I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Since 1997, crime has come down by a third and the chances of becoming a victim of crime are the lowest for 26 years. Many more offences have been brought to justice and the number of asylum seekers is at its lowest level since 1993, while removals are up by 10 per cent. Part of that achievement is down to increased investment in key public services: 20,000 additional prison places, 14,000 additional police officers, 16,000 community support officers and a 72 per cent. increase in probation spending. However, that increased investment has had to be accompanied by major changes in the environment in which law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and key parties such as local authorities operate. Reform of the youth justice system, partnerships with local authorities, streamlining immigration appeals, as well as the creation of specific criminal offences, all require detailed changes in the law.
While in other areas of public administration such as pensions, social security, health or education, Parliament and the public have long accepted that much of the primary legislation should be framework and enabling in nature with the detail contained in regulation, in this area, where we are dealing with critical issues concerning the safety of the public and the liberty of the individual, the detail itself has to be contained in the primary legislation.
In turn, that has meant, for as long as I have been in the House, that there have been many criminal justice and immigration Bills. I am told that this is the 39th since 1997, although if the Opposition wish to examine the record, they will see that numbers were previously above that level. I understand the concern, especially among practitioners, for less frequent changes in the law. The problem that we face—I do, and we all do—is to balance that requirement for stability against the need to ensure that the system and the substantive law are responsive to changing demands from the public and practitioners. One example from many is the revolution in technology and communications that we witness today. Virtually the whole Bill is explained by just such changing circumstances, as I shall set out now as I deal with key parts of the Bill.
Another reason for introducing legislation is to overcome anomalies that may already exist in respect of other legislation. For some considerable time, we have had an offence of incitement to racial hatred, and we now have an offence of incitement to religious hatred. Is it not now time that we had an offence of incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation? The number of people facing homophobic attacks—both physical and verbal, and often directly associated with the vile propaganda of organisations such as the British National party—is now growing, not falling.
My hon. Friend anticipates me, and I hope to ensure that he is satisfied with what I have to say.
Let us take part 6 of the Bill, which relates to the possession of extreme pornographic material. Ten years ago, the internet was in its infancy, Google was not even a word in the English language and possession of pornographic material was by proof of control of the physical material—silver oxide photographs on paper, celluloid film or video tape. Distribution, too, was by physical means. Now we have the internet, and along with the innumerable benefits that it brings have come significant risks to public protection. Information, photographs and videos can be shared instantaneously across the world, but so too can deeply offensive, violent and illegal pornography.
We believe that those who produce and publish this vile material in the UK are already covered by legislation, but we need the new offences created by part 6 for those who possess it, because the makers and distributors are very often operating across borders, from eastern Europe, the United States and elsewhere.
Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to meet Liz Longhurst from Reading, who has campaigned tirelessly for three years for precisely this measure to clamp down on extreme internet images, which she and many others are convinced directly led to the murder of her lovely daughter, Jane, in Brighton three years ago?
Thanks to my hon. Friend, I have indeed had an opportunity briefly to meet Mrs. Longhurst, and I would like to pay tribute to her on behalf of the whole House, and to express our sincere condolences for the grief that she and her family suffered as a result of this terrible murder of her daughter, Jane. I would also like to applaud the campaign that she has so skilfully and resolutely waged. I hope that the clauses in part 6 will at least go some way to meeting her concerns, although nothing, of course, can bring back her daughter or take away the grief that has been caused.
Another example of the changing environment is nuisance and disturbance in national health service premises. There is great concern among NHS staff about the wholly unwarranted upset, and very much worse, that they have been caused by the bad behaviour of some patients and members of the public. Indeed, I have read figures referring to 58,000 assaults of one kind or another on NHS staff in a single year, which obviously represents stress on the staff and great costs for the public, warranted by staff being off sick.
The nurses, doctors, porters and other staff who work in the health service deserve our respect and gratitude for what they do. They should never have to work under the spectre of intimidation, nor run the gauntlet of threats. That is why part 9 will make it an offence to cause nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises.
Can my right hon. Friend clarify whether that part of the Bill covers not just hospital premises, but GP surgeries, which may not necessarily be owned by the NHS? I have come across cases of GPs and their staff having to deal with some extremely difficult people who have been abusive and threatening.
My recollection, having read the Bill very carefully, is that the definition of NHS premises does not extend to GP surgeries, but I am happy for my hon. Friend or other Members to ensure that the issue is examined in detail upstairs in Committee. I am grateful to him for raising it.
Sometimes, one limited innovation in the law works sufficiently well for there to be a wide demand, including from practitioners, for its extension. The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 gave to the police the power to close crack houses, which has been used to the benefit of some 1,000 communities. However, I think we all have constituency examples of continued disturbance from other premises, which might be residential houses. There is particular difficulty where those houses are, for example, private rented homes beyond the control of local authorities or other social landlords, or in some cases owner-occupied homes.
Part 9 will amend that Act to cover premises associated with significant, persistent disorder or nuisance. That builds on experience in Scotland under a provision passed by the Scottish Parliament that has also worked well to ensure that excessive and persistent antisocial behaviour, which has a devastating impact on neighbours and the wider community, can be dealt with in such a way.
Alongside providing practitioners on the front line with the powers that they need, we also need to ensure that courts are applying appropriate sentences. We would be failing in our responsibility to society if we concentrated only on how we deal with offenders and did not focus on preventing offending behaviour in the first instance. Stopping young people being drawn into crime must be a priority, which is why part 1 will introduce a new community sentence—the youth rehabilitation order.
The youth rehabilitation order will allow courts to impose drug treatment requirements, but it says nothing about alcohol. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the widespread concern in my constituency about alcohol fuelling crime, following the appalling murder of my constituent Mr. Garry Newlove, and will have heard the comments made by the chief constable after that murder. If alcohol is not to be covered by the drug treatment requirement, will my right hon. Friend undertake to reconsider the matter in Committee, so that, as well as trying to prevent under-age drinking, we can deal with it when it causes crime?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. If I may on this occasion, I shall express my condolences and those of the whole House to the family of Garry Newlove and his community over the grievous loss that they suffered in this terrible murder. I do understand the concern. As she may know, I was in the adjoining constituency of Warrington, South last Thursday to visit one of Her Majesty's prisons, and I was asked by the local press about the matter. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State considers her points carefully, and if possible, that we meet the concerns that she has identified.
If we are to protect society from violent and dangerous offenders, and to reduce offending, we need to consider carefully the balance between the use of prison, community penalties and fines. As I have indicated, we have provided 20,000 prison places since 1997, which is twice the rate of the previous Administration. We have also extended the use of effective and tough community penalties—
In a moment.
We have increased investment in drug interventions tenfold, and increased investment in probation services by 72 per cent. Under this Government, judges and magistrates are sending more people to prison and for longer. The protection of the public is and will remain our primary concern, demonstrated perhaps no more clearly than by the fact that 60 per cent. more violent and serious offenders are in prison now than in 1997.
May I apologise for addressing my right hon. Friend as the Home Secretary? No gratuitous insult was intended. What powers under part 1 and the youth rehabilitation order are not available under one or other of the number of orders currently available to the Crown or magistrates court?
My hon. and learned Friend will no doubt wish to take a 100 lines to remind himself that I am now the Lord Chancellor. I am proud of my period as Home Secretary, too, during which I always enjoyed his full support. Additional coverage is available under the order specified in part 1, including in respect of residential and activity orders.
I am most grateful to the Lord High Chancellor, as he likes to be called, for giving way. Before we get too far into the debate, will he confirm the way in which the 20,000 additional prison places, which he claims have been created since 1997, came about? A few thousand genuinely new prison places have been created, most of which are the result of contracts let by the previous Government. Will he also confirm that tonight 18,000 prisoners will double up in cells designed for one, and that 1,000 prisoners will treble up in such cells? The real reason that he can claim, as he does, to have provided 20,000 new places is that he is doubling and trebling up men in single cells.
There is no dubiety about where those additional places have come from. A large proportion are new, and it is not true that the majority of the contracts were signed and financed when we took office. That is simply incorrect. Some were in a programme, but we had to provide the money, and that has continued. We have continued the policy of the previous Administration of doubling and trebling in cells where possible. The difference, however, is that we have put internal sanitation into virtually all cells, whereas 10 years ago the condition of many prisons across the country, particularly local ones, was scandalous. I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that when I became Home Secretary just 10 and a half years ago, a large number of places in police cells were being used.
We may hear from Nick Herbert later about the need to increase the prison population. He has talked about prisoners serving their full terms "period", and building as many places "as it takes". I do not know whether he has spoken about that to his hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier, who has called consistently for a reduction in the prison population since he came into the House, and made that point again at column 1459 on
In a moment.
Prison is an essential component of the criminal justice system, but no one believes that it should be the only component. The punishment should fit the crime. If the offence warrants a community penalty or fine, a community penalty or fine should be handed down. Part 2 of the Bill introduces a range of measures to ensure proportionality in sentencing. There is clear evidence—it is counter-intuitive, but it is there—that suspended sentences are being used for summary-only, less serious offences, which might previously have attracted a community order. The idea of suspended sentences was that they should be used as an alternative to immediate custody, not as an alternative to community sentences. In our judgment, it is therefore right to confine the option of a suspended sentence order to more serious, indictable-only or either-way offences.
Does the Secretary of State accept that it is blindingly obvious that the more criminals who are locked up in prison, the fewer criminals there are out on the streets committing crimes? Does he accept that for every 1,000 crimes committed in this country only 13 people go to prison, compared with more than 20 in Europe, and more than 100 in America, and that we have a very low prison population? Does he not recognise that many people in this country are sick to the back-teeth of prisoners being let out early, and want prisoners to serve the sentence handed down by the courts in full?
Would that that were the case. There is no doubt that the additional places that we have provided, and will continue to provide—at twice the rate of the Administration whom the hon. Gentleman supported —have contributed to the fact that, whereas between 1979 and 1997 crime doubled, since 1997 crime has gone down by at least 35 per cent. on whatever measure one wishes to use, including under the British crime survey. Similar reductions in violent crime have also taken place. I invite him to look at that study, which was done entirely independently.
No, I am answering an intervention from the hon. Gentleman's colleague.
Philip Davies needs to examine two things. First, longer-term sentences work to reduce offending, but shorter-term sentences, which have always and will always exist, often have a fairly high reoffending rate, regardless of whether the sentence is 18 days longer or shorter. We are increasing the number of prison places. If he is saying that there should be no reduction for good behaviour, and no incentive for prisoners to behave themselves, and that we should return to the lunacy that Mr. Howard tried to put through the House between 1996 and 1997—he utterly failed and had to withdraw his own shambles—as the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs proposes, that would involve an increase of 60,000 places— [Interruption.] He says, "Hear, hear." That is a further commitment. It would be at a cost of £8 billion in building costs and £2 billion in running costs. Let the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs spell out that that is now his party's proposal.
Secondly, we should look at the experience in the United States. We have locked up about 145 per 100,000 people, which is the highest level in Europe. Proportionate to its population, the United States has five times that number locked up. The Opposition propose that this country should have 700 prisons and 400,000 people locked up, which is the consequence— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs is now laughing. That is the consequence of praying in aid the example of the United States. The United States has 2.2 million people locked up. Has it cut violent crime? Has it reduced its murder rate? No, it is still four times that in this country. We have just had another example of a mass gun killing on the streets of an otherwise peaceful community in Wisconsin. The Opposition ought to think about that before they blather away on the issue.
In the case of recalls, offenders who breach the terms of their licence are recalled to prison and kept there for as long as they present a danger to the public. That will not change, but many of the 11,000 offenders who are now recalled to prison each year are not in that category. Part 2 of the Bill provides for non-dangerous offenders to be recalled for a fixed 28-day period.
A fourth example of the ever-changing circumstances to which we have to respond is contained in part 2 of the Bill. The criminal law is drafted with great care, but sometimes its specific wording can trap victims and sentencers alike into facing unintended and unacceptable consequences. Right hon. and hon. Members will remember the outcry caused by the Sweeney case last year. Sweeney's was a truly horrific crime, but because of the sentencing rules, the learned judge in the case had to reduce the minimum term of 18 years to a sentence of just less than six years. No criticism can or should be made against the learned judge involved. He was applying the law in that case.
Some of the reduction was due to guidance on discounts for early guilty pleas, which has now been revised by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. However, there is a broader point on discounts in such exceptional cases, which we want to address in the Bill. We propose to give judges the discretion when they believe that the offence is sufficiently serious to set the sentence that they see fit and not to have to halve the determinate sentence. In addition to that, where offenders are re-sentenced to an indeterminate sentence following an appeal by the Attorney-General, they should not as of right benefit from any sentence discount. We have already abolished discounts in respect of murder cases, but the Bill extends that to all life and indeterminate sentences.
In welcoming that return of a degree of judicial discretion, may I also remind the Lord Chancellor of another unintended consequence, which concerns indeterminate sentences for public protection? So large is the number of summary offences and relatively short-sentence offences involved that the Parole Board cannot possibly process the cases within the time limit required. Is that not another unintended consequence that needs to be put right?
I am concerned about that—I am coming before the right hon. Gentleman's Select Committee tomorrow and shall no doubt be examined in detail about the operation. It is not satisfactory and has led to getting on for 400 tariff-expired IPP—imprisonment for public protection—prisoners still serving their sentences, while only 11 so far have been released. That is not acceptable. We are working hard to cut the number of tariff-expired prisoners in that situation.
In the past 10 years we have developed much better tools for dealing with sex offenders, not least with sex offender orders. We now wish to build on that experience. Part 8 of the Bill provides for violent offender orders, giving police another tool to manage the risks posed by the most dangerous and violent offenders. Those subject to such orders will be required to register with the police and will be subject to other prohibitions and restrictions. Breach of an order will be punishable by up to five years in prison.
My right hon. Friend seems to have jumped over part 4, in which I am particularly interested, which deals with the ombudsman. I do not see any reference to institutions for children or young people. Does he intend to make the ombudsman process open to children and young people in institutions or does he intend to strengthen the inspection or appeal regimes for young offenders?
That issue is not currently covered either by the ombudsman or by the statutory arrangements that we propose to put in place through the Bill. I am happy to consider the matter, but those arrangements are currently covered by other inspection and inquiry procedures.
In part 3 of the Bill we seek to recalibrate a little the test for quashing convictions in favour of the victim, not the offender. In any democratic country—the rule of law is a fundamental precondition for that description—there are two tests for the justice system. First, was the person guilty? Secondly, was the process followed in establishing that guilt fair and acceptable in a civilised society? Both of those tests are of equal importance. They lie behind the profound truth that justice must not only be done, but be seen to be done. Without them, confidence in the justice system would be significantly undermined. Yet adherence to those tests should not in turn undermine the very principles that they seek to protect.
Within the boundaries of fairness and equity set by the need to follow proper procedures, there should be scope for an approach that allows the Court of Appeal, when it is convinced of the offender's guilt and is sure that procedural impropriety in the case has not led to injustice, to uphold the original conviction. Equally, we cannot and should not sanction conduct by agencies of the state that would egregiously degrade the rule of law. It must be open to the Court of Appeal in exceptionally serious cases of abuse of process to quash the conviction, even where the court is satisfied as to the appellant's guilt or his or her guilt is not an issue in the appeal, as is more usual.
Earlier this year my right hon. Friends the former Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General published a detailed consultation paper on the issue. Many responses were received, a summary of which is published today. Almost all the responses were critical of the drafting contained in clause 26. I can therefore tell the House that I am comprehensively reviewing the drafting of clause 26 as it is currently written. I intend to table a replacement, which I hope will meet the major criticisms made and the policy objective behind the clause.
The consultation has, however, brought out a separate issue: the need to clarify the law, so that when the Court of Appeal is dealing with an appeal relating to a conviction of many years standing, typically on a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, it may do so on the basis of the law at the time of conviction. I shall bring forward amendments to cover that proposal too, which is sought by practitioners.
Briefly, I welcome my right hon. Friend's approach to clause 26 and to what appeared to be an attack on the Court of Appeal's right to allow appeals and to strike down convictions in cases of gross abuse of process. I know that he will take the view that there must be something in the new clause to allow the Court of Appeal to continue to do that in such circumstances.
I am grateful for the interest that my hon. and learned Friend has taken in the matter. When we bring forward the replacement I hope that it will meet the concerns expressed on both sides of the House and those of practitioners. He is absolutely right. It is true that in most cases, although not in all, where there has been not so much an abuse of process as an error of process, which might have been relatively serious but which still does not affect the justice of leaving a conviction to stand, the Court of Appeal will do that or will sometimes order a retrial.
However, I certainly accept that there are some examples—we can all think of them—where the abuse of process has been so outrageous that it would break the principle of the rule of law for the conviction to stand. Although that means that a guilty person has to walk free, I am afraid that that is the price we all have to pay if there is an abuse by agencies of the state. It is wholly intolerable in any democracy that the ends should justify the means. Achieving the right balance is what we all seek to do. I applaud the manner in which the Court of Appeal has sought to do that under the existing law, but I think that everybody accepts that the law should be recalibrated a little to improve matters.
Mullen was guilty on the facts of the serious terrorism charges against him, but there had been an egregious abuse of process. Instead of being extradited from Zimbabwe, as he easily could have been, he was subject to what is now euphemistically called extraordinary rendition by the Americans, which is otherwise known as being kidnapped, through co-operation between the local security agencies and ours, bundled on a plane and brought into the jurisdiction that way. Either we have an extradition process or we do not. Although we have all had to hold our nose over that case, it was right and proper of the courts to order his release in those circumstances.
I come to an issue that was raised by my hon. Friend Chris Bryant— [ Interruption ]—who is still present in spirit, if not in his place. The Government have a strong record of promoting equality and of tackling discrimination and bigotry in all its guises. We have strengthened the sentencing framework, so that sentences can be increased where race, religion, disability or sexual orientation are aggravating factors. We have also introduced legislation to outlaw the stirring up of religious hatred, as my hon. Friend reminded the House. We have received many representations on the matter, and I am pleased to say that we will propose a further step to strengthen the protection afforded to homosexual people. It is a measure of how far we have come as a society in the last 10 years that we are all now appalled by hatred and invective directed against gay people, and it is now time for the law to recognise the feeling of the public. In Committee, we will table an amendment to extend the offence of incitement to racial hatred to cover hatred against persons on the basis of their sexuality. Homophobic abuse, lyrics and literature are every bit as abhorrent to those concerned as material inciting hatred based on race or religion, and have no place in our communities.
Like the Secretary of State, I have no time for abuse of any kind, or for violence of the sort that he wishes to outlaw. However, in my constituency I am receiving a number of representations from the Christian community, as, I am sure, are other Members. Will the right hon. Gentleman reassure the House that he will take full account of the wish to preserve freedom of speech for those expressing Christian views?
Yes. I too have received such representations. As with the provisions on incitement to religious hatred, we must be extremely careful to ensure that the law strikes a proper balance. I promise the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, other Ministers and I are seeking to ensure that the drafting achieves that, and I hope it will then be examined very carefully in this House and in the other place to ensure that such a balance exists.
I join the Secretary of State in calling for the creation of such an offence—that is the manifesto position of my party—but as one who was involved in the wording of the religious hatred provisions that now exist, may I commend to him the wording on which the House settled in that context? I believe that, on the whole, it strikes the right balance between freedom of speech, ensuring that the offence must be intentional, and covering threatening language only.
The hon. Gentleman has given wise counsel. The starting point for the drafting of this measure is certainly the parallel example of the current provisions in respect of religious hatred.
It already does. I am very pleased to be in close association with my hon. Friend on this occasion, and to be able to give him complete and utter satisfaction.
I took the measure through the House.
My right hon. Friend the Minister took it through the House himself.
Of course concerns were expressed in Northern Ireland—one or two. The religious communities there are quite strong. However, I think that everyone is now reasonably relaxed about this important protection for a minority.
I want to hear views from the House, and from outside organisations, on whether the offence could or should be extended to cover hatred against transgender and disabled people. I cannot give commitments until I have seen the arguments—this is a complicated area—but I am ready to consider amendments to that end if a case can be made.
The whole House is agreed that we must do all that we can to provide the maximum protection for our children from predatory sex offenders. Members will recall that in June the Government announced the conclusions of a review on protecting children from sex offenders. A key action arising from that was to give responsible authorities that are within the multi-agency public protection arrangements—known by the acronym MAPPA—a positive duty to disclose information about convicted sex offenders to the public. We now propose to insert an amendment in the Bill which will do just that. We believe that there should be a presumption of disclosure to members of the public when MAPPA authorities consider that an offender presents a risk of serious harm to children.
Those who are victims of criminal acts and who seek to protect themselves or their communities should be treated with respect by the criminal justice system. There can be no justice in a system that makes the victim the criminal. I know that this issue has been the subject of some intense contributions in the House, including private Members' Bills from Opposition Members. As I announced outside the House a couple of weeks ago, I want to look again at the law on self-defence to ensure that the focus is correct, and that those who act proportionately are not treated like criminals. My aim is to complete the review in time for the issue to be addressed in the Bill.
The Bill contains, in part 11, one immigration provision. The freedoms that we enjoy in this country should never be abused. The new special immigration status will ensure that foreign criminals and terrorists who cannot be deported cannot expect a settled status in this country.
Given that this is called the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, is it not disappointing that it contains no provisions to close the loophole whereby if illegal immigrants are apprehended by the police, the police are directed by the Home Office to dispatch those people so that they can proceed under their own steam to immigration centres in either Liverpool or Croydon? In Northamptonshire recently, 16 illegal immigrants were detained by the police but then released to make their own way to the immigration centres. Local people were rightly outraged, and they will be outraged that the Bill contains no provisions to correct the position.
I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but the issue is better addressed in the UK Borders Bill, which relates to the powers of the immigration authorities and which is currently before Parliament. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to debate the issue, and to ensure that he is given a proper answer. I will take up what he said with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I am concerned that my right hon. Friend has not mentioned proposals to amend the Street Offences Act 1959. I want to record my disappointment that there has been no opportunity for a comprehensive review of the laws on prostitution. What happened to the proposal in the 2006 White Paper to amend the definition of a brothel to allow two or three individuals to work together?
I do not know the precise answer to that question. I shall allow my right hon. Friend the Minister to deal with it when he winds up the debate.
I want to end my speech now.
I think that the provisions in the Bill are sensible. We are always open to suggestions on measures such as this, and although there may not have been the comprehensive review for which my hon. Friend Lynne Jones has called, there has certainly been a significant and substantial review of the law in this area. I think that even what are seen as relatively minor changes ending the way in which prostitutes are described as "common prostitutes" rather than as persons, in an attempt to dehumanise people who deserve our sympathy as much as our condemnation—if not more—represent a sensible way of proceeding. However, if suggestions are made that we can accommodate in the Bill, we shall seek to do so.
I have not been able to deal with the whole Bill, because I was very conscious that we had begun two hours later than is normal and that other Members would wish to speak in this foreshortened debate, but I hope very much that the Bill is given an unopposed Second Reading. If that happens, it will at least mean that Opposition Members have gradually learnt something as they enter their 11th year of opposition. The range of issues on which they have opposed measures for the sake of it has been extraordinary, and removes from them any possibility of not just claiming to talk tough—which they do all the time—but claiming that they will act tough when it comes to criminal and antisocial behaviour.
Meanwhile, there is always room for people to be converted and to see the light. I look forward to hearing, in a second, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs applaud the fact that whereas crime doubled under the last Administration, under this Administration—with 20,000 extra prison places and increased investment in the police—crime has been cut, whichever way we look at it.
I congratulate the Lord Chancellor on introducing his first criminal justice Bill in his new role. He has a hard act to follow—in fact, he has at least 35 Acts to follow. That is how many pieces of legislation on criminal justice and immigration we have had already from the Government.
How much this Bill will add to that we will come to debate, but at least we know what it will subtract. Part 1 will scrap the plethora of orders introduced by the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, including the action plan order, the attendance centre order, the curfew order, the exclusion order, the supervision order and the youth community order—the Government's own provisions and they lasted seven years.
Clause 10 will repeal section 189 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and remove the right of magistrates to suspend jail sentences. That provision lasted just four years. However, this Bill goes further than repealing the Government's recent laws. It repeals Bills that have not even been passed. Schedule 23 will repeal schedule 21 of the Legal Services Bill, which has not even been passed yet and which we will consider next Monday. The Lord Chancellor already wants to repeal it—he has told us today that he is already reviewing clause 26 in relation to criminal appeals in this Bill.
What a farce. Not only does the Bill repeal the Government's own legislation but it repeals parts of Acts that have not yet been fully implemented. Rather than curtailing magistrates sentencing powers in clause 10 of this Bill, perhaps the Lord Chancellor could implement section 154 of the Criminal Justice Act and give magistrates the power to sentence offenders to a year in jail. That was what Labour promised. They legislated for it and under the last Home Secretary they broke that promise.
The hon. Gentleman is making a rather forced point about clause 26. Can he explain what his point is? We put out a consultation paper. There was consultation on it. The particular drafting of the clause did not find favour. Is he therefore condemning us for listening to the consultation? If not, what is his point?
The point is quite straightforward: it is a good idea to do the consultation before one legislates. That is the purpose of it. It is certainly the case that the majority of respondents to the Government's consultation paper opposed that provision. In fact, the Government said that a majority of the legal correspondents, as they are called, opposed it. Let us have a look at how many other respondents there were. The legal correspondents included a number of important bodies, including members of the judiciary, the Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association and the Criminal Bar Association; I could go on. The members of the public, and we do not know what their views were, included someone called Trev. The majority of the respondents, as the Government have said themselves, have rejected the provision. The question is why the Government have introduced a criminal justice Bill before the end of the Session, which they intend to carry over—they originally intended to debate it in June—when they have not consulted properly on the measures in it. That was the point that I was seeking to make.
Did the hon. Gentleman take part in the consultation exercise on quashing convictions—yes or no?
We did not take part in the consultation exercise. I do not think that, with the number of eminent legal authorities that responded, it was necessary for us to do so. There has been an overwhelming rejection of the proposals in the consultation paper.
This is a typical Christmas tree Bill where the Government are certain that they wish to legislate about something but are not sure what. We see the same with the Government's proposals in relation to the Flanagan report. The Lord Chancellor said nothing about that. Originally, the Prime Minister said that this Bill was to provide the vehicle for measures relating to police efficiency that would arise as a result of the Flanagan report. Why did not the Lord Chancellor tell us what those measures will be?
Perhaps he can tell us now.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman why I did not talk about that. I thought that Madam Deputy Speaker might rule me out of order if I started to talk about things that were not in the Bill, rather than about things that were in it.
The Lord Chancellor talked incessantly about things that were not in the Bill. The Prime Minister, when he talked about the pre-legislative programme, specifically said that, if Flanagan recommended measures that would improve police efficiency, they would be added to this Bill. As a result of the Flanagan review of police efficiency, can the Lord Chancellor now tell us what measures will be brought forward in amendments to the Bill? The Government have had the interim report, but they are unable to tell us what measures may be added to the Bill in later amendments.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way but it seems blindingly obvious. We only got the Flanagan report about three weeks ago. It was an interim report. We have not had the final report, which is not due till the new year. The chances of any provision from that being included in this Bill are extremely unlikely.
Order. May I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that we are discussing the Bill that is currently before the House?
Indeed. Part of the problem is that we do not yet know what will be in the Bill. Although the Prime Minister has promised legislation in relation to policing, we have no idea what that legislation will be.
Since the Government came to power, more than 3,000 new offences have been created, 430 of them by the Home Office. The creation of 3,000 new offences works out at a new offence for almost every day that Labour has been in power, and it is twice the rate seen under the two previous Conservative Administrations. I have lost count of the number of new offences in this Bill. The Guardian reports that it is 19. Perhaps one of the Ministers sitting on the Government Benches could do something useful, count them and let us know at the end of the debate. The Bill was published on the eve of the departure of Tony Blair, the previous Prime Minister, from Downing street. There could be no more fitting tribute to him or to the legislative incontinence that has characterised 10 years of this Government.
I hesitate to mention ICM's poll in the News of the World yesterday. I appreciate that it may be in poor taste and that that poll had no impact at all, of course, on the Prime Minister's courageous decision not to call an early general election. However, that poll showed that 63 per cent. of voters in marginal seats think that the Government have done a bad job on law and order, and only 30 per cent. think that they have done a good job. More than half of Labour voters said that the Government had done a bad job. There have been 35 Bills, 3,000 offences have been created, but two thirds of voters say that the Government have done a bad job. Do Ministers by any chance think that those facts are related? Perhaps they should listen to the Law Society, which said in a briefing on the Bill that it
"strongly believes that the criminal justice system is suffering from 'change fatigue', and that new legislation, particularly that creating additional criminal offences or alternative ways of dealing with people who have re-offended, can be counterproductive if it unnecessarily results in the wastage of scarce resources".
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether he is going to vote against the Bill this evening?
I am afraid the Minister of State will have to wait and see, if he can bear the tension.
Alongside the successive criminal justice Bills, we have seen a succession of sentencing reviews and a constantly shifting sentencing framework. There are other sentencing reviews now in train that the Bill does not take into account, including the review on indeterminate sentences, which the Lord Chancellor has announced, but has not confirmed to the House.
Let us dwell briefly on the elements of the Bill that we can agree on. In relation to the pornography offences, we support the principle of clause 64, which implements measures to combat possession of images that are both extreme and pornographic. We also support the principle behind clause 67, which relates to the penalties applied for possession of extreme pornographic images, and clauses 68 and 69 relating to indecent photographs of children. As usual, we will need to look at the drafting, but the whole House will share a determination to protect children from paedophilia and society from images that could provoke violence. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford, who has worked tirelessly to promote more robust action in relation to those issues.
We also support the principle of clauses 104 to 106 regarding a new offence of causing nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises and the powers to remove offenders from hospital premises. However, given that that measure will not apply to patients who are violent towards NHS staff, we will have to look in due course at how effective that will be in practice and whether it affords nurses and other NHS personnel the protection that the whole House believes they deserve.
We also support the creation of the prisons commissioner, so long as the commissioner has the power to recommend criminal sanctions akin to those in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 against the Prison Service and other state agencies that are charged with the custody of individuals, and so long as his appointment is not a ground for delaying the implementation of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act.
We will look carefully at the proposed offence of inciting homophobic hatred because clearly there are important considerations striking the right balance between protecting free speech and a desire to protect gay people from hatred. We will debate the provisions in Committee once we have seen them.
The core purpose and effect of the Bill is confused; will the Bill send fewer people to prison or more people? Clause 16 proposes to limit recalls to prison to 28 days, provided the Secretary of State is satisfied that the prisoner will not present a risk of serious harm on release. The Government say that the measure will save 1,000 prison places, but we are opposed to it in principle. We want a more effective process for recalls, but we believe that offenders who breach their conditions should expect to return to prison to serve out the rest of their sentence.
The Bill also abolishes the power of magistrates to suspend custodial sentences, and again we oppose this interference with judicial discretion. The crimes in question have passed the custody threshold. Before even considering a suspended sentence, the magistrate must decide that a final probation would be insufficient. If they cannot suspend the sentence, they will have to jail the offender.
There is another concern; a provision that is intended by the Government to reduce the prison population could have the opposite effect. The National Association of Probation Officers has warned that the abolition of the power is justified on the grounds that some magistrates use it instead of fines or unpaid work. Nevertheless, there is a real risk that many magistrates will impose custody instead of suspension and the association goes on to predict that it will increase the prison population by 1,000.
My hon. Friend is making a typically powerful case. Does he agree that the Bill has more to do with digging the Government out of a hole of their own making—not providing enough prison places—rather than their doing the right thing that our constituents would like to see?
I strongly agree. The prisons crisis, to which I shall refer, is one entirely of the Government's own making; for 10 years they have ignored the warnings that the rise in the prison population would outstrip the provision of prison places. The Bill is an inadequate response to that crisis and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. On the one hand, we have measures that the Government claim are intended to reduce the prison population—partly in response to the prison overcrowding crisis—but which many experts are claiming will increase the prison population. On the other, we have measures that the Government admit will increase the prison population.
According to the National Association of Probation Officers, the violent offender order, to which I shall return shortly, will add at least 4,000 to the prison population. The Government's own regulatory impact assessment says that breaches of the violent offender orders will have an impact equivalent to approximately 20 places a year. There is an extraordinary discrepancy between these two figures. We need to bear in mind that the Government failed woefully to predict the impact of their own indeterminate sentences.
During the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill 2003, Hilary Benn predicted that indeterminate sentences would require an additional 900 prison places. The number of people in prison serving indeterminate sentences since then is already at two and a half times that number. In April this year, the figure was at over 2,500, just two years after that sentence was introduced. The Prison Reform Trust has estimated that 12,000 people will be serving indeterminate sentences for public protection by 2012. The gaping hole that is not filled by the Bill and the issue that the Lord Chancellor signally failed to address is that the prisons are full, to bursting point. On Friday, we saw prison numbers rise for the second successive week to a record high.
The Government's policy of early release—under which 25,000 criminals are to be released 18 days early on to our streets, under which 6,000 criminals have so far been released, 1,000 of whom were violent offenders and under which many of those have gone on to commit offences while released—has saved only 1,200 prison places. It has been a failure.
On foreign criminals who require deportation, does my hon. Friend agree that another gaping hole in the Bill is set out in the explanatory notes relating to the Human Rights Act? Unless the Human Rights Act is repealed, a coach and horses will be driven through the Bill in relation to such matters. In respect of the framework decisions applying European Community law, the best thing to do would be to include in the Bill a provision that says "notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972 and the Human Rights Act 1998" and then to legislate. We could then bring these important decisions back to the House on behalf of the electorate, something that the Government are refusing to do. They are in fact making it worse under the absurd reform treaty, which is completely constitutional.
I agree. That is another gaping hole at the heart of the Bill and I will turn to that issue in a second.
Some 17,000 prisoners are now doubling up in cells, twice as many as when the Government came to power. Nearly a quarter of the entire prison population is housed in cells designed for one fewer person. We have just seen the obscenity in the 21st century of a wing of a prison in this country closed because of sewage and rat infestation. There has been a huge increase in suicides in our prisons and, contrary to the Minister of State's claim, that increase in prison suicides this year far outstrips the rise in the jail population. The Government's own figures show that suicides are far more likely in overcrowded jails and that an inadequate number of new prison places will not keep pace with the rising custodial population.
There needs to be proper accountability for deaths in custody and the fact that the Government resisted their own corporate manslaughter legislation in relation to prisons and police cells—eventually only accepting it with a delay of years—demonstrates that Ministers know there is a serious problem but have been unwilling to take the steps to deal with it.
These are the issues that we will address when we come to consider a provision in the Bill that we welcome—the appointment of a commissioner for offender management and prisons. The Government, frankly, have simply stood by and watched as the prisons have filled up. On
"it is clear that a gap remains between the number of new places and the forecasted rise in the prison population."—[ Hansard, 24 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 755.]
They know there is gap but they are refusing to tell us what they are going to do about it and they are producing a Bill that will increase the prison population in spite of that.
The Ministry of Justice's median projections of future prison population show that there will be 12,370 new prisoners by 2012, but only 9,500 new prison places by the same date. That is a gap of 3,000. If all of the measures in the Bill were implemented, those measures increasing the prison population would, on the Government's own estimate—it is wildly behind the forecasts of the National Association of Probation Officers—add 49. Those that would reduce the prison population would subtract 1,100. According to the Government's own figures there remains a serious gap in the projected prison population that is not addressed by the Bill, even on its own terms.
We need a coherent strategy to address the crisis, but what we get is political grandstanding. Part 11 of the Bill concerns itself with foreigners who commit crimes in Britain. On
"If you commit a crime you will be deported. You play by the rules or you face the consequences...I'm not prepared to tolerate a situation where we have people breaking the rules in our country when we cannot act."
Then, two weeks ago in Brighton, the Prime Minister said:
"But let me be clear: any newcomer to Britain who is caught selling drugs or using guns will be thrown out. No one who sells drugs to our children or uses guns has the right to stay in our country."
However, today in his press conference the Prime Minister made it clear that he was talking only about newcomers to this country.
First, we were told that all foreign criminals would have to be deported, then we were told that it would be drug dealers or gun criminals, and now the Prime Minister confirms that he is in fact talking only about people who have yet to visit this country. The Prime Minister simply does not understand the damage that that kind of spin has done to politics and his own Government—not only over the past 10 years, but, specifically, in the last two weeks.
The Prime Minister knows that he cannot remove thousands of foreign criminals from our country, not least because Labour's own laws prevent it. He could not even deport the murderer of Philip Lawrence because of an EU directive, which the Lord Chancellor negotiated, and the Human Rights Act, which the Lord Chancellor introduced. That is why we say that one of the major flaws in relation to this Bill, which is intended to deal with the issue of foreign prisoners in our country, is the HRA itself. That is why we have said that the HRA should be scrapped, and replaced by a British Bill of Rights and responsibilities that would enable us to take the necessary action against, for instance, those who commit acts of terrorism.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether it is his intention to resile from the European convention on human rights, and if not, what would be achieved, except in terms of slowness of justice, of simply repealing the HRA, which puts the European convention into UK law? Is it the hon. Gentleman's intention to resile from the ECHR?
No, it is not our intention to resile from the ECHR. It is not us who proposed that. The former Home Secretary, John Reid, proposed that—he did so in this House on
I must say that the hon. Gentleman has a lot of learning to do on the margin of appreciation and Strasbourg. He is implying that in the Chindamo case—he is still locked up, and will, I think, remain so for quite some period to come—had there been a new Bill of Rights and responsibilities all the problems of getting tribunal agreement to deport him would have disappeared. At the same time, the hon. Gentleman is blaming an EU directive. If he reads the tribunal judgment, he will see that the ECHR was a subsidiary and minor issue, and that the key issue was to do with EU directives that had been extant for decades although they were consolidated and updated to similar effect in 2006. Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that those provisions, which are binding in EU law, would also be abrogated by a future Conservative Administration?
Let me make two points to the right hon. Gentleman. First, his successor the aforementioned former Home Secretary reaffirmed as recently as last month that he thinks that the HRA is an impediment to our ability to deal with terrorism. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman correctly refers to the directive in the Chindamo case, but he negotiated it and it was an impediment to removing Chindamo not to some country where he might be tortured but to a country in the EU. He should have ensured in negotiating that directive that we could deal with people whom we do not wish to remain in this country because they have committed serious offences—in this case, a brutal murder. After all, the Prime Minister has promised that; he has told the country that he would ensure that any foreigner committing an offence would be removed from this country. If the Lord Chancellor is now saying that that is not possible, perhaps he would like to explain to the Prime Minister why he is wrong.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the crucial question—the test—is whether our judiciary will obey legislation from Westminster or from Europe in matters that affect vital national interests? It is clear from his excellent speech that my hon. Friend has understood the nature of the problem, and I believe that the margin of appreciation, as he put it, will be appreciated by the Lord Chancellor—if I can use that term because I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Justice. Perhaps he can enlighten us on that.
Other jurisdictions have a greater ability to deal with such matters because they have constitutions that frame people's responsibilities as well as their rights and that enable them to deal with terrorist suspects. We should also have that; that is what the former Home Secretary said. That is also what the Prime Minister implied when he said we should have the ability to deal with such issues. However, the reality is that, behind the spin, it is clear that the Government have no intention whatsoever of moving on this issue.
Let us look at another issue in relation to this Bill on which the Government have been grandstanding. The Minister of State, Mr. Hanson, said about this Bill in a news release of
"to rebalance the system in favour of the victim and the law-abiding majority",
to which I say, "Hear, hear." The Lord Chancellor said two weeks ago that he would review the law to ensure that people can defend themselves from attack without fear of prosecution, but the right hon. Gentleman was this Government's first Home Secretary and in four years he did nothing. On the "Today" radio programme he gave a deeply unconvincing explanation of why that was:
"Indeed and let me say that I wanted and was very interested in changing the law and...other matters intervened and then I...I was moved on and indeed I wish I had...".
We repeatedly urged a change in the law so that people could protect themselves from intruders in their homes. The right hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues fought us on that idea year after year. Indeed, in 2000 the right hon. Gentleman dismissed out of hand calls from my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague to give greater protection to home owners who use self-defence against burglars. The last time the Government grabbed a headline by signalling a change in the law they reneged on it within weeks.
In a moment. That is the worst kind of cynical politics, and it is exactly what turns people off.
Nevertheless, let us take the Lord Chancellor at his word. He promised an
"urgent review of the law on self defence...aimed at ensuring that those who seek to protect themselves, their loved ones and their homes, as well as other citizens, have confidence that the law is on their side."
So I can tell the Lord Chancellor that when the Bill is in Committee we will re-table the provisions for which we have fought for years to give that greater protection to people who seek to protect themselves against burglars. I would be delighted if the Lord Chancellor would intervene on me now to say whether, in view of what he said at the Labour party conference, he will support that amendment. Go on, have a go, Jack.
I am delighted to respond. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased that the matter has been further considered. Let me say that I never dismiss out of hand suggestions for changes in the law on this issue, but there were good reasons why I judged that it was not possible to proceed in 2000.
The proposals contained in two private Members' Bills need some changes in their wording, and I will be happy to sit down with the promoters of those Bills—I was intending to do so—as part of the consultation process, with a view to tabling amendments on Report and to see whether we can reach a consensus. The specific wording, which I have carefully examined, does not quite meet the need, but I am always open to argument.
Let me tell the Lord Chancellor that there will be no problem reaching agreement if he can persuade himself and his colleagues that the law needs to be changed, but the fact is that we have been arguing for this for the past 10 years and he and his colleagues have consistently argued against it. We look forward to the proposals which he now suggests he will bring forward in amendments to this Bill. We will hold him to the words that he used when he talked about the need to protect those who defend themselves.
Let us look at what should have been in this Bill. This is a Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill—what relation it bears to a UK Borders Bill that, in some respects, covers much of the same territory is another debate—but the one thing that the vast majority clearly want is not in here: a limit on economic immigration. We have said that we want the right people and the right number of people coming to Britain, which is why our policy is that there should be an annual limit on the number of economic migrations to the UK. However, we have another immigration Bill that does not set that limit.
We have said that there should be a policy of honesty in sentencing. The fight against crime depends on integrity in the criminal justice system and on courts that deliver swift, effective justice, with punishments appropriate to the crime and the criminal. In the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the Government introduced automatic release on licence halfway through the sentence for all determinate sentences of longer than 12 months. Combined with the early release scheme, this means that an offender sentenced to a year in jail is usually out after little more than five months. The policy amounts to a deliberate dishonesty. It damages the trust that victims and wider society place in the courts, and it encourages criminals to hold the system in contempt.
If this were our Bill, we would introduce provisions to restore honesty in sentencing, in order to reassure victims and leave criminals in no doubt that justice is done. We would ensure that convicted criminals served the full sentence handed down to them by the judge. Our purpose in this respect is not to increase the length of sentences; rather, we believe that judges should hand down minimum, as well as maximum, sentences, with no possibility of parole until the minimum has been served.
Just wait a second, please. The Lord Chancellor's preposterous suggestion that this policy would increase the prison population by 60,000 is clearly based on the fact that he has not read what we said. Given that we have not said what the minimum and maximum should be, there is no way that he can calculate what the increase in the prison population would be. All that we have had is a series of increasingly fanciful projections from the Lord Chancellor about what the increase in the prison population might be under an alternative Government. One day it is 60,000; another day it is 320,000. Instead of spinning in this way, he should address the serious overcrowding problem in his jails; he has to decide what he is going to do about that. It seems that this Government have learned nothing from the last week—from the spin that has so damaged them.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I would really like to know what his assessment is of the extra prison places required in the event of individuals serving a full sentence. It is clearly not possible to have a discounted sentence under current regulations and not add to the prison population.
We have made it clear that the purpose of the policy is to introduce honesty in sentencing. The Government seem to have no understanding of the damage that is done and the crisis in public confidence that is engendered when people serve very short prison sentences, particularly when the victims have heard in court that the sentence would be handed down in full. It amounts to an institutional lie, and it needs to be dealt with.
Will my hon. Friend the shadow Minister accept the good wishes of the many victims of crime I know who have formed an organisation called "stop all forms of early release"? They include the parents of murder victims and the rape victim Gabrielle Browne, who publicised her own story in the London Evening Standard because she was so angry that the person who had raped her had been let out of jail early. Does the Minister of State not agree that it is high time that prisoners serve the sentences given to them by the courts? Does he not also agree that this policy would not only save money in the long run, but would save people like Gabrielle Browne from being raped by people who have been let out of prison early?
The disgrace of this Government's management of the prison system—
No; let me answer my hon. Friend first, please. The disgrace of this Government's management of the prison system is not just the overcrowding over which they have presided, their failure to rehabilitate criminals and the consequential rise in recidivism rates, but their willingness to pioneer alternatives to custodial sentences for criminals who simply should not be in receipt of them: violent criminals who have then gone on to commit really serious offences. What do the Government have to say to the victims of these crimes, who have suffered really serious violence at the hands of criminals who should have been in custody, but who were released purely because the Government failed to manage prison places according to their own predictions?
We are all trying to follow with care what the hon. Gentleman has just committed his party to. Let us take the example that he used of someone who is currently sentenced to 12 months in prison, but who, under the 2003 Act, will normally serve 50 per cent. of that, which is six months. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, under his proposals, that same prisoner would in future serve 12 months in prison, or six months?
We have said that we will fundamentally review sentencing, so that we introduce bracketed sentences with a minimum and a maximum. It will then be for the authorities to decide at what point people are released, between the minimum and the maximum. That introduces honesty in sentencing, because those individuals could not be released until they had completed the minimum term. That is in contrast with this Government, who instituted release at the halfway point of a sentence, and who have also presided over an early release scheme that ensures that 25,000 offenders will be released 18 days early. That is the institutional lie that affects our sentencing and has undermined public confidence in sentencing. It is that which we seek to redress through a policy of honesty in sentencing, so that there is no possibility of parole until the minimum sentence is served.
No. I have dealt with that point enough.
I want to focus on two other serious omissions from this Bill, the first of which I have already referred to. During the statement of
"We stand ready to introduce new measures into the Criminal Justice Bill, which will be carried over into the next Session, including measures that come from the review of policing by Sir Ronald Flanagan, which will report later this autumn."—[ Hansard, 11 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1451.]
The Lord Chancellor's response was not adequate in this respect. When the Minister of State responds, perhaps he can tell us which proposals in Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review of policing, which was intended to reduce police bureaucracy, will be carried into the Bill by way of amendments. We would have proposed abolition of the stop form—it takes police officers several minutes to complete, and we regard it as a significant impediment to their ability to interact with the public—and the wholesale reduction of central targets. I doubt very much whether we will see those measures, but the fact is that the Lord Chancellor would not confirm the introduction of any measures on policing, despite the promise that the Prime Minister made as recently as July.
The other absence from the Bill is any consideration of the impact of the Government's summary justice programme, under which whole swathes of cases have been taken out of the magistrates courts altogether and are now being dealt with by police officers by way of cautions and fixed penalty notices. They are counted as offences brought to justice, even when those notices are not paid. That policy is consistent with an underlying feature of this Bill that has characterised many other criminal justice Bills that this Government have brought before the House: a cavalier approach to the civil liberties that this House should be protecting.
We have seen proposals for ending the discretion of the Court of Appeal to quash convictions, and the criticism of them by the legal profession, not least the Law Society. In the light of that, the Lord Chancellor has conceded that he will reconsider the drafting of that provision. There are also violent offender orders—the latest in a line of quasi-criminal measures that started with antisocial behaviour orders, and which continued with control orders and serious crime prevention orders. Those orders deliberately blur the line between the criminal and civil law. Their effectiveness—especially in the case of ASBOs, half of which are breached—must raise great concern about whether violent offender orders will be similarly robust. Such orders effectively use the civil law to criminalise people while sidestepping the job of any Government, which is to ensure that they have a legal framework to deal properly with offenders.
There is also the arbitrary cap on compensation for miscarriages of justice, which is set out in clause 62. Finally in relation to civil liberties, there is a proposal for the extension of conditional cautions to juvenile offenders—conditional cautions under which prosecutors will be able to impose a punishment with no involvement by the judiciary, which is a fundamental breach of the judiciary's role in sentencing people.
The fundamental problem at the heart of this Christmas tree Bill is that it contains a rag-bag of ineffective measures, including some that are cavalier with the civil liberties that we are here to protect.
My hon. Friend talks passionately about the need to re-establish the credibility of the courts. Does he think that the credibility of magistrates courts would be enhanced or undermined by clause 58, which is designed to extend the powers of non-legally qualified staff to conduct trials in magistrates courts?
My hon. Friend is right. The Law Society has expressed grave concern about those provisions and we will have to examine them very closely in Committee.
Has the hon. Gentleman read the report from the Modernisation Committee, which has been backed up by guidance from Mr. Speaker, that Front-Bench speeches on Second Reading should be no longer than 20 minutes plus interventions? The hon. Gentleman has just bored both sides of the House and constrained many hon. Members from representing their constituents in this debate.
I have read that recommendation, but the hon. Gentleman should have a word with the Lord Chancellor to stop him intervening on me quite so much. However, he will be relieved to learn that I am coming to an end.
The Bill is a tired repetition of the same failed approach by the Government. We have had 35 Bills and endless tinkering with the criminal justice process, 3,000 new offences, and civil liberties eroded, but violent crime has doubled and reoffending soared. Of those discharged from prison, 65 per cent. now reoffend, compared with 59 per cent. when this Government came to power. Among young people, the recidivism rate is even higher. Reoffending now accounts for more than half of all crime. That is a measure of the success of this Government in dealing with crime and of their endless criminal justice Bills. We desperately need a new approach, but sadly it is now clear that we will not get it for at least two years.
I promise to be briefer than Nick Herbert—obviously, as I am subject to the 10-minute limit—but I am delighted to be asked to participate in the debate. I wish to use the opportunity to raise issues related to the new special immigration status, intermediate sentences and compensation for victims of miscarriages of justice.
The House has waited 11 months since the Gracious Speech of
The concept of the Bill goes back to the Home Office report "Rebalancing the criminal justice system", published in July 2006 as part of the Government's commitment to better empower our police and probation services to protect the public from violent offenders and antisocial behaviour. Since then, the organisation of the Departments with responsibility for our criminal justice system has undergone significant change. We now have the new Ministry of Justice, headed by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, with responsibility for criminal law, sentencing and prison management, and a Home Office dedicated to policing, national security and managing immigration. Of course, the Bill cuts across both Departments.
Despite the fact that crime has fallen consistently under this Government, there remains a perception, which has been highlighted over the summer, that crime committed by violent and serious offenders is an increasing threat to law-abiding citizens. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish to express their sincere sympathies with the families of those killed recently in tragic and high profile cases. Rhys Jones was only 11 years old, walking home from a football match, when he was viciously gunned down by a youth on a bicycle. Only last week, Magda Pniewska, a Polish care worker—one of a number of migrant workers supporting our health service—was shot dead in crossfire between two men.
Such cases are clearly uncommon in British society, which is why they have caused such great revulsion and attracted so much attention. They raise two different issues regarding the management of our criminal justice system. The first is how we prevent people from falling into a life of crime and better support the work of our police service in carrying out effective policing and preventing such crime. The second, which the Bill seeks to address, is how to ensure that our criminal justice system has a serious reputation for properly punishing the most serious, persistent and dangerous offenders. When those crimes are committed by foreign nationals, how do we ensure that they no longer remain a threat to British society?
It is my strongly held belief that immigration, properly managed, has been a great benefit to this country. Migrant workers have been of great importance in sustaining the longest period of continuous growth this country has witnessed. From the old Commonwealth and now from eastern Europe, workers such as Ms Pniewska are providing the backbone of our health and public services. Without them, Britain would be a less dynamic, less efficient place. That is why I am concerned whenever we see headlines, based on anecdotes, that claim that immigrants have brought crime and violence to our country. Such sensationalism creates real, although largely unwarranted, public anxiety.
If such headlines are combined with reports that because of our obligations under the European convention on human rights—fanned only this evening by Mr. Cash, who is no longer in his place—our Government are powerless to remove foreign criminals, there appears to be a real crisis in the system. The Bill, in clauses 115 to 122, seeks to address those concerns by the creation of a special immigration status. That status would permit the offender to lawfully remain in the UK, but would not grant leave to enter or remain. Once people were designated with the new status, the Government could impose conditions on their residence or employment. I do not object to the purpose of these clauses, but I urge the Government to consider seriously whether the proposals are necessary given the strong concerns that many groups have expressed, with some of which I am in sympathy.
In managing convicted foreign criminals, I am not sure that it is in the interest of the Home Office to add yet another immigration status for it to manage and cost. I am aware of reports from Justice that the new status would cost another £1.1 million to administer over the next three years. The Bill's criteria for designating individuals with special immigration status are also remarkably broad. The intention of the new status is to target "terrorists and serious criminals", but I am concerned that under the current criteria foreign individuals who pose absolutely no threat to this country would be encompassed by this legislation. That would unnecessarily dilute the Government's rightful concentration on the more serious criminals.
I also ask the Government to look closely at the Bill's power to impose restrictive conditions on those with special immigration status. I would welcome the Minister's providing more detail on what types of condition could be imposed.
At the top of the public's agenda is the issue of sentencing and sentencing guidelines. Based on what the Lord Chancellor has said this evening, I very much hope that when he gives evidence tomorrow to the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs he will outline the further steps he intends to take on the issue of intermediate sentences.
Finally, I want to address the provisions on compensation for individuals who have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. On
In conclusion, I warmly welcome the Bill as a step towards a safer society. The Government have achieved much in the fight against crime and although there is disagreement between the Library, which says that 60 criminal justice Bills have been passed, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, who says that the number is 35, and the Lord Chancellor who says that 30 Bills altering our criminal justice system have been passed, the fact remains that there have been a lot of Bills dealing with the issue over the past 10 years. It is not enough to legislate, however; we have to carry people with us. Every citizen is a stakeholder in ensuring a nation, a community and a street without crime. Opposition spokesmen in particular use the words "zero tolerance" about dealing with crime, but zero tolerance should not be a statement or philosophy imposed on individuals; it should be a personal commitment from each citizen that they will not tolerate crime locally.
I support the Bill and with the caveats that I have just expressed I hope very much that it will receive a Second Reading.
It is a pleasure to follow Keith Vaz in his first outing in the Chamber as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. He made some sensible comments about the Bill, especially about special immigration status, which is a matter we shall want to look at carefully in Committee.
The one point where I disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman was over the strange business of the counting of criminal justice Bills. I certainly heard Nick Herbert say that the number was 35 and I thought I heard the Lord Chancellor entering a plea of guilty and asking for another four to be taken into account. There is an almost annual procession of criminal justice and/or immigration Bills, so I suppose we must be grateful that in this instance we have a portmanteau Bill that covers both headings.
I have to enter an objection to the process. It is extraordinary that a Bill of such complexity and importance is being introduced at this stage of the parliamentary timetable—a few weeks before the end of the Session—with the expectation of the Government that it will receive carry-over, which is not the purpose for which the carry-over procedure was introduced, and with a heavily truncated Committee stage. The programme motion on which we shall vote later requires us to complete our Committee proceedings by
As has been said, the Bill is one of those extraordinary measures that emanate so often from the Home Office—and now from the Ministry of Justice—that appear to be a convenient piece of legislation on which any and every item can be hung with no common threads between what is proposed. The significant problem I have with so much of what the Government propose in the sphere of home affairs and justice is that they mistake legislative action as a substitute for executive action in actually getting our systems to work properly.
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the date of
I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance but that is not actually what the motion says. If that is what is intended, it would have been helpful if it had been said. However, we must take the right hon. Gentleman at his word.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that oddity on the Order Paper. Paragraph 2 of the motion states:
"Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 30th October 2007."
That is perfectly clear English. The carry-over motion, No. 3 on the Order Paper, deals with incomplete business that can be resumed in the next Session, but if the Committee stage has been completed all that is left in the House is Report and Third Reading, so the hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. Perhaps the drafters of Government motions need to apply their minds to what motions mean as opposed to what they think they mean.
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right; that was my reading of the motions. I can assume only that the Government intend to propose a motion at the start of the next Session of Parliament for recommittal. If that is the case and they can give that assurance—
I think I heard the Minister give such an assurance, so I invite him not to press motions 2 and 3 tonight and to return to the House tomorrow with motions that are in order and make clear the Government's intention. However, that is enough about process. Let us deal with the substance of the Bill.
Part 2 deals with sentencing. We heard an interesting exposition from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs of what he understands by the term "honesty in sentencing". I agree that it is an essential missing ingredient of the Bill. The Liberal Democrats have argued for a long time that when a sentence is handed down in court it should say what is going to happen, for the benefit of victims, witnesses, the public and, indeed, defendants. That means that we need a change in the way that sentences are described in court so that there is a statement of the term that is to be served and the additional term that will be served if the prisoner does not accept the disciplines of the penal system. That seems an entirely appropriate way of dealing with matters.
Our judicial and criminal justice systems are put constantly into disrepute by people realising that a sentence of a particular length of time means a much shorter time in practice. We argued against automatic release schemes, as did the Conservatives, and our suggestion would not require more or fewer people to be in prison, but simply clarity in the courts, which is in the interests of the criminal justice system. We certainly intend to table amendments in Committee to make that a reality and I hope that we shall have the support of the Committee in doing so.
Secondly, I welcome the provision for judicial discretion in the discount procedure, if we have to accept the present system. The Lord Chancellor was careful in the words he used to support the judicial decision in the Sweeney case. I wish that John Reid had been equally discreet when the sentence was given. When Home Secretaries vilify the bench because of a system introduced by the Government, it does nothing to further the interests either of justice or judicial independence. I hope that future occupants of the position of Home Secretary will understand that point and perhaps be guided by the Lord Chancellor in so doing.
Thirdly, we must recognise the crisis in our prisons—again, something that was alluded to by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs. We have an ongoing disaster in our prisons, but I do not accept the simplistic thesis that we can deal with it simply by building more and more prisons and putting the same categories of prisoner into them. That does not work. We need to ensure that those who should not be in our prison system are taken out, to leave room for the proper rehabilitation of prisoners who must be in prison for the protection of the public, quite rightly. That involves moving those with mental illness into secure mental institutions, taking those with drug and alcohol problems into places where they will have treatment and taking out those who are serving very short custodial sentences, which do not work. Sentences of three months or less have an almost 100 per cent. recidivism rate. Therefore, what on earth is the point of using valuable prison space to impose a sentence that will have nil effect on the offender reoffending? There are better and tougher ways to deal with those offenders in the community.
I should like to deal next with perhaps a rather crucial issue. Some right hon. and hon. Members may have read the story in The Times of
We are going to hear it now, I hope.
I will give the hon. Gentleman an official rebuttal of that story. We are examining internal structures, but the principle of offender management and the National Offender Management Service remains intact.
I am glad about that, and while the Minister is pondering these very difficult things, he can explain why £155 million has been spent on a computer system that still does not work and an extra £33 million is required—something that perhaps one of our very excellent Committees that examine departmental expenditure might like to consider, to discover why the new system, in which the Government have invested a large amount of money and attention, is not meeting any of its targets at the moment. That is a concern because, when we do not have a particularly effective probation service, we put members of the public at risk. We see that frequently in the limitations of early release that involves insufficient examination and assessment, and people therefore commit offences having been released from prison too early. We ought to avoid that.
The Lord Chancellor—I keep wanting to say Home Secretary and I have to remind myself that he is the Lord Chancellor—is interesting in what he has to say on his "Have-a-go hero" strand. That is not to sneer at him for what he said about his own role or, indeed, at anyone who tries to prevent crime, but it is very hard for us to reconcile what he said at conference and in his press releases and public statements with what has been consistently said from the Treasury Bench in response to that question when it has been raised in private Members' Bills.
I am not fully convinced by the argument that a change of law is necessary. Indeed, I accept many of the assurances that were previously given by Ministers that there is no defect in the current law. However, there is an enormous defect in the policies that are understood by the police and other investigating officers. Frankly, they occasionally pursue absurd investigations and arrests, and that occasionally gets through to the prosecution service as well. It is absolutely essential that we get a bit of common sense into the policing of the issue, so that people understand that reasonable force is perfectly acceptable and, indeed, commendable and that only where grossly disproportionate force is used should the investigating authorities look at the householder rather than their assailant, the burglar or whatever.
The Bill has some useful parts. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is revisited, as is the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I largely welcome what has been suggested in that respect. I welcome clause 53, which will remove the automaticity of the reprimand and final warning legal proceedings. I welcome clause 10 on the abolition of suspended sentences for summary crimes. I understand that I differ from Conservative Front Benchers in that respect, but it seems quite wrong that suspended sentences are used in the magistrates courts as a substitute for immediate sentences of a different kind, which was certainly not the Government's intention. Although the Lord Chancellor went into one of his more Gilbert and Sullivan moments in referring to the punishment fitting the crime, I support condign punishment. It is absolutely right that we should seek to find appropriate remedies for breaches in the law.
I worry that the Bill presents a wider range of disposals, without the resourcing that is necessary for the probation service and others to support those disposals in the community. I am concerned about clause 18, which deals with the change in the requirements for reference from the Parole Board for recall. Again, that is putting effectively a judicial decision in the hands of the Executive, and I wonder whether the lawfulness of that change, like others, will be challenged eventually.
On compensation for miscarriages of justice, the Government have got things completely the wrong way around. They are trying to make the limit on compensation for miscarriages of justice the same as the limit on compensation for the victims of crime, but the problem is the limit of £500,000 that they introduced under the criminal injuries compensation scheme, not the fact that people who have had the worst thing inflicted on them that a state can inflict—imprisonment for a crime that they did not commit—should be compensated properly. Rather than limiting that liability, the Government should be extending the capacity for criminal compensation.
The Lord Chancellor has been referred to as a grey beard on occasion over the past few days. I heard him suggest this morning that that was perhaps an inappropriate description, but he has shown a degree of wisdom befitting his rank and status in agreeing to look again at clause 26 and the rewrite of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968. My hon. Friend David Howarth questioned the application of what is proposed in the Bill to the Mullen case. If we in this country are to accept circumstances in which extraordinary rendition is whitewashed by legal procedure, we are on a very slippery slope indeed. I think that the Lord Chancellor now recognises that that is the purpose of the amended wording that will be introduced, and I welcome that and am grateful to him for it.
On violent offender orders, we now have a huge panoply of civil remedies for the avoidance of criminal offences and, indeed, in substitution for criminal proceedings. Some of them work; some do not. We have always argued that ASBOs have a place, but only if they are accompanied by much closer supervision and support for the offender to prevent reoffending. It is very hard to understand exactly what category of offender is likely to be caught by violent offender orders. Why is there not a simple read-across from the sex offenders register, so that we are aware of the whereabouts of violent offenders and they have a reporting system, but with no further sanction? I will consider that very carefully in Committee with my hon. Friends, and we shall assess how effective violent offender orders are likely to be.
In dealing with the clauses on nuisance or disturbance on hospital premises, I wish to say that nothing excuses violence or disorder in a hospital or GP premises—a point made by a Labour Member—that gets in the way of proper treatment. Indeed, I was a co-sponsor of the Bill, now an Act, introduced by the Father of the House to deal with difficulties in the emergency services. However, it is hard to understand the precise wording of the clauses. It is difficult to understand why it specifies hospitals and not other NHS premises and why it does not refer to patients, who are often the principal offenders. I am afraid that those involved are often not just people who walk in off the streets; if we go to any accident and emergency ward, we will often see people admitted as patients, seeking treatment, who nevertheless display violence against medical officers. Lastly, it is hard to see why the issue is not covered by existing law.
I refer the Lord Chancellor in all seriousness to the 1999 case of Porter v. Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis. It appears to deal with an exactly analogous position: a breach of the peace, civil trespass, a person refusing to leave premises after being asked to leave, the attendance of the police and an arrest for breach of the peace. The precise circumstances covered by the offence in the Bill are covered by that case.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to Mr. Heath for interrupting him just as he comes to the end of his speech. However, at the beginning of his remarks, he introduced some concerns about the procedure. We need to get those sorted out now before we go too far. I want to raise this point of order before he has sat down, so that he has an opportunity to deal with it from his party's point of view.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you will see in the Order Paper the Government's motion in relation to the Bill's Second Reading. It is clear from that that the programme motion, which is to be considered after the Second Reading debate, is to limit the extent of the Public Bill Committee, which must conclude by
Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised the kind of issue that will be best dealt with in the winding-up speeches, when there will be time for clarification. I am sure that he is aware of the time pressure in this debate. It would be appropriate for the Minister to deal with the issue in the wind-up.
I am grateful for that response to the point of order raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has confirmed that my immediate concerns were right. I look to the Minister in his winding-up speech either to accept that the motions should not be put this evening or to make a clear statement that a further procedural motion will be tabled to put right the obvious anomaly.
I want to make two brief points in conclusion. The first is about the provisions on extreme pornography and prostitution. The abolition of the term "common prostitute" is certainly welcome. However, I wonder why we are revisiting the Sexual Offences Act 2003 so soon. The Lord Chancellor said that times have changed since 10 years ago; yes, they have, but they have not changed as much since four years ago. It seems odd that we are revisiting an issue that we thought had been dealt with by a definitive Act, following careful scrutiny. I shall carefully consider what the Lord Chancellor says on the subject, but it strikes me as odd that, having established a consolidating measure, which was carefully argued through the House, we are revisiting it so soon.
We all want to stamp out homophobic hate crime. The degree to which we can support any amendment will depend on the terms in which it is put, but I hope that there will be no doubt that the Liberal Democrat Members will support a workable solution—one that does not compromise people who are simply professing faith or expressing themselves in ways that we may not agree with, but are nevertheless not intended to incite crime.
In conclusion, we wish to support some measures in the Bill; there are some about which we will argue strongly in Committee and no doubt return to on Report. I welcome the attitude expressed by the Lord Chancellor in some respects; there are issues on which he is prepared to listen, and he has already made a concession on one important element of the Bill. We will seek to amend that which is wrong. We will apply reasoned arguments and try to restrain the authoritarian instincts of the Government in the interests of justice and the protection of the public. Those are the paramount considerations. We do not intend to vote against the Bill this evening, and we will listen carefully to what the Minister says about the programme and carry-over motions.
I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to confine my remarks to clauses 64 to 66 in part 6, which deal with extreme pornographic material.
Jane Longhurst, my constituent, was a respected and dedicated teacher at a school for children with learning difficulties in my constituency. It happens to be the last school where I taught before I retired from teaching, but we did not work there at the same time. Obviously, Jane's murder caused concern throughout the whole community. During the trial of Graham Coutts, there was horror at the revelations about how she had died and the circumstances surrounding her death. Everyone was shocked.
I believe that it is because of the determination of Jane's mother, Liz Longhurst, and other members of her family and the responsiveness of Ministers of this Government that those clauses are before us tonight. I welcome that. Liz Longhurst decided that her daughter's death should not go unmarked and that the extreme pornographic images that had fuelled the fantasies of the man who was twice tried for Jane Longhurst's murder—the family had to go through the horror of a trial twice—had to be dealt with. She launched a campaign, which, I am glad to say, received the backing of Amnesty International as part of its campaign against violence against women.
The campaign, aspects of which I am sure my hon. Friend Martin Salter will want to discuss if he has the opportunity, received the backing of local newspapers. I must pay tribute to The Argus newspaper, published in my constituency, and particularly to Phil Mills, who was its chief crime reporter, although sadly no longer.
The campaign led to a 50,000-signature petition calling for action being presented in the House. There has been determination on the part of Mrs. Longhurst—the fact that we are discussing the issue is a tribute to her—and on the part of many of the predecessors of those on the Government Front Bench. I pay particular tribute to the former Home Secretaries, my right hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) for the sympathetic way in which they listened to the case for legislation that we put to them. I also pay tribute to other Ministers who have dealt with the matter—in particular my hon. Friend Paul Goggins and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr. Coaker.
We were determined that something should be done to tackle the pernicious trade in violent internet pornography. I welcome the way in which the Government have responded to the campaign. The provisions before us tonight do not go as far as many of us want, but they tackle an important aspect of the issue: the possession of those awful images. In doing so, they fulfil one of the requirements that the Lord Chancellor said in his opening remarks is an underlying principle of the Bill: to make sure that the law keeps pace not only with changing patterns of crime, but with technology and the way in which it affects patterns of crime. I wish we had proposals before us tonight to tackle at source the internet sites that purvey this material. However, that needs a degree of international co-operation which, sadly, despite the determination of Ministers, we have not yet been able to achieve—in the same way as we have achieved international co-operation to tackle child pornography. That is a further stage of the campaign.
The provisions do tackle possession. I ask the House to consider the comments of Jim Gamble, the chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and, at the time he made the comments, the lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers in this area of criminality. He said:
"Legislation is only truly effective if it develops step by step with technological advances."
The provisions start to address the issue of how the internet can be used to supplement this area of criminality and build on the fundamentals of obscene publications legislation.
Will my hon. Friend also pay tribute to the Reading Evening Post for its support of the Longhurst campaign? More importantly, does he recognise that the campaign achieved the support of 180 MPs, who signed early-day motion 583 on the murder of Jane Longhurst and internet sites promoting necrophilia? We are talking about some of the most obscene and disturbing material, including internet sites such as Necrobabes, Death by Asphyxia, and Hanging Bitches. Does he agree that the provisions will not make a new offence of anything that is not already illegal? We are talking about material that is already illegal under obscene publications legislation. It is merely the possession of the images that will become a new criminal offence.
I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention and agree with the points that he makes. I also welcome the commitment of Members on the Opposition Front Bench to support at least this part of the Bill, if not other aspects of it. Building on what my hon. Friend said, the explanatory notes that are available to us all make it clear that the intention of these clauses is not to restrict makers of narrative films or documentaries, or artists. The provisions are quite specific about the need to prove in court—and, I believe, to have the permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions to take the matter to court—that the intention of those involved is very different from that of people producing works of fiction in a more mainstream way.
I welcome the fact that the Government have responded to the strong demand from the family of Jane Longhurst and all the organisations that have supported Jane's family. None of us can really know the anguish that Mrs. Longhurst and other members of her family have been through over the four years since her daughter's death. However, we have before us tonight legislation that, in some small way, when eventually passed, will be a memorial to a dedicated teacher and a wonderful daughter.
At the conclusion of his remarks, the Secretary of State suggested that the Opposition should at least not resist the Second Reading of the Bill and indicated that there may be some co-operation, particularly in Committee. I have certainly heard that before and I ask the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Hanson to think about that. In the past, I have put forward a considerable number of amendments and new clauses, and even a private Member's Bill—only to have them rejected out of hand and then see the provisions return months, or even years later, sometimes with almost identical wording, under the Government's banner. With that in mind, perhaps the Minister of State will consider a couple of suggestions this evening. I am bringing them forward now, so that they can be considered as the Committee stage moves forward.
I am referring in particular to part 6 of the Bill. The thinking behind the provisions on extreme pornographic images is echoed in the legislation dealing with paedophiles, as David Lepper mentioned. There is clear evidence that paedophiles use literature, drawings, pseudo-photographs, photographs, films, videos, websites and digital material to stimulate their activities and generate interest among others.
Clause 68 is an ideal platform to deal with a new problem that reflects the changes in thinking and movements in the digital world. Again, this follows on from what the hon. Gentleman said. Computer-generated imaging is a software system that is used by clothes manufacturers to produce a figure that they will clothe and use legitimately. Paedophiles use it to produce images of children having sex with children or adults having sex with children, and use that material for stimulation. That is well known by the Home Office. I have asked the present Home Secretary and the previous Home Secretary for action on the matter, and it has been promised. The internet taskforce is looking at the issue. It would be quite simple to make a small and subtle change to the clause to introduce a suitable provision. I ask the Secretary of State for Justice and his Ministers to look at the matter positively and to use this opportunity to deal with the issue, thus keeping ahead of the changes in digital imaging.
The second issue that I want to raise—the encryption of images—is being looked at by the internet taskforce and has been looked at over a number of years by Home Office Ministers. The images used by paedophiles, and the individuals covered by the provisions that are being proposed, can be encrypted. Nowadays, if one has an operating system such as the new Vista professional, it is easy to ensure that images are encrypted when one turns one's computer off and it is impossible for law enforcement officers to access those images. There are a large number of reasons, which I will not rehearse—because I have mentioned them before—for getting access to the images. Quite apart from catching the criminals themselves, in the case of paedophiles it is important to find the children, because they need help.
In addition, 128 bit and 256 bit encryption has been available for some time, free, on the internet. It is quite simple to use. Individuals with any intelligence can use it to prevent access to images. There are plenty of cases—the Home Office will know of them—in which things are well known by the police force. I am thinking in particular of an Australian individual who was deported by the police. As he headed into terminal 3 at Heathrow for his Qantas flight back to Australia, he had something in the region of 32,000 images—disgusting paedophile images—that the police could not get to because of encryption.
In the past, the answer has been the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Seven years after that Act was passed, provisions in part 3, which dealt with this aspect, came into force in secondary legislation. The difficulty is that the maximum sentence is two years. The sort of sentences that a paedophile hiding such material could expect if there was access to the material is anything up to 15 years, as well as being put on the sex offenders register. The paedophile is unlikely to produce the code, as required under part III of RIPA, because he will only get two years for not doing so—and as my Front-Bench colleagues might point out, he would actually serve only one—and will not go on the sex offenders list, so he will hold his hands up to that crime, but not to the other one.
During the consultation on part III of RIPA, I was able to help some of the Ministers' officials in our discussions with the people concerned from the City on the implementation of part III. In that consultation, with my encouragement, the Government suggested that consideration be given to increasing that two years to a maximum of 10 years. That 10-year maximum related to legislative penalties for other paedophile activities. Nothing has happened. We have an opportunity to reflect on that, to consider the consultation, and to use the Bill to act on the issue and possibly increase the maximum sentence to 10 years, because there are related clauses in it. I ask the Government to use this opportunity, and to use the Committee stage to discuss the issue. I hope to put forward amendments and new clauses proposing that change. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion suggested, the Government could use this opportunity to get ahead of, or at least to keep up with, the way in which digital imaging has moved forward.
I welcome this ambitious, wide-ranging Bill, which consolidates the progress that has been made in the past 10 years. It is a progressive piece of legislation. It is disappointing that the official Opposition did not engage with it more seriously, particularly as the Lord Chancellor has responded positively to some of the questions asked about the detail of the Bill.
When it comes to implementing the Bill, the challenge for the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office is to give people working in all parts of the criminal justice system clarity about what is expected of them. In recent years, even when legislation has been clear, there have been far too many mixed messages. Guidance and the detailed implementation of specific measures have been less clear than Ministers intended. The courts sometimes seem confused about how it all fits together, and as the Bill is about clarity, consolidation and progress, this is an ideal opportunity to set matters right. I make that point because the criminal justice system is highly complex, and the devil is in the detail, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has always been fond of pointing out.
I want to refer to several specific provisions in my role as critical friend. First, I want to discuss the Bill's overall purpose. As the Library's excellent note on the Bill points out, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 clearly set out the overall purpose of the youth justice system. The Act says:
"1) It shall be the principal aim of the youth justice system to prevent offending by children and young persons.
(2) In addition to any other duty to which they are subject, it shall be the duty of all persons and bodies carrying out functions in relation to the youth justice system to have regard to that aim."
Clause 9 of the Bill clarifies the approach that the court should use in sentencing, and I welcome that, provided that the courts do not confuse the issue by separating their responsibilities in sentencing from the overarching statement of purpose set for the whole criminal justice system, of which they are a part. My point is that the courts seem well able to forget what they are for. That is an important point, because the more that young offenders offend, the more that they damage their victims, the community as a whole, themselves, their peer group and their family, so we must not lose that focus.
Secondly, on the sentencing of young people, the proposal to combine 15 different requirements in a single youth rehabilitation order is welcome. Having so many different orders became confusing for young people, parents and the public. There are challenges: first, we need to know what is working and what is not, so each specific use of the 15 categories needs to be accurately recorded on each occasion. When an order is made, if it incorporates, say, three of the requirements, each should be recorded in the statistics, and the outcomes should be monitored. The Prison Reform Trust expressed concern that a generic community sentence could reduce the hierarchy of disposals available to the court. There are two ways of dealing with that genuine fear. The first is to make it clear that the order will be used on several occasions with a persistent offender, but with different choices being made from the menu on each occasion. The second is to get rid of the idea of a hierarchy of disposals altogether, because it is a lazy way of sentencing. It means that a court could fail to use the appropriate disposal, which might end a criminal career, because the offender is too high up the tariff, or not high enough on it. Either one is madness; what counts is getting it right in each case.
As a magistrate and as a youth worker who worked with young offenders before entering the House, I particularly welcome the addition of the activity requirement. Engaging the young person's mind in new interests and challenges is frequently successful, especially when it is applied at the same time as interventions that address the offending behaviour and its causes, as the new style of order will do. It is not a soft option; it is an essential, tough element in ensuring a comprehensive approach to diverting young people from crime. I also welcome the introduction of youth conditional cautions and the Government's intention to do more to embed restorative approaches in the system.
Thirdly, on antisocial behaviour orders, clause 108 creates a statutory requirement to review after one year an ASBO placed on a young person aged under 17. That is good, but I remind Ministers that when I introduced the ASBO in 1998 I assured the House that the Government intended it primarily as an order for adults, and that it would be used only exceptionally on young persons. The whole point of the ASBO is to prevent further offending. To take the message of the ASBO to heart, offenders have to appreciate what they have to lose, and teenagers often have no sense of risk. It has worked well and has been successful when properly used, but it is less successful with the younger age group, so I urge Ministers to implement the clause, but to change the guidance so that the ASBO is used as designed and intended.
The ASBO is an effective measure of deterrence and prevention. It deals with the reality. It is a movie film, rather than the snapshot that the courts normally deal with. It prevents what it forbids—a test that most laws fail, as Gibbon pointed out in "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Someone who obeys its requirements has no criminal record and no punishment, and is deterred from a life of crime, but it comes into disrepute when used in inappropriate circumstances with those who are too young to understand what it means, or the risk that they run if they breach it.
My fourth point is on the protection of NHS staff. I welcome the clause on that subject. Our front-line staff in the NHS deserve protection. However, looking outside the legislation, I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to consider the success of the approach to violence reduction adopted in Cardiff. It is 10 years since my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor came with me to meet Professor Jonathan Shepherd in the accident and emergency unit in Cardiff, and saw what was being done to identify the cases of violence that were draining NHS resources. It was discovered that many incidents were unreported. A clinical analysis of the experience in the NHS showed that targeted action could reduce both alcohol-related violence and domestic violence. The result is that Cardiff is now the safest city in its cohort of cities. The public is safer and the waste of NHS resources on avoidable, expensive treatment has been reduced. That lesson should be applied elsewhere.
Fifthly, I want to deal with clause 12 on indeterminate sentences. The Bill will result in a different sentence for the offender who is given an indeterminate sentence. The Prison Reform Trust comments that in an increasingly risk-averse culture, that could become the default setting. It has a point, especially as the courts, rather than having a clear focus on getting it right, often appear more at ease following a pattern of sentencing. There is no quick fix on that issue. The point of an indeterminate sentence is to manage risk and prevent danger, so one cannot determine matters entirely at the point of sentence. We need to look at the clause with care. We do not need tougher or softer sentencing; we need better targeted sentencing, combined with an effective system of managing the risks, and we need to give those in the system the confidence to address the risks effectively.
Sixthly, on sharing data, I am pleased that clause 75 provides custodial penalties for those who knowingly and recklessly disclose personal data, but will the Minister stress clearly that this must not be used as an excuse for failing to disclose information when it is appropriate—for example, in order to prevent and reduce crime, as set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998? "If in doubt, don't disclose" is still the default setting for too many data controllers and lawyers, whereas the right response is always to balance the requirement of data protection against the public interest in disclosure and to make a responsible judgment.
There are many other points in the Bill on which I would love to comment, but I am conscious that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak. I will therefore simply say that this is a good piece of legislation that has my support, and I am delighted that the Government have sought to cover so many important issues within the context of the Bill.
I should like to record my congratulations to the new Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz. He served with me from the beginning on the Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is shortly to become the Justice Committee. He was acerbic in his questioning of Ministers, and showed neither fear nor favour to Ministers of the Government whom he supports. I hope that he will apply that rigour to his new work; I am sure that he will.
May I also congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Heath on teasing out the issue of the programme motion? I am glad that there have been discussions on that, and that it looks as though the issue will be resolved satisfactorily. I would expect no less from the Lord Chancellor. He always shows an exemplary degree of recognition of the importance of procedures of the House—by the admittedly not always demanding standards of the present Administration—and that is something that I have come to expect from him.
It is necessary to look at the background to the Bill, because in some respects it has been built on rather shaky foundations, given some of the problems that we face in the criminal justice system. Prison numbers have been cited several times, with 81,000 and rising, and hundreds in police cells. The early releases under the end-of-custody licensing scheme have also caused concern, and the prison officers' dispute is a matter of serious concern to the Minister of State. Whatever view we take of the tactics used by the Prison Officers Association, we need to bear in mind the prison officers' deep sense of being undervalued.
The Minister came to my constituency and together we visited Acklington and Castington—a prison and a young offenders institution. I will give the House an example that the right hon. Gentleman will remember. The prison officers asked how it was that they, who were carrying out their jobs on behalf of our society, were almost the only public servants who were not protected from the effects of smoke inhalation when going about their work. Prisoners are allowed to smoke in their cells and, as the Minister observed, in some cases that involves groups of cells and other areas in which they can move about, and into which the prison officers must go. "Yet again," said the prison officers, "nobody thinks about us when laws are drafted or policies devised." The Minister must be aware from some of the meetings that he has had that many prison officers feel seriously undervalued, not just financially but more widely as well.
The Carter review into the custodial estate and sentencing represents another element of uncertainty in regard to the foundations on which this legislation rests. I also referred in an earlier intervention to the chaos over indeterminate sentences for public protection. They are being used far more widely because of the lack of judicial discretion available. They are applied to summary offences, and now cover 153 offences, some of which would normally attract a very short sentence. The result is that the Parole Board cannot deliver reports in time, and people are therefore being detained when there is no proper basis for doing so. The whole system collapsed in Wells and Walker v. the Parole Board. In the meantime, the president of the Queen's Bench Division said that the Parole Board needed 100 extra judges to manage a system operating on this scale. The chief executive of the Parole Board has said that £3 million has been allocated to the National Offender Management Service to address the problem, but
"where the infrastructure will be found to spend that money properly, I do not know".
That system is going very seriously wrong indeed.
Meanwhile, NOMS itself is proving as wasteful and useless a superstructure as we all warned it would be. It was bolted on top of a system that was already under strain, and we could have used the money required for the creation of NOMS in much more constructive ways. Mrs. Brennan of the Ministry of Justice is reported to be carrying out a fundamental review—to which the Minister referred earlier—which might even recommend the break-up of NOMS, even though it could retain some nominal overall structure. On top of that, the NOMS information technology system is in chaos.
As if all that were not enough, there is an unresolved dispute between Ministers and the senior judiciary over the safeguarding of judicial independence. That has particular relevance to sentencing. We still have not had any kind of statement from the Lord Chancellor on whether further discussions on that matter are taking place, and I hope that we shall have the opportunity to press him further on that this week.
None of those problems will be solved by the Bill. Even where it addresses some of them, it does not seem to tackle them effectively. I have read and re-read clause 12, on indeterminate sentences, and it might be a mark of my inadequacy, but I still cannot understand what its effect will be. It certainly will not be to remove the problems relating to indeterminate sentences that I have just identified.
Of course, there are good things in the Bill, most obviously perhaps the fact that it will give a statutory basis to the prisons ombudsman. That is overdue, necessary and very welcome. However, some of the Bill's provisions could actually add to the number of people in custody. For example, some of the provisions in clause 2 on youth offender orders, and even those in clause 72 on street offences, could have that effect.
The Bill raises some important wider issues that have not been considered by the Constitutional Affairs Committee, and any view that I express on those will be a personal one. I shall confine myself to just one of them. Clause 26 will allow the Court of Appeal to form a view when considering whether a conviction is unsafe on the basis of abuse of process, and to form its own view as to guilt on the basis of the evidence available to it. I am glad to hear from today's discussions that that clause is to be reviewed. It would give the Court of Appeal a fact-finding role—not its normal role—and has the potential to undermine the integrity of the judicial process by allowing bad process to obtain a conviction. This could encourage what has misleadingly, or perhaps euphemistically, been called "noble cause corruption"—that is, the fabrication of evidence in order to obtain convictions when satisfactory evidence does not exist.
Having made my criticism of the clause, however, I believe that we must also consider this question. If there is sufficient evidence of guilt but there has been some abuse of process, who should be punished? The danger is that if the method of dealing with abuse of process is to allow the appeal and free the offender, it will not be the person who has carried out the abuse of process who will be punished. It will not be the police officer who has fabricated evidence, or the prosecutor who has admitted into the prosecution case material that should not have been so admitted who will be punished. It will be the public, the community, who will have a dangerous criminal against whom there is clear evidence of guilt released on to their streets. So it will be the public who are being punished, not the person who perpetrated the offence.
While it must be wrong to found conviction on unsafe processes, it is also wrong that the punishment for an abuse of process should be visited on the public, who are seeking the defence of the criminal justice system, rather than on those who have carried out the abuse. Wherever possible, the system ought to be punishing the abuse rather than stepping back from the determination of guilt. I am not convinced that the clause has got this right, although it does address a genuine—if quite rare—problem. The Government are right to try to address it in the Bill, and I hope that we can arrive at a satisfactory solution through further discussion. I hope also that, in response to the consideration that has taken place today, those discussions will be suitably measured, not only on that clause but on the many other features of this complex Bill.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to make my maiden speech during the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which I believe will help to make our communities safer when it is implemented.
During the Sedgefield by-election, I became aware that antisocial behaviour continues to be a constant worry for local people, even in an area such as Sedgefield where, because of this Government's policies, crime is well below the national average. Sedgefield constituency has been in existence since 1918, except for a short period between 1974 and 1983 when it was absorbed by other constituencies in County Durham. I pay tribute to those MPs who represented Sedgefield prior to 1974.
If anyone had said to me, when Sedgefield re-emerged in 1983, that our Labour candidate would become leader of the Labour party and then the first Labour Prime Minister since 1979, that after 10 years he would resign his position and leave Parliament to become a middle east envoy, and that I would become his successor after fighting a by-election, I would have asked that person whether they had ever thought about taking up writing fiction. Fact, it would seem, is much more original than fiction.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish Tony Blair, my predecessor, all the best for the future and put on record that I believe that this side of the House owes him a great debt of gratitude for the 13 years of leadership that he provided to the Labour party. The country owes him the same for the 10 years of leadership that he gave this nation. I know from speaking to him about it that he will always hold a special place in his heart for the people and communities of Sedgefield. I would also like to give Tony Blair's successor as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr. Brown, my best wishes. I look forward to many more years of his premiership.
I have always lived in Sedgefield and it is an honour and a privilege to represent the area where I grew up. For the people of Sedgefield, politics is not a game. For them, politics must do what it says on the tin. I hope that I can live up to that simple but honest request. I am the son of a coal miner. My Dad worked down the pit for almost 40 years and when I left school, he encouraged me to go on to do whatever I wanted, but he did not want me to follow him down the mines. He wanted better for me and, likewise, I want my family to go on to aspire. Aspiration should not be the preserve of the privileged few. It is something that we should all be allowed to reach for. That is one of the reasons why I joined the Labour party and it helps to form the basis of my creed.
I grew up in the Trimdons—a cluster of former mining communities in the north of my constituency, which share the same heritage as many other villages in Sedgefield such as Wingate, Wheatley Hill, Thornley, Deaf Hill and Station Town to the east and Fishburn, Bishop Middleham, West Cornforth, Ferryhill and Chilton to the west. It is those communities that are remembered when Sedgefield is referred to as a former coal mining area. When Tony Blair became MP in 1983, the coal mining area of County Durham had been ravaged by the then Conservative Government—and those memories run deep. In those days, hope and aspiration were neglected and thrown on the spoil heap of unemployment and deprivation.
When my predecessor made his maiden speech on
"In the area of the Wingate employment exchange, which covers a very large part of the constituency, unemployment now stands at over 40 per cent. A large proportion of the unemployed are under 25 years of age... Those young people are not merely faced with a temporary inability to find work. For many, the dole queue is their first experience of adult life. For some, it will be their most significant experience."—[ Hansard, 6 July 1983; Vol. 45, c. 314.]
Today—24 years later and 10 years into a Labour Government after my predecessor led us into victory in 1997—I am proud to say that the unemployment rate in my constituency is at or below the national average. Where there were 5,500 people in Sedgefield out of work in the mid-1980s, there are now just over 1,000 today. Today my constituency is ringed by new or refurbished hospitals, with a new hospital built on the outskirts of Sedgefield village itself. Education results are massively improving and there are now more than 1,000 new businesses in County Durham. Between Fishburn and Sedgefield, there is a new science park, NetPark, which is nurturing new cutting-edge technologies, which will attract highly valued jobs to the area so that we can face up to the challenges of globalisation. For those among us who care to compare Sedgefield today with the Sedgefield of the 1980s, they will see that it is a better place, in no small measure because of the resilience of my constituents and the policies of this Labour Government.
In the west of the constituency lies Newton Aycliffe, a new town and the largest conurbation. It is a thriving community, with a population of 25,500 and to its credit one of the largest industrial estates in the region. Newton Aycliffe is a town with a bright future. The town has its issues, such as the regeneration of the privately owned town centre, but it was William Beveridge himself, the father of the welfare state and founder of the new town movement, who became chair of the Newton Aycliffe development corporation in 1947.
To the east of Newton Aycliffe is the town of Sedgefield, after which the constituency is named—an ancient town, but with modern aspirations. Like other communities in the constituency, it keeps an eye in a forward direction. Further to the south, the constituency is more rural and includes the communities of Hurworth, Heighington, Middleton St. George and Piercebridge. It is an area of the constituency that is different from the rest, because in the by-election it was there that the Liberal Democrats stopped saying that they were the alternative to the Labour party and started saying that they were the alternative to the Conservative party.
The identity of Sedgefield has been transformed since 1983. It is now confident, aspirational, proud of its coal mining heritage and I will continue to march with the miners' banners through the streets of Durham on gala day. However, the future lies in technology—once the preserve of science fiction—with strong communities, outward looking and ready to face the challenges of the 21st century.
We live in a world where change can be fast and can seem threatening to an already existing way of life. Others more cynical may want to exploit that for their own ends. I am talking about the presence of the British National party. I raise that concern not for my own sake, but for the sake of the communities I represent. The BNP had not been present in Sedgefield until the local elections, but then their leaflets arrived on our doorsteps. They spread discontent, where discontent did not exist. They talked about a rising tide of crime, when crime in Sedgefield is below the national average. They talked of Sedgefield being "swamped by immigrants", to use their language, where in fact 99 per cent. of the population saw themselves as white British in the census of 2001. That kind of cynical politics has no place in the communities where I grew up, where the watchwords are compassion and solidarity.
The people of Sedgefield are at their best when challenged. They do not turn to cynicism or prejudice. They draw from the deep well of community and solidarity, which has nourished the area for so long. The words,
"by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone"
are not written down, or even spoken, but they are acted upon. For example, estates that have been pestered by antisocial behaviour have pulled together to root out the problem. In West Cornforth, the Cornforth partnership runs a successful youth project, which has seen the reduction in the amount of antisocial behaviour in the village. Local people and agencies have pulled together and united around progressing the well-being of their village. Likewise, in Ferryhill, the Ladder project is doing similar work and is a tribute to the local community.
Those are examples of hope—and where there is hope, aspiration follows. What gives aspiration structure is education. We need to give our young people the wherewithal to fulfil their potential and equip them for the challenges of the future, which is why I endorse this Government's approach to education.
Sedgefield has changed beyond recognition in my lifetime, but it is only in the past 10 years that the heartbeat of optimism has found its rhythm. I can assure my constituents that I will fight to protect their communities, promote their interests, serve them with diligence and build on the success of this Labour Government. With that, I have a lot to do, and I am grateful for the opportunity to make this, my first speech, to the House.
It is a great pleasure to follow that maiden speech, which had all the elements of a good one. It was well delivered, if I may say so, and it was delivered to time. It was an excellent walk through the hon. Gentleman's new constituency. Indeed, as he talked about those new industrial estates, the new town centre and the place ringed with hospitals, I am sure we all wished that we, too, could have had a Prime Minister who served our constituencies and delivered that level of investment. Unfortunately, not all of us have been quite so lucky. In all seriousness, it must be very difficult to follow the previous Member who represented Sedgefield. Whatever one thinks of his politics, by virtue of his high position he will be a difficult act to follow, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do so with aplomb.
Now, to turn to this evening's debate, we heard a lot of tough rhetoric from Ministers earlier, but is the reality going to match that rhetoric? On the basis of previous performance, I find that somewhat hard to believe. We have heard more about tough sentences and increased numbers of prisoners, but the reality is that what is important is never the maximum sentence but the sentencing guidelines given to magistrates and judges.
In 2005, for example, 5,957 people were convicted of having a knife in a public place, but only one of them was given the maximum sentence possible. In that same year, 5,689 were convicted of possessing a knife or sharp, bladed instrument unlawfully, but only two were given the maximum sentence. When it comes to drugs, about 7,000 people were convicted of possession with intent to supply cocaine, crack, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, methadone and other class A drugs. Of those 7,000 people convicted of intent to supply, only one—just one—received the maximum sentence. Many of them did not even receive custodial sentences. I recently attended a police raid on a known heroin dealer. A quantity of heroin was found, but the dealer was let off with a caution. For all the Government's rhetoric, the reality has not been tough on crime or tough on the causes of crime.
There are other serious examples. Just a couple of years ago, a Bill was passed against the disgusting act of female genital mutilation, but, as far as I am aware, not one single person has been convicted. From all the information that I have received, it seems that only one person has been investigated for that horrendous crime. At the same time, the Government have been happily handing out bucketsful of taxpayers' money in compensation to prisoners and asylum seekers who have been encouraged to stick in bogus claims by money-grabbing lawyers working on a no win, no fee basis.
To get to the gist of the Bill, all one has to do is turn to page 109 of the explanatory notes, which explains things very well. The Bill is not about getting tough on criminals; it is about letting more people out of jail. The financial effects are clear: it will free up 1,383 prison places. As a result of the Bill, nearly 1,500 fewer people will go to prison.
The Government will say that those people are non-dangerous offenders and that a smaller number of non-dangerous people will go to prison. I do not like the terms "non-dangerous" and "non-serious". We hear them a lot. They apply to house burglars, car thieves, vandals and, of course, drug dealers. To my mind, such people should not be classified as "non-dangerous" or "non-serious". They are a serious problem for all law-abiding citizens and they deserve the sentences they get. In fact, they deserve much longer ones.
As a result of the Bill, such people will be walking the streets or be given so-called community sentence orders, but those do not work either. I have here a document that relates the experiences of a prison doctor. I shall not quote from it at length, but he says that one of his jobs is to give out private sickness certificates to people who have been given community punishment or community rehabilitation so that they can avoid it.
Those who receive such sentences quite often find that they are reduced afterwards, because it is not only prisoners who are let out early; it now happens to people on community sentences as well. They are given a community sentence, but a few weeks later the probation service will quietly scurry off to the courts to ask for a reduction. People do not realise that that happens. Such sentences are thoroughly ineffectual, because they are not properly policed by people who know what they are doing.
I went to see such sentences being carried out in south Wales. A load of car thieves were being taken bike scrambling and shown videos for the day. I arrived at lunchtime and was told to go and talk to the clients, as I think they were called. I went up to one of them who turned round to his social worker and ordered her to go and get him his chips, which she duly did. She queued up and brought him his fish and chips back, because he could not be bothered to get in the queue himself. Yet she was the person who was supposed to be policing these people and trying to keep them in check. It is absolutely hopeless. The reality is that prison works, and it is high time that we all recognised that.
I feel that the hon. Gentleman and the House need a breather. He contends that prison works. If that is the case, will he explain why 70 per cent. of young men leaving prison reoffend within two years?
I am delighted to do so: it is because they are not put in prison for long enough. [Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics, he will find that, yes, the figure is about 70 per cent. for people who receive a sentence of 12 months or less, but the longer the sentence, the lower the reoffending rate.
I will give way in a moment; let me finish. People sentenced to 10 years or more have a much lower reoffending rate of about 30 per cent. The reason is that someone who receives a 12-month sentence will serve not six months, because they are usually let out on a tag before they even reach the halfway point, but often only three or four months. Before anything else can happen, they have to go to a prison where they can be assessed. Once they have been assessed, they might get moved to a training wing. By the time that happens, they have only a few months left on their sentence, which is nowhere near long enough to deal with the problems they have.
Most of those people have drug or alcohol problems and are very poorly educated. The first thing to do is clean them up and get them off drugs. Then they have to be given basic, rudimentary reading and writing skills. Finally, they need vocational qualifications. Yes, some of them might be a bit more intelligent, but by and large we are dealing with people who need basic vocational qualifications that will allow them to get a job when they come out of prison. Some prisons do that quite well, but most do not.
I will give way again in a moment.
The reality is that most prison officers say that, to keep prisoners quiet, there is a sort of Faustian pact: if someone has only a few months left on their sentence, they are put in a cell and have their life made as comfortable as possible, but very little work is done with them. That is why such people come out and reoffend.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how many prison places I, as a Minister, should plan for to implement his regime?
I am afraid to say that I am unlikely to be a Minister under any Government, Conservative or Labour. That is the reality of the situation. I will tell the Minister what I think should happen, although this is purely my opinion.
About 100,000 people commit half the crime in this country, according to the Carter report, and only 15,000 of them are in prison at any one time. If we could put the other 85,000 in prison—not throw them into a hole, which is more or less what happens at the moment—we could train them properly, get them off drink and drugs, deal with their anger management problems, and give them vocational qualifications and skills. That might take time and it would cost money, but we spend £2 billion dealing with 80,000 prisoners. We could spend another £2 billion, or even another £4 billion, dealing with another 80,000, which would involve up to £6 billion. However, those prisoners cost £60 billion every year, according to the Home Office in 2000, so by removing from the streets the people who are responsible for half of all crime we could save £30 billion. That means that prison could pay for itself, quite apart from the fact that it takes off the streets those who make the lives of law-abiding people a misery. It would give those people an opportunity, because at the moment they have no opportunity at all.
One of the most shocking statistics, incidentally, is not the number of people who commit suicide, but the number of prisoners who die after they come out of prison, quite often because they take heroin and do not realise how strong it is. There are people dying all the time because they come out of prison. Prison is a safe environment for many of the people who are inside. I do not believe in throwing people into a hole. I do believe in a good Prison Service that looks after people properly.
I am also interested in the parts of the Bill that deal with the NHS. I ask the Minister to consider something with an open mind. As he might know, I serve as a special constable with British Transport police, which is funded by the rail operators and has made most train stations, particularly in London, much safer. I will not bore him with the anecdote, but I once had to deal with a situation in a hospital. [Interruption.] I have only two and a half minutes left, but it is a good anecdote.
The security guards in the hospital were unwilling to deal with a violent patient. The nurse told us that they were sitting down having their cup of tea and were not willing to get involved. They were getting very low pay—minimum wage, I would guess, or slightly more—and simply were not interested. If NHS hospitals, particularly those in inner cities, had dedicated police officers who dealt only with those hospitals, they would have a body of people trained in the law and, more importantly, the equipment to deal with violent offenders, which, unfortunately, security guards do not have. That idea has worked well with train stations, and is basically what the Ministry of Defence police do on MOD sites and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary at nuclear establishments. I see no reason why we cannot do something similar with hospitals, particularly in built-up areas, where it is easy to get from one to the other.
When the Minister looks again at the legislation that allows homeowners to defend themselves, will he bear it in mind that, according to a survey released recently, one in four people keep a baseball bat or blunt instrument under their beds to deal with criminals? That creates a great deal of danger to both them and—although I must admit that I do not lose too much sleep over it—the criminal. There must be a better way, and a way of enabling people to undergo training and have access to proper equipment that would enable them to defend their families, rather than relying on a baseball bat, which may harm them or someone entering their home.
Parts of the Bill are to be commended, but the Minister cannot disguise the fact that, as a result of it, 1,300 extra people every year will walk the streets, most of whom will reoffend.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. First, I commend my hon. Friend Phil Wilson on his maiden speech. I know that there are many more excellent contributions to come from him in the future.
It is a great honour and privilege to be elected to the House, to represent the people of Ealing, Southall and to speak in this historic Chamber. Almost 115 years ago, Dadabhai Naoroji, Member of the House for Finsbury Central, delivered his maiden speech. Today, as one of his ardent admirers, I have the privilege of making my own. Times in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 21st century are very dissimilar, but it is nevertheless a great tribute to the great democratic tradition of this great country that both of us, having been born in India under totally different circumstances, were sent by all the electors of our respective constituencies to this House. He delivered a message of hope, justice and fair play for all, irrespective of colour, creed or station in life. In my own humble way, I intend to do the same on behalf of all my constituents.
Thirty-nine years ago, when I came to this country, I brought with me the secular and non-violent tradition acquired from my father's involvement in the Indian freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. In this great country, my reception was mixed, and my aspirations marked by the limitations that I felt around in those yesteryears. Ealing, Southall is a constituency with a lot of people from the Indian subcontinent who had great ambition and drive to drop anchor here and contribute to the economic and social life of this great metropolis of ours.
Following the traditions of the House, I would also like to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, the late Mr. Piara Singh Khabra, whose sad death in June of this year caused the by-election that resulted in my being elected to this House. In 1992, I was pleased to see him elected as the first Asian MP for Ealing, Southall. I stand in his place, though not, out of humility, in his shoes, given his great service to my constituents. He was a tireless campaigner on behalf of his constituents, and he and his wife Beulah gave 15 years dedicated service to the people of Ealing, Southall. His was a lifetime of service to the community, fighting injustice and intolerance. He will be long remembered for his hard work in the constituency that helped many individuals and also unified the many different communities in harmonious and peaceful co-existence. He will be a hard act to follow.
My election in July was the first message that the British people gave to the Prime Minister of their resounding confidence in his ability and the courage of his convictions to lead our country in these difficult times to greater heights and to implement his vision for change. I identify fully with his efforts to connect to people's aspirations, problems and concerns directly and raise once again the profile of Britain as a moral leader in a peaceful world.
In introducing my constituency to hon. Members, I am aware that many of them visited Ealing, Southall during the recent by-election campaign, so I recognise that some are already well acquainted with the unique place that is Ealing, Southall—the Leader of the Opposition seemed to like my constituency so much that he visited it no fewer than five times during the campaign. To all who visited Ealing, Southall, I say thank you, and to all those hon. Members who helped in my campaign I say a personal and special thank you.
For those who did not have the pleasure of visiting Ealing, Southall during the by-election, we are in west London, bounded in the east by Ealing common, the north circular road and the District and Piccadilly tube lines, and in the west by the Grand Union canal, almost reaching the Hayes bypass and close to the Heathrow airport. The southern part of the constituency, just north of the A4 and M4, includes south Ealing, Northfield and Norwood Green, where I have had the privilege of representing local people as a councillor for more than 25 years. To the north we are bounded by the Ruislip road and the pleasant environs of Greenford. Bisecting the constituency and linking Ealing, West Ealing, Hanwell and Southall from east to west is the Uxbridge road, the route of the 207 bus, on which I once plied my trade as a bus conductor.
The constituency has a proud history, with many historic buildings and institutions. They include Ealing and Southall town halls; Ealing studios, home to the Ealing comedies and today providing a state-of-the-art facility for film and media companies; Pitzhanger manor, home to the famous architect Sir John Soane and next to Walpole park, where the excellent Ealing jazz festival takes place each summer; and the Wharncliffe viaduct in Hanwell, built in 1844 by Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel and jealously referred to by my hon. Friend Stephen Pound in his glorious maiden speech; as well as the three bridges and numerous magnificent churches, mosques, Sikh and Hindu temples, including the largest Sikh gurdwara in Europe, in Havelock road, Southall.
The constituency is also rich in culture, with Questors theatre providing west end-quality performances in the queen of the suburbs and the Dominion centre in Southall showcasing so many diverse cultural performances and exhibitions. Ealing, Southall is also a tourist destination, with film buffs visiting locations used for many classic films, and, as many hon. Members discovered in the by-election, culinary experts visiting Southall for its wonderful food, especially its world-famous curries.
What I am most proud of, however, is my constituency's great tradition and history of welcoming new arrivals, as well as the community cohesion that exists, as numerous communities from all over the world live together in harmony and peace. The Government's recent report on community cohesion, led by Darra Singh, the chief executive of Ealing council, was able to draw on many valuable lessons learned in my constituency. More than half the population is from an ethnic minority, the overwhelming majority coming from an Asian background, mostly Punjabi. There are significant Hindu and Muslim populations, but the Sikh community is the largest in the area, and in 2008 the third Sikh faith school in the UK will open in the constituency.
Being a Member of this House who was born in India and who represents a constituency with large numbers of constituents either of Indian birth or descent, I would like to conclude with my reflections on the positive partnership between Britain and India and on how it will benefit all my constituents, regardless of where they come from, and indeed all peoples of both countries. As in Ealing, Southall, the two countries are at ease with each other. For Britain, India is a natural partner for business and culture. Ealing, Southall is a gateway for much of that trade and culture to pass through, in either direction. Our countries also share the belief that education, especially higher education, is the most important factor in a successful life. Harnessing those forces and common beliefs will lead to prosperity for all.
Once again, I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to give my maiden speech and I thank the House for listening to me.
I am delighted to be the first Conservative Member to welcome Mr. Sharma to the House, and to congratulate him on a very thoughtful maiden speech. As he rightly anticipated, many Members who are in the Chamber this evening and many more outside had an opportunity to visit his constituency not long ago. I was one of them, and I must admit that—not being as familiar with it, and as used to driving around it, as he was as a result of his previous career—I did not always find it quite as easy to make my way around it as he no doubt did during his campaign.
The hon. Gentleman's thoughtful comments about the relationship between this country and the Indian sub-continent were very welcome. I am sure that he will be able to bring that experience to bear in the House in the months, if not years, to come.
I approach this debate having had the privilege of serving on the police service parliamentary scheme, from which I graduated earlier this year. I served with the West Mercia police, which gave me an excellent opportunity to understand the challenges that face our police daily in the area served by the force that covers my constituency. A month after my graduation dinner, they were brought home vividly to me by the tragic, and ultimately fatal, shooting of a West Mercia police constable, Richard Gray. He was shot in the head with a rifle, and fatally wounded, in Shrewsbury. One would not have thought that Shrewsbury was a hotspot for violent gun crime, but I am afraid that that is symptomatic of the problems that have been developing in our society, with gun and knife crime doubling over the last 10 years. I want to put on record my condolences to Mr. Gray's wife and two sons. He was a very brave officer who served with the armed response unit in Shrewsbury, in the Shropshire division.
My hon. Friend Nick Herbert put the Bill in context. Given the plethora of criminal justice Bills that we have seen over the last 10 years, I regret that yet again we have missed an opportunity in failing to deal with some of the worst aspects of the growing violent crime in our society. The carrying of a gun or a knife should, in my view, be subject to more stringent sentencing. Where other countries have introduced stringent sentencing for the carrying of violent weapons, it has had a significant impact in acting as a deterrent to reduce the badge of honour for carrying guns or knives which is now so prevalent, particularly among the drug gangs that inhabit some of our inner-city areas.
The Boston experience is often mentioned here, but I do not think it has been mentioned yet this evening. It is worth reminding the House that there was a significant increase in the number of young homicides in Boston, on the east coast of the United States, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The community united under the leadership of the local governor and mayor and put together the Boston gun project, which had a remarkable impact in reducing the number of young homicides. I believe that the number of such violent deaths fell by more than 60 per cent. as a result of that operation and the sentencing changes that were introduced, and that the reduction was sustained for several years. It is a great shame that part 8 of the Bill, which deals with the introduction of violent offender orders, does so little to seek to get to grips with the problem.
I want to touch on two other parts of the Bill. Part 4, which covers young offenders and prisons, is, I fear, another missed opportunity. Last month, Stoke Heath young offenders institution near Market Drayton—in the constituency north of mine—erupted into the second major disturbance in 12 months. I visited it in the summer and saw for myself the overcrowding, which has led directly, in my view, to that problem. Over 30 per cent. more young people are incarcerated in Stoke Heath than it was built for. A building programme is under way to provide more places, but that is woefully late. The problem that that causes for the inmates there is that they are unable to spend the amount of time that they are expected to spend, which should be provided, going through the basic education and basic rehabilitation that will make them better equipped when they are released to fit into society and to minimise their prospects of reoffending.
There is a major challenge for all those involved in seeking to rehabilitate our young offenders and, again, that is not addressed in the Bill. The youth community sentencing that is set out in part 1 does not go anywhere near addressing the major challenges. It is a sticking-plaster to try to assist with soft, low-level crime. It does not deal with the harder issues that are caused by increasing drug-related crime.
Drug offences have risen 43 per cent. to almost 195,000 in 2006-07. Of those who enter into custody, some 55 per cent. are established problem drug users. In some prisons, that is up to 80 per cent., but the drug treatment and testing orders have failed to help those individuals to get off drugs and to kick their habit. Eighty per cent. of those who are issued with DTTOs reoffend within two years. What is needed, and what is missing from the Bill, is a serious proposition for this country to provide facilities to rehabilitate drug offenders. That would have far more impact on reducing crime and reoffending than the youth community sentencing in part 1.
I totally concur with what my hon. Friend says, but does he share my concern about the ready availability of drugs within the prison system? Does he think that the Government have done enough over the past decade to deal with what is an epidemic?
I am grateful for that perceptive point. I agree that drugs are readily available within the prison population, and the Government seem to have nothing in the Bill to seek to address that problem.
There are rehabilitation formats that work. I have an excellent one in my constituency in Willowdene Farm, which has an exemplary track record in getting people off drugs. Many of them have offended and gone to that place following a prison term. However, the Home Office budget for the drugs intervention programme has been cut 13 per cent. this year. It is currently £149 million. It was over £170 million last year. That is another example of the Government saying that they are going to try to do something and the controller of the purse strings, our new Prime Minister, cutting resources to the Home Office. Consequently, the Home Office is having to make cuts in those programmes. [Interruption.] Does the Minister wish to intervene?
Clause 114 is a seemingly innocuous clause about the inspection of police authorities and grants the Audit Commission wide-ranging powers to inspect the performance of police authorities. The present powers are limited to compliance with best value.
That raises a few suspicions in my mind. It was the police authorities, along with a number of hon. Members and a small number of courageous chief constables that led the resistance to the outrageous proposals to regionalise our police forces last year. I have a nasty feeling that this is the Government's way of getting back at police authorities. It is a classic example of the centralising tendency of this Government to seek to impose from the centre their will on bodies over which they do not at present have complete control. That is another missed opportunity. Instead of seeking to control police authorities in the same way that policing priorities are controlled from Whitehall, the Bill should be looking at a much bolder option—providing genuine local accountability to our police forces by introducing, for example, elected police commissioners. That would give local people a real opportunity to direct police priorities to reflect the problems in their areas.
One of the issues that I have noticed during my parliamentary service has been the degree to which our police are directed by the prevailing urban preoccupations of Whitehall to seek criminals for crimes that do not exist in many rural areas. Local accountability through an elected police commissioner would deal with that centralising problem. That is another opportunity that the Bill has missed.
I rise to support the Bill, which contains many measures that we welcome in my constituency. I particularly welcome the commitment that we had from the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, my right hon. Friend Mr. Straw, to introduce a new crime outlawing homophobic hate crimes, which will be welcomed by many in the Christian community and across all other faiths.
The Bill will bring in violent offender orders, of which we have heard much today, and will extend the existing crackhouse closure powers. That is particularly appropriate in Reading, because Reading borough council and the local police authority were the first to use the crackhouse closure powers with good effect. We have banged down many doors in Reading and shut down establishments that were making life a misery for law-abiding citizens who lived nearby.
I am pleased with, and will note with interest, the development of the youth rehabilitation orders. I agreed with some of the response to my intervention on David T.C. Davies in terms of the quite scandalous rates of reoffending in our young offenders institutions. It was my privilege at the Labour party conference to share a platform with the Minister of State on that subject. I commend to all hon. Members the excellent work of the national grid scheme, which is providing apprenticeships for young offenders to learn a trade and to be able to compete in the employment market once they have completed their sentences. I accept that prisoners are cherry-picked to go on the scheme—it started life in Reading prison, which is why I am highlighting it—reoffending rates have been cut from 70 per cent to 7 per cent. Give them a future, training and the chance of a job and there is a very good chance we might see those concerned not walking back through the doors of a prison or young offenders institution in the future. That is the way forward.
I really want to talk about part 6 of the Bill, which is the culmination of a three-year campaign to try to bring justice for Jane Longhurst, who was brutally murdered by Graham Coutts, a self-confessed addict of violent internet pornography. We do not want justice for Jane through the criminal justice system, because Coutts is doing a very long time in prison and both of his appeals, I am delighted to say, have been rejected. We want justice for Jane through the parliamentary system because, frankly, the internet has changed everything.
The extreme material that will be outlawed by the Bill covers acts and imagery that are already illegal under the Obscene Publications Act—legislation that was introduced in an age before computers and the internet, to deal with newsagents and publishers. We cannot go after the publisher of material if it is from an internet site whose server may be based in Guatemala and contains, produces or puts into cyberspace images of young women being captured, raped live on camera and sometimes killed to feed this evil trade and to promote private profit and sexual gratification. We have to go after the imagery itself. We must build on the successful legislation that has outlawed images of child pornography. If we cut that end of the market, we start to deal with the trade, and that is exactly what part 6 of the Bill—a part that is well crafted, sensible and well thought through—seeks to do.
I have received opposition, as have my hon. Friend David Lepper and others, from groups claiming to represent the bondage, domination and sado-masochistic communities. I have learned that they organise themselves into munch clubs—I do not want to go any further into that. Let me make it clear to them that nobody is seeking to introduce a new level of censorship; we are talking about imagery that is already illegal. If people want to do weird things to each other they still can, but I say, "Don't put it on the internet." I do not need to see it and nor do my constituents—and, more importantly and seriously, those of an unbalanced mind who could be tipped over the edge by violent and extreme imagery do not need to see it, and we do not need to live with the consequences of their actions if they were to see it.
Those of us who have been involved in the issue and this three-year campaign on it are aware of the background, but it might be useful if we were to set out some of the steps that have led to our being, I hope, able to celebrate the start of the passage of these measures into legislation. The House has not had an opportunity to debate this issue in full since the Adjournment debates secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion in May 2004.
On March 14 2003, Brighton schoolteacher Jane Longhurst was horrifically murdered by a self-confessed addict of violent internet pornography. The murderer, Graham Coutts, admitted watching sites featuring necrophilia and violence against women only hours before he killed Jane. He was jailed for life and his appeals against the convictions were rejected. Anyone who saw the CCTV images broadcast on regional television of Coutts revisiting the storage unit where he kept Jane Longhurst's body can be left with no other impression than that dark and evil forces were at work in the mind of that individual. Jane's mother, Liz, comes from Reading, which is why I am involved. She is convinced that had it not been for the corrupting effect of extreme internet sites her daughter would still be alive today.
Outside Lewes Crown court on the day that Graham Coutts was first convicted of Jane's murder, Liz Longhurst appealed to the public and politicians to begin a campaign to protect vulnerable people from extreme images of the rape, torture and murder of women for sexual gratification and private profit. On March 8 2004, there was an event in Reading to mark international women's day, at which the Jane Longhurst campaign against violent internet pornography was launched. It attracted the support of 180 Members of all parties for early-day motion 583, and 50,000 people signed a national petition which it was our privilege to present to Parliament as part of the consultation that was launched by previous Home Secretaries. We attracted the support of Amnesty International; that support was crucial in building a high profile for this campaign. Much more needs to be done, but this is a good start.
Ideally, we would like blocking measures that prevent access—they now exist—to be brought in. We would like all PCs to be fitted with a blocking mechanism before they are sold on the open market—as cars are automatically fitted with seat belts. An obvious measure would be to go after the banks and credit card companies whose processing of payments lubricates this evil trade.
It will be fitting if I end by quoting from a letter that Liz Longhurst sent today to me—in fact, she really sent it not to me, but to all Members.
This is largely the result of your support"—
and that of my colleagues—for
"the Jane Longhurst Campaign and the petition which gathered a substantial number of signatures...I am very grateful too for the active support of David Blunkett and Charles Clarke, successive Home Secretaries, and Paul Goggins and Vernon Coaker who were inspired to incorporate the necessary measures into this Bill."
I would like all Members to reflect on her concluding words:
"If these measures can be enacted, I feel this will be a fitting memorial to my lovely daughter Jane who was murdered by a man addicted to extreme violent internet pornography."
I urge all Members to support this Bill and to help not only to protect vulnerable people from the consequences of extreme pornographic imagery, but to truly achieve justice for Jane once and for all.
I am disappointed with the Bill before us this evening for three reasons. First, it does not deal with the problem of illegal immigrants going missing when they jump out of the back of a lorry. Secondly, there is not enough in it about making parents responsible for their children's misbehaviour. Thirdly, nothing in it promotes, on the justice enforcement side of the equation, the status of persistent and prolific offenders, whom, on the Home Office side of the equation, the police are obliged to pursue. In no more than five minutes, I want to run through why those issues are of concern to people in Kettering.
In the middle of September, an incident occurred in Northamptonshire whereby 16 illegal immigrants jumped out of the back of a lorry. Three of them were apprehended by Northamptonshire police, who telephoned the Border and Immigration Agency, only to be told, "Let them go. Let them make their own way to the Border and Immigration Agency office in Croydon," which they then did. The Northampton Chronicle and Echo rightly picked up on the outrage that this story caused in Northamptonshire. To think that illegal immigrants had been apprehended by the police, who were then effectively told by another agency to let them go. I was advised earlier in the debate that provision might be made in the UK Borders Bill for filling this loophole. I hope that in the winding-up remarks that guarantee will be given. If it is not, I hope to table an amendment to this Bill to ensure that this procedure does not happen in future.
There is some attempt in the Bill to address the problem of youth misbehaviour, but there is not nearly enough about making parents responsible for the criminal activity of their youngsters. Like my hon. Friend Mr. Dunne, I had the privilege of serving on the police parliamentary scheme, spending 22 days with the Northamptonshire force. One message that local police officers consistently sent to me was that there was very little in the way of sanction that they could impose on youths under 16 committing criminal offences. I said to them, "If the law were changed so that you could serve a fixed penalty notice not on them, but on their parents, for the offence that those youngsters had committed, would that make your job easier?" The universal response was, "Yes, it would." At the moment, there is effectively a gap in the law whereby no one, neither the youngster nor their parents, is made responsible for their criminal activity.
The third issue is persistent and prolific offenders. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Coaker, has pursued it thoroughly, but I want to draw the House's attention to it. The police are given targets for pursuing those known as persistent and prolific offenders—PPOs, to use the jargon. On the wall of Kettering police station, for example, are pictures of all the PPOs in the north Northamptonshire sector whom the police know about. They are pursuing them and they do catch them, but when they bring them before the courts, all too often they are released on bail to commit further offences. It seems to me that the definition that is applied by the police is not being used in the Courts Service. I want this Bill to address that issue, so that known troublemakers can effectively and quickly be locked up, and so that they do not commit crime again.
I will try to make my contribution brief, and it will also be uncharacteristically sycophantic. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor will not hear a word of criticism from me. He is going to receive pure, undiluted praise, because he promised in his opening speech that the Government would amend this legislation to include a new offence of incitement to hatred for reasons of sexual orientation. What had been intended to be an impassioned plea to the Government to take action will now be a message of absolute, undiluted gratitude.
The Government have already legislated to provide for an offence of incitement to racial hatred and to religious hatred, and that has paved the way for protection on the grounds of sexuality. In Northern Ireland of course, the offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexuality has already been instituted. That was done by the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend Mr. Hanson in his previous incarnation as a Northern Ireland Minister, and it has incurred virtually no controversy nor has it led to a rash of frivolous prosecutions. In other words, it has been accepted and understood, and we should extend that offence to the rest of the UK.
It is only right that the protection that we already afford to potential victims of hatred because of their race should be extended to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals who are as unable to choose their sexual identity as they are to choose their race. I note with sadness that Nick Herbert, who spoke on behalf of the Opposition, did not tell us what approach they will take to the provision. It would be nice to know whether they will support a measure that I hope will have universal agreement in this House.
It is not intended that incitement legislation should lead to a rash of prosecutions in the rest of the UK. Rather it should set out the basic principle, which should deter all but the most ardently homophobic, that it is not socially acceptable to incite hatred against gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transsexuals. They have equal civil and human rights with anybody else. Indeed, incitement to hatred for whatever reason should be totally unacceptable in a civilised society.
This is a piece of legislation whose time has come. It will complete a raft of legislation on equalities that the Government have pursued over the past 10 years. I shall not recite the whole list, but outstanding examples include equalising the age of consent, rights to enter the forces, civil partnerships and the banning of discrimination in the provision of goods and services on grounds of sexuality. The pressure group Stonewall, which has provided invaluable support as well as putting pressure on the Government, has seen its agenda virtually completed. With incitement to hatred for reasons of sexuality, we have the final piece of the jigsaw on the table ready to be inserted.
If anyone still doubts the need for protective legislation, they need only look at what is happening around them. Look for instance at some of the allegedly Christian websites in the UK. Christian Voice speaks of
"young people who are being drawn into a lifestyle characterised by disease, degradation, death and denial."
A site called Gay Conspiracy links homosexuality with paedophilia, which is a dreadful, ignorant libel on a significant section of our community. Some reggae groups have published lyrics urging the torture and murder of lesbians and gay men. Some record companies and artists have undertaken not to perform such material in future, but others have not and no legal action has yet been taken to prevent the sale of such material in Britain. The offence of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexuality would rightly render such content liable to prosecution. Of course, the dear old British National party has also made homophobia a political campaign and promulgated the specious link between homosexuality and paedophilia.
Hate crime is a rising issue. In many London boroughs, the Metropolitan police report an increase in homophobic hate crime and the trend is rising throughout the country. In my city of Brighton and Hove, the figures for homophobic crime reported to the Sussex police show an increase from 135 in 2005-06 to 184 in 2006-07. That is just one city. The majority of those cases were assaults, followed by public order and harassment offences.
In Brighton, we are fortunate to have a police anti-victimisation unit. One of the sergeants who works there said:
"As always the figures themselves tell an incomplete story. We believe that there is still a degree of under-reporting particularly amongst those who are victims of homophobic crime."
The Home Office estimates that as much as 90 per cent. of homophobic hate crime goes unreported.
Most of the House would agree that the case for action has been firmly established. If the Lord Chancellor wants any help with drafting, I can offer him a ready-drafted complete new clause for the Bill, but I am sure that he is already on the case.
I conclude by repeating my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for promising action, and that gratitude will be mirrored, especially in my constituency of Brighton, Kemptown, by a large section of the community. I am proud of what the Government are proposing. I am proud of all that my Government have done in the field of equalities over the past 10 years.
I shall endeavour to be brief as I know that other Members want to speak. I have a few observations about the Bill.
I am all for building more prisons in the short term, but we have to make sure that in the long term people go to prison only once whenever possible, and that while they are in prison they receive the support they need, through education or addiction programmes, to become productive members of society. Prison should not be a revolving door and I hope that the Bill gives us the opportunity to improve the Prison Service to ensure that people are given a chance once they leave prison.
My second point is about youth offending. As my hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone said, we must engender parental responsibility. The first time a youngster smashes down a bus shelter, the parents should pay a fine. The second time, they should pay a fine and pay for repair of the bus shelter and the third time, they should appear in court alongside their child to face a magistrate or a judge. Unfortunately, only when we start to hit parents in the pocket will they start to take responsibility for their children. Society has a role in raising young people, but no role is greater than that played by their parents.
My third point relates to antisocial behaviour and alcohol. Most assaults against NHS staff—certainly in accident and emergency departments—are committed by people who are drunk. Most assaults in society are committed by people who are drunk. As a taxpayer, I am fed up with my taxes having to pay for the police to manage the people who commit such crimes. It is about time that we looked to the alcohol industry to pay a levy—a proper contribution—towards the policing of our streets and, if need be, the policing of our hospitals. Football teams pay for policing on match days, so the alcohol and pub industry should put their hand in their pocket to fund crime prevention on our streets and in our hospitals.
I agree that citizenship should be earned; it is a great privilege to be a citizen of this country. If people come to this country and earn citizenship over 10 years that is a good thing, but if having earned citizenship they commit heinous and hideous crimes, there should be the possibility of revoking it. We may have to deport people to places with a less humane outlook than ours.
My last point relates to the possession of extreme pornographic material. I, too, am concerned about what comes over the internet; there is some horrible, nasty and unpleasant stuff. Clauses 64 to 67 are not as good as they could be—there is potential for contradiction, such as in the case of a film called "Hostel Part II", which I have not seen but has been reported on by a number of people I trust. From beginning to end it depicts obscene, misogynistic acts of brutality against women—an hour and a half of brutality—yet that film has been passed by the British Board of Film Classification for public release to people aged 18 and over.
I understand that, although the Bill will not make that film illegal, it could make it illegal for someone to take stills from that film, because they could be deemed to have a purely pornographic nature. If it were deemed that stills from a film such as "Hostel Part II" were of a pornographic and unacceptably violent nature, it seems madness that that film should be allowed on general release. I hope that, as the Bill is considered in Committee, we will look at those concerns to ensure that that part of the Bill is as watertight as it can be.
I have spoken for four minutes, and I shall shut up and sit down.
I will concentrate on clause 72 and be as quick as I possibly can.
Earlier this year, I hosted a meeting of a coalition of organisations called Safety First, which is looking at issues that surround prostitution, particularly the plight of prostitutes and their families. The organisations include the National Association of Probation Officers, the Royal College of Nursing, the Sex Worker Project, the Multiple Choice Rehabilitation Centre, the Zacchaeus Trust, various religious leaders, the English Collective of Prostitutes, the GMB branch of sex workers and two brave individuals, Pauline Campbell—the mother of Sarah, who lost her life in Styal prison—and Toni Cole, the former prostitute who brought the first private prosecution for rape in this country.
The coalition came together in the aftermath of the five young women who were murdered in Ipswich. The response of the community and people of Ipswich was not to blame the women themselves, but to do all that they possibly could to ensure the safety of such women in the future. The coalition pointed to the criminalisation of consenting sex as a major cause of risk to safety that prevents women from seeking assistance and protection and exiting prostitution. Why? Because criminalisation pushes prostitution underground. It makes women more vulnerable to attack and less accessible to support. Many felt strongly that, by focusing on remedies in the criminal law, we avoid the underlying issues and causes of women entering prostitution and the need to provide real support to allow them to exit it.
The coalition fears that clause 72 will criminalise prostitution once again, and thousands of women face the risk of imprisonment as a result. The Secretary of State did not take us through clause 72 when he introduced the Bill, but the clause will introduce the compulsory rehabilitation order and promotes it as an alternative to a fine. Anyone who is arrested for loitering or soliciting will be forced to attend three meetings with a supervisor approved by the court
"to promote...rehabilitation by assisting the offender...to address the causes of"
their involvement in prostitution and to find ways to end that involvement. Failure to attend any of those sessions will result in a further summons and a possible 72 hours' imprisonment. Magistrates will have powers to make subsequent orders. So women could be forced on to a treadmill of orders, failure to attend, further orders and imprisonment, and round and round they go again.
There is deep scepticism about the implications and effectiveness of these new orders. Within the criminal justice sector, NAPO has said that they will be unworkable and that they will turn the law back 25 years, to when imprisonment was the norm for prostitution. In the 1980s and '90s, the fines were increased, so that those who were unable to pay eventually went to prison. We found that, even then, 11,000 women were found guilty and put at risk of detention. In 2003, as a result of a lot of campaigning against such draconian measures for prostitution, on average, about 3,500 prostitutes were brought before the courts.
NAPO's view is that, if the Bill goes through, we could return to a situation where up to 11,000 and more women are detained and imprisoned, when our prisons are overflowing. Magistrates will use these powers as an alternative to fines and will find them increasingly attractive. I shall briefly quote Harry Fletcher from NAPO, who said:
"Thousands of prostitutes will be criminalised and face three days needlessly in jail at a time when the system is in meltdown."
Such a proposal is practically almost irrelevant.
John Furniss of the Multiple Choice Rehabilitation Centre said:
"Three meetings is window dressing and meaningless. People will miss meetings due to their drug use."
As we know, 93 per cent. of prostitutes have a drug dependency, according to Home Office figures. The proposal could be dangerously counter-productive. Siobhan Kilkenny from the Sex Worker Project says:
"Criminalising these people in whatever way it is dressed up will make the most vulnerable and invisible more vulnerable and more invisible and allow tragedies like the Ipswich murders to happen again."
Further stigmatisation will force people underground and make them more vulnerable to violence and rape; in the past 10 years, 60 women prostitutes have been murdered.
There are alternatives. We are taking the wrong approach; we should be taking the approach recommended by the Home Office itself: moving away from traditional enforcement under police crackdowns, and shifting prostitution from being a policing problem to a welfare issue. In those reports, we have said that we need to understand why women go into prostitution and why it is that, as a result of drug dependency, unemployment, housing problems and poverty, they are forced into that role.
We need to create and invest in an effective response, which was set out in the Home Office reports of 2004 and 2006: early intervention, multi-agency working training professionals, outreach workers, one-to-one support, fast-tracking into drugs programmes that are crucial to stabilisation, fast-tracking into emergency accommodation, advice and assistance and specialised support for victims of domestic violence.
All those matters are ready to hand, but they require investment of resources, and I regret that there have been cuts in the drugs programmes in recent years. We need to move forward into a caring, welfare approach, rather than a criminal process. We need to look at the resources. On that basis, when the Bill comes back on Report, I will seek to remove clause 72 and insert clauses that realistically tackle the problem and measures that provide the alternative resources to invest in the solutions that are needed and that the Home Office itself has recognised.
I support much of the Bill, but I want to raise two separate matters. I shall be brief, because of the time available. First, I should like to mention sex. Clause 64(6)(b) mentions an image of an act
"which appears to result...in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals".
I agree with virtually all the clause, and I understand the motivation behind Liz Longhurst's campaign, but my problem is with the phrase "appears to". That will catch all sorts of things that it should not. I have several examples, but time precludes me from raising them. The Government should consider that sub-paragraph, which could be problematic for the future.
Secondly, I want to raise the much more important issue of children. In the Bill and the notes on it, there are some 15 new conditions and requirements on youth rehabilitation orders—plus another one: the Secretary of State can do what he likes and set another condition on youngsters "by order". A lot of the conditions are okay in themselves, but the approach is unbalanced. For example, a youth offender team manager stated:
"During the seven years that YOTs have been established, apart from limited finance to establish ISSPs, there has been no additional funding made available to enhance the quality of work with those already in the system. This is despite a 26 per cent. increase nationally in youth court business over the past four years."
"We are criminalising more and more children and young people—an increase of 26 per cent. between 2002 and 2006—in a period when all the evidence suggests that the incidence of youth offending fell."
In June, I received a letter from the Howard League for Penal Reform that stated:
the figure has gone up since then—
"compared to 1,456 in Germany, 628 in France, 73 children in the Netherlands and nine in Norway.
The profligate use of prison for children, the infliction of pain and injury to control children behind closed doors, child deaths in custody, lack of physical exercise and the use of segregation blocks that might be said to resemble modern day dungeons, are all ways in which the treatment of children in custody amounts to child abuse and in some cases may actually be criminal...In 2002, when considering the last report of the UK government, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the government had to
'establish a system of juvenile justice that fully integrates into its legislation, policies and practice the provisions and principles of the Convention', including by raising the minimum age for criminal responsibility, ensuring 'that no child can be tried as an adult irrespective of the circumstances or gravity of his/her offence', ensuring 'that detention of children is used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time and that children are separated from adults in detention'".
That just has not happened. What we have is a cluttering of the system with relatively minor cases, too many prosecutions instead of pre-court settlements, and insufficient discretion—for example, for the police to deal with matters in situ, or for youth offender teams, or for courts to filter out cases where children's welfare needs are readily apparent and should take priority. Cases such as those involving mental health or family neglect should be diverted away from the court system. Instead, we have adult Crown courts used for children, detention alongside adults, some sentences that are worse for children than for adults for the same offence, and restraint to such an extent that in a recent 18-month period there were more than 2,000 injuries to children in custody. The Howard League for Penal Reform says that, since January 2002, six children have died in custody. That amounts to degrading punishments, and detention not as a last resort, as it should be.
The age of criminal responsibility is the lowest in Europe: 10 in England and Wales and eight in Scotland. A 10-year-old is presumed to be as criminally responsible as a fully mature adult. The Government insist that they will not revisit the age of criminal responsibility, but I strongly believe that there should be a proper review. There should, at least, be a layered response to children who commit offences. The welfare of the child should take precedent over being punitive and the child's continued development still needs to be nurtured, whatever the punishment. Rod Morgan argues that some changes for the better can be made administratively, but we have yet to see them and the Bill is an unbalanced approach to dealing with child offenders. Again, the Government should think again.
I would like to associate myself with the remarks of John McDonnell, who spoke on the laws relating to prostitution. It is certainly true that, given all the reviews that have taken place, it is necessary for the Government to do something more about harm reduction and less about criminalisation. Only in that way will we be able better to protect the women involved in prostitution. In particular, it is essential that we crack down on the really serious and unacceptable side of the sex industry: the trafficking of women, their exploitation, the prostitution of children, which is an unacceptable evil, and the exploitative pimping that goes on. Those things should be concentrated on.
In that respect, it is extremely disappointing that in the Home Secretary's recent announcement about reflection periods for victims of trafficking for sexual purposes there is still no plan or proposal by the Government to provide residency permits. Such permits have been provided in other countries, where they have had a significant impact, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights found in its inquiry into the matter. That inquiry included a trip to Italy, where such permits have been provided. There have been multiple prosecutions of the evil traffickers who are involved in the exploitation of women, simply because women are able to come forward—because they will get protection.
I would also like to associate myself with the remarks made by Dr. Turner, who has a long tradition of campaigning on matters to do with equality on the grounds of sexual orientation. He is not entirely right that the Government's record on this matter has been uniformly good, because they started off very badly and slowly. However, recently their performance has picked up a lot, particularly with regard to the goods and services provisions, including those in Northern Ireland, which the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Hanson was involved in and which were pretty tough—in fact, the judicial review found that they were a little too strong in certain areas.
I feel—I speak as the president of Liberal Democrats for lesbian and gay equality—that there is a real problem with homophobic hate crime and it is right that there should be an offence of incitement to homophobic hatred. The only question that remains for me, and I suspect for colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches, is how that is balanced against free speech. It is regrettable that we did not have this offence before the offence of incitement to religious hatred, since I think that the incidence is greater. The best ways to tackle homophobic hatred are through proper, balanced sex and relationships education in the national curriculum that makes it clear that one cannot and should not stigmatise lesbian and gay people, and by tackling homophobic bullying far more assertively.
As the Lord Chancellor himself accepted, there will have to be a debate on the wording of any offence, in order to ensure that people with whom I disagree, often coming from a religious perspective, do not find that their words are criminalised. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, mentioned Christian Voice, which speaks about
"young people who are being drawn into a lifestyle characterised by disease, degradation, death and denial."
That is rubbish, and it is offensive—there is no doubt about that—but criminalising it would create major problems. It is far better to debate. I do not believe that people who hear pastors go out and commit violent criminal offences. I think that it is often thugs, and people who grow up believing that gay people should not have full rights, who commit those offences. I believe that we can find a compromise that will protect the ability of some religious organisations—and we are by no means talking about the majority of Christians, for example—to spout words that I think are horrible nonsense, but that should not be criminalised.
Finally, on the issue of extreme pornography in part 6 of the Bill, as Liberty says in its briefing,
"Extreme caution should be exercised when new criminal laws are imposed with the intention of imposing a subjective opinion on what is morally acceptable...the state should be required to provide justifications for legal restrictions on pornography, and to demonstrate that a proposed measure does not go further than is necessary."
Liberty goes on to say that it is vital that
"legitimate and undamaging behaviour is not unintentionally criminalised by carelessly drafted, over-broad criminal offences."
It is concerned
"about the breadth of the proposed new offence",
"might criminalise people who cause no harm to others and who possess pornographic material involving consensual participants."
Ministers have not provided an evidence base for some of the material that will be covered by the measure. Despite the eloquent testimony that Members have given about an individual case, if we do not have evidence that the material causes harm, it is right that the House should subject the proposals to close scrutiny. We must ask why, for example, the Obscene Publications Act definition is not being used, and why another definition, which, it is argued, is broader, is being used. I can see no reference to compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998 in the Government's explanatory memorandum, either; that will need to be tested. I would be grateful if, in his response, the Minister set out the evidence that justifies the measure. I understand that time is limited, so I shall leave my remarks there.
In the brief time that I have, I will focus on one aspect of the legislation: the proposals to tackle on-street prostitution in clauses 71 to 73. I will start by putting the matter into a local context. Parts of my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Bristol, West, have been blighted for many years by highly visible on-street prostitution. I have seen it while out on patrol with the vice squad, when out on the beat with local police officers, and on numerous other occasions when I have been out and about in the constituency.
I have seen one woman, who is well known to the local police, walking down the street in broad daylight with her skirt hitched up around her waist, effectively naked from the waist down—and this on one of the busiest main roads in Bristol. I have heard from a local resident who has had prostitutes tapping on his car window as he pulls into his drive, and on one occasion, even jumping into the passenger seat. He is terrified that the police will one day accuse him of kerb-crawling. Local residents complain of finding sex and drug-related debris, such as dirty needles, used condoms and contaminated foil, in areas where they walk their dogs, or where children play. There are two primary schools, May Park and Millpond, where young children coming out of the school gates in the middle of the afternoon have been confronted by prostitutes touting for business. What does a parent say to children in such a situation? I wholeheartedly support the underlying premise of the Government's strategy for prostitution—that we should challenge the view that street prostitution is inevitable and here to stay.
Some people argue that it is not the state's role to interfere in how women choose to live their lives. They argue that women engaged in such work are exercising free choice, or are somehow in control of their actions, but I would ask them to speak to the woman whom I met the other day, who told me about the 14-year-old who works the street outside her front door. The child is regularly picked up by the police, taken into care, and just as regularly returns to the streets. Or they could talk to the woman whom I watched the vice squad apprehend last year. She was caught more or less in the act with a client, only half-hidden from the view of the street. She had just come out of prison. She told the police that she had kicked her heroin and crack habits, she was being tested regularly at her hostel accommodation, and she was keeping to her curfew. She was trying to get back her young children, who had been taken into care. And yet there she was, back out on the streets, within days of her release, entering into what any reasonable person would see as a totally sordid, totally soul-destroying sexual transaction with a complete stranger.
Those people should also look at the figures in the regulatory impact assessment, which show that 85 per cent. of those involved in prostitution report having been physically abused by family members, and that 45 per cent. report being sexually abused by a relative. They also show that 75 per cent. of women were under 18 when they were originally coerced into prostitution, and 70 per cent. have spent time in care. As many as 95 per cent. use prostitution to support their own, and often a partner's, drug use.
That is why I support the proposal in the Bill to introduce compulsory rehabilitative orders, with mandatory counselling, and the possibility of remanding people in prison for up to three days if they fail to comply with the court orders. I accept that there are concerns about this approach. The Prison Reform Trust, for example, has said that the provision
"fails utterly to understand that vulnerable people with chaotic lives can't be asked to walk a tightrope".
However, it is precisely because these people have such chaotic lives and are, in so many cases, not ready, able or willing to help themselves, that we have to be more determined in our approach. The alternative would be to allow them to descend into a downwards spiral, until possibly—just possibly—they decide of their own accord that they have reached rock bottom and need to pull themselves out of it. Of course, far too many women reach rock bottom and simply stay there.
My local vice squad believes that there will have to be penalties if the new system is to work. Like virtually everyone else who responded to the "Paying the Price" consultation, it believes that the current system of fines just encourages street workers to go back to work to pay them off. So the vast majority of those apprehended for on-street prostitution in Bristol—around 83 per cent. of them—simply receive cautions. Of the few who do appear before the courts, some may be referred to drugs agencies, but there is no deterrent for those who choose not to attend rehabilitation programmes. The new proposals would introduce such a deterrent and could provide the incentive needed.
I could go on to talk about the need for sufficient support structures—
No, I am about to come to an end.
I could go on to talk about the need for sufficient support structures within the voluntary sector, or about increased funding for drugs projects—as I have said in this place several times, Bristol is woefully underfunded in comparison to other cities—but I know that at least one other speaker on this side has been waiting a long time to speak, so I shall conclude on that remark.
I will be brief. Members might recall that when I was the Minister in the Home Office responsible for prostitution strategy, I was labelled "Madam Minister" for wanting a brothel on every street corner, after I had suggested that two women working together in a flat should not be prosecuted for running a brothel. I am disappointed that that proposal is not in the Bill, and I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that in his summing up. Will he tell me whether legislation would be required to achieve that?
Since then, the same media have also accused me of being a priggish, power-crazed, interfering, feminist ideologue. This was because I argued on an issue that was raised during those debates. I was asked why the Government did not prosecute for rape men who paid for sex with trafficked women. The answer was that the way to discover trafficking and to prosecute the traffickers was often through the men who were those women's clients. At that point, it seemed right not to prosecute them because the women would be safer if we did not do so.
However, I began to think that there must be a better way of doing this, so I looked up which countries in the world were better at reducing the incidence of trafficking. It became clear that about 800,000 people are trafficked across borders every year—four fifths of them women—usually for sex. It is estimated that 80 per cent. of the women in London's brothels are from overseas. So where is trafficking being reduced? There is clear evidence on this. A European study suggests that Sweden, which criminalises men who pay for sex, has massively reduced the incidence of trafficking. Between 400 and 600 women were trafficked into Sweden in 2003, compared with Denmark, where the number was between 2,000 and 4,000.
Police officials confirm that this is the case. Kajsa Wahlberg, a detective inspector in the Swedish national criminal police, eavesdropping on telephone calls between traffickers, noted that they complained that Sweden was a bad market, and that buyers were afraid of getting caught. They said that they had to have an apartment, and that they had to move the women around. That police officer said that unlike brothels in Oslo or Copenhagen, where there might be 50 women in each, there were usually just two or three women in the brothels broken up in Sweden. Clearly, Sweden managed to drive down the incidence of trafficking by criminalising payment for sex.
My view is that the Bill does not go far enough. On the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, I strongly urge the Minister to end today's modern slavery, which is women enslaved into providing sexual services. If we in Britain followed the Swedish model, we would, just by that act alone, reduce the trafficking and the enforced sexual slavery of women and make our society a better one for everyone to live in.
This has been a crowded debate, albeit one that we started late. If I may say so without being thought impolite, it is a tribute to the good behaviour of Members who restricted themselves to the allotted 10 minutes or less that as many as 19 hon. Members have been able to speak. I am the 20th Member to contribute to the debate.
I begin by inviting the Minister to clarify the mess on the Order Paper whereby the programme motion suggests that Committee proceedings will come to an end on
This is not only the umpteenth Bill from this Department or its predecessor, but it is wholly typical of Government legislation in this field—and perhaps in others—that we are presented with a Bill that has 84 pages of text relating to the main clauses and about 150 pages of schedules. If you want to understand what the Bill is really about, Mr. Speaker, I suggest that you read the schedules first and then perhaps look into some of the clauses at leisure. That way, you will make more sense of the Bill.
If I may say so, the Bill is rather like a plum duff: there is an awful lot of duff and one or two plums. We will support the picking out of the plums, but we are very unhappy with the duff—and there is plenty of it. When presented with a delicious-looking pudding by his wife, Winston Churchill said that the pudding "has no theme". This Bill has no theme: it is muddled and confused. As Alun Michael suggested, even though he was able to give it his support, it is a Bill that could do with rather greater concentration on what it is intended to do.
I will in a moment, but I have quite a lot to say in a short period of time, and I was not criticising him, but the Bill.
I have been misquoted.
Well, we can deal with that in a minute or doubtless the right hon. Gentleman can write to the newspapers to get it sorted out— [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has been absent, no doubt doing very important campaigning work on behalf of his benighted party over the last day or two.
No. I have already said that I will come back to him. He has had plenty of time over the last 20 years to make his mark in the House.
I want to welcome and congratulate our two maiden speakers, the hon. Members for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma). Both Members represent entirely different constituencies—one in the north and one in west London—but both bring with them, if I may say so, the enthusiasm and keenness of new Members, which is very proper, and the proper pride that they have, both in their election and in the constitutional duty, which they have taken on, to represent their equally interesting but diverse constituencies.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield properly mentioned his predecessor—a man who was quite familiar to many of us in the House, although it is probably fair to say that in the short time that the hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House his attendance has perhaps been a little better than that of his predecessor. None the less, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution this evening and look forward to further contributions. The only omission to which I can point in his Baedeker's tour is his failure to mention Sedgefield race course, which is well known to a number of us. I perhaps ought to tell him that the going for his party will get pretty sticky over the winter, as I hope he will come to appreciate.
The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall claimed that his constituency is the home of Ealing comedy. We have learned, since the coming into the House of Stephen Pound, that the home of Ealing comedy is perhaps in that constituency, rather than the other. None the less, it was a pleasure to hear the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall speak this evening, and also to hear the proper praise and regard that he showed for his predecessor, the late Piara Khabra, who was well liked and is greatly missed.
That said, may I, as quickly as I can, concentrate on a number of points that have been raised by the many speakers this evening? The former Home Secretary, now Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, who has returned like the proverbial quadruped to this feast, entertained us with a discussion so diffuse and so wide ranging that he had to get down to the letter M, according to my note taking, before he completed his trawl through the Bill.
It would be of great assistance to the law-making conduct of the House, and to Parliament as a whole, if, when we had a criminal justice Bill, it dealt with criminal justice, and when we had an immigration Bill, it dealt with immigration, and that neither incidentally dealt with all sorts of other things. Worthy aims though the other provisions seek to hit, the current process leads to rather complicated, and therefore less popularly understandable, Bills. [Interruption.]
Anyway, the fact that the Secretary of State, who like all good trainee barristers is mumbling to his leader, "He should shut up," will not prevent me from continuing to speak, because a great deal more needs to be said about this appalling Bill. As I say, there are 13 separate subjects which the right hon. Gentleman attempted to cover. It is hardly surprising that my hon. Friend Nick Herbert was able to fillet what the right hon. Gentleman had to say, digest the good bits and spit out the bad. We shall continue that process in Committee.
Keith Vaz, my constituency neighbour and the new Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, mentioned violent offender orders, now colloquially called VOOs, as well as immigration, sentencing and miscarriages of justice—several discrete areas that belong to the Bill and which will need a great deal of attention. I trust that he, in due course—if not in Committee, then certainly on Report—will apply his mind to improving the Bill because, my goodness, it certainly needs it.
Mr. Heath, who helped us with the procedural aspects of the Bill, also went on to agree with the Conservative party on the need for honesty in sentencing, to have concerns about VOOs and to welcome one of the plums, if that is what it is, in this plum duff—the advance of the criminal law to protect NHS workers in hospitals. It may be that we shall see an amendment tabled to protect those working in GP surgeries. That point was raised by Mr. Gerrard.
The hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) mentioned similar but distinct issues. I must gently persuade the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown that he was wrong to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs for not mentioning homophobic crime—he did do so, and said that we would, as we always do, consider the matter with great care. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown talked about the issue generally, and we will look carefully at whatever amendment the Government bring forward before we reach a conclusion on the matter.
Martin Salter and several other Labour Members—I hope that they will forgive me if I do not mention them by name—mentioned the problems of internet pornography. My hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford has been a long-standing champion of the need to improve the protection of children in particular from sex offences. [Interruption.] Yes, there are 51 minutes in the hour, and there are probably a few more.
Mr. Beith mentioned the shaky foundations of the Bill, and listed a catalogue of issues that needed to be dealt with before it could properly become law. My hon. Friends the Members for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) and for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) each briefly but powerfully mentioned a host of issues demonstrating that the Bill needs huge improvement. Other hon. Members, such as John McDonnell, possibly Harry Cohen, and the hon. Members for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned their concerns about the issue of prostitution. We agree with the Government that the expression "common prostitute" is inappropriate, ugly and wrong. We should be considering why those women are in prostitution—they are largely victims of drug abuse. I look forward to trying to persuade the Government, even in their last and rather sticky weeks or months of government, to improve the Bill in a way that renders it coherent and publicly acceptable.
Today's debate has been constructive, and I am sorry that I have only seven and a half minutes to reply to it. I welcome the broad measure of support from both sides of the House for many of the Bill's provisions.
I want to welcome my two new hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma). My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield made a good maiden speech; he has a hard act to follow, and he knows that. The values outlined in his speech, however, are the Labour values of progression, of support for communities and of reflecting his community, which will stand him in good stead in the House. Like him, I am the son of a coal miner, and we believed in aspiration. The aspiration that he showed for his constituency is welcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall also made an excellent maiden speech. He mentioned that the Leader of the Opposition had visited his constituency five times. I do not suspect that he will see him again in the near future. He not only follows a model MP in Piara Khabra, who was a sad loss, but sets a trend for the future, and I know that he will be a good constituency MP.
First, may I satisfy both Mr. Garnier and Mr. Heath in relation to the programme motion? The Government's intention is that the terms of the programme motion should properly give effect to the will of the House, which is that the Committee stage should continue if the carry-over motion is agreed. We will reflect on the terms of that programme motion, and in the event of it not meeting the House's and the Government's objectives, we will bring forward a further motion before the end of the current Session. With that assurance, I hope that hon. Members will vote for that programme motion this evening.
Today's debate has dealt with a range of issues, not least that of the prison population. I have to say to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that we do have 20,000 extra prison places, and 9,500 new prison places coming on-stream. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and my hon. Friend Martin Salter indicated, we have strong work to do on community sentences. The Bill will reduce prison places by just over 1,300 and will make a difference to sentencing policy.
The difference between Nick Herbert and David Davis, and between David T.C. Davies and for Shipley (Philip Davies) who attended the debate, is quite marked. On the one hand, hon. Members are talking about building more and more prison places and, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman, spending as much it takes. At the same time, Mr. Walker and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough want fewer people in prison and a more effective prison regime. The hon. Member for Monmouth wants to spend £6 billion on prison building during this Parliament, while Tory policy from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs is to halve prison sentences, not to have honest sentencing.
I welcome the Bill. It will bring forward a range of speedy, fair, efficient and simple measures, which will protect the public and deliver justice for all. My hon. Friends have particularly welcomed the measures on extreme pornography. I welcome Liz Longhurst's campaign in memory of her daughter Jane and the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, West, for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) and for other constituencies for the legislation. I will consider what Sir Paul Beresford said, assess his contribution and see whether we can take further action.
The Bill also contains significant new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour, particularly in relation to hospital premises. I welcome the words of my right hon. Friend Alun Michael in support of those provisions. I particularly welcome the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Lord High Chancellor on homophobic hatred. Provisions in a Bill previously brought into play in Northern Ireland will today send a strong message to society that homophobic hate crimes are not acceptable in a modern-day society. I thank my hon. Friend Dr. Turner for his support for that piece of legislation.
The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber all day, so I will not give way to him when there is no time left.
I also want to comment on referral orders for soliciting, which were raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), and Dr. Harris. For those convicted, the new referral order will help to try to break the cycle of prostitution by tackling some of its root causes, such as drug abuse. I know that hon. Members in all parts of the House hold various points of view on the issue, but there will be an opportunity in Committee to debate the provisions, which will look at breaking the causes of prostitution, as well as tackling some of the issues before the House today.
I also very much welcome the youth rehabilitation order, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and, in part, my hon. Friend Harry Cohen. My hon. Friend made various points about the order, but I hope he accepts that it will be about protecting the public, punishing the guilty and, crucially, rehabilitating the offender. We are also introducing the new youth rehabilitation order in the Bill, promoting the use of tough community penalties as an alternative to custody. It is our intention throughout prison policy, both for young people and for older offenders, to look at prevention as well as prison population issues.
Community penalties are important, because experience has, sadly, shown that prison leads to a higher level of reoffending than community penalties. There is an agreement between the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and me that we need to consider strengthening community penalties and not just take the simple, blinkered view of many in the Conservative party and invest in prisons at the expense of community sentences and other activities.
Today's debate is about looking at a range of issues to prevent crime and secure a reduction in reoffending. The Bill achieves a great deal. I remind the House that it comes against the background of crime coming down by 35 per cent. since 1997, of the risk of victim coming down to 24 per cent. and of a 40 per cent. increase in the number of offences brought to justice. That contrasts with the Conservative party, under which crime doubled. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.