Before we begin the debate, I must inform the House that an enormous number of hon. Members want to take part. Therefore, I must limit speeches between 6 and 8 o'clock to 10 minutes. I make a special plea to those hon. Members who are called outside that time to show respect for their colleagues and to restrict their speeches, if they would be good enough to do so.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. For the avoidance of doubt in the future, can you say whether as a matter of course you intend to consider reasoned amendments on Second Reading of Bills which do not indicate in the customary form that the House declines to give a Bill a Second Reading? I made some inquiries about whether an amendment such as that which has been tabled would be in order, and I was advised that it would not. I am therefore somewhat surprised by your ruling.
There is no set form, but I have looked carefully at the amendment. It contains such a long list of excluded provisions that it falls within the description of a reasoned amendment. Of course, I look carefully at all amendments and I will continue to do so.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Both law and order Bills which have been introduced during this Session—the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill—have a very clear purpose: to assist in the fight against crime and to protect the public.
The Government have a consistent record of taking action to deal with crime. We have massively increased the number of police officers and their resources. We have strengthened the power of the courts to pass proper sentences on criminals. We have pioneered crime prevention measures of all kinds and in all areas of the country.
As all hon. Members know, crime has risen across the developed world. It has risen in this country, and it continues to blight our communities. As Home Secretary, I am determined to respond to the challenge with action —action that will make a difference.
In October, I announced the most comprehensive package of measures to tackle crime ever announced by a Home Secretary. The measures rest on some basic, common-sense principles: that protecting the public is the first job of Government, that criminals should he held responsible for their actions and that the police, who are in the forefront of the fight against crime, should be given the powers which they need to catch criminals. Those are principles in which the Government believe, and they lie at the heart of the Bill.
The response of the Opposition has been a truly feeble reasoned amendment. It believes that the Bill, which marks a fundamental shift in the criminal justice system against the criminal and in favour of protecting the public, is—I quote from the words of the Opposition amendment—"not an acceptable … measure" without its various additions. If the amendment fails, the Opposition will presumably vote against the Bill.
Of course not. If the Home Secretary accepts our reasoned amendment, we will support the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may want to support the amendment which he thinks is so feeble. If he does not accept it, the Opposition will abstain on Second Reading and table our amendments in due course.
The Home Secretary has announced what he claims to be the most comprehensive measure to fight crime ever to be announced by a Home Secretary. Upon what measure will the right hon. and learned Gentleman judge the success of the Bill? Will it cut crime, or will it not? If it does not cut crime, will he accept that it has failed?
It will provide the country with the most effective system of criminal justice which it is possible for a Government to provide. That is the task of Government, and it is the task which we set ourselves.
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not the habit of the Government to accept feeble amendments such as that which has been tabled by the Opposition; and I rightly used the word "feeble" to describe the amendment.
Let us consider the implications of the answer that the hon. Gentleman has just given. If the feeble amendment is rejected, he and his party will abstain. They will abstain on a Bill that includes a massive expansion of DNA testing. They will abstain on a Bill that will allow juries to take into account a defendant's silence. They will abstain on a Bill that will establish secure centres to get juvenile criminals off the streets. The police want all those things, the public want all those things, but the Labour party cannot even make up its mind what to do about them.
On the contrary. I wish that Conservative Back Benchers could have seen the right hon. and learned Gentleman's face drop about six inches when we told him that we did not intend to oppose the Second Reading.
Surely, if the Bill is the most comprehensive measure to fight crime, a judgment must be made about whether it succeeds or fails. The right hon. and learned Gentleman sets performance indicators for everyone else: what is his? Will the Bill cut crime or will it not—yes or no?
We are taking a range of measures—some are contained in this Bill and some in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. The police will be set performance indicators for the work that they do. We are determined to make this attempt to put in place the most effective measures that it is possible to devise. That is what the Bill is all about.
I have given way to the hon. Member for Sedgefield twice, so I shall give way to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and then I must get on with the Bill.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way. He has said that the Bill will provide the most effective criminal justice system. What criteria for judging its effectiveness does he have in mind if not the numbers of crimes committed?
I have said that this Bill and the other measures that we are putting in place will achieve the most comprehensive and effective framework that it is possible to devise to prevent crime, to enable the police more effectively to catch criminals and to enable the courts more effectively to convict them and to deal with them when they have been convicted. That is the responsibility of Government and it is a responsibility that we are determined to discharge.
I now propose to explain exactly how we shall set about achieving those objectives and tackling the concerns which have been so widely expressed and which the Bill will address.
The feeble amendment tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition does not deal with, or indeed even mention, the key proposals in the Bill. The amendment shows the usual strategy of the Opposition whenever such matters are dealt with: whatever new and tough proposals the Government propose, they want to talk about something else. They never want to say whether they agree or disagree with what we are suggesting. No doubt that is why they will abstain tonight.
Today should have been decision time for the hon. Member for Sedgefield. This is the Bill. He should make up his mind whether to vote for or against it.
The Bill carries into effect many of the pledges that I made in October. Of the 27 points that I announced in October, 22 require legislation. Of those, 18 will be dealt with in the Bill and four will be taken forward later. The remaining five announcements do not require legislation but are being pursued equally vigorously. More help for victims, reducing cautions, establishing parish constables and cutting police paperwork—all of those policies are well under way.
The establishment of a new independent body to consider allegations of miscarriages of justice is one measure that requires legislation. I have accepted the royal commission's recommendation on that matter and I am determined to ensure that effective machinery is set up for that purpose. However, before that can be done we must settle some important issues that were not resolved by the royal commission's report, such as the relationship between the new authority and the Court of Appeal on the one hand and Ministers on the other and the way in which the authority will investigate representations, including the role of the police. Those matters have all been taken forward urgently and I intend shortly to issue a consultation paper which will deal with them in detail.
I plan soon to set out in more detail the Government's approach to the royal commission's report.
Will the Home Secretary answer clearly so that the public can hear the answer on television the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)? Will the Bill and the other legislation proposed by the Government cut crime—yes or no? We want no waffle; yes or no?
It is typical of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—and of the Labour party—that he first asks a question on the 27 points and then puts a question that does not even mention the 27 points. I answered the question put by the hon. Member for Sedgefield. The people of this country will understand the answer even if the hon. Member for Workington does not. The Bill will enact—
Judging by the standard of the interventions by Labour Members, it would be utterly useless for me to give way to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) or to other Labour Members. I plan to go on to explain what the Bill contains.
The Bill will enact a major reform of the criminal justice system, which needs reform. It is not providing adequate protection for the law abiding. It has not been able to cope with the small hard core of persistent juvenile offenders. Bail is too often granted to criminals who offend again and again. Too many obstacles are still in the way of the police. They must have the powers that they need to combat crime and to bring criminals to justice. The powers of the courts are inadequate. They are not able to deal as they or we would wish with the cases that come before them. The balance in the criminal justice system is tilted too far in favour of the criminal and against protecting the public. The Bill will help to put that right.
The Bill deals with a wide range of issues, with which I shall deal briefly in turn. Part I contains measures to tackle juvenile crime. The message from police, from magistrates and from local communities throughout the country is clear. There is a small hard core of young tearaways who commit crime after crime, and who cock a snook at our entire criminal justice system. At present the courts are unable to deal adequately with persistent juvenile offenders, especially those aged between 12 and 14. The public must be protected from them.
The Bill provides for a new secure training order. The order will be available to the courts for dealing with persistent young offenders aged between 12 and 14 who have committed three or more imprisonable offences and who have failed to respond to punishment in the community. The maximum sentence will be two years: one year in custody, followed by an equal term of close supervision in the community to help prevent those young offenders from reoffending. That is one of the measures about which the Labour party cannot make up its mind. Labour will abstain on that measure tonight; it cannot decide whether to vote for or against it.
Is not one of the problems with the young thug and gang leader that there is no proper deterrent? Should not we be a little more radical than is my right hon. and learned Friend, with whose ideas I agree? I hope that we can put some positive element of training into the new institutions about which he speaks. In addition, should not we have the stick as well as the carrot? Should not we consider corporal punishment as a deterrent for people who have not otherwise been deterred?
I am not persuaded that corporal punishment would have the effect that my hon. Friend seeks to achieve. He is right to say that the secure training centres should not be mere detention centres. They should and will provide high-quality education and training designed to encourage those who benefit to lead law-abiding lives. These young criminals are people in respect of whom other attempts to stop them committing crimes have been tried but have failed. All of them will have been previously convicted and will have offended again. All of them will have received a supervision order and will either have offended during it or will have been in breach of it. All of them will have committed at least one offence that is serious enough to warrant custody.
For 15, 16 and 17-year-olds, the sentence of detention in a young offender institution is currently limited to 12 months. As I announced in October, the Government believe that that places an unnecessary restriction on the courts. The Bill therefore doubles the maximum sentence from 12 months to two years to give the courts the flexibility that they need to deal with serious offending by that age group. The Labour party cannot make up its mind on that proposal; it will vote neither for nor against it.
There is also a gap at present in the courts' power to deal with juveniles who commit very serious crimes. Currently, 10 to 13-year-olds can be sentenced to detention if they are found guilty of murder or manslaughter. The Sexual Offences Act 1993 allowed boys in that age group to be charged with rape, but it did not provide powers to detain them after conviction for that offence. The Bill therefore extends the scope of section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 so that 10 to 13-year-olds may be detained if convicted of any offence for which an adult could be sentenced to imprisonment for 14 years or more. That will cover not only rape but robbery, arson and domestic burglary.
The Bill also provides for 10 to 15-year-olds to be detained if convicted of indecent assault on a woman, the same penalty as is already available in the case of 16 and 17-year-olds.
As I announced in June last year, I propose one further change in the way in which the law treats young people before the courts. At present, the media cannot identify juveniles who are alleged to have committed or have been convicted of serious crimes and who are on the run. Those media restrictions make the task of the police in recapturing those young people much harder and the threat to the public much greater. Those restrictions should not be allowed to continue and the necessary changes to allow those youngsters to be named and their photographs to be published are contained in part III of the Bill.
On 5 October, in Blackpool, the Home Secretary said that children who are born to people who are not married, where the father is not living with the mother at the time of birth, are more likely to spend their childhood concentrating on not getting caught. Does he still think that that is true?
Of course I still think it is true. I think that these are matters that must be addressed. We do not subscribe to the attitude of the thought police on the Labour Benches, who say that such matters should never be mentioned. It was only the other day that President Clinton of the United States, not normally regarded as a right-wing Conservative, said that two-parent families are generally better. Of course that is right, and of course I stand by what I said on 5 October.
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that I spent a number of years prosecuting in juvenile courts, particularly in the west midlands, prior to entering the House. Does he agree that the measures he has announced in the Bill will be greatly welcomed by magistrates, the police and the British people, because, at long last, juveniles who commit very serious crimes between the ages of 12 and 14 will be able to be sentenced to custodial sentences when other measures have been tried and have failed?
Does my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that the British people will not be at all impressed by the weasel words of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and his party, who will not say that they support the measures contained in the Bill? The British people recognise that the only party that truly believes in law and order is the Conservative party, while the Labour party continues to be soft on crime.
I agree, perhaps not entirely surprisingly, with every word that my hon. Friend has said. I do not think that the British people either will be impressed by the kind of frivolous attitudes demonstrated by the Opposition during the last quarter of an hour in which I have sought to address serious issues.
It is estimated that 50,000 offences are committed every year by people on bail. Part II sets out five new measures which will restrict the grant of bail and help to ensure that it is only given when that will not put the public at risk. First, the Bill will ensure that bail cannot be granted to someone charged with murder, manslaughter or rape who has a previous conviction for one of those offences. Secondly, the Bill removes the presumption in favour of bail for those charged with serious offences that appear to have been committed while the defendant was on bail. Thirdly, in line with a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice, the police will be given the power to attach conditions to the granting of police bail after charge. The fourth measure gives the police the power to arrest, without a warrant, an individual who breaches police bail. That will mean that, if the police bail people to appear at a police station and they fail to do so, the police can immediately arrest them. The police have long asked for the power and the Government promised to meet that request in our election manifesto.
Fifthly, the public will be given further protection by a new power for courts to revoke bail if new information comes to light which makes that appropriate.
Together, those five measures put the granting of bail on a more sensible footing, ensuring that it is given in appropriate cases, but not where its granting is likely to lead to abuse. The Labour party cannot make up its mind on those proposals. It cannot decide whether to vote for or against them. Its attitude is to abstain.
I have made my view clear that the balance of justice is tipped too far in favour of the guilty and against protecting society in general and especially the victims of crime. Part III of the Bill takes important steps to redress that balance. For example, at the moment, it is compulsory for the judge to give a warning in court about uncorroborated evidence from the victim of a sex attack. That is offensive to the victim and unnecessary. That is why the Bill removes the mandatory requirement for judges to give such warnings in sexual offence and accomplice cases.
Part III also contains our proposals on the so-called right to silence. The provisions will allow a court to draw proper inferences from a suspect's refusal to answer police questions in circumstances which cry out for an innocent explanation, if there is one, or from a defendant's refusal to give evidence in court. That does not mean that a suspect or defendant will be compelled to speak under threat of a criminal penalty. Defendants can still remain silent if they choose. In future, the judge and jury will be able to weigh up why the defendant decided to stay silent and the jury will be able to draw reasonable inferences from that silence. In short, it is not about the right to silence; it is about the right to comment on silence.
The present system is abused by hardened criminals. As a professional burglar, interviewed on Radio 4, explained:
Amongst professional criminals it … is … a code. Name, rank and number only, as it were … There were times when I was acquitted and I stayed silent—I'm not going to answer the question as to whether I was innocent or guilty".
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the chief constable of Kent has done considerable research into the matter which has shown a clear relationship between the number of times someone has been arrested, accused and convicted and that person's exercise of the right to silence?
I can confirm the point made by my hon. Friend; it is entirely right. The police have long asked for the change, which is why I am especially interested that the new adviser to the police in the House should want to intervene at this point. I shall be glad to accept his intervention.
Is not it the case that, even under the Home Secretary's proposed legislation, a professional criminal who has a solicitor present may take that solicitor's advice to remain silent? That remains a privileged communication under the legislation and the only inference that can be drawn from it in a court proceeding is that the person was wise enough to accept legal advice at the time. If a person does not have a solicitor present, he loses his right to silence. The professional criminal who has a solicitor present is protected in that sense from losing his right to silence, but the ordinary citizen who does not know the circumstances he faces in a police station and who does not have a solicitor present will lose his right to silence. Is not that a two-tier system?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. If he maintained closer contact with the Police Federation than he appears to have done since his appointment, he would know how strongly it favours the change that I propose to make. As the research cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) shows, conspicuously, it is professional criminals, hardened criminals and terrorists who disproportionately take advantage of and abuse the present system. That is why it has to be changed.
On the point about legal advice raised by the hon. Gentleman, the judge will be able to draw such inferences as he thinks proper from the fact that any solicitor will know that if an innocent explanation is available for the matters on which someone is charged, put or questioned, it in his interest to provide that innocent explanation at the earliest possible moment. The legislation that we propose to introduce follows that already in force in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in 1988 when he was Home Secretary that he would seek the earliest opportunity to introduce legislation on the subject for England and Wales. We are now honouring that commitment.
I do not believe that the innocent have anything to fear from the changes. If there is a good reason for the suspect to remain silent, the jury will be able to consider it. But it is only right that, in a suitable case, the jury should know whether a person has remained silent or whether his story has changed. The current procedures can be and are abused by experienced criminals. It is more than 20 years since the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended changes. It is time for Parliament to act.
Of course, the committee was dealing with "ambush" offences, as I think that the Home Secretary knows. The Home Secretary says that the legislation is based on the Northern Ireland experience. As he says, the right to silence has been abolished for five years in Northern Ireland. Has the percentage of convictions or prosecutions gone up or down in that period?
A number of other things have changed in that period. How can one possibly seek to test the influence of one isolated change? I understand the hon. Gentleman and his friends to be worried about the possibility of miscarriages of justice. I am worried about the possibility of miscarriages of justice. Can the hon. Gentleman point to any examples of miscarriages of justice in Northern Ireland during the past five years as a result of the abolition of the right to silence? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer that question.
As a matter of fact, several articles have been written recently specifically on that point, expressing concern about the possibility of miscarriages of justice. The Home Secretary's case is that abolition of the right to silence is the centrepiece of how he will make for a more effective criminal justice system. Let us leave aside the question whether it is right or wrong; let us focus on whether it is effective. The Home Secretary must have the figures. Presumably he has looked at them. Has crime gone up or down in Northern Ireland in the period since the right to silence was abolished? Has the number of prosecutions gone up or down? Has the number of convictions gone up or down—yes or no?
The hon. Gentleman betrays his total lack of real concern about such issues. If he goes to the police either in Great Britain or in Northern Ireland, they will be able to show him examples of cases in Northern Ireland in which the fact that the defendant remained silent was referred to and taken into account and conviction followed. That has been happening in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman, who claims to be worried about miscarriages of justice, did not have the scintilla of an answer to the specific question that I put to him. On this central point, again the Labour party cannot make up its mind. It will not vote for or against the measure. It will retreat into indecision at the end of the debate tonight. It will abstain.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if one had to prove in advance that a measure would reduce the crime rate, it would be impossible to introduce any measure? Is not the point about abolition of the right to silence that in any given situation it makes a conviction more likely? Is not that in itself justification for the policy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Those who wish to put off action constantly ask for more information when they know that the information cannot be supplied in the form in which they seek it. It is another element in the total and chronic indecision from which the Labour party suffers.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman about four times. He will have an opportunity to make his speech. I must get on.
Part III of the Bill contains one other provision which provides protection for victims and witnesses. I am very concerned about the ordeal which some witnesses in criminal cases have to face outside the court. Witness intimidation can be difficult to detect and quantify, but it certainly goes on.
We need to make it clear that intimidating those who assist the criminal justice process will not be tolerated. The law already takes a serious view of such behaviour, but there is scope to do more, particularly in relation to activity before and after the period when a trial is in progress. That is why the Bill creates new offences that will make it easier to bring to justice those who intimidate or take revenge on people for assisting the police or acting as witnesses or jurors in a criminal trial.
Part IV of the Bill is aimed at the complex area of body samples, in particular those taken for the purpose of DNA analysis. As techniques have improved, DNA has become a powerful tool in the investigation of crime, but the law has lagged behind. The Bill will end the current arbitrary restrictions on the police use of body samples and of DNA analysis.
At the moment, samples can be taken only for the investigation of serious arrestable offences. The royal commission recommended that the power to take non-intimate samples without consent should be extended to include offences of assault and burglary. We agree with the thrust of the royal commission's recommendation, but we want to go further. It would be simpler and more logical to treat DNA sampling on precisely the same basis as fingerprinting. As a result, the Bill allows the police to take samples from anyone who is to be charged with a "recordable" offence, and to use the samples to search against existing records of convicted offenders or unsolved crimes. In time, a national database will be built up.
Those powers will be of real practical help in the investigation of crime. For example, in a sample of people convicted of rape, eight out of 10 had previous convictions for other offences. They will be easier to catch and convict when their DNA profile is in the database.
The Opposition cannot make up their minds about whether that is a good thing. They cannot decide whether to vote for or against it but will abstain in the vote tonight.
May I return to the right of silence? My right hon. and learned Friend accepted the arguments, presumably adduced, in the Kentish police study. However, the royal commission commissioned a study into the right of silence and it does not seem to bear out the argument that is being advanced. Will my right hon. and learned Friend say a little more about his weighing process in terms of the royal commission? This is the third royal commission that has endorsed the continuance of the so-called right of silence. Why has he come to a contrary decision?
If my hon. Friend will read the royal commission's minority report, which is extremely clearly set out and records the fact that most judges who gave evidence to the royal commission were in favour of a change, he will see exactly why I have come to my conclusion.
Part V of the Bill contains important measures designed to tackle the destruction and distress caused mainly to rural communities by trespassers. Local communities should not have to put up with, or even fear the prospect of, mass invasions by those who selfishly gather, regardless of the rights of others. The Bill gives the police improved powers to remove trespassers from land and new powers both to stop raves that are in progress and to prevent the mass raves that have caused such a menace in recent years. It will also empower the police to remove vehicles if trespassers refuse to comply with directions to leave and to seize amplification and other equipment being used for raves.
There will also be new powers against those who trespass and seek to disrupt the lawful activities of others. In recent months, we have seen many examples of disruptive and threatening behaviour—at the Grand National, during country sports and even fishing. Those who dislike such activities have a perfect right to campaign to change the law, but they do not have the right to trespass, threaten or intimidate. The Bill will give the police powers to direct trespassers to leave land if they have reason to believe that they will seek to disrupt or prevent a lawful activity. Furthermore, such disruption itself will be made a criminal offence.
My question on part V is extremely relevant. We all understand why aggravated trespass is included in the legislation in the way it is, but will two particular misdemeanours also be covered? One is far worse than a misdemeanour and involves attacks by animal activists on those who conduct research for which they need to use animals. The other involves those who put various substances into things such as hair spray and baby talc in chemists' shops. Will the Bill cover that?
The new powers that we propose to introduce apply to all those who trespass and seek to disrupt the lawful activities of others. They are not confined to any particular set of circumstances, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that I cannot go into a detailed analysis of every conceivable set of hypothetical circumstances that might be raised.
Part V also deals with changes to the law to deal with squatters. We made a commitment in our election manifesto to improve the law in that respect. The Bill provides the teeth behind the new procedures introduced by the Lord Chancellor to give lawful owners and occupiers of property access to a quick and effective remedy against squatting. It will mean that the owner or occupier of a property can go to court immediately and apply for an interim possession order ex parte. If the interim order is granted, the squatters will have 24 hours in which to leave the premises. Failure to do so will be an offence, and the police will have powers to enter property to enforce the order.
Part VI of the Bill gives the police new stop and search powers aimed against terrorism and creates two new offences against public security. There will be a power to stop and search vehicles and their occupants, and to stop pedestrians to search anything that they may be carrying. Those new powers will help to safeguard the public against the dual threats of vehicle bombs and small devices carried by individual terrorists. Since they are powers that already exist in Northern Ireland, I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).
Concern has been expressed over the past month about possible amnesties for terrorists, in connection with which I think that the Prime Minister has said that the law will take its course. Will the Home Secretary assure us that, in his view, the law taking its normal course will exclude any programme for rapid early release of people who have been convicted of terrorist offences?
There will be no amnesty for terrorists. We do not recognise terrorism as a specific crime—a political crime—under our law. Those who are in prison for such offences are not in prison for offences of a political nature. They are in prison for offences against the ordinary law of the land, which will take its course without any amnesties.
The Bill provides for very strict controls over how and when the new powers on terrorism can be used. Those new powers could help to save lives, and when lives can be saved Parliament has a duty to act.
Part VII seeks to strengthen the controls against pornography. First, the Bill provides a power of immediate arrest of those who trade in obscene material and child pornography. The police will also be given additional powers of search and seizure in those cases. The trade in child pornography is particularly abhorrent. The Bill will, for the first time, make it possible to send to prison those found guilty of possessing such material.
Changes in the law are also needed to keep up with new technology. Computer pornography poses a particular threat. The Bill will put it beyond doubt that, for the purposes of the law relating to child pornography, a photograph includes images of children stored on computer disks. It will also ensure that there is no legal loophole for paedophiles who create indecent images of children through the use of computers. Those are important steps that make the law against pornography more effective. The Labour party cannot decide what its attitude should be on them. It cannot decide whether to vote for or against them. The Labour party's attitude to them tonight will be one of chronic indecision.
Part VIII of the Bill takes forward the Government's commitment to involve the private sector in the provision of prisons, prisoner escorts and some prison services. It widens and improves my current powers—[Interruption.]
I am sure that you appreciate, Madam Speaker, that the remark was not aimed at you. However, if anyone took it in that sense—I am sure that you did not, Madam Speaker—I would be happy to withdraw it. I had already made it perfectly plain to the hon. Member for Sedgefield, to whom I have given way four or five times, that he will have an opportunity to make his own speech. That is why I addressed the remark to the hon. Gentleman.
I am not at all surprised at the sedentary muttering of the Opposition. They would not dare nor do they have the courage to get up and say what they have been muttering.
The part of the Bill relating to prisons widens and improves my current powers to contract out prisons and prison services in England and Wales. In particular, it will enable me to award contracts for the design, building, management and financing of the six new prisons that I announced last year.
The Bill increases my powers to provide additional accommodation to cope with increases in the prison population, and it takes forward our initiative to contract out prison escort services. Skilled prison officers should be free to do the job that they are trained to do instead of spending large parts of the day travelling to and from court with prisoners. Contracting out will make sure that that happens, and it is an excellent example of how market testing and contracting out can provide value for money and a much better service for those who are involved.
The Bill also allows contracting out of prisons and prisoner escorting in Scotland for the first time, and will enable the prisoner escort service in Northern Ireland to be contracted out.
Part VIII also puts industrial relations in the prison service on a sounder footing. The recent threat by the Prison Officers Association to lock out prisoners was a totally unacceptable threat to the criminal justice system. In response, I sought and obtained an injunction from the courts restraining the POA from taking such action, but clarification of its position under employment protection law is required.
The Bill's provisions will extend to prison officers and governors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the employment rights that are currently enjoyed by their counterparts in Scotland and by other Crown employees. It will give their associations the status in law of trade unions. New pay determination procedures will be established for the staff that are involved. Consultations are about to begin with the relevant unions about the precise details of the new arrangements, but the Bill will put beyond doubt the fact that it is unlawful to incite prison officers to withhold their services or to commit a breach of discipline. That will be backed up by making explicit in the prison rules the implied contractual duty of prison officers to co-operate in the effective running of prisons.
Before the Secretary of State leaves the topic of new offences that the Bill seeks to introduce, will he explain why this comprehensive Bill contains nothing specific to deal with the rising tide of anti-semitic and racist violence? How can he explain his silence on that issue, which concerns people of all colours and creeds in this country?
I have made it plain that I am prepared to look at any sensible proposal to improve the law in relation to those matters. However, I am not yet satisfied that such proposals have been advanced. We are still examining some, and I am convinced that others would not add one jot or tittle to the effectiveness of the present law. I am prepared to consider all such suggestions strictly on their merits.
The Bill, taken together with the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, forms an important part of our strategy to beat crime. But even as those Bills are being discussed and debated in Parliament, we are taking every step that we can to ensure punishment for the guilty, justice for the victim and protection for the public.
We have taken action to cut police paperwork, which could over time release more than 2,000 officers for front-line duties. We are streamlining police middle management, which will allow chief officers to recruit up to 3,000 more constables. We are taking action to end the inappropriate use of cautions, and we are curtailing cautions for repeat offenders and serious offences. We have boosted funding for Victim Support to more than £10 million, which will enable witness support schemes to be provided in all Crown court centres in England and Wales by the end of 1995, and local schemes and branches to be developed.
We are taking wide-ranging measures to help to prevent crime. We have acted on the advice given by rural communities about ways in which their relationships with the police can be improved. Almost 40 parish constable schemes have now been agreed, and we shall continue to encourage local communities and police forces to develop a partnership against crime. Our safer cities projects further demonstrate the Government's support for local crime prevention partnerships. We intend to launch up to 40 new projects to replace the 20 that are coming to an end; 10 of those new project areas have already been announced.
I acknowledge that many of the developments in the Bill are important, but does the Home Secretary not realise that police forces need more resources if they are to carry out their work? Has there not been abundant evidence in recent weeks from police forces in Wales that they need real additional resources to avoid having to cut the manpower that enables them to do their work and to keep policemen on the beat?
I should be more impressed with the hon. Gentleman's intervention if every time the Government had increased the resources available to the police over the past 14 years he had congratulated us. There has been an increase of more than 80 per cent. in real terms in the resources available to the police. In this country we have 17,000 more police officers than we had in 1979, and 16,000 more civilians helping them. Now we must make the most effective use that we can of the hugely increased resources available. That is what the Government's measures are designed to achieve.
My right hon. and learned Friend will know that, although the recent revenue support grant for Cambridgeshire allocated £1·5 million specifically to the police, the Lib-Lab coalition on the county council has applied only £105,000 of that money to that purpose. Does that not show the importance that the Lib-Lab coalition gives to the police?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that is eloquent testimony to the derision with which the Opposition treat the police.
The measures in the Bills are our response to rising crime. What response have we had from the Opposition? When I announced my proposals in Blackpool last October, the hon. Member for Sedgefield denounced them. They were, he said,
a series of gimmicks to get a headline".
But since then my proposals have won support from the police and the public, so the hon. Gentleman, weathervane politician that he is, has changed his tune. On television before Christmas he protested:
I did not say that all the measures the Home Secretary announced were gimmicks. I said that some of them were gimmicks".
I challenge the hon. Gentleman to name the gimmicks. I will happily give way to him here and now if he wishes to make good his preposterous claim.
Let me name one gimmick. The Home Secretary said that he would bring about a dramatic difference in the treatment of people who have already been convicted of murder or rape and who come up for bail on another charge of murder or rape. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was a great problem in the criminal justice system because people in those circumstances are given bail. Can he give us an example of such a person having been given bail?
There have certainly been instances of people being given bail in those circumstances. Nor did I ever say—and the hon. Gentleman is renowned for the extent to which he distorts, misrepresents and misquotes my remarks—that that measure in isolation would make a dramatic impact. It will make a useful impact; it is a useful measure; it will protect the public; and it is not a gimmick.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that the Opposition will take due note of that example.
It will not be too long before the hon. Member for Sedgefield starts to pretend that our proposals are his own —indeed, he has already started. Not long ago, I made a speech about the victims of crime in which I said that victims should be kept informed about the progress and outcome of their cases and that the Crown Prosecution Service should seek victims' views before decisions are taken. Three months later, the hon. Member for Sedgefield wrote an article in The Sun repeating what I had said almost word for word and claiming it as an initiative of his own. The fate that awaits the hon. Gentleman is the fate that awaits all weathervane politicians: he will end up spinning round and round in ever decreasing circles until neither he nor anyone else has the faintest idea of the direction in which he is facing.
I have made my aims and objectives clear. I want every aspect of our criminal justice system to work at its best —to do all that it can to make life safer for the law abiding and more difficult for the criminal. The Bill represents an important stepping stone on the path to that objective.
We have had months of rhetoric about being tough on crime from the hon. Member for Sedgefield. The moment of truth will come tonight after his feeble amendment has been defeated. Our Bill is indisputably tough on crime: it increases sentences; it protects the public from juvenile criminals; it cracks down on bail; and it has been praised by the police, who believe that it will
help tremendously in the fight against crime.
When the hon. Member for Sedgefield sits on his hands tonight, the British people will see that his rhetoric is just hot air: he will have funked the first opportunity that he will have had to turn his words into action.
As I made clear at Blackpool, this is just the first instalment. I am looking hard at the national standards for community sentences to ensure that they are properly demanding punishments in which the courts and public can have confidence. I am reviewing many of the rules in our prisons, especially those governing testing for drugs and home leave.
I am determined to do all that I can to encourage a real partnership between the police and the public. On Sunday night I went out on patrol with town watch in Sandwich. [Interruption.] Listen, Madam Speaker, to the Opposition's response to active and concerned citizens who are playing their part in the fight for law and order. I accompanied a group of citizens who were acting as the eyes and ears of the police, helping to escort elderly people who are afraid to go out at night, and making a real contribution to the reduction of crime in their community. We must encourage our citizens to play their part in the war against crime and, if we are to do that, we must ensure that our criminal justice system gives their efforts full and effective support. The Bill will help to achieve that objective, and I commend it to the House.
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
this House believes that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill is not an acceptable and effective measure to tackle crime unless it includes the following: a proper statutory framework for crime prevention and other measures to prevent crime; the provision of a full and comprehensive range of treatment and
punishment for young offenders including local authority secure accommodation; measures to introduce cautioning and bail support and enforcement programmes in all areas of the country; programme for drug education for young people available in all local authorities with funding ring-fenced; measures to tackled the link between truancy and crime; measures to strengthen the law on racial harassment and violence; a legal right on the part of victims of crime to be consulted when the Crown Prosecution Service decides to change or drop the charges for the offence in respect of which they are the victims, together with a written statement of the reasons for the decision; measures to tackle the provision of dangerous weapons particularly by mail-order supply; the establishment of a proper independent Judicial Appointments Commission for the appointment of judges; and the setting up of an Independent Review Authority for miscarriages of justice as recommended by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice.
The purpose of the amendment is to bring balance and strategy to a Government approach that at present lacks both. We do not oppose the strengthening of the criminal justice system—on the contrary, we support measures that actively strengthen that system. Although we can agree with some of the measures in the Bill, we fundamentally disagree with others, and we shall show that there are better and different ways of making the criminal justice system more effective. Above all—as the Home Secretary's total refusal to answer the question whether the Bill would cut crime shows—the Bill is based on the old Tory deceit. The Tories tell us that they are tough on law and order and they have introduced this Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. However, the measure is fundamentally flawed because it is one-track. It does not deal with prevention as well as punishment or causes as well as crime.
I will give way in a moment. I am delighted by the enthusiasm and eagerness which are being displayed on the Conservative Benches.
There is no doubt about the importance of crime. Nothing is a greater source of fear and anger in our communities. It is a scandal that Asian women and children cannot walk down the street in broad daylight. It is outrageous that elderly people are mugged and robbed in their own homes and that entirely law-abiding young people should be set upon and beaten up for sport.
Householders and car owners feel despair when their property is stolen and they know that there is little that will be done about that. Although the Home Secretary did not mention this in his speech, it is surely true that when drugs are commonly offered, even in school playgrounds, and as an everyday occurrence, society has a serious sickness at its heart.
We know all that and the Government accept and admit all that. However, after 14 years, people do not want another dose of Tory rhetoric. They want effective action that works.
If that were the case, one would expect the Home Secretary to tell us that the measure will cut crime. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) has provided a basis upon which the Home Secretary should leap to his feet to say that that is the judgment that we should make of the measure. However, the Home Secretary must agree that one cannot tell the British people at a party conference that the Bill comprises the most comprehensive and effective series of crime measures that have ever been put before the British people and then be unable to pledge that the judgment that will be made about its effectiveness is that it will cut crime.
Does the hon. Gentleman honestly believe that taking young thugs and habitual criminals off the streets and tackling bail bandits will not reduce crime? What measures would the hon. Gentleman propose to reduce such crime?
I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman should ask that question, because it was the Opposition who first raised the problem of persistent juvenile offending and who proposed measures to deal with that problem. When I deal with that part of the Bill, I will say exactly where we agree and disagree. At that point, perhaps the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) will judge which are the more effective measures.
It was the Opposition who helped to secure the passage of the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993.
The hon. Gentleman said that it was the Opposition who first raised the question of persistent juvenile offenders. I assure him that during the five years that I have been parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation I have raised that issue constantly in the House. Indeed, I did so long before the hon. Gentleman came to his present post. My predecessors also raised that matter.
I do not doubt that. However, it is patently obvious that the Government Front Bench did not listen to the hon. Gentleman. I remember that when we first raised the issue in the House we were told that juvenile offending was on the decline and that the problem was therefore not as great as people had said.
As I have said, people want a strategy to fight crime that works. They want one that will cut crime. They want a strategy that, above all, is geared not to catching headlines so that Ministers can give the illusion of activity but to stopping crime so that communities become safer.
The Government must start with a straightforward explanation. They now admit the scale of the problem. They must explain why, after 14 years of Tory government, things are as bad as they are. The Tories have been in power for 14 years. There have been 14 years of rising crime. For 14 years, the Tories have had the chance in government to put things right, but there have been 14 years of Tory failure. That is the record on which the Government stand. The significance of the Bill is that the Government now admit that there is no confidence in the system.
What is the Government's explanation? It is not as though the issue of crime has just surfaced. Crime has risen by more than 120 per cent. since 1979. It rose in the Government's first and second terms of office and it has carried on rising. The only time that it fell was between 1988 and 1990. The Government have had 14 years in which to deal with it, but they have not done so. One might think that, after 14 years, the great Conservative purveyors of collective responsibility would take responsibility for the situation. After all, they are the Government. Do they say that they are responsible? Not a bit of it. The one thing that we must never underestimate about the Tories is their brazen nerve and their brass neck.
I shall give the House the explanation that the Home Secretary now gives—he gave it on the "Today" programme just a morning ago. He says that the real problem is that the Government have been hamstrung in their fight against crime because their civil servants forced them to accept the nostrums of the liberal establishment.
The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to 14 years in which to tackle crime. Fourteen years ago, two of the Bill's provisions were not possible—those on DNA sampling and on the crime of computer pornography. Will the hon. Gentleman dismiss the modernisation of our criminal justice system by saying that we have had 14 years in which to do everything? We are doing it now.
Many elements of the criminal justice system are well known, independent of government, for their softness on crime. For example, the probation service is known to refer to thugs and criminals in its charge as clients. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with such a description?
It is truly unbelievable. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what he should try to do, and that is not attack the probation service, which does its best in extremely difficult circumstances. The hon. Gentleman should try to join us in putting into place measures that will cut crime.
The hon. Gentleman has been very concerned to blame the Government for rising crime. If his point is valid, who does he blame for rising crime in every comparable civilised country?
That is another explanation—I shall not deal with it in detail today—that the Prime Minister once gave, and it is not correct. Crime has risen to a much greater extent here than in many other countries. I do not say that everything is the fault of the Conservative Government, but, after 14 years, they should take responsibility for the situation that has arisen. That is what we wish them to do.
The hon. Gentleman focuses very conveniently on the past 14 years, but, if he is honest, he will accept that today we are reaping the consequences of the breakdown of respect which occurred in the 1960s. Is it not the problem that successive Governments have listened far too much to the left-wing social reformers?
I have to say that the hon. Gentleman is right about one point. I should not focus on 14 years because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has pointed out, the Conservatives have been in power for 15 years. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what it is that people object to in the present-day Tory party and what makes them angry. It is that he stands there after almost 15 years of Government, with crime rising in the way that it has, and will not take any blame or responsibility but puts it on the 1960s or the trendy liberal establishment—anywhere but on the Government who have been in power and have had a chance to do something about it. That is what people dislike about the Government. What people dislike about the Government more than anything else is that they will preach to everybody about taking personal responsibility, but they do not have the guts to take any responsibility themselves for the situation that they created.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman another thing. We are told after 15 years that it was all the problem of the 1960s. Have the Government just woken up? What was happening in the 1980s? When that great fan of the liberal establishment, the noble Baroness Thatcher, was presiding over the Government, why did they not try to take things on and deal with them? Of course, it is all just another piece of Tory deceit. The truth is that history cannot be rewritten in that way.
The Home Secretary's prison works policy is not new. It is not the case that, for 15 years, the Government pursued exactly the same policy. In fact, throughout the 1980s, the very strategy that he pursues today was the strategy of the Tory party. Let me quote him the figures on the prison population. In the 1980s, the number rose to its highest level ever—almost 50,000 in 1988. The idea that, all through the 1980s, the Home Office was caught by the liberal establishment is rubbish. The truth is that the policy was changed because it did not work.
What we need to do now, therefore, is not repeat the mistakes of the past but learn from them. We face a choice. We can either go in the direction of the United States, where there are 1·25 million people in gaol—
No, I cannot give way at the moment.
There has been a trebling in 10 years of the prison population in the United States and violent crime has continued to rise. Alternatively, we can understand that it is important to combine programmes of reform and prevention with the strengthening of the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary's policy of prison works will not succeed.
I must say that there is one exception, which the Home Secretary has introduced to the prison works programme. The headline in the Daily Express today is "Howard Joins Battle to Free Ambridge One". The article says:
Such is the national outrage at the jailing of the Archer, Susan Carter, that Home Secretary, Michael Howard, has joined the campaign to free her. Mr. Howard is upset, like many others, because Susan received six months jail for helping her robber brother to elude the law.
Home Office officials seemed stunned at Mr. Howard's sudden involvement. After all, the Archers is fiction, isn't it, asked a spokesman? Speculation there now is that he might follow Princess Margaret, Terry Wogan, Dame Edna Everidge and Britt Ekland in a guest appearance on the show.
The Home Secretary would certainly do less damage in Ambridge than he does in Whitehall.
The prison works slogan—a return to the short sharp shock, and we have been there before—is to be put to work in relation to juvenile offenders. As I have been asked about it before, let me make quite clear the difference between the two sides. We do not disagree that those who are out of control and making life hell—there are juvenile offenders who are doing that—must be in secure accommodation. [Interruption.] It is said that that is very surprising. Let me state the Government's record on the issue.
Three years ago, the Government promised 65 extra secure accommodation places. To this day, the so-called party of law has not built a single one. The Government's explanation is given time and again. It was given by the Secretary of State for Education in the debate on the Queen's Speech—it is that Labour-controlled local authorities refuse to give planning permission or co-operate in their building. We have done some research into that. The local authorities' directors of social services have not refused to countenance more secure accommodation; instead, they have been asking for it.
I shall give way in a moment.
Many local authorities, Labour and Tory, have been urgently requesting the promised resources. According to the national bed bureau, there have been hundreds more inquiries from those local authorities for secure accommodation. Leeds city council has been applying for 10 extra places of secure accommodation for two years and the promise has still not been honoured. The only example that has ever been given is Leicestershire. It has changed its decision and now wishes for secure accommodation places as well.
The truth is that this whole excuse has been got away about local authorities because the Government have not wanted to honour the sensible course and the promise that they gave three years ago.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. On the subject of secure units, does he accept that the real problem is not the lack of beds available, because, according to the bed bureau, space can almost always be found for a child? The real problem is that the juvenile magistrates are deeply frustrated at the fact that they have to hand a child back to social services, which persistently refuse on ideological grounds to make use of secure units.
That is absolute nonsense. We have made inquiries of the national bed bureau within the past few weeks. It says that there is a huge surplus of demand for secure accommodation by local authorities over supply. The hon. Lady's statement is quite incorrect.
The hon. Gentleman said with a great flourish a moment ago that the Lib-Lab council in Leicestershire was now—and he used the words—prepared to co-operate with the Government in providing the accommodation. Perhaps he will tell us what the Labour party did over the past 10 years, when it refused to proceed with a proposal for secure accommodation, which had been approved by a previous Conservative Administration. For the whole decade the Labour party consistently refused to provide secure accommodation. The fact that it is now prepared to co-operate hardly alters the record for that decade.
With respect, that is only one example. I have made quite clear what has now happened and what our view of it is. The notion that that can invalidate the entirety of the policy is plainly absurd. Let me tell the Home Secretary the advantages of dealing with the matter in that way. First, the places could be achieved without delay. This country does not want to wait years before the problem is dealt with. It wants it dealt with now. Secondly, it allows the provision to be both local and integrated, as everybody, including the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the Association of Chief Police Officers, have asked for.
I am sorry. I really must press on.
We have also discovered an internal Government document which specifically compares young offenders institutions with secure local authority units and finds that for local authority units there is not only a better record on education and training but a better rate of reconviction—[Interruption.] I shall give way if the hon. Gentleman is going to heckle me all the way through.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to heckle him, but he may recall that he promised some time ago that he would give way to me.
The hon. Gentleman is receiving a briefing now from his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who knows that, as soon as I was elected to the House, he and I went to see Welsh Office Ministers to make sure that secure accommodation was available in south Wales, particularly in the Cardiff area, which is experiencing the highest rise in crime anywhere in the country. Perhaps the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) will explain to the House why, after all that time, secure accommodation is now to be made available in Neath—another local authority area altogether?
That is an outrageous claim, which has been dealt with on several occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and other hon. Members were pressing for that secure accommodation, but the Government refused to co-operate, and lessons can be learnt from that.
The advantage of that provision is that it can be integrated into proper programmes of diversion, prevention and punishment within local communities. A short time ago, a report was published, showing the gaps in provision in all sorts of good programmes for young people. To make way for some of the new secure training centres, not only are we failing to build on the provisions already there but other programmes of assistance to deal with habitual young offenders are being systematically dismantled. Residential places for disturbed young children and motor projects dealing with car thieves are closing and two thirds of local authorities have been forced to make cuts in youth services. To weaken the provisions in local communities and then to claim that building the new secure training centres will help to prevent juvenile crime is a sham. We know that and I believe that the Government know that as well.
The hon. Gentleman knows that this is an elaborate smokescreen. He has to answer a simple question: does he think that the courts should be given the power, which they do not now have, to sentence those young people to periods in secure accommodation, or does he not? If he does, is he prepared to vote for that provision in the Bill?
As the Minister well knows, because that point is put to me every time, our dispute with him is not about the powers—we agree that the courts require them —but over our belief that it is better to deal with the problems by integrating the powers with proper local provision. That is what has been suggested by virtually everyone who has looked into the problems.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary is selective in the points to which he replies? He responded on the Leicestershire point, but ignored the Leeds point. More than two years ago, discussions were under way with the Leeds authority on the provision of 10 extra places at a cost then of £500,000. I also know, as does my hon. Friend, that the bed bureau is run by the Leeds authority, so it has unique knowledge of the numbers of spaces needed and of the impossibility of getting a secure place. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) is wrong. Places cannot be achieved. Why does not the Home Secretary answer the question as to why the offer from Leeds, the plans made and discussed with Departments, were not followed up? Why do we still not have those places? Why—
I apologise for missing that inconsistency in what the Home Secretary said, but there are so many inconsistencies that occasionally one slips through the net. This issue shows the difference between what the Tories say and what they do on law and order. Such action could be taken now and combined in the way I set out, but the exaggerations go all the way through.
Let us be clear about the purpose of a criminal justice system. It should be not on the side of the accused or of the prosecution but on the side of truth. The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice was set up to establish the framework for improving our system. I disagreed with some of its points and others disagreed with other points but, on the whole, it was welcomed. However, the Government will now depart from two key aspects of it.
First, the Government have refused to include in the Bill provision for the establishment of a proper independent review body for miscarriages of justice. That omission cannot be justified. The recommendation was widely trailed and examination of it was the principal reason for establishing the commission. There is justifiable dismay that it has not been included in the Bill. We shall be tabling amendments to include it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary's explanation of why it has not been included does not make much sense? The suggestion has been around since 1982, when the Home Affairs Select Committee first made it—its then Chairman is now a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office—and it was so uncontroversial that it had the support of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight). The suggestion was again made by the royal commission, but the Government have still ignored it.
My hon. Friend is right. Recently, I saw comments made three years ago by the present Foreign Secretary showing why he supported such a body. Omission of that provision cannot be justified.
The second issue is the right to silence. The royal commission decided that, although abuses could be remedied, it was wrong to abolish that right, particularly in the police station. The royal commission took that view after the most careful research which showed, among other things, that it was relied upon in a small number of cases and, in the majority of them, there was a conviction or a guilty plea. Even those in the minority who dissented took the view that there had to be fundamental additional safeguards before that right could be interfered with.
What people find most worrying is the tone and attitude of the Home Secretary when he discusses the issue. Even those who have advocated curtailing the right to silence have done so with some regard to the sensitivity of the issue and with some sense of the fact that we are dealing with fundamental legal questions. When the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland moved the Irish provision, he did so in that way, not with a one-liner delivered to the Tory party conference. That was not the action of a responsible Home Secretary.
The right to silence covers two entirely different situations. The first is, where a prosecution case is disclosed, the accused knows exactly what is being alleged and its significance and is acting with qualified legal advice. There is justifiable concern that entirely new facts or defences could be raised at trial and, as it is described, the prosecution ambushed. There is huge dispute about the prevalence of that, but let us assume that it happens.
I do not believe that it is inconsistent with civil liberties to allow that lack of disclosure to be properly commented on, but that is a million miles away from the other type of case. That is, before charges are brought, when the person is being questioned—he may not understand the significance of what he is asked and may not be legally represented—he fails to mention a fact that is later relevant. Under the Government proposals, even if that fact were subsequently disclosed before the trial so that there was no question of ambush, the failure could be used to draw inferences of guilt.
Any reasonable person could see that that approach is open to potential injustice. The Bill makes no provision for extra safeguards. The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Richard Ferguson QC, himself a former Member of Parliament—
I apologise. He was a member of the Stormont Parliament. He has said that it is not the professional criminal who is at risk but the vulnerable innocent.
I asked the Home Secretary a specific question about Northern Ireland and he told me that he was unable to give figures. However, we have the figures, so let me tell him that, since the right to silence has been abolished in Northern Ireland, the number of prosecutions has dropped, although crime has been rising, and the number of convictions as a percentage of prosecutions has dropped. I appreciate that that is not proof absolute that the right to silence has not had the impact suggested by the Home Secretary, but when he tells us that the change is fundamental to getting more criminals prosecuted or convicted, it is more than passing strange that he has not even analysed what happened when the change was introduced in Northern Ireland.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of what was said by the head of the anti-terrorist branch, when asked whether there was any single measure that he believed could save lives? He said that the most frustrating experience for him and his officers was when they had before them a terrorist suspect who would not even confirm or deny his identity, and that to have the ability to draw that to the attention of the jury was important. What would the hon. Gentleman say to that?
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what I would say. It is that that has to be done following an examination of whether that is the problem that we face. At the very least, before we have the fullest possible evidence of its impact in Northern Ireland, it is wrong to legislate here. When the matter was debated in relation to Northern Ireland five years ago, considerable hesitation was expressed, even by those on the Government Benches. As I say, it is the tone and the attitude as much as anything else which concerns people. That same dogma and lack of balance turn up again in the proposals for more prison privatisation.
No, I must move on. The proposals for prison privatisation have been made when we have not evaluated the existing private prisons.
The dogma and lack of balance come up again in the curbing of those who protest against fox hunting, whereas no reciprocal duties are put on anything else. I disagree totally with anyone who starts disrupting the ability of people to go fishing, and so forth. However, I do not see why police officers should try to prevent people from lawfully protesting against fox hunting. That does not seem to be the proper role of the police.
There is rank hypocrisy in some of the provisions. The Prime Minister said a few days ago that he wanted to "put the victim first". He should tell that to the tens of thousands of victims who will lose proper compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board provisions. If we are to deal with the criminal justice system, let us deal with the real scandal of the system. At a time when crime is rising and when there is more violent and serious crime, the number of prosecutions is falling and the number of cases which are discontinued or in which charges are dropped is rising. Courts are lying idle while crime is rising around them. A Government who are concerned about law and order should address those issues. However, during the past few months, there has been a 17 per cent. drop in the number of cases that have been dealt with by Crown courts.
Those are practical measures, but the fundamental criticism of the Government is of their lack of balance. I return, as I have often done, to the fact that only one in 50 crimes leads to a conviction. The figures are one in 200 for crimes of vandalism and one in 10 for violent assaults.
I will not give way.
Only one in three crimes in Britain is even recorded. The prison population may top 50,000. How would that compare with the 20 million crimes a year which are committed in our country'? That is the case for tackling causes as well as crime, and for prevention as well as punishment.
The deceit of the claims as to whether that would work is then combined with the dogma of the refusal to accept crime prevention measures that would give us a realistic chance of cutting crime. Three years ago, the Government published a report on crime prevention which suggested that an urgent statutory framework of crime prevention was needed. That proposal was rejected because of dogma and because it would give a role to local authorities. Worse, the Government are now to undermine community policing by centralising policing in the hands of the Government and by having Ministers appoint people to the boards.
We need, of course, a proper national programme of drugs education. A Home Office report last week said that drugs and crime were intimately connected and that there was widespread concern about that linkage. The report also said that work urgently needed to be undertaken to develop education for 12 to 18-year-olds. What is the Government's response? They have withdrawn funding from drugs education co-ordinators in our schools and youth services.
Time and time again, action that is required is not taken. New laws to tackle racial harassment and abuse are absent from the Bill. Safer cities projects and the urban programme are being cut and are having their funding reduced. In south Wales, police stations are at risk as a result of the problems. That is because the Government are more interested in a few grabbed headlines than in a proper strategy for fighting crime.
Let us be clear. No one but a fool would excuse the commission of crime on the basis of social conditions, but no one but a Tory would deny the influence that those social conditions can have on the way in whch our young people develop. That is why we need to remedy not just the faults of the criminal justice system but the culture of despair, hopelessness, drugs, violence, instability, poor education and poor job prospects that characterise elements of our young people today.
To achieve that, we do not need or want lectures from Ministers on the responsibilities of everyone else but themselves. We want them to play their part in building a better and safer country of responsible citizens. We want them to open up new educational opportunities and to give our young people the chance of a decent job and training. We want them to rebuild the crumbling public services in many of our cities and towns. We want them to stop the rot of the social disintegration which is all around us. That is the "back to basics" that the country wants to see implemented today by the Government.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. I certainly will not ask the hon. Member to withdraw it. The hon. Member for Colne Valley knew full well that the hon. Gentleman who was at the Dispatch Box was not giving way. The rules of the House are clear and hon. Members should know them. The hon. Member who has the floor has the right to give way or not to give way. Hon. Members who choose not to give way should be respected.
I have given way a great deal during the debate, and there are other hon. Members who want to speak.
I was talking about the programmes which we want to see for our country, programmes which would tackle both the criminal justice system and the causes of crime. Government Members should know that one cannot build a strong and cohesive society that encourages responsible citizens unless one believes in a strong and cohesive society. We must acknowledge that people are not just individuals but that they are members of a society and a community and that they owe obligations to one another as well as to themselves.
To achieve that balance between individual responsibility and social responsibility, we must believe in our country as a society of responsible citizens. It is because the Opposition believe in that concept, and the Government do not, that our programme for fighting crime is better.
Many hon. Members want to speak in the debate, and I have no wish to make a long speech. I welcome the Bill because of its contents, and I deplore the fact that the Opposition cannot bring themselves to do the same.
There is great deal which might, and no doubt will, be said about changes in the law and about strengthening the law in relation to young offenders, bail provisions and the other matters which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary mentioned. Those measures will be generally welcomed both outside and inside the House.
My immediate concern is fastened on one part of the Bill—part V, and in particular clause 61, which repeals the obligation that the Caravan Sites Act 1968 imposes upon local authorities to provide sites for gipsies and other travellers.
There is no doubt that the Act has long passed its use-by date. That was conceded by the Government and was welcomed by the House in a debate a year or so ago on the private Member's Bill which I sought leave to introduce to deal with the subject. I look forward to hearing more from Ministers in Committee about how the new system will work and how it will be applied. For example, will a target be set for the number of new sites to be opened around the country when the planning system takes over, and who will have the responsibility of making sure that sites are available?
I am a little surprised that there is no mention in the explanatory memorandum of the savings which will result from the repeal of those parts of the 1968 Act. Another point which will be of interest is the future ownership and management of existing council sites. Are those likely to be privatised? Will there be a licensing system? How will those matters be dealt with?
I have no doubt that that can be dealt with in Committee. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will not be disappointed to hear that I do not aspire to membership of the Committee, because I know that many other hon. Members who are much better qualified than myself will volunteer to deal with all the points of law involved.
Part V and its provisions to strengthen the position of those people who want law and order to prevail in the countryside are an important departure from precedent. The creation of a new offence of aggravated trespass is a significant step forward that will be widely welcomed in all parts of the country where people have become all too used to disorder, intimidation and violence prevailing and interrupting the lawful pursuits of those who live in the country, value it and want to continue with their countryside sports.
Frankly, I was astonished that the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) —if I could have his attention for a second—felt obliged to throw a sop to his left-wing colleagues by saying that he did not see why police officers should be employed to prevent violent disorder from surrounding hunt activities and meetings.
I did not say that at all. Of course, whenever there is violence or the law is broken, the police should be involved, whether at a fox hunt or anything else. What I did say, however, was that it was not the function of the police to be employed to prevent people from engaging in otherwise lawful activities merely because they are opposed to fox hunting.
I am glad to hear that rather reluctant confession. Nothing in the Bill is likely to prevent lawful protests, and if the hon. Gentleman reads it with care he will see that.
The Bill seeks to prevent people from invading the property of others and making free with it, in spite of the owner's wishes and the fact that he or she has given consent for certain activities there.
I am delighted to hear it. That encourages me to speak at even greater length, but I want to be fair to other hon. Members.
It is a disgrace that organised violence, deliberate provocation and physical assaults on people and animals have become an accepted way of life for a militant section of urban society. The saboteur movement has its roots not in the countryside but in the towns. Anyone who has seen busloads of Millwall supporters brought in to disrupt a hunt knows exactly what I am talking about.
I am afraid that on no account will I allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene.
It is important to add that provision on aggravated trespass to the statute book. However—this arises from some remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight)—I must comment on the response that the offence of aggravated trespass has caused in another quarter. I dare say that most hon. Members will have seen a letter from the Research Defence Society on
Animal extremism and medical research".
The letter expresses
concern that the government's proposed legislation … is not offering any protection to the medical researchers who have been the main targets for animal rights extremists over the last two decades.
The letter continues:
Animal rights groups have been intimidating, obstructing and attacking medical researchers who work with animals for much longer than they have been disrupting field sports. Indeed, the scale and intensity of these attacks, which have included IRA-type car bombs utilising high explosives and mercury-tilt switches, goes far beyond anything used against huntsmen and anglers. After over twenty car bombs, all against medical researchers, the police have been able to arrest not one person in connection with these terrorist attacks.
I believe that provisions exist on the statute book which make such activities unlawful and capable of prosecution
in the most serious way. However, it worries me that the law and law enforcement agencies seem to have been unable to do anything to prevent the prevalence of animal rights terrorists. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take this as a serious plea, and that he will respond to the Research Defence Society.
I am glad to hear that, because there can be no justification for terrorism of that sort. The House should be satisfied that all appropriate action is being taken to deal with it.
I promised to be brief, so I shall move from the content of the Bill to another subject on which I hope that the House will find itself in agreement with me. Public confidence in the law does not depend merely on what we put on the statute book. Many of our constituents have long been at a loss to understand how the judicial process works, and their conception of it is drawn from press reports.
Many hon. Members will have received letters similar to one sent to me recently by a constituent, who said:
I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms at the ludicrous practice of sending young offenders on these expensive trips … Surely some form of real punishment can be found for all these tearaways? There are thousands of honest hard-working families who can barely afford a week's holiday in a caravan —and to hear about the cost of those so-called therapeutic journeys leaves one speechless.
I think that that reaction is common to all of us who have been watching recent extraordinary events. The Prime Minister's reaction, which was reported in the press the other day, strikes an echo in everyone's heart. I hope that we shall hear from the Home Office that such safari penalties will be brought to an end.
For years, many people have been puzzled why, when the House sets maximum penalties for certain crimes, the maximum penalty is not applied in a case when it is difficult to conceive that a more serious offence could have been committed under the same heading. There was an example in the newspapers last week. A drink-driving taxi driver was convicted of killing three women in a head-on collision. The judge commented that his sentencing was restricted because the offence happened before a change in the law doubling the maximum penalty from five to 10 years, which in his mind made it impossible for him to impose a sentence of more than three years.
I would find it hard to explain to any constituents who asked me why such an offence—drink-driving, a head-on collision and killing three innocent women—should not warrant the maximum penalty in any case. What were the mitigating factors that enabled the sentence to be three years instead of five?
I see that other hon. Members agree, and are equally baffled.
Hon. Members must understand that the system has to be seen to work effectively—not merely by Members of Parliament—if the public are to have confidence.
Several other cases in which court proceedings had a curious outcome come to mind. For the life of me, I cannot understand how a gentleman—if I can call him that—who was involved in separating a large number of people from an enormous sum of money could come away with a sentence of 180 hours of community service. That is inexplicable. There is no rational explanation for it—or if there is, I have never heard it.
I have heard suggestions about what might have gone wrong in the court. I have heard criticisms of the counsel's approach, and of the way in which the trial was conducted. I do not know the facts of the matter, but the case was of enormous interest to the public, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary must realise that a public explanation for the sentence should be given. Such an explanation should be given in the House. It should be possible for a report-back process to develop, whereby incredible miscarriages of justice, as perceived by the public, can at least be made comprehensible, even if not defensible.
There is a case that is still in the public's mind and for which a report back might be appropriate. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend remembers the case of Joseph Elliot. I had correspondence, on behalf of concerned constituents, with the Home Office at the time. My hon. Friend the Minister wrote me a letter in which he said that the Home Secretary had said that he intended to take a fresh look at the details of the case to see whether there were lessons to be learnt.
The jury accepted a plea of self-defence in circumstances that most people found extremely difficult to understand. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister, when winding up tonight, finds it possible to say what, if any, results the Home Secretary's review of the case has produced.
We must have not merely the best possible statutes drafted by the most competent parliamentary draftsmen, which are clear in every detail and impossible to misinterpret or to misunderstand. That is the ideal of legislation and is, of course, sometimes achieved. We must also ensure that the system works. I was especially glad to hear the Home Secretary emphasise that.
We should be concerned not only with the Bill, but with the application, the enforcement and the interpretation of its provisions. The matter concerns not just the Government and not just Parliament. The whole system must work and be seen to work. The Bill is a great step forward, and I hope that it will be seen, interpreted and taken up by the other parts of the system in a way that will make us all glad that we passed it.
The House listened to the Home Secretary reciting a long litany of defects in the criminal justice system. One would have thought that the criminal justice system was something that, with all its defects, had just been inherited from a previous Government, and that that was why it required such root-and-branch rectification.
The fact is that this criminal justice system has existed for almost 15 years under this Government, and has been the subject of repeated amendments through Criminal Justice Bills. I was involved in the debates on the previous Criminal Justice Bill, which a previous Home Secretary said would solve all the defects of which anyone could think.
The Government talk about dealing with the crime wave and, to use the Home Secretary's phraseology, about the fight against crime. Yet the wave of crime against which the Government say that they will wage a campaign has been escalating for almost 15 years—since the Government came to office. The Home Secretary told the House what he intended to do to deal with criminals in the 12-to-14 age bracket. Every one of those criminals was born and brought up under this Government, and every one is a child of the society that this Government have created.
The Home Secretary talked about what he would do with criminals aged between 15 and 17. Those criminals, some of whom commit serious crimes, have spent every sentient moment in the society created by this Government. They have been imbued with the values created by this Government; they are the creatures of this Government. Every criminal in his 20s—I say "his", not to be sexist but because most criminals are men—has spent his entire adulthood in a society created by a Government whose Prime Minister for many years said that there was no such thing as society. Crime is higher under this Government than it has ever been before.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) repeatedly asked the Home Secretary what the Bill would do to reduce crime. The answer is nothing. There is nothing in the Bill that will cause a single crime fewer to be committed after the Bill has been enacted than before it was introduced. The Bill certainly contains one or two useful provisions, such as the one, cited earlier, that deals with child pornography. It contains many damaging provisions, some of which my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield has listed. He has also explained why, rightly, we shall oppose them.
What the Bill mainly contains in its enormous length is futile provisions which will do nothing one way or the other, but which will impose burdens on the police, who are severely burdened already, and burdens on the courts and on juries when they are called on to deal with criminals —provided that those criminals are caught. The Bill was proclaimed by the Home Secretary in his speech at the Conservative party conference, and he praised it again today. Yet it is not about reducing crime; it is about what the Government will do with people who are accused of crime when they are arrested, charged, tried and, possibly, convicted.
The problem is, of course, that most criminals are not caught. Most offenders who have committed reported crimes—we know that a large proportion of crime is not even reported—are not caught. Almost three quarters of those responsible for crime that the police know about are never caught. Many crimes are not reported, because the victims see no point in reporting them.
The Royal Automobile Club has published, just in time for today's debate, figures about car crime. They show that car crime in Greater Manchester, part of which I represent, is No. 2 in the national table for car crimes. Yet we are only talking here about the 118 per 1,000 who report such crimes. Every member of the public knows that many people whose cars are broken into and who have the contents of those cars stolen never report those crimes. They do not think it worth while because they know that the police, despite their best endeavours, are extremely unlikely to apprehend the perpetrators. They do not report the crime even for insurance purposes: they will not claim on insurance, because that will affect their insurance benefits.
The national crime total is dreadful, but the rate for my constituency is far worse than the national rate. In the C division of Greater Manchester police, which broadly covers my constituency, the reported crime rate is 250 per cent. of what it was when the Government came to office. That increase is far higher than the increase in the country as a whole.
The clear-up rate in C division in 1980, when the Government had just come to office, was a creditable 45 per cent. Today, it is only 28 per cent. I do not criticise the police for that in any way. They do their very best in circumstances that, in large areas of crime, have gone beyond their control. Dealing with car crime, with burglary and with certain kinds of violent crime is beyond the best efforts of the police. They do not receive sufficient resources, and they have far too many burdens. The Bill will increase the burdens without increasing the resources.
Given the statistics for his constituency which my right hon. Friend has outlined, he will not be at all surprised to know that the figures in London are just as bad, if not worse. The clear-up rate in London is a mere 16 per cent. The Metropolitan police feel unable to deal with rising crime in London because of the lack of resources and the lack of commitment from the Government to help them to do so.
I recognise not only the problems of crime in London, but the grievances of the Metropolitan police about the way in which they are unable to give of their best, as they would like to do, in dealing with that situation.
The burdens on the police are not only more onerous, but more obvious. A dozen years ago, drug dealing was almost unknown in my constituency; now it goes on blatantly in the streets for all to see. There is a public house in the Longsight area of my constituency to which, at a Sunday lunchtime, parents would bring their babies, sit in the garden and have a drink. Today, overt drug dealing takes place outside that pub, in such a way that respectable citizens will not patronise it any more. That is the kind of thing that is happening today.
Even the most innocent developments affect crime. On one estate in the Gorton area of my constituency, the council has introduced an experimental system—which it is seeking to introduce in other parts of my constituency —for the use of wheelie bins for domestic refuse. People are now unwilling to use them, however, because, if they wheel them out and then go off to work, the bins are on the pavement to tell burglars that houses are vacant and someone can break in.
Crime today is operating in a climate in which it is made to seem routine. Therefore, it is not surprising that more and more young people are succumbing to its temptations. In Greater Manchester, the rate of known crime committed by those aged between 10 and 16—the children of this Conservative Government's society—is 42 per cent. above the national average for boys and 49 per cent. above the national average for girls.
Those figures relate to Greater Manchester, but the figures for C division, which covers my constituency, are inevitably worse. That is not surprising, because, apart from the pestilential amusement arcades, which the Secretary of State for the Environment has forced the planning committee of my city to accept against its wish, there is too little available to occupy the time of young people in my constituency.
We have campaigned for youth facilities on the Anson estate, on which my constituents claim there is too much crime, but the Government offer no assistance. The Victoria swimming baths have closed down, but, despite an excellent campaign by local residents on behalf of themselves and their children, the Government do nothing to help. The Abbey Hey amateur football club, which is run in an area of great deprivation and unemployment, needs new changing rooms, but the Government do nothing. The Trinity Baptist church tries to provide facilities for youth in an area of high unemployment, but the Government do nothing to help.
It is no good the Government saying that Manchester city council should provide the necessary funds, because the Government have made it impossible for that council to do so. They have cut their grant to the council, and they have stopped it raising money not only by borrowing, but through local taxes, which are too high in any case.
The Government have slaughtered the urban aid programme, which could help some of the projects I have mentioned. They have killed off section 11 funding in a multi-ethnic area, where we have case after case after case of racial harassment. Although the Secretary of State has introduced a Bill that contains all kinds of trivial minutiae, he says that he cannot find space in it to create an offence of racial harassment, which many of my constituents ardently demand.
The right hon. Gentleman has, possibly inadvertently, entirely misrepresented what I said about racial offences. I said not that there was no room in the Bill for any matter of that kind, but that I had not yet seen any measure put forward which I thought would reinforce the effectiveness of our present laws. The real problem we face with our present laws relating to racial harassment is not that those laws are inadequate but that it is extremely difficult to apprehend and convict those responsible for offences which I deplore as much as the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else.
The problem with that intervention is that, several years ago, when the present Foreign Secretary was Home Secretary, I tabled an amendment to the then Criminal Justice Bill to create an offence of racial harassment. That right hon. Gentleman opposed it, not because it would not work but because it was only declaratory and was therefore not worth introducing.
In the several years since that Bill went through the House, the Home Secretary and his predecessors have had the opportunity to think about this matter. They have not done so, because if they had, it would be contained in the Bill together with so many trivia, let alone the damaging elements which are contained in it.
Next week, we shall welcome the Secretary of State for National Heritage to my constituency, to open new facilities at the Bangladesh community centre. He will hear a positive story about self-help by that community, but what he may not hear, because my Bangladeshi constituents, in common with all my constituents, are extremely courteous, is that we are having to send out begging letters to continue the funding of that centre. I have sent one out myself, just as I now spend a great deal of my time sending begging letters for many worthwhile causes in a constituency of acute deprivation and poverty, which is afflicted with a high crime rate.
That poverty is demonstrated by the fact that Manchester, taking the index of poverty as the receipt of housing benefit, is the most poverty-stricken city in the country, with 52 per cent. of households receiving housing benefit. Last year, during the Olympic bid, the Prime Minister spent a great deal of time proclaiming to the world that Manchester was ahead in so many worthy aspects of activity—as indeed it is. He did not say that Manchester was a national leader in poverty, yet one of the reasons for that is the reign of office of the Government. The poor are the Government's target. The man on £30 income support goes hungry and is pursued, as has happened in my constituency, for alleged misuse of giros, while Mr Roger Levitt gets community service for swindling the country and the people of millions.
It is not only the physical infrastructure of my constituency which is being undermined. My constituency is No. 32 out of 634 in terms of high unemployment, with a rate of 18·2 per cent. compared with the national average of 9·7 per cent. The unemployment rate for males is 25·4 per cent., compared with the national average of 12·8 per cent.
In my constituency, 37 per cent. of those unemployed are aged under 25–31 per cent. above the national average. Being unemployed does not mean that someone is a criminal. The overwhelming majority of the unemployed would never dream of committing a crime, but unemployment creates a society in which crime is more acceptable. The unemployment rate in my constituency is double the national average, and the Government are responsible, but instead of helping, they have inflicted damage on my constituency every day of the year.
I will not give way, because I am about to finish, and other hon. Members should have the right to make speeches.
What we have before us is a ponderous piece of legislation, accompanied by slick slogans. Neither the legislation nor the slogans will help my constituency. The only hope for my constituency is the kind of approach to values that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield outlined in his speech—a new dedication to an orderly and caring society. We will not get that from this Government or this Bill. We shall have to wait for a new Government.
The concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about rising crime would be more convincing if he had not voted against every measure of crime prevention that the Government have introduced from the series of Criminal Justice Acts to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Public Order Act 1986 down to the prevention of terrorism Acts. Some people may listen to what he had to say, but if one starts off on the assumption that he is saying something good while consistently voting against practical measures which have been shown to be successful, I am afraid that that is not impressive stuff.
Every law-abiding adult in Britain is concerned about the level of crime. He wants and expects the Government to do something about it and we are doing just that in the Bill, which should be welcomed by everyone. The Labour party is going to abstain. It is all over the place on the subject. It opposes for opposition's sake. If the Opposition want to give the nation the impression that they are not serious about law and order, it is their business but it will not do them much good when they stand at the next general election.
The argument of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) that, after 14 years, the need for such legislation shows what a failure the Government have been is arrant nonsense to anyone who thinks about it for a moment. Apart from the trendy liberalisation in the 1960s, which I agree ought to have been reversed sooner, we have spent more taxpayers' money on crime prevention, policing, the courts, lawyers and prisons than would have been possible under Labour and we have given the police more powers and better equipment, training and leaders. All those measures have undoubtedly reduced crime from the level that it would have reached if those measures had not been taken. [Interruption.] A moment's common sense and examination of all the statistics will prove that.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield thinks that he is clever to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for a commitment that the new measures that we propose will reduce crime. Of course, that is what the measures are likely to do. If we stop some of the 50,000 people on bail from going free to commit more offences, it will reduce crime. It is clear that the stop-and-search measures that the City of London police have introduced has reduced crime, because statistics show a reduction of 18 per cent. over the past year alone.
If the world crime wave continues to grow, we may achieve a cut in the growth of crime, but not a cut in the present figure. We shall simply have to wait and see. A sensible Opposition would realise that there can be no guarantee of bringing the figure down but that action would still be required to do what was likely to reduce crime. In a worldwide crime wave, the measures that we have proposed—[Laughter.] It is no use guffawing. The fact is that Britain is still one of the safest countries in the western world in which to walk the streets. Unlikely countries such as Australia, Norway and France have a much higher record of crimes of violence and murder than we have in Britain and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) ought to recognise that.
It is also true—
If the hon. Gentleman would forgive me, I shall try to get my speech over as quickly as possible.
As was conceded by the hon. Gentleman, it is true that the apparent increase in crime is due to the increased reporting of crime. That is the consequence of more telephones, neighbourhood watch schemes, more police officers, more detection devices and more consumer-friendly police and courts which encourage more women to come forward with complaints about offences. That is a substantial improvement for which the Government receive sparse thanks from the Opposition.
But the system is not perfect and it needs constant improvement. The Government have rightly targeted areas where legislation may be expected to improve matters. For example, there are too many persistent, hard core, juvenile offenders who go on and on offending and whom the courts are powerless to stop with existing legislation. In Birmingham, a 13-year-old appeared in court four months ago charged with no fewer than 225 offences of burglary and car crime. A senior Birmingham police officer said that if he could lock up six such offenders, he could reduce crime in the city centre of Birmingham by 18 per cent. and reduce car crime by between 30 and 40 per cent. We are giving the courts the power to do just that.
It is no use saying that giving the same money to local authorities would have the same effect. We have seen in the past few weeks what local authorities do if given money. Too often, they spend it on rewarding juvenile offenders with extravagant holidays overseas. That certainly does nothing to reduce the incidence of crime. In the two years that may be served under the secure training orders on which the Government are legislating, young offenders will be removed from bad influences of family and peer groups and from temptations. They will be educated, trained and disciplined so that they can be reprogrammed away from a life of crime. That seems to be a sensible aim, which looks likely to succeed because it is wrong that we are unable to do that at present. The Opposition cannot make up their mind about it.
In the past year, 50,000 people who were arrested committed offences while on bail. We can stop some of that happening by giving the courts power to refuse bail in more circumstances. We have taken two new steps to reduce bail offences and now we have proposed another five steps. Cannot the Opposition make up their minds on that, either?
There has been a growth of computer pornography, which corrupts children and demeans women, and we are giving the police more powers to deal with it.
Terrorists sometimes slip through the net because of inadequate police powers to stop them. We are strengthening the state's defences by creating two more offences, which already exist in Northern Ireland and are thought to be useful, and we are extending police power to stop and search, as the City of London police have proved is useful. Is the Opposition neutral on that one, too?
People in rural communities are fed up with mass trespassing by ravers, new-age travellers, squatters and hunt saboteurs, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) so eloquently said, so the Government are doing something about that in part V of the Bill, which is widely welcomed—but not by the Opposition.
I recognise the hon. and learned Gentleman's senior position as Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, but does not he see that there is some inconsistency in the Bill if protesting against fox hunting on private land is to be made a matter of criminal activity? Why should not it be the case that those hunt protesters have to be told by the owners of the private land that they should not trespass on that land and that if they still do that it will be a civil rather than a criminal offence?
The intention to disrupt must be there, which the hon. Gentleman will see is written into the Bill. That takes the offence out of the civil area into the criminal area, where most people think that it ought to be.
It is all very well to introduce laws that cover every likely offence, to give the courts better authority to deal with crimes and to remove persistent offenders from circulation, but there is also something wrong with a legal system that fails to convict those who have been caught. It would be for other debates to consider what can be the reason for releasing so many offenders with a mere warning or caution that they must not do it again and for failing to prosecute 250,000 offenders a year against whom the police consider they have adequate evidence to proceed. For the moment, the Government are addressing the question of how we can ensure that more people who are guilty of crime are convicted of crime. The greater the likelihood of offenders being convicted and punished, the more that potential offenders are likely to be deterred from committing crimes. Weak responses encourage crime. Tough responses tend to deter it.
It is truly astonishing that 60 per cent. of all those who plead not guilty in Crown courts and magistrates courts are acquitted. Are so many innocent people being arrested, charged and brought to trial? With 30 years of experience in the criminal courts, I do not think that is what is happening. The Government propose to do something positive about convicting more of the guilty, and that is welcomed by everyone except the Labour party.
DNA samples provide almost incontrovertible evidence, if samples can be taken. The Government are extending the right to take samples in some cases and those who are caught will have substantial evidence against them. That includes many rapists. Those who are innocent will be proved to be so by that sensible measure, which I again understand that the Opposition oppose.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that if, as he says, there is a need for people to be encouraged to go to the courts to give evidence and for people to be able to give evidence freely in cases, children ought to be given greater protection? The report by Judge Picot recommended that greater protection be given to children. Some progress was made in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, but it is certainly not working.
Children are still shouted at in courts and frightened. They have to meet their accusers. Their addresses are given to the people whom they accuse in court. That is not the way for children to give evidence in court. The Bill ought to include something about that. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that children need further protection in court?
I agree that children need protection. The Government have introduced proposals which give children that greater protection. If it is not available in every case, that may well be the fault of the judge who is presiding, not the fault of the Government. There is a problem with witnesses in cases involving children. If people are not given a fair trial, they may be convicted even though they are innocent. That is why such matters cannot be dealt with in the black and white manner that the hon. Lady suggests. However, I agree that we must constantly look to make sure that children are properly treated in our courts and adequately protected when they make complaints.
The next matter on which I wish to speak is the right to silence. Now that we have tape-recorded interviews to protect the innocent against miscarriages of justice—particularly those which stemmed from false confessions alleged in the past by the police—the time has come to remove the absurdity of the right to silence, which we retained only because there was no other way of guaranteeing the truth of the confession.
I was pleased and a little surprised to hear the hon. Member for Sedgefield say that he would support the amendment of the right to silence in cases in which the accused refused to give evidence in court. However, the absurdity that someone caught almost red-handed or with marks or substances on him which require some explanation has nothing to say and, at the express direction of the judge, is protected from any adverse conclusion that may be drawn from his silence ought to be removed precisely because it is so absurd. Jeremy Bentham, the 19th century civil libertarian par excellence, thought so. The police think so. Most judges think so. The House should think so if it is serious about stopping the acquittal of the guilty.
After all, there is no great deal about making an adverse comment about a defendant's silence. If there is a legitimate reason for that silence, the defendant can explain it when he gives evidence. The defence counsel can explain it. The judge will have to remind the jury of that explanation when he sums up. The jury may well accept that explanation.
I cannot give way any more. I have given way enough. Please forgive me.
Opposition to abolition of the right to silence is out of date. Its passing should not be mourned any more than it has been in Northern Ireland. In answer to a point made by the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien), I would say that of course there may well have to be a change in the ethical rules which bind solicitors. Solicitors should no longer be able to give blanket "make no comment" advice. It would be wrong and misleading to say that to a client in the new circumstances envisaged by the Bill. It would be iniquitous if a solicitor stopped an innocent client from giving an explanation in the first instance that would exonerate him.
In deference to others who wish to speak, I shall not refer to the several other sensible proposals in the Bill. The Bill is not the only piece of legislation that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary intends to introduce to reduce crime. There is now a Bill in the House of Lords aimed at improving the efficiency of the police and the courts. Other Bills will be forthcoming. The Government have been criticised for not including provision for the independent review tribunal in the Bill. However, the longer that we have to think it through in detail, the less likely it is to go wrong. Opposition Members might accept that there is a commitment to introduce it and that we shall perfect it. Other action which does not require legislation on cautioning, victims and other matters has been and will be taken.
It may be that the Bill can be improved in Committee. Several measures will be candidates for inclusion. For example, I believe that the Bill would benefit from the reintroduction of capital punishment. I believe that innocent lives would be saved by that measure. I also believe that action should be taken against television violence, which corrupts our young people. It may well be that some action should be taken against racial attacks and harassment. I hope that before my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary makes a final decision against any such action he will consider the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which is even now considering the matter and may have some positive proposals that will satisfy him.
I do not believe that the Bill would benefit from a reduction in the age of consent for homosexuals. That would encourage the incidence of homosexuality by allowing the proselytism of the young by older homosexuals. I shall not support a reduction if it is suggested in an amendment.
In so far as the Bill goes, there seems to be no earthly reason why it should not be given a Second Reading or why the Opposition should abstain on it. They only make themselves foolish by doing so. I cannot really complain about that. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on taking this firm step against lawlessness and crime so soon after he has taken office. He will have the support of not only Conservative Members but most of Britain.
The Bill is lengthy and not all of it is uncontroversial. Some of its provisions are sensible and should command the support of the whole House. But, in other respects, it constitutes a seriously retrogressive break with recent reforming penal legislation. Although the Bill is large, I believe that, reviewed in the round, it has missed the mark.
Although the Bill tackles serious problems, they involve small numbers of offenders. It tackles the problem of hard-core juvenile offenders who number perhaps several hundred, of rave parties and of murderers who reoffend, of whom there was only one last year. All those matters are writ large in the Bill. Yet some of the most major and pressing problems such as the thousands of other juvenile offenders who roam our streets committing crime for kicks, the men who burgle hundreds of homes while on bail and the drug pushers will remain largely untouched and uncontrolled.
There are two tests by which the legislation will be judged, although the Home Secretary was loth to admit it. They are its effect in reducing the level of crime and its effect on public confidence in the criminal justice system. The need to restore public confidence was the reason for setting up the royal commission. Our system of criminal justice cannot function effectively until that confidence is restored. The loss of faith in institutions lies at the heart of our general anxiety about the levels of crime that we now suffer.
We face a great problem of increasing crime and disorder and yet declining faith in the ability of the state to combat it and provide our future security. Public confidence in the system of criminal justice has been eroded by past miscarriages of justice and spectacular reversals of convictions based on false confessions and unsound evidence. It has been brought further into disrepute by the seeming impotence of the system in the face of rising crime. An ever smaller proportion of crimes are cleared up by the police. An ever larger number of cases are dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service before they reach the doors of the court. In 1992–93, 193,774 Crown cases were discontinued.
Judges, Home Secretaries and the police have been moved to argue in public over aspects of penal and sentencing policy. Most recently, Lord Woolf attacked the present Home Secretary's attitude to prisons. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, has called the backlog in our courts a national disgrace. Some spokesmen for the police have called for the resignation of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills. It is clear that the different parts of the criminal justice system are not at ease with each other. That is the Home Secretary's problem. It is his responsibility to listen to the concerns and to act to strengthen the system.
The core concern of the royal commission was the prevention of miscarriages of justice. Therefore, it is surprising that the Bill has altogether avoided the issue. I would not have expected the Government to adopt the proposals of the commission without further thought, particularly on matters on which the commission was undecided. However, I expected the Bill to provide new procedures for reviewing serious miscarriages of justice. I am glad that the Bill reflects the conclusion of the royal commission on corroboration of confessions and in particular the need for strong judicial warnings that great care is needed before convicting on the basis of confessional evidence alone.
People sometimes confess to crimes that they did not commit. Often they do so of their own volition to protect others or to achieve notoriety. But others do so against their better judgment because they are too weak in the face of questioning or because they seek an escape from the interview room. Others, unfortunately, have had their confessions written for them.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides comprehensive but not infallible safeguards against false confessions. We need a new body to scrutinise claims by convicted men and women who are innocent of crimes. My party recognises that fact and gave evidence to that effect to the royal commission, and I hope that that will happen quickly.
The better management of trials is also required, but, disappointingly, the Bill fails to make the requisite procedural change—the disclosure of the prosecution case in full to the defence—which can so often result in a guilty plea.
There are many omissions from the Bill and a stack of proposals from the Law Commission is awaiting enactment. I draw attention in particular to its most recent report calling for the reform of the law on personal violence, on which the Bill is largely silent. Perhaps the Government will repair some of those omissions later in the Bill's proceedings.
In its practical effects in reducing crime, there could be some modest gains. The Bill criminalises holding and distributing computer child pornography, a measure that has been made necessary by advances in technology that have outpaced the law. But why does the Home Secretary stop at child pornography? A whole industry is sprouting up, publishing on computer material that would be illegal if it were on paper or video tape. Anyone with a computer and telephone can receive it in their home and the law cannot touch them or those who peddle it.
The proposed creation of a DNA database, a recommendation of the royal commission, could provide a significant new resource for police detectives. It is fingerprinting for the 21st century at a time when one third of all men has a criminal record by the age of 35 and one in four by the age of 21. I am concerned about over-reliance on such evidence, given the large margin for error which forensic scientists have identified in profiling DNA samples. Nevertheless, it is an important step forward.
The changes to the bail system to prevent persons who have offended while on bail from being bailed again and to allow for the reconsideration of bail if new information comes to light will help to reign in some of the bail bandits, so long as they are caught. Bail is a privilege that is too often abused. In one week last November, of 537 suspects arrested as part of Operation Bumblebee in London, 40 per cent. were currently on bail. Some of them had been bailed for other offences 10 or 15 times already in the year.
Improvements in the system of granting bail have been made through bail information schemes, which seem to hold out the best chance of a more rational system in the future. But the Bill will restrict bail automatically only for those accused of serious crimes of violence who have a record for the same offence. They are the least likely to offend while on bail. Those most likely to do so have a recent history of burglary and car theft, and the Bill will not prevent their crimes.
The two most controversial parts of the Bill are the centrepiece proposals on the treatment of younger juvenile offenders and the abolition of the so-called right to silence. I oppose both those sections absolutely. I see no benefit to be gained in either and the danger of much damage arising from both.
The Home Secretary has presented the secure training unit as a tough answer to a tough problem. It will cost the nation some £30 million a year to bring to heel an estimated 200 or so 12, 13 and 14-year-olds. That is £150,000 each per annum—more than it costs to live in the Savoy. Never have a Government cowered so abjectly or lavished such wealth in the face of so few children, while the Bill passes over the juvenile offenders who cause most damage.
This new penal edifice will be no more successful than its predecessors—the borstal and approved school. It may be intended to convince the nation that something is being done—ministerial visits, photocalls and contract signings. I doubt that that will persuade many members of the public. We must be aware that those who, at a young age, are already behaving in that manner are not only young people with a criminal record but children in need of behavioural correction. The public need protection from them not only for the period when the juveniles are held in custody but in the future. Recidivism is the measure of the success of any corrective regime to which offenders are sentenced. That was the failure of the approved schools and it will be the failure of the secure training centres. Such treatment can be provided for the handful of juveniles who will fall into the category defined by the Bill without the creation of a whole new penal edifice.
We already have facilities for treating persistent juvenile offenders and straightforward changes to the law would enable those under 15 to be dealt with by existing institutions and some measures that are being sought by local authorities, to which reference has already been made. Secure units at local authority care homes have a relatively high success rate in preventing reoffending among their charges. Admittedly, with 60 per cent. not reconvicted within two years of their release, it is far from perfect, but it compares to a reconviction rate of 53 per cent. among former inmates of young offender institutions. The existing system needs to be underpinned, not undermined.
May I call in aid the words of the then Home Office Minister in 1991, now the Secretary of State for Education, who said:
I think that there is considerable agreement between the political parties that one of the best forms of crime prevention is, if possible, to stop young people going into detention in the first place".—[Official Report, 29 January 1991; Vol. 184, c. 920.]
It could be argued that the Secretary of State for Education is in a better position to tackle juvenile crime than the Home Secretary appears to be.
If juvenile crime is to be tackled, we must start at the cradle, not at the third conviction as the Bill proposes. It falls to us all—parents, teachers, youth leaders and everyone who comes into contact with the young—to help young people to face up to the responsibilities that they must shoulder as members of society. But the Bill provides no new initiative to strike at even the immediate causes of juvenile offending.
Drugs and alcohol abuse are among the biggest contributors to crime. A report by the British Psychological Society in 1990 found that the average age at which known young offenders start drinking regularly is 14. They drank up to seven pints of beer a night. The more that they drank, the more they used drugs. Typically, they started by sniffing glue at 13, smoking cannabis at 14, and taking cocaine and LSD by 16. It found that 42 per cent. of those convicted of robbery and 23 per cent. of those convicted of car theft were drunk or on drugs when they committed the crimes.
Where is the war on drugs? Where is the programme of research into patterns of drug use and their relationship to crime? Where are the reviews of policy on the treatment of heroin addicts? Where is the programme on drugs education? Nothing in the Bill even strengthens the powers of the police and licensees to prevent the sale of alcohol to young people. I see no sign that the Government are prepared to give as high a priority to tackling drugs and alcohol abuse as they are to cracking down on ticket touts and building prison ships.
My other bone of contention with the Bill is the abolition of the right to silence, which is better termed "the freedom from self incrimination". Some countries protect that right under their constitution. In an earlier incarnation in 1986, speaking in a debate on the Financial Services Act, the Home Secretary described the right to silence as the fundamental principle of the criminal law. It still is, but he made a bombastic pronouncement at the Conservative party conference last year about that ancient principle, which he called "a charade". However, it enshrines the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt.
The principle can be abused but jurors are usually aware of that and it is the best mechanism that we have for putting the onus of proof on the prosecution. If we abolish that requirement, we risk the greatest charade of guilt by innuendo. A criminal conviction relies on positive proof of guilt, not on a lack of proof of innocence. That requires positive facts, such as would be provided by DNA profiling or the evidence of witnesses. An inference drawn from silence is not a fact but an opinion. Mere opinion should have little weight in deciding guilt or innocence.
The slogan that has been used to justify that provision of the Bill is
the innocent have nothing to hide.
Although that is true, the innocent might have nothing to say to prove their innocence. A man suspected of a crime might have no witness to confirm that he was at home alone when the offence of which he is suspected was committed. Are we to expect him to prove the unprovable? Or are we to continue to leave it to the prosecution to prove that he was not at home but out thieving?
The Bill also contains a number of curious innovations intended to deal with hunt saboteurs and rave parties. Conservative Home Secretaries are generally drawn from the school of thought that holds that most social evils can be purged by creating a new offence. The Bill is a testament to that grand tradition, which visited upon us the legislation on joyriders and on dangerous dogs, neither of which has rid society of those menaces. I shall not oppose a new offence of aggravated trespass but that new offence would not stop hunt saboteurs, whose real concern is with the hunter and not his land. The blood sport issue will go away only if the House chooses to resolve it directly. Until then, the conflict will continue.
A substantial part of the Bill is also taken up with the extension of the prison and courts escort privatisation programme. That saw the light of day in the 1991 Act, even before the Woolf report into the disturbances at Strangeways had been published. I doubt that anyone was surprised that in the 600 or so pages of that report the word "privatisation" did not appear. The main problem facing the country is that privatisation has denied us accountability and openness. We are not even allowed to know the salary of the chaplain at the Wolds prison. The record of Group 4's management speaks for itself.
Prison does not work: for too many it is a temporary halt, an occupational hazard in a career of crime. For others it is the start. Our prisons are not equipped to do the job of correcting offenders, and the support provided for released offenders is nowhere near adequate. The Home Secretary's belief in prisons in inappropriate, and it is not shared by his predecessors or by Lady Thatcher who, when she was Prime Minister, said that the Criminal Justice Bill was designed to ensure that the severity of the sentence matched the seriousness of the crime and the need to protect the public. I entirely agree with that, and it has been the policy of my party since its foundation. In building upon the hasty and stupid abolition of unit fines, the Bill is extremely retrogressive.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and I waited for some constructive suggestions by the Liberal Democrat party on how to solve the problems that the Bill tries to tackle. Sadly, I listened in vain and was disappointed. As my speech will be limited to 10 minutes, I shall not comment on the speeches of other hon. Members.
I welcome the Bill and wish to speak mainly about juvenile offenders, but at the outset I shall comment on one or two other matters, the first of which is public order. The British Horseracing Board and the Jockey Club warmly welcome the proposals in clauses 52 to 55 which, they believe, will help the police and the racing industry to deal with the sort of incident that occurred at the Grand National in April last year. The fact that those proposals will also deal with the wilful disruption of other sporting activities should not detract in any way from the importance of that.
During the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), there was an intervention about trespass. The Bill makes it plain that disruption must be intentional and not accidental. It would be rather strange for those who wish to argue in favour of people who want to walk in the countryside or ramble or make a peaceful protest to say that it should be the other way round. If trespass and disruption were accidental, a person walking a dog which strayed into a field and chased ewes that were about to lamb could be committing a crime. The Bill has got the matter just right, and I hope that there will be no substantial change on that in Committee.
I should now like to deal with the stop-and-search powers relating to terrorism. There was a moment of great poignancy during my time on the Select Committee on Home Affairs when during an evidence session we asked the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Peter Imbert, whether he felt that he had sufficient powers to deal with terrorism. A note arrived to say that two more bombs had gone off in Oxford street. Sir Peter said, tellingly, that if over the next week or so he set up a number of stop-and-search barriers around the west end of London, people would fully understand why that was being done but that two or three months later public sympathy would begin to wear thin. For a long time there has been a need to clarify police powers to stop and search vehicles in relation to potential terrorist activity. In that context the measures in the Bill are important and welcome.
The third issue with which I should like to deal is ticket touting. I have campaigned for a long time to make the sale of tickets outside football grounds an offence. Lord Justice Taylor, now the Lord Chief Justice, recommended that in his report on the Hillsborough tragedy, and it is essential to do it because of the problems that arise from all our soccer grounds becoming all-seater stadiums. Without such a measure it would become ever more difficult for football clubs to operate crowd segregation which, sadly, remains an important element of reducing or eliminating disorderly and violent conduct in soccer grounds.
The criminal justice reforms are the centrepiece of the Bill, and I have no great difficulty in accepting them. The decision to extend DNA and to treat it, in effect, in the same way as fingerprinting is welcome and is roughly in line with what previous Home Affairs Select Committee reports recommended in the previous Parliament.
The measures to deal with people who commit offences while on bail are important. People will ask whether the measures will reduce crime, and the proposed changes to deal with offending while on bail are the clearest example of how crime can be reduced. Whether they will reduce the overall growth of crime in recent years makes it difficult for Ministers to say categorically that crime figures will go down. However, if the number of offences committed by people who have already been charged with an offence is reduced, the overall level of crime will be lower.
I have no difficulty in accepting the proposals on the right to silence. My view, which I think is shared by most people, was adequately outlined in today's editorial in The Daily Telegraph, which states:
It is not intended that defendants should be forced to answer.
That is the case. The editorial goes on:
But when they refuse to help the police when interrogated or to give evidence in their own defence, a counsel or judge would be allowed to draw the jury's attention to that fact. It is difficult to see how this might increase the chances of the innocent being convicted. Juries are already at liberty to notice an accused's silence and to attach whatever weight to it they like.
If I am disappointed in any way by the Bill, it is that it does not go far enough in implementing some of the royal commission's recommendations. I remain concerned, as do the police, about the number of trials that have collapsed because of the defence requirement for prosecution disclosure, the so-called fishing expeditions. More needs to be done to deal with that, and it lies behind some of the statistics that have been bandied about in the debate as to why so many trials have collapsed.
The Select Committee on Home Affairs has not yet completed its inquiry into computer pornography, but it is clear to us that there is a gap in the law. The Bill's provisions seem to conform to what the police have recommended to strengthen the law.
My substantive comments are on juvenile offending. Last year the Select Committee on Home Affairs published an in-depth report on the issue after looking at the problem from every possible angle. Nothing in the Bill conflicts with what we said in our report. I stand by everything in our report, and nothing in the Government's proposals is at odds with it. On the contrary, the strengthening of custodial sentences available to the courts for teenage offenders was one of our central recommendations, and will be welcomed by the courts and the country.
Secure training orders can be made to work, but it would be wrong and foolish for anyone to claim that they are a panacea for the problem of juvenile delinquency. The problem has plagued generations over many centuries, but only a blind fool would not accept that there is a clear gap in the current provisions for dealing with the hard core of persistent juvenile offenders at whom most of our inquiries to try to find a solution are directed.
During our inquiries we visited Northern Ireland where institutions similar to those that the Government have in mind already exist. The training school at Lisnevin has provision for about 40 youngsters. It provides security, not just for the public against whom youngsters might offend, but gives those youngsters the security of a stable environment that many of them have lacked.
I believe that we can get it right. There is a clear place for challenging activity for youngsters, but it must be set in the right context. Equally, there is a need to avoid turning the secure training units into oppressive borstals or approved schools. What some of those youngsters need is love, care and concern, and that is what has to be provided.
My time is up, so I shall finish by saying that to me it is a tragedy that the issue has become so partisan, with arguments about whether the idea is good or bad. The best people to make the young offenders secure training units work are those in voluntary sector organisations such as the Children's Society and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. There is still time and opportunity for the Government and those organisations to reach a consensus on how we should deal with those youngsters in the framework of the new secure units.
I intend to deal mainly with clauses 102, 103 and 104, which take away the rights of the Prison Officers Association to take industrial action and give the Home Secretary the power to dictate pay, terms and conditions. Before I do that, I shall deal with the main thrust of the Bill, which, like many Opposition Members, I believe to be misguided. Bill spends little time on measures for crime prevention, because those would cost money. It also does little about crime detection, because spending more money and strengthening the police force are not within the remit of the Home Secretary—at least, not in connection with the Bill.
The Bill will send more people to prison, which will result in more of the overcrowding and riots that we have seen over the past three years. What the people want to see is more crime prevention and detection. Only after that will they turn to the consequences of sentencing. However, the Bill is less to do with the prevention or detection of crime than with the political future of the Home Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is more concerned about where he will go next than about whether the measures in the Bill are effective. He hopes that he will be able to deceive many people in the short term and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) suggested, by the time it is seen that the measures are not working in the long term, he will have departed from the Home Office and taken up some other post.
What will be the consequences of what the Home Secretary is doing—the consequences of the overcrowding and the insanitary conditions? All those trends lead towards riots. Yet the Prison Officers Association has been singled out. In order to prevent it from protesting against the overmanning and overcrowding that will occur, the Government are taking away its rights. All this time the POA has been pleading for better conditions and facilities for prisoners and saying that they should be treated as human beings. It has been pleading for a penal system fit for the 1990s rather than for the 1890s.
I speak as a Member in whose constituency there has been a prison riot—in Risley remand centre. Despite the fact that the local POA and I had said that conditions there would lead sooner or later to increased tension and to a riot, and despite the fact that there had been numerous suicides in the establishment, nothing was done. Yet once the riot had happened there was better provision and Risley was no longer the disastrous remand centre about which many of us had warned.
Despite the improvement in conditions at Risley, the lesson was not learnt elsewhere. To the east of my constituency, in Manchester, there were the Strangeways riots, which occurred precisely because of overcrowding, despite the proposals of Lord Justice Woolf in his report following the riots, who had drawn attention to the difficulties that it caused. He had said what ought to be done and had praised the prison officers for attempting to make intolerable conditions tolerable.
Even then the lessons were not learnt, and this year, to the north of my constituency at Wymott, near Preston, there were similar riots, and much damage was done, because no notice was taken of Judge Tumim's report which said that tension was being caused at the prison and conditions were getting worse, so the situation was becoming confrontational. That message did not get home, despite the warnings given by Her Majesty's inspectorate. Despite all that, there was another, albeit smaller, riot at Whitemoor on 21 December. Again, the POA had warned that alcohol abuse had occurred there and that restrictive measures would probably be needed to deal with the situation, yet nothing happened, and a disturbance turned into a minor riot. Only then were the views that the POA had expressed taken into account. Such events cost the taxpayer an awful lot of money.
We already have prison overcrowding. Local prisons are 122 per cent. overcrowded and the prison population is now increasing by 250 a week. The long-term building of new prisons will not solve the short-term problem of overcrowding. There is no safety valve. We are trying to screw the situation down, but it will probably all go up in the air. If that happens, it will cost an awful lot of money.
Over the past five years in the prison service of the United Kingdom, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, there have been more than 100 riots and concerted acts of indiscipline, which have cost £1 billion. There have been 200 suicides, 12,000 drug incidents and 67 hostage incidents. There have been 1,000 escapees, many of whom are still at large. Yet this is the time when the Home Secretary chooses to take away the prison officers' right to take industrial action. The POA has not been noted for taking industrial action on salaries; it has taken industrial action to draw attention to understaffing and overcrowding. Yet that right is being taken away by a reactionary anti-union Government. Furthermore, the Home Secretary is taking away many of the rights of the POA to free collective bargaining. As clause 104 says, he will determine pay and conditions. Surely that should be the right of any free trade union.
In case Conservative Members say, "Oh, but this is all about the Prison Officers Association", I remind them that, according to the registrar of trade unions, the Prison Governors Association, which could not be termed militant and has not taken action, is also to be covered.
Yes. I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn my attention to that fact. The restrictions on industrial action and the Home Secretary's taking it upon himself to dictate pay and conditions will not apply to private sector prisons. That is not only absurd but unfair.
Since 1980 we have had a succession of anti-trade union Governments who have usually introduced such measures in employment legislation. Now those measures are to be introduced under criminal justice legislation. I say to other workers in the public sector that what is happening to the prison officers today could happen tommorow to civil servants, fire fighters, ambulance and health service workers and teachers. If the Government are allowed to get away with placing shackles on the Prison Officers Association on the 10th anniversary of their removal of the rights of trade unionists at GCHQ, it will augur ill for trade unionists in the public sector everywhere.
I am glad to give my support to the Bill, which will improve many aspects of our criminal justice system and is to be welcomed. However, there is a glaring omission, which I—and various other hon. Members—hope to remedy by tabling an amendment with sponsors from all sides of the House. I hope that, if such an amendment were accepted for debate, we could have a full-day debate with a free vote at the end of it. I refer to something that is clearly a matter not for party dogma but for the individual consciences of hon. Members—the issue of the age of consent for homosexual acts.
In a free society in which individual liberty and freedom of action and thought count for a great deal, the burden of proof and argument is not on those of us who seek equality before the law. The onus is on those who would argue in favour of discrimination to explain how that is in the public interest and how it is in the interests of any of our fellow citizens that the law should intervene to make their activities illegal.
According to the Library, the House has changed the age below which sex with a girl is unlawful only three times in its history. That age was 12 in 1275; it was raised to 13 in 1875 and to 16 in 1885. It has not changed since. The age of consent for homosexual women has, of course, long been 16.
The Sexual Offences Act 1967 made homosexuality legal in England and Wales. Scotland did not follow until 1980, and homosexuality was still banned in Ulster until 1982. That is why we shall seek to cover as much of the United Kingdom as we can in our amendment and, if necessary, ask the Government later to amend other legislation to reflect the will of the House.
The House has not voted since 1967 on the gap that still exists between the heterosexual and homosexual ages of consent. Here is an outmoded law, which touches, at the most conservative estimate, 1 million of our fellow citizens who are gay. Such men pay their taxes and hold down jobs. Their ranks have included distinguished actors, composers, writers and artists—men whom we have been proud to call British—soldiers and politicians. They serve as senior civil servants and police officers. They run banks and businesses at the highest level. Yet in relation to this one topic, their personal judgment is regarded as irrelevant and dangerous and the state decides whom they can and cannot love. Surely that is and always has been absolute nonsense.
Most countries have an equal age of consent, often lower than ours. The United Kingdom age of consent for gay men is the highest among the 28 Council of Europe countries. In Austria and Italy, it is 14. Holland, Greece, France, Poland and Sweden prefer 15, and Norway, Belgium, Portugal and Switzerland 16. The German Government have announced that they will introduce equal age legislation and the Irish Government did so successfully last spring, choosing 17. In none of those sober, intelligent countries did the dire consequences predicted for Britain result. In 1967, when Britain changed its law, it led the rest of the world. Now we are well behind, and that should give us pause for thought.
Some hon. Members hold strong moral views. I do not expect those with religious objections to like or approve of the amendment that we hope to put forward. But, although they—or any of us—may have deep reservations about all sorts of personal behaviour in others, that does not mean that we should try to ban such behaviour by law and thus make the individuals concerned common criminals. It is open to the Churches or anyone else to seek change through persuasion, but I do not believe that any of us has the right to use the courts, the police, the judges and the prisons to harass those who wish to indulge in sexual practices that we do not like. The House should take a common-sense stand on this.
As Oscar Wilde observed a century ago, coercion does not work. We cannot make men moral by law. They will not take any notice. If one asks young people today, one finds that they make their sexual choices absolutely without reference to what the current law says. They think that their personal private behaviour is entirely their own business, and so do I.
There is, however, an important practical argument, which we expect to hear in due course in the debate on the amendment. We must be concerned to protect young men from unwanted approaches, from predatory older people, from being seduced and misled. As an older person, I feel very strongly about that. We are all in favour of such protection. I am in favour of protecting young women, too. Most of the youngsters tell me—whatever I may think of the rightness or wrongness of it—that they feel old enough at 16 to make up their own minds. That aspect of the matter —the general age of consent—was settled in Britain back in Victorian times and it is not on the agenda for change today.
It is perhaps helpful to read into the record comments contained in the Wolfenden report:
We have made it clear throughout our report that we recognise the need for protecting the young and immature. But this argument can be carried too far: there comes a time when a young man can properly be expected to 'stand on his own feet' in this as in other matters, and we find it hard to believe that he needs to be protected from would-be seducers more carefully than a girl does.
The law as it stands is not helpful to vulnerable young men, however. In fact, it works in exactly the opposite way. If a boy wished to make a complaint about an unwanted homosexual approach today, he would think twice about going to the police. He would immediately be the one who was questioned—the one who was the criminal. He might well face charges, public humiliation or even a prison sentence. He would not receive the consideration or anonymity that a woman would receive if she complained about an alleged rape. I do not feel that that can be right. The prospect of being treated as a criminal himself would be a huge deterrent to a boy seeking to make such a complaint—indeed, it would render it almost impossible for him to do so. The law as it stands is not a shield for the young, but an enforcer of their silence.
Nor do we offer good health education in such circumstances. I am as worried as anyone about AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. I can now share with the House the fact that the Department of Health faced a dilemma when we started the campaign against AIDS in 1986–87. We needed, and we knew that we needed, to warn young gay men of the mortal dangers of promiscuity and of what some of them were up to. Talking to them about safe sex meant that we had to ask health workers to seek out boys in circumstances where the law was being seriously broken. We had long discussions about that in the Department. We decided to go ahead anyway, for safety's sake. If our AIDS death figures are now better than everyone predicted, and far better than those in many comparable countries, that wise decision must take the credit. How much easier and more effective such health education would be if criminality were not at issue.
For me this is not simply a practical matter but a matter of principle. We should use the criminal law sparingly and only when necessary. Large parts of private behaviour should be nothing to do with the state. We should not permit the continued persecution of large numbers of people. That is not a recipe for a nation "at ease with itself".
We are talking about our voters. We trust their judgment in sending us to this august House. We are talking about our fellow citizens. Gay men are people who we know, work with and like. What they do is not a disease and whether they do it or not is, and should be, entirely a private matter. I believe that the time has come to give those men the equality under the law which the rest of us take for granted. I believe that the choices that they freely make are entitled to be treated with respect. It is now time for change.
I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) will forgive me if, because of time constraints, I do not follow her down that road. Although I understand that the hon. Lady has not yet tabled her amendment, I hope that her speech will not attract any adverse publicity, or any publicity at all, because I know how she eschews such publicity, whatever the topic.
My colleagues who listened to the Home Secretary will be disappointed by what he had to say. His speech was predictable and rumbustious although largely irrelevant to the enormous increase in crime in this country. Listening to the Home Secretary, one would have thought that the Government had nothing to do with the massive increase in crimes such as burglary, drugs related offences, joy riding, rape and violence. It seemed that all that had appeared suddenly in this country as though inflicted on us by an alien and outside body.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) rightly reminded us, the young people about whom we have largely been concerned in this debate were born, brought up and imbued with the philosophies of Thatcherism. Perhaps we should not be surprised by the massive increase in crime that has occurred under the Conservative Administration.
In addition to the massive increase in crime, we have seen a great deal of publicity about miscarriages of justice. There is a feeling of disappointment on the Opposition Benches—and, I suspect, among some Conservative Members—about the Home Secretary's comments on the abolition of the right of silence.
Injustice and miscarriages of justice are phrases that were rarely heard in this country until comparatively recently. A great deal of concern has rightly been expressed about those well publicised cases. The Home Secretary abuses his office by responding to those expressions of concern in the way he has.
For the sake of obtaining a standing ovation from a previously hostile Tory party conference, the Home Secretary seeks to deprive the accused of one of the traditional safeguards of liberty—the right not to incriminate himself or herself. That is too fundamental a right to be tampered with, particularly by a discredited Administration like the present one.
The Home Secretary knows full well that Lord Runciman's royal commission concluded that there was no evidence that silence in the police station leads to more acquittals or that the right of silence is exceptionally used by professional criminals. We all know that professional criminals know how the law works. They are very good at exploiting loopholes. They do not need to worry too much about the right of silence and they will not do so under the proposals in the Bill. It is the weak, the disadvantaged and the not too bright—innocent as well as guilty—who will be caught under the proposals. For the Government to embark on that course just to achieve a standing ovation at the Tory party conference brings no credit to the Home Secretary or his Ministers.
Over the past few weeks, there has been much publicity about the activities of Ministers. I will not go down that road. However, in passing, I believe that the fibre of this once great nation of ours is in greater danger from fully and elegantly dressed Ministers in their offices than from the activities over the past few weeks of a well publicised few —and nowhere more so than with regard to law and order.
Up to 1979, and for two or three years thereafter, this Government and their supporters blamed the last Labour Administration, and what they termed "socialist policies", for increases in crime in the United Kingdom. Indeed, as recently as a few months ago, the Prime Minister referred to crime in urban areas as though it was something that could be blamed exclusively on the election of Labour councillors. The self-styled party of law and order is responsible for the greatest explosion in crime that this country has ever seen. I do not know what the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) is grinning about. The explosion of crime in my constituency—and, I suggest, in that of the hon. Member for Gravesham—threatens the very fabric of our society.
Over the past few months I have attended three public meetings in my constituency at which hundreds of people have expressed concern about crimes such as burglary, the stealing of and from cars and particularly crimes of violence. Those people and the police officers present at those meetings expressed despair at the Government's failure to tackle crime and its causes adequately.
As a result, like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am now told continually that people intend to take the law into their own hands if, as they perceive it, the law does not protect them properly. While organisations such as neighbourhood watch have had a positive impact, people are increasingly concerned about the activities of a comparatively small number of young people who are responsible for the great bulk of crimes of the type that I have mentioned which have such an adverse effect on the quality of life of millions of people.
As recently as last Saturday, I was told of the activities of a 14-year-old, whom I shall not name as that would add to his notoriety, on the Yew Tree estate in Walsall in my constituency. That was not by any means the first time that the youth's name and activities had been brought to my attention. He and a few of his more easily led cronies swagger around the estate and threaten those vulnerable enough not to be in a position to fight back. A member of staff at a local shop on the estate told me that he and his family have faced threats of physical violence. That person's wife and children had been threatened in their flat via the intercom. The youth recently appeared in court for physically attacking an old age pensioner. However, as he is 14, he was swaggering around the estate once more within days. Only last Saturday, a local shopkeeper on the estate told me of a woman sufferer of Downs syndrome who wept in her shop as she was frightened to go home as a result of the activities of that young person and similarly led people. That is the reality of life on so many estates in this country at the moment and we ignore that reality at our peril.
I have referred to the danger of people taking the law into their own hands. The person who came to see me last Saturday warned me that patience with the group of youths to whom I have referred is at an end. He said that people are now looking for that youth and some of his friends to administer retribution. In spite of all that, the Opposition's proposals for tackling juvenile crime have been ignored year after year by the Conservative party.
Reported crime in the borough of Sandwell in my constituency has risen by more than 150 per cent. since the Conservative party took office. House burglary, the biggest fear of my constituents at the moment, is up by more than 250 per cent. in the borough. Theft of and from motor vehicles is up more than 300 per cent. as is robbery. That is a frightening scenario, but the Conservative party continually boasts that it is the party of law and order. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said, only one crime in 50 is now being detected. That is a shame and a scandal, the blame for which should rightly and justly be attached to the Conservative party.
Police officers of all ranks whom I meet regularly frankly despair of ever having the resources, let alone the time, to combat crime in my own and other constituencies. I frequently hear the public say that, although the police do their best, they are losing the battle. It is not just the obvious incompetence of the Prime Minister, the irrelevance of the pronouncements of many of his Ministers or the state of the economy on which the Government will be judged at the next election—it is their palpable failure in respect of law and order which alone should guarantee their defeat.
This is probably the most important debate that we shall have in this Parliament. We fought the last election with the view that our electorate wanted us to act. For too long they had heard people talk about law and order without responding to, or dealing with, the problems.
When I was a member of Shropshire county council in 1972, we set up our social services department which took over the responsibility for young offenders. We got rid of the approved schools and called them community homes. Although I criticised and opposed that at the time, I recall that all parties, in unison, talked of that being an enlightened policy and a good liberal approach to handling young offenders. For 20 years, social services have had their chance, but they have failed to tackle the problems which matter and to reduce the number of young offenders.
In the Adjournment debate on 1 December, I was pleased to discuss the question of young offenders. On that occasion, I quoted the words of my local chief superintendent, John Jasper. He said that, if he could lock up the six most persistent offenders in the Birmingham city centre, he would be able to reduce car offences by up to 40 per cent. and many people would feel very much better for the fact that their cars were not being broken into. In that Adjournment debate, I also referred to the 13-year-old who committed 225 offences, of which 175 were committed while he was awaiting trial in so-called social services secure accommodation.
Those two cases justify part I of the Bill. The public demand action. Police and magistrates demand the power to respond to what the public are asking for. Secure accommodation for 12 to 14-year-olds is essential. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office will tell us when he hopes to have in place some secure accommodation units that could be used by the courts. The public are asking for that to be done very quickly indeed.
I suggest that part I does not go far enough. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, in reply to my Adjournment debate, have rightly expressed shock at holidays on the rates—cruises up the Nile and safaris for young offenders—but nothing in part I actually stops them. Only yesterday, the Bryn Melyn home at Bala was relicensed by the local authority for yet another year. We must assume that it thinks that it will be able to continue such holidays for at least that period. It is not the answer, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said, to issue new guidelines. The public expect the Government to stop that practice.
The Government believe that such practices should be stopped, according to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, so why do we not have something in this legislation which would take from social services the right to deal with such cases and would make sure that courts rather than social workers decide what happens to young offenders? For example, an amendment along the lines that the decision of a court should be essential before a child is sent abroad might help.
I support the toughening up of bail conditions. Too many people commit offences while on bail.
As a non-lawyer, I believe that the right to silence should go. The Government's proposals are right. People who have nothing to hide will tell a policeman where they have been and what they have been up to. The only people who will keep silent are those who have something to hide. The legislation is adequate to tilt the balance so that those who commit crimes are found guilty.
I was a member of the Committee that considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. Under pressure from the police, the Committee agreed to allow intimate body searches. I welcome the modern scientific aids that are available to the police being given legal recognition.
Clause 45 tackles the problem of trespass by new-age travellers. We have seen them cause damage and problems. In Malvern, there was an invasion of 10,000 and in Kerry in Powys they arrive nearly every year. We are withdrawing section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986 and replacing it by clause 45. I am nervous, because section 39 says that if 12 caravans are together the law can be enforced. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is reducing that number to six. That is fine—I do not object to that at all—but I object that section 39 is not being used. I gather that the Association of Chief Police Officers is opposed to it. I gather also that chief constables have instructed officers not to use it. Police constables in Powys and the west midlands have told me that they are instructed to avoid using section 39 if at all possible. I worry that if section 39 is replaced by clause 45, it will still be ignored by the police. I hope that we shall have an assurance that something will be done to make sure that the new legislation is enforced. The police should protect people's property from criminal trespass.
Police powers should be increased. We have seen the harassment of individuals by hunt saboteurs and such people.
I support the Bill, but I would go further. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) talked about capital punishment. I assume that the Bill will provide an opportunity to debate that subject and possibly also corporal punishment. I would support both measures if and when they came before the House.
It is interesting that Labour Members are undecided how to vote on the Government's proposals. Their party will be shown up. It loudly claims to be the party of law and order. Labour Members make a lot of noise, but they are not prepared to do anything. Whenever we have put forward tough legislation, we have been opposed by all the Opposition parties. If Opposition Members want to be taken seriously on the issue, they should vote for the Bill. I look forward to supporting the Bill tonight and opposing the feeble Labour amendment.
At the Labour party conference last year, the deputy leader of the Labour party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), predicted that, at the Tory party conference, the sky would be black with Tory chickens coming home to roost. The Bill demonstrates the rightness of what she said. It encapsulates an attempt to deal with the consequences of nearly 15 years of Conservative rule, when we were told that there was no such thing as society: there were only individuals pursuing their own interests. We were told, "There is no person other than me; there is no time other than now."
There is a policy of high unemployment. Twenty-three per cent. of 16 to 19-year-olds are jobless. In Barton Hill in my constituency, there is male unemployment of 45 per cent. There is a chronic housing shortage. Bristol city council has the longest waiting lists since the second world war. We have had rocketing homelessness. Bristol has the highest number of homeless people, apart from London. We have inadequate welfare benefits, repossessions and utter disdain by the Government for collective values.
Those factors are bound to cause a breakdown in our social fabric and threaten the family. However, we are suddenly told by the Prime Minister that people should treat each other with respect, except that that this is tempered by the Government exhortation, "Don't do as I do: do as I say."
The Bill gives the Government a unique opportunity to restore confidence in our criminal justice system in the wake of the report of the royal commission chaired by Lord Runciman. That opportunity has been wasted in a host of ways, but I shall focus on only three.
First, there is a need for an independent body to review miscarriages of justice, as recommended by the Runciman commission. That was supported by Lord Justice May in his report on the Maguire Seven, and even by former Conservative Home Secretaries, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) and the present Foreign Secretary. The Home Secretary alone is to continue to be the court of last resort. That procedure is secretive and undemocratic.
Furthermore, the present Home Secretary's propensity to play to the gallery at Tory party conferences gives little hope to those who have been wrongly convicted. We have only to remember Stefan Kiszko, who died last month after giving up 14 years of his life after being wrongly convicted. He gave the money donated to him by well wishers to Justice, to fight for other people who are victims of miscarriages of justice. Why are people not concerned that the person who murdered that little girl is still scot free?
I now wish to draw the attention of the House to a matter referred to by hon. Members from both sides—the abolition of the right to silence. The right to remain silent in the face of questioning, accusations and interrogation is a fundamental principle that has been in existence for 350 years. It is tragic that police training and procedures have at long last focused attention on investigation methods rather than forcing admissions from those who are presumed guilty. At the same time, the Bill is moving in the opposite direction. Convictions should be based more on evidence, because false confessions are not just the preserve of the vulnerable and inarticulate.
In May 1991, Dr. Dames MacKeith, a psychiatrist, warned:
"Anyone, including you or I—put under pressure for long enough could confess to a crime, even one as serious as murder. In fact, it would be the odd, unusual, abnormal person who didn't make a false confession under such an extreme degree of pressure.
The abolition of the right to silence would be no threat to hardened criminals, who know the ropes. Abolition is opposed by the Bar Council, so I am astonished that distinguished lawyers such as the right hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and the Home Secretary should consider abolishing it. It is also opposed by the Law Society, Liberty, Justice, the National Association of Probation Officers, the Children's Legal Centre and many more.
I shall now deal with the proposals for secure training centres, or "child gaols" as they were described to me by a probation professional. There are already 300 secure unit places in this country run by local authorities. Many are underfunded. The Avon probation service has told me that Avon social services was denied funding just over two years ago for the secure unit in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry). That has left a shortage of places in a unit that is on the doorstep for people in Avon, and has developed the expertise to deal with young people.
Offending behaviour is frequently associated with family breakdown, and sentencing to closed institutions a long way from home will serve only to exacerbate that problem. The policy also reverses 50 years of progressive policy with young people. Over the past 12 years, there has been a fall in the number of juveniles involved in crime, and in the total amount of juvenile crime.
Borstals failed. They became schools for crime. The short sharp shock, which was trailed by Lord Whitelaw, was quietly dropped. Other hon. Members referred to the fact that the Lisnevin training centre in Northern Ireland seems to be the model that the Government are using for the new centres. But Lisnevin has reconviction rates of up to 80 per cent. Offenders who enter it are said to do so with low self-esteem, but they emerge confident and with high self-esteem about their criminal behaviour.
I understand that secure units are to be privately financed. Are we seriously entrusting the care of our young people to organisations such as Group 4? The Bill is a shameful use of parliamentary time and a waste of a unique opportunity in the wake of the royal commission report.
Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) and I held a meeting for people living in the south of Bristol. It involved school heads, governors, representatives of tenants' associations, community groups and the police. They expressed their concerns as: crime prevention; community policing; the opposition to the growth in private security provision; better funding for projects such as safer cities, which have been cut in Bristol and which occupy and interest young people; and something to control the alarming increase in drug addiction and abuse, particularly among the very young.
Instead, they have a Bill that is concerned with squatters, hunt saboteurs and travellers. It is simply no solution. It is being pushed through in the face of all informed professional opinion. We should not be surprised by that, as it is par for the course. The Secretary of State for Education has pushed through changes to the education system that everybody said would not work, but the children did at least have parents and professional organisations to stand up for them, and the Government have had to back off.
The problem with the Bill is that the price will be paid by the young, the vulnerable, the inarticulate, the mentally ill and the homeless. The Government do not appear to listen to anyone who is prepared to stand up for those people.
The Bill contains important new proposals that will be widely welcomed by my constituents. Many of those proposals will consolidate the considerable success of the Metropolitan police in my area, which arises from Operation Bumblebee and which has resulted in a substantial reduction in crime such as domestic burglary during the past few months. The Bill also commands the full-hearted support of the Police Federation of England and Wales, to which I am a parliamentary adviser. I declare that interest in speaking in the debate.
In a statement on 24 November, the chairman of the federation, Mr. Richard Coyles, said:
The new Criminal Justice Bill sounds like music to our ears …
Talking about the proposals contained in the Bill, he went on to say:
"They represent the most significant package of measures for thirty years.
He also said:
We support this Bill, which at least begins to reverse the tide. People are sick to the back teeth with what has been going on. They do not expect their elected representatives to play politics with law and order. Crime victimises the whole nation, and the criminal doesn't ask his victim what his politics are.
It is a great pity that a major criminal justice bill cannot be guaranteed of general support in Parliament.
The chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales is a very experienced police officer. He made those remarks because he felt, as do so many of the 126,000 members of the Police Federation, that the time has come for some very important and profound changes to be made in the law—changes for which they have waited a long time. Crime victimises the whole nation. I therefore believe that the people who sent all of us to this place expect us to take action, to maintain law and order and to vote for the major provisions in the Bill.
One of the most important features of the Bill is that at last it addresses the problem faced by the public resulting from the activities of persistent young offenders. Burglary, the taking away of vehicles without consent and a host of similar offences are committed with impunity by juveniles who believe that they will not be punished. I therefore support very strongly the proposed new sentence—the secure training order—as the most practical way of dealing with those young offenders. Action must be taken. We simply cannot go on as we are. The public expect us to take action and we should do so by supporting that order as part of this very important Bill.
When my right hon. and learned Friend replies this evening, I hope that he will tell the House more about the training that offenders will receive and how their formal education will be undertaken. What, for example, will be the role of local education authorities?
I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's decision to allow the independent sector, as well as local authorities, to provide secure accommodation. I do not believe that the public sector has a monopoly of skill in providing such accommodation. The House must address its mind to every way in which it can be provided quickly and efficiently, and be properly run. I hope that the Minister will also tell the House how long it will take to provide new places, and what resources will be devoted to the programme. The need for secure places is urgent. The public, the courts and the police cannot accept undue delay before they are available.
I shall deal now with the provisions of the Bill relating to the granting of bail, which are strongly supported by the police. At last, the scandal of the so-called bail bandits is to come to an end. The Bill rightly removes the right to bail for someone charged with an offence allegedly committed on bail. That should stop the so-called revolving door, by which persons are arrested, charged with an offence and granted bail and then offend again and again. My hon. Friends have given a number of specific examples of that, and have made the point well.
Clause 24 gives a constable the important power to arrest, without a warrant, any person who, having been previously released on bail, fails to attend a police station at the appointed time. That welcome change demonstrates how closely my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has listened to the representations that he has received on the matter from the police, who have first-hand experience of dealing with that serious problem.
The Bill makes changes to the taking of intimate and non-intimate samples for DNA testing. Perhaps the greatest advance in tackling serious crime in recent years has been the advent of DNA testing. Part IV recognises that by allowing the police to take intimate samples from a person who is not in police detention but from whom, in the course of investigation of an offence, two or more non-intimate samples suitable for the same means of analysis have been taken, but proved to be insufficient. Here, the protection for an individual is that such samples can be taken only if a police officer of the rank of superintendent authorises it, and if the appropriate consent is given.
Clause 43 also extends the powers of the police to take non-intimate samples without the appropriate consent if a person has been charged with a recordable offence. Those and other provisions permitting the taking of such samples will greatly assist the police in the course of their investigations of serious offences.
The Bill also contains provisions relating to obscenity, pornography and videos. Any hon. Members who attended the exhibition organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) last year, which was given by the police in the Jubilee Room, could not fail to support those provisions. As one of those who attended, I must say that I was deeply shocked and saddened by what I saw.
Therefore, I strongly support the introduction of new offences, including those on the use of computer graphics, and the increased penalties, including imprisonment for a period of up to three months for the possession of an indecent photograph of a child. Child pornographers and those who make indecent or obscene telephone calls should take note that, this evening, the House is determined that their disgusting and corrupting behaviour should no longer be tolerated.
Will the hon. Gentleman also accept the evidence presented by many senior police officers that one of the problems is that those reprehensible individuals making huge sums of money from child pornography are using sophisticated computer technology? Could not the Bill be amended so that, if such individuals were convicted, their equipment could be confiscated and given to the police officers investigating that disgusting practice?
The short answer is yes.
Some members of the legal profession and the judiciary consider that the most contentious part of the Bill is the provision in clauses 27 to 30 that allows a court to draw inferences from a suspect's failure to answer police questions or his refusal to give evidence in court. The Police Federation feels that the provision in those clauses should be supported and—
I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) that we should debate the Bill not as a party political issue but on its merits, as an attempt to deal with serious crime. On that basis, I and my colleagues welcome many of the Bill's provisions, particularly those dealing with matters such as persistent juvenile offenders, secure training units and bail.
However, I agree with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) that some of the Bill's provisions will not achieve much. It contains many useful measures, but they are modest measures. It would be a mistake for the Home Secretary to talk up the Bill as if it were a major measure that will radically change the situation. It is not, but we welcome its useful provisions.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Uxbridge said about child pornography and the use of sophisticated computer techniques. It is a matter of considerable regret to me and my colleagues that those provisions—contained in clauses 64, 65 and 66—do not extend to Northern Ireland, whereas the immediately following clauses, 67 and 68, dealing with indecent telephone calls and video recordings, do extend to Northern Ireland.
Can the Minister explain why some of the obscenity provisions are extended to Northern Ireland while others are not? If it is thought appropriate to extend some to Northern Ireland, why not all? The problem exists there too, and it should be appreciated that obscene material circulating in England and Wales can, and often does, circulate in Northern Ireland as well.
And in Scotland. We need a more comprehensive approach.
I shall concentrate on the provisions that have Northern Ireland implications. My first subject is prisons. Here, I notice the reference to the possibility of privatising the prison escort service. Representatives of the Prison Officers Association in Northern Ireland have told me that they have been told that that service will be put out for contract in April. That is remarkably soon. It would also be remarkable if, as a result, Group 4 was to escort some of the prisoners we have in Northern Ireland. Given its record in England and Wales, it would be very much against the public interest to take that measure.
I am surprised that no effort has been made to introduce or extend to Northern Ireland the offence of prison mutiny, which was introduced in England and Wales in 1992. We do not have an equivalent in Northern Ireland, but we have serious problems in the prisons that should be addressed, and that offence would help.
Part VI, which deals with the prevention of terrorism, is also welcome. It extends to England and Wales some of the provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, and not before time. The police, particularly in London, have been fortunate that they have not had difficulties because of the lack of legal basis for some of their operations.
I am glad to see that the provisions are being extended; that reinforces a point that we have often made. There ought to be uniform legislation on terrorism throughout the United Kingdom, because the problem extends throughout the United Kingdom.
We also need a uniform practice, and I turn briefly to the matter of sentencing where there are serious problems. I intervened during the Home Secretary's speech to ask what the Government's position might be with regard to amnesties and early release programmes. I was disappointed by his failure to deal with early release. I hope very much that that does not mean that the Home Secretary intends to introduce some form of special early release provisions. There are difficulties because of the differences in practice in England compared with Northern Ireland. That leads to difficulties—for example, with regard to the possible transfer of prisoners.
Many people feel that persons from Northern Ireland who have been convicted of offences in England and Wales could and should be allowed to serve their sentences in Northern Ireland. It would be a simple humanitarian gesture, but it cannot be done, because of the differences in practice. In England and Wales, there is the practice—of which I approve in principle—of ensuring that persons who are responsible for terrorist murders are kept in prison for 25 years, whereas in Northern Ireland the average time is 13 to 14 years. Obviously, where there is a difference in practice, there are problems.
We should have a uniform practice throughout the United Kingdom. Perhaps something similar to the regime which exists in England and Wales would be appropriate. It would also be of benefit to England and Wales to adopt the release procedures which work quite successfully in Northern Ireland.
There has been discussion of part III, which deals with inferences from silence. I will make a few points in connection with that. The first is an important point on which a number of hon. Members have made a mistake during the debate. The part of the Bill which allows a court in some circumstances to draw an inference from silence does not abolish the right to silence. It is quite inaccurate for hon. Members to suggest that the right to silence is being abolished.
There are circumstances in which the right to silence has been abolished. Some 20 different circumstances and offences have been created in various pieces of legislation where there is no right to silence, and where people can be convicted as a result of being silent. Those include offences in connection with customs and excise and with regard to VAT and income tax, and they are largely economic offences.
It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) say that the anti-terrorist squad in England and Wales was particularly anxious that something should be done on that front. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the provisions in the Bill will not make a great difference. It would not make a difference if the right to silence were to be removed in some circumstances.
The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary suggested when introducing his annual report last spring that legislation be introduced to make it an offence to refuse to answer questions in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, neither the Home Office nor the Northern Ireland Office have got round to responding.
I merely made the point that the head of the anti-terrorist branch in London stated that that was the single measure which would enable him to execute his duties far more efficiently. He wanted to draw the attention of a jury to the fact that a particular suspect had absolutely refused all co-operation, and had refused in some cases even to give his name. That obviously was an important inference for a jury to draw.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. However, based on the experience of Northern Ireland, the provisions in the Bill will make some difference, but not the sort of difference that the hon. Gentleman's interlocutor suggested. Adopting the provisions suggested by the Chief Constable of the RUC would make a significant difference, but those provisions will not.
When the royal commission report came out, I turned to the provisions dealing with inferences from silence. I was surprised to discover that the royal commission discussed the issue without any reference to the five years' experience of the legislation in Northern Ireland. I find that truly astonishing, particularly when one turned the page to the next section of the report, which referred to cases and experience in Australia. The report was able to refer to experience there, but not to experience in Northern Ireland, even though the report's terms of reference clearly directed it in that way. That is particularly astonishing in view of the comments at the time of the introduction of the Northern Ireland legislation in 1988 that the Government intended to extend the measure to England and Wales.
The provisions are modest, and they do not abolish the right to silence. They do not abolish the requirement of the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. A person will not be convicted because he is silent. Conviction can only apply in cases where there is already a prima facie case.
In circumstances where silence is merely excluding the possibility of an innocent explanation, or where the facts call for an innocent explanation, or where that explanation is not given, the court may draw the inference that there is no innocent explanation. However, inferences which can be drawn will be based on common sense.
No one is suggesting that juries in the past and at present have not exercised common sense. All that the legislation allows is for the court to make reference to it. We hope that there will be an opportunity later to discuss the Northern Ireland experience in greater detail—
Crime and the fear of crime is a blight on all our lives. My constituents are sick and tired of a society in which, in some places, the elderly fear to venture out alone, in which individuals going about their lawful business face attack, assault and robbery, in which burglary and vandalism are rife and in which parents fear for the safety of their children.
The time has come to call a halt, and to call it in loud, clear and ringing tones. That is what the Bill is about. It sends a clear message to young offenders in particular that, if they are caught, they will be punished appropriately, and it tightens bail conditions to prevent reoffending.
There are welcome measures to deal with public order offences, and to tackle those hooligans, thugs, vandals and anarchists who, disguising their malice and anti-social tendencies with a thin cloak of compassion for animal welfare, delight in bringing havoc, injury and fear to the many law-abiding citizens who seek to exercise their right to participate in field and country sports. That is a welcome step in the right direction.
There are new measures to help the police deal with offences and searching suspects, and I welcome the improvements in the range of practical deterrents to terrorist activities. However, it would be timely to express my concern, which is widely shared in the House and outside, about a number of guiding principles and fundamental issues which need to be addressed, to which we must turn our attention during the coming debates on the remaining stages of the Bill.
Let us be clear that the last bastion of a disintegrating society is the family unit. Within such a unit, we are best able to nurture in our young a sense of responsibility and an active conscience enabling them to exercise self-discipline. It is with bitter regret that I must observe that, after such a prolonged period in office, the Government have repeatedly failed to appreciate that point. They have failed to pay anything other than lip service to the concept of supporting the family and strengthening the bond of marriage which is its very foundation.
Divorce laws have been relaxed, homosexuality is actively promoted, Government-funded agencies peddle powerful contraceptives to young children, and sex education classes for primary school children and upwards concentrate on a mechanistic and unnecessarily explicit interpretation of sexuality.
Children are inculcated with the libertarian view, and are not encouraged to understand and willingly accept those moral values and standards which have stood civilised society in good stead for so long. Sexual mechanics and materialism are no substitute for morality and compassion. The House might also reflect that 4 million abortions have done nothing to encourage respect for human life. In addition, bleating agnostic bishops have bitterly failed their flocks by giving no clear lead on moral matters.
Teachers, social workers, the media, the Church, Ministers and some parents have failed generations of our children and the time has come to reverse that trend. If "back to basics" is to be anything other than a snappy sound bite, it must mean, first and foremost, a return to the acceptance and reflection in public policy of those Judaeo-Christian moral standards which for so many years have bound society together, and which have proved so practical as well as so spiritually preferable.
Only when public policy and the law are based, and seen to be based, on objective moral standards can we expect them to be respected. The Government must have the courage to say that certain practices and activities are fundamentally and objectively wrong. Unless they accept that principle and distance themselves from the outdated liberal nostrums that have underpinned public policy since the 1960s, the tide of crime will continue to rise until it rots the very heart of our society.
I was very encouraged to hear that the Government have included in the Bill a section devoted to tightening the law on obscenity and pornography, as there are significant weaknesses in the law in that area. The changes proposed in clauses 64 to 68 are most welcome. They deal with enforcement problems, and clarify the position on computer-generated images of naked children.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I welcome those measures, since I have been pressing him for action for some time. A year ago, we invited officers of the obscene publications squad at New Scotland Yard to mount a private exhibition at the Palace, which was attended by a staggering 200 or more colleagues from both Houses, and through which we were able to demonstrate the very real problems that exist in that area of the law and its implementation, some of which have now been tackled by the Bill.
However, my welcome for those aspects of the Bill is tempered by my extreme disappointment that the Government have failed to grasp the central nettle. They have failed to replace the outdated, discredited and unworkable test of obscenity that lies at the heart of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 with something more suited to the flood of pornographic material with which the police are now forced to deal. It is about three years since the present head of the obscene publications squad had the courage to highlight the fact that the law needs clarification and the courts are inconsistent in their decisions.
I realised the nonsense of the present law when the Crown Prosecution Service, supported by the Attorney-General, refused to sanction action against the book "Juliette" by the Marquis de Sade. Hon. Members on both sides of the House joined me to express revulsion and disbelief at that decision. Given the catalogue of violent sexual acts against children that the book not only records but positively advocates, we called for a Government review of the law. Instead of a proper review, and despite clear sympathy from the Prime Minister for what we were seeking to achieve, we had a poor civil service patch-up job.
Ministers can claim to be taking action through the Bill on relatively minor matters, but the most important issue has been either overlooked or ignored. As a result, I shall seek to table amendments to the Bill to deal with the problem. That is no substitute for a thorough Government review of the law, but in the absence of any meaningful action by the Government, we have to do what we can to ensure that the foundations of our obscenity law are secure, so that the few new pieces of brickwork proposed by the Bill will be worth while.
May I also be clear about the fact that the House has a duty to oppose any moves that may be made later in our debates to lower the age of consent for male homosexual acts. Present law strikes a reasonable balance between the need to protect youngsters from harm and the so-called rights of adults to indulge in deviant sexual practices of their choice.
In short, the House must have the courage to accept basic moral teachings, and to reflect them in its decisions. That is why I hope that we shall once again have the opportunity to consider and to decide on the need to restore to our courts the option of the death penalty for certain categories of murder—for those who abduct and murder young children, commit terrorist murders, murder serving police and prison officers, and kill during an armed robbery. Those are heinous crimes that are viewed with repugnance by the overwhelming majority of people. It is right that the courts should be able to impose sentences which reflect that repugnance.
In these few words, I have sought to tackle head on several controversial issues. They are, however, extremely important issues, and I hope that the Home Secretary will give them the most careful consideration during the further stages of the Bill in the coming weeks and months.
I declare an interest as a practising barrister; I also declare an interest in society, as someone who likes to see the villain caught, brought to justice and properly sentenced.
I listened to the Home Secretary's announcement about the 27 points and to the Minister of State's recent attack on lawyers as one of the problems in tackling crime. I have also listened to comment after comment—often ill-informed—from Conservative Members on how to deal with crime and who was to blame. One-parent families, the unemployed—you name it—everyone is to blame, but they never consider the real cure for crime.
In one capacity or another, including my time as a student, I have been in practice for the best part of 30 years, and I shall never forget a comment that an inspector made to me in the late 1960s. That was before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and before many modern devices, at a time when we employed enough police officers, paid them and equipped them. The inspector said, "Gerry, when I arrest someone, I don't need to interview them; I've already got the evidence." [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) may giggle like a child on the back row, but he does not realise that the knowledge that one will be caught is the only deterrent to crime. As a boy or girl at school, one knew that, if one stepped out of line, one would be caught and punished, and that deterred one from doing so.
How do we set about catching criminals? Our recent track record is somewhat poor. Only one in 50 of all crimes ends with a court case and a sentence. It is pathetic. We caution thousands of people. I question the need to caution that many. I also question the need to discontinue as many cases as we do.
Fear of capture and punishment is the deterrent to crime. How do we start to capture people? How do we ensure that a burglar is brought to justice, whether he or she is young or old? The simple answer is this—provide society with the police force that it deserves. We should not keep cutting police authorities. The police force in Merseyside has been cut time and again. The Home Secretary is shaking his head, but there is a little demon out there called the Treasury, and it has been squeezing the Home Office for the past 10 or 15 years—it has been squeezing every Department—as it sought to spend its money elsewhere.
We need officers on the beat, and we need officers who are equipped with the latest equipment. They need resources which are better than those possessed by the villains of today, who are very well equipped. The Home Secretary again shakes his head. I have spent my life looking at such people. I shall give way to him with the greatest pleasure.
The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. We are spending 80 per cent. more in real terms on the police than we spent in 1979; we have 17,000 more police officers than in 1979; and we have 16,000 more civilians supporting the police than in 1979. The hon. Gentleman's arguments would carry a trifle more weight if they were not so remote from the facts.
If the Home Secretary was not so remote from reality, he would realise that the crime rate has doubled and tripled since 1979—[HON. MEMBERS: "A different point."] Of course it is not a different point. If the crime rate goes up, one needs more police officers and more people to defeat the crime wave. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to tinker with the system. His predecessor tinkered with it in 1991, and Opposition Members told him that section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 would not work. Even some Conservative Members told him that. Within a year—
Let us see whether we can stir up a few more Conservative Members.
We told the Home Secretary's predecessor that section 29 would not work. We told him that section 1(2) would not work.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he had sat in Committee, he would have heard what I told his predecessor. Never mind. So we go on.
Let us be realistic. What does the Bill do to catch villains? It does not provide any more policemen, although we have a rising crime wave. The Home Secretary says that he has increased the number of police officers by 80 per cent. I do not dispute his figures in real terms. The trouble is that the crime rate has overtaken him. Unless we capture the criminals, we shall never start to make the spiral go the other way.
Let us be realistic about how we deal with criminals once we have caught them. The Bill tinkers with the right to silence, which is a breach of the European convention on human rights, but never mind that. Saunders v. the United Kingdom is the most recent case, and it deals with the Companies Acts. No doubt we shall increase our record of bad behaviour before the European Court, and no doubt we shall have more and more convictions against us. What will tinkering with the right to silence do? Will it capture anyone?
The Home Secretary shakes his head again. The reality is that we may convict more of the people we prosecute, but shall we have convicted people properly or fairly? Those of us who have been in the trade for a little while noticed throughout the 1960s and the 1970s the problems of wrongful conviction.
We have seen a number of such cases, not just the big cases about which we have all heard, such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, but the little cases involving little crimes and ordinary people, who were convicted on the old basis of verballing, which we had before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and which raises the question of confession and other matters.
It has been said by psychiatrist after psychiatrist that, if one puts a person in a police station, one automatically puts him or her under pressure, and there is then a risk.
No, because I am limited in time tonight.
There is the further risk that, when the person being asked the questions does not know what the evidence is, he cannot answer the questions, which may appear to be speculative. People never take that point into consideration.
Anyone who has observed an interview should remember that, no matter how fair the interview is, the police officer, in asking the questions, has the advantage of the knowledge that he or she is said to have. How are people supposed to know what the questions mean? Often, the trick question or the ambiguous question can lead to a miscarriage of justice. I am sure that, when the general election comes and the Labour party comes to power, one of the first things it will do is restore the right to silence, so that we shall be in line with the other European nations.
The earlier clauses deal with juveniles. In 1986—you will remember this, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you toured the United States with the rest of the Select Committee—we looked at the Massachusetts experiment and the question of containment.
The Bill does not even begin to address the problem of the juvenile tearaway. The only solution is to identify them young enough, and then to contain them and put them into a regime—I am not talking about incarceration or imprisonment—that is rehabilitative and provides training. If that process takes six months, 12 months, 18 months or two years, so be it. At the end of the day, that child must be rehabilitated so that he can take his place in society and can play a useful part. That would be positive thinking.
As was the case with borstals and detention centres, the Bill does not even begin really to address the problem. I tell the Home Secretary as kindly as I can that we want crime to be beaten, but that we shall achieve that only by making people realise that, if they commit a crime, they will be detected and brought speedily before the courts for punishment.
If we identify someone who is clearly likely to be a persistent problem in our society, we must have mechanisms to enable that child to be dealt with in a caring yet containing way, so that the problems he faces can be adjusted and addressed. That will enable that child to be reintroduced into society at the earliest possible moment, and in a way that does not encourage him or her to commit further crimes. We must make our streets safe, simply by catching villians.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). I now know what it must be like to be on a jury that he is addressing. I fear that he will not get the verdict that he seeks.
Nobody who has visited the elderly victim of a burglary or an assault can doubt the seriousness of the problem that we face. If the offender has been arrested and then bailed, or convicted and then released back on to the streets, the auguish and the sheer terror is appalling to see. We must always remember that the criminal justice system does not exist to serve offenders or those employed in it. It exists to serve, to uphold and to enforce the rule of law on which we all depend for the opportunity to lead civilised lives and it exists to serve and to protect the public—every child, woman and man in this country.
The ultimate aim of our criminal justice system, like any other, and of punishment in particular, is the control of crime. I believe that the Bill has the potential to advance that aim and to do so significantly. It is sad to hear again the fallacious argument that, because crime is rising in this country and because not all criminals are caught, our policies must be wrong and should be abandoned. Crime is rising throughout the developed world. Does that mean that everyone has wrong policies? While listening to previous Opposition speakers, I began to think that Mrs. Thatcher had been in power throughout the developed world and was therefore personally responsible for every crime committed since 1979. That is absurd. Logically, such argument would lead us to disband the whole criminal justice system and to give up the fight against crime. We cannot do that, so let us not waste too much time on such arguments.
Our people are not looking for more excuses for crime or for criminals; they are looking for a tough and effective policy for the years ahead. The Bill takes us one more step —it may not be large enough—towards achieving that. Let us approach the matter in a more useful way. All our constituents are affected by the fear of crime, so all of us should respond in a positive search for solutions.
There is actually only one cause of crime—an individual's decision to commit an offence. There is no other cause of crime. That individual decision, repeated and replicated by criminals throughout the country, is the basis of offending. An understanding of why that decision is made must inform our approach to criminal justice and public order. It follows that we must seek to know why the decision is being made, and to change the conditions and way of thinking that lead to it.
We must consider whether the criminal is deciding to break a known system of mores and proper conduct or whether he has no idea that there is such a thing. Has he been taught what is acceptable and what is not or, in the terms in which most of us were brought up, what is right and what is wrong, and what he can and what he cannot do? Has he decided to offend for money?
The Select Committee on Home Affairs was told robustly by one police officer, who became exasperated by much of the talk he was hearing, that we must understand that juveniles commit offences because they like to have £200 or £300 in cash in their back pockets, and that nothing else offers them that. Is that the reason, or has the criminal decided to commit the offence for excitement? Has he committed the offence in response to peer group pressure or for some other reason? We need to know. Can he be made fundamentally to come to a different decision? Can his friends come to a different decision, if necessary as a result of the fear of being caught and of what will happen to them? The hon. Member for St. Helens, South at first seemed to repeat the old catechism that it is the fear of being apprehended, and nothing else, that prevents crime. He then corrected himself, very properly, and said that it was the fear of being apprehended and of being punished that prevents the initial decision to commit an offence.
I welcome the central funding of measures to prevent crime or to reduce the fear of crime, to which the Bill refers. However, it is not enough just to tell people to fit better locks. It is necessary also to contradict at every stage the pervasive message from the entertainment media to our young people that crime is exciting and even amusing, that there are never any victims and that criminals are heroes. Crime does create victims. There are no innocent criminals; there are only innocent victims. It is those victims who seek—nay, demand—to be our first priority. We must now begin to treat them as such.
It is not sufficient merely to express disapproval of crime. We must catch, convict and sentence adequately those who deliberately choose to create victims out of citizens who themselves obey the law and who look to us to secure that same obedience from others. This Bill and other legislation will assist the detection, conviction and proper punishment of criminals.
The proposal on the right to silence has been much spoken of; it is a catchy cliche. The innocent rarely use that right; they have no need of it. It is a shield for the guilty and now its use is being properly curtailed, but not abolished. I am surprised to find myself in support of that curtailment. Before working in the criminal justice system, I would have defended the right to silence. In my many years as a criminal lawyer, however, I have advised many hundreds of clients under questioning and I cannot recall a single instance when an innocent man or woman exercised that right. It is not a cliche to say that innocence demands the right to speak. It is guilt and a guilty conscience that demands the right to silence. There will still be cases where the proper legal advice must be to remain silent under questioning. If lawyers have been giving that advice too frequently as the easy option, they will now have to stop and think. That is a good thing.
It is important to remember that when courts deal with juvenile offenders, they are still dealing with offenders. It does not make any difference to the victim of a burglary, assault or car theft whether that crime was committed by a juvenile. The courts should have available all the powers necessary to further the basic purpose of criminal punishment—to deter, to put into custody those who would otherwise continue to offend, to punish justly, and to rehabilitate. I would like to see further powers given to courts in due course to have the discretion to treat juveniles as adults, as exists in other jurisdictions. If a criminal commits a number of serious offences, why should his age alone give him the right to retain his liberty and to continue his offending?
I welcome not just the principle of secure treatment centres, but their availability to the courts as quickly as possible. I believe that that welcome will be shared by everyone who has suffered from juvenile offenders.
I also welcome what I hope will prove in retrospect to have been the tentative first steps towards a law of criminal trespass. It should be an offence knowingly to enter or remain on land or building belonging to another person without consent. Trespassers really should be prosecuted.
Among the many other welcome changes, the power for the police to grant conditional bail will reduce unnecessary remand court hearings. The Bill represents the first step to changing the right to bail for those to whom being on bail is something to joke about on the way to the next burglary or while they are driving the next stolen car. The proposal, as drafted, may not quite achieve that aim since the allegation that the offence has been committed on bail is already taken into account when deciding on the likelihood of the commission of further offences. No doubt that proposal can be polished in Committee.
I also regret that clause 21 is applicable only to indictable or either way offences. Might not a better test be any offence punishable by imprisonment, because summary offences are not always petty offences to the victim?
I also welcome the proposals relating to the intimidation of witnesses. The rebuttable presumption of specific intent in clause 38 is a good demonstration of the fact that the Bill is essentially a practical one. Its purpose is not theoretical. It will achieve the results.
I reject totally the Opposition's view, which seems to be that if one cannot achieve everything it is not worth trying to do anything, least of all should one dare to vote in favour of anything. I welcome the Bill as a step, if I may coin a phrase, back to basics—the basic right to live in a law-abiding society without the constant fear of becoming a victim of crime. Of course one Bill cannot achieve that, but as part of an integrated, firm but fair approach to an appalling problem, the Bill should surely commend itself to us all.
The Bill is complex legislation and obviously it is difficult to discuss all its aspects. I will therefore restrict my remarks to the issues that affect Scotland. I am glad that the Home Secretary is present to listen to my specific points.
As the House will be aware, chapter II of part VIII and part IX refer specifically to Scotland, but the Bill has 117 clauses and 10 schedules, so Scotland has been demoted to a small part of it. That is an insult to the separate Scottish legal system and to the various reports that have been published by the Scottish Law Commission and by other organisations such as the Law Society of Scotland. They are concerned about the criminal procedures observed in Scotland and want improvements to be made to them.
The vital interests of Scotland have been downgraded in the Bill because it ignores these important reports, many of which have been gathering dust inside the Scottish Office for some considerable time. The Bill ignores the need to improve the procedures observed in the sheriff courts in Scotland—police officers and witnesses are kept hanging around all day in the hope that the relevant case will be called so that evidence can be submitted. That delay undermines the process of law; who would want to be a witness if he or she is taken from work for a day and is then not called as a witness? The way in which our sheriff courts operate is in desperate need of attention.
I am extremely disappointed that the Bill ignores specific aspects of Scottish law because, after the general election, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that he would take stock of how Scottish legislation is dealt with in the House. If the Bill is an example of that exercise, all I can say is that he has made a fine boorach of the whole thing. If the Home Secretary does not understand that good Scots word, I should add that it means that his right hon. Friend has made a fine mess of it.
Today's debate has not paid sufficient attention to drugs. Many of us who are studying what is happening to law and order in our society are conscious of the fact that many criminal offences are drug related. This is not a party-political issue and the problem must be addressed seriously by all hon. Members. I am certainly looking forward to receiving the report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which has studied the problem.
Drug-related offences in Scotland rose from 1,297 in 1981 to 5,459 in 1991. That represents an annual average increase of 15 per cent. Surely that must worry all of us. I speak to the local representatives of the police force regularly about it and they are studying the problem closely.
During the 10 years in which there has been a massive increase in drug-related offences, only 96 Scottish police officers have been dedicated specifically to drug duties. The Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is also present, should note that many of us would have been much more impressed with the attack on crime if ring-fenced funding had been given directly to our police forces to ensure that additional members of staff could be employed for the detection of drug offences, and to remedy the problem.
The same could be said in relation to the funding of Customs and Excise and prison officers. Last week's incident at Glenochil in Scotland was also drug-related. Our prison officers must deal with that problem at the tough end and they deserve our support. Although I welcome the recent projects initiated by the Scottish Office to educate young people about drugs, a great deal more needs to be done. Much of it will involve funding and I therefore ask the Home Secretary to ensure that ring-fenced funding is provided, specifically targeted at dealing with the problems caused by drugs in society.
The prison service in Scotland is dealt with by the Bill and I must plead a special interest in it. The Under-Secretary is aware that my elder brother is a tutor at the Scottish prison college at Polmont and that my nephew is a prison officer at Shotts. I therefore have a specific personal interest as well as a general one in this matter. The funding of our prison services is also at stake. It seems that the Bill is paving the way for the privatisation of the Scottish prison service. That was echoed most effectively by the leaked memo from Sir Russell Hillhouse, the permanent under-secretary of state at the Scottish Office, Scotland's senior civil servant, in articles that appeared in The Scotsman and the Herald earlier in the year. In those articles, it was made clear by Sir Russell Hillhouse that the expenditure plans projected by the Scottish Office were such that staffing levels must be significantly reduced in our Scottish prisons and that the process would entail some risk to order and security in prison.
I do not believe that the prison service or the escort of prisoners should be privatised. If the state takes upon itself the right to sentence, it must also accept the responsibility to ensure that that sentence is put into effect and that the state which has decreed that sentence does not wash its hands of what is ultimately its responsibility. The state cannot privatise those responsibilities or put them out to tender. The state has taken the decision and therefore must see it through. The privatisation of our prison service or escort service would be a dereliction of duty—a view echoed by the representatives of the prison service in Scotland.
The right of access, which has been addressed by various hon. Members, will be seriously eroded by the proposed legislation. The Government would be well advised to consider the Scandinavian system, in which there is a clear and universal right for citizens to roam wherever they please. I have considered what the Rights of Way Society has said, especially in Scotland. It has made clear statements about the responsibilities of people who have access to land.
I was born and bred in a rural community and I represent a rural community. The vast majority of people wish to have the right of access to land for hill walking, for climbing or for whatever sport that they wish to follow. It is a fundamental right. Most of those people have accepted the responsibility of regarding the land as a precious part of their inheritance and heritage. The Government are taking a sledge hammer to that right, preventing many people from roaming and enjoying access to the land.
If we observed the various codes that have been laid down by various societies such as the Rights of Way Society, people would not be facing the denial of their right to climb the Munro mountains in Scotland. They would have the right to wander wherever they wanted and to enjoy the beauties of the landscape while at the same time observing the needs of farmers. Both communities can work in harmony.
The Bill is destroying what many of us in Scotland have seen as a basic right. There has always been an argument about trespass law and sometimes it has been interpreted too liberally. I believe that the vast majority of people want to see the right of access retained. Yet we shall see it eroded by forestry legislation and by the Bill. I hope that the Under-Secretary and others who are involved in the matter will give serious consideration to ensuring the right of access while clearly observing the rights of farmers.
I made it clear there were many aspects of the Bill on which I could not touch because they did not specifically relate to Scotland. However, there is one aspect which the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) and others have mentioned and which I too want to refer to: the issue of obscene publications and pornography. I have been involved in the campaign to try to change the legislation in that sphere. Like others, I saw the exhibition mounted by the Metropolitan police in the Jubilee Room. I felt physically sick when I saw exactly what was happening. I hope that any severe penalties that are introduced will apply not only to England and Wales, but to Scotland, because that obscene trade must be stamped out at all costs. We cannot allow our youngsters and our society to be undermined in that fashion and I hope all pornography legislation will be applicable throughout the United Kingdom.
We have come to the end of the period in which speeches were limited to 10 minutes, but I remind the House that Madam Speaker appealed to hon. Members who were called outside that period to bear in mind that there are still many right hon. and hon. Members hoping to catch my eye.
I welcome the proposals relating to the creation of a DNA database and certainly applaud the measures to be introduced to prevent bail bandits from abusing the temporary freedom that they have been granted. I shall turn later to the abuse of the so-called right to silence, but my principal preoccupation, about which I went to see the Under-Secretary, is the problem of persistent young offenders between 12 and 15 years old who are in considerable need of the secure training orders proposed by the Bill.
The position for those who have to look after those young offenders is extremely difficult because of the Children Act 1989. I have been involved in dealing with young offenders for some time and I have talked to the Under-Secretary in relation to adventure training, which is considerably misunderstood, and about Operation Raleigh, which is an extremely effective system of overseas adventure training, but one that is certainly not for 12 to 15-year-olds.
It is all too easy to give an off-the-cuff reaction to the journalist who rings to complain that a young offender has been taken abroad. My constituents would rather see a young offender spend two or three weeks before the mast in the North sea than terrorise a neighbourhood in Torquay, which is exactly what has been happening because of a flaw in the present legislation that the Bill will address.
Under the current legislation there are unsuitable homes in unsuitable places which, if they have fewer than three children, are not required to be registered as children's homes. In one case, in my constituency, considerable anxiety has been expressed in the neighbourhood where there are two homes that accommodate young offenders. I use the term "accommodate" in the loosest possible sense because, under the Children Act 1989, no action can be taken to restrain the young offender who decides to leave the premises. Even grasping him by the shoulder may be considered to be an assault.
The police tell me that on one occasion an offender who had been arrested for a criminal offence was released into the custody of the owner of such an establishment and police officers on the shame shift, a few hours later, were required to arrest the young offender who was in possession of a stolen car.
It is too easy to say that such young offenders are some kind of mindless hooligans who have to be locked up to protect society. I believe that society has a right to protection from the youngsters, but the young offender of today will be a hardened criminal when he is a youth and adult. Therefore, any money spent on addressing that problem and ensuring that there is strong supervision, a constant regime of training and, of course, security for the individual and for the public must not be wasted.
I find it churlish and remarkable of the Liberal Democrats, who are allegedly entering 1994 with law and order as their major battle banner, that for almost the entire debate no Liberal Democrat Members have been present on the Liberal Benches and that the one Liberal Democrat Member who has spoken has said that too much money is being spent on dealing with young offenders. Such offenders are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. They create absolute mayhem.
Where such premises are located in unsuitable neighbourhoods—that has certainly happened in Torquay —the youngsters can create a veritable crime wave. I have spent some time with the youngsters and I am sympathetic to the dedication of the staff who are obliged to look after them. I should like to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the case of David—a youngster in an emergency care and respite home in my constituency. His family history is that as a youngster he was difficult to handle. His mother, who was separated from his father, passed him over to his father's custody. His father found him difficult to deal with and, therefore, he went into a home where he was looked after for the first time by foster parents who really cared for him.
Unfortunately, Avon social services made only a temporary placement and David was moved from the first home to a second foster home. He absconded from the second foster home because he loved the first foster parents. He was then considered a trouble maker and was placed in a children's home. He absconded from that home and went back to the first foster parents, who were the only people who had showed him any love, care or security in his entire life.
By the time that David came down to my constituency, where there is a home that looks after two or three extremely difficult youngsters, he was considered to be beyond any form of control. In the first week that he was in Torquay he was caught on the M5 motorway four times in stolen cars trying to get back to Bristol, where his first foster parents lived. When I interviewed the young man he had not seen a teacher in 10 months. As far as I know, any parent who was responsible for such an individual would be up before the courts because the child had not been to school. Yet Avon social services seem to have got away with it. Worse than that, some social services departments claim praise for the way in which they deal with their youngsters.
I was appalled to see the "Panorama" programme on the way in which Kent county council deals with such youngsters. The programme explained what a success rate it had in dealing with so-called persistent young offenders. Part of the reason why Kent's statistics look so good—I have personal experience of this—is that it sends its worse hardened cases to Torquay. They drop out of the Kent statistics. Therefore, the "Panorama" programme was bogus. It misrepresented the position completely.
There is considerable difficulty when one meets a 14-year-old who says that his main interest in life is driving cars and driving them fast on the motorway. If we can tackle the problem with secure training orders, we shall do a favour to society in the future. It will be money well spent. Such youngsters are a menace, but it is all too easy to criticise the dedicated staff who have to look after them, sometimes in difficult conditions.
One particular youngster springs to mind. She was aged 12 and she was in care. The reason why she originally offended and went into care was that she was having trouble with her pimp. That was a child aged 12. Similar youngsters have come to Torquay because, in an unsuitable neighbourhood, two or three residential homes have been established in which staff are available to look after them. However, under the existing legislation the youngsters are not cared for in the security that is required to protect the public.
Drawing inferences from silence is an extremely important issue. I have already made some interventions on the subject during the debate. I hope that when the matter is debated in the House there will be a full opportunity to sweep away some of the myth surrounding the way in which terrorist suspects are dealt with and the way in which they evade their interrogation. So often none of them or few of them are prosecuted because they exercise the right to silence. That prevents the police in some cases even from determining their names, addresses and the reasons for their possession of a particular vehicle.
While we are on the subject of dismissing myths and getting down to the facts on an emotive subject, Miss Emma Thompson, the actress, gave an interview at the weekend in New York promoting her film on the Guildford Four, in which she made some staggeringly inaccurate allegations and remarks. In particular, she alleged that there were widespread abuses of the prevention of terrorism Act. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has noted those remarks and will expect a letter from Miss Emma Thompson giving chapter and verse of the alleged abuses.
Similarly, I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is not here this evening. On the last day before the Christmas recess he made a speech in the Chamber in which he made allegations about Fred Holroyd in Northern Ireland. On that occasion he alleged that Fred Holroyd gave important evidence in a terrorism extradition case in the United States. The reality is that in that case Fred Holroyd declined to be cross-examined by the Crown. That would have been an opportunity to dismiss many of the myths that have sullied the reputation of Britain abroad, particularly in Northern Ireland.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has made a mistake. I was in the Chamber listening to that speech and it was not made by my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). It was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who happens to have the name of the constituency which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
If that is the case, I apologise. I have a copy of Hansard for that day with me, but I shall not detain the House by reading it out. If that correction is right, that is fine. My point was that Fred Holroyd declined to be cross-examined by the Crown and that all the allegations made in the House on that day were wholly unfounded.
I shall support the Bill. For the sake of my constituents, I hope that the secure accommodation and training orders will be introduced as quickly as possible. I hope that there will be no delay in the Committee stage. My constituents want relief from the young offenders as quickly as possible and preferably by June. That is not to say that the establishments should be in any way harsh. They should be a regime which will provide security for not only the youngsters but the public at large. The accommodation should not be supervised by the county councils. It should be placed in the private sector but only where the accommodation can be provided in a suitable environment —preferably a considerable distance from Torquay.
I begin by declaring an interest. I am the adviser to the Police Federation, which provides resources used to pay a research assistant.
I wish to raise several matters in the debate. Some relate to policing but primarily they are issues of concern to my constituents. I shall raise matters mainly on their behalf. The Bill before the House is a strange assortment of proposals, some of which are good and which I could support and others which are bad and which I could not support. The Bill moves from amendments to the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967 to provisions to enable the Home Secretary to designate as a prison any building or floating structure.
We know of the worries about a return to prison hulks. The Police Federation seeks an assurance that police stations will not be so designated. I ask the Minister to clarify that point—when he has a moment and listens—in his reply. I am sure that someone will pass that on to him.
I welcome some provisions in the Bill. In 1993, during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill, I called for the police to be able to identify through the courts a juvenile offender accused of serious offences who has escaped and is at large. The present law prevents that. The Minister of State said that he would make a change at the first opportunity. I am pleased that he has been able to do so in clause 37 of the Bill.
The central issue is whether the Bill will cut crime. Even the Home Secretary seemed to have doubts on that point. He refused to reply to the challenges from my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).
Crime in Warwickshire has trebled since the Conservatives came to power in 1979, promising to reduce it. Burglaries and car thefts have quadrupled. When I talk to the people in North Warwickshire, they are rightfully fearful of rising crime, critical of the Government's failure to deal with it, outraged that after 14 years of Conservative Government a pathetic one in 50 crimes results in a conviction, and rightly cynical at the Government's attempts to manipulate the issue to get, as the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) said,
three days of good headlines
without tackling the long-term fundamental causes of crime.
The Bill ignores 98 per cent. of the crime that affects ordinary people and attempts to deal only with the 2 per cent. of criminals who are caught, convicted and can be punished. Locking away a few offenders for one or two years does not, of itself, deal with cause and prevention, which must be dealt with if we are to tackle the other 98 per cent. of crime.
The Bill's sister Bill, which is starting in another place—together, they form the basis of the Government's policy on crime—will undermine the whole process of catching criminals by politicising the police, with the direct Home Office appointment of the chairman and members of police authorities and by moving towards more privatisation. The general secretary of the Police Federation told hon. Members at the all-party police group that that Bill would create the basis for a cut in manpower from the current 128,000 police officers to 80,000 by the end of the decade, at a time when the public are crying out for more police.
Even now, Warwickshire's chief constable, Mr. Peter Joslin, is concerned that the effect of the Government's policy will cause a 2 per cent. cut in his budget next year, which may force him to delay recruitment and promotion prospects for officers, hitting both numbers and morale.
Everyone knows that the Bill has more to do with tackling the Government's unpopularity than with tackling crime. Ministers keep talking about the trendy liberal ideas of the 1960s and 1970s, but under Mrs. Thatcher we experienced the greatest period of liberalism and leniency in history. That is not just my view but the view of Mr. Andrew Rutherford, chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform, when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee last year.
The Tories started with a short sharp shock, but it did not work. When the offenders came out of their boot camps they reoffended at a higher rate as soon as the discipline was removed. They had been taught nothing. Brutal prison regimes just brutalise young people and then release them into the community.
The Government then decided to try to deal with young people through community schemes. During the latter part of the 1980s, that had begun to work and recidivism rates were coming under control. The problem was that the crime rate was not falling because new offenders were constantly feeding into the system. The supply side—the causes of juvenile crime—was not being dealt with. In fact, the Government's policy of taking 16 and 17-year-olds off the dole, creating unemployment, homelessness and deprivation, was feeding the crime rate.
Instead of tackling the causes, the Government now seem to have decided to return to where they started. They never learned the lesson that we cannot stop crime by punishment alone. Only 2 per cent. of crimes result in punishment. Unless we deal with the causes of all crimes, the crime rate will continue to rise inexorably. That is why no Minister can tell my constituents that he will cut crime to the level that the Conservatives inherited. The Government can do so neither through this Bill, nor through any aspect of their other policies.
The provisions relating to the right to silence form a key part of the Bill. They are supposed to illustrate the Government's "back to basics" theme. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister is now in trouble with "back to basics". A Prime Minister really is in trouble when the people begin to laugh at him, especially when he tells them that they must understand a little more and condemn a little less when it comes to his colleagues' indiscretions. A question of competence hangs over the Government's proposals to end the right to silence. It is not just the silly theatre that they want to create in the courts, with judges supposedly demanding that defendants go into the dock and the defendant probably just standing there, making everyone look a little silly. It also concerns what is proposed to happen in the police station.
The Government said that they wanted to end the professional criminals' right to silence so as to help ordinary citizens, but the Bill does not remove privileged communication between solicitors and clients. If it is passed, the professional criminal who wants to say nothing in interview simply calls his solicitor, who tells him to say nothing. When giving evidence in court, the defendant will simply say that he acted on legal advice in saying nothing. The reasons for that advice cannot be inquired into; they remain privileged. The only inference that can be drawn from that is that the defendant is a prudent man who, in interview, takes legal advice. But the ordinary citizen who is arrested for the first time, brought to the police station and does not ask for a solicitor, has no right to silence, and an adverse inference can be drawn. He is most likely to be a victim of the very injustice that the Runciman inquiry was set up to prevent.
The Bill will create a two-tier system. It will not inconvenience professional criminals, but will create potential injustice for ordinary citizens. I put that matter to Lord Runciman when he appeared before the Select Committee on Home Affairs and he agreed that that was the case. Even the minority in the Runciman report who accepted the argument for the removal of the right to silence in police stations demanded safeguards. Those safeguards are not present in the Bill, which is why it is a recipe for injustice.
The Bill contains some good points but fundamentally fails to deal with the central problems that are causing the rising crime rate. It does not deal with the causes of crime or seek fundamentally to change the behaviour of those juvenile offenders who offend regularly. It does not seriously address as a whole the problem of rising crime in our society. That is why I cannot support the Bill. I shall support the Opposition's reasoned amendment because it seeks to set in a wider context the needs and requirements of our society at least to begin the long fight that we must all undertake to reduce the appalling crime rate over which the Government have presided for so long.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) on his new consultancy. I hope that he will serve our police as well, as efficiently and as honourably as does my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).
It is high time that the myth first perpetrated by that brilliant old fraudster, Bernard Shaw—that crime was a direct result of poverty—was dispelled. It is not true and is an insult to the poor, as it is an excuse to the rich. We must consider the fact that crime has been rising inexorably since the war in every country, under Governments of every complexion, in good times and bad. Until we accept that fact, we shall not achieve the right results.
I welcome this immensely important Bill, which is probably the most important measure for the Government to take in this Session.
In Cambridge city there has been a welcome 10 per cent. reduction in crime in the past year, but what has happened outside is much more disturbing. There has been a great and worrying increase in rural crime in places and villages in my constituency which did not suffer from the experiences that are all too common in our cities. People living in those places will welcome the firm measures in the Bill. I shall not deal with all of them, but I should like to mention two in particular.
I welcome the alterations in the bail provisions. In that context I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) who, as a new Member, latched on to the inadequacy of the law and fought hard to get the reforms that are now to be enacted.
I attach great importance to part V of the Bill, which proposes changes in the law of trespass. People in rural areas are fed up to the back teeth with the nuisance and annoyance caused by so-called travellers and by ghastly raves. The provisions to tighten up the law on those matters are long overdue and welcome.
I hope that that part of the Bill will deal with another pest in my constituency—the practice of illegal hare coursing. It involves disreputable people with vast sums of money and they come a long way to Cambridgeshire, some from as far away as Wales and the west country. Illegal hare coursing causes absolute chaos and will undoubtedly end in violence involving my farmer constituents unless we are careful. Perhaps the Minister will confirm—if not now, at some later time—that this undesirable practice will be covered by the Bill.
For the next part of my speech I declare an interest as president of the Guild of Experienced Motorists. I have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the biggest increase in crime relates to cars, and that it is nearly all due to youngsters and juveniles. It has also gone up faster than any other crime and leads not just to inconvenience and annoyance to car owners, but all too often to death and disability and the horrifying consequences about which we all know.
Much more needs to be done to tackle car crime and I am not sure that the Bill goes far enough. The Government must take the matter seriously. There is no reason why all cars should not be fitted with an effective security system, of which many are available cheaply, that enables stolen cars to be located and people apprehended immediately. Such modern technological systems are well known to the Minister of Transport, but there needs to be a determination to make use of them. The Government should tackle motor manufacturers and insurers to try to have such systems automatically fitted to all vehicles. Only in that way will we reduce the curse of car crime.
I discovered that the effect of new tax regulations on company cars is that an employee who fits a car alarm at a cost of £500 will have to pay between £45 and £70 extra in tax each year. That is an extraordinary effect of taxation by a Government dedicated to curbing crime. [Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members would like to intervene, but I should like to make progress.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that the new system would ensure that all car accessories were dealt with even-handedly. That is not satisfactory because for tax purposes a security system on a car should not be treated in the same way as a radio, a video or air conditioning. If the Home Office is serious about tackling car crime, I hope that it will take that matter up with the Treasury.
We hear much about the need for more and better police. I have persistently nagged on behalf of Cambridgeshire, which has fewer police per head of population than any other county although it is the fastest growing county in the country. That is not right. I was pleased to discover that we receive a welcome revenue support grant for the police of £1·5 million. However, I also discovered with some horror that the Lib-Lab county council regime allocated only £105,000 of that money for police resources and tried to salt the rest away in other expenditure. It was only when the Conservatives on the county council twigged that, moved an amendment and forced a vote that the allocation was raised to £340,000.
There is no point in the Government handing out money if local authorities cannot decide how to allocate it to the police in their areas. I agree that the police should have the best resources and that there should be bobbies on the beat, but it is up to local authorities to give the police the priority that they deserve.
I welcome the Bill and so do my constituents. It is an attempt to tackle a major curse and a cause of great anxiety among our people. The change of attitude expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is right because they have anticipated that people are much more concerned to see the punishment reflect the crime rather than the character of the criminal. People are outraged by some types of crime more than they are concerned about the psychiatric background, childhood or terms and conditions of the perpetrator. To recognise that fact is to return to a basic concept which strikes a chord with our people.
My constituents and those elsewhere will welcome the Bill, which I am happy to support. They will regard Opposition abstention as half-baked and wishy-washy. As a result, the Opposition will get from the people the contempt that they so richly deserve.
On new year's eve, an incident in my constituency revealed all too starkly to many of my constituents the depths of lawlessness to which the country has sunk. A man in his early 30s was gunned down and died a few hours later. The murder occurred on a busy high street in Wallsend, and the weapon was a firearm.
It is little wonder that many of our people live in a climate of fear and are so afraid that they will not go outside their doors in the evening. Many people have lost confidence in our criminal justice system and are crying out for a criminal justice Bill. However, it is a matter of deep regret that the Bill before the House is not the one for which they are crying out.
Many of our people live under a self-imposed curfew. Women will not drive their cars after dark. Education authorities have to move well-established evening classes to the hours of daylight. In my constituency, even Church organisations have to stage many of their events and functions during the day. Law-abiding people are prisoners in their own homes, and they look to the House for positive proposals to solve such problems.
Politicians have a tendency to come up with simple answers to complex questions. In criminal justice, there are certainly complex questions that need to be tackled. But it is not good enough to blame everything on the liberal 1960s, or to say that there is a worldwide crime wave that affects us all. Things are far more complicated than that. Yet the Government are looking for simple solutions to those complex questions. That is why the Bill is so misguided.
The Government make no attempt to identify the reasons why people offend. We must make it clear that there can be no excuse for criminal activities, but only if we can identify why people offend do we have a chance of finding the correct solutions. Part of that process is to acknowledge, as the Government must, that they bear a heavy responsibility.
During their 14 years in office they have presided over record increases in the crime rate, and have created a climate that promotes criminal activity and allows it to prosper. The individual is seen to be paramount, and we are told that there is no such thing as society. Those ideas are fundamentally flawed; those are the ingredients that lead people into criminal activity.
The Bill fails to address those issues. It is a ragbag of measures with no clear or coherent strategy, and nothing to tackle the causes of crime. It ignores the needs of the victim, and does little to prevent crime. The Bill is inadequate for many reasons, and is also dangerous. We have already heard many reasons why it is unsatisfactory, and I shall touch briefly on two—the position of the victim of crime, and the important role played by the Treasury in reducing the amount of money available for the criminal justice system.
It is a matter for deep regret that the Bill has little to say about the victims of crime. In his opening speech, the Home Secretary said that he had encouraged the Crown Prosecution Service to consult victims about the way in which the service deals with the accused. However, fine words are not enough. Many of us do not have confidence in the ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to involve victims in a proper and responsible way. The arrangement must be put on a statutory footing, and that is what the Labour party's reasoned amendment seeks to do.
At present, there is no one to safeguard the position of the victim. The defence is there to help the accused; the prosecution is there, in an even-handed way, to speak on behalf of the state, and of society as a whole. No one is charged with the responsibility of representing the interests of the victim. That must change.
That fact has recently been brought home to me forcibly, because I have been dealing with the family of a young man who was murdered, and they felt as my hon. Friend has described. They were ignored by the system, they could not obtain information from the Crown Prosecution Service, and they were treated in the most appalling way in court. Victims' families are forced to queue for places in the public gallery, and have to sit near people related to the defendant.
The problem, which I hope that my hon. Friend will take on board, is that, although the family were not the direct victims of the crime—in that case, the crime was murder, so the victim was no longer alive—they clearly felt themselves to be victims, and they were totally ignored by the system.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because there is a great danger that we may underestimate the sense of anger, frustration and injustice that many victims and their families feel about the way in which the system operates. That issue must be addressed, so if we are unsuccessful in pressing our reasoned amendment, I hope that further consideration will be given to the matter in Committee.
Victims are often not informed that someone has been charged, or of the date of a court appearance, or of the outcome at the end of the court process. Cosy deals are often negotiated between the CPS and the defence, and it is the victim who feels offended against, because of the way in which the system has treated him or her. We must bring an end to such cosy arrangements.
Such arrangements and deals are often negotiated partly because the CPS knows the pressure on court time. The Treasury has reduced the amount of money available, and as a result our courts are sitting for fewer days, although the crime rate is increasing dramatically. Our courts are not allowed to sit as often as they would like to.
All is revealed in a confidential memo sent to the Bar Council at a national level by Heather Hallett QC, director of public affairs of the south-east Bar Council, pointing out that, between 1991 and 1992, sitting days were reduced by 6,000, from 88,000 to 82,000. The memo continued:
courts are being closed, sittings of recorders are being cancelled often at the last minute",
explaining that, in Sussex and Kent, three courts had been closed, and that cases that should be dealt with in January 1994—that is, now—were being put back into the next financial year.
That situation is totally unacceptable. The cost-cutting aspirations of the Treasury are being put first, and as a result criminals are allowed to go free on our streets. The average delay between someone being charged and the case coming before the Crown court is three and a half months—a delay that increased by 11 per cent. between 1991 and 1992. Such delays simply provide further opportunities for criminals to commit more offences. That is unacceptable.
The Bill rightly deals with bail, but if we are worried about criminals going free, our principal objective must be to ensure that they are tried speedily and efficiently, and that is simply not happening.
We should be debating a Bill that would ensure that the guilty were convicted and the innocent acquitted, that crime was prevented and real rights were given to victims. The Bill fails because it does not tackle any of those issues. The Home Secretary must know that, although platitudes and prejudice may deliver a standing ovation at the Tory party conference, they do not constitute a framework for a criminal justice system. The Bill does not serve the interests of the House or of the country. Our people deserve better.
For the past 30 years, we in Britain have been experimenting with libertarian attitudes to crime. Those attitudes have been tried and have been proved an abject failure. It has been pointed out several times during the debate that the Conservative party has been in government for nearly 15 years. During that time, there has been a massive increase in the resources devoted to the police, to crime prevention and to the fight against crime in general. Anyone who believes that, had the Labour party been in power for the past 15 years, anything like those resources could or would have been made available will believe anything. The problem is not so much that the police do not catch the criminals; it is that we, the politicians, let them out again, either on bail or after much too short a time in prison.
I fear that, over the past 15 years, we have listened too much to the left-wing social reformers and not enough to our constituents, to the police and to the magistrates. But I have no doubt at all that, if either of the two socialist parties—I see that the Liberal Democrats are as usual conspicuous by their absence from this important debate —had been in power, matters would have been a great deal worse.
This Bill is the third step in this Parliament towards the restoration of common sense to Britain's criminal justice system, and I welcome it. [Laughter.] I am surprised that Opposition Members appear to find that funny. This is a very serious matter for all our constituents.
The first step was the amendment of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to restore the power of the courts to sentence a criminal on the basis of his whole criminal record. The second was my 10-minute Bill, which was supported by 110 Members of all parties—I wish publicly to thank all of them for their support—which reached the statute book in July as the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993, and which gives the prosecution a right of appeal against the decision of magistrates to grant bail. I have been informed by my hon. Friend the Minister that he expects to make a commencement order early in the new year. I hope that my hon. Friend will be more specific about that when he winds up, because that measure is badly needed and wanted by our constituents.
There is no simple answer to the question "What causes crime?" During this debate, Labour Members have repeatedly posed the rhetorical question, and I have been waiting for an answer—but answer came there none. There have always been criminals, and there always will be, and the situation throughout the western world is not at all encouraging.
Of course we must manage the economy as best we can so as to provide everyone with a decent home and a good job. During the past 20 months or so, I have listened to the Labour party and Liberal Democrats in economic debates and have heard nothing from them which suggests to me that the management of the economy would be any better in their hands—quite the reverse.
Over the past 15 years, there have been tremendous improvements in the standard of living of our people, but no Government has ever been able to provide a job for everyone who wants one, and I do not suppose that any Government ever will. There is certainly no crock of gold —I sometimes think that Opposition Members think there is—out of which all the projects that all of us want to see can be financed.
A great many criminals have jobs, and a great majority of the poor and unemployed do not commit crime—indeed, they are most often the victims of crime. We must keep faith with them and make it clear to potential criminals that poverty or unemployment will never be accepted as an excuse for crime. How, in any event, could poverty or unemployment be accepted as an excuse for rape or for smashing a glass in someone's face?
Much of the crime can be traced to the breakdown of respect, which I—and I am sure most hon. Members present—saw happening throughout the 1960s. I noticed a breakdown of respect between men and women and between parents and children, a breakdown of respect for religion, for the elderly and for all forms of authority. Sadly, Western society has abandoned all the traditional constraints upon human behaviour, and we are left only with the criminal law. It is not an adequate defence. The breakdown of respect to which I have referred began in the 1960s, long before Baroness Thatcher became Prime Minister.
There is another problem which has been referred to once or twice in the debate—the terrible scourge of drugs, which is affecting the entire developed world. I have listened carefully to this debate and others, and have heard the problem identified many times by Opposition Members and by my hon. Friends. I have yet to hear a solution. All we got from the Liberal Democrats at their party conference was the suggestion that we might legalise drugs —which would turn London into the drugs capital of the world.
Television has a lot to answer for. Anyone who doubts that that is the most powerful medium ever invented for moulding ideas and attitudes should look at the thousands of pounds that people are prepared to pay for a few minutes of advertising time.
I believe that child-centred educational methods have a lot to answer for, too. They have taught them a lot about their rights but precious little about their responsibilities.
The great majority of crimes are committed by people between the ages of 15 and 21. Many of those young people respond to non-custodial sentences. We must all welcome that. All forms of non-custodial treatment that work must be used, but we would be foolish if we shut our eyes to the fact that there is a hard core of young offenders who simply cannot be reformed and cannot be deterred. They simply have to be locked up, so that they can be physically prevented from burgling our constituents' houses, stealing their cars and engaging in other forms of anti-social behaviour.
I thoroughly welcome the proposal in the Bill to establish secure training centres, but I should prefer it if they were called secure schools. If a young person qualifies for custodial treatment, he is in need not of punishment but of a rescue operation.
Such establishments should principally be schools that happen to have a fence around them, not prisons that happen to have a few teachers inside them. Sadly, also, there are youngsters of the age of 10 and 11 who commit serious and persistent crime. Fortunately, there are not very many of them, but I feel that the Bill should be amended in Committee to provide that, if a court thinks it appropriate, it can send someone aged 10 or 11 to a secure school.
It is said that there was a high rate of reoffending from borstals, but let us not forget that we are dealing with the hard core of young criminals. Part of the problem was that they were there for too short a time. Very soon after going in, they were let out to continue their criminal careers. That is the wrong approach.
Such children should be educated in secure schools for as long as needed. It is no good sending them in for a few months. If necessary, and if the headmaster is of that opinion, it should be possible for them to be detained in that school until they reach their normal school leaving age. I see no reason at all why the headmaster should not have the right to use the cane on boys in appropriate circumstances in those schools; nor do I see why the headmaster of any school should be prohibited by law from using the cane on boys.
There are also youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18 who need custodial treatment, and it is no good throwing them into a young offenders' institution or "sin bin" and then forgetting about them. We are all aware of the terrible tragedies that have occurred in young offenders' institutions. The concept of the secure school must be extended to the 16-to-18 age group, but there the emphasis must be on training for work.
Of course all that is expensive. However, what are the costs of allowing those youngsters to remain at liberty, running wild and committing offences every day? Those costs are enormous. It is said that the schools to which I have referred would be universities of crime, but I do not accept that argument. The real universities of crime are the housing estates and even the homes where those young people live. It is sometimes said that it would be wrong to take those young people from their parents, but in the case of some youngsters, that is precisely what is required. The parents may be criminals themselves, and a negative influence on their children.
I believe that hostels should be provided for children when they leave secure schools, to ease their transition back into the real world and to help them obtain jobs, but nothing has been said about that so far. There should certainly be no trips to the Nile or to the Caribbean. Whatever may be the therapeutic effect of such trips, they are deeply offensive to our constituents who cannot afford to send their own children, who have committed no offences, to such places.
With regard to bail, I generally welcome part II. However, I believe that the right approach is that set out in clause 2 of my Bail (Amendment) Bill, which clause I sadly had to drop in Committee because of the lack of parliamentary time. That approach would have focused on people who had committed serious offences before. If a question arose whether such a person should have bail in future, the onus should be on that person to prove that he or she should have bail. It should not be for the prosecution to prove that that person should not have bail. That is a better approach than the automatic exclusion of bail.
I welcome the provisions for privatisation. I had an opportunity to visit the Wolds prison a few weeks ago. It is doing an excellent job. The argument that it is wrong to make a profit out of custody is quite ridiculous. Opposition Members might just as well say that we should close all the undertakers because it is wrong to make a profit out of bereavement. That is a ridiculous argument.
We should perhaps reconsider the stop-and-search powers of the police, and consider whether they are adequate. We should also consider whether it is necessary for every trifling traffic offence to go through the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service. Why should they not be dealt with by the police officer in the case?
I am aware of clause 38. However, it is wrong for defence lawyers to be able to extract the names of witnesses during proceedings. It should be at the judge's discretion whether the names of witnesses should be disclosed. What on earth is the point of offering a £5,000 reward if people know that, if they come forward with information, the criminals and their relatives will soon have their names and probably their addresses?
The question of anonymity in rape cases should be addressed. It is quite right that the anonymity of women should be protected, but similarly, a man accused of rape should be entitled to his anonymity unless and until he is convicted.
With regard to compensation for victims, I welcome the very large sum of additional money that the Government are making available to the victim support organisations. However, once the Child Support Agency has concluded its excellent task of chasing fathers who do not pay maintenance, its attention, or that of a similar organisation with the necessary resources, should be devoted to collecting compensation on behalf of the victims of crime. At the moment, criminals are not paying that compensation. The courts do not have the resources and are not adapted to perform that task.
I welcome the provisions on squatters and travellers, because they are a serious problem in my county of West Sussex. Clause 50 provides that the sound equipment used at raves can be forfeited. However, there is no corresponding provision for the forfeiture of vehicles used by new age travellers who commit mass trespass.
Many of our constituents find it grossly offensive to see vast sums of money paid to criminals who sell their stories to newspapers, and that practice should be outlawed forthwith.
With regard to sentencing, it is for the elected representatives of the people assembled here in Parliament, and not for Her Majesty's judges, to decide whether prison works. It is the function of judges to apply the law to the facts. If Parliament says that a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment should be imposed for a particular crime, we expect to see 10 years imposed for the most serious examples of that crime, and not the six or seven years that judges are accustomed to imposing. Some years ago, I published a pamphlet urging appeals against over-lenient sentences. That was enacted as section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
One reason why there are so many lenient sentences —I know this because I practised in the criminal courts for nearly 15 years—is that the defence counsel makes a speech in mitigation and tells the court what a wonderful man his client really is and how out of character it was that he thrust the broken bottle into the poor victim's face. During that time, the prosecuting counsel sits down and says nothing, except, in a rather formal way, to draw attention to the man's criminal record. Prosecuting counsel should be under a duty to draw the court's attention to anything which suggests a more serious punishment.
We must also reconsider remission. A man who is sentenced to six years' imprisonment will probably serve only three. That is a fraud on the public. I have actually heard professionals in the criminal justice business say that it does not matter what the public think. That is a breathtaking piece of arrogance. Sentences should mean what they say, and there should be no remission for good behaviour. Our constituents do not have a reduction in their council tax for good behaviour, because good behaviour is to be expected. Bad behaviour in prison should be punished by an increase in sentence. Life imprisonment should mean life.
I welcome part VII, to take action against pornographers. We must take the profit out of pornography and use the powers in the Obscene Publications Act 1959 to seize pornographic material. That could be done on the balance of probabilities, not on the criminal burden of proof. That is the key. The police must be assisted by private contractors who can find warehouses where filth is being stored and bring it before the courts, and pornographers should pay the costs of that.
I welcome clause 68. Sex lines should not be controlled; they should be banned. The public telephone system is no place for pornographic conversations.
I welcome clause 27 on the right of silence. As the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, we are not abolishing the right of silence. We are not suggesting that the thumbscrews be brought back and that people be forced to speak. It is rather odd that, if a man is accused of drink-driving, he has to incriminate himself by giving a sample of blood or urine, and he is treated as though guilty if he does not do so. However, if someone is suspected of rape or murder, he can sit with his arms folded and say, "Prove it—if you can." One hon. Member has pointed out that we need to go further.
Under the current law, when asked at the trial, "Why did you not answer the policeman's question?" an accused person will say, "Because my lawyer told me not to." Therefore, we must place all lawyers under an obligation, when they tell their clients that they need not say anything, to tell their clients also that, if they do not speak, the jury will be able to form such view of their refusal to speak as seems appropriate to them.
This is an excellent Bill. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on bringing it forward, but there is still much more to be done.
I do not know about other hon. Members, but I am fed up with naive comments, typified by some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen). He suggested that one simply has to agree with the Government or be labelled pro-criminal. That is nonsense and it is no way to conduct an important debate.
I do not believe that the public are aware of the seriousness of some of the problems facing us or of how thin the blue line is. We must add to that the standards of behaviour and the moral values that are espoused by the Conservative party—"Me first, and to hell with the rest of society." It is no wonder there is increasing criminality. Our current problems are bound to follow.
The causes of crime are not dealt with by the Bill. Despite the opportunity of nearly 15 years to address the causes of crime, the only opportunities that exist as a result of the Government's actions are opportunities for the criminal. I remember the various poster campaigns for general elections since 1979. The first mischievous one of 1979 was that of the dole queue, and the lies associated with that, through to the most recent one about the "double whammy". I can imagine the campaign slogan for posters in the next general election. There will be the same innuendoes, but they will say, "Vote Tory and avoid crime." I think that that will be aimed at the criminal, not at the rest of society.
I recently spent a whole night shift with my local police force and saw some of the evidence of the problems that face us—a handful of young people with total disregard for the policeman or policewoman. I discussed at length the causes of that behaviour with the officers with whom I was assigned. They referred to a number of areas, all of which have a common link: an offender's confidence that he will not be caught; even if he is, it will be pretty difficult to pursue the case because of the problems faced by the Crown Prosecution Service and the under-resourcing of magistrates courts. I shall refer to those matters in more detail in a moment.
I can adequately demonstrate that point by a case from my constituency, where the CPS is not prepared to pursue a violent offender who knocked down somebody with a vehicle and who has been witnessed committing violent crimes. The CPS is not prepared to pursue the case because of the difficulties associated with what it sees as a small-scale criminal. I see that person as a serious risk to society. It reflects the fact that the CPS takes the view that it cannot go any further because there is a greater need for more collection of evidence; that comes back to the resources available to the police.
The magistrates in my constituency recently released a violent offender on bail into the local community simply because the Home Secretary failed to provide local magistrates with the necessary facilities to remedy that situation. We hear all sorts of promises, but no action. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) referred to the number of court hours available. I know, from my wife's experience as chair of a bench in a district in Cheshire, of the cuts that have been imposed on the magistracy in that area.
The shortage of police was illustrated by my night out with the police force. The four villages of Neston, Parkgate, Burton and Willaston, comprising more than 100,000 people, had no direct cover from within the borough on that night while the officers with whom I was assigned were investigating a school break-in. I do not see that as a good enough response to the needs of my community.
For the rest of the night in the town of Ellesmere Port there were only five police officers on the streets. When I was involved in the arrest of three young men—I shall not refer to the matter in great detail because of the sub judice rule—there was no cover because all the police had to converge on the one spot. What happens in such a case? Is that really a good enough response to the needs of the community? The system around us is cracking. Public confidence is being eroded. Police, magistrates and the CPS have low morale. Indeed, in my view, it is at an all time low.
Let us look at some of the mistakes that have been made. I stress that it is no wonder that spectacular mistakes are made by the system, because shortcuts have been made. For example, I refer to the case of Paul Malone, to which I have referred several times before. He has now spent his eighth Christmas in gaol for offences that he could not have committed. I am not the only one to express that view. I have before me a sworn statement by a highly qualified forensic scientist who has been used on many occasions by the Home Office, for issues such as the shoot-to-kill policy. He is highly regarded. He has calculated, from the evidence that he has seen, that the height of the person who committed the crime does not correspond with the height of the person in gaol. In addition, the principal prosecution document has been shown to be fabricated.
The compounding of errors gets even worse. The first inquiry failed to bother to look at transcripts of the court hearing. The officer in charge retired mid-stream. The current inquiry is on its third lead officer. That level of incompetence and bad management goes back to the person at the top of the tree. The responsibility for it—the buck stops with him—belongs to the Home Secretary and nobody else.
The common thread in all the issues—the problems that I referred to earlier and the serious issue of the imprisonment of somebody in such circumstances—is the Government's unwillingness properly to resource criminal justice. We need to identify and tackle the causes of crime in a proper and positive manner and, when necessary, be tough—I mean tough—on proven offenders.
The Bill deals with some of the matters in which I have a particular interest, such as the use of science and technology. Those aspects of it are interesting and worthy of serious examination. However, it fails to address the fundamental issues on which I have touched. Therefore, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) in urging the House to accept the reasoned amendment and to take the debate forward much more positively.
It is clear from the debate that we are dealing with a poor Bill, ill planned and poorly drafted, which fails to deal with crime and miscarriages of justice. Those are two scandalous omissions.
The Bill's proposals fall into two categories. Some are helpful and capable of constructive amendment, and we shall try to achieve just that in Committee. Others try to address a real issue but offer wrong-minded or ineffective solutions, rather like a doctor diagnosing an illness and insisting on applying leeches when laser technology is available and more appropriate. With 15 Acts in 14 years dealing with criminal justice and many minor measures, why will not the Government take a balanced approach to such serious issues?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) for acknowledging the co-operation between Conservative Back Benchers and Labour Front Benchers that helped the 1993 Bail (Amendment) Bill through its stages in the House when the then Minister had geared himself up to kill it off. We now have the prospect that the prosecution will be able to appeal against the granting of bail when there is clear evidence that a mistake has been made.
We shall take an equally responsible approach to straightening out the confused proposals in the Bill. I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Shoreham that the Government have delayed implementation of that Act, when these measures already apply in Scotland. There are no excuses for delay and I hope that the Minister will assure us that it will be implemented immediately.
I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Shoreham said that not enough money was available to pay for all the steps that we would like to take to prevent crime when people were already paying a tax for crime. Some people are paying up to 30 per cent. more for their car insurance and between 20 and 30 per cent. more for their home insurance because of the effects of crimes that the Government have failed to prevent—that is for those who have insurance, or who can afford it. The suffering, as well as the taxation that is, in effect, provided by the failure to tackle crime, is a serious issue.
I share the concern of the hon. Member for Shoreham about the failure to tackle drug abuse and I published my own analysis last year, warning of the growing size of the problem. I agree that legalising drugs would be a diversion and that we need to tackle crack trafficking. It is crazy to end drug education projects and to cut the treatment of drug addicts in the community, steps which can diminish this scourge in our community, and all the other work that we need to do to avoid the individual, family and community breakdown which the threat of drugs offers us. Why are the Government undertaking those stupid actions at the present time?
With regret, I see little sign that we will have such a constructive approach from the Government Benches as was achieved during the debate on the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 on some of the issues with which we are dealing today. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), was at his sycophantic best today. One would almost think as he spoke that he regarded rising crime as evidence of Conservative success.
Not from him came a word on the Government's failings. Indeed, there was not the sort of care which the hon. and learned Gentleman used to show, for instance, in 1988 when the right of silence was dealt with far more carefully by Ministers in respect of Northern Ireland. At that time, the hon. and learned Gentleman said:
for all its thinness and ruined state, the right to silence is still one of the significant linchpins of an accusatorial system and we should be cautious about abolishing it."—[Official Report, 8 November 1988; Vol. 140, c. 212.]
The hon. and learned Gentleman also criticised the Government at that time for rushing through "an ill-considered measure." What do we have today but an ill-considered measure? The Home Secretary irresponsibly has thrown aside the evidence and the conclusions of a royal commission, instead of taking the sensible conclusions which it had offered after careful and extended thought.
We ought to see more balance from other Government Members. If the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) is so concerned about bail bandits, why did he and the Government not support Labour party proposals on Report? Those measures could now have been in place had the hon. Gentleman and the Government not voted against them. If the hon. Gentleman is serious in his declarations of support for the police, he must be more willing to put pressure on the Home Secretary and to be less partisan in his rhetoric. The hon. Gentleman also referred to computer graphics, and he should remember that he is supporting an initiative which is sponsored on an all-party basis by seven hon. Members.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who took the lead among other hon. Members to bring that matter to general attention. Those concerns are shared, the problem is enormous and we need to work together to defeat that threat to decency. We seek to improve that part of the Bill and to include the proposal of confiscation which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) during the debate.
Against that background, it was incredible that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) had the foolhardy audacity to criticise the Labour party's record. The hon. Gentleman justified part I by referring to the lack of places to send young people. Why did not he criticise the Government for undermining the system of community homes with education on the premises? Why did not the hon. Gentleman criticise the Government for the fact that therapeutic facilities like Peperharow, which succeeded in working with some of the most difficult young people, are now closed?
The hon. Gentleman asked when the places dealt with under part I will be available. He is right to do that, as it is an important question which the Home Secretary failed to answer. Before becoming a Member, I campaigned for secure places to end the scandal of young people being held in adult prisons because there was nowhere else for them to go. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) campaigned vigorously after the suicide of a constituent in prison. Eventually, the Home Office Minister, who is now the Secretary of State for Education, promised the necessary places, although he would not say when those places would be made available. That promise was made in February 1991, during debates on one of the many Criminal Justice Bills. Not one of those places has yet been provided. It is right to ask the Minister to tell us when those places are to be made available. Let us not have the prevarication that we have had from Ministers at the time of the last announcement.
Reference was made earlier in the debate to the availability of secure places. During the period from 1 August 1993 to the end of October 1993, there were 475 requests for secure places. During that time, 113 vacancies arose. That is the scale of difficulty that was referred to by my hon. Friends during the debate—so much for the Government's determination to provide what is needed to check youngsters when they need to be in secure accommodation.
The Government could do many other things. At about 6 o'clock in the morning during the Consolidated Fund debate just before Christmas we discussed a problem that has been highlighted by police officers throughout the country, from constables and sergeants to chief constables, who are angry and frustrated at being let down—as they see it—when the Crown Prosecution Service fails to take a prosecution through to success. That is happening at a time when reported crime is up 124 per cent. while, under this Government, there has also been a staggering 15 per cent. drop in the number of cases coming before Crown courts in the past year.
Yes, there is plenty that the Government could do if they had the determination, and it would not even require legislation for them to get on with the job and make many of the changes, but they have failed to do so.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) referred to offences committed by those "imbued" by the values of the Government—people who were brought up during the Government's time in office. He is absolutely right; those offences have led to the burdens on police to which he referred.
The Government's impact, in undermining initiatives undertaken by local authorities, is enormous. For the past few years, the Conservative party has been slaughtering the youth service, which used to help young people to adjust to the society in which they were growing up.
Reports written during the second world war, the first world war and even the last years of the 19th century all emphasised the need for a youth service that was able to work with young people so that they could be brought up with values that would enable them to take a full part in society.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that in the past 10 years the growth in violent crime and theft has been greater in France than in the United Kingdom. As France had a socialist Government until early last year, would he say that socialism has failed the youth of France in the same way?
Opposition Members have been waiting all evening to contribute to this debate, yet a Member like that can wander in off the street and make that sort of inept and stupid contribution. The Government who are responsible in this country should be tackling crime in this country. I must tell the hon. Gentleman—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you can confirm that I have been present throughout much of the debate and that my name was on the list to speak. Therefore, would you ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his rather pathetic remark and to answer the question?
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that my observations are confirmed by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. That is the sort of diversion that we are coming to expect from the Conservatives. They—not least the Home Secretary—are afraid of debating crime and of facing up to their responsibilities —
If the hon. Gentleman does not want to be diverted, why does he not give a straight answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin)? [Interruption.]
I did not answer because I was interrupted by a point of order and I naturally respected the Chair's need to respond to it. Conservative Members have made a fatuous attempt to say that crime has risen more in other countries, which has been disproved and challenged.
Let us come to the real issues in the debate. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton said, the problem is that most criminals are not caught. The Home Secretary fails to recognise that the Government preside over a system in which only 2 per cent., or one in 50, of the crimes committed end up with someone being punished by a court. Yet the Home Secretary concentrates all his efforts on what happens in court.
The Opposition have made it clear time and time again —we have contributed constructively to amendments to the law—that we want those who are brought to justice to be dealt with properly. We also, as the reasoned amendment makes clear, want crime to be prevented. Ministers have continually failed to look at the facts and to understand what is happening. What can we expect when even the Prime Minister wants to "understand a little less"?
A year ago, the Home Office told the Home Affairs Select Committee that youth crime was going down. Eventually, it revised that opinion because Labour's analysis showed what Labour Members, local communities and the police knew all along—that youth crime had been rising, especially in relation to burglary and car crime. I am glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) in this endeavour. Technology and protection can help in tackling the problem of car crime. However, the causes of crime need to be tackled as well. Burglary and car crime now comprise 53 per cent. of crime in England and Wales. Yet those are the very crimes, which take up so much time of the police, that would be cut if the Home Secretary accepted our advice and the propositions in our reasoned amendment.
Why will the Home Secretary not take measures that would stop people becoming victims? He made the spurious claim of being interested in the victims of crime. We have already embarrassed him into increasing his low level of support for Victim Support. He said earlier that he was proud of providing £10 million a year. He knows that £16 million a year is necessary to provide a comprehensive victim support service in every part of England and Wales, as well as a witness support scheme in the Crown courts. Only the Crown courts are covered, so it is not an over-ambitious aspiration. By the end of 1997, the Home Secretary will still only have reached the level of £11·7 million, which is not good enough. With the penny-pinching attitude that causes the Government continually to undervalue volunteers, the capacity to give adequate training and back-up is not being provided.
Then there is the criminal injuries compensation scheme. As was rightly said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the proposals are an insult to the victims of crime. They replace a proper scheme of compensation with a system of fixed payments which take no account of the individual circumstances of the victim and which will fail miserably to compensate those who miss work for weeks or months as a result of violent injury. Rape victims, those who have been most seriously hurt and thousands of others will lose out under the proposals. The proposals have little support anywhere within the criminal justice system.
Another way in which to help victims would be to speed up our courts system, which we propose in the reasoned amendment and which we shall pursue in Committee. The Home Office has told those who have sought to help it that amendments to speed up the criminal justice system are not included in the Bill because there is not room. What a ridiculous proposition, especially when a working party has spent months getting proposals ready.
I put it this way. Each of us accepts that if we punish or correct our own children, we do so today. We do not wait until tomorrow or for many months. We could improve matters simply with a legal framework for cautioning plus, which ends up with rapid intervention for youngsters who start getting involved in trouble. We could help by having pre-trial reviews and by speeding up, with great clarity and transparency, the system in the courts. We advanced those propositions in the Committee stage of the previous Criminal Justice Bill. They were voted down by the Conservatives only six months ago. Will they support us in the endeavour this time, as the Home Secretary seems to think that he might consider those ideas?
During the debate on the previous Criminal Justice Bill, we made a more comprehensive proposal to deal with ticket touts. The Conservatives voted it down. We shall seek to improve the propositions before the House this time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) referred to the low clear-up rates. I pay tribute to the Metropolitan police and to a number of police forces throughout the country for recognising the need for the local partnership approach that we recommend in the reasoned amendment, which would hand back local communities to the people who live in them. On more than one occasion, we have proposed such a legal framework, which would be welcomed by the police and by local authorities, and which would give real strength to such local partnerships. I wish that the Home Secretary would take that proposal seriously. That is part of the strength and depth of the reasoned amendment on which the House will vote later.
Is the hon. Gentleman familiar with the response to my right hon. and learned Friend's 27-point programme, announced at the Conservative party conference, from Richard Coyles, the chairman of the Police Federation? He said:
My message to the Home Secretary is what you have proposed is first-class. It will help tremendously in the fight against crime.
Is the chairman of the Police Federation right or wrong?
I have spent a considerable time talking to police representatives, including the chairman of the Police Federation, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman will find that second thoughts led to less enthusiasm being expressed. The chairman of the Police Federation said that he was extremely concerned about what the Home Secretary was not doing. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) has fallen upon the sword by seeking support from the police. They are suspicious of the Home Secretary's weak approach and the fact that he has gone for headlines rather than reality.
It is not surprising that the Home Secretary has failed to answer the simple question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, who asked whether he believed that any of the measures in the Bill would cut crime. The answer is that the Home Secretary does not believe it himself. How can he inspire confidence?
The Home Secretary said that he had been out with a local watch scheme to walk around its area. It is nice for the Home Secretary to go out at night and I offer him another opportunity to go out with the South Wales police, as I have done, on to the streets of the capital city of Wales on a weekend night. He will see exactly how thin the blue line is drawn. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should contemplate the fact that that problem is faced by other police forces in cities and towns throughout the country.
The chief constable of South Wales police has said that he needs extra finance next year above the 5·5 per cent. that the Home Office says is necessary. The Secretary of State for Wales has, however, limited the capacity of Welsh local authorities to provide above a 1·75 per cent. increase in contributions. The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales are refusing to sit down with the local authorities and the police authority to discuss the chief constable's proposition. That refusal will lead to a crisis in policing in south Wales and the closure of police stations. That is an absolute scandal. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Secretary of State for Wales must face up to their responsibility for that. I am referring to a specific example, but I know that other right hon. and hon. Friends, who represent every town and city, will be able to cite similar examples in coming months. Conservative Members will also have to face similar problems in their communities.
The Home Secretary has tried to say that he is interested in supporting the police, but his record is appalling. He has reneged on the Conservativea' election promise to increase police numbers by 1,000 this year; instead, he has delivered a cut of 224 in that number. He has promised a Mickey Mouse figure of 3,000 extra police by cutting paperwork, but the police have ridiculed that figure, because they know that he will not give the cash for the new technology which is the starting point for cutting that paperwork. That means jam tomorrow and no action on crime today.
I hope that when the Minister of State replies to the debate he will apologise for his recent disgraceful behaviour. Last week the Prime Minister said that "back to basics" was not about personal morality but about public policy. That is a welcome change from the emphasis placed on that policy by the Minister at the recent launch of the report on juvenile justice by the Children's Society. The Minister turned up too late to hear the introduction to that report or to listen to the deep concern expressed on behalf of the society by the Bishop of Worcester. He brushed aside all that the report said about the need for the Government to take a positive constructive initiative on juvenile justice and he attacked the Church for not preaching individual morality.
In fact, individual morality is preached about every Sunday in every church in the land, but that is not news. What is news is that the Church, like the police, has identified a deep malaise in our society which arises from the break-up of our community on which I have commented. What is news is that the Church, the police, the Labour party and many other commentators share the view that we need to balance individual responsibility with the responsibility of the Government to create the right framework of incentives, of rewards and of punishments that effectively create a contract between the individual and society. Unless we get that balance right, the malaise will deepen. While Ministers may continue to blame everyone but themselves, their pronouncements will be of no use or benefit to the victims of crime or to the community at large.
The real test tonight is whether Conservative Members will stop treating crime as a political football and welcome our constructive proposals, or turn them down again. If they vote against our reasoned amendment, they will reject a statutory framework for crime prevention, effective measures to prevent crime, measures to create safer communities in a safer Britain, measures to tackle youth crime, steps to tackle drugs and drug-related crime, steps to tackle truancy, new laws to tackle racial harassment and violence and measures that will put the victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. They will reject measures to limit access to dangerous weapons, the independent judicial appointments commission and an independent authority to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice. That is what the Minister and the Home Secretary will vote against if they reject our reasoned amendment tonight.
The Bill is the centrepiece of the Government's legislative programme for this Session. It carries into action the lion's share of the extensive proposals which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced in October, and it will achieve a criminal justice system that protects the public and not the criminal.
There have been two clear messages from the debate today—first, that there is widespread and genuine concern about crime levels, not just in the House but across the country ; and, secondly, that it is only on this side of the House that there are positive and effective ideas for reform.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) says that the Labour party is prepared to get tough on crime and criminals, but where is the evidence? The hon. Gentleman has not produced one policy proposal to get tough on crime. Perhaps he thinks that if he tells us often enough we will all believe that it will come true. It takes a lot more than that to convince the House and the country.
Today, the hon. Gentleman told us of his new, decisive approach. Faced with this important and comprehensive Bill, what will he do tonight? He will abstain. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary called the hon. Gentleman a weathervane. He is wrong: at least a weathervane ends up pointing somewhere. Watching the Opposition Front Bench —
My right hon. and learned Friend has made the point that it is a feeble amendment and is a load of rubbish that adds nothing to the Bill.
Watching the Opposition Front Bench this afternoon reminded me of the three vultures in Walt Disney's "Jungle Book", sitting there with eyes open and talons out.
Hey Flaps, what are we going to do?
I dunno, what d'ya want to do?
OK, so what are we going to do?
That is what we have seen from the Opposition Front Bench today. I loved that Walt Disney classic, but I did not think that I would see it again so soon. What a typical Labour party shambles. Labour Members do not know which way to turn.
I have already told the hon. Gentleman that we consider the points in the reasoned amendment to be practically worthless and that it contains nothing to deal with the essential issues facing the House or the country. The question is whether the hon. Gentleman will still abstain if his reasoned amendment is defeated tonight. Will he and his party sit there not able to vote against the Bill but scared to vote for it because the lobby groups will hound him?
At least the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), in his quick rattle through the Bill, covered all the points and said why he was in favour of some and against others. He asked where was the Criminal Cases Review Authority. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has told the House that we are committed to the measure and will produce a consultation paper setting out the issues. The solutions that we propose and any practical problems that need to be settled will be in that paper.
A great deal of work is needed, for example, to establish the proposed authority's constitutional position, its relationship with the courts, the police service and others, its powers and proceedings and its criteria for selecting cases for investigation and referral to the Court of Appeal. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland also asked about the Law Commission report —
No. If the Opposition spokesman had left me the appropriate amount of time to respond, I would be able to take more interventions.
It is unrealistic of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland to expect the Bill to include proposals from the Law Commission's report on personal violence, which was published just before Christmas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) raised points about the law of consent. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) and my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) raised points about capital punishment. The House will be interested to know that the Government consider those matters to be issues of individual conscience. If amendments are selected, the Government will permit free votes on the Government side on both matters. We propose that both debates should take place on the Floor of the House. Time will be made available for any such debates at a relatively early stage in the Committee proceedings. Any debate on capital punishment will be taken by the Government to be the once-per-Parliament debate.
Three clear principles run through the Bill. First, protection of the public is the first duty of the Government. It must come before anything else. Secondly, the police should have all the powers that they need to prevent crime and to catch criminals. Thirdly, the balance of the criminal justice system must be tilted further against criminals and in favour of protecting the public.
The Bill covers wide ground. It is not purely about courts, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) suggested. It is about combating terrorism, juvenile crime and rural crime. Of course it is about court powers and procedures, too. But it is also about bail, police powers, the treatment of witnesses and the laws governing pornography.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that the Bill contained trivial minutiae. They might be trivial minutiae to the Labour party, but all the matters that I have just mentioned are vitally important to all the constituents of Conservative Members. On every one of those matters the balance has been shifted to ensure that the public receive the protection that they need and deserve.
To my constituents, a rise of 265 per cent. in the rate of crime since the Government came to office is not trivial. It is not trivial that my constituents are afraid to go on to the street, open their doors or drive their cars. What will the Minister say to my constituents who are suffering the worst crime rate in Britain's history?
Exactly. So the right hon. Gentleman should vote for the Bill. He should have voted for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which introduced the power to review lenient sentences, and countless prevention of terrorism measures, which Opposition Members refused to support. In every one of the matters that I have mentioned, the balance has been shifted to ensure that the public receive the protection that they need and deserve. On every one of those matters our position is crystal clear and Labour cannot say whether it agrees or disagrees. Thank goodness for my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who has put on record the strong support of the Police Federation for the Bill and the measures that we are introducing.
Some hon. Members have referred to juvenile crime. Current laws clearly fail to protect the public. There is clearly a problem with persistent juvenile offenders, as many of my hon. Friends have pointed out. A few persistent offenders can be responsible for a vast amount of crime and the police and the courts must have the powers to stop them.
No. I have many points to pick up from the debate and I must go on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made some interesting points. I welcome his suggestion that the voluntary sector should work with us on secure training units. I have met members of that sector and am keen to encourage them.
The description by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) of young hooligans running riot on housing estates in his constituency was the best argument for the Bill that I have heard from the Opposition. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join the Government in the Lobby tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) welcomed secure units. We want them built as soon as possible, but I cannot give my hon. Friend a firm timetable as it depends on the Bill's pace through the House. I have also noted what my hon. Friend said about foreign trips. We have asked councils responsible for such trips to show common sense. We shall watch carefully and take suitable action if common sense does not prevail.
My hon. Friend will be aware that my local authority, Gloucestershire county council, has been involved in two of the most sensational cases of sending young offenders on trips abroad. Does he agree that such action is totally unacceptable to my constituents who have committed no crime whatever and that it will not deter young offenders from committing crimes in the future?
No. I have already given way four times and I have a lot of ground to cover.
The secure training centres will not be for children who have scrumped farmers' apples or stolen a few sweets from the local shop. Nor will they be for first-time offenders. They will be for offenders with at least three convictions who have breached a supervision order or offended during the period of a supervision order. We need to put in place a steady hierarchy of punishment, from a caution at the bottom to custody at the top, to show those youngsters that their behaviour will be dealt with seriously and that a life of crime simply does not pay.
As a recent survey in The Times explained, 60 per cent. of youths aged between 13 and 17 said that one reason for juvenile crime was the belief that offenders would be let off with a caution. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is already dealing with excessive cautioning at the lower end of the scale of punishment. The Bill will put in place the necessary sentencing framework at the top end of the scale.
The Bill also takes important steps to deal with rural crime. That was widely welcomed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale and for Halesowen and Stourbridge. It is intolerable that local communities should live in fear of invasions from trespassers who have no regard for the rights of others. We shall provide the police with further powers to deal with that menace, allowing the speedy removal of trespassers and their vehicles from land. We shall also introduce new powers to prevent the appalling distress caused by unlicensed night-time raves on open land. Their incessant noise can keep residents for miles around awake all night.
The Bill will also create the new offence of aggravated trespass against those who try to disrupt perfectly legal activities. Those who oppose such activities. whether it is a race meeting at Aintree or an angling match in Essex, have a perfect right to try to change the law to ban such activities, but no one has the right to wreck lawful activities and disrupt people going about their legitimate business.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking asked about gipsy sites. I shall happily respond to his points in Committee. On animal rights terrorists, we already have sufficient legislation to deal with all forms of terrorism. The Bill provides new powers to deal with disruption and intimidation on private land in the open air.
My right hon. Friend also asked about self defence and the review carried out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. In a written reply on 14 December, my right hon. and learned Friend said:
I am satisfied that the individual should always be able to defend himself, his family and his property, as long as he only uses force that is both reasonable and necessary. I am not currently persuaded that there is a need to change the law. However, I intend to study the Law Commission's recent report on offences against the person very carefully and will be interested in the public reaction to its recommendations."—[Official Report, 14 December 1993; Vol. 234, c. 537.]
The Bill makes important changes to our criminal justice procedures. The most significant change that has been commented on by hon. Members tonight is the proposal to curtail the so-called right to silence. It is nonsense for the Opposition to suggest that that would endanger fundamental civil liberties, as the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) rightly pointed out. As the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) rightly said, the defendant will still be able to choose whether to answer police questions or to give evidence in court. All we propose is the removal of the artificial restriction that prevents a court from drawing its own conclusions from all the facts of the case, including what the defendant has to say for himself. If someone decides to keep quiet until the day of trial and then offers an explanation that he could perfectly well have given to the police, why should not the court know that and draw its own conclusions? The present rules are a charter for experienced crooks.
The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) let the cat out of the bag. We now know why Labour is in a pickle. It knows that even the poll in The Independent showed that over 88 per cent. of the public, and I think 87 per cent. of Labour supporters, supported the Home Secretary giving new powers to the police. The Opposition know that they cannot vote against the Bill, but nor can they offend their pressure and lobby groups. They normally jump through hoops to lap up their trendy theories.
The House has had the ridiculous spectacle of the neutral Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. It reminded me of a sheep on the fells with its horns stuck in a fence. It cannot go forward and it cannot go back, it cannot turn left and it will not turn right. It can only stay stuck, noisily bleating and waiting for something to turn up.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield has said in the past that the 27 measures announced by the Home Secretary were gimmicks. In the debate today he said that there was just one gimmick—our proposal to prevent those charged with rape, manslaughter or murder and who have a previous conviction for those offences from getting bail. He said that such cases are rare. Of course they are rare, but just one rape or one murder committed by someone who has already been convicted of those crimes is one too many. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a gimmick, he should think again and think of the victims and say that he is wrong. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) that we will implement his Act as soon as possible.
Part VII of the Bill contains important changes to the law on pornography. They were welcomed by my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge, for Ryedale and for Congleton and by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing).
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton that Governments have traditionally held that a change in the legal definition of obscenity should be a matter for the conscience of hon. Members. However, we have made it clear that we are prepared to help any attempt to change the law, provided it seems to us to be workable, likely to command support and be an improvement on the existing definition. I look forward to my hon. Friend's proposals.
The Bill is a key part of our strategy to attack crime, but it should be considered alongside all the other actions that we are taking to make life more difficult for criminals and easier for law-abiding citizens. We are reforming the police service, making sure that it is better managed and organised. We are introducing performance pay. Two measures alone—the abolition of two middle ranks and cutting paperwork—could, over time, free the equivalent of about 5,000 officers for front-line work. We want to make sure that for the rest of this decade and into the next century we have the most effective and efficient police service possible.
The Bill also comes on top of what we have done in the past 14 years to ensure a tough response to crime. Crime prevention schemes have been pioneered and spread across the country.
The Opposition's attack on the Government has been completely hollow, and that just about sums up Labour's attitude to law breaking. The Opposition's only offering is a hollow response, and their response to the Bill has been pathetic. The Bill seeks fundamental changes, but the Opposition cannot decide whether to support them. On changes to bail, they just do not know; on longer sentences for criminals, they just do not know; on more powers for the police to deal with terrorists, they just do not know. Well, the police and the public know. They know that they want those changes, and they know that we shall make them. They also know that they can never trust the Labour party—a party that is soft on crime and soft on criminals.
The Bill introduces tough measures right across the board. It gives the police the powers that they need to catch criminals, and the courts the power to punish them. It gives the public the protection that they want and deserve. It represents justice for victims, punishment for criminals, and protection for the public. Those principles run right through the Bill, and that is why my hon. Friends should join me in the Lobby tonight.
|Division No. 58]||[10 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)|
|Ainger, Nick||Armstrong, Hilary|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy|
|Allen, Graham||Ashton, Joe|
|Alton, David||Austin-Walker, John|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Galloway, George|
|Barnes, Harry||Gapes, Mike|
|Barron, Kevin||Garrett, John|
|Battle, John||George, Bruce|
|Bayley, Hugh||Gerrard, Neil|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Godsiff, Roger|
|Bell, Stuart||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Benton, Joe||Grocott, Bruce|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Gunnell, John|
|Berry, Dr. Roger||Hain, Peter|
|Betts, Clive||Hall, Mike|
|Blair, Tony||Hanson, David|
|Blunkett, David||Hardy, Peter|
|Boateng, Paul||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Boyes, Roland||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Bradley, Keith||Henderson, Doug|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Heppell, John|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Hill, Keith (Streatham)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Hoey, Kate|
|Burden, Richard||Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)|
|Byers, Stephen||Home Robertson, John|
|Caborn, Richard||Hood, Jimmy|
|Callaghan, Jim||Hoon, Geoffrey|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Hoyle, Doug|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Cann, Jamie||Hughes, Roy (Newport E)|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Clapham, Michael||Hutton, John|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Illsley, Eric|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Ingram, Adam|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)|
|Clelland, David||Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Jamieson, David|
|Coffey, Ann||Janner, Greville|
|Cohen, Harry||Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)|
|Connarty, Michael||Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)|
|Corbett, Robin||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Corston, Ms Jean||Jowell, Tessa|
|Cousins, Jim||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Cryer, Bob||Keen, Alan|
|Cummings, John||Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||Khabra, Piara S.|
|Darling, Alistair||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Davidson, Ian||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||Leighton, Ron|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Lewis, Terry|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Litherland, Robert|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Denham, John||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Dewar, Donald||Llwyd, Elfyn|
|Dixon, Don||Loyden, Eddie|
|Dobson, Frank||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Donohoe, Brian H.||McAllion, John|
|Dowd, Jim||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||McCartney, Ian|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Macdonald, Calum|
|Eastham, Ken||McFall, John|
|Enright, Derek||McKelvey, William|
|Etherington, Bill||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||McLeish, Henry|
|Ewing, Mrs Margaret||Maclennan, Robert|
|Fatchett, Derek||McMaster, Gordon|
|Faulds, Andrew||McNamara, Kevin|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||McWilliam, John|
|Fisher, Mark||Madden, Max|
|Flynn, Paul||Maddock, Mrs Diana|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Mahon, Alice|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Mandelson, Peter|
|Fraser, John||Marek, Dr John|
|Fyfe, Maria||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Martlew, Eric||Ruddock, Joan|
|Maxton, John||Salmond, Alex|
|Meacher, Michael||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Meale, Alan||Sheerman, Barry|
|Michael, Alun||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Milburn, Alan||Short, Clare|
|Miller, Andrew||Simpson, Alan|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Morgan, Rhodri||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|Morley, Elliot||Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)||Snape, Peter|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Soley, Clive|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Spearing, Nigel|
|Mudie, George||Spellar, John|
|Mullin, Chris||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|Murphy, Paul||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Steinberg, Gerry|
|O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)||Stevenson, George|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Stott, Roger|
|O'Hara, Edward||Strang, Dr. Gavin|
|Olner, William||Straw, Jack|
|O'Neill, Martin||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Parry, Robert||Tipping, Paddy|
|Patchett, Terry||Turner, Dennis|
|Pendry, Tom||Tyler, Paul|
|Pickthall, Colin||Vaz, Keith|
|Pike, Peter L.||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Pope, Greg||Wallace, James|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Walley, Joan|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Watson, Mike|
|Purchase, Ken||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Radice, Giles||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Randall, Stuart||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Raynsford, Nick||Wilson, Brian|
|Redmond, Martin||Winnick, David|
|Reid, Dr John||Wise, Audrey|
|Rendel, David||Worthington, Tony|
|Richardson, Jo||Wray, Jimmy|
|Robertson, George (Hamilton)||Wright, Dr Tony|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Roche, Mrs. Barbara|
|Rogers, Allan||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Rooker, Jeff||Mr. Jon Owen Jones and|
|Rooney, Terry||Mr. Jack Thompson.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Blackburn, Dr John G.|
|Alexander, Richard||Body, Sir Richard|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Booth, Hartley|
|Amess, David||Boswell, Tim|
|Ancram, Michael||Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Bowden, Andrew|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Bowis, John|
|Ashby, David||Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Brandreth, Gyles|
|Atkins, Robert||Brazier, Julian|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)||Bright, Graham|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Brooke, Rt Hon Peter|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Browning, Mrs. Angela|
|Baldry, Tony||Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Budgen, Nicholas|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Burns, Simon|
|Bates, Michael||Burt, Alistair|
|Batiste, Spencer||Butler, Peter|
|Bellingham, Henry||Butterfill, John|
|Bendall, Vivian||Carlisle, John (Luton North)|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Cash, William||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hannam, Sir John|
|Churchill, Mr||Hargreaves, Andrew|
|Clappison, James||Harris, David|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)||Hawkins, Nick|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hawksley, Warren|
|Coe, Sebastian||Hayes, Jerry|
|Colvin, Michael||Heald, Oliver|
|Congdon, David||Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward|
|Conway, Derek||Hendry, Charles|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Hicks, Robert|
|Couchman, James||Hill, James (Southampton Test)|
|Cran, James||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)||Horam, John|
|Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)||Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Davies, Quentin (Stamford)||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)|
|Day, Stephen||Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)|
|Deva, Nirj Joseph||Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Devlin, Tim||Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)|
|Dicks, Terry||Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Hunter, Andrew|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Dover, Den||Jack, Michael|
|Duncan, Alan||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Duncan-Smith, Iain||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Dunn, Bob||Jessel, Toby|
|Durant, Sir Anthony||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Dykes, Hugh||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Eggar, Tim||Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)|
|Elletson, Harold||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)||Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine|
|Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)||Key, Robert|
|Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)||Kilfedder, Sir James|
|Evans, Roger (Monmouth)||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Evennett, David||Kirkhope, Timothy|
|Faber, David||Knapman, Roger|
|Fabricant, Michael||Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)|
|Fishburn, Dudley||Knox, Sir David|
|Forman, Nigel||Kynoch, George (Kincardine)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Forth, Eric||Lang, Rt Hon Ian|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Lawrence, Sir Ivan|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Legg, Barry|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Leigh, Edward|
|Freeman, Rt Hon Roger||Lennox-Boyd, Mark|
|French, Douglas||Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)|
|Fry, Sir Peter||Lidington, David|
|Gale, Roger||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Gallie, Phil||Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Lord, Michael|
|Garnier, Edward||Luff, Peter|
|Gill, Christopher||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Gillan, Cheryl||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||MacKay, Andrew|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Maclean, David|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Gorst, John||McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick|
|Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)||Madel, Sir David|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Maitland, Lady Olga|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Malone, Gerald|
|Grylls, Sir Michael||Mans, Keith|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn||Marland, Paul|
|Hague, William||Marlow, Tony|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Mates, Michael||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian||Soames, Nicholas|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Speed, Sir Keith|
|Mellor, Rt Hon David||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Merchant, Piers||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Milligan, Stephen||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Mills, Iain||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Spring, Richard|
|Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)||Sproat, Iain|
|Moate, Sir Roger||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Steen, Anthony|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Stephen, Michael|
|Moss, Malcolm||Stern, Michael|
|Needham, Richard||Stewart, Allan|
|Nelson, Anthony||Streeter, G|