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House of Commons

Monday 28 June 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked-


1. Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the level of problem drug use in this country compared to other EU member states. [4219]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The most recent estimate of problem drug users for England is 328,767 for 2006-07. Estimates for 2008-09 will be available in October. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction estimates show the UK with the highest rate, although there is no consistent methodology for calculating estimates across different countries, which prevents direct comparisons. Nevertheless, that level of problem drug use is unacceptable. The Government are committed to tackling it and rebalancing the treatment system so that abstinence is the clear goal.

Sarah Newton: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer, but does she agree that one of the biggest problems at the moment is the availability of so-called legal highs? Does she agree that the previous Government were slow to address the issue, and can she assure the House-and especially the families in my constituency who have young people going off to university for the first time this autumn-that she will take action to protect people from such substances?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She has made an extremely valid point on an issue that will concern a large number of parents and others. She is right to say that the previous Government were slow to deal with the issue of legal highs, particularly mephedrone. It was only pushing from our party while in opposition that led them to do something about it, and we are committed to introducing a temporary ban on legal highs.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The United Kingdom has the harshest drug laws in Europe and the highest number of addicts. Portugal has the least harsh policies in all of Europe and the smallest number of addicts. Why is this?

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Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman has been a long-standing campaigner on the issue of drugs. As it happens, he and I take a different view on how we should approach the issue. What we need to be doing in this country is looking at making abstinence much more of a goal for individuals and looking seriously at ensuring that the treatment and rehabilitation provided to drug addicts mean that they do not simply go back on drugs in future.

Defendant Anonymity (Rape Trials)

2. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the effects on police investigations of plans to give anonymity to defendants in rape trials; and if she will make a statement. [4220]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Lynne Featherstone): My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has had a number of discussions on this issue with her cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Justice. We have made it clear that we will progress our commitment on this subject with the care that it merits. Our consideration of the options will of course include a full examination of any impact on police investigations.

Kerry McCarthy: The Minister will know that this issue has been brought up time and again in the Chamber. We have had a confusing and mixed set of responses from the various Ministers who have answered. Could she now confirm whether it is the Government's intention to bring forward legislation to give anonymity to rape defendants, and if so, what is the timetable for that, and on what basis have they made that decision?

Lynne Featherstone: There have been a number of discussions, as I just said, and the Prime Minister himself has said that the issue will be brought forward for debate in this Chamber at an appropriate point.

Alan Johnson (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab): I would be interested at some stage to learn the Home Secretary's views on the issue, because it is a crucial one both for the Home Department and for equalities. The Lord Chancellor told the House the other day that he had voted for anonymity in 2003. I voted against it, and that is still my view, but at some stage I would like to know the Home Secretary's view.

As for the Minister, she will know that the Prime Minister recently told the House when he replied to a question on the issue that Baroness Stern had

The Minister should know that the Stern report made no such finding and that what Baroness Stern recommended was independent research to study the frequency of false allegations of rape compared with other offences. Does the Minister agree that the Government ought to be implementing that recommendation, instead of proposing to introduce anonymity?

Lynne Featherstone: In the first instance, I am sure that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Justice will indeed look at what sort of research is necessary, prior to bringing any debate to the House.

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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I was slightly taken aback by the hon. Lady's "Oh, we're going to look at the research before we do this", given that, up until now, it seems there has been a failure to talk to those tasked with implementing the policy. Has she or any of her colleagues spoken to the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on rape about the policy, and what has his response been?

Lynne Featherstone: I have not spoken to the ACPO lead on the issue, but I will refer that question to the Secretary of State for Justice, who may well have done so.

Domestic Violence

3. Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): How she plans to take forward the conclusions of the work of the "Together we can end violence against women and girls" strategy consultation on domestic violence. [4221]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Lynne Featherstone): Violence against women and girls ruins lives and destroys families, and its impact is felt down the generations. A cross-government strategy is the best way to address domestic violence and other forms of violence against women. In July, the Home Secretary will chair a meeting of Ministers across government that will be dedicated to this issue, and we look forward to discussing how we will take forward our approach in this area.

Mr Umunna: I am a supporter of the Cassandra learning centre, which is an organisation in my community that works on these issues. It was set up by the family of a victim whose killer was one of the first to be retried and sentenced following the revision of the rules on double jeopardy. What funding do the Government intend to make available to such third sector organisations working in this field and, importantly, will that funding be ring-fenced, given last week's Budget?

Lynne Featherstone: I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this area. The coalition Government have committed to look at how we can provide sustainable funding for, and support the development of, new rape crisis centres to provide for victims. At the moment, in the voluntary sector, this provision has been very ad hoc and serendipitous, and it is important to get it on a stable basis.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): What plans does the Minister have for longer-term funding for voluntary sector organisations, including refuges?

Lynne Featherstone: I can really only refer to the rape crisis centres-both parties in the coalition agreement have committed to up to 15 rape crisis centres-and sustainable funding from the victim surcharge.

Alan Johnson (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab): According to the British crime survey, the incidence of domestic violence has decreased by 64 % since 1997. Does the Minister agree that the British crime survey is the best measurement of long-term crime trends?

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Lynne Featherstone: The British crime survey is a good source of information, but I will refer this matter back and the Minister will write.

Detention (Terrorist Suspects)

4. Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Whether she plans to renew the legislation which permits terrorist suspects to be detained for 28 days without charge. [4222]

6. Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): Whether she plans to renew the legislation which permits terrorist suspects to be detained for 28 days without charge. [4224]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Government laid an order last Thursday to renew the existing 28-day maximum period for pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects for six months, while we conduct a review of counter-terrorism measures and programmes, including pre-charge detention. Both coalition parties are clear that the 28-day period should be a temporary measure, and one that we shall be looking to reduce over time.

Bob Blackman: I thank the Home Secretary for her answer. We are, of course, all committed to safeguarding Britain against terrorist activities. How many people have been detained for 28 days under these powers in the past three years?

Mrs May: I am sure that my hon. Friend has followed the old adage about not asking a question to which one does not know the answer. The answer is that, since 2007, no one has been detained for 28 days. Before that date, a number of people were detained for periods of between 14 and 28 days. As I made clear in my opening answer, we see the 28-day period as a temporary measure, and we are committed to reducing it over time.

Mr Davis: I, too, thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Will she give the House an undertaking that the deferral of the decision on 28 days does not indicate any weakening of her determination to constrain not only the excessive length of detention without charge but the other excesses introduced by the Labour Government-namely, house arrest, internal exile, secret trials and all the other issues associated with control orders?

Mrs May: Of course, my right hon. Friend has a distinguished record of fighting for these civil liberties issues. I can assure him that one of the key reasons for introducing the 28-days order for six months was that it would enable us to look at the pre-charge detention period alongside a number of other issues relating to counter-terrorism legislation that we wish to consider. These include control orders, and stop-and-search procedures under section 44. We want to review the various measures and look at them in the round.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): As one who proposed the period of 28 days, may I remind the Home Secretary that it was the alternative to 90 days or 42 days? If it were possible, despite the acute terrorist danger, for the 28 days to be reduced to 14 days, I would certainly be very happy.

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Mrs May: I commend the hon. Gentleman on the campaign in which he, too, participated in the Chamber to ensure that his party's Government did not introduce the 90 days or the 42 days, which we collectively opposed at the time when they were proposed. We consider 28 days to be a temporary measure. We will look at the issue in the round, in the context of other counter-terrorism measures introduced by the last Labour Government and the requirement to balance civil liberties with the need for national security.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): We have had to take a number of measures which have not always involved easy decisions, such as the 28 days' detention. The right hon. Lady said after she had had assumed her post that she would review control orders. Has she reached a view, and if so, when will she inform us of it? If we could charge people through the courts we would all want to do so, but it is not always possible.

Mrs May: In my answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), I cited control orders as one of the items in counter-terrorism legislation that we were currently reviewing.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend recall the time when it was possible to exclude people from this country on the basis that their presence was not conducive to the public good? Is not our current dilemma about putting people under restraint for a period of days due to the fact that we are no longer able to deport people who have no legal right to be here because of legislation initiated either at home or abroad? What is the state of that legislation, and when will we be able to get rid of people who should not have been here in the first place?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend has raised a number of points, and I shall try to limit my answer for brevity's sake. Let me simply say that I share his concern about the country's inability to deport people who, in some cases, have been identified clearly as a terrorist threat to the country and a danger to national security. We are looking at the issue, but obviously we must ensure that, whatever we do, we take our national security and the protection of British citizens into account.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Given that terrorism is not a temporary aberration, what more permanent measures has the Home Secretary in mind for the purpose of countering terrorism across the United Kingdom? In particular, will the Government make good their pre-election commitment to ensure that automatic number plate recognition systems are available in Northern Ireland, especially in the border area, to prevent terrorists from moving across our border?

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman has asked a very specific question about automatic number plate recognition. As he and other Members may know, the issue has come to the fore in a rather different context in England recently in relation to its use in Birmingham. We will be considering it as one of the various measures that we are considering in connection with CCTV.

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Community Protection Officers (Nottingham)

5. Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): How many community protection officers there are in the city of Nottingham. [4223]

The Minister for Police (Nick Herbert): I understand that there are 102 community protection officers in the city of Nottingham. Nottingham also has 30 auxiliary officers, funded through the working neighbourhood fund, who work with the community protection officers. Those officers work in close partnership with neighbourhood policing teams in the city.

Mr Allen: Will the Minister congratulate the city of Nottingham division of the police-and, indeed, police community support officers and community protection officers-on the massive reduction in crime in the city? Will he emphasise that that is because people trust the uniformed presence that they have seen on the streets in the last five or six years, and will he ensure that that level of uniformed protection remains in future years under this coalition Government?

Nick Herbert: I recognise the role that community protection officers play in Nottingham as part of the wider policing family, alongside PCSOs and police officers. The Government have had to reduce national allocations in order to reduce the budget deficit, but we have also relaxed ring-fencing to give the city council and its partners freedom to determine their priorities in order to meet local needs and provide local opportunities.

Milngavie Waterworks

7. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What representations she has received from Scottish Water on removal of the security fences at Milngavie waterworks. [4225]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): No representations have been received from Scottish Water, but I am aware of the hon. Lady's interest and of discussions that have taken place between Scottish Water, the Scottish Government and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure about the replacement of security fencing with less intrusive measures.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Minister for that answer, but these so-called security fences around Milngavie reservoir cover only a tiny part of the three-mile perimeter, and as the rest is completely open to the public they serve no practical purpose other than being an eyesore spoiling a beautiful and popular local attraction. Scottish Water has said that it is waiting on a new directive from the Home Office before it can remove these fences, so can the Minister look at this issue again and ensure that that directive is issued without delay?

James Brokenshire: I know that the hon. Lady has run the campaign, and I understand her interest in ensuring access to the area around the reservoir. We will discuss with the Scottish Government the application that I understand they have received from Scottish Water in relation to this issue. The continuing need for
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the security fences will be looked at in the light of CPNI advice and any other alternative measures that may be forthcoming.

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