9 Jun 2008 : Column 1

House of Commons

Monday 9 June 2008

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—

Violent Crime

1. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What recent steps the Government have taken to reduce levels of violent crime. [208939]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): The whole House will be saddened to learn of the tragic death today of a police officer during a training exercise with Greater Manchester police. It demonstrates the dangers that police officers face on our behalf, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to the officer’s family, friends and colleagues.

According to the British crime survey, violent crime has fallen by 31 per cent. since 1997. We are determined to make more progress, particularly in tackling serious violence. Last September, I set up the tackling gangs action programme, which has brought about a 51 per cent. reduction in gun-related injuries in the target areas. Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced further actions to tackle knife crime, including changing police and prosecutors guidance so that all over-16s can expect to be prosecuted the first time they are caught with a knife. The violent crime action plan sets out a further comprehensive set of actions that we will take in the next three years.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given the Prime Minister’s statement, can she say what discussions she has had with chief constables and youth organisations regarding knife crime?

Jacqui Smith: We have had very significant discussions with chief police officers and young people, particularly in developing our campaign to try to remove any glamour from the idea of carrying knives. Of course, we continue to talk to the very important organisations that are working in our communities across the country to help us and the police to tackle serious violence, and knife crime in particular.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In the year to March, 978 violent offences were recorded in the town of Kettering, which is 18 per cent. of its crime total. I strongly suspect that most of this crime was fuelled by alcohol. What is the Home Secretary doing, along with her colleagues, to try to reduce alcohol’s influence on violent offences?

Jacqui Smith: We have of course already taken action, not least through confiscation programmes, to ensure that young people do not have alcohol in public. We have worked hard, alongside trading standards and others, on test purchase campaigns, which are showing some success in reducing the availability of alcohol, particularly to young people. We are also working across government on making clear the dangers of excessive drinking, both to health and in respect of the link to crime. As the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Children, Schools and Families and for Health announced last week, we are bringing forward a series of further actions, on young people and alcohol in particular.

9 Jun 2008 : Column 3

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Government need to do more in this regard, because 46 per cent. of crime is alcohol-related. On the Asda website this morning, one could purchase a litre of water for 93p, whereas a litre of Smartprice beer costs only 52p. What further steps do the Government propose to take to ensure that the alcohol industry and the supermarkets are aware of their responsibility to stop loss leaders being sold in supermarkets and to save the taxpayer the £7.2 billion that we spend on alcohol-related crime?

Jacqui Smith: The alcohol industry already has a set of social responsibility standards. However, I have instigated a review of those standards, with a view to making them mandatory. We are also concerned about price promotions, as my right hon. Friend outlines, which is why the Department of Health is leading an independent review of the evidence on the relationship between alcohol price, promotion and harm. It is due to report this summer, when we will be able to take further action.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): What strategy does the Secretary of State have for dealing with street gangs and, as importantly, for diverting young people from gang membership?

Jacqui Smith: We have developed that strategy through the tackling gangs action programme, which I mentioned in my first answer; through tough enforcement; through using surveillance to identify those who are engaged in gangs, and working with them to encourage them out of that lifestyle; through working alongside community organisations to prevent people from getting into gangs in the first place; and through taking action both at local level and internationally, particularly to prevent the supply of guns in those areas. In addition to some of the very good work happening in those areas, we have, as I said in my original answer, already made progress in reducing the number of gun-related injuries. Because of that success, I have allocated a further £1 million to continue our work, particularly in the areas where gang-related violence is most serious.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): There is no more serious crime the length and breadth of the UK than gun crime. Given that there are, as yet, no borders between the four countries that make up the UK, will my right hon. Friend resist any populist calls to devolve legislation from this House to the Scottish Parliament? Such a move would be seen as simply a populist measure, and we must ensure that legislation on gun crime continues to be dealt with in this place.

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are determined to implement the legislation—for example, the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, on which we consulted widely with the Scottish Executive—to ensure that any further action that we take, for example, that on tightening the controls on deactivated firearms, also spreads throughout the United Kingdom. In fact, we go further, because we recognise that unless we have an impact across Europe, where gun control laws are considerably less strong than ours, we will not be successful. That is why I am pleased that Arlene McCarthy, MEP for the North-West region, has led the way in Europe on
9 Jun 2008 : Column 4
strengthening the weapons directive, helping to protect everyone across Europe and those in this country in particular.

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I join the Home Secretary in passing on our condolences to the family of the police officer from Greater Manchester police who has so sadly lost his life.

The Government claim that they want to obtain better data and information to help to combat violent knife crime, but there is no monitoring of the use of search powers, knife arches or the number of weapons recovered in schools. Why not?

Jacqui Smith: A change that my predecessor made will enable us to be much clearer about levels of knife crime from last April. Where monitoring will help us to make a difference, we will monitor. What the hon. Gentleman actually did was list a range of actions that we have taken—more knife arches and wands, a greater ability to search people in schools for knives, and more ability to use stop-and-search powers. At least two of those changes were opposed by the Opposition on at least some occasions—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We will not go there.

Criminal Records Bureau

2. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent representations she has received on the reuse of Criminal Records Bureau disclosures. [208940]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): During 2008, Home Office Ministers have received 16 representations on the reuse of CRB disclosures.

David Taylor: Numerous constituents working in the voluntary or public sectors have raised concerns with me about the non-reusability of existing CRB checks as the cost and delay of obtaining new CRB disclosures, sometimes monthly, can be prohibitive, especially for agency nurses and supply teachers. Will my hon. Friend undertake to discuss urgently with the CRB how it can improve the existing portability framework document, because employers and employment agencies tend seriously to exaggerate the risk of reusing CRB checks?

Meg Hillier: The decision whether to accept a previous CRB check needs to be made by the employer. Currently the CRB is not involved if a previous disclosure is accepted. However, the advent of the independent safeguarding authority will allow continuous monitoring, especially for the teachers whom my hon. Friend mentioned and anybody working with children or vulnerable adults. That body will be able to update the employer at any point if the employee’s status changes.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I listened to that answer with care. The Minister mentioned people working with vulnerable adults. I know that the Home Secretary has been made aware by the Association of Chief Police Officers of one problem in our care home sector, in which many of the workers are overseas nationals, and the difficulty of getting good criminal records checks for them because of the problem of
9 Jun 2008 : Column 5
getting data from overseas. I have written to the Minister for Borders and Immigration on that point. Can the Minister update the House on what steps the Government are taking to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are properly protected?

Meg Hillier: This is an area that I am discussing a great deal with colleagues in Europe. I remind the hon. Gentleman that our introduction of identity cards for foreign nationals, which will start in November, will significantly help us to determine the identity of, and thereby perform greater checks on, individuals working in Britain and their legality. We are also discussing with several countries how better to exchange criminal data about people, but the onus has to be on the employer to decide whether they have the relevant information from people. There are complications in that some acts that would be considered crimes in this country are not criminal offences in the country of origin.

Drugs Testing

3. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): If she will review the list of offences which trigger tests for cocaine and opiates for those in police custody. [208941]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Offences that lead to a drug test of offenders in police custody are those which have been shown to have the clearest link with class A drug misuse. These are kept under regular review. In 2007-08, under the drug interventions programme, there were some 224,000 tests for specified class A drugs, heroin and cocaine, and 38 per cent. were positive—indicating that the right people are being targeted by the programme. Since the start of the DIP, acquisitive crime has fallen by 22 per cent.

Mr. Brady: As a Greater Manchester MP, may I also express my deep condolences to the family and colleagues of the officer who died this morning?

The Minister said that 38 per cent. of those who are tested for class A drugs when in custody prove positive. Do not the huge increase in the numbers of those found to be taking those drugs and the high percentage of people who are tested show that it is time to look again at the trigger offences? We have already heard about the number of alcohol-influenced offences on our streets; does not this show that an alarming number of cases are affected by drugs, too? Surely we need to know more about how many people, and which people, are committing such crimes.

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman knows about these things, and he knows that the trigger offences have been designated according to the likelihood that they are linked to drugs misuse. He will also know that although we have a list of trigger offences that automatically mean that offenders are tested for drug misuse when arrested, it is up to an inspector—or anyone above that rank in the police force—to test those people if they believe that the offence has been contributed to by drug misuse. The offences mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, such as alcohol-related offences—or, indeed, public order
9 Jun 2008 : Column 6
and violence offences—are not trigger offences, but an inspector in the custody suite can choose to test for drugs if he thinks it appropriate.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Could we have a little cross-party support on this issue? The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) is right. Would my hon. Friend the Minister support the views of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, on celebrity cocaine users and deplore the rather odd jobsworth response of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who said that it is very difficult to deal with those celebrities? The plain fact is that our young people should see celebrity drug users—the Kate Mosses, Amy Winehouses and Notting Hill millionaires at their dinner parties—as an example not to be followed. Internationally, if we want to reduce supply we have to reduce demand. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner is right and the DPP is wrong.

Mr. Coaker: Of course, people who act as role models for young people and others have to accept the responsibility that they have. One would hope that that applied to the people to whom the Metropolitan Police Commissioner referred. On cocaine in general, class A drug use has remained stable overall. The problem that we have had is the use not of crack cocaine but of powder cocaine, which is the drug that the commissioner was referring to.

One way we are trying to tackle the problem is a campaign that I recently launched with the Colombian President, which I know that my right hon. Friend knows about. It is a shared responsibility campaign so that those who take powder cocaine, believing that their doing so has no effect on anybody else, can reflect on the effect that it has not only on crime in their areas but on Colombia. It wrecks that country and prevents it from moving forward in the way the Government would wish. Perhaps those who take cocaine should reflect on the impact on Colombia as well as on their communities.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Equally worrying is the presence of drugs in prison. Will the Minister work with the Justice Secretary to see what steps can be taken to prevent the entry of drugs into prisons? I did a murder case some four years ago and the defendant was high on heroin throughout the proceedings, which was an extraordinary state of affairs since he was in custody.

Mr. Coaker: Of course it is important that the Home Office works with the Secretary of State for Justice to deal with the issues caused by drugs in prison. The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes an important point. There have been a number of policy developments, the amount of money has increased, and so on. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that one aspect of dealing with the matter is that we should ensure not only that we deal with the needs of people with a substance misuse problem while they are in prison, but that they have a proper care plan in place when they are released.

Identity Fraud

4. Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the likely effect of the introduction of identity cards on levels of identity fraud. [208942]

9 Jun 2008 : Column 7

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): We estimate that ID cards will prevent at least £310 million of ID fraud as they are implemented. Clearly, the benefits of the ID card scheme will increase as take-up increases after the 2011 roll-out to the general population.

Martin Linton: Two of the worst 10 postcodes for ID fraud in the country are in my constituency, so I welcome the Minister’s estimate that the minimum savings will be £310 million, and I would value her confirmation that the maximum savings would be £575 million. In view of that, will she urge Opposition members of the all-party group on identity fraud to stop opposing ID cards, since they would make the biggest single contribution to reducing ID fraud?

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not a responsibility of the Minister to do that.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Does the Minister believe that ID cards should be made compulsory?

Meg Hillier: The Government’s position on compulsion is absolutely clear and has been from the moment the ID card scheme was first mooted. We believe that once ID cards have been rolled out to the general population, and then only if there is wide acceptance of the scheme, the Government of the day could make a proposal to Parliament to vote on whether ID cards should be compulsory, but there are no plans for compulsion at the point of introduction in 2011. [ Interruption. ] I am being interrupted by sedentary comments, so it is worth adding that 80 per cent. of British citizens currently have passports, and we envisage that, about 10 years after the roll-out in 2011, we will see a similar take-up of either passports or ID cards for the population, which is a pretty good coverage.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister seems slightly confused about compulsion, but can she clear up another area of confusion? Can she explain why, at the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, the Government literature complained that the then Conservative candidate—now, I am happy to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr. Timpson)—

Mr. Speaker: Order. It would not have been Government literature; it would have been party literature. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could rephrase his question by saying something like, “An organisation that supported the Government”. How is that?

Damian Green: I always seek to be accurate at the Dispatch Box, and saying that the whole Labour party supports the Government would not meet that criterion. Nevertheless, Ministers have said that it would not be compulsory to carry ID cards. At Crewe and Nantwich, they said that it would be compulsory to carry ID cards. Will the Minister say whether it is now the new Labour vision of Britain that if people nip out to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk, they must carry their papers to show to the authorities, and is she proud of that vision?

Meg Hillier: I am really rather sad that Her Majesty’s Opposition have sunk to such pathetic depths to scaremonger in that way. Let me make it really clear, if it was not clear already: the legislation that has passed
9 Jun 2008 : Column 8
through the House makes it absolutely clear that there is no compulsion to carry an ID card. Furthermore, section 13 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 prohibits the presentation of the card specially to access a public service. There is a difference, however, for foreign national identity cards, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman and his party to tell us where they stand on whether foreign nationals should be compulsorily required to have an identity card, as part of their immigration status in this country.

Next Section Index Home Page