, particularly in immigration, borders and the treatment of asylum cases, including the backlog? Will he extend the congratulations of the House on the efforts that have been made by the staff in the Home Office?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. For everybody working in the Home Office-all the people who went through a period when, if I remember the description that my right hon. Friend gave, it was probably less than perfect-to come from that capability
review, which placed the Home Office, I believe, second from the bottom of all Whitehall Departments to second from the top, is an enormous tribute. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for laying some of the foundations upon which we are now able to build in the Home Office.
T6.  David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): On the train this morning I read a document which appeared to suggest that foreign national prisoners who are in prison in the UK are being allowed to leave up to nine months before the halfway point of their sentence, and are being given £5,000 as a present for when they arrive back where they came from. Can the Home Secretary assure me that that document was a malicious forgery and that such a thing could not possibly be happening in Britain today?
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am glad the hon. Gentleman was reading such a document on the train. I suggest he reads the Daily Mirror in future. He will see in that newspaper this morning that the crime figures are down. Part of the reason for that is the success that we have had in removing foreign national prisoners. We are doing so at record levels. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminds me that the hon. Gentleman's party opposed the measures by which we are doing that, so I hope the hon. Gentleman changes his reading habits.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend first took over as Secretary of State for the Home Department, I asked him whether he would consider banning mosquito devices, which send out high-pitched sounds which are very uncomfortable for children and young people. They are so effective and so uncomfortable for children and young people that they are often used to disperse them. If that were any other group, we would cry, "Discrimination!" Now that my right hon. Friend has had a chance to look at mosquito devices, will he ban them?
Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend is right. I remember well how she stumped me at my first Question Time, because I knew absolutely nothing about what she was saying. That is not uncommon for me, but I have since looked into the matter. There is evidence that shows that such devices can be helpful in the circumstances that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) described in Thirsk, for instance, where people feel that a congregation of rowdy young people is adversely affecting their quality of life. Where other systems to talk to those young people have not worked, those devices can assist the situation. Of course, there are health and safety aspects and the devices have to be used carefully, but I am afraid I am committed to using any device-or rather, devices that do not involve cruel and unusual punishments, but which bring about the improvement in behaviour that we all seek.
T7.  Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD):
What progress is the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), making in addressing small boat owners' concerns about the proposals in the e-Borders programme to require them to file journey plans when moving between the UK mainland and Northern
Ireland? Why are they necessary when people entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland will not be listed?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): We are having a lot of discussions with the bodies that represent small yachtsmen, and with yachtsmen themselves. I am dealing with a lot of correspondence on the matter- [ Interruption. ] I mean people sailing small yachts; I do not mind about the size of the yachtsmen or, indeed, yachtswomen. We continue to look at the matter, because the idea is that e-Borders should not be over-burdensome but do its job and ensure that people meaning harm to this country do not reach our shores.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Police dogs in Yorkshire are entitled to anti-stab vests, yet police community support officers in West Bromwich are not. The Minister knows that procurement is devolved to a regional level, but will he remind the chief constable of the west midlands that the region is now only one of two with police authorities that refuse to issue anti-stab vests to PCSOs?
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend has assiduously raised that issue on several occasions, and he will know that ACPO is re-examining the guidance on anti-stab vests for police forces. As he said, only two forces do not issue them. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to look at the matter, and I shall certainly draw his remarks again to the attention of the chief constable.
T8.  Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Can the Home Secretary give an exact figure for the number of asylum seekers who have failed their final appeal but still await deportation?
Mr. Woolas: With respect, I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman with the exact figure. The UK Border Agency chief executive is writing to the Home Affairs Committee-this week, I think-about the current situation. We are now dealing with 60 per cent. of asylum claims within six months, and we have the lowest level of asylum applications since 1993, so good progress is being made.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): Some foreign nationals in the UK already have to obtain biometric cards and, I think, pay for them. What advice will the Minister give to a constituent of mine who, when her credit card was stolen and she went to the bank to sort it out, was told that her biometric ID card was not proof of identity?
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