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Photography Restrictions (Public Places)

16. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Whether he has issued guidance to police forces on restrictions on members of the public taking photographs in public places. [322956]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): The National Policing Improvement Agency and I have issued guidance and circulars to the police that make it clear that counter-terrorism powers should not be used to stop innocent people taking photographs. I have also written to all chief constables who have section 44 authorisations to reiterate the point.

Norman Baker: I thank the Minister for that reply, but I have to tell him that the system is not working. Only last week, a journalist from Meridian Television, Phil Hornby, was threatened with arrest and confiscation and deletion of his tape merely for filming an exterior shot of Worthing station. Other individuals have been stopped for taking sunset photographs of St. Paul's and photographs of the Christmas lights in Brighton. Clearly, the guidance that the Minister has issued does not seem to be getting through. What further steps will he take to ensure that we do not slide towards east Germany in this country?

Mr. Hanson: I think that the guidance is helpful. However, last week I met my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and a delegation of a range of individuals involved in photography issues. We agreed with Craig Mackey, the chief constable of Cumbria, who deals with these matters on behalf of chief police officers, that we would consider police training issues. I make this offer to the hon. Gentleman: if there are individual cases where there are concerns, we will look at them to see whether the guidance has been followed. If he wishes to send me further details, I will certainly look into them with Craig Mackey.

Student Visas (Language Schools)

17. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effects of tier 4 student visa changes on language schools following the review of November 2009 and the further measures announced in February 2010. [322957]

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): The changes came into force on 3 March, and we continually monitor tier 4 to ensure its effectiveness. Our policy is designed to protect the integrity of our immigration system and the reputation of the UK's education providers.

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John Howell: The English language industry is worth £1.5 billion a year to the UK economy, which is money we cannot afford to lose. Will the Minister visit with me the many genuine English language schools in my constituency to see the effects that the changes are having on those businesses, many of which are small and family-run?

Mr. Woolas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest. I know he shares my desire to protect the robustness of the immigration system and at the same time enhance the reputation of genuine providers. I do not believe that the changes that we have made to achieve the former are damaging the latter. We continuously review the system-that is part of the strength of tier 4 and the points-based system overall-and although it is probably too early to tell, I have yet to see evidence of a detrimental effect. We have to protect the genuine student, who has sometimes been exploited by unscrupulous colleges.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Would my hon. Friend be a little more precise about the level of English that prospective students on English language courses must attain? Language schools throughout Europe classify their courses as pre-intermediate, intermediate, advanced intermediate and advanced. Can English language schools still teach advanced intermediate courses?

Mr. Woolas: Yes. Some urban myths have been perpetuated in this campaign, so let me be clear that English language courses of six months and below, which are subject to a different visa regime, will be protected. Members of Parliament representing Scotland, which has different terminology, will be pleased to hear that foundation courses are maintained. The problem was with level 5 and below, where there was abuse of the system. As a result of the points-based system, we have significantly cut down the abuse of immigration law and protected the genuine college and, importantly, the genuine student.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Minister is right to hit the phoney colleges, but we need a rigorous regime that does not hit established colleges and schools as well. As he is wandering around the country over the next five weeks, will he pop up to Ribble Valley with me and come to Stonyhurst college to speak to the headmaster? It is clearly not a phoney establishment, and the headmaster believes that the current visa regime is hitting established businesses.

Mr. Woolas: I will not be wandering around anywhere; I will be purposeful and focused in my travels-wherever the Secretary of State sends me. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about genuine colleges, and I have been very careful not to say that the private sector is bad and the public sector is necessarily good. There is good and bad on both sides of the divide. We have had support from the sector, because its reputation will benefit. I have established a unit in the points-based system tier 4 to deal with such cases, and it is best to do so quickly. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman wants to invite me up to his beautiful constituency, I would be more than happy to go again.

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Special Constables

19. Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): If he will bring forward proposals to increase the number of special constables recruited from businesses. [322959]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): In August 2008, a three-year funding programme was announced for the National Policing Improvement Agency to increase the number of special constables in England and Wales through the establishment of nine regional co-ordinator posts. As part of that we have an employer-supported policing programme, which was launched in October 2009, which will ensure further development.

Bob Russell: May I urge the Minister to continue the programme for the foreseeable future? I often think that the role of the special constabulary is underplayed. It plays a vital role in the policing of our communities, and the business community getting involved and releasing staff for training provides a vital pool of additional special constables. I encourage the Government to extend that programme.

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. We are aiming to get about 20,000 special constables in place in the near future and we are raising our game to ensure that we recruit more. We need the support of the business community to do so. I visited specials in Flint, in my constituency, only three or four weeks ago and saw the wide range of activities and specialist work that they undertake on a voluntary basis in support of the full-time service.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Has the Minister engaged with the devolved Administration in Edinburgh at any point about the successes or otherwise that they have had in recruiting specials?

Mr. Hanson: To be honest, I have not spoken directly to the Minister in Edinburgh, but my hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. We need to co-ordinate, particularly in constituencies such as his, where there are cross-border issues, and the Cumbrian force could equally support those in the south of Scotland.

Front-line Policing

20. John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): What assessment his Department has made of the relationship between the number of police officers in police forces and their effectiveness in carrying out front-line policing. [322960]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): The Government's investment in the police is at record levels. There are record numbers of police officers and police community support officers on the streets. Crime is down by 36 per cent. and confidence in police is increasing. Fifty per cent. of the public agree that antisocial behaviour and crimes that matter to them are being dealt with effectively. I think that that demonstrates the relationship between the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

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John Hemming: There are wide discrepancies in efficiency or effectiveness between one force and another. For example, the detection rate for violent crime in the Met is just 37 per cent., compared with more than half in other urban forces. What is the Home Secretary doing specifically to improve lagging forces so that they meet the standards of the best?

Mr. Hanson: I hope that the hon. Gentleman knows that we have encouraged inspections of police forces and police authorities to ensure that we examine discrepancies and value-for-money issues when they arise. There has been a recent police report card from Denis O'Connor, Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary, and there has been the same-and will be again-for police authorities. We want to encourage openness about performance so that we can improve it and understand where forces are failing.

Sentencing (Publicity)

22. Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If he will provide support to Northamptonshire police's project to publicise sentencing outcomes from Crown courts and magistrates courts. [322962]

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): The Government recognise the importance of providing communities with information about those brought to justice. Through the policing pledge, forces have committed to publicising local outcomes regularly. Her Majesty's Courts Service continues to support that work, including developing a website, which will enable magistrates court outcomes to be accessible to the public online.

Mr. Hollobone: If we are to improve the public's confidence in our criminal justice system, do we not need much less sympathising with and understanding of why criminals commit crime, and much more naming and shaming?

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman knows that, while not naming and shaming as such, we support visibility of outcomes in the criminal justice system. That is why the Ministry of Justice introduced orange jackets for community offenders 18 months ago, why we are trying to get individuals involved in picking projects for community work, and why we are trying to ensure that the community knows what happens to people-the outcomes of criminality. Those matters are important, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports them.

Topical Questions

T1. [322963] Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): In October, I asked every community safety partnership in England and Wales to commit publicly to minimum standards for dealing with antisocial behaviour. I am pleased to report that 99.7 per cent. of local authority areas have confirmed that such standards are either in place or will be in place by the end of
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March, making clear to the public the response that they are entitled to expect when they report antisocial behaviour.

Bob Spink: Does the Home Secretary agree that it is important for local councils to co-operate with the police to fight yobs and antisocial behaviour, particularly in providing fencing and gating, lighting and CCTV in areas where antisocial behaviour is prevalent, such as Richmond car park in Benfleet or King George V's playing fields on Canvey Island?

Alan Johnson: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Although the police have a responsibility for antisocial behaviour, they share it with other agencies. Indeed, in all the areas where antisocial behaviour has been tackled effectively, the police work in partnership with local authorities, social services and often with local communities that have decided to fight back against those who are plaguing their lives. I therefore agree that such co-operation is an important part of tackling antisocial behaviour-we went through the local crime and disorder reduction partnerships to get that sort of response.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Ryan Hilton, an events manager with the pub crawl firm, Carnage UK, was convicted in court in Llandudno last week of assaulting my constituent, Mr. Mark Aelwyn Roberts, causing him actual bodily harm? He will be sentenced at Crown court. Will my right hon. Friend please note that North Wales police had objected to that event in Bangor? Does he agree that that vicious assault sends a message to all licensing authorities that Carnage UK is a disreputable organisation, which causes havoc in our university towns?

Alan Johnson: I was not aware of the individual circumstances that my hon. Friend just outlined. I agree that those disreputable organisations need to be tackled. Indeed, in most places throughout the country, there is a realistic and meaningful partnership between local police and licensees to ensure that licensees do not have their reputations undermined by organisations such as the one that she mentioned.

T2. [322964] Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Pursuant to my recent written question on the number of ID card applications made by residents of Crewe and Nantwich in Cheshire, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who I can see is bursting to answer this question, replied:

Why cannot a scheme that is designed to assist in identifying individuals provide even basic information such as the uptake in my constituency?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): I forgive the hon. Gentleman for not appreciating that an Act of Parliament passed by this House in 2005-before he was elected-states that it is illegal to interrogate the database to gather such information.

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Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): While crime in the west midlands has dropped-in some cases quite spectacularly, particularly burglary-there is still a problem with business crime. On Friday, I visited a business improvement district that had reported a substantial drop in crime as a result of the measures it had taken. What steps is the Minister taking to assess the impact of BIDs and what measures might he contemplate to roll out that prototype in other areas?

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who identifies an issue that we need to examine in detail. The Government are firmly committed to working with business and trade associations to find effective solutions. Part of that includes the national retail crime steering group, on which the Home Office and the British Retail Consortium are working together to look at how we deal with crime, particular for those in business communities in town centres. I will certainly look at any particular suggestions that my hon. Friend has, but that is an area on which we need to continue to focus.

T3. [322965] John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Research from the university of Groningen demonstrates that the presence of graffiti encourages other crime. An appropriate penalty is to make someone clear up the graffiti that they have created. Why do the Government still oppose fixed penalty notices for community service for graffiti?

Alan Johnson: As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism said earlier, we are looking at the whole question of fixed notice penalties with the Ministry of Justice, and a report will come soon. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of deterring graffiti. Indeed, up and down the country, community payback is ensuring that those who have engaged in such activity are very visibly and publicly-wearing orange jackets-clearing up the mess that they have made.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): I heard what the Minister for Borders and Immigration said earlier about the new visa arrangements for English language schools, but may I just point out that last Thursday I met a young man from Taiwan who was studying English in this country preparatory to going to Sheffield Hallam university and who will need four or possibly even five visas to achieve that? Indeed, under the new arrangements he may even have to go back Taiwan to make one of those applications. Will my hon. Friend at least consider all the material that I have sent to him and to the Secretary of State and reconsider the position?

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the work that he is doing-the language schools sector and overseas students are very important parts of his constituency and its economy. The answer to his question is that we very much want to protect that. On the other hand, I am sure that the House agrees that we need to prevent visa abuse. What we have tried to do is provide that seamless route for the genuine student at the genuine college.

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Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for not being present earlier. With regard to the specific issue of the use of dogs in crime, will the Minister reassure us that any future bright ideas that the Home Office has will focus on individual owner responsibility and deed not breed, so that responsible dog owners are not punished for the sins of the minority?

Meg Hillier: I am tempted to say that I refer the hon. Gentleman to my previous answers, which he can read in Hansard. However, as I said earlier and now repeat, we want to look mostly at the deed not the breed, but we recognise that some breeds are inherently violent and we need to take that into account as well. However, responsible ownership is the main line.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Since the beginning of the recession, the number of bogus charity clothes collectors has risen very sharply across the country, taking away much needed revenue from bona fide charity shops, such as Cancer Research UK shops in Barnsley and Doncaster. Unfortunately, many chief constables throughout the country are giving that type of crime a very low level of priority. Will the Secretary of State write to all chief constables in England to ensure that they treat such crimes with a great deal more seriousness in future?

Alan Johnson: I will talk to chief constables about that. I go on the basis that if my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) says that there is a problem, there is a problem. I am only sorry that he will not be here to raise these important points at Home Office questions after the next general election, and I wish him well.

T4. [322966] Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): My constituents, Mr. and Ms Adedoyin, have received a phone call from someone claiming to be a Home Office caseworker wanting cash in return for their documents, which we had previously been told had been lost by the UK Border Agency. The response from the Home Office to my inquiries to date has been very disappointing. Will Ministers look into this issue as a matter of urgency and meet me to discuss the situation?

Mr. Woolas: Of course we will. The UK Border Agency is, from time to time, subject to mischievousness, but the response must be professional. Of course I will look into this and then meet the hon. Gentleman if that proves necessary after my investigation.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): A few years ago, the UK Border Agency shunted a load of old asylum and refugee cases into a pile called legacy cases, which are due to be dealt with by next year. Is the Minister aware that there is a new pile building up of cases that have been overlooked? We will have the same problem all over again with a second pile of legacy cases.

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