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Antisocial Behaviour

16. Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of his Department’s measures to combat antisocial behaviour. [283800]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): Three independent reports confirm that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. The National Audit Office reported that two thirds of people stop committing antisocial behaviour after one intervention; the proportion rises to nine out of 10 after three interventions.

Angela Watkinson: I thank the Minister for his reply. As he will know, in serious cases of antisocial behaviour, the victim, the police and the local authority have to work together to compile sufficient evidence to get the case to court. The period taken is far too long. What else can the Minister do to shorten that period and lessen the suffering of the victims of antisocial behaviour?

Mr. Campbell: It is important that swift progress is made. It is also important that victims feel as if they are at the centre of the process. That is why we are looking not only at the time taken to bring cases to court, but at appointing people such as the victims’ champion to ensure that victims are at the heart of everything we do.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): A form of antisocial behaviour that can affect a whole community is kerb crawling and prostitution. The residents of Chalvey in my constituency have taken to standing on the streets themselves to collect the car registration numbers of kerb crawlers. What comfort can the Minister give them that we will be more effective in tackling this kind of antisocial behaviour?

Mr. Campbell: As my hon. Friend knows, we are bringing forward proposals in the Policing and Crime Bill to tackle the issues that she refers to in response to the concerns of local communities.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Could the Minister respond to a scenario whereby the local council is asked under the safety partnership scheme to provide funds to root out antisocial behaviour but has no money to do so? Who should then step in to make amends to the households that are being disturbed by such behaviour?

Mr. Campbell: Local partnerships, of which local authorities are a key part, have a key role to play in tackling the problems in their local areas. Local councils have had increased budgets over the past few years in order to bring that to the table, and that is precisely what they should be doing. Residents have every right to look to the local authority, as well as to the police and other agencies, to step up to the mark with regard to antisocial behaviour.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): What representations has my hon. Friend had from social landlords, local authorities and others about the effectiveness of means by which they can act as witnesses on behalf of those who are victims of antisocial behaviour? In so many instances, victims of such behaviour are too frightened to give evidence in their own right and instead look to others to act on their behalf, but in my experience there is a long way to go before we find that that is working effectively.

Mr. Campbell: This is about building people’s confidence so that they feel confident in bringing forward their concerns about tackling antisocial behaviour. It is also about building confidence across the criminal justice
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system to ensure that in these circumstances people are seen as the victims, not as perpetrators. We talk to local authorities, the police and social landlords about a range of issues, and I am happy to talk further to my hon. Friend about this matter.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): In relation to young people and antisocial behaviour, can the Minister say what discussions take place across Government Departments and with local authorities to provide facilities for young people? We want joined-up government that is tough on the causes of problems as well on those who create them.

Mr. Campbell: That is an important part of what we do. Of course, we have to send out a strong enforcement message saying that if people get involved in antisocial behaviour and break the law, they should fear the consequences. Across Departments, we look to produce what are referred to as diversionary activities, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights when the problems are worst in local communities. We also work through organisations such as Positive Futures.

National Identity Scheme

20. Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): What recent representations he has received on the introduction of the national identity scheme. [283804]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): Again, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Goodwill: When I was a member of the Select Committee on Transport, we visited Atocha station in Spain, the scene of the terrorist atrocity that took place there. Is he aware that every single member of the terrorist group involved carried Spanish identity cards?

Alan Johnson: I was aware of that, actually. I do not know what point the hon. Gentleman would make about it, but I would say this: as I made absolutely clear earlier, we are not saying that identity cards are being introduced because they will free us of a terrorist threat; they are being introduced for several reasons. I note from that specific case in Madrid that one of the perpetrators was traced through his identity card.

Chorley Forensic Science Service Laboratory

22. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): What his plans are for the future of Chorley Forensic Science Service laboratory; and if he will make a statement. [283806]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): The future of the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Chorley will be considered as part of the consultation process being undertaken by the FSS. No decision has yet been taken about the future of Chorley or any other laboratory site.

Mr. Hoyle: I take it from that that the Minister is going to work overtime to ensure that the Chorley laboratory remains. As he knows, this Government were elected on being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Will he ensure that they continue to put
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criminals behind bars? The north-west region has the second biggest rate of crime being committed, and it would be absolute nonsense if this Government were to consider closure. I look to my hon. Friend to state now that he will do all he can to ensure that Chorley remains open.

Mr. Campbell: I work overtime most of the time, but I am quite focused on this issue. We need to ensure that we have a Forensic Science Service that is capable of continuing to perform a critical role in bringing people to justice, but it needs a viable and sustainable future. That is what the transformation programme is all about, and I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will continue to make his strong case.

Topical Questions

T1. [283809] Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): The Home Office puts public protection at the heart of its work to counter terrorism, cut crime, provide effective policing, secure our borders and protect personal identity.

Mr. Hollobone: For the time that he occupies the important and high office of Home Secretary, will the right hon. Gentleman rule out an amnesty for illegal immigrants?

Alan Johnson: We have no plans for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. That is not part of the work that I have taken over as Home Secretary, and I do not believe that it will be part of the work that I do, however long I am in this position.

T8. [283817] Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Through the excellent work of the police in Halton and the local partnership, we have seen a significant reduction in crime rates. However, one thing that continues to frustrate local people is that when action is recommended and taken to the courts, it is not always supported by the courts. A good example recently was that a shopping centre wanted to ban a shoplifter who had been convicted on a number of occasions, but the court did not support that. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with the Ministry of Justice about that issue?

Alan Johnson: This has been a constant theme of my discussions with the police, and I expect it to be a theme of the Association of Chief Police Officers conference this week. We need to get the balance right, and of course no one is suggesting that there should be any interference with the ability of the courts to judge each case on its merits. However, many police believe that there should be a debate about sentencing law so that those brought to justice are carried through the courts process. That is a matter for discussion between myself and the Secretary of State for Justice. We talk about these issues all the time, and that is a very important part of our ongoing dialogue.

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T2. [283810] Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): In Crewe and Nantwich, the breach rate of antisocial behaviour orders among those aged between 10 and 17 stands at a staggering 69 per cent. Last week the Home Secretary admitted that the Government had become complacent in tackling louts, but what is he doing for my constituents in Cheshire to ensure that the orders are strictly enforced? Simply handing out more orders faster is not enough.

Alan Johnson: There are two points to be made in response to the hon. Gentleman’s very important point. First, his experience in Crewe is not reflected in statistics nationally. Generally, 65 per cent. will comply on the first occasion, with something like 78 per cent. doing so on the second occasion and 95 per cent. on the third. That is in the context of antisocial behaviour that is sometimes going on 365 days a year.

I do not think that there is a need for rafts of new legislation. All the powers are there; they just need to be used. So my second point is that if there is one aspect that we need to look at again—we will do so in legislation in the fifth Session—it is the fact that parenting orders are discretionary, not mandatory, when youngsters come before the courts again for a breach of an antisocial behaviour order. That is one element on which we can usefully fill the gap in legislation.

T9. [283818] David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Animal welfare is a key priority for a civilised society, yet in the United Kingdom, 2007 saw the sixth consecutive increase in the number of animals used in scientific experiments. For the first time in a generation, the figure exceeded 3 million. The 2008 figure will be out soon. Will the Minister ensure that the Government respond formally to the Uncaged campaign’s historic petition, which cross-party colleagues and I presented at No. 10 last Thursday and which was signed by 1.5 million people, calling for the use of animals in the laboratory to be prohibited?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): To some extent, the problem is demand-led, but my hon. Friend is right to suggest that we need a robust framework to ensure that when those practices need to take place, they are carefully monitored. The Government are also keen to find alternatives to animal testing. We are committing to that not only our political will, but increased resources.

T3. [283811] Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Will the Home Secretary act now to deal with growing anger in my constituency and around the country about the plans to extradite Mr. Gary McKinnon to the United States? Mr. McKinnon has no previous convictions and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Given that there is power to try him in this country, where the offence was committed, will the Government intervene to ensure that that happens and that he is not sent to languish in an American supermax jail indefinitely?

Alan Johnson: First, the case is the subject of a judicial review and I do not think that I can say anything helpful about that. However, there were reports this morning that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague in another place had written to me to ask me, as Secretary of State,
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to use my “undoubted discretion” about the case. I have no discretion over prosecutions. The High Court confirmed that in January, when it said:

of Public Prosecutions—

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): It is now some months since the points-based system came into effect. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who has experienced an increase in immigration casework, not because of the principle of the points-based system, but because the guidance is sometimes not as clear as it might be, simply because the system is new. The Department has probably received a lot of correspondence on the matter. When will the Government review the points-based system to examine the sort of cases that hon. Members are bringing to light?

Alan Johnson: Even as we speak, the Migration Advisory Committee is considering the matter. The system has worked well; no system is perfect and this one is comparatively new, so I have no doubt that we must ensure that the guidance is clear. We must consider whether people are applying through the wrong tier. There are sometimes problems when people try to come in under tier 1, and they would be much more successful if they applied under tier 5. We can undertake and then publish the results of that useful exercise very soon.

T4. [283812] Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Earlier this afternoon, the Home Secretary said that if one has a biometric passport and changes one’s address, one has a duty to inform the passport office of that change. During the course of questions, inquiries have been made of the passport office, which says that that is not the case. What is the situation? Is it not somewhat daft to be under an obligation to report a change of address when one has a supposedly voluntary ID card, but not if one has a passport? Is not it time the Home Secretary talked to the passport office and sorted out exactly what is—or is not—happening?

Alan Johnson: I do not think that we are breaching Magna Carta. One has to have one’s address on a driving licence and inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency of any change. The point that I was making about passports is that we are introducing a new biometric system to ensure that people cannot forge the identity of the passport holder. We have a huge problem with that, and it is sensible, sane and rational to ensure that people keep the details of their addresses up to date. Relax: it does not mean the end of thousands of years of British democracy.

Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing told the House this afternoon that the Department is putting another £15 million into further clamping down on illegal immigration between Calais and Dover. On what is the money being spent? What is being done to encourage the French to deal appropriately with the encampments in Calais?

Alan Johnson: The news is hot off the press: my hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration has just reached that understanding. We have agreed to invest a further £15 million in strengthening our controls
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in Calais and other juxtaposed locations in France. Investment will be made on the understanding that the French will effect significant returns of illegal migrants from northern French regions. It is therefore aimed at, first, making the route from France to England secure, and secondly ensuring that France sends back more immigrants from northern France. That looks like a balanced agreement.

T6. [283814] David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): The Home Secretary will be well aware of the huge concerns over proposals to close down a number of laboratories belonging to the Forensic Science Service. As Home Secretary, he presumably has the power to step in and prevent that from happening. Will he do so?

Mr. Alan Campbell: This is about the Forensic Science Service bringing forward a consultation on the future of its business. We will of course work closely with the Forensic Science Service, but it is for the service itself to engage with the work force, stakeholders, MPs and anyone else with a view on such matters, to ensure a viable and sustainable service for the future.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend knows, many teenagers feel unfairly punished and humiliated by devices such as the Mosquito and, now, acne lights. Will he look into banning them?

Alan Johnson: As soon as I find out what they are, I will look into banning them.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): But there is an area where the Secretary of State has discretion, and that is in relation to the Government’s policy towards extradition. Why are we still sending people to the United States under a one-sided extradition treaty? Is it not now time to renegotiate that treaty so as to provide for extradition between our two countries that is firmly based on the principle of reciprocity?

Alan Johnson: I disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have a one-sided extradition treaty. I have looked at it carefully over the past few weeks. An awful lot of hyperbole is spoken about this issue—it is almost as if the US were an enemy of this country. The current extradition treaty with the US ensures equal co-operation between the UK and the Department for Trade and Industry US. This issue comes up periodically; I remember that it came up in relation to the Natwest three when I was at the Department for Trade and Industry. Perhaps hon. Members will remember the marching through the streets in relation to that case, but it all went very quiet— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) says from beyond the Bar that he was one of the people marching, but we did not hear much after the Natwest three pleaded guilty and were prosecuted. I do not believe that we have an unbalanced treaty; I think that it is a fair treaty between the US and the UK, and one that serves both countries well.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is now a big backlog of applications for residency cards from spouses of European Union citizens. What will he be able to do to tackle that backlog?

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