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22 Jun 2010 : Column 58WH—continued

My hon. Friend will be aware that the European Union has agreed a framework decision governing the transfer of prisoners between member states of the Union, which comes into force next December. The agreement provides for compulsory transfer under certain defined circumstances: where the prisoner is to be transferred to the country of his nationality in which he is ordinarily resident, where the prisoner is to be transferred to the country of his nationality, to which he would otherwise be deported at the end of his sentence, and
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where the prisoner has fled and a sentence is transferred to his country of nationality for enforcement. Regrettably, the framework decision does not apply to sentences before its implementation, but we expect to see a steady increase in the numbers transferred after December 2011 and consequently a steady decline in the number of EU nationals held in our prisons after that date.

My hon. Friend has already drawn attention to the fact that the largest group of foreign nationals are Jamaican. In 2007, the United Kingdom signed a prisoner transfer agreement with Jamaica. I regret to say that it is a voluntary agreement, which was the limit of what was able to be negotiated at the time, and it has not yet been ratified. Changes to Jamaican legislation are necessary before ratification can proceed. I have asked my officials to investigate how we can work with other Departments here to help and encourage the Jamaican Government to progress with the agreement.

We will continue to press voluntary prisoner transfer arrangements where we cannot negotiate compulsory ones, and we will take action to encourage prisoners who could transfer but do not to apply for a transfer. I have asked my officials to look urgently at how prisoners can best be informed of the options available to them and encouraged to apply.

We are gradually increasing the number of prisoners transferred to countries outside the European Union. In addition to those seeking voluntary transfer to Nigeria, 25 prisoners have sought transfer to prisons in Pakistan. The transfer of the first four of those has been agreed and will take place in the next few weeks. Many foreign nationals in our prisons cannot be transferred to serve their sentence in their home countries, because there is no agreement in place. It is right that we seek to have prisoners who are subject to deportation action, or who have no entitlement to remain in the United Kingdom, removed as soon as possible at the end of their sentence.

We have inherited an overcrowded prison estate that is teetering on the edge of being able to keep pace with the demand created by those sent there by the courts. Moreover, one of the key factors is the large number of foreign nationals in our prisons, many of whom have no right to be in the United Kingdom. I therefore need no reminding of the importance of improving the situation by all appropriate means. At a time when we have been left with no money by the previous Government, we need to look carefully at how our resources are used and what can be done to target them more effectively. Our priority is to protect the public and focus our efforts on reducing reoffending. It is therefore right for us to consider how prison resources can be better focused on prisoners who will be released into the community in the United Kingdom, which will free up prison capacity currently taken by foreign nationals who will be removed from the country anyway. That is one way that we can help achieve our priority.

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Provisions are already in place to help ensure that foreign national prisoners can be removed from the United Kingdom as early in their sentence as possible. The early removal scheme has been in operation in England and Wales since 2004 and gives the Secretary of State the power to remove eligible prisoners earlier in their sentence than would otherwise have been possible. Foreign national offenders who are serving a determinate sentence and who are liable to removal from the United Kingdom can be removed from prison and the country up to 270 days, or nine months, before the halfway point of their sentence, when they would normally be released. The period of early removal in each case varies depending on the length of the sentence being served, and the maximum of 270 days applies where the sentence is for at least three years. It will be proportionately less for shorter sentences. Prisoners must serve at least a quarter of their sentence before early removal can take place. In each case, removal is dependent on the UK Border Agency making the necessary arrangements. That can be affected if the prisoner appeals against removal or if there are difficulties in securing the necessary travel documentation.

The scheme does not apply to offenders serving life or other indeterminate sentences. However, all foreign national prisoners serving a determinate sentence who are liable to be deported by UKBA are considered for the scheme by the National Offender Management Service. It is important to remember that those offenders would be subject to deportation by UKBA on their release anyway.

Early removal under the scheme is not pursued for prisoners with outstanding criminal charges or further custodial requirements, such as an offender with an outstanding confiscation order. Such prisoners should not be permitted to avoid their liability by leaving the United Kingdom's jurisdiction early. I would like to emphasise that foreign national prisoners who are removed or deported under the scheme are flagged on UKBA's warnings index and can therefore be identified if they attempt to return to the United Kingdom.

UKBA will continue to seek to remove foreign national prisoners who have no right to remain here. Since 2007, some 15,000 foreign national prisoners have been deported. UKBA works closely with NOMS to ensure that prisoners can be removed at the earliest possible moment. In 2009, UKBA embedded immigration teams in nine prisons as part of the rationalisation of the foreign national prison population in the category C prison estate. The two hub and spoke prisons are Canterbury and Bullwood Hall, not Morton Hall, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. This enables UKBA staff to gather nationality and identity information at the earliest opportunity with the aim of reducing the number of prisoners and increasing the removal and deportation of foreign criminals at the end of their sentence.

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Police Funding (Greater Manchester)

4.30 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Weir. I wish to pass on my thanks to Mr Speaker for ensuring that this debate can take place today. I would also like to put on the record my thanks and appreciation to all the police officers and staff at the Greater Manchester police, who do an absolutely fantastic job-a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances. I wish to put on the record my tribute to their work in making my constituency a safer place.

I would also, very briefly, like to congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Given everything that is facing the public services as we progress with the new coalition Government, I am sure that he will do his best, in very tight circumstances, for the police service in Great Britain.

It is, however, a concern that one of the first acts of the new Conservative-Liberal Government has been to introduce a cut of £125 million in police revenue, with a further £10 million from capital funding and £10 million from the counter-terrorism budget. For Greater Manchester police in my region, that announcement will mean a cut of just less than £7 million. That represents a reduction in grant of approximately 2% of total budget. Only Greater London, at £30.4 million, and the west midlands, at £7.5 million, will be harder hit.

Clearly, the Greater Manchester region will be hit harder than most. That has led to uncertainty, as the police had already set out their budgets for the coming financial year. That is why the reduction is so damaging to the efforts being made to tackle crime in my constituency and in other constituencies across Greater Manchester. Police authorities will now have to cut services that they have not planned to cut and there is the likely possibility that that will impact on front-line services.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that local councillors in Manchester, of whom I am still one, have worked very hard in recent years, on a cross-party basis, to deliver precept rises that allow Greater Manchester police to have the resources to do its job, and that the least we could expect from the Conservative-led Government is a similar level of commitment at a national level?

Andrew Gwynne: This is the first opportunity that I have had to welcome my hon. Friend to the House. He will be a stalwart campaigner for his constituents, who are on the other side of the River Tame from my constituency. He is absolutely right. Although the police authority has had to make some difficult decisions about the police precept, a lot of hard work went into ensuring that the funding package for this financial year was robust and matched the needs of policing in Greater Manchester.

Of course, the previous settlement was made by the Labour Government before the general election. As a result, police authorities set their local budgets on the basis of that settlement and will now have to make difficult choices to bring their budgets into line with the new Government's amended settlement. Greater Manchester police authority has already admitted that
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tough decisions will have to be made. There is a concern in my constituency about how that will affect policing in Greater Manchester.

Throughout the years of the Labour Government, we saw a real fall in the number of crimes that were committed. Overall, crime fell by 36%. That was, in part, thanks to the record investment in levels of policing. In 1997, Greater Manchester police employed fewer than 7,000 police officers. According to the most recent figures, from September 2009, there are now 8,148 police officers.

According to the House of Commons Library, in my constituency we now have 917 full-time equivalent police officers, as well as-a great invention of the last Labour Government-police community support officers. Across the same area, the boroughs of Tameside and Stockport, we now have 99 PCSOs committed to being a uniformed presence on the streets.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend, I would like to pay tribute, particularly to Inspector Kevin Mulligan and the Greater Manchester police force in Salford, who have done a great job, with the help of PCSOs, in bringing down crime-particularly antisocial behaviour, which was of great concern to my constituents. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that these budget cuts will really affect PCSOs and, in our case, the neighbourhood team work that can get crime and antisocial behaviour down?

Andrew Gwynne: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is crucial not to diminish the role of the PCSOs and to support the neighbourhood policing teams. Most people will recognise that neighbourhood policing teams, based on every ward in our boroughs, are one of the most successful recent changes to policing in areas such as Greater Manchester. That localism has made a big change to how the police are viewed by the general public, and it is important that we should maintain it.

Backed by that high level of investment, there have been some impressive results. In the borough of Tameside, during the period from 2001-02 to 2009-10, crime was reduced by a fifth. Crimes such as burglary fell significantly. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that the number of burglaries in Tameside fell from 6,084 in 2002-03 to 3,926 in 2008-09. There was a similar trend in Stockport: vehicle crime fell from more than 7,000 in 2002-03 to 3,746 in 2008-09. That shows that proper investment has an effect on crime. In Tameside, we know that effective crime-fighting has improved the quality of life for residents, both collectively and individually. That is why the cut of just under £7 million is of real concern.

Crime itself is not always the main threat to people's sense of well-being: sometimes the fear of crime is just as, if not more, important, although it can be hard to quantify. Neighbourhood policing and bobbies on the beat have been a real reassurance to our constituents.

I am concerned about how many more efficiency savings there are in the police service in Greater Manchester. It has been streamlined over the past decade and it is not clear that there is now much spare capacity; it is a very lean organisation. In short, all the cuts will inevitably impact on front-line services, even if that is not the Minister's intention.

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Any plans to cut back office staff might not be as simple as they first sound. Some back-office positions are filled by officers who have been injured in the line of duty. If there are no roles for them, they might have to go on sick leave, which will not help to reduce costs. A key to freeing up police officers has been to have the necessary bureaucracy carried out by civilians in a back-office role, so that officers can spend more time on the beat, which is something my constituents will want to be continued and maintained.

We also have to bear in mind that a number of cuts have already been announced and reconfirmed in today's Budget. The local crime and disorder reduction partnerships in Tameside and Stockport, and no doubt across the whole of Greater Manchester-partnerships involving various local agencies including the local council, housing associations and the NHS-have made a significant impact on reducing crime in my constituency. They have helped to reduce the rate of reoffending, especially in respect of key crimes such as burglary, car crime and antisocial behaviour.

Reducing the funding available to crime and disorder reduction partnerships will put all that good work in jeopardy. The ability to respond to complex issues in a multi-agency setting, which ensures a range of expertise, could no longer be relied on if agencies were stripped back even further. Agencies would go back to being able only to fire-fight issues, rather than take the current proactive approach to local concerns.

I give one example. In Tameside, alley-gates have had a huge impact in dealing with crime and making people feel safer. Since 2005, more than 1,300 households have benefited from the initiative. In a recent survey by Tameside council, 96% of people said that they had felt safer since the gates went up, and 42% felt that they had had an impact on antisocial behaviour. However, with local authority cuts on the way, there will be less money available for such crime prevention initiatives; that, along with further cuts in the police budgets, will have a knock-on effect.

I turn to another matter that I wish to highlight. There is a sense of irony in my constituency about the local Liberal Democrats in Stockport. I appreciate that the Minister may not have the authority to speak for his coalition partners on this matter, but we shall see. We have found out all too soon that the Liberal Democrats say one thing in opposition and quite another when in government.

In February, the Stockport Liberal Democrats put forward a council motion condemning the previous Labour Government and the borough's two Labour Members of Parliament-myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey)-for the 3% increase in the local police grant settlement, claiming that it would impact on front-line policing in Greater Manchester. How strange that they should have said nothing when the Tory-Liberal Government ordered the cuts. It is the height of hypocrisy, especially as it will mean a less effective police force in my constituency, in Tameside and Stockport and across Greater Manchester.

What objections have the local Liberal Democrats raised? The silence is deafening. [Interruption.] It so happens that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech) has just popped his head round the door; he
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has now left. Perhaps they are so mesmerised by their newly acquired Government offices that they are suffering from some form of political amnesia. They are certainly not putting the people of Stockport and Greater Manchester first. That is not surprising, given that every Liberal Democrat Member of the House today was elected on a pledge not to support the £6 billion cuts programme, although they now seem content to its being driven through at high speed. I hope that they recover their principles soon, and think once more about these damaging cuts to our police service.

I accept that people are generally suspicious of politicians using statistics, but it is worth repeating the point that when Labour was in government, we in Greater Manchester saw recorded crime fall by 36%, including antisocial behaviour and other more serious offences. We need to ask serious questions about the Government's commitment to reducing crime and protecting British people.

Has the Minister given any thought to the effect that the cuts will have on local policing? What will be the effect on the fear of crime if the police are less visible in the community? In light of the cuts to local government announced in the Budget today, what will be the effect on the funding of crime and disorder reduction partnerships? A multi-agency approach has made a real contribution to cutting crime and the fear of crime.

The counter-terrorism budget, too, has been cut-by £10 million. Although no one wants to raise public concerns about terrorism, has any assessment been made of how the cut will impact on our effectiveness in protecting the public from terrorism? That question is particularly appropriate for Greater Manchester, as its police take the lead on such issues for the whole of the north-west.

We also need to consider grants for specific posts, such as drug-testing officers or school-based police officers. They are not funded out of the main police grant, but specific grants are given for individual posts. Given the budget tightening, those important and worthwhile posts could well be under threat too, putting more pressure on the remaining posts. What assessment has been made of the combined impact of the grant reductions made by the Minister's Department and the council tax freeze, which will effectively eliminate Greater Manchester police authority's ability to raise funds locally to support policing?

From the discussions that I have had with the local police and other agencies, I know that there is a real sense of concern about this issue, not just for Greater Manchester police, but police forces across the country. We need to have a more considered approach that takes into account what local communities want and need, particularly in relation to something as important as policing and community safety. I look forward to the Minister's response.

4.45 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Nick Herbert): I congratulate the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) on securing the debate on behalf of his constituents, and I thank him for his kind words about my appointment to the job. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the important issue of police funding.

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