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Mr. Byrne: Yes, I can. Indeed, the powers that the UK Border Agency takes under the UK Borders Act 2007 will also provide for stiffer sanctions. However, we have said consistently that we should prioritise the removal of those who have abused our welcome and broken our laws. I am therefore pleased that the UK Border Agency deported 80 per cent. more foreign national prisoners last year. The new agency this year will set tougher targets and we expect it to deport more than 5,000 foreign national prisoners. That is a different order of magnitude from a couple of years ago.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The Minister may know that the former Home Secretarys decision to refuse citizenship to Mr. Mohamed Fayed was dispatched in a matter of weeks. Given the great distress and burden on the public purse caused by Fayeds absurd allegations, will the Home Secretary take swift action to remove for good as an undesirable alien that thief, crook and liar?
Ms Patricia Hewitt (Leicester, West) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that some employers in our country and others in the Indian sub-continent have expressed concern that the new system of points-based work permits for those seeking to come to Britain or remain here for the purpose of working may make it more difficult for several people to come here to work. Will he assure me that, under the new system and with the new agency, Britain will continue to benefit from the talents of those who want to work here and can contribute to our economy, without undue delays in processing their applications?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those remarks. Trevor Phillips was right to say yesterday that there is a type of talent around the world from which the UK would benefit in the right circumstances. A little later this week, we have our first debate in Government time on the points system. It is important because it precedes the publication on the way in which we believe that the key stage of the points system will work. We will publish that policy after purdah. There will be a chance for hon. Members of all parties to put their views on the record before we finalise it.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): If things are going as well as that, when will the Minister do something about the four months that it has taken to right a wrongthe wrong declared by an appeal judge done to my constituent, Mrs. Massiah Stockings? When will he ensure that the wife of a serving officer in Helmand province will be given leave to remain in this country, not told that she has to send his passport in? When will he ensure that a man who is British by both parents can get a passport and not be asked impudent questions by officials about why he cannot produce his parents divorce document from some 40 years ago?
Mr. Byrne: The right hon. Gentleman will know that about half of the casework in my constituency concerns immigration matters. It sounds as though he has quite a lot of his own, and I should be happy to discuss those issues with him in private, if that would help to expedite the cases that are of concern to him.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): The Home Offices policy-making process makes it clear that policies should be based on sound evidence. This is supported by the Departments 330-plus scientific staff and the outputs from a variety of Home Office-funded research programmes.
Dr. Harris: May I invite the Home Secretary to comment on one example, which is the Governments proposal to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B? If it is a policy decision or simply politicsa bad policy and bad politicsthat is fine, but why ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look into the evidence for doing so, yet then plan to reject that advice and reclassify anyway? What is the point of having those structures for scientific advice if the Government have predetermined their position?
Jacqui Smith: The only thing that I said on the record about the matter was that I would wait to see the advice that the advisory council gave. However, it is of course for advisers to advise and for the Government, as we are elected to, to decide.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The Home Secretary is right to remind the House that advisers are there to advise. One area where I would ask her to challenge the advisory councils decision is on the use of khat, a drug used particularly by the Yemeni community that is currently legal, but which is causing disproportionate problems in some areas of our cities. I would ask the advisory council to look seriously at khat again and consider proscribing it.
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the actions that we have undertaken under the 10-year drugs strategy that we published last month is to look in more detail at the growing impact of khat and what that implies for how we deal with it, in the way that she suggests.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): Of course all policy should be based on evidence. My experience in the criminal courts is that a much more effective and cheaper alternative to prison for many drug offenders is a residential drug rehab bed, yet the Home Office has never been able to undertake research into what is more effective in reducing reconviction rates. Could the Home Office take a careful look and see whether appropriate research can be commissioned?
One of the other things that we are clear about in the drugs strategy is the need to maintain our research into the most effective forms of drug
treatment. However, there is clear evidence that doubling the availability of drug treatment saw a 20 per cent. reduction in acquisitive crime. In increasing drug treatment, we have seen crime reducing. As the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, we now need to be clear that that increased investment in treatment is going to the most effective forms of treatment, and we will ensure that that happens.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): A draft research proposal using the inelegantly titled PEACE processI am told that it stands for Planning and Preparation; Engage and Explain; Account, Clarification and Challenge; Closure; Evaluation and uses interpreters for interviews with non-English-speaking suspectshas been put forward by Kerry Marlow, one of my constituents, and his research group. Is that not a prime example of the police taking forward research that they need to improve working practices that the Home Office should be considering?
Jacqui Smith: I cannot claim to have looked at that piece of research, but now that my hon. Friend has brought it to my attention and identified it as something that the local police are keen to research, I am sure that we will take a closer look at it.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): While the Home Secretary is pondering the merits of evidence-based policies, perhaps she will take into account the evidence of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee on her immigration policy. The Committee includes former Labour Ministers, a distinguished economistProfessor Richard Layardand the Governments own pensions adviser, Adair Turner. That Committee concludes that the Home Secretarys main defence for her policythat it increases gross domestic productis, in the Committees words, irrelevant and misleading. Why should anyone believe the Home Secretarys evidence rather than that of a cross-party Committee of people who actually know what they are talking about?
Jacqui Smith: Actually, we have always argued that there is a positive impact from immigration, and that is supported by the Committee. However, I think that what the Committee says proves that we were right to set up the independent migration advisory committee to provide us with evidence for our new points-based system on which individuals will most benefit this country in terms of the skills that they bring. The largest reform in the immigration system for 40 years is based on that evidence and on that objective.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne):
We have recently received a number of representations from a variety of stakeholders about the time that it takes to complete immigration checks at
London airports. Records show that, in the past 12 months, there have been 19 parliamentary questions relating to queuing times.
Richard Ottaway: Whatever the Minister might say about the average time taken to get through immigration being below the target level, the truth is that the situation is getting worse. That is creating a bad impression and undermining the reputation of a world-class city. What is the reason for that? What is going on? What steps is the Minister taking to improve the situation?
Mr. Byrne: The growth in passenger numbers between 2005 and 2007 was about 5 and a bit per cent. Over the same period, the number of immigration officers increased by about 33 per cent. Obviously, that growth is now spread around a lot of different airports, so there are particular pinch points, and I think that Heathrow has become one of them. This is exactly why we have said that we will increase the budget for border control by 10 per cent. this year. That will mean 300 extra staff, and I am pleased to be able to say that 150 of those will be for Heathrow.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What evidence is there that some of these hold-ups are caused by females of a particular religious sect who cover their faces and refuse to reveal them as they go through immigration? Is there any evidence that that is causing problems?
Mr. Byrne: There is no evidence of that. Everyone is required to identify themselves as directed by an immigration officer. If an identity is ever in any doubt, immigration officers will not hesitate to check a persons fingerprints as well.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Would not the time taken to carry out immigration checks be speeded up if fewer work permits were issued for overseas workers to come to this country, and if the Government heeded the central conclusion of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which states that
we have found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government, business and many others, that net immigration...generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population?
That blows out of the water the case that has just been made by the Home Secretary, although I have no doubt that it will not stop her making it. Will the Government actually listen to the evidence that has been produced by that expert Committee?
Mr. Byrne: I am not sure whether that was a call by the Conservatives for a policy of zero immigration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have a chance on Thursday to unpack some of those comments in greater detail.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Meg Hillier): We previously estimated the cost of identity fraud at about £1.7 billion a year, but we are currently engaged in calculating a new estimate which we intend to announce shortly.
Miss Begg: Following a straw poll in my office, we discovered that two members of my staff had been victims of identity fraud involving money being taken out of their bank accounts. In any review of the cost of identity fraud, will the Minister ensure that account is taken of the cost to the individual of correcting the errors and getting their money back, as well as the cost of the money taken from the bank account in the first place?
Meg Hillier: A great deal of work has been done to assess the cost in time, effort and the impact on individuals. It is estimated that it takes an average of 48 hours to sort out the problems of identity fraud. Figures from CIFAS, the UK fraud prevention service, show that about 65,000 individuals were victims of fraud. We take these figures very seriously, and we all need to work together to tackle identity fraud across the piece.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): The illegal online trade in stolen identities which fuels ID fraud, and the costs associated with it, operates across borders, yet the Government have not bothered to ratify the international treaty to combat cybercrime that they signed as far back as 2001. Why not?
Meg Hillier: We continue to look into the issues of international identity fraud and will continue to do so in order to ensure that we protect the British public to the best of our ability. It is worth stressing, however, that preventing identity fraud is not a matter only for the Government, so I would urge any individual not to release personal information, to use only secure websites [Interruption]to get credit references and, of course, to notify key players of changes of address [Interruption.] It is a serious point, Mr. Speaker, and I am sorry that the Opposition seem to think [Interruption.]
Meg Hillier: I am sorry that the Opposition seem to think that this is a laughing matter, but the reality is that tackling identity fraud is a matter not only for a number of agencies, including the Government, but also for individuals. It is my responsibility as Minister always to remind individuals to do their bit to prevent identity fraud.
Since the phasing out of exit controls in 1994, no Government have been able to produce an accurate figure for the number of people who are in the country illegally. By Christmas, however, our border information systems will count in and out the majority of foreign nationals. Together with fingerprinting visa applicants and the issuing of ID cards to foreign nationals, that will ensure that a much more effective set of controls will be in place.
Mr. Mackay: Was the Minister surprised that nine illegal immigrants from Cambridge who were given train tickets to London and told to report to the immigration centre in Croydon failed to turn up, and what is he doing to find them?
Mr. Byrne: The policy of the UK Border Agency over the past year has been quite clear: when there are lorry drops, they are all attended by immigration officers and the people are immediately taken to detention centres, where their claimssome will obviously claim asylumare processed. That policy has been the fruit of new partnerships with the police up and down the country; almost all constabularies have immigration crime partnerships in place and one of the most fundamental objectives is to ensure that everyone detected at a lorry drop who we think is an illegal immigrant is arrested and brought to detention centres.
tough customs, immigration and police-like powers,
so why did the Government decide to create an agency with police-like powers rather than follow Opposition calls to integrate the police into a UK border force so that a robust force with real powers could tackle illegal immigration?
Mr. Byrne: The steps taken to create one agency with £2 billion of resources, 25,000 staff and 9,000 warranted officers have been widely welcomed in the House. Obviously, that agency has to work closely with the police, who have all kinds of other jobs to do at our ports. As the Home Secretary said a week or two ago, discussions with the policeboth with the Association of Chief Police Officers and with constabularies up and down the countryabout the best way for the new agency to work in an integrated manner with the police will continue, as, indeed, the Prime Minister promised in his statement of last year.
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