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House of Commons

Monday 4 February 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Closed Circuit Television

1. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): What plans he has to increase the funding of grants for the extension of CCTV schemes. [29846]

The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): Six hundred and seventy-one CCTV schemes have been funded at a cost of about £170 million under the crime reduction programme. Opportunities for funding CCTV schemes exist under the communities against drugs and the small retailers in deprived areas initiatives.

Mr. Hoyle: I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Will he find extra funding for the successful schemes in Chorley in the town's fight against crime? Will he also ensure that grants will be available for community wardens in the Chorley scheme?

Mr. Denham: I am well aware of my hon. Friend's strong support for crime reduction measures in Chorley. Funds are available—including communities against drugs money—that could be used on a variety of means to tackle crime and disorder. We shall announce further arrangements for funding crime reduction in the near future.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The death of a fine young man, Tim Robinson, in a stabbing incident while he was parking his car in London has caused great grief in the village of Beaulieu in my constituency, where he was brought up and where his parents still live. It seems likely that CCTV will play a vital role in the apprehension of his killers, but does the Minister agree that, were it not for the stop and search restrictions that have resulted from the constant accusations of racism against the police, it would be possible to deter a considerable number of would-be criminals from casually carrying knives when they go about their evil work?

Mr. Denham: All hon. Members will agree that the crime to which the hon. Gentleman referred was appalling and that it is essential that we take the firmest possible

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action to stamp out such crime. The House will be aware of the moves announced by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, which, from today, will lead to about 475 extra officers being deployed in London to tackle street robbery. It is essential that that be done.

However, I do not agree that restrictions have been placed on stop and search. Powers to stop and to search are an essential part of effective policing and we are determined to ensure that that can continue, but in ways that maintain the confidence of all the communities that are being policed.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): A few years ago in my constituency, a taxi driver died as a result of a fracas in a private-hire taxi. Bolton is the first local authority to install miniature CCTV cameras on the windscreens of black cabs and private-hire vehicles. That successful experiment has been made permanent. The scheme is self-financing in that taxi drivers have to lease the cameras, but the cost is offset by their reduced insurance premiums. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that brave experiment should be spread throughout the country?

Mr. Denham: I am fascinated to learn of that initiative in Bolton, of which I was not aware. Much extraordinarily good innovative work is going on throughout the country to reduce and fight crime, and we are working as hard as we can to spread best practice. If my hon. Friend will give me further details, I shall make sure that they are posted on the Home Office website, so that people in all parts of the country can study them and learn from that success.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): More cameras are welcome, but does the Minister agree that they should be a complement to, not a substitute for, more police resources in front-line area policing and more regular patrolling?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Wherever I have been, the police welcome CCTV as a tool to help them in the fight against crime, but of course we need more police officers. That is why, this spring, we shall have a record number of police officers in England and Wales, and in spring 2003 there will be more than 130,000. It is not only a matter of having more officers, but of making the best use of their time. That is why we set up a taskforce, headed by the former chief inspector of police, Sir David O'Dowd, to find ways of cutting red tape and bureaucracy and freeing up police officer time so that officers can be out in the community where the public want to see them.

Language and Citizenship Education

2. Tony Cunningham (Workington): If he will make a statement on his plans to offer language and citizenship education to those settling long term in the UK. [29847]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): In a few days, I will be publishing a comprehensive and holistic policy paper on nationality, managed migration and asylum. As part of the programme for integration with diversity and building social cohesion I shall expand on our proposals for English, Welsh or

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Scottish Gaelic to be understood by those seeking citizenship, together with an understanding of society and its institutions.

Tony Cunningham: Does the Secretary of State agree that it is fairly self-evident that new citizens who are fluent in English will have a much greater chance of successfully integrating into the community and of getting jobs, and that an understanding of citizenship will lead to new citizens taking a fuller part in the democratic process? But does he further agree that not just new citizens need to have a greater understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship; everyone has a part to play in combating bigotry and prejudice?

Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. That is why I am proud to have piloted, as the then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the citizenship programme in our schools, which becomes mandatory from September this year, and to have instilled an understanding that, in post-16 and adult education, we need to produce throughout the country not simply an understanding of equality so that we reach out to those who come into our community—important though that is—but an understanding of our institutions so that people can use democracy to bring about peaceful change. If we can achieve that and ensure that that programme is available for those who seek our citizenship, Britain will have a more stable backcloth and foundation to ensure that we overcome racism and bigotry, which are unacceptable in any guise.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): Cultural and linguistic diversity are to be greatly valued, so I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on the Welsh language, but may I press him to ensure that opportunities to learn Welsh are available not only in the so-called Welsh-speaking areas, but throughout the country?

Mr. Blunkett: The Assembly is keen to ensure that such opportunities are available in Wales, and I shall certainly talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about Welsh being available in England. That would ensure that people could gain access to jobs more readily if they moved to Wales, which, of course, underlines the reason why it is so important in education, training and employment to have a grasp of the language that is regularly used.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, before we move towards a stronger requirement for a knowledge of English to obtain citizenship, we must ensure that there is adequate teaching of English as a second language in every area where there is a large ethnic community? I visited an English class for mainly Asian women in Bradford a few weeks ago and sat in on interviews with those Asian women. They were all told that they would have to wait 12 months before they could join the class. That is not the case in Keighley, but it certainly is in Bradford.

Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Such teaching is part of the basic skills agenda. The Secretary of State has asked the Learning and Skills Council to map where facilities are available throughout the country. When I publish the White Paper, we shall

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make it clear that it is no longer acceptable to provide free facilities for the head of the family, but not for the spouse who has come into the country, and we will put that right.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I in no way wish to challenge the Home Secretary's enthusiasm for the Welsh language, or even for Scottish Gaelic, but does he accept that it is of paramount importance that every British subject should be fluent in the English language and that, following on the question asked by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), everything should be done to expedite classes and ensure that he sets himself a target so that, by the end of this decade, all British subjects are fluent in the English language?

Mr. Blunkett: I should like to set myself a target, but I shall draw breath after the mapping of the facilities. It would be nice to ensure that the indigenous population, as well as those who come into the country, spoke fluent English before the end of the decade. I have been reprimanded, sotto voce, by one of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench for mispronouncing "Gaelic", for which I apologise.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): I am grateful to the Government for introducing better citizenship classes for people who are newly arrived in Britain, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of ethnic minority people in this country were born in Britain? What steps is his Department taking, working with the Commission for Racial Equality and the race equality unit, to ensure that younger ethnic minority people in particular can better participate in life in Britain?

Mr. Blunkett: I believe that that is part of the social cohesion agenda being taken forward by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs. That point should be integrated with my hon. Friend's wider point. He is right that most second and third generation migrants speak English as well as anyone else, but the difficulty is that their parents and grandparents often do not have that ability. There is therefore a tension between what happens at home and what happens at school or on the street. That point came out in the Cantle report, which said that people were torn between two different countries, cultures and societies. We need to address that point and not destroy the cultural heritage or diversity that are the ingredients of our country, but help people through those tensions.

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