I beg to move as an amendment to the Address the words standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others, namely, at end add:
But humbly regret the lack of a firm commitment to implement the provisions of the Crime (Sentences) Bill 1997 to give second time serious violent and sexual offenders automatic life sentences from October 1997; seek the reinstatement of the original provisions of that Bill to give third time burglars and dealers in hard drugs mandatory minimum sentences of three and seven years respectively-save in exceptional circumstances; congratulate the previous Government on its achievements in tackling crime and protecting the public; and believe that the implications of the Government's proposal to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law should be carefully examined.
It shows that I am an optimist, but I apologise to the House for that slip. I notice that the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) called me the Minister—he may be optimistic, too.
Nevertheless, that does not detract from what I was endeavouring to say. I congratulate most sincerely the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) on his appointment as Home Secretary. I also congratulate others on the Front Bench on their appointments to the Home Office, in particular perhaps the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who is doing, in essence, my old job. I thought that I had a heavy portfolio in the Home Office, but, from examining his ministerial responsibilities, he seems to be doing about twice what I endeavoured to do. I hope that he has doubled the number of his private office staff assisting him and that, as a result of his increased duties, the other members of the ministerial team are not drawing their full salary.
I wish all Labour Members well in their endeavours. May I also take this opportunity to thank publicly the staff whom I encountered at the Home Office, who worked with me, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and others? They served us well and they will serve the new Government well. It was a pleasure to work with the staff, to take their advice and, occasionally, not to take their advice. Whether we took it or not, it was always diligently given and it was a pleasure to work with them.
Holding office is a great honour, which, I believe, we discharged with integrity. Some serious allegations have been made about the conduct of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe as Home Secretary. I know that he intends to rebut them comprehensively later this evening. Personally, I have just one point to add. I have worked with him closely for the past five years, first at the Department of the Environment and then at the Home Office. It was a great honour to work for him. He was absolutely meticulous in ensuring total accuracy in all his words and in all his dealings with Parliament and others. He was a man of integrity who has my full respect, not because he was my boss, but because he is a decent man who deserves it.
The new Government acquire a goodly inheritance. In the past four years, crime has fallen by 10 per cent. in England and Wales. That is more than 500,000 fewer crimes, the biggest fall in recorded crime since records were first collected in the middle of the last century. Over the same period, burglary fell by about 15 per cent.—that is almost 100,000 fewer burglaries—and theft fell by 16 per cent, which is more than 450,000 fewer thefts.
The police of course deserve much of the credit for that success. They have totally transformed the way in which they fight crime by targeting persistent offenders. Operation Bumblebee, of which we have all heard, is run by the Metropolitan police and has led to some 9,000 arrests. Policing must be a matter for chief constables and not for civil servants in Whitehall, but we have consistently supported zero-tolerance policing initiatives against low-level offending and anti-social behaviour where chief constables have thought such initiatives appropriate—for example, in Hartlepool and King's Cross. The police, however, do not operate in a vacuum. They need the help and support of Government. We have provided that help and support.
During our period of office, spending on the police service increased by more than any other part of Government spending, up by 100 per cent., even after allowing for inflation. That helped to pay for about 16,000 extra police officers and 18,400 extra civilians to help them.
e: Despite all that the right hon. Member claims the Government did, is it not true that, after 18 years, more people dare not go out at certain times of the day, particularly women and old people, because of crime and the fear of crime? Is not that a sad condemnation of our society?
The hon. Gentleman is right to mention many people's—particularly elderly people's—fear of crime. His point would cut more ice, however, if he had also said that crime is feared in an exactly inverse proportion by those who have the most to fear from it. Crime against the elderly and women—whether it is being mugged in their own home or in the street—represents a very small proportion of all crime in the United Kingdom. Moreover, violence represents a small proportion of all crime. Incidents of violence against individuals involve mainly young men, who are involved in violent crime both as perpetrators and as victims. The elderly, however, fear crime the most.
All hon. Members have an obligation not to scare people or to instil fear of crime. Now that the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) is sitting on the Government Benches, perhaps he will wish not to scare as many people as he did when he was an Opposition Member. The current Opposition will draw attention to any failings that we think that the new Government may exhibit in dealing with crime, but we will not attempt to scare the public in the manner practised by some former Opposition Members. That did a great disservice to many people by causing an unnecessary fear of crime.
The former Government provided support for the police. We provided, for example, the financial support that allowed the police to recruit those 16,000 extra police officers. Among the excellent civil servants that the Home Secretary will find at the Home Office are those who are skilled in numeracy and in accounting. I therefore hope that he will be able to confirm the accuracy of the figures on police numbers that I and my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Home Secretary have long been issuing.
In the next few months, I may table a parliamentary question—perhaps from further back on the Opposition Benches—to request information from Ministers confirming that Britain is close to having 100,000 police constables, which will be an all-time record. I look forward to receiving the Government's confirmation of that figure, which was strenuously denied by Labour during the general election.
We have provided the police with the most up-to-date technology, such as a DNA database. That database is the first of its type in the world, and now contains information on 100,000 criminals, who are now literally marked men. We evened up the scales of justice, to ensure that the law worked to help and not to hinder the police in fighting crime.
We also reformed the right of silence. Hardened criminals can no longer stay silent in the knowledge that their silence will remain a secret. Since we initiated that reform, the number of suspects refusing to answer simple police questions has almost halved. It would seem rather churlish to remind the Government that, only two years ago, they ridiculed that programme.
We left office with high police morale and high police numbers. I ask the House to compare our record with that of the previous Labour Government, whose actions so exasperated the police that they were threatening strike action when that Government left office. I hope that that situation never arises again.
We pursued policies that were based on a clear set of principles: criminals must be held responsible for their crimes and appropriately punished; victims' interests must be at the heart of our criminal justice system; and public protection must come first. For a first-time offender, the most appropriate punishment may well be a caution. Cautioning repeat or serious offenders, however, undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system, which is why, in March 1994, my right hon. and learned Friend issued new guidance to the police to discourage repeat cautioning and cautioning for serious offences. Consequently, in 1995, the number of cautions fell by 5 per cent.
The most appropriate punishment for a less serious offender is probably a community sentence. Community sentences, however, have to be a proper punishment and not a soft option. For serious and persistent criminals, the best place is prison. Our clear view is that prison works. Criminals cannot commit more crime while in prison. That is not only self-evident, but research conducted by the Home Office—which the Home Secretary will no doubt eventually discover—suggests that between three and 13 offences could be prevented for each and every domestic burglar imprisoned for a year instead of given a community sentence. Of course, the threat of prison helps to deter others from committing crime, as the Chief Constable of Lancashire, Pauline Clare, pointed out in her letter to me on 12 September 1995. She said:
There is no doubt that the fear of imprisonment is an extremely effective deterrent".
We need, of course, to do everything we can to rehabilitate criminals while they are in prison. That is the main reason why we introduced mandatory drugs testing throughout the Prison Service and why the number of hours that prisoners spend in education and training more than doubled from 4.6 million in 1979 to 9.4 million in 1995.
Throughout our period in office, we had little help from the then Opposition. In 1988, they voted against increasing the maximum penalty for taking a gun to a crime to life imprisonment. They voted against giving the Attorney-General the right of appeal against lenient sentences. In 1991, they voted against giving the courts the power to make parents attend court with their children. In 1994, they also voted against reforming the right to silence. The Prime Minister, who was then Labour's home affairs spokesman, described our approach as "open to potential injustice", despite the fact that the then Lord Chief Justice believed that it introduced
an element of common sense and realism which has been sadly lacking hitherto".
I shall not recite the catalogue of all the occasions on which the then official Opposition voted against the law and order reforms and tough measures that we were taking against crime. Fortunately, Labour's Front-Bench team appears to have seen the error of its ways, and it would be churlish of me not to accept that at face value. I hope that it is a genuine conversion, not one of convenience.
The right hon. Gentleman has recited a catalogue, but, as two thirds of the current criminal statutes were introduced over the past 17 years, yet crime increased during that period, does that not show that there is a need for a new approach—an approach which this Government have brought to the scene?
Yes, there was an increase in crime in the 1980s, as happened in all countries in the western world. However, Britain was unique in the last four years in that it had a falling crime rate—a record which had not been matched for more than 100 years. It was clear that the approach taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the former Home Secretary—an approach involving changing the law, strengthening the police service and targeting burglars and persistent criminals—was working and reducing crime. There was no reason why that approach could not have continued to be successful over the next five years. The hon. Gentleman will be hard pushed to find another country with a consistently falling crime rate for four successive years.
Were that approach to be continued, it would be necessary to build at least 12 new prisons in addition to those already planned to deal with overcrowding in order to meet the requirements of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. Home Office research suggests that there might be even more prisons for which the previous Government made no financial provision. How could the approach have been continued?
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. When we were in government, we made financial provision up to, I think, the year 2010 for the extra prison places required as we implemented the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. The new prison places would not be required immediately, which the right hon. Gentleman should know. Our White Paper set out the scale of provision required. The same approach cannot be continued exactly because the right hon. Gentleman and his party were among those who sabotaged that Act as it went through the House in the closing stages of the last Parliament.
Nevertheless, the official Opposition firmly believe that the "prison works" policy is successful. We do not have to lock up every criminal, but if we lock up the hardened and persistent burglars and drug dealers—those who commit the bulk of crimes—we make a disproportionate impact on crime across the country. That is what our research has shown over the past few years.
I am not sure whether this has occurred to the right hon. Gentleman, but it is too late to win the last general election. I wonder whether he would like to reconsider his approach. The position has been made worse by an awful lot of things that the last Government did not do. That is one reason why they lost. Will he direct his comments to crime prevention, about which the Conservatives did virtually nothing? Will he refer to victim support, for which they cut the money? Will he talk about the damage that the last Conservative Government did to families and parenting, which underlies many of the problems that we face? A little humility might help them do better at the next election, even if they still will not win it.
A little accuracy might help the hon. Gentleman. The information that he has given to the House is not as accurate as one would wish it to be. He is wrong to suggest that little was done to prevent crime—we set up an agency on crime prevention. The crime prevention initiatives are partly responsible for the fall in crime over recent years, particularly car crime, which has seen a large fall. The hon. Gentleman is also wrong to assert that financial help for the victims of crime has been cut.
I am perfectly happy to accept the result of the general election and I congratulate the Labour party on a magnificent win. However, I do not believe that, having lost the election, we should throw overboard all the policies that we believe were working well. That may be the approach of new Labour, but it is not my approach as an old Tory.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of prison, will he tell us whether, during his time as a Minister, he read the reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who repeatedly condemned prison conditions during the Conservatives' term of office? Talking to anyone who works in the Prison Service, one hears criticism after criticism of the administration that the new Government have inherited from the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. It is always possible to find criticisms of prisons, but the facts are that the amount of education and training in prisons has increased, prison conditions have improved enormously and prison overcrowding has been all but eliminated. However, what matters is ensuring that we have adequate prison places for those hardened and dangerous persistent offenders who need to be taken out of public circulation, where they may create more victims. That is the first duty of the Government. We fulfilled that duty assiduously.
We have yet to see the full details of the Bill on crime and disorder announced in the Gracious Speech. From what we have heard so far, we support its broad objectives. We particularly welcome its emphasis on faster justice and tackling juvenile crime. At the beginning of this year, we published two papers—a report into delays in the criminal justice system and a Green Paper on preventing children from offending. I hope that the new Government will take forward the proposals in both those papers.
I accept that our criminal justice system is too slow. Liaison between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service needs to be closer. Juvenile criminals should be brought to court more quickly. The Government propose having a Crown prosecutor in every area. Labour Members should remember that in 1993 the number of operational units in the CPS was increased from 31 to 98. As a result, they match police force areas closely.
In the north-east, for example, there are six operational units, three of which match Cumbria, Durham and Cleveland forces almost exactly. Newcastle has its own CPS operational unit, headed by a branch Crown prosecutor. What would happen to those operational units under the Home Secretary's proposals? Would Newcastle's operational unit be replaced by a more distant chief Crown prosecutor for the whole of Northumbria?
I welcome the Government's aim to halve the time taken for persistent young offenders to be caught and sentenced, but I am not entirely convinced that the way in which they aim to cut delays is the most sensible available to them or that it will deliver the results they intend. I urge the Home Secretary and the Minister of State to consider carefully the proposals in "The Review of Delay in the Criminal Justice System", known in the Home Office as the Martin Narey report. The report suggested that courts be given new powers to caution juvenile offenders and to attach meaningful conditions to a conditional discharge. At the moment, if the police are unsure whether to caution or charge a young offender, they must refer the case to an inter-agency panel. That can take weeks. It would be far better, perhaps, to commit the case to court straight away and let the court decide.
Delays in the youth courts could be cut by removing 17-year-olds from their jurisdiction. The Narey report was written by a Home Office civil servant and had no political input—[Interruption.] That excellent report had no political input until we published it and presented it to the House. The Home Secretary may wish to use a new broom to sweep away all that is before him, and he may be tempted to discard reports published by the previous Government because he feels that they are politically tainted. It would be a grave mistake not to pay close attention to the Narey report, which had no political input into its formulation until my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe presented it to the House.
We agree with the Government about the need to prevent youngsters from turning to crime—particularly by making parents more responsible for their children's actions. Indeed, in 1991, we gave the courts the power to bind over parents to take good care of their children. That was another of the things that—no doubt by accident—the Labour party strongly opposed at the time.
I also commend "Preventing Children Offending", a consultation document which suggested a twin-track approach: early intervention to head youngsters off before they are tempted into a life of crime, and parental control orders—which do not seem a million miles away from orders of a similar name with which the Government are toying. A lot of good spadework has been done by the juvenile offenders unit at the Home Office in writing that report. The consultation period is now closed, and the report will now enter the ministerial mincer for consideration. I suggest to the Home Secretary that the twin-track approach in the report should commend it to the Government.
We believe that although it is important to head youngsters off from entering a life of crime, they ought to be properly punished if they do enter that life. For a first-time or less serious offender, a caution may well be appropriate, but it is not appropriate for repeat offenders who must face the consequences of their crimes. In the previous Parliament, we legislated for secure training centres for persistent 12 to 14-year-old offenders. The aim of the centres is to combine strict discipline, education and training for one express purpose—to steer youngsters away from crime when they are released. Before the election, we signed a contract for the first STC at Cookham Wood in Kent. Perhaps the Home Secretary will state whether the Government plan to push ahead with the other STCs, or whether they will opt a softer alternative.
We believe that the probation service, rather than social services, should be responsible for enforcing community punishment for those under 16. Social services are naturally concerned with the welfare of children—that is their job—but that can put them in a difficult position when supervising younger offenders. It is a role which could be more suitable for the probation service to perform.
In the previous Session, we introduced the Crime Bill which had one simple aim—to protect the public from dangerous and persistent criminals. The Home Secretary was quick to claim to support automatic life sentences for repeat rapists and the like. As he knows, we always intended to implement those proposals in October this year. I hope that he will confirm to the House that he intends to do the same.
I would also urge the right hon. Gentleman to think again on mandatory minimum sentences for career burglars and dealers in hard drugs. Let me remind the House of the facts: the maximum penalty for domestic burglary is 14 years, but a sample of domestic burglars convicted in the Crown court in 1993 and 1994 shows that the average prison sentence for a first-time offender was 16.2 months and it was only 18.9 months for a third conviction. For a seventh conviction, it was barely higher—at only 19.4 months—and, indeed, we found that 28 per cent. of offenders with seven or more convictions were not sent to prison at all.
While most dealers in hard drugs are sent to prison, the average sentence for a third offence is just four years. Our proposals, which the Labour party voted to wreck, would have ensured that third-time burglars and dealers in hard drugs received three and seven years in prison respectively. I urge the Government to reinstate those provisions in their crime Bill.
As I said earlier, we shall judge each of the Government's proposals on its merits. If it is sensible, we shall support it. I regret that so often when the Labour party was in opposition, it did not support proposals that were to the advantage of this country and which they now claim to support or have adopted as policy. It is the job of the Loyal Opposition to support proposals that are in our country's interest and help to bear down in the fight against crime. We shall oppose only those that are contrary to this country's interest and do not assist the police or do not bear down in the fight against crime.
Hon. Members who sat on the Opposition Benches and who now sit on the Government Benches won the election and sit where they are now because they promised not to dismantle the reforms that have been made over the past 18 years. They promised not to dismantle the reforms to the criminal justice system, and reforms to curb the excesses of the trade unions will not be changed either. Reforms to create a free market will not be changed—the Labour party now believes in a version of capitalism and the enterprise economy. Labour Members now espouse our principles and our policies, despite having fought them every inch of the way at the time. I hope that they will now stand firm and stick to those principles and policies. If they fail to do so, we shall lose no opportunity to remind the electorate that behind all the glitz, glamour and sound bites of new Labour there still lurks the beast that voted against all those reforms over the past 18 years.
I thank the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for the generosity of his congratulations to myself and my hon. Friends on our appointments. I should like to add, parenthetically, that I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) for his congratulations, which were conveyed to me privately.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border on the tone of his speech. As one of the world's experts on opposition, having spent all but two weeks of my 18 years in Parliament on the Opposition Benches and having been present on the Front Bench after Labour's catastrophic defeat in 1983, I know that making the first speech on the Loyal Address after such a defeat is not an easy matter and the right hon. Gentleman made his with great dignity and tone.
I want to commence by offering my own tribute to Sir Michael Shersby, who died so suddenly and so tragically just 11 days ago. Sir Michael was loyal both to his party and to his colleagues, but he was also able to talk frankly and freely to hon. Members on the other side of the House. As he and I shared common interests in police and criminal justice issues, I talked with him a great deal. I valued not only his views but his advice. With his family, friends and colleagues, I shall sorely miss him.
This is my first speech in this Session and I am delighted to be making it from this side of the Chamber. I shall shortly give details of the proposals in the Queen's Speech, but first I shall set out our approach in context.
On election day, 1 May, the British people overwhelmingly endorsed the Prime Minister's appeal that, after 18 years of Conservative administration, our nation deserved better. The better society that we want to build is one that fosters and celebrates strong British values: decency, reward for hard work; tolerance and respect for others. It is one in which rights for everyone are matched by responsibilities for all.
The legislation in the Gracious Speech that I shall introduce to the House will set a framework for underpinning those British values; for restoring responsibilities and for better protecting rights. That may sound abstract. But the benefits that should flow will be real and concrete for individuals, for families and for communities throughout the United Kingdom. We want to bring about changes in the way in which people relate to one another by changing people's public behaviour and their sense of responsibility towards one another.
We want to reclaim our towns, cities and villages so that everyone is free to go about their neighbourhood in safety and security.
Some people would deny that any Government can achieve such changes. But the Government have at their disposal more effective levers than are available to any private individual or agency. The Government also have the responsibility—the moral duty—to use the power that they have for the good of all.
Martin Luther King said:
Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated.,
Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.
Laws can help to shape more tolerant values and a better society. We need only consider the Race Relations Acts, introduced by two previous Labour Governments and passed by the House in the 1960s and 1970s.
There was then the predictable outcry from our opponents, claiming that free speech and individual liberties were being threatened; but although more needs to be done, those Acts succeeded in enhancing the rights of black and Asian people in Britain and in encouraging racial tolerance and understanding in our society.
If the cynics are still unconvinced, let me point to the conclusive negative proof of the power of Governments to influence behaviour. Madam Speaker, you may bridle, if you like, at my belief that good government can encourage good behaviour, but let no one doubt that bad government leads to bad behaviour.
For the past 18 years, Britain had a Government who preached the values of self-interest above everything else. It should therefore come as no surprise that some people then chose to ignore their responsibilities to other people. Where there is
no such thing as society",
there can be no shared standards of behaviour. Where there is a steady erosion of community, of shared values, links between individuals collapse and people become fearful and distrustful of others. It's "Get what you can, don't worry about anyone else"—the instincts of those who commit crime.
Crime is the ultimate selfish act. It results from the breakdown of rules and from an evasion of responsibility for other people. That, I suggest, was why, every time that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe opened his mouth during the general election campaign, the British people were powerfully reminded of the Conservatives' culpability for the high levels of crime and disorder that they had suffered in the previous 18 years. That was why his hysterical claim that I was the "burglar's friend" helped persuade floating voters in their droves to vote for Labour candidates.
For weeks I have nurtured the thought that perhaps that was the purpose in the mind of the former Secretary of State. After all, as has become clear, he and I shared a common goal: we both wished to see the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) out of Downing street.
On Monday 12 May, the results of an international crime victimisation survey were presented at a conference in the Netherlands. That survey gave the lie to the claim by the shadow Home Secretary and of the shadow shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, that; under the stewardship of the Conservative Government this country had become safer. The survey showed that, by international standards, England and Wales continue to have very high levels of property crime and violent crime. More than one third of people surveyed in England and Wales had been victims of crime in the previous year. That record was worse than that of the United States and beaten only by the Netherlands. Not surprisingly, the survey also showed that people in England and Wales are more anxious than other nationalities about their safety on the streets.
The one comfort to be drawn from this international survey—and a most important one—is that our police forces enjoy internationally high levels of confidence from the public.
Law and order featured high in the list of people's concerns during the election campaign. That is hardly surprising, of course. Crime doubled during the Tory years, while the number of criminals punished actually fell by a third.
What was surprising, however, was that once the election had begun, the Conservative party did not even attempt to engage on the issue and to argue its case. After some hopeless early skirmishes, including the charge that I was the burglar's friend, the right hon. and learned Gentleman simply gave up and accepted defeat.
The so-called party of law and order held just one press conference on the issue in the five weeks of the election campaign. The Conservative party apparently still suffers from this blindspot. In the debate on the Queen's Speech on 14 May, the Leader of the Opposition did not see fit to mention crime once.
I ask the House to contrast that with our approach—new policies on neighbourhood disorder, on tackling drink-related crime, on major improvements to the youth justice system, on new protection for children under 10, and on reforms of the Crown Prosecution Service. Many aspects of these proposals will be contained in a new crime and disorder Bill which will be introduced to the House later in this session.
I believe that we commanded the confidence of the public because our analysis and prescription chimed with theirs. The public are not fools. They know that crime has causes; that while criminal behaviour can never be excused, social and economic factors such as deprivation and unemployment are bound to create conditions in which people can more easily be tempted into crime.
The public wanted action on the causes of crime—but saw that they were never going to get that from the former Administration. They will however get it from this Government, not least with our welfare to work programme financed by the proceeds of a windfall tax.
The public also desperately wanted firm action against crime and disorder. Instead, the Conservative Government stubbornly pursued a narrow approach. It did not work. Eighteen years ago, the system that we left to the Conservatives was much more effective at nipping offending in the bud. Recorded crime in 1979 was half the level suffered today; but 50 per cent. more offenders were being convicted and the prison population was lower by 20,000.
Our prison population today is 60,000 and rising. Many—indeed most—of those prisoners began their criminal careers as young offenders. The previous Government's failure to tackle youth crime effectively has contributed both to the high levels of crime and to the record prison population which we face today.
Nowhere is the need for action to tackle crime and disorder more pressing than with young offenders. Last November, the Audit Commission pronounced a telling verdict on the previous Administration's record on juvenile crime. In a major report, the commission said this:
Overall, less is done now than 10 years ago to address offending by young people.
By contrast with that record of indolence and inactivity, our new Prime Minister has made action against youth crime one of the Government's top five priorities. He has pledged that we will cut by one half the time taken to process persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence. At present, it takes on average four and a half months for a young criminal to be punished for his or her crime, and often much longer for persistent offenders. Young offenders are given the impression that they can offend repeatedly without punishment. Far from nipping bad behaviour in the bud, the present youth justice system perversely reinforces much bad behaviour.
We will take measures in the crime and disorder Bill to tackle these delays. We will also be taking early action in advance of legislation to encourage all agencies in the youth justice system to deal with cases more speedily. By speeding juvenile justice, we aim to ensure that young offenders are made to see the clear link between crime and punishment, and to face up to the consequences of their offending for their victims and for themselves.
The repeat offending of some youngsters wrecks their own lives and the lives of those whom they victimise. From the outset, it must be made clear to young people that they will not get away with offending. The response to youth crime must be rapid, consistent and effective.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border mentioned the Narey report and suggested that we should take proper account of it. He was right to do so. I recognised, when the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe presented the outcome of the report to the House in February, that the report had many recommendations of which any Administration should take account in the most serious way. Based on the experience of the previous Government, this Government would welcome any constructive views about the methods that we intend to pursue in order to achieve what I gather from the right hon. Gentleman has now become a common goal.
We shall replace the archaic rule of doli incapax, which assumes—absurdly—that a child aged 10–13 cannot differentiate between right and wrong. Child protection orders will be available to deal with children aged 10 and under left out unsupervised late at night.
We shall end the practice of repeat cautions. There will be a single final warning, which will usually trigger effective intervention by youth offender teams. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border was also right to draw attention to the complex bureaucracy that currently obtains when cautions are being administered. We want a system—perhaps slightly different from the one that he proposes, but we are happy to discuss it with him—where, even if cautions are administered outside the court system, the supervision of the court system is plainly with the courts and the police alone. Advice should be taken from other agencies, but one reason among many for the current delays is that no individual or agency is clearly responsible for running the youth justice system in England and Wales.
Does the Secretary of State accept that we have had considerable difficulty in ensuring that those children whom society regards as having parents who are not capable of looking after them are properly looked after in public care? As he extends society's capacity to look after those children, will he do everything in his power to ensure that society looks after them properly?
I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the quality of care in some of our residential homes and the overall legislative framework. He may like to know that, with the Prime Minister's approval, I have appointed as my senior special adviser, Mr. Norman Warner, who chaired the previous Government inquiry into conditions in some children's homes. I take his work and recommendations and the whole issue extremely seriously.
There are some serious and persistent offenders for whom custody is necessary, either for sentencing or for remand purposes. We shall have in place a range of sentencing options for the courts, which will allow them to react appropriately both to protect the public and address the youngster's offending behaviour.
The crime and disorder Bill will also establish a new national youth justice board to monitor and set national standards for community and custodial sentences and to ensure a consistent and cost-effective response to young offenders right across the country.
Our emphasis on responsibility is not limited to young offenders and their parents. The wider community, including business, has a responsibility to encourage good behaviour in the young. That is why I condemn—I hope that the whole House does—the cynical and irresponsible behaviour of some in the drinks industry who have been targeting under-age drinkers with so-called alcopops.
We shall not forget the "order" part of law and order. Disorderly, anti-social behaviour causes alarm and distress. It heightens the fear of crime. We shall act to free communities from brutish and unacceptable behaviour. That is the purpose of the strategy of zero tolerance about which the Prime Minister and I have often spoken.
The crime and disorder Bill will give courts a new power to make community safety orders. Those orders will, at last, give the police and local authorities the powers that they need to tackle that blight on local communities.
There are some acts that deserve specific condemnation by the criminal law. Racial harassment and racially motivated violence deserve such condemnation, because of the corrosive effects that they have on the very fabric of society. We shall create new offences of racial harassment and racially motivated violence to protect ethnic minorities from intimidation and injury.
Our response to the unacceptable level of crime in Britain is to attack both crime and its causes. We will place a new responsibility on local authorities to develop statutory partnerships with the police to prevent crime and to enhance community safety.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on his appointment. Does he agree that racial harassment and racial abuse are so obnoxious that we should set up a special squad, like the vice squad, the firearms squad and so on, of dedicated officers who could track down racists and make sure that they are brought to justice?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. The issue of whether an individual police force should set up a special squad is—I am sorry if my hon. Friend thinks that I sound a little like a Secretary of State—a matter for individual chief constables, but I certainly believe that his suggestion should be taken on board by chief constables. Different forces have different approaches to tackling the issue. In any event, we must ensure that every police officer, of whatever rank, is seized of the need to take firm and effective action against racial harassment and racial violence, wherever it takes place.
Support for our agenda on crime and disorder has been wide. Last week, the Police Federation added its backing for our proposals. Its chairman, Fred Broughton, said that
he welcomed the positive steps outlined in our crime and disorder Bill for tackling juvenile crime and for dealing with disorder, which he said
can ruin the quality of life for whole communities.
I was glad to hear from the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border that he was offering his support, too, for our proposals.
The Home Secretary will also have heard from the Police Federation a challenge to increase the number of police officers, particularly when new responsibilities such as carrying out zero tolerance campaigns and dealing with racial attacks are added to their present responsibilities. Does the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope of increasing the total number of police officers and, if so, how will he fund it?
The position is clear. We set it out at the election. Our position received rather greater endorsement than the right hon. Gentleman's. We have made it clear that for this year and for the following financial year, we stand by the departmental budgets that were provided in the public expenditure round last November.
I refused to get into a numbers game because under legislation which we supported and the previous Government introduced, the decision about how to use available finance is not for any Home Secretary, but for individual police forces. That is the reality and the legal position. That was why, even in the Conservative party's manifesto, which was so comprehensively rejected by the electorate, if one read the words carefully there was no straightforward pledge to increase police numbers; instead, there was a pledge which meant different things to different people, to provide the resources which chief constables could use to increase police numbers if, of course, the other demands on their budget had been met in other ways.
While I acknowledge that the number of police officers, especially those on the beat, is important, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is no single answer to combating violent crime, especially disorderly conduct, and that essentially, there must be partnerships between communities, business and local authorities?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. One of the things that we shall do through the crime and disorder Bill is to implement the recommendations of the Morgan report, updated. It recommended in 1990 that a statutory responsibility should be placed on local authorities to work in partnership with the police in dealing with crime and disorder. We shall also require each local authority, in partnership with the police, to set its own targets for reducing crime and disorder in its area. Of the many things that I found almost impossible to believe during the 18 years that I sat on the Opposition Benches and witnessed the then Government, I never, ever understood why they refused point blank to implement the Morgan report, on which there could clearly have been a consensus across the House.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I thank him publicly for coming to Portland on Friday to examine the floating prison facility. Many of his remarks revolve around the problems that we have faced for many years in getting cases through the Crown Prosecution Service. Nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said so far will devote more resources to that area and solve the problems upon which many of his other remarks depend. Will he comment further on that issue?
If the hon. Gentleman can wait a second, I shall come to our proposals in respect of the Crown Prosecution Service. However, having spent a great deal of time in opposition examining the operation of the Crown Prosecution Service and having studied some very interesting insights in the Narey report about that service, I do not believe that the issue is about overall resources: it is a question of how those resources are used and how we can secure better and more effective co-operation between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.
I turn now to sentencing. The former Conservative Cabinet Minister and former right hon. and learned Member for Putney, David Mellor, said last August that, under the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, the present shadow Home Secretary, the Conservatives had "lost the plot" on law and order. I believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman failed because he lacked a comprehensive strategy for dealing with crime and its causes: a flaw in his approach which is reflected in the narrowness of the amendment that is the subject of today's debate.
That amendment makes two demands. The first is for a commitment in respect of the provisions for automatic life sentences for second-time serious sexual and violent offenders. I told the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his right hon. Friend often enough when my party was in opposition that we supported the principle of that provision, and my view has not changed since 1 May. I hope to be able to meet the target date for implementation, set by the previous Government, of later this year. However, I shall not set a date until I am satisfied that sufficient provision within the Prison Service is available for those prisoners.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman can hardly complain about that, since he knows better than anyone that the projections of the rise in the prison population that were published before the election were optimistically on the low side. The reality that has confronted me is more serious than I thought it would be. We must address that situation. One of the ways in which I shall do so—to pick up the remarks by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce)—is to take comprehensive action against delays in the criminal justice system. Reducing delays should help to reduce the numbers of prisoners held on remand.
The second demand made in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's amendment is for a reinstatement of the original provisions about exceptional circumstances in the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. Those provisions were successfully amended by the Labour party in the Lords, and confirmed by the Commons, just before the election. It is a sign that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has failed to come to terms with his defeat that he has bothered to pursue that point—that he should try to fight the last war rather the next, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) said. It was almost the only thing that he argued on law and order during the election—on those few occasions when Conservative central office let him off the leash.
My hon. Friend is right. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's view was comprehensively rejected by the electorate, and I have absolutely no intention of acceding to it. The measures that we intend to take in respect of sentencing were flagged in our manifesto. We will address the need for greater consistency in sentencing by the courts and extend the powers of the Attorney-General to appeal against unduly lenient sentences.
I turn now to the issue of drugs, as drug-taking and drug abuse are the cause of a huge amount of crime and disorder currently affecting society. Drugs devastate the lives of addicts, their families and their communities, and lead to much property and violent crime. Action to target crime and its causes must therefore include tough and realistic measures against drugs. To break the vicious circle of addiction and crime, we shall introduce a new drug treatment and testing order, requiring serious drug-addicted offenders to undergo treatment and random drug testing.
As the Prime Minister announced before the election, he will appoint a new drugs tsar with a wide role to lead the fight against drugs and to help educate young people not to take them. The drugs tsar will have the power to co ordinate the efforts of the police, educationalists, social services, prisons, the probation service and health authorities. This appointment will build on arrangements established by the previous Administration that had our firm support.
Victims, too, often feel neglected by the criminal justice system. I am committed to improving the services that criminal justice agencies provide to the victims of crime. Victims should be kept fully informed of the progress of their cases, and should be told why charges have been downgraded or dropped. The police in some areas are piloting a system of "one-stop shops" to keep victims informed—a welcome indication of their commitment to better treatment of victims—but that task should not be left to the police alone.
Under the reorganisation of the Crown Prosecution Service, which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be taking forward shortly, the Crown Prosecution Service will be accountable for its decisions, particularly the local Crown prosecutors who will be put in place. They should be prepared to explain to victims their reasons for discontinuing or downgrading cases. We will also give greater protection to victims and witnesses in rape and other serious sexual offence cases, and take steps to protect those who may be subject to intimidation.
As the Home Secretary will be aware, the previous Administration set up, with all-party support—perhaps the only initiative to have had all-party support—a Scotland against drugs campaign, in which the leaders of all the Scottish political parties sit. That committee meets on Friday. Before it meets, would it not be useful to consult it about the Government's intentions? Will the Home Secretary give me an undertaking that that consultation will take place before moving ahead with the Government's plans to combat the drugs menace?
The hon. Gentleman's suggestion sounds sensible. I promise to pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I should add that my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who has particular responsibility for drugs, hopes to be present at that meeting on Friday. We are very strongly open to suggestions. The campaign against drugs undertaken by the previous Government had our full support and backing. This is not an area in which any one party has a monopoly of wisdom or views.
Through legislation and through our actions, the Government will help to rebuild our society by promoting a culture of mutual respect for rights and responsibilities. An essential part of that project will be a Bill to incorporate the main provisions of the European convention on human rights into UK law. It is almost 50 years since the United Kingdom signed up to that European convention. Yet, because it has never been incorporated into United Kingdom law, our citizens must undergo the cost and delay of appealing to a Strasbourg court to enforce their rights under the convention.
We will bring rights home to the British people, making the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European convention part of British law. This will provide the opportunity for our own courts to decide whether our citizens' rights are being properly observed. Incorporation will not detract from the sovereignty of this Parliament.
In the light of the draft treaty on European union that has just been produced, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell the House the extent to which—in relation to home affairs and justice and the pillar that currently exists under the existing treaties—the Government would allow the Court of Justice to take a role in determining questions relating to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom in relation to those functions?
One of the problems with those who are single-subject obsessives is that they work the European Union and European Community into every issue under the sun. It may come as a surprise and a shock to the hon. Gentleman to learn, however, that the European convention on human rights has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the European Union. It was developed—
It was developed by British lawyers, including a very distinguished British Conservative lawyer who later became Lord Chancellor, Lord Kilmuir. It formed part of the Council of Europe not the European Union. [Interruption.] The intergovernmental conference has nothing whatever to do with what I was saying. I will come on to deal with our position on border controls in a moment.
I was going to refer in complimentary terms to the part of the Opposition's amendment that said that our proposals for incorporating—not the EU treaty—the ECHR should be carefully examined. I agree with that sentiment. In opposition, we set out in detail our thinking in a consultative document "Bringing Rights Home". We held useful discussions on that document with the Liberal Democrats. If the hon. Gentleman has comments on our proposals about how we incorporate the ECHR into British law without affecting—as we intend—the sovereignty of Parliament, I shall be very happy to hear from him.
Among other matters discussed with the Liberal Democrats was the reform of voting systems, with a commitment in our manifesto for a referendum. This will be preceded by the establishment of, and then a report by, an independent commission on voting systems, which will be asked to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system. I recognise the importance attached to this matter by many hon. Members and I intend to make the fastest progress that I can on this undertaking.
We shall introduce primary legislation to give effect to the European Union data protection directive. We shall also make proposals on the funding of political parties.
The Government will work nationally and internationally to protect our citizens from terrorism and organised crime. We shall implement as quickly as possible the legislation enacted under the previous Administration in the Police Act.
We pledged in our manifesto to take proper ministerial responsibility for the Prison Service. That was before I had any anticipation that the debate might be a re-run of previous debates on the Prison Service. I have no plans to end the service's status as an agency within the Home Office, but I intend to examine the structure and organisation of the service and the Home Office's policy role, taking account of the conclusions of the director general's organisational review, which is already under way.
The reputation of the previous incumbent of my office was, in my judgment, deeply damaged by his refusal to accept proper responsibility for the Prison Service, and his arcane and unconvincing attempts to distinguish between policy and operations. As a first step to restoring proper ministerial responsibility, I have already announced that in future all parliamentary questions about the Prison Service will be answered by a Home Office Minister and not by the director general, who is a civil servant.
That is no reflection whatsoever on the director general, Richard Tilt, who has my full support. It will, however, put right what many right hon. and hon. Members have long regarded as bad practice. I regard it as essential that Ministers should answer personally to the House for what is done in our prisons and not leave the matter to their civil servants.
Our manifesto stated that we would establish an audit of the Prison Service, and arrangements for that are under way.
The Government will uphold firm controls on immigration, with applications being dealt with fairly and speedily. At the election, the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, refused to allow his party to be dragged down into debate about immigration policy. The then Prime Minister was correct to do so.
Our manifesto proposals in respect of the primary purpose rule are not about numbers but about fairness. Under the current bizarre arrangements, individuals refused under the primary purpose rule are still allowed into the UK in the end, but only after years of expense and, often, humiliation.
An announcement about the changes that we propose will be made in due course. I can tell the House, however, that everyone who wishes to seek entry to the UK as a spouse or fiancee will continue to have to show that their marriage is genuine and that they will not be a burden on the state. We shall strongly reinforce those rules and also bring forward long-overdue proposals for the control of unscrupulous immigration advisers.
I take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury or Shropshire. Perhaps it is Stafford.
I am sorry, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). He moved, as it were, like every other Conservative who survived the election.
We have made it clear that we shall maintain Britain's frontier controls, including controls at the internal frontiers with other European Union states. Our commitment to that is clear and absolute, and it will be made even clearer at the intergovernmental conference negotiations in Amsterdam next week. It is time to put the issue of frontier controls beyond doubt.
I have left until last the Home Office Bill that is due to be introduced to the House first.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. Before he leaves immigration law, will he tell me what plans he has in government to end the routine imprisonment of asylum seekers in this country? Is he aware of the protests made by a number of asylum seekers who are currently held in prison in Birmingham? Is he prepared to examine their cases?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. Let us, however, start as we mean to go on. I share or agree only with the congratulations that he included in his intervention. We did not criticise the previous Administration for what my hon. Friend described as routine detentions of immigrants. About 1 per cent. of immigrants who are here unlawfully are the subject of detention. I am, of course, concerned to ensure that no individual who is required to leave this country is detained unnecessarily, but, as with prisoners, those who are detained for immigration purposes cannot be allowed to secure their own release by taking action, such as going on hunger strike. The prison and detention systems would break down if that were so.
I have left until last the Home Office Bill that is due to be introduced to this House first. The previous Government acted in the face of considerable opposition from its own side to tighten firearms controls following Dunblane. We supported those measures, but made it clear that we believed that they did not go far enough. We will, therefore, give Parliament the opportunity to vote on a total ban on handguns in general civilian use. A Bill will be introduced quickly. Labour Members will have a free vote. If Parliament supports a total ban, we will implement the necessary legislation as quickly as possible.
That is a substantial programme of action and legislation from a Government who will tackle crime and disorder, make people safer and help to build a better society. We shall encourage greater responsibility and, in doing so, seek to protect the rights of all.
Ours is an ambitious but attainable programme. Great good will and trust have been invested in this new Labour Government by the British people. That is a heavy responsibility, but it is a responsibility which we are proud to carry. We can and will make a difference to people's lives for the better. On that let us be judged.
Madam Speaker, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, and for your advice that it will be in order for me to concentrate on events that occurred in the Home Office under the last Administration. If my remarks need a current context, they are made in the light of the necessity for the current Home Office Ministers to sort out their proper relationship with the Prison Service and other agencies.
Before embarking on my remarks, I should like to join in the tributes paid to Sir Michael Shersby, and in the congratulations to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and the rest of his Front-Bench team. That is probably the nicest thing that I shall say to them for the rest of this Parliament.
I should say two things at the outset, because it is now generally known that what I have to say will be less than encouraging to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). First, I pay very great and very genuine tribute to his work at the Home Office. He put the protection of the public at the top of the agenda, and he kept it there. His term of office saw a fall in crime and a vast improvement in Her Majesty's prisons. He introduced a raft of measures to make Britain a more orderly place, and had the courage to make much-needed reforms to our widely abused asylum system.
It is therefore with genuine sadness and considerable reluctance, which I have had to overcome, that I turn to the rest of my remarks. But for my utter conviction of their rightness and of the imperative that lies behind them, I should not be making these remarks at all.
Secondly, although my remarks are informed by a number of documents and oral evidence, I shall not identify any individual document or any civil servants and Ministers whom I may quote. If ex-Ministers were to do that, government would become unworkable. However, if my right hon. and learned Friend hears me allude to things that he does not recognise, I will be happy afterwards to point out to him where the words occur.
It is urgently necessary for the House to restore its reputation with the nation. Many of our great institutions are falling into disrepute. I was wretchedly aware of how many people to whom I talked during the election uttered the sentiment that politicians of all parties are sleazy and corrupt, and principally concerned with their own interests and survival. That is an unjust and distorted picture, and does great disservice to the overwhelming majority of dedicated, honourable and hard-working Members of the House. It is regrettable that the House has been back only five minutes and already there is a corruption story—this time on the Labour Benches—all over our newspapers.
It should alarm us all that the House is now so comprehensively viewed as devoid of honour and a sense of service. In case there are smug looks on the faces of Labour Members, I have to say that the Labour party is ill placed to talk of principle when it changed its mind on policy three times a day merely to win an election. Whatever fun the public make of us, and no matter how upset the public may be by our decisions, it is still essential for there to be an underlying view that Members of the House are just, honourable and truthful. The higher the office, the greater that imperative.
Honourable treatment means that we treat those in our power justly, and that we do not reject from them defences that we regularly mount for ourselves. I profoundly regret that, in the previous Parliament, Ministers were criticised in independent reports and did not resign. I am not saying that they necessarily should have done, but if it is justice for them not to resign, it is also justice for our loyal servants not to resign.
If a party can go to the country and urge that its occasional disasters, however monumental, be overlooked on the basis of its otherwise truly magnificent achievements, it cannot, in honour, deny that same defence to individuals. Regularly to protect and excuse ourselves while visiting serious vengeance on others corrupts justice and demeans office.
Earlier, I alluded to the fact that there had been a great improvement in Her Majesty's prisons under the former Home Secretary. That improvement was the result of the efforts of two men: my right hon. and learned Friend and the former head of the Prison Service, Mr. Derek Lewis.
Mr. Lewis was an outstanding director general. He inherited an appalling and troubled service, which in 14 years we had not got right. Escapes took place daily, assaults were rife, industrial relations were chaotic and financial management poor. Under his vigorous leadership, escapes fell by a staggering 77 per cent.; overcrowding was reduced, despite a sharp rise in the number of prisoners; purposeful activity was increased by hundreds of thousands of hours, despite a reduction in costs per place; industrial relations were transformed; and the private finance initiative was so successfully run that it became a model for the rest of Whitehall.
The agency essentially met all targets set by Ministers, and new initiatives, such as reform to home leaves, drugs testing and the incentives and earned privileges regimes, were successfully implemented. All that was managed in the space of two and a half years.
There was still a great deal to be done—that is common ground—but it would have been unreasonable to expect everything to be achieved in the first 18 months, which is when the escape from Whitemoor occurred. After all—although I hesitate to point it out—we still had things to achieve after 18 years.
If people want a snapshot comparison of the Prison Service before Mr. Lewis came and when he left, they need only read the speech of the former Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). He referred to the poor state of the Prison Service and correctly and courageously said that Ministers of all parties must take the blame. That speech, which was made in 1992 before the establishment of the agency, should be compared with the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe to the Prison Service conference in 1996—only a few months after Mr. Lewis left—in which he praised to the skies the achievements of the service in the previous two years.
It was for those reasons that Ministers, very senior civil servants, the Prisons Board and its non-executives, urgently advised the then Home Secretary that he should not dismiss Mr. Lewis. It was for those reasons that two of the four non-executives resigned in protest, and that others chose other forms of making their views known. It was for those reasons that I nearly resigned, and now regret not doing so. I put that on the record: I now regret not doing so. If Mr. Lewis had been an indifferent director general, there would have been less achievement and certainly less support.
The Learmont report—which was used by the Home Secretary to dismiss Mr. Lewis—took no account of that progress; nor did it attempt to measure it, because that was not the general's brief. But, when—two months after Derek Lewis had left—the general was briefed to measure progress on implementation, this time on the Woodcock recommendations, he found:
In the space of less than a year the Prison Service has made more headway than could reasonably have been expected".
Another report produced at that time found that Mr. Lewis had provided visible leadership, and reached other conclusions not compatible with the main Learmont report. One wonders what my right hon. and learned Friend would have made of it if he had had all three reports when reaching his conclusions. It is also worth recording that a previous report on the Whitemoor breakout had specifically exonerated Mr. Lewis of any negligence.
Before I end this section of my remarks, it is worth pointing out that there were serious flaws in the Learmont report in terms of approach and substantiation. I find its credibility severely dented by the fact that, when the general appeared before the Select Committee, it became obvious that he had no idea how escapes were measured and he admitted to simply missing a basic analysis of escape by categorisation of prisoner. Having made a large number of recommendations about Prison Service headquarters, he said that he had not visited the headquarters. The reason he gave was that he did not think that his team would be very welcome.
In a major report on security and organisation, that does not inspire me with confidence. My right hon. and learned Friend is very skilled forensically, and I cannot believe that he was taken in by the superficiality of some of the report. It is hard to conclude other than that the report was his pretext rather than his reason. There is evidence within the Home Office that he had wanted for a long time before that report was produced to remove Mr. Lewis from his post.
In his Spectator article, the former Home Secretary says that any chief executive of a private company who had received such a damning report would have been expected to resign. I say that any chief executive who had secured a 70 per cent. improvement in performance would in fact have received the highest rewards.
What did we actually achieve by the dismissal of Mr. Lewis? We had to pay him £220,000 in compensation, in return for which the taxpayer received nothing at all. We had to pay his costs, in the sum of £41,000, in return for which the taxpayer received nothing at all. We had to pay our own costs, in the sum of some £16,000. A most unnecessary bill of more than a quarter of a million pounds was the cost to the general public of my right hon. and learned Friend's decision.
We severely damaged relations with the private sector, as we found out when we considered the possibility of running an open competition for Mr. Lewis's job—a possibility from which we quickly retreated. We created a false distinction between policy and operations which has reverberated around the whole of Whitehall, not just the Home Office. We have endured swingeing headlines in the press, not least when the Home Office was ignominiously forced to consent to the judgment on the very day that the Conservative faithful were being rallied at the central council.
We left the Prison Service without a confirmed leader for five months, and we shattered its morale, just when things had been going well for 10 months. Manpower and time have been taken up by endless briefings and Select Committees—not just the Home Affairs Committee but the Public Service Committee—and the effects of the whole affair still rumble on.
And, for all that, did we eliminate disasters from the Prison Service? No. Only a few months later, approximately 541 prisoners were released before the end of their sentences. They did not even have to break out. The fact is that there were disasters in the service before Lewis—including high-profile escapes—disasters in the service during Lewis, and disasters in the service after Lewis; but, as the current director general—to whom I pay considerable tribute—has told the Home Affairs Select Committee, the real progress has been made since the granting of agency status and that was due largely to the man who ran the agency at the time.
Quite apart from the merits of the case, the handling was deplorable—and personally witnessed by me—and was the cause of the distress that has now become public knowledge. The former director general was refused point blank on two occasions the opportunity to discuss the basis on which he was being dismissed. He had filed a large and detailed defence to the Learmont report, which was subsequently published, and even the former Home Secretary acknowledged that defence to be "persuasive and impressive".
My right hon. and learned Friend decided, however, that it painted a different picture of the Prison Service from Learmont's, and that he preferred Learmont's. Mr. Lewis immediately said that the two pictures were compatible, but the Home Secretary would hear no argument on the point. I consider that an amazing act on the part of the head of a justice Department.
A dismissal meeting on the 15th lasted 20 minutes; a meeting on the 16th lasted 12 minutes, with, again, the former Home Secretary refusing to hear Mr. Lewis's defence. Although we had had the report on 27 September, a decision was not communicated to Mr. Lewis until 15 October, and he was then given six hours in which to resign. That was subsequently extended, and, in the meantime—although he had been asked to resign and to give notice and was therefore presumably still head of the service—he was not admitted to meetings, and not copied into documents then being prepared for the statement. It is not surprising that Mr. Lewis did not go quietly.
I might add that it was the minutes of those meetings that convinced me that minutes of meetings may be perfectly accurate without reflecting the tone and full content of the meetings. For example, there was a question of security audit which showed that the then Home Secretary believed that Mr. Lewis had set up security audits only after Whitemoor. In fact, they had been set up before Whitemoor, which suggests that Mr. Lewis did not need a disaster to see the importance of security. That exchange is not recorded.
It has often been said that Mr. Lewis was dismissed because, after Whitemoor, he failed to take action to prevent Parkhurst. One could be forgiven for believing that absolutely nothing was going on between the two events. In fact, the opposite is true.
Mr. Lewis had already put in hand additional cameras, alterations to fence height, infra-red screens, alarm-activated static cameras, installation of closed-visit facilities, new methods of recording intelligence, an increase in rub-down searches, routine searching of all staff and visitors, upgraded supervision of visits, the introduction of specialist arms and explosives search teams, local staff training, high-technology searching equipment, the introduction of personal alarms and volumetric control—but, of course, he did nothing in that couple of months.
We all know that, when Ministers come before the House, they sometimes give us coded messages. [Laughter.] These Ministers will do it, too. We know that, if a Minister appears before the House and says, "I have received an important report, and I will publish it shortly," we may truly expect to find it in the Library shortly. If he says, "I will publish it as soon as possible," we know that it will take quite a long time. If he says, "I will publish it in due course," it is going to take a very long time indeed. But if he says, "This report has very serious implications which need very careful examination, and I will not be able to report to the House until that has happened," that means, "By gum! I am leaving this one for my successor."
My right hon. and learned Friend has a most exquisite way with words. On 16 October 1995, when presenting the Learmont report to Parliament, he told the House—hon. Members will find this in column 32 of Hansard
One particular aspect that I asked Sir John to consider was the extent to which visits should be closed. He recommends that there should be closed visits for exceptional risk category A prisoners other than in exceptional circumstances.
He told us:
That coincides with the policy that I introduced in June this year."—[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol.264, c.32.]
The use of the word "coincides" is intriguing. It is not unsustainable, but it is a bit curious, because no coincidence whatever was involved.
The Salmon version of the Learmont report specifically recommended that there should not be closed visits, even in SSUs. However, my right hon. and learned Friend subsequently wrote to General Learmont and stated in a very brief letter that he had decided that, when the SSU was opened at Whitemoor, closed visits would be implemented, whereupon the obliging general wrote back in five lines thanking him for that input, and stating that it would be reflected in his report.
The final version of the Learmont report totally reversed the original conclusion, and recommended closed visits. That says a great deal about the methodology of the Learmont report, on which I have already commented, but it also causes me to raise my eyebrows a little at the choice of words that were used to the House.
When there was a decidedly embarrassing court settlement, a document was put in the Conservative Whips office for the use of Members. That suggests that Members could have used the information to deploy in the House. I think that, had they done so, they would have left themselves open to serious embarrassment.
That document was certainly not written personally by my right hon. and learned Friend: it was produced by Conservative central office. But it is inconceivable that it would have arrived in the Whips office if he had thought it inaccurate. That document told Members that the settlement is not an admission that Mr. Lewis was either wrongfully or unfairly dismissed. That statement is sustainable only on the utmost technicality.
I shall read to the House, because they have already been published, as has the foregoing Learmont exchange, by Mr. Lewis in his evidence to the Select Committee and are therefore in the public domain, the exact terms of our lawyer's letter, our having been told that we admit no wrongful dismissal. The letter states:
For the avoidance of any possible remaining doubt I confirm that notwithstanding the Home Office is unable to admit terminating Mr. Lewis's contract in breach of contract due to the constitutional position of the Crown, it is accepted that, but for that position, your client's employment was terminated otherwise than in accordance with the terms of his contract. Accordingly, my client is willing to compensate Mr. Lewis upon the basis of damages for wrongful dismissal.
No wonder Mr. Lewis described our defence as
a fig leaf so small as to be grossly indecent.
I shall now turn to the censure debate in October 1995. My right hon. and learned Friend said:
On Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition made three allegations:".
He went on to list them and said that the first one was
that I personally told Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended immediately;
He listed the other allegations, and said:
Each and every one of the allegations is untrue."—[Official Report, 19 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 524.]
In other words, he categorically denied in the House that he had personally told Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended immediately.
Some hon. Members may have watched "Newsnight" on Tuesday 13 May, in which my right hon. and learned Friend was far less categoric. He said of Mr. Lewis:
I gave him the benefit of my opinion in strong language.
I can tell the House that the "Newsnight" version is the correct one.
There is ample documentary evidence that my right hon. and learned Friend did indeed personally tell Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended. The atmosphere at that meeting, attested to in the documents, is of fury and confrontation. I was told in a personal note by one of those present:
This was the subject of the worst disagreement. The Home Secretary wanted suspension, Derek Lewis adamantly refused.
Another document recorded:
the discussion generated a lot more heat than light … and you made it clear that your preference was for suspension.
The warning that Derek Lewis has said that he received after he had been asked to reconsider his decision—that
this is all getting white hot and I do not want it to become n uclear"-
is documented within the Department.
I say categorically to the House that the documents in the Department and the recollections of the civil servants and Ministers concerned show that Derek Lewis was told that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended, and that he was told to take time to reconsider his decision when he refused. That is a very different picture from the one that was painted in the House on 19 October 1995, when all that my right hon. and learned Friend would admit to was wondering whether suspension might be more appropriate, and asking questions. I can only ask the House to imagine "white hot wondering" or "questions going nuclear" or "querying in strong language" consist of.
To tell Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended is completely different from instructing Mr. Lewis. My right hon. and learned Friend has frequently said that he did not instruct Mr. Lewis—and he did not: there is common ground on that. However, he told him that the governor of Parkhurst should be suspended. The threat of instruction was distinct and was the second allegation, and we need to make sure that the two are disentangled.
The reason why the right hon. Member for Blackburn, now the Secretary of State for the Home Department, came to such grief in the debate on 19 October 1995 was that there was insufficient precision in using terms, and my right hon. and learned Friend is very precise in his terms. In the debate, my right hon. and learned Friend was asked by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin):
Mr. Lewis says that he was given a deadline by the right hon. and learned Gentleman by which to agree to the removal of Mr. Marriott, after which he would be overruled. Is that true?
My right hon. and learned Friend replied categorically:
There was no question of overruling the director general".—[Official Report, 19 October 1995; Vol.264, c. 520.]
Oh, yes, there was. As he rather belatedly admitted last week, and as documentary evidence within the Department shows, after Mr. Lewis had been asked to reconsider his decision, my right hon. and learned Friend took advice on whether he could instruct Derek Lewis to suspend Mr. Marriott—this bearing in mind that he had told the House that he had not personally told Mr. Lewis that Marriott should be suspended.
But my right hon. and learned Friend was now carrying matters to the extent of seeking to instruct Mr. Lewis, and, after consultation with the Cabinet Office and legal advisers in the Department, he was advised that he could not instruct him. Therefore, it cannot be said that there was no question of overruling the director general. The question was asked, it was pursued, and it was answered in the negative.
In the October 1995 debate, my right hon. and learned Friend was asked whether Mr. Lewis had left the meeting to consider the deadline that the Secretary of State had set him to reconsider his decision. The former Home Secretary replied:
I have no idea, at this distance in time, why he left the meeting".—[Official Report, 19 October 1995; Vol.264, c.521.]
However, the day before, he had received an account of that meeting, which clearly showed that Mr. Lewis was asked when he left the meeting to "talk further" and "to think it through". I cannot believe that my right hon. and learned Friend's formidable memory should cause him to feel that 24 hours is a great distance in time.
In column 523 of the Official Report, my right hon. and learned Friend referred to minutes of the disputed meeting which he had placed in the Library. He told the House that the minutes were the detailed official account, and that he was doing his best to give the House a full account. But those minutes are not a full account. For example, they omit the very important fact that Mr. Lewis was invited to reconsider his decision. They are not the most detailed account. That would be the transcription of the private secretary's notebooks. The minutes are silent on matters that are well documented elsewhere.
There has also been some uncertainty about why the former governor of Parkhurst was moved from his post on the day that my right hon. and learned Friend made his statement, rather than within a few days, as the director general and operational director had intended. I have now seen detailed evidence that makes it clear that it was only a transcript of the words used by my right hon. and learned Friend to the House, which was transmitted to Parkhurst, which caused that change.
Hon. Members will note that there has been much interest in the press this week as to whether there was a direct threat from the former Home Secretary to the former director general that my right hon. and learned Friend would have to consider overruling him if, when he had reconsidered his decision, he did not come to a different view. We know that he was sent out to reconsider his decision. We know that, during that time, advice was taken on whether he could indeed be overruled. It is very strange that my right hon. and learned Friend refused to answer that question 14 times on "Newsnight" last week, and was so uncharacteristically tongue-tied that he could not explain, as he later claimed, that he was simply unsure about that element of such a traumatic disagreement, and needed to check the papers.
Although it was not debated in the House on 19 October, questions had been raised in that week as to whether the Home Secretary had threatened not only to overrule Mr. Lewis, but to sack him. This was 10 months before he was sacked. I can confirm that he did talk about sacking him that day, but not to Mr. Lewis himself. Mr. Lewis subsequently found out from a third party, but it shows the degree of ferocity that existed in that fateful meeting.
Therefore, the questions to my right hon. and learned Friend are these. Why did he say that he had not personally told Mr. Lewis that Mr. Marriott should be suspended immediately, when he had? Why did he say that there was no question of overruling Mr. Lewis, when the question had been pursued as far as consulting the Cabinet Office and legal advisers? Why did he say that he could not recall at that distance in time why Mr. Lewis had been asked to leave the meeting, when he had received only the previous day an account of that meeting, which showed that Mr. Lewis had been asked to reconsider his decision?
Why did my right hon. and learned Friend say that he was giving the House a full account, when he well knows that important issues that were discussed in the House were in fact omitted from the minutes that he laid before it as a full account? Will he now, to clear any doubt at all that may exist in the minds of hon. Members, ask the current Home Secretary to release the full transcript of the meeting, minus of course anything that might have involved security in our prisons?
I should say that, intriguingly, when I asked the Home Office whether I could have access to the document, it was denied, on the perfectly proper basis that I had not been involved in the meeting at the time. I then said, "Ah, but the document does then exist," and I was told, "Yes, but it might need some adjustment."
My right hon. and learned Friend has a problem, in that his first reaction to attack is denial and refuge in semantic prestidigitation. Why did he not simply come to the House on 19 October and say, "So what? Yes, I did tell the director general that Marriott should have been suspended. Yes, I did feel about it so strongly that I put huge pressure on him. Yes, I did tell him to reconsider his decision, and, yes, I did consider overruling him"? It was just too important not to consider it. Why on earth did he not say that, to what I have no doubt would have been high cheers from the then Government Benches? He could not do so because he had dug a hole for himself over policy and operations, and he would never have had to dig such a hole had he been prepared to keep the director general in place.
The issues before the House are not whether Marriott should have been suspended; I think that he should have been. They are not whether there was a smoking fax; the Opposition were confused. They are not about the precise form of words used in evidence to the Select Committee on the Marriott removal. It is purely statements made in the House on 19 October to which I am addressing myself. As a matter of fact, as I have said, I do believe that the former Home Secretary would have been right had he taken all those actions. It was simply that he told the House that they were not taken.
In the winding-up speech on 19 October 1995, I said that there was no doubt of the validity of the statements made to the Select Committee by the then Home Secretary and the then director general of the Prison Service, but, even as I stood at that Dispatch Box and spoke those words, I was starting to have very severe doubts about some of the statements that had been made in the House on that day.
Even so, for a long time, I could not be sure that actual words, as opposed to tone and impression, could be challenged. All manner of things made me determined to carry out the analysis that I have now carried out; and I regret that among those things was the treatment of Mr. Lewis after he left the Prison Service.
My right hon. and learned Friend has been defending himself this week against various statements that have come out—they have come from me, most of them. None of those defences has taken us much further forward. Asked why he refused 14 times on "Newsnight" to deny something that he had already categorically denied in the House, he said that he would have to check the record, but that seems, in the words of an article in The Economist,
a strange lapse for a high powered lawyer who had been challenged many times before on this precise point.
He then offered a defence in The Spectator, saying, significantly, that civil servants would have checked his account, and that they would have told him if it had been wrong.
I have two comments to make on that statement. The first is that it contains the familiar sound of looking for scapegoats. Can my right hon. and learned Friend really not take responsibility for what he said himself? Secondly, it the question: supposing the civil servants had pointed out an inaccuracy, would he have rushed down to the House to correct it? He did not do so when he inadvertently—I stress that it was inadvertent—misled the House of Commons Select Committee over geophones.
In January 1995, my right hon. and learned Friend told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that money had not been switched from construction projects, including geophones, to building new house blocks. Indeed, he made the clear and unambiguous statement that additional money had been provided for the house blocks. Many months later, he was advised by his civil servants that that was wrong and he was also advised that statements that he had made in the House in connection with the timing of the decision to install geophones were also wrong. The issue was important, because the absence of geophones had been criticised by Sir John Learmont.
When I pointed out that no correction had been made, the former Home Secretary issued another of his statements. He said that he had sought immediate advice from Derek Lewis, who had advised that there was no practical significance to his answer, as funds were found for the geophones from other sources. Therefore, he advised the former Home Secretary that probably he had not misled the Committee, and the former Home Secretary takes refuge in that advice from Derek Lewis. It must be one of the few times that he was grateful for advice from Derek Lewis.
My right hon. and learned Friend omits to point out that, in two succeeding memoranda, his own Prison Service monitoring unit stuck to its guns and said that the statements were misleading; that they did not consist of a full account, which Ministers are obliged to give under "Questions of Procedure for Ministers"; and that, had officials given such information, they would have been obliged to correct it.
But no correction was ever made, despite the fact that an ideal opportunity was presented when the Learmont report was published. A very bland, all-encompassing statement could then have been made, to the effect that the detailed analysis replaced all previous information and corrected any previous information inadvertently wrongly given.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made much of how he is the one to take tough decisions. Tough decisions concern a great deal more than instant law and instant dismissals. The toughest decision of all that he would have had to take was to come to the House on 16 October, told it that a damning report had been received, but that half its recommendations had already been implemented or were actively being put in hand; that the progress of the Prison Service under the director general was of such outstanding quality that he was continuing, with my right hon. and learned Friend's personal support; and that he, the Home Secretary, also had no intention of resigning, because there was no direct connection between himself and what had happened.
That would have been tough, because the then Opposition would have howled for a head, and, if they were not given Mr. Lewis's, they might have howled for that of my right hon. and learned Friend, but we had a majority, so there was no reason to suppose that they would get it. However, he had been through that terrible sort of confrontation in the House in January, immediately after the Parkhurst breakout, and he was not quite tough enough to face it again in October.
Courage and toughness are both more than instant law and instant dismissal. We demean our high office if we mistreat our public servants. As hon. Members, we demean ourselves if we come to the House to indulge in a play of words and make statements which, although they may not be untrue—they never are in the House—may be unsustainable.
My decision to do what I have done today was extremely difficult to reach, and I have agonised over it for months. One of the worst moments was when I decided that I would do it. I knew how shocked, hurt and upset not only my right hon. and learned Friend but many of my colleagues would be, but I formed the view that I could do no other. I reached my decision in the interests of giving very belated justice to Mr. Lewis, of giving some comfort to his wife Louise—who supported him faithfully while he gave us seven days a week looking after the Prison Service—partly of clearing my own conscience, although that is my problem, because I should have resigned at the time and did not—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] Yes, I agree.
I reached that view also to draw to the attention of the House the overwhelming necessity for the Leader of the Opposition—whoever he will be—and the new Prime Minister to clean up Parliament's image in the eyes of the British people. It is not enough to preserve our own positions at all costs. When we occupy high positions, and certainly when we occupy such positions in justice Departments, justice must be our first concern.
I am aware that I probably will not be forgiven for my decision by some Conservative Members until the day I leave Parliament. If I had not done what I have done today, however, I would not have forgiven myself until I left Parliament and beyond.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I shall respond in detail to the allegations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) when I reply to this debate. I respond immediately, however, to her invitation to ask the Home Secretary to release the full transcript of the meeting to which she has referred, in the hope that it can be made available in time for my speech later today.
I am sure that the House and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will understand if I do not attempt to follow her remarks.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his appointment and on his excellent first speech as Home Secretary. Like most of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate on the Loyal Address, I welcome both the tone and most, if not all, of the content of the Queen's Speech. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's remarks and the Government's proposals on law and order, as I do those on health and education.
I especially welcome the windfall tax proposal. If it is successful—I am sure it will be—it will impinge upon and help with law and order problems. During the past 18 years, in my constituency, as in most others, one of the greatest scourges has been youth unemployment, particularly among young men. I hope that the windfall tax and its attendant measures will do something to alleviate such unemployment, which has caused misery to those unemployed men and women, worry to their parents, and serious economic and social consequences for the community.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned the drug problem, which is complex and has often had disastrous consequences. The causes of the problem may not be easy to determine, although, in my constituency—which, in terms of the drug problem, is no different from other—there was only a very minor, if any, drug problem in 1979, when the previous Labour Government left office.
One consequence for candidates and for the electorate—I will not say that it was necessarily a benefit—of a six-week election campaign, during which there was almost constantly good weather, was that we saw a lot of each other. We probably saw more of each other than we did during the previous seven general election campaigns that I have fought, and I met more electors and constituents than ever before. I usually found—as the election results showed-that my constituents welcomed Labour's proposals on law and order, health, education and the windfall tax.
There was, however, one group of electors—who are now constituents—who were very angry: pensioners. For the first time in the eight general elections that I have contested, in a traditional Labour constituency, I did not detect an enthusiastic welcome from pensioners for the Labour party's policies or for its candidate for Llanelli. They were angry and frustrated primarily because, in 1979 or 1980, the Conservative Government broke the link between pensions and wages, which had been introduced by a previous Labour Government. That was the root cause of their anger, after someone had calculated that pensioners had lost at least £18 a week because that link had been broken.
I told the pensioners that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse the actions of the past 18 years, and they grudgingly accepted that. Then they asked, "But what will you do?" I started with our proposals on decreasing VAT on fuel; again they grudgingly accepted my answer. I went on to say that pensioners would be helped by Labour's proposals on law and order, on health and on other social issues, as mentioned in our manifesto. They again expressed a grudging acceptance of my answer.
I was still not able to escape, however, because they asked me about television licences. They asked, "Why should we pay £87 a year when other pensioners pay nothing?" They did not criticise that exemption, but they asked, "Why should we, who have very little entertainment available, pay an exorbitant sum for a television licence?" I did not want to tell them that the chattering classes at the BBC had to be kept in the style to which they have become accustomed, because that might have been pushing my luck a bit far. I had no answer for them.
When I thought that I could perhaps make an escape, they hit me with a question on the Republic of Ireland—because west Wales has suddenly discovered Ireland. West Wales, if not all of Wales, has discovered that the average gross domestic product per head in Ireland is now as high as it is in the United Kingdom—and that it is much higher than it is in Wales. I was told—I could not refute it, because I did not know the figures—that pensions in the Republic of Ireland are higher than in Britain, that Ireland's television licence fee is much lower, and that pensioners can travel free throughout the island of Ireland.
My confrontations—sadly, that is what the meetings became—with pensioners in my constituency were not very productive for me or for the Labour party. After reflecting on the general election and thinking about it, however, I have concluded that the only way in which we can eventually—not tomorrow, but soon—deal with the matter is to consider increasing the basic rate of the old age pension. I see no other solution. The introduction of price differentials in television licences would probably be too difficult, and travel is often a matter for local authorities, but we should consider increasing the basic pension by perhaps £5 a week for a single person and £8 a week for a married couple.
I do not criticise my right hon. and hon. Friends for not including such a step in the Queen's Speech. I shall not criticise them if it does not appear in the next Budget—it will not—because I am told that the cost of such a proposal, taking into account the need to uprate income support and the effect on the Exchequer, is probably around £2 billion. However, we say in the Queen's Speech that we are a party of one nation. The speech deals with young people, law and order and the health service, so I hope that, over the next year, we can consider the injustice that has been done to pensioners and, somehow or other, find the £2 billion to put it right before too long.
As I said, I welcome the Queen's Speech but, sadly, I have one reservation. It involves the proposal to transfer the power to control and set the price of money and to set interest rates from the Treasury—and, basically, from the House—to the Bank of England.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but we are now debating the amendment. I hope that he will steer his remarks in that direction.
As I understand it, once the amendment has been moved, the debate should concentrate on its contents. However, I have given the right hon. Gentleman some leeway. I hope that he will accept what I have said in the spirit in which it was intended.
In that case, I shall continue to deal with the question of parliamentary responsibility with which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt when he mentioned the Prison Service. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald dealt with parliamentary responsibility—she said that it had not been exercised in relation to the Prison Service. My remarks on the Bank of England deal with what I should think is the overriding issue of parliamentary responsibility. However, I defer to the occupant of the Chair. If I am out of order, I shall draw my remarks to a close, but I repeat that the transfer of power to the Bank of England is a transfer of democracy, just as the transfer of some power to the prison authorities was a transfer of democracy. The point is that such a transfer leads to all kinds of problems, as the right hon. Lady said.
I support the Queen's Speech. My right hon. Friends have made an excellent start, with the exception of the transfer of power to the Bank of England. However, we shall debate the matter again when we consider the relevant legislation. I am sure that the government of the country is in good hands.
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your election to your new office. I had intended to congratulate the Home Secretary on his appointment, but, as he has already fled the scene, I shall save my congratulations for another occasion. Perhaps he has gone for a rummage in the archives, but he will quickly discover that he does not have access to the records of the previous Administration.
The debate has taken an intriguing turn. It must especially intrigue my many newly elected colleagues, not to mention many new Labour Members of Parliament, because it has shown that there are two Conservative parties. We heard initially from what we must assume is the moderately pro-Howard Conservative party, which speaks from the Front Bench—at least when it is in the form of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). We then heard from the anti-Howard party in the form of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) who in fact extended the debate of 19 October last by saying various things that she ought to have said then, and which she should have said from the Back Benches rather than the Front Bench.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has left the Chamber so soon after making her speech, because there are several questions to be put to her. I wonder whether she communicated the full extent of her concerns to the Prime Minister at the time. Was he made aware of them? He certainly ought to have been. If he was, but did nothing about the situation, it suggests that the Government were as little under control as many of us came to believe in the course of their last few years.
I can now congratulate the Home Secretary, who has returned to the Chamber. I wish him well in his important and demanding office of state—few are more demanding, and I genuinely wish him well.
I do not think that I need to have given any notice to the former Home Secretary that I intended to refer to him in this debate. Indeed, everyone is expecting the debate to turn to a considerable extent on the previous Home Secretary. I have a number of things to say about him. He failed to keep the promise to increase police numbers that the Conservative Government made in 1992. He distorted and debased the debate on prisons and punishment. The country was treated to tabloid and soundbite penal policy, which was extremely damaging to any reasonable debate on how crime can be reduced. The test to earn the approval of the Home Secretary depended on how many people one was prepared to lock up.
The former Home Secretary demoralised the prison service, and the full extent of that was illustrated by the remarks of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald. He also seriously undermined parliamentary accountability, especially in relation to the Prison Service. He sought to draw a distinction between policy and operations, which is difficult to do in the Prison Service. However, if there is a distinction, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was no more capable of abiding by it than a drunken man is able to walk along the straight line that used to be drawn on the police station floor.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was temperamentally incapable of observing a distinction between policy and operations and intervened in all manner of things. Had he been more open about his intentions, he could have defended them. They were all based on his very firm conviction that he was right and that suspension of this governor, the changing of that salary structure or the alteration of that prisoner's term were all matters in which he should properly intervene. However, once questions were asked, the matter became a matter of operations, nothing to do with policy and not something to which he should refer when answering to the House. He is now getting his come-uppance as the Conservative party splits into two. The second of those parties was represented here this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald.
I have to say to the new Home Secretary—some of his friends as well as his political opponents will have said this to him, too—that he was a consenting participant in the tabloid competition to sound tough in the period before the general election. Some of his sympathisers think it was all a deception. Polly Toynbee, most notably, writes in the press that we do not have to believe what the then shadow Home Secretary said because it will change when he gets into office. I, however, take him to be a more sincere and honest man than that. The worry that arises from my belief in his sincerity is that he accepts much of the tough talk about prison working in which he participated before the election. He now has to face the challenge, especially in connection with prison policy and policing.
Our prisons are already appallingly overcrowded. The prison population has risen by 15,000 in three years; the number of women prisoners has gone up by two thirds over the same period; and 86 per cent. of people in prison are there for non-violent offences. So serious are the dangers of overcrowding, following, as they do, an attempt to find a more humane pattern to prisons, that the Home Secretary now has to visit prison ships moored off Dorset and consider whether holiday camps should be brought into use. Before long, he will have to consider whether police cells are to be used to house prisoners, which would be not only an unsatisfactory way to house them but a waste of police time. We must not take that step if we are to continue our serious attack on crime. Using police cells and police time and resources to deal with the custody of prisoners is the very opposite of an attack on crime.
I should like to refer to a couple of recent reports to the Home Secretary from boards of prison visitors. The report on Swaleside prison published in April says:
Education is still a major area for concern as it was last year. Privatisation has produced less prisoners being educated for more money…
The closure of some work shops and the cut back and deterioration in the Education Department has created a situation where during 1996 more and more prisoners spent 19/20 hours locked in cells.
The press release accompanying the board of visitors report on Wandsworth prison in April says:
The Report complains about the reduction in the number of staff and services caused by budget cuts. One part of the prison which houses sex offenders has had its staff cut from 70 to 50, the Probation Department has had its numbers cut from 14 to three and the number of classes run by the Education Department has been halved.
I should add for fairness that the press release continues:
On the positive side, however, the Report commends the prison's Drug Strategy and the refurbishment of A and B Wings—two Victorian 'slopping out' wings—which were only recently closed and which the Home Office had threatened to re-open if overcrowding demanded.
If overcrowding continues, we shall have to reopen wings that have not been adequately refurbished.
All that poses an even more serious question for the new Home Secretary. We must know not just what he will do about the effects of the recent trend in prison numbers, but whether he is serious about implementing the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, passed just a month or so ago. If he is serious, we shall need not just the eight new prisons already planned, but a further 12, 20 or, according to some unpublished Home Office figures, even 60 new prisons.
Significantly, the Home Secretary said this afternoon that he would not be prepared to implement the measures if the prison places were not available. That must mean a significant change in the timetable for implementation set out by the previous Home Secretary. Even if the timetable is changed, it will require a huge diversion of resources into prison building.
Is the new Home Secretary converted to the building of private prisons? All the estimates so far made for building prisons to meet the provisions of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 are based on the assumption that they will all be private prisons. On that assumption, there will be no immediate capital cost to the Exchequer, merely the payment of revenue costs to private providers of prisons. Is that new Labour's policy? It cannot be squared with what Labour said before the election. I do not believe that the new Home Secretary will be able to implement the Act. I think that he will gradually slide away from the commitment that he made in the heat of the election campaign. Even his repetition of it today was heavily qualified.
Another severe challenge to the Home Secretary is what he intends to do about police numbers. Nothing in his speech or, to be fair, in Labour's manifesto, suggests an increase in police numbers. He sought to defend that today by pointing out that the decision on how money is used rests with chief constables. I do not think that that was the only reason for there being nothing on the subject in the manifesto. I think that the Home Secretary did not want to make a promise that he had not made provision to keep by setting aside additional funds. Unless police authorities get additional funds, we shall not get additional police officers.
Many police authorities have reorganised their resources as effectively as they can, cutting out management structures to release more officers to put on the beat. There is not much slack left in many forces. Getting more officers on the beat will need additional resources that are not already pre-empted for new equipment or other essential expenditure to which the Home Secretary referred.
The story does not end there. The Home Secretary wants to introduce new responsibilities for the police. He is inviting them to engage in zero tolerance campaigns in some areas. That requires additional resources, unless the rest of the police authority area is to be seriously denuded. We had some experience of that in Northumbria, with all the Meadowell problems and the concentration of resources in one area.
The Liberal Democrats have some anxieties about the concept of zero tolerance. We do not want to encourage the use of the phrase, which implies a social authoritarianism that does not seem right to us in a free society. I hope that the Home Secretary means not such social authoritarianism, but that rigorous enforcement of the law will ensure that the extent to which an area is law abiding will be vigorously improved in ways that the public would welcome, although some senior police officers have already expressed doubts about how manageable the consequences of some of the more aggressive zero tolerance campaigns might be.
Even if the campaigns meet all our criteria, they require more resources and more officers. If those resources are to be taken from other parts of a police authority area, the net effect will probably an overall increase in crime, with one area being helped, but others suffering.
Other new responsibilities are proposed. If there are to be general child curfews, police officers will have to stop and question young children they see about at night. We are not convinced that that is a good scheme. Police officers are already able to use their common sense and stop and question children who are too young to be wandering around late at night. If they are to be pressed to organise curfews, more police resources will be needed.
We would place the emphasis in dealing with crime on having more police officers available in communities and on a range of crime prevention measures, including diverting young people from crime and confronting offending behaviour. Such measures are more likely to be effective than the massive diversion into custody implicit in the plans that the Government have inherited and seem willing to continue.
As we have said for many years, the drugs problem lies behind much crime. When the Home Secretary was quoted the other day as being surprised by the scale of the problem, someone said to me, "Where has he been?" The fact that a lot of crime arises from feeding the drugs habit is well known. When new Labour brings us a tsar, we see how much the political tables have been turned. Tsars used to be people who were murdered by communists. Now they are people whom new Labour wishes to appoint. The responsibilities and powers of someone with such a grand title have not been vouchsafed to us.
We want serious research into the problem, and consideration of drugs policy away from the political atmosphere of the last Parliament and the general election, in which any suggestion of significant variation on present policy was regarded as a weakening. None of the parties has all the answers and there is uncertainty about the effects of policies. There is considerable difference of view among professionals. We want serious research, hard-headed debate and Government backing nationally and locally for co-ordinated strategies to deal with drugs problems. Measures that look simple and attractive can easily go wrong. Mandatory drug testing in prisons seems a wonderful idea until we discover that it encourages people to shift from cannabis to harder drugs because the harder drugs are more difficult to pick up under the mandatory testing programme. We should beware simple solutions.
The Home Secretary will also face challenges on other issues. We shall challenge him on some of the issues not covered in the Gracious Speech. Legislation is desperately needed to regulate the private security industry. Such measures would be welcomed in many parts of the House, and the police would like such legislation in place soon.
We welcome some of what the Home Secretary has said on immigration and asylum policy, but we are not yet convinced that he will do enough to deal with the problem of families being divided by the harsh application of immigration law. We await his further announcements with particular interest.
We shall look carefully at the Home Secretary's plans to speed up the youth justice system and to deal with anti-social behaviour. We very much welcome his commitment to bring the European convention on human rights into British domestic law. I took a Bill through the House on that subject about 15 or 20 years ago. Some conversions take a long time. In those days, the idea was bitterly opposed by Labour, but I genuinely welcome the Home Secretary's stance. We hope to assist on that. We also welcome what he has said about legislation on racial attacks and racial harassment.
The handguns issue will remain a free vote issue for my right hon. and hon. Friends, as it was in the last Parliament, although the Home Secretary may find my party working together to press him on compensation. If he creates a new compensation requirement, we shall seek, as we did on the previous legislation, to ensure that those who are affected by legislation that is in no way their fault have proper compensation provision.
Of all Departments, the work of the Home Office most closely involves the protection of civil liberties. I include the liberty that requires people to be protected from crime, as well as the other areas of civil liberty. Many people think that civil liberties did not feature highly on new Labour's agenda as it sought power. The rhetoric that Labour used suggested that that was the case, but now we shall see.
Up to the very last days of the last Parliament-when we blocked some measures to which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border referred—the Liberal Democrats served as guardians of liberty. We will continue to do so; that is one of the reasons we are here.
The interesting speech by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) will, I am sure, be alluded to by other hon. Members. I listened with interest to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith); I agreed with many of his comments and intend to touch on some.
During the election campaign, the one thing about which we heard day after day was the fear of crime. It did not matter whether one talked to men or women, or what age they were—crime in the community was the key issue. In my constituency, people were concerned about the amount of youth crime and the type of crime in which young people are now involved—hooliganism, vandalism, abuse and violence. People in my constituency are terrorised by gangs of youngsters—often just school children—and I am sure that other communities suffer that problem.
Local people are often scared to do anything about the abuse that they suffer. If one complains to the police and the youngsters are taken to court, one may have to give evidence—even when it is known which youngsters are involved. There is a fear that a person giving evidence will identify himself and will suffer following the decision of the court. It is totally unacceptable that our constituents can be terrorised in that way.
I welcome the comments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon. When the Bills to which he referred go into Committee and start to gain publicity, we must make it clear that we will no longer tolerate abuse and violence. All of us will warmly welcome such a statement.
I wish to refer to two cases that, sadly, highlight what is happening. I have no intention of indulging in party politics, because we are dealing with gut issues which concern the people whom we represent. The first is the horrendous case of an Austrian lady who came to London and was picked up by a gang of youngsters who brutally gang-raped her. When she gave evidence in court, she said that she had no fear when she was first approached, as the gang were just youngsters. Yet they raped her and threw her into the river. They were prepared to allow her to drown; they had no idea whether she could swim.
The other case, which was reported in a national newspaper last Friday, is that of a school bullying ring of 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 who have been robbing and blackmailing other children for some eight months. Those are two examples, and I am sure that other hon. Members could give many similar ones from the areas that they represent. We know what kind of crimes are taking place, and I hope that we can develop penalties that the courts will be expected to impose on those who break the law.
Many of us have constituency problems. In my constituency—although this problem has been almost overcome—kerb crawling and prostitution have caused enormous difficulties. One of the biggest problems has been getting local magistrates courts to understand what is happening. Sadly, the lack of meaningful action by the courts against those committing the offences has broken down the effects of much of the hard work of the local police force in trying to clear up the problem.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have no fear; if his actions are fair and realistic, he will gain the overwhelming support of the House and—more important—of the people.
The hon. Gentleman is making important points. Does he agree that all of us—not only in this place, but in our circles of friends—should support magistrates, rather than constantly belittling them? Is not one of the real difficulties that often these public servants—who voluntarily give up hours of their time—are out of touch with some elements of the scene in which they operate? Unless they are supported rather than belittled, will it not be hard to recruit magistrates?
I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. We should not criticise magistrates, although my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to the inconsistencies in sentencing that we see repeatedly. That may mean that magistrates should attend courses or conferences. Whenever I have tabled questions on the matter to numerous Home Secretaries, I have always been told that it is not for the Government to interfere with the judiciary. That may be, but the judiciary needs clear guidelines.
I recognise that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I shall turn briefly to the Prison Service. One of the major prisons in the country, Wandsworth, is in my constituency and I serve on the board at Wormwood Scrubs. We heard some interesting remarks on the subject by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, and those involved with the Prison Service know that enormous changes have taken place. If one talks to those who run our prisons—governors, prison officers or boards of visitors—one finds that they have little time for many of the changes that were introduced by the previous Government.
I am closely involved with Wandsworth prison, its governor and the Prison Officers Association. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has inherited a Prison Service which has enormous problems, and it is no good Conservative Members saying that the Government have inherited a wonderful Prison Service. That is not true. Prisons up and down the country are seriously overcrowded and are not properly funded. Morale—which I believe is of key importance in prisons—is very low.
I realise that some of the things I am about to suggest will not be done quickly, but as long as we have guidelines for which we can aim and as long as those who run the Prison Service can see that here is a Government who will listen to their concerns and act on them, morale in the Prison Service will improve. I hope that action will be taken to reduce the prison population. One reads in the national press that certain actions are to be taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, for example, in relation to fine defaulters. I am sure that many Labour Members have felt it scandalous that fine defaulters—often women with young children—should be sent to prison, with all the problems that that creates.
There are many people in prison—certainly there have been since the failures of care in the community—who suffer from mental illness and who, sadly, find their way into the prisons of this country but most certainly should not be there. I hope that we will seriously look for alternative forms of care for such people.
I fully accept that there are some very dangerous people in society—people who are convicted of horrendous crimes and who should be sent to prison for a long time—but what do we achieve by sending them to prison for only a short time? Governors and prison officers will say that they are only containing such an individual for a period, but that that individual is learning nothing of benefit for when he or she is released at the end of the sentence.
It costs more than £500 a week to keep a man or woman in prison. In view of the financial tightness that we know exists, we have to wonder whether that is the proper way in which the Prison Service should be run. We need to review how we run our prisons. If one talks to anyone working within the system, one hears of the despair about trying to do a meaningful job as a governor or prison officer while many of the inmates in their charge are locked up for hours on end, day after day.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed mentioned two reports, one of which was the Wandsworth prison board of visitors annual report. Following an abortive inspection of Holloway prison—an inspection was to have taken place in December 1995—the chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, said:
I had to pull an inspection team out of Holloway women's prison in London. An unprecedented move, it was the quickest and most effective way of registering our horror at what we found there.
In all my 36 years in the Army, until I left in 1993 with the rank of Adjutant-General, I had never visited an establishment as filthy as that one-and that includes a prisoner-of-war camp in the Falkland Islands. There was ample evidence in Holloway of rats, cockroaches, ants and rotting food. It was difficult to argue with the warder who described the place as a 'rat-infested refuse tip'.
Worst of all, the inmates were locked up in their cells for 23 hours a day. There was no work, no training, no education. All in all, Holloway had become an almost perfect example of everything that a modem prison is not meant to be.
I am sure that what the chief inspector of prisons said could be repeated by many prison governors and senior prison officers up and down the country.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues will start to take note of what the chief inspector of prisons says. I hope that we are to hear—if not today, then soon—how my right hon. Friend envisages the role of the chief inspector. I hope that the relationship will be supportive and that not only the chief inspector's reports but those of boards of visitors will be welcomed and acted on. The men and women on those boards give up an enormous amount of their time and know what is really happening in the prisons in which they serve, so their reports should not be received, acknowledged and then conveniently forgotten.
When I visit prisons, I am greatly concerned by the number of young inmates and, sadly, in the big city establishments, the number of young inmates who come from an ethnic background. I believe we have to take serious action in many of our big cities to try to keep such youngsters—both men and women—out of the prison system. Once they get into that system, it is very hard to break out. I hope that we will hear more on that subject in the coming weeks from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend and his colleagues will be aware of my next point, but I feel that it should be made clear in a debate such as this. When I meet prison officers, I hear that the one policy that has not worked is the privatisation of the Prison Service. It has not worked and countless examples of that failure can be found up and down the country. I hope that we will soon hear that we shall no longer continue with the policy of the privatisation of the Prison Service in any part of the United Kingdom. I want to see a Prison Service that is the responsibility of the state and whose day-to-day operations are accountable to Parliament.
I know that my right hon. Friend said that, in future, all questions relating to prison matters will be answered by Ministers, and I welcome that. Since the privatisation of the Prison Service, the complaint has been raised that privatised prisons no longer have any responsibility to Parliament. The policy absolves the Government from any responsibility whatsoever and I totally oppose that. The very nature of the Prison Service means that it should be accountable to Parliament and I hope that that will happen in the near future.
It is rare that we have debates about the Prison Service in the House, but I hope that in coming weeks there will be a major day-long debate on the service. There are many issues relating to prisons that should be debated: for example, the way in which prisons are run; the sort of inmates they hold; vulnerable prisoners and the suicides that have occurred in increasing numbers, particularly among young offenders; and how we intend to treat young offenders.
I am sure that all hon. Members, but especially those who sit on the Government Benches, hope that, at long last, those who run our prisons—be they governors, senior prison officers or rank-and-file officers—can believe that they have a Government who will listen to them. I have been told by officers at Wandsworth prison in my constituency that they believe that the Government will start to act on the experience that they have built up by doing the job. If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team adopt such a policy, it can only be for the betterment of the Prison Service and thus for the betterment of this country.
On behalf of the Ulster Unionist party, I welcome the new Home Secretary and the other Ministers of the Home Office to the Dispatch Box. I must also thank the former Home Secretary for the interest, understanding and courtesy that he has always shown my party.
The new Home Secretary will find that we have many ideas and attitudes in common with those that he has expressed, and we wish him well. Already, his attitude to one of the main causes of fear and suffering throughout the nation—the scourge of drug abuse—has struck a chord.
There are three areas in which the Home Secretary must seek to make an impact: the home, schools and the press. He will need to show equal commitment to the two primary resources that can be used to reverse the current trend: education and punishment.
On the education front, we want the Home Secretary to co-ordinate, among schools, police, sporting authorities, business institutes, trade unions and every facet of representative life, an anti-drugs programme that will reach effectively to every corner of the kingdom—and that includes Northern Ireland.
On the justice side, the Home Secretary must ensure that those in whom we vest responsibility to protect us from criminal degradation are conscious of their primary responsibility to the law-abiding community. When it comes to tackling the godfathers of crime, it is time to adopt more of a "throw away the key" philosophy. The rewards of criminality for the big boys far outweigh the punishments; that must change.
My party believes that parents have a responsibility for their children. It must be made clear, therefore, that society expects a positive response from parents when it comes to accounting for misdemeanours committed by their children. There must be a properly defined accounting system, so that neither persistent young offenders nor persistently negligent parents can for ever evade their debt to society.
As a schoolmaster of 23 years' service—16 as a principal—I must now say something that may not go down too well with some. There is in my profession a small but significant element who no longer fulfil the "role model" criteria that society requires of them. They are slovenly in dress, speech and attitude. They, and similar small, but significant, elements of the social work and probationary services, must be encouraged to meet their obligations or—to put it bluntly—get out.
Of course there is an onus on the Government to ensure that those who perform well are given fair recognition for the demanding job that they do. They must be reassured that they have the moral support of the community and the tangible support of the present Administration.
I hope that the Home Secretary will seek to build a better and safer environment, not least for the young and the elderly. In that, I urge him to seek, and I believe that he has the right to expect, the co-operation of our press and television, which too often appear to indulge in pandering to the lowest instincts of society.
It is time for all to put the interests of victims above those of the criminal. The time for potty pseudo-liberalism is long past and the present Government must show that they are more concerned with bleeding victims than with so-called "bleeding hearts".
Before I move to an issue that more specifically relates to Northern Ireland, may I ask the Home Secretary whether there is any specific law to cope with bullying in schools and the workplace? I have been advised by a victims of bullying group that there is not, and that one must prove physical or serious psychological injury to obtain redress. If that is so, will the Home Secretary address the issue of bullying? Emotional scars that the victims suffer and the power fixation that the perpetrators acquire do nothing to promote a stable society. Both victims and perpetrators are in danger of finishing up with a badly warped view of life.
Turning to Northern Ireland, there are several matters on which the Home Secretary, although not having primary responsibility, will be consulted by his colleague, the right hon. Member for Redcar (Marjorie Mowlam). I hope that the Home Secretary will familiarise himself at first hand with Northern Ireland affairs.
That which most immediately exercises our thoughts is the comparatively new phenomenon that has arisen as a result of a Sinn Fein-IRA tactic to orchestrate opposition to traditional parades. No Member on the Ulster Unionist Bench would assert that every parade that occurs in Northern Ireland is conceived in innocence, but established parades of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Irish National Foresters, the Orange Order and the Royal Black Institution are certainly not designed to give offence.
Now, after more than 25 years of IRA murders by the very people who whinge that their exclusion from this place is unfair, we find that so deep is their hatred of anything Unionist or Protestant that they object to the very sight of their Protestant neighbour walking to and from his church along a public highway.
Despite the fact that article 11 of the European convention on human rights states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests
and that article 21 of the international covenant on civil and political rights states:
The right to peaceful assembly shall be recognised. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of health or morals or the protection of the human rights and freedoms of others",
the threat of violence by IRA-Sinn Fein-motivated mobs has been deemed sufficient cause to ban parades. We find that main arterial routes, such as the Ormeau road and Garvaghy road, are being designated "Roman Catholic". Main roads with sectarian affiliations—what next?
Evading his responsibility in 1996, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland set up the North commission, basically to decide how it would be possible to compromise—compromise—with threat, intimidation and bigotry. The new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may fall into the trap that has been set for her—if she gives without further consultation, as she infers she may, a range of powers to a five-person commission to decide if and when IRA threats are sufficient for it to recommend a ban on traditional parades. That is what it boils down to.
Where will this folly end? I predict that it will end in total chaos, as Sinn Fein-IRA tests the patience of Unionism at every turn and the commission becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Does anyone believe that those of us who have endured IRA bombs and bullets since 1971 are going to surrender to such threats and abuses of our civil rights? The Ulster Unionist party has a fairer and simpler solution. As in the United States of America and many other western countries, we believe that the right to assemble should be a basic human right—so long as such assembly is not primarily designed to give offence. Traditional church parades are hardly intended to give offence.
Working on the principle of the right to free assembly, we believe that it should be possible for the Chief Constable to agree codes of conduct with the leaders of all traditional organisations. We would support him in that. We have already said that we would be happy to see a registration of parades system in operation. Such a solution could be applied to all traditional parades of both traditions, so that mutual respect, not mutual antagonism, could be fostered.
I ask the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to think long and hard before embarking on the drafting of any parades legislation that would pander to the IRA's tactic of creating further ghettoisation in Northern Ireland. That is indeed the IRA's fundamental requirement in its sectarian war and its attempt to dominate and control the Roman Catholic tradition.
The Ulster Unionist party will look objectively at any proposals intended to help to stabilise our community; but, in line with our principled position in the past, we shall not support short-term expediency that panders to the IRA.
Despite all the pre-election allegations of partisan deals supposedly struck by the Ulster Unionists with the former Government, new Labour is unlikely to have discovered anything that was not done honourably by us on behalf of our entire community. So it will be in the future.
Finally, I apologise to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), for the fact that, because of local government elections, I shall not be here at the end of the debate. The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, understand; he may even sympathise with me after more than six weeks on the hustings.
Seeing the packed Benches and Press Gallery earlier today, I thought that word must have slipped out that I was hoping to catch the Chair's eye to make my maiden speech this afternoon, but that misconception has since been quickly dispelled. I do not know whether it will be appropriate to congratulate the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on her speech, but I certainly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)—not just on his speech this afternoon, with which I whole-heartedly agreed, but on his appointment as Home Secretary.
I am privileged to stand here as the Member of Parliament for Gravesham, one of eight new Members elected for the county of Kent. You may be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are hoping to work informally as a group to take a more strategic approach to some of the big and exciting issues that our county will face in the years ahead. Traditionally, it has been the garden of England; now, increasingly, it is the gateway to Europe.
It has been suggested to me that we might like to extend membership of our group to the Conservative Members from Kent who retained their seats. I have no great confidence that we shall be able to get the right hon. Member for Maidstone and the Weald and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) to sit in the same Committee room, but I promise to try.
Gravesham's population is richly diverse, combining the Thameside conurbations of Gravesend and Northfleet with the picturesque countryside of Meopham, Shorne, Higham and Cobham. Those who have spent a lifetime in the traditional industries and trades along the river—paper making and cement manufacturing—which unfortunately have been rapidly disappearing, now live and work alongside those who pursue professional careers, many of whom commute to London each day.
Even in this corner of south-east England there is considerable deprivation and hardship alongside real prosperity, and the quality of life, even of the better off among my constituents, is diminished and demeaned by the inequality and poverty that scar our nation generally.
Gravesham also has a significant Sikh population which makes an important contribution to enterprise and to the life of the local community. That contribution is illustrated by the work of the Denton multicultural youth and education association, and will soon be enhanced, I hope, by a new Asian resource centre. Given some of the National Heritage Secretary's statements this afternoon about the use of lottery money, I shall be writing to him on that matter.
I am proud to be here representing all those groups in the constituency. It is a reflection of that diversity that Gravesham has traditionally been considered a barometer seat, in the Peter Snow sense of the word. Rarely has there been an election when the wise people of Gravesham have returned to this House a member of a party different from the one in government.
My distinguished Labour predecessors in the seat include Albert—later Lord—Murray and John Ovenden. My immediate predecessor, Jacques Arnold, was a diligent constituency Member who deserves a fine tribute for his work in that respect. I shall do my best not just to live up to that reputation but, if possible, to better it. He was also known as a vigorous supporter of the interests of Latin America. His passing may mean fewer questions about Rio de Janeiro, but I shall try to fill the vacuum with rather more questions about Gravesham. I know that he will certainly be missed by those in the Press Gallery.
Gravesham has a fine history. General Gordon built its fort in recognition of its still important strategic position on the mouth of the Thames. Charles Dickens lived there. Pocahontas died there of a broken heart. So deep was her grief, it was said, that even the quiet charms of Gravesend were not enough to save her.
Ours is a distinguished history, but a hopeful and optimistic future. Gravesham is to be the site of the new international station at Ebbsfleet on the channel tunnel rail link, making it not just the gateway to London but the threshold to Europe. That, together with the development of the Thames Gateway, offers the prospect of growing prosperity.
My constituents, however, have already paid dearly in terms of the disruption and anxiety caused by living amid major infrastructure projects: the channel tunnel rail link, the widening of the A2, and the building of Europe's largest shopping centre at Bluewater Park. I am determined that the quality of life of my constituents will be enhanced, not destroyed, by that development process.
The people of Gravesham expect from a new Labour Government the opportunity to look to the future with hope and confidence, instead of always anxiously looking over their shoulders at the past. That is why I welcome the programme set out in the Gracious Speech; in particular, it is why I welcome some of the Home Secretary's remarks earlier.
Gravesham was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he opened the debate last week. He told the House of a war pensioner whom he had met when visiting my constituency during the election. The pensioner's life had been blighted by crime and disorder. He was quoted as saying:
I fought for this country—it's not fair, is it?"—[Official Report, 14 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 66.]
I visited that constituent again at the weekend. He lost both legs in a submarine attack in the war and was adrift at sea for five days. Like so many of my other
constituents, that brave and courageous man is now suffering intimidation through crime and disorder. Likewise, his near neighbour hears young people on the roof of her bungalow in the evenings. One night, she opened the door to a live firework thrown into her hallway. She is almost blind and could not see it, although she could certainly hear it.
Despite the statements that we heard from Opposition Members this afternoon, violent crime in Gravesham has increased by 400 per cent. since 1979. That is why I support the plans that we have heard about again this afternoon for faster track punishment for young offenders and why I support the ban on handguns. It is also very much why I support the pledge to create 250,000 jobs or training places for young people and the long-term unemployed, bringing back some hope to many of those whose aspirations have been shattered by the previous Government's actions.
Today's debate is about crime and disorder, which cause such a climate of fear for so many people. There is, however, another cause of that anxiety. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will forgive me for mentioning the fear that the health service will not be there for people when they need it. No routine operations were carried out in Gravesham and Dartford last autumn due to a lack of beds and nurses.
Yesterday, a constituent told me of his fears. On 14 February—Valentine's day—he was told that he needed an urgent heart bypass operation. He expected to be rushed into hospital, but has now learnt that it will be 23 June before he gets even a consultation with a specialist. He is an active member of the local community, but now lives in fear, as do so many others, that the NHS simply cannot cope and will not be there to help him when he needs it.
That is why I whole-heartedly support proposals to cut waiting lists and applaud the decision to introduce early legislation to clear the remaining legal obstacles to the building of a new district hospital in Dartford and Gravesham at Darenth Park, for which my constituents have been fighting for many years. I shall fight hard to ensure that when that hospital is built, it will provide sufficient beds for the district's needs. The current proposal suggests a cut of 20 per cent. in present levels, but not a general practitioner in the district believes that that number of beds will be sufficient. I shall also work to ensure that Gravesend hospital is brought back to life.
I have diverged slightly from the subject of the debate, but the issues of crime and inequality are closely linked. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will give me leave to say a few final words about an issue that is close to my heart: the proposal to introduce a national minimum wage. I am proud to have worked for the past 18 years as director of the Low Pay Unit. That fine organisation, staffed by committed and very able people, was established almost 25 years ago by the new Minister for Welfare Reform. I congratulate him on taking on that role.
We have argued that a minimum wage of the type that operates in every other advanced industrial country is not only a matter of decency and social justice but makes good economic sense. Low pay is the single most important cause of poverty, contributing to the threefold increase in poverty that now afflicts the lives of 14 million of our citizens. I could never understand how a nation that accounted for a quarter of the poor in the European Union, even before the opt-out from the social chapter, could be described as the success story of Europe. Nor could I understand why it was a cause for celebration that the poorest in Britain, whose real incomes have declined considerably since 1979, had a cash income little higher than the poorest in Hungary or the Korean Republic.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), seconding the motion on the Gracious Speech last week, spoke of a constituent earning 89p per hour. The Low Pay Unit has come across wages as little as 59p and 66p an hour. One woman working in a residential care home sent the Low Pay Unit a copy of a letter written by her employer, which said:
I would like you to work 5 pm to 9 am Monday to Sunday inclusive. Your salary will be paid in arrears at a rate of £150 a week".
Today, the Low Pay Unit was told of the case of another residential care home that pays its staff partly in cash and partly in supermarket vouchers.
One reason why I stood for election to the House was to work to bring to an end the scandal of poverty wages and the inequality that not only scars the lives of many of our citizens but demeans and diminishes the lives and the dignity of the rest of us. I am pleased that we now have a Government with a programme, outlined in the Gracious Speech, that will begin to rebuild economic prosperity for this country on the firm foundations of social justice.
First, I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to the Chair. We entered Parliament together in 1983, but you have progressed much further than I have or ever will—and certainly to a better class of suit.
It is my pleasant duty to congratulate, on behalf of the House, the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) on his maiden speech. It was an extremely polished and articulate speech. I am almost tempted to describe it as ambitious, but I am not sure whether ambition is now one of the necessary virtues of the new model Labour party. The hon. Gentleman described the new hospital to which his constituents and mine are looking forward. He omitted to mention, however, that the hospital is being developed under the private finance initiative, first pioneered by the previous Government, but I welcome the fact that the hospital will serve both our communities.
I shall not tangle with the hon. Gentleman today on the subject of a minimum wage. The Conservative party always resisted that proposal and I believe that there are other better solutions to the problem, not least in the form of minimum tax. That, however, is well outside the remit of today's debate and the amendment before us.
Conservative Members were glad that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to Jacques Arnold. I know, from the neighbouring constituency—my colleagues who were here in the last two Parliaments will also know—just how hard Jacques Arnold worked for all his constituents, and it was right and proper that he was thanked for that. We shall miss him and it is no disrespect to the new Member for Gravesham that we express the hope that we shall see Jacques Arnold take his place again among us.
I also have the duty of paying tribute to my predecessor for Sevenoaks. Mark Wolfson was one of those hon. Members who never sought self publicity; nor did he achieve ministerial office, but he served the House for 18 years. It is right, too, that I should pay tribute to the work that he put in for all his constituents throughout the Sevenoaks constituency. Indeed, I commend his career to some 70 or 75 per cent. of the new Labour Members who will not have a chance to enjoy ministerial office but who will, we hope, find other ways of serving the House as well as their constituencies.
I am not a new Member; I am what is now described in the jargon as a "retread". I checked with my local garage and I understand that retreads are not necessarily dangerous, provided that they are correctly balanced. I assure the House that I am correctly balanced; what is incorrectly balanced is the Queen's Speech. There is an imbalance between its aims, which are a mixture of the uncontroversial, the pious and the banal, and the means, which are mandatory, minatory, bureaucratic and often contradictory.
There seems to be much about new Labour that involves banning things, whether it is tobacco advertising, fox hunting or the voting of hereditary peers. Much about the Queen's Speech is certainly contradictory. The very paragraph that speaks about the need to decentralise goes on to offer us regional development agencies that will take power away from county councils such as Kent, and strategic authorities for London that will take power away from the boroughs that currently serve it.
In the realm of home affairs, we see the Queen's Speech at its worst. We see a disturbing amount of social authoritarianism. A network of national homework centres is to be established. We are to have parental responsibility orders. The Government are even to set up healthy living centres. All those measures take the state further into the realm of the family, parenting and the local community. I doubt whether we improve parenting by substituting for it. In my view, the role of the state in that area should be to ensure that people are protected, crime is punished and good education is provided in our schools.
I am extremely wary of such all-embracing and comprehensive measures of social authoritarianism, not least from our own experience in government. Too often, we, too, were tempted into the trap of all-embracing social legislation. The Children Act 1989, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989, and the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 come to mind. Even the institutions that we created—local police authorities, grant-maintained schools, NHS trusts—though we gave them devolved budgets and modern management and though we encouraged them to market themselves, were still in the end regarded as branches of central Government—branches of the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of Health or the Home Office.
We must think more deeply about how we make such institutions more local and how they can build up stronger ties of loyalty and affection in the communities that they serve. That applies particularly to our system of criminal justice. We need a system that more directly serves the local community.
I welcome the Government's proposal to make justice for young offenders more rapid, but we also need to ensure that it is made more local. Too often, we not only read of delays between the offence and the trial, or indeed between the trial and the sentencing, but we are told that the offenders cannot be named or that they cannot be punished in the usual way.
I hope that in opposition as well as in government, we can think again about how we encourage more transparency in our system of criminal justice, to ensure that the sentences that are handed out better reflect opinion in the local community. I therefore urge the Government to be wary of national solutions—general curfew orders or national requirements that they seek to impose from Queen Anne's gate.
I have never understood why the Home Secretary should have to approve the length of the police baton that the chief constable of Merseyside wishes his officers to deploy. I hope that the new Ministers at the Home Office will reflect on the need to move with greater common sense and to reflect more directly the local experience of the communities in which our police serve.
Those comments about criminal justice apply more widely to the way in which our own system of law is increasingly being encroached on from Europe. It is no accident that the laws that are least respected are those that are made most remotely. Nothing has brought Europe into more disrepute than the interference of the two European courts and the other institutions of the European Union.
I therefore deeply deplore the proposal to incorporate the European convention on human rights into our legal system. I do not want a Portuguese judge, however well qualified, to have the casting vote on the time limit for abortions to be carried out in Britain. Incorporation of the European convention is further pandering to the European institutions and will further reduce the rights of the House to make law for the people of this country.
In the end, the British will not be directed by commissioners, whether in Brussels or Strasbourg. I hope that in the fullness of time those who promote the European idea will realise that there is another way to co-operation and trade on our continent than the coercive, harmonising and centralising proposals being put forward in Brussels and Strasbourg.
The Sevenoaks constituency is fortunate. We enjoy a good level of prosperity, we have a low level of unemployment and we enjoy a good measure of choice in all types of schooling. That prosperity and choice are threatened by the Queen's Speech. The proposed new taxes and regulations will not encourage business or create new jobs. The grammar schools and grant-maintained schools on which parents in my constituency rely are under threat from the proposals presented by the new Education Secretary.
Above all, my constituents will lose out under new Labour because the Queen's Speech further diminishes freedom. The new social authoritarianism contained in its proposals further narrows that vital space in any successful society between what is compulsory and what is forbidden. I shall oppose the Queen's Speech and support the amendment tonight.
I welcome the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) back to the House, and ask him to pass on my best wishes to Mark Wolfson, his predecessor, who served with me when I was Chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee. That was not always the easiest subject, but Mark was extremely helpful on a Select Committee which, for obvious reasons, was dominated by Conservatives and Unionists at that stage. He worked diligently and I always found him helpful.
Before I deal with the issue of law and order, I shall comment briefly on two other aspects of the Queen's Speech, which is one of the most radical and exciting documents that it has been my good fortune to read for many years, and by far the best in the past 18 years that I have been a Member of Parliament—but I would say that.
I draw attention to a matter that we shall have an opportunity to debate on another occasion: the commitment in the Queen's Speech to reform the British constitution and the way in which Parliament works. We must carry all Members of this House with us when we do that, but I cannot over-emphasise how frustrating it is that the House of Commons, which set the world standard for so many centuries, has not reformed itself sufficiently over the past 70 years to make itself a modern Chamber. The same applies to the constitution.
The remarks by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks on the European Court of Human Rights was one of the saddest comments on the modern Conservative party. That human rights legislation was drawn up by the British and introduced in Europe precisely to stop the abuses of power that had taken place in Europe in the period leading up to the second world war. We should be proud of that and we should sign up to it with pride. We wrote it, we brought it about, and we did that because we believe that human rights are a fundamental right of the people of the world. We should continue to say that proudly.
The other issue that I shall touch on briefly is Northern Ireland. I welcome the progress by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister. It was right to start talks at a particular level in a particular way with Sinn Fein. It is important to break the logjam that has developed. I pay tribute to the last Government—particularly the then Prime Minister and now Leader of the Opposition—for putting Northern Ireland at the top of their political priorities. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was the first Prime Minister to say expressly that he was doing so and he deserves credit for that.
Unfortunately, the peace process in that sad area was bogged down by the mathematics in this place and the problems involved with getting the Unionists to shift position. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) has left the Chamber. He also served on the Select Committee and he was quick to condemn, quite rightly, the violence of the IRA. However, it is easy to forget that Unionist paramilitaries have killed almost as many people as the republican paramilitaries. The House and British and Irish people everywhere must be even-handed in their approach: killing for political purposes, whether by Unionists or republicans, is absolutely unacceptable. It is also counter productive. We should say that to both sides equally.
I return to today's debate on law and order. I am encouraged by the thinking emanating from the Home Office. For 18 years, we saw crime increase dramatically while the prison population accelerated out of control and prison sentences had little effect on the number of crimes committed. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who spoke on behalf of the Opposition today, made great play of the increased number of policeman that the Conservative Government put in place—although that is debatable—and the many ways in which his Government had got tough with criminals. The reality is that the majority of criminals are not caught and convicted.
I was burgled the weekend following the general election, so I feel like getting tough with burglars. I have been the victim of three or four attempted burglaries in the past few years, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, in my experience—which is considerable—burglars do not wait around for a police car to appear on the scene before they commit their crimes. Most burglars check the street for police and station someone outside before they commit their crimes. Crime prevention is the key.
As I said when we were in opposition, we reduced burglaries on one estate in Shepherd's Bush in my constituency by 66 per cent. in two years. We achieved that result almost in spite of the Government. The number of burglaries has fallen in my constituency because the police and local authorities have learned to work together on good crime prevention schemes. I pay credit to the previous Government for providing some money for a concierge system in high-rise blocks. If that system operated in all high-rise blocks, burglaries in those buildings would be cut dramatically and they would become much better places to live. Crime and vandalism—particularly the sort of vandalism that stops lifts working—could be prevented. That would make people feel safe and improve their quality of life.
I make several appeals to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). I am delighted to see him on the Front Bench; he has extensive knowledge of crime prevention and his work in the youth system will stand him in good stead in his present position. We must get the police forces of this country, in conjunction with local authorities, to compile a map of crime—we have one already, to some extent. We could then pinpoint the types of crimes that are causing most problems in certain areas and direct our resources in that direction. Crime prevention is about good targeting, which is achieved by encouraging the police and local authorities—and sometimes the voluntary sector—to co-operate. That has occurred in some of the examples that I have mentioned. It is vital to compile such a map.
It is not sufficient to view crime prevention in terms of stronger locks, better windows, and so on. My hon. Friend is aware of the importance of the youth service. Many hon. Members have talked in their maiden speeches about the links between unemployment and crime. That link has always existed, not because the unemployed are more likely to be of criminal mind but because unemployment breaks down families. The children of broken families—who have never been near a job because they are supposed to be in school, but often are not—frequently get into trouble and commit crimes. Many crimes are committed by 14, 15 and l6-year-olds, so we must target them.
The last Government did virtually nothing in that area. They ignored the problem until late in the day when they began to realise that locking people up and throwing away the key was not the answer. We should lock up persistent offenders and those who are a danger to the public, but we must not believe that it will prevent crime in the future. Incarceration is not an answer in its own right—and it never will be.
I hope that my hon. Friend will examine the Scottish family court system because I believe that it provides a better opportunity for dealing with families and offenders, who are often 15 or 16 years old. I am particularly interested in the opportunities presented by the new disorder legislation to which the Home Secretary referred. Such legislation must be used carefully, but it will provide considerable opportunities if we get the balance right.
I want to involve victims and the local community in the process of dealing with criminal offenders so that we can alleviate crime through social pressures. However, we must not follow the same road as the United States, where the victims of crime are allowed to watch—and often appear to enjoy watching—the infliction of punishment on offenders. For example, in some states, victims of crime are allowed to witness the death sentence being carried out. That practice—and the death penalty itself—is totally abhorrent and must never be allowed to happen here.
Perhaps we could design a structure that allows the court to enable—rather than order—the victim to meet the offender in certain circumstances in a controlled setting. Such meetings could be chaired by a police or probation officer or someone like that. That would make the offender confront what he or she has done to the victim. It would be difficult to do that in the case of violent crimes, but even then there are exceptions.
I know of a care in the community patient who is now in a secure unit and who stabbed someone in the street. Some years later, the victim is trying to write about his experience. He has come to terms with the stabbing and would like to meet the offender so that he can explain his actions. It would enable both parties to understand what happened in that dreadful incident. We should allow that to occur, but we must be careful to strike the right balance.
Returning to the disorder legislation, we have all heard about one or two families who have caused mayhem on a particular street or an estate. I see no reason why, if we had a suitable structure, we could not involve such families in discussions with their neighbours. Some months ago, I intervened in such a case in my area when I saw that some youngsters were not attending school. When I asked them what school they attended and told them to go there, I received the answers that one might predict in such circumstances. I could not deal with them brutally, grab them and say, "Look here, I'm taking you to school." So I did what I had to do in such a situation and, after several days, I called the police who took the lads to school.
Those youths were also causing problems in the immediate area, and it would be helpful to involve their families in discussions with the school and with others who were affected. I should like to have the opportunity to explain why I was concerned about the welfare of those children. I know that, if I could spend some time with them, they would not simply shout abuse at me. I am sure that I could establish a relationship with them.
The courts can be quite imaginative in such cases. However, the previous Government were keen on boxing in the courts and forcing them to give certain sentences for certain offences. I want to give judges and magistrates more leeway. We need to be more flexible. In doing so, we must be careful, as there are certain legal rights that have to be respected. We must ensure that the right of appeal is always there. We could do far more about involving victims and offenders in resolving the problems that afflict those areas. I have no hesitation in saying that, in the estates and streets that suffer problems from particular families, we should have much greater powers to move that family out of the flat or house where they are causing mayhem. It then becomes not only part of the punishment but part of the solution.
That is the sort of imaginative thinking in which we should get involved. There are difficulties and dangers, but all I am asking at this stage is that my right hon. Friend includes in his Bill the power to experiment with such measures. I think that we would be surprised at how much we could achieve. Other countries do it, so why not here?
Another point that I wish to highlight is the wider crime prevention issue, because I heard the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the previous Home Secretary, condemn drug dealers right, left and centre. I have no problem with that, as I do exactly the same, but I also remember how, when he was Home Secretary, he persistently ignored not just questions but a letter from me asking him to ban alcopops. What message do we send out when we say, "Let's get tough on drug addicts, but let's sell alcopops to teenagers and thus encourage under-age drinking"?
The body that is supposed to regulate the drinks industry had better get tougher with it, because if the industry is not prepared to regulate itself, the message should go out very loud and clear from here that the House will have to regulate it. It is unacceptable that soft drinks that are laced with alcohol are sold, and encouraged to be sold, to young people. We have to stop it, because we know that there is a close link between crime and alcohol.
Parenting is the other underlying problem which the previous Government just could not recognise. I complained bitterly throughout the last five or 10 years of the Conservative Government that they were doing nothing about parenting or family structure. All they did was make moralistic noises about single parent families or about whether one was married, both of which are pretty irrelevant to the problem of parenting. What matters in parenting is good relationships between the child and the parent, and the child growing up in a secure setting.
Obviously, it is easier if there are two parents, and that is generally to be encouraged, but let us get away from the scapegoating role and focus instead on how we can help people to be good parents. We can do that through nursery education and by not putting families with young children into high-rise blocks, where the children either have to play indoors all day—how would we cope with that if we were the parents?—or they play outside unsupervised and fairly quickly drift into petty vandalism and, all too easily, crime.
It is also about teaching parenting skills in schools. Teachers tell me that it is quite difficult to teach those skills at times. I accept that. I am not skilled in that area, but I do know, however—teachers also seem to accept this—that we can teach relationship, education and social skills, and out of that comes the recognition about how to bring up children to have respect for themselves and for others. For too long the previous Government allowed families to split apart, encouraged by matters such as unemployment and inappropriate housing, which made it easier for families who were just about surviving, who were just about good enough parents, to tip over suddenly into crisis. When that happens we all sit back and wonder why the kids are a problem. The kids are a problem because we failed the families.
My last message today to my Front-Bench colleagues is, please can we have a policy on families and parenting? It is not a matter of having a Minister for the Family or a Minister for Children. It is certainly not just a matter of having a Minister for Women, as some people have suggested, because that misses the point almost totally. It is a question of trying to achieve effective co-ordination between Government Departments, local authorities and health authorities, and between the private sector and those bodies.
We can do it, and in my judgment the best way to do so is to have a subcommittee of the Cabinet chaired by a senior Minister—I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would have more than enough status to do that, as he has already produced a good paper on parenting—so that we can start to address issues which, if addressed now, will give us a much happier society in 10, 20 or 30 years' time. We look at the monster who kills, abuses or sexually assaults a child and we all forget that that monster, 20, 30 or 40 years' ago, was in all likelihood an abused child. If we do not learn that lesson and try to direct something towards it, we will go on repeating the same cycle of deprivation, poverty and cruelty and impose it on others as well as ourselves.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. Quite apart from anything else, he comes with very long experience of the voluntary sector, and I know that many people in it are delighted with his appointment.
My only regret is that the voluntary sector has been brought back to the Home Office, as, in my experience, the Home Office deadens the impact of the voluntary sector. Under Conservative Governments, it has always eventually managed to escape into another Department, but under Labour Governments, it has always been brought back to the Home Office. I encourage the Minister whole-heartedly to use all his experience and expertise to ensure that the dead hand of the Home Office does not deaden the impact of this very important sector. It has something to do with the fact that most people in the Home Office have to spend most of their time policing or restraining in some way, and when they get to the free fall and open experiments of the voluntary sector they get slightly apprehensive.
I wish the Minister well in his new post, but hope that he will take seriously the importance of liberating and strengthening the voluntary sector, despite the Home Office.
Because the last time that we had a Labour Government was 18 years ago, there is a temptation to refer back to it for the origins of this Queen's Speech, but we must resist. New Labour has strained every nerve to disown any link with previous Labour Administrations, and we have to go back further for its roots. The roots for this Queen's Speech really belong with Cromwell's major-generals. There lies the root of the Government's puritanism. Are we talking about smoking, pistol shooting or country sports? If people enjoy it, ban it. If it does not fit in with what Tony or Peter believe to be good for us, let us have zero tolerance of it. In the short term, it is popular stuff. The British have always had a puritanical, punitive streak, and it is easy enough to appeal to it—for a while. I warn the Government that the British public's tolerance of puritanism runs out quite quickly.
One of the least attractive features of the general election campaign was the competition between the two main parties to present themselves as more repressive than the other. Curfews, punishments for parents, restrictions on judges flowed out from the hustings to evoke a popular response in our time, rather like that sought by Hieronymus Bosch in his. There was precious little about supporting the efforts of parents and children who want to do well. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley), who has a distinguished record in speaking out for parents and the support of families, has done the House a service in an excellent speech.
Look at the messages that we are getting from the new Labour Government. To a generation castigated for lack of respect for other people, what do we get in the first week of the new Government? Two enduring images. One, a Minister of the Crown crossing his fingers at a solemn moment in Parliament itself. Then, of course, we are told that new Labour wants to get rid of all formality. How does a school pupil corrected for refusing to wear a school uniform respond to the refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to wear evening dress, or to the Prime Minister's desire to be on first-name terms with his subordinates? Make no mistake, they are the right hon. Gentleman's subordinates, as many of them will rapidly discover.
Many years ago I was in the Navy. I remember that on one occasion there was an exercise with the Americans. I was struck by the informality between the relations of their officers and men. It took me a little time to realise that to maintain discipline, the penalties on American ships for minor breaches of discipline were draconian by contrast with those on our ships. I suggest to Labour Members that they go for formality. If they do not, they will find themselves facing even more savage discipline.
New Labour's slogan is, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." Let us unpick that a little. Let us start where all of us surely can agree. Punishment for wrongdoing is, and always will be, a central component of any law-abiding society. Children recognise the place of punishment in marking out the boundaries that they need so as to feel secure. In the recent survey by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children entitled "Talking about my Generation", it is disclosed that only one in six of 12 to 15-year-olds believe that it should be for that age group to decide whether they should smoke or drink alcohol. Fewer than one in four thought that members of that age group should decide at what time they should return home in the evenings.
Such young people clearly understand that if they break the rules they will be punished. When a secondary school invited pupils in its sixth form to help in interviewing new staff, it found, somewhat to its surprise, that the sixth formers always chose the candidate who they thought would be most successful at imposing discipline. So we have no disagreement about punishment.
Children want especially—it is something that we all want—that punishment should be predictable and fair. It is highly significant that most of our criminals are young men and women who have been disproportionately criticised and physically punished more than their law-abiding contemporaries. Their punishments have been more frequent, more violent and less predictable than that of others. I distrust the tide that is sweeping us towards longer and harsher punishments without an equal concentration on recovering as many young people as possible for a productive, law-abiding life.
That is why I am an enthusiast for the new scheme "CSV on line", which was launched last month by community service volunteers. It is designed to attach a full-time volunteer mentor who is close to the age of the young offender. The idea is simple. Someone who understands what it is like to be 15 in 1997 will help with school work, ensure that appointments are kept and that court appearances take place, for example. Such a scheme has much potential to recover some young crooks. It illustrates the cardinal principle that lies behind getting on top of crime and other related problems. That is the principle of making use of young people.
In all the rhetoric of the election and in all the verbiage of the Queen's Speech, virtually nothing has been said about the most important resource of all, which is young people. The old slogan, "Use it or lose it" applies to the skills and energy of young people as well as to anything else. Young people have already shown that if they are given the chance they are the most effective opponents of drug peddlers in schools, of bullying and of racial harassment, as well as being the most effective agents for passing on positive attitudes to other young people.
Young people are currently underused. Indeed, they are often ignored. That being so, we wonder why only half of them bother to vote in a general election and why so many of them become irresponsible. I should respect the Queen's Speech a great deal more if it referred to listening to young people as readily as it refers to punishing them.
I acknowledge that the Queen's Speech contains a positive policy aimed at young people in the form of the work-to-welfare programme. Surely we can all applaud whole-heartedly the aspiration to take 250,000 young people from the unemployment register into work. There is no canker more destructive of the young man or woman than the lack of a job. If new Labour can do better than the Conservative Government, who produced more than 900,000 more jobs between 1992 and the end of 1996, I shall be the first to give them credit. I have my doubts, however, about whether the Government's scheme is the vehicle to achieve the aim.
The Government's finance for the programme is extraordinary. For how long will the money last? That will depend on the level at which the windfall tax is set. If it is set high enough to allow the scheme to last for more than six months, costs will inevitably increase for utilities' consumers. New Labour has promised to give consumers 40p a week by cutting value added tax on fuel. That will look pretty meagre if they are asked to pay an extra £1 a week to finance the windfall tax.
Let us assume that the money is available, that companies' legal challenges fail, that definitions stand up and that shareholders and customers fork out gladly. But how will the scheme work? The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), has been transmuted by the magic of a general election from being a Conservative ex-Minister representing an English seat into a new Labour Minister representing a Welsh seat. I am sure that he feels gratified. I must warn him, however, that general election magic has its limitations. It will not, however much he wishes it would, remove the practical problems of making a big scheme work.
It is not, of course, the first such scheme. Conservative and old Labour Governments have tried several times to break the vicious circle of under-achievement at school, lack of employment, loss of self confidence, welfare dependency and crime. They all found that it was not easy to do so. What will be new Labour's magic ingredient? If 250,000 young people are involved, it will be a big scheme. New Labour Ministers will be desperate to be seen to deliver a central promise of the new Jerusalem. Delivering presumably means getting 250,000 young people into full-time, long-term employment.
Will new Labour manage to avoid the pitfalls that have bedevilled earlier projects? Will the scheme choose or avoid those young people who are so far behind even the norms of inner-city unemployed youth that they will need several weeks of skilled pre-education and training if they are to reach the threshold at which they can begin to be trained?
Such pre-training is extremely expensive and tends to play havoc with the target timetable of a big scheme. It is the youngsters who will need that training who, above all, will need the scheme. Will those running the scheme be able to resist the temptation which, for example, those running the Manpower Services Commission's schemes were unable to resist, of going for employment that will enable large numbers of people to be deployed, even if the skills required are either at low level or not much in demand outside the scheme?
Conservative Members will be listening for the first complaints from the young themselves that they are merely in make-work projects. I am prepared to accept that the Conservative Government's youth training scheme had its defects. At the same time, I see nothing in the Government's proposals to assure me that they can improve on the Conservative Government's drop-out figure of 34.6 per cent. What about work experience? I shall certainly take my hat off to new Labour if it can find enough work placements without displacing any existing employees who happen not to attract the £60 a week rebate.
As for education, the old temptation to reach targets by excluding, formally or informally, those least likely to achieve them in the time allotted will surely rise to haunt the architects of this scheme, as it did their predecessors. In short, I applaud the aspiration and I wish it every success, but I remain cautious about its practicalities.
I end by repeating my plea to the new Government. Listen to young people themselves. Give them some real responsibility in the society in which they are growing up. At the end of the previous Parliament, I moved a ten-minute Bill, which suggested that there might be some mileage in requiring local authorities to spend a portion of their money only on schemes put forward by young people themselves, and that young people themselves could make work. I believe that such responsibility would transform a generation that is being excluded from most traditional responsibilities until they are about 24 or 25 years old.
The Government should challenge the energy, ingenuity and strength that are so often used for criminal activity, and should use them to build up the areas and communities that are so much in need of those qualities. If they succeed in that, I will wish them well.
I begin my maiden speech by thanking all those who worked so hard to get me elected: my party members who selected me, and the electors who returned me to the House on I May. I was born in the constituency that I represent. It gives me an extra special honour to represent people in the area whence I came.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Roland Boyes. I do so not merely because it is a convention of the House, but because he is a friend of mine. He was the Member of Parliament for Houghton and Washington from 1983, before which he served for four years as Member of the European Parliament for Durham. Roland was a passionate campaigner for social justice. He represented his constituency with dignity and courage wherever he went. He also served as an Opposition spokesman on the defence and environment teams.
Apart from politics, Roland had another great passion: photography. He produced an excellent book of photographs of people who work in the House: Members and their staff. Hon. Members are aware that he suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Being an inveterate campaigner, he is very involved in raising money for the Alzheimer's research trust that he established. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have contributed to that trust.
I met Roland on Friday last week. He and his wife asked me to pass on their thanks for the hundreds of acts of kindness that hon. Members have shown to Pat and Roland. I am sure that I can say with confidence that I can take back the good wishes of the House.
I read Roland's maiden speech in 1983, and I was struck by one of his remarks. Fourteen years ago, he said that Labour's slogan should be "enough is enough". He was clearly a man ahead of his time, because I seem to remember that that slogan figured significantly in Labour's general election campaign.
The constituency that I represent is a series of mining villages in the Durham coalfield. Its past is very important. The hard work and talents of its people determine its future. I was born there 38 years ago into a mining family, and I know a little of its history. I beg the House's indulgence while I say a few words about the constituency.
The new town of Washington was a former mining village. It makes a great claim to be the ancestral birthplace of the founding father of the United States of America. The Shiney Row ward contains the Penshaw monument, the great beacon to returning north-easterners. It was erected as a tribute to the first Earl of Durham. It is not my intention to praise the former coal owners—I doubt whether any of my predecessors have done so—but it is significant that it was erected after he was given the nickname "Radical Jack", because he supported the extension of the franchise in the Reform Act 1832. He may be a role model for those in the other place who are contemplating opposing Labour's plans for constitutional reform.
I make the proud boast that, every time the House or the nation hears Big Ben, they hear the tongue—the piece that swings in the bell—which was cast in Houghton-le-Spring. We are also proud that, in Hetton, George Stephenson, one of the founding fathers of the railway industry, designed a railway in advance of the more famous Stockton and Darlington.
It would be wrong of me not to mention football, which is another great passion in the constituency. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who is a good friend of mine and whose constituency contains the Anfield ground, will not object to my saying that we also produced one of the greatest managers of Liverpool, Bob Paisley.
The men and women I represent are decent and honest. They are descended from generations who have toiled underground to generate the wealth of this nation. The adversity they have faced has given them the strength and humour that run through their veins as richly as any coal seam in the earth, but there are also despair and poverty in many parts of the constituency. One can physically see it cut into people's faces as if by a surgeon's knife. All that the people I represent ask for is a fair deal and social justice. They are hard-working people, with talent and ingenuity. What they want is a fair crack of the whip and some decency.
I am proud of the traditions in the constituency and its past, but I know that it is the future which matters. The people's skills and talents, many of which have remained unused and wasted in recent years, can and will make a great contribution towards this nation. We are making a start. It is a proud boast that my constituency is the fastest growing automotive area in the United Kingdom, and long may that remain so.
It cannot be right that 40 per cent. of technological innovation since the second world war has originated in the United Kingdom, yet we have only 5 per cent. of those markets. Clearly, the Government must address that problem. We must nurture that innovation, and encourage the development of skills and sensible long-term investment, as well as forge links between education and industry, so that we can close the gap between our ability to invent products and our ability to manufacture and sell them on the world markets.
All of us in politics are regularly concerned by what we hear: occasionally it affects us deeply. I want to dedicate this speech to someone whom I had never heard of and have never met. On 1 May 1997, a man went into a polling station and asked the presiding officer if she could point out the Labour candidate on the ballot paper. With great courage, because there were other electors in the station, he admitted that he could neither read nor write. If I and the Government show one tenth of the courage, guts and determination that he showed in voting Labour on polling day, Britain will be a better place. The Gracious Address fills me with great optimism.
I am very pleased to have been called to make my maiden speech today, when so many fine maiden speeches have been made. In particular, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) for the great political passion which has obviously brought him to the House.
My predecessor in Sheffield, Hallam was Sir Irvine Patnick. He was and is above all a good Sheffielder—and in Sheffield that counts as much as, if not more than, one's party political allegiances. Sheffielders have the particular quality of speaking quickly and not wasting words, and I hope that I, too, will bring those qualities to the House.
As well as spending 10 years in this place, Sir Irvine was well known for the decades of dedicated public service that he performed on various local authorities in Sheffield. Indeed, legend has it that it was he who coined the great phrase "the socialist republic of South Yorkshire"—a phrase which, of course, needs updating nowadays, but the phrase "the new Labour (socialist values updated for the modern era) republic of South Yorkshire" somehow does not have quite the same ring.
The constituency of Sheffield, Hallam covers the south-west of the city of Sheffield. While in general it is an affluent area, it contains quite a mixture of people and places, as befits most of our metropolitan constituencies. I want to refer particularly to three key aspects of the Hallam division. The first is the part of the Peak district that it contains. That magnificent landscape of moors and gritstone edges was preserved by previous generations of far-sighted people who understood the deep meaning of the environment and the necessity to preserve it against development. We now enjoy it, along with our many parks and the wonderful tree landscape that we find in Sheffield.
Secondly, the constituency contains the two universities of Hallam and Sheffield, which are the biggest employers in my constituency. They have brought so much to Hallam and I am sure that much of my time in this place will be spent on issues concerned with them. Thirdly, there is the strength of our local communities in Sheffield, particularly in the Low Edges estate, where local residents have set up a community safety forum to work with the police and other agencies to deal with some of the problems in the area, particularly those relating to youth crime.
That brings me to the subject of the debate. I want to draw attention to the importance of the environment in reducing crime. If we are to tackle the causes of crime, we must create a high-quality urban environment that people will respect. As we can all see, when a house becomes derelict in our area, as it starts to fall down the vandalism begins. First one window goes; then the rest rapidly follow. The quality of our urban environments is crucial if we are to start tackling the causes of crime.
We should increase the visibility of the police in our communities. Our community constables in Hallam do a first-class job, and that should be built on so that we see more police on the streets.
Given all this—from the natural glories of the Peak district to the academic glories of our universities, and the human glories of our communities—I am filled with pleasure to have been able to speak on behalf of Sheffield, Hallam today.
It is a great pleasure to be able to make my maiden speech as Member of Parliament for my home area of North-West Leicestershire. I am proud to inform the House that I stand here representing two parties, the Labour party and the Co-operative party. The Co-operative party is the political party representing the co-operative movement, and it is dedicated to the promotion of co-operative principles as a means of organising our society and our economic interests. I am therefore very happy to be the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for North-West Leicestershire.
Let me begin by thanking my predecessor, Mr. David Ashby, who had represented North-West Leicestershire as a Conservative since the seat was created in 1983. I first met Mr. Ashby when we were opponents in the 1992 general election, and I found him then—as I have since—to be a courteous, thoughtful and industrious representative of our area. Let me express the appreciation of the 85,000 people of north-west Leicestershire to David Ashby for his work over some 14 years: we are most grateful for his unflagging efforts on our behalf.
Some people are due little in the way of thanks. David Ashby owes no thanks to the press, which hounded him unmercifully following allegations about his personal life. I deplore that. He has nothing for which to thank the courts, where he was the victim of an appalling legal decision when he tried to clear his name. I deplore that, too. He was given few thanks by his local association when it deselected him because of the adverse media coverage. That was the most deplorable thing of all.
One of the first telephone calls that I received after the election was from David Ashby. He gave congratulations and much helpful advice about tackling the daunting role of a newly elected Member of Parliament. That is the true measure of the man.
North-West Leicestershire is at the heart of our country. It is very much middle England—the real middle England, not that of Ford Galaxies, second homes in Italy and nanny problems. We are a working area and proud of it. We are at the transport crossroads of the midlands, sitting astride the Ml, beside the East Midlands airport. Our two major towns urgently need partly completed bypasses to be finished-but more of that on another occasion.
The main urban area in my seat is centred on the former mining town of Coalville, which, like the country, has endured the pain of unemployment. The pit closures that took place in the 1980s and early 1990s had a profound impact—economically, socially and environmentally—but the town has responded well to local authority initiatives, and now has good shops, a first-rate leisure centre and a magnificent discovery park celebrating the industrial background of North-West Leicestershire and the bright technological future that is now emerging.
To the west of the seat lies my birthplace, the pleasant market town of Ashby de la Zouch, famous for its castle and for being the setting of "Ivanhoe", reputedly the Prime Minister's favourite book. Further west still is another former coal mining area, around the communities of the Ashby Woulds. There is a sizeable rural core to the seat, containing numerous attractive villages, while in the north are the bustling and prosperous villages of Castle Donington and Kegworth.
Many hon. Members will have rushed through my constituency on the M1 without being aware of its many attractions. In view of the comments of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), I am pleased to say that those attractions do not include any penal establishments. I urge hon. Members to stop for a little; they will probably stay very much longer. All we need to link this archipelago of communities is improved public transport, and especially the restoration of passenger rail services—the second flag that I will wave on another occasion.
Environmentally, North-West Leicestershire has contained vast tracts of derelict land, which are now being restored with great assistance from the national forest, whose headquarters are in the seat. The attentions of R. J. Budge and others who want to opencast remaining coal seams on greenfield sites are a constant threat and handicap, and the circling opencast vultures will certainly form the basis of a future speech from me.
Socially, North-West Leicestershire's proud mining culture survives, as I am sure that it will for generations. It underpins a community spirit that remains sound and in good heart—but communities, like individuals, need to feel safe and secure in order to thrive. Various corrosive influences have been at work, which have made life difficult for the residents, businesses and towns of our area.
An example is the small town of Ashby, which has a population of 12,000. Its gracious Georgian market street, with its numerous pubs, shops and restaurants, acts as an entertainment mecca for a wide catchment area. That often means large numbers of people in a confined space, which frequently produces an unacceptable level of crime and anti-social behaviour on our streets.
Like those in other parts of middle England, we have called long and loud for more effective policies on crime in our part of Leicestershire, which has seen crime double and violent crime treble in a political generation. I am therefore pleased to have been called to speak in a home affairs debate on the Loyal Address. I particularly welcome the Government's programme for the reform of the youth justice system. I am a lay magistrate in my constituency, but I am not out of touch, as Conservative Members have suggested. Lay magistrates live in their constituencies, experience their problems and are open to their opportunities.
For many years, I have been concerned about the persistent problems caused for the many by the disruptive few who are the grit in society's eye. I welcome the commitment to fast-track punishment for some offenders, the creation of youth offenders' teams and the establishment of a national youth policy board.
My constituents have not stood idly by waiting for effective Government action on crime. Three years ago, we resolved to tackle the roots of crime rather than just wringing our hands and calling for harsher sentences for the few who reach our courts. We believed that, unless we acted, we would all take some blame for crime in our society. Acquiescence would merely be guilt by default. The North-West Leicestershire Safer Communities Forum was formed as our way of fighting crime, and I commend it to the House. It is a partnership of concerned people from the Churches, youth organisations, police and local councils, and it could be a model for the Government as they plan how best to extend the crime prevention and community protection roles of local authorities.
The forum took a long look at our area, analysed the facts and figures, the incidents and the trends. We put local criminality under the microscope and got to know it intimately. We tackled the roots of identified problems within our very limited resources. We backed a secured-by-design concept for the layout and specification of housing estates. Developers are now taking that up as a sales plus, and wider building regulations incorporating security measures would help us to make real progress.
We designed a closed circuit television system and lobbied hard for its installation to ensure that shoppers, residents and businesses would benefit from a more secure Ashby town centre. That system is to be switched on in a few weeks. Of course, it will not be a panacea because some crime will be displaced, and there are also civil liberties concerns; but the system is a big step in the right direction. We can at last reclaim the streets of our town.
We are also creating a youth council in north-west Leicestershire to involve young people in the running of the area. The council will be a grey-suit-free zone so that the young will have a real say. When they speak, we must listen, and when their demands are reasonable, we must respond. If we begin to nod because boredom or intolerance has set in, the time will have come to examine our behaviour because we shall be contributing to the alienation of the young with the sad results that we know only too well.
We all have the bricks in our hands to build a safer Britain together, but it cannot be done from the Floor of the House. Bricks can be laid only on firm foundations by local people throughout the community. I am certain that ours is the right way ahead. Building safer communities needs local involvement and a supportive national framework within which to work. The community safety plans in the Gracious Speech are the guiding lights for advance.
A statutory responsibility on local authorities to produce local crime prevention partnerships involving the police and other agencies is welcome, although it is much overdue. Of course, local plans must integrate with the Government's priorities on crime prevention and community safety, and the Home Secretary should report annually on those priorities.
For too long, the approach to crime prevention has been incoherent, ad hoc and, crucially, underfunded. We have relied on reports from a less than coherent Home Secretary, whose only solution to crime was to lock up yet more people. The Government's crime fighting initiatives are based on good practice by local authorities such as the one in north-west Leicestershire. I commend them to the House.
I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. My constituency is highly desirable, not least because it has a Conservative majority of 11,300. It is bounded on the east by the Lymington river and on the west by the River Avon. Between those two rivers along the coast are the towns of Lymington, Milford-on-Sea and Barton-on-Sea, all of which are excellent resorts offering a view of the western Solent and the Needles.
The constituency stretches north through the town of New Milton to the New Forest villages of Sway and Burley to Ringford and Fordingbridge. It takes its name from the fact that it contains more than half of the perambulation of Crown lands that make up the New Forest. It is perhaps one of the most important conservation areas in the western world, yet it would not exist but for the wisdom of 11th century monarchs and their passion for hunting. Even today, hunting is very much a way of life and a source of livelihood. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind later in the Session.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson, who was a formidable and assiduous worker on behalf of his constituents. Perhaps his singular achievement was that, after 28 years, he was able to hand over the New Forest much as he found it. It is little wonder that the boundary commissioners found it necessary to replace him with two hon. Members rather than one.
In some respects, the Gracious Speech sounded tough in terms of law and order, but, for some time, the Home Secretary has given the impression of being tough. Now that he is in office, I hope that he will be able to maintain that impression of toughness and, more important, give concrete evidence of it. I hope that he will be able to resist the advice of new social scientists, new criminologists, the new elite, new vegetarians or whoever who sit behind him.
I listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) because I was a prison visitor to Wandsworth, and I am now a prison visitor to Wormwood Scrubs. Some years ago, those who approached the prison block from the main gate waded through a sea of litter. All sorts of articles had been hurled from cells. They included shoes, clothing, food and equipment, such was the abundance within those walls. In the prison cell, one was confronted by every convenience that the Argos catalogue could supply. That has changed dramatically in the past few years.
A few days ago, I confided in a murderer friend whom I visit once a month that I was considering voting for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) as the leader of my party. His reaction was such that, had I been less tolerant, it might have ended our friendship. His response was not a consequence of a belief that there was something of the night about my right hon. and learned Friend; it was entirely a measure of my right hon. and learned Friend's effectiveness in changing and toughening up the regime in that institution. I commend that reputation to the Home Secretary and urge him to pursue a similar one. We should eschew currying favour with the criminal classes.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I first congratulate you on your appointment? You will be sadly missed on the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and I wish you well.
I compliment the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) on his excellent maiden speech. It was interesting to hear. I did not agree with much of it, but it was well presented. I also wish well my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and his team because, although they may not inherit a poisoned chalice, they do not inherit anything that is worth talking about. They have a tough job ahead.
I was interested to hear the debate on prisons. The first thing we should be examining is how many people who have been described as violent, anti-social and a threat to society are in prison. It would be interesting to know how many of them are in prison and what percentage they make up of the prison population.
Of the advanced nations in Europe, we have the highest proportion of the population in prison. We need to ask questions about that. Far too many people seem to be languishing in prison for offences that most reasonable people would think do not deserve prison.
I remember that the Opposition used to ridicule my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he talked about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The second part of that phrase seemed to be largely overlooked. If we do not know what the causes of crime are, there is not much chance of being able to do much about it.
In answer to a question that I put to him, a previous Home Secretary, who is also standing for the Conservative party leadership, informed me that less than 1p per citizen per annum was spent on research into juvenile crime. I sincerely hope that, in power, we can do a bit better than that.
I am impressed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's insistence on speeding things up. I hope that we will see that first in relation to immigration and asylum seekers. At a recent meeting of the Council of Europe I attended, two motions were passed. One was that no one, be they an asylum seeker or an immigrant, should be put out of a country until their appeal had been heard. I trust that Britain will abide by that. The other was that children who were involved in such situations would not be incarcerated, but looked after properly in a family atmosphere. I trust and hope that that will also come to pass.
We have a poor record, not so much on the policy of immigration as on the way it is carried out. We read of many cases where people suffer injustice. If we are in favour of social justice and fairness—I know we are—we need to abide by those motions. We must show a better face to the world on this issue.
We must do something about the time it takes to bring juvenile offenders, in particular, to justice. Whether they are guilty or innocent, there is no excuse for these things lingering on for months on end. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has assured us that process will be speeded up. I look forward to that happening.
What impressed me above all in the Queen's Speech was the undertaking that the House would debate the abolition of handguns. I greatly welcome that. I hope that, eventually, the ban can be extended to all firearms, dangerous air pistols and all other weaponry that is designed to maim or take life. We do not have to face bears, lions or tigers in Britain; there is therefore no need for anyone to have such weapons. Britain will be a much better place to live in when we get rid of all those horrible weapons.
I greatly welcome the measures on education, which were the central plank of our election-winning campaign. I look forward to the abolition of the assisted places scheme, which meant that the taxpayer underpinned the private education sector. I have stated in the House that I have never objected to anyone wishing to purchase private education for their children—that is up to them—but what I object to is people who do not want to do so being dragged in through the tax system. The measure is a great step forward. Reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds is well worth attaining, and I assume that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be in favour of it.
Eliminating the nursery voucher scheme will be a great step forward. That has not been mentioned, as far as I am aware, but I know that it will come. Many good local authorities already provide places for four-year-olds, and sometimes three-year-olds, in pre-education classes, and I look forward to the time when that is universal. We can look forward in the next few years to that working its way through and gradually improving education at all levels.
I also look forward to the introduction of legislation on the funding of political parties, which is long overdue. The present situation is a disgrace and a blight on the parliamentary system. I point that out, particularly to Opposition Members, most of whom have been involved with the sort of thing that led to the setting up of the Nolan committee. It was set up because, basically, in many cases, the behaviour of Conservative Members left much to be desired—not all of them, but very many. I hope that the Nolan committee, which was accepted in the House, will continue to move forward, will be respected and will widen the scope of its activities so that all of us in the House, the vast majority of whom are decent, honest, hard-working people, can again obtain the respect of society in general, which, sadly, we do not have—not to any degree. That will be a welcome step in the right direction.
Much of the new Government's economic planning is based on reducing unemployment. My constituency has had more than its share of unemployment—and it is still way above the national average. It has a low-wage economy. I look forward to the measures having a distinct effect on my constituency and the north-east in general, which for far too long has had more than its share of that undesirable political effect.
We have heard a lot about the windfall tax. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make it realistic. I hope that he will obtain enough funds to ensure that we start to make an impression on unemployment. My belief is based on Keynesian economics, which more or less worked for 50 years—until 1979. They will bring about an improvement in society, particularly for younger people, many of whom see no future. Of course, that matter is tied up with crime. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Worthing, East and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) would like to intervene, I am willing to give way to him.
Just take your time then.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has reopened the initiative on Northern Ireland. I am a little pessimistic in some respects because I believe that only when we get a united Ireland—however long it takes—will we achieve peace in the Province. Nevertheless, I feel good will towards both the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister for their endeavours, just as I felt good will towards the previous Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for their endeavours, although in the end they proved not to be too successful.
When I was asked what I was most looking forward to when Labour got into power, I said legislation on the minimum wage, which Opposition Members seem to be so paranoically opposed to. I am in favour of it because it would bring about a redistribution of wealth. If as a party we say that we are in favour of social justice and fairness, we must start to do something about the huge and ever increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. If, at the end of five years, we have not had some impact on that issue, we will have failed. I think, however, that we will start to make some meaningful progress.
Labour Members have already said in this debate that we want to build a better society, and work against self-interest. Since 1979, however, the population has been encouraged to be greedy and selfish, and it will therefore take a long time to establish belief in a different philosophy. We will also receive very little help from Conservative Members in trying to achieve that transformation. Such a philosophy is alien to the beliefs of Conservative Members, who look after vested interests. The Conservative party is currently anything other than a one-nation party.
I regret that, for two years, the Government will be committed to the previous Government's public expenditure figures. That commitment will lead to some difficulties, but it is a challenge which the Labour party will face. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find ways round the problems.
I am very pleased that the European convention on human rights will be incorporated into our law, because Britain has reached a stage in its history at which an unwritten constitution is not good enough to function in a modern world or sufficient to meet our population's expectations.
The convention is that hon. Members pay tribute to their predecessors. I have a problem with that convention, however, because the Colchester constituency is new, and the two hon. Members who served the different parts of the town and the many surrounding villages for the past five years had a good sense of political survival, and moved to nearby constituencies. They both therefore continue to serve as hon. Members. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Maldon and Chelmsford, East (Mr. Whittingdale), who was formerly the hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon, and to the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who was formerly the hon. Member for Colchester, North, for their sterling service to the town and people of Colchester.
I pay tribute also to the hon. Members who preceded them: Lord Wakeham and Sir Antony Buck—who was, arguably, the last hon. Member to serve the town of Colchester as one entity. Although Sir Antony's more recent past has been somewhat more colourful, I pay tribute to the many years of service—from 1961 to 1992—in which he served Colchester either as a single constituency or as a part constituency.
There are those who say that, following the 1979 general election, the old Colchester constituency was somehow gerrymandered out of existence. I would not comment on that belief, but will say only that, after growth in the Essex population and a need to provide a 17th Member of Parliament, common sense prevailed, and Britain's oldest recorded town was reunited as a single, urban constituency. As a former mayor of the borough of Colchester, I am delighted to be the hon. Member who represents my home town.
Colchester is one of Britain's most famous garrison towns, and I look forward to representing both citizens in khaki and residents of Colchester. Colchester also has one of Britain's leading zoos, which specialises in endangered species. The former Home Secretary would therefore be a welcome visitor whenever he cares to visit.
On the edge of Colchester is the university of Essex, which is Britain's most international university. I have had the pleasure of working there for the past 11 years, serving the university not in an academic position but in other ways.
Last but not least, Colchester has a football league team—which is the only one that has been admitted to the league twice. We have had the penalty of relegation to the Vauxhall Conference, followed by promotion from it. There is, after all, life for Hereford United after events there.
As you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Colchester is Britain's oldest recorded town because, 2,000 years ago, when the Romans invaded, it was the most famous town in southern England. It subsequently became Britain's first Roman capital. Colchester has much history, from Roman times to the Norman conquest and up to the present day. I am pleased to say that, in the civil war, during the siege of Colchester, we sided with Parliament. The siege, which caused much damage, was unfortunately caused by the royalists.
In the past decade, much damage has been done to the industrial heart of our town, although other developments brought new jobs. The 600 Group, however, disgracefully destroyed the Colchester Lathe Company. It sold the factory site for use as a Tesco supermarket, took the money and left town. The world-famous Colchester lathe is still manufactured, however, albeit in Yorkshire.
Colchester is famous for having the greenest council in Essex, and one of the greenest in Britain—but one would perhaps expect that from a Liberal Democrat-controlled council.
The Opposition amendment states that the House congratulates
the previous Government on its achievements in tackling crime and protecting the public".
That statement provides sufficient reason not to support the amendment, because crime doubled under the previous Government.
As for protecting the public, the former Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) will remember that, when Colchester borough council asked for financial assistance from the Government to buy security cameras for our town centre, I wrote him a generous, co-operative and constructive letter. Instead of receiving a simple no from the Government, however, I received an extremely rude, arrogant and dismissive letter. The money was, of course, not forthcoming. We could have accepted a reply citing a simple lack of money.
Fortunately, Colcestrians do not take an answer of no lying down, and the campaign continued. I am pleased to say that those security cameras have now been installed, because eventually we received a small grant, which was only half of what we would have received had the then Government delivered on their statement. We heard many words on law and order from the previous Government, but help was not initially provided for security cameras in our town centre.
We were, however, blessed with a bootcamp by the previous Government. I sincerely hope that one of the first actions of the new Home Secretary will be to close that blot on the Colchester landscape, which has been established within the military corrective training centre. The Prison Service did not want it and the military authorities did not want it. We were lumbered with it because the then Home Secretary was in the market for gimmicks before a Conservative party conference. Something had to be done, and that was that.
The bootcamp is a very expensive gimmick, and costs approximately two to three times as much as a normal institutional placement. I should think that the last thing we want is to have our young criminals placed in a military regime, from which they emerge fitter, stronger and with a team spirit that they did not have when they went in. The bootcamp is a big mistake, and I hope that the new Government will soon do away with it.
Our problem, however, is that new Labour is planning new prisons: new Labour, new prisons, new crime. There is a problem because, for at least the next two years, the Government plan to continue the policies of the defeated Government. I urge the new Government to think very quickly and to find ways and means to reduce the prison population. Prison is an expensive way in which to deal with people, many of whom are there because they have psychiatric problems rather than criminal tendencies.
We need many more police officers—more bobbies on the beat. I welcome Ministers' statements that they plan to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime because, to build a safer society, we must prevent and detect crime.
Another matter that needs to be dealt with is the police authority quangos. There are nine local police authority nominees in the county of Essex. As of April next year, Thurrock and Southend-on-Sea will cease to be part of the county of Essex. However, each of those places has been allocated two seats on the police authority. In other words, two districts in Essex will have four seats and the rest of the county of Essex, including Colchester, Harlow, Brentwood, Chelmsford and other major centres, will have to share the remaining five. In simple arithmetical terms, that is not fair. The whole principle of quangos needs to be examined, but, as a first step, let us introduce some fairness.
Our communities are very important. I have already mentioned Colchester's green credentials, but Colchester is under massive pressure from new development. The structure plan requires the town to build more housing. The country as a whole needs more housing, but my big fear is that as Colchester contains large landholdings owned by the Ministry of Defence and the national health service, the Government will press the town to release land over and above what a town of its size would normally expect. I seek assurances that Colchester borough council and Essex county council will have some say in what land the Government dispose of, because, as far as I can see, new Labour is not changing what the Conservative Government proposed. One way to tackle crime is to deal with the environment in which people live. Broadly speaking, Colchester has a green and pleasant environment, but it is under threat and the biggest threat is posed by what the Government plan to do with their landholdings.
I must first thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I should also like to acknowledge the wide-ranging speech made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which offered several measures that the electors of South Derbyshire will welcome.
Even if we set to one side the specific points of her dispute with the former Home Secretary, the speech by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) raised some interesting questions about the accountability of Ministers and the role of truth in the House, which I shall certainly note for myself.
I have one slightly unusual personal acknowledgment to make, as 1 am not the first member of my family to sit in the House. Many years ago—between 1929 and 1935—my grandfather was a Conservative Member, mostly. I have to say "mostly" because, at that time, politics was even more fluid than it is now and changes of party allegiance were not particularly uncommon. He sat for the constituency of Berwick-upon-Tweed, whose current Member of Parliament spoke earlier.
My grandfather did not speak often in the House, but concentrated mostly on local issues such as farming and fishing and matters relating to ex-service men, of whom he was one. At the end of his time here, he had renounced the Tory Whip having had a dispute with his party. He just about made it as the official Conservative candidate at the 1935 election, but he lost the seat in an unusual example of tactical voting in which the Labour candidate stood aside to ensure that the Liberal candidate would be returned. That gives an insight into my family's political history. It also shows that my grandfather was no party zealot, and I suppose that the Whips will have to take that on board to some extent. He listened carefully to what others had to say. I greatly admired him as an old man, long after he had given up politics, and I missed him greatly when he passed away.
That experience brought one other point home to me. My own son, who is four and a half, is almost exactly the same age as my father was when his father—my grandfather—was elected as a Member of Parliament. I asked my father about his experience of that time. He regarded it as an unpleasant period of his life. He did not see much of his dad and did not enjoy the experience greatly. It has certainly made me strongly committed to making the House a more family-friendly place. I greatly appreciate and support the huge increase in the number of women in Parliament, but have never regarded changing the House's workings as being solely their concern. It is a matter for fathers, too. I want to ensure that I see my son as much as possible and take as much of a part in his upbringing as I can.
I turn now to the more conventional aspects of a maiden speech. The previous Member of Parliament for South Derbyshire was Edwina Currie. I say quite freely that I had a very friendly relationship with her, and anyone who stayed up until 5 am to watch the results of the election on television saw me kiss her on the cheek. We got on well—rather better, I suspect, than she did with her parliamentary colleagues. Anyone reading her novels will find that the antipathy between her and some fellow Tories comes across more strongly than any antipathy between her and Labour Members. In any event, she predicted extremely accurately the result in her constituency and in the country at large, although I do not think that her contributions were welcomed by her colleagues.
Edwina Currie was, and probably will continue to be, a fighter for causes which were not fashionable in her party. For that, I admire her considerably. It is not conventional to defend gay rights in the Conservative party, but she took that stance. It is not conventional to be as strongly pro-European as she was, but that was her position. She was brave. I by no means agreed with everything she stood for, but there were some other worthwhile nuggets—opposition to the reintroduction of grammar schools and, latterly, opposition to the existence of the hereditary peerage. I have yet to issue her with a membership form for my party, but there were encouraging signs of a shift in our direction towards the end of her time as the Member for South Derbyshire. She pursued individual constituents' cases with vigour and added a good deal of colour to local life. I shall not seek to imitate her, but she certainly offered something that will be missed in some contexts.
Another previous Member of Parliament I must mention is George Brown who represented the seat, also with colour, for a considerable time. He is well remembered by many residents and, when confronted with an unpopular policy, is quoted—in a number of studies of the 1960s and 1970s—as saying, "They'll never stand for it in Swadlincote." He saw that as the benchmark of opinion in his constituency, and I shall do the same. It is the key town in the area where many people have straightforward opinions, freely expressed.
South Derbyshire covers a large area to the south and west of the city of Derby. It also includes 18,000 electors within the boundaries of the city itself, which makes up about a quarter of the electorate. About another quarter is concentrated in the urban area of Swadlincote, which was the heart of the south Derbyshire coalfield and the home of British Coal's largest research centre. The last pit closed in 1988; virtually all the mining jobs have gone, but there is still a little opencast activity. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) referred to the industrial heritage of his area. My constituency, which borders his, shares that heritage.
The remaining half of the electorate live in the many villages and hamlets across the area, ranging from villages linked to the mining industry, such as Linton, to those such as Melbourne, which is linked to agriculture and has a stately home nearby. There are several notable country houses in the constituency, including Calke abbey and Melbourne hall, as well as one major public school, Repton, and one prison at Foston Hall. The last two can, possibly, be confused.
Many might consider South Derbyshire to be the centre of the universe. It has one claim in addition to that—it is the precise centre of the United Kingdom population. A hamlet in South Derbyshire marks the point exactly in the middle of the population. That is a small claim to fame, but it shows that the constituency is a typical, precisely middle England seat in which people want their opinions listened to.
We are also the home of the runaway champions of the Doc Martens league—Gresley Rovers. The team would have been promoted to the Vauxhall Conference had it had adequate ground facilities. I shall give the club my full support in any steps that it takes to gain that.
Agriculture remains a key industry. I well remember attending a packed meeting of Derbyshire farmers with the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) at the time of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis. That remains a key issue. We look forward to a clear, progressive policy from the Government that will allow us to market our produce with confidence.
The constituency is the home of Toyota. Its car plant at Burnaston offers more than 2,000 local jobs—a figure due to rise soon to 3,000 with the expansion of the plant. Inward investment on that scale can be maintained only with stable economic policies in a single European market.
Two major power stations still offer jobs in the area, although they have declined with the coal industry and offer far fewer jobs than they did in 1992, when I first stood for the constituency. Much of the area's employment relies on hundreds of small local firms, which offer jobs in a variety of trades and industries. People also commute out of the area for employment in brewing in Burton and engineering in Derby.
Official unemployment is extremely low, but that figure conceals a huge amount of under-employment of people who have given up their jobs with no hope of future employment. That is particularly true of people made redundant from the mining industry. They are still looking for opportunities, but they no longer appear on our registers. We also have one of the highest concentrations of part-time employment in the country. That is a key issue for the Government. We have the opportunity to introduce a minimum wage, which will be of tremendous benefit to such people. I strongly endorse that policy.
Our schools have long laboured under the weight of cuts in Government expenditure. As recently as 1989, we had one of the best pupil-teacher ratios in the country; we now have one of the worst, after seven years of cuts. Three quarters of the primary schools in South Derbyshire will benefit from the introduction of a maximum class size of 30 for five, six and seven-year-olds. That is a critical part of the Government's programme.
Nobody would claim that South Derbyshire suffers disproportionately from crime. The people of the area are some of the friendliest I know. Community really means something in South Derbyshire. Back doors are often left open and people talk freely in the streets. It is not a place of great fear and apprehension. I have listened with interest to hon. Members representing constituents for whom that is not the case. South Derbyshire is not like those areas, but crime has increased steadily there, as everywhere else, more than doubling in the past 20 years.
Our police service is stretched to the limit. Derbyshire constabulary has to protect about 20 per cent. more citizens per officer than the average English county. That imbalance stretches the force terribly. The area below the Trent valley—the major police division for my constituency—normally has four or five officers and one sergeant available to cover a huge area of urban Swadlincote and many small villages. It is not surprising that the people there seldom see a police officer and are becoming ever more concerned about the safety of their community. The method of calculating police resources used by the previous Government entrenched that difference and disadvantage for my constituency. I have already raised the issue with the Home Secretary and shall urge a review of those methods of calculation.
I unreservedly welcome the proposals to reform the youth justice system and measures against anti-social behaviour. Before he took up his office, the Home Secretary visited an estate in South Derbyshire that, by our peaceful standards, has had problems. His proposals, together with the plans to provide jobs for jobless youngsters, will be strongly welcomed in South Derbyshire.
We had the opportunity of a visit from the previous Home Secretary during the election campaign, when he sought to make political capital out of the introduction of closed circuit television in the centre of Swadlincote. That fell on stony ground, because the chamber of trade turned up and corrected his misapprehension that the plan was the solution to all its problems. I would have thought that that was one of his more embarrassing visits during the campaign.
Our new Government have offered a programme to the people of this country and to the residents of South Derbyshire that I know they unreservedly welcome. We must now implement that programme with disciplined intent.
I am proud to stand here as the newly elected Member for the Isle of Wight. I shall not go through a long historical or geographical description of the island, other than to say that it is the only English constituency that cannot be reached except by ferry. I shall come back to that later.
I gladly follow convention by praising my predecessor, Barry Field, who was assiduous in the House in extolling the virtues of the Isle of Wight, especially as a tourist attraction, destination and investment opportunity for the new industries that we are trying to attract. He was also an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament, dealing with the casework generated by the largest constituency in the country. I am beginning to learn about that to my cost. While praising Barry Field, I should like to put a rumour to rest: I was not the doctor who advised him to give up his constituency duties on medical grounds.
I am proud to extol the virtues of the island to the House, but I also have a duty to point out at every opportunity the social and economic disadvantages suffered by the island's economy. It is an irony that a sunny place with a wonderful population of very nice people suffers from having the lowest gross domestic product of any county in the country. It has an unbalanced population, with the highest number of elderly people in any county, the highest number of unemployed people in the south and the greatest dependency on low-paid, insecure and part-time jobs. We cannot survive on a good climate alone. I shall point out as often as I can to the new Government that we are looking for a fairer economic deal.
The Isle of Wight is the only significantly settled island in Great Britain—or, indeed, in the European Community—not in receipt of any kind of government assistance for being an island. There is no island factor in the distribution of funds for health, local authority services or our ferries. If Governments can fund 100 per cent. of motorways and trunk roads and pour millions of pounds of subsidy into the privatised railways, why can they not find money for one of the earlier privatisations—our ferries?
Returning to the subject of today's debate, the Isle of Wight probably has the highest concentration of prisons in the country. The prisons and the prison officers make a valuable contribution to our community and to our economic life. Much has been said, especially by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), about Parkhurst and the escape, which was entirely predictable. Essential security work asked for by the then governor was not carried out, because funds were not forthcoming from the Home Office. We were not surprised that an escape took place, although we were relieved that the prisoners were recaptured, thanks to the vigilance of an off-duty prison officer and the efforts of the police.
The local community was annoyed at the way in which the governor was scapegoated to hide the Government's inaction in making the prison safe. The Prison Service's loss has been the island's mental health service's gain and John Marriott now makes a big contribution to the island's community by looking after mental health services. However, he is owed an apology by the Home Office for his shameful treatment.
Hon. Members may be surprised to hear that, following the escape, millions of pounds were invested in upgrading security at Parkhurst. The previous Home Secretary, on completion of that work, immediately downgraded the security status of the prison, resulting in the loss of hundreds of prison officer jobs. That was crazy. We have one of the best penal institutions in the country, but we are not using it.
I make another plea to the Government—they must think about what penal institutions are for. The extraordinary speech by the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) illustrated the anguish of prison officers. Obviously, prisons have to be there to contain people who are irredeemably criminal—there may be some of those—but prisons should also ensure that people leaving prison have a better chance of making a positive contribution to society than when they went in. I hope that the educational work and the mental health services that have been dismantled in our prisons over the past 10 years will be restored. We must get people out of prison and allow them to make a positive contribution to society.
I have spoken enough about prisons, which—as I have said—make an enormous contribution to the economy of the island. I want to echo earlier comments about co-operation in the House. If there is co-operation, we can solve some of the problems that we all recognise. They can be solved if the will to work together exists among the Government, local authorities and regional governments—when we have them.
May I welcome you to your new position, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I am very happy to follow the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand), who talked about co-operation. In Scotland, we tend not to see the Liberal Democrats as the full-frontal Opposition and we have worked with them on the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which is such a big plank in the Government's devolution proposals. I look forward to more co-operation in the House, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's party gains the respect it is due for the number of seats it has won. We may yet see the Liberal Democrats as the loyal Opposition on the Front Bench at Scottish Question Time, although I know that that matter has to be resolved by Madam Speaker.
I very much welcome the speech by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It is a joy to be on this side of the Chamber and looking across at the much-depleted—in fact, totally denuded—Conservative Benches.
Empty is the word, as someone might take the word "denuded" the wrong way. The Opposition are certainly lacking in strength tonight.
Everyone welcomes the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to allow a free vote on a total ban on handguns. That is particularly true of Scots. Everyone recalls that it was not individual Members who failed to deliver a total ban; the three-line Whip by the then Conservative Government produced the majority of 25 that night. That was wrong and, on a free vote, I have no doubt that the total ban will be carried.
I have previously referred in the House to what I call "my village from hell", which encapsulates the problems that we are trying to tackle with our crime and disorder proposals. 1 wish to refer to community safety. I would like to update the House on the village, which is as bad as ever—if not worse. More than 20 houses are now boarded up. There have been attempts to bring together the community, the police and the local authority to do something, but their efforts break down every time because individual citizens in the village are afraid of the families who are causing the trouble. For example, on one occasion, there were 30 witnesses to an offence, but, by the time the case came to court three or four months later, no one was willing to testify. The system has broken down because something is lacking in the present law. I hope that the Government will look seriously at ways of strengthening the hand of citizens and authorities in dealing with this matter.
There is no law to make a local authority enforce its tenancy agreements. If tenants are consistently causing complaints, there is a remedy available to the local authority, which can remove these people from their tenancy. That reinforces the fact that they are known to be the cause of the problem. Local authorities say that cases must go through the police and the courts, and that individuals must put their safety on the line before they will enforce tenancy agreements. We must strengthen the hand of local authorities to allow them to take swift action against threatening citizens.
A second issue of concern among my constituents is crime relating to paedophilia. There seem to be two trains of thought running through Scotland. We have a notorious character in Scotland—who has been lauded and given great publicity—called Mags Haney from Stirling. She goes around with a gang, and they stood outside the court during a recent case involving the molestation of a young person shouting, "Kill the beast." Obviously, they were trying to whip up public anger.
The other approach comes from a village in my constituency where there was a recent act of molestation against a young person. One of the mothers in the village said that local people were not vigilantes interested in breaking the legs of the person who was found guilty, but added that sentences such as he received had left them with no faith in the system. The man involved had a long history of offences against young people, but was charged in such a way that the maximum sentence was three months. The sheriff almost apologised to the people in the court for the length of the sentence. There must be some way in which a sheriff or a judge can question whether the disposal of the case by the procurator fiscal in Scotland or the prosecuting authority elsewhere is appropriate and can call for a retrial on a much stronger charge. Clearly, the charge in this case was not adequate for the crime committed.
Incarceration, and longer incarceration, for those found guilty is what the public want, and we should provide that to protect children. I have spoken previously with the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), and have said that we have to consider treating people who commit such crimes as ill—not insane, but mentally ill. Therefore, they should be compelled to get treatment to get to the bottom of their behaviour, which results in them abusing the most innocent. People might scream that this a breach of civil liberties, but I would argue that civil liberties for one's self derive from respect for the civil liberties of everyone else—especially the young and the vulnerable who are abused by paedophiles.
I welcome the mention in the Queen's Speech of the appointment of a drugs supremo—although I always worry when someone is appointed as a tsar or an emperor. We are about to abolish the rights of one unelected organisation, and I do not like the idea of another being appointed. When I worked on a crime and drugs campaign in Scotland, I met every chief constable in Scotland. I was told that, in some areas, between 50 and 70 per cent. of all crimes are drug-related offences. People are either trying to get money for drugs, or older criminals are selling drugs to people who then commit crimes to provide money for drugs.
May I give a word of warning? In some parts of Scotland, they have been using methadone replacement treatment for heroin users, and we have had several deaths in my constituency among people taking methadone as a substitute for heroin. There is also a strong rumour that methadone is being sold—it used to be methadone jellies, but is now methadone spittle. People have to drink it in the chemists, but they then go outside, spit it into a canister and sell it on. I see the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) grueing, as we say in Scotland—screwing up his face—at that idea. We have to be worried about the use of methadone, because it is clear that people want to get money for other drugs and do not therefore use the methadone as given.
I know from consideration in the last Parliament of what became the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 that it is intended to put people in prison for longer. It seems to me that we have to think seriously about the role of prisons. I do not know whether it will be in the remit that the Government give themselves—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will tell us—but we should look at what prisons do. Prisons must protect people, but we must also think about the second role, referred to by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, which is rehabilitation of prisoners so that they do not reoffend.
I want to put two points on the agenda. First, the Government should consider banning alcopops—not only banning advertising of alcopops, but banning them from sale. We banned the Skoal Bandits nicotine chews, even though that had jobs implications in Scotland. It was even supported by the hon. Member who represented the area concerned. We should similarly consider banning alcopops, despite the fact that the industry is clearly doing a roaring trade. Alcopops do lead young people to drink.
Secondly, I should like to see laws for the banning of drinking in the streets which do not leave the matter to local authorities and licensing boards. We have laws that talk about taking drink away from under-age drinkers, but I plead with the Government to think seriously about banning entirely drinking in the streets anywhere apart from designated licensed areas. That would go a long way towards dealing with some of the problems in our society.
My final plea is to do something about white collar crime, which is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. I made a plea several years ago when a building company went down, taking with it £200,000-worth of supplies that had been supplied by a company in my local area, and we could do nothing about it. I have recently had reported to me a case in my constituency of a building company that has three businesses: one buys the supplies, another owns the lands and the third sells the houses. I have had it reported to me by one of the companies that supplied it, Canon Building Supplies, that it suspects that the first company-the one that buys the supplies-will go into receivership in the next week or so. Everyone who has supplied that company with the materials to build the houses that are there will be left with no redress, because the company has no assets. That is not a business failure: it is fraud.
I plead with the Government to think seriously about doing something to prevent limited companies from being set up with the explicit purpose of taking materials and supplies and then going into liquidation. Again and again this happens. It is a question not simply of bringing in laws to ensure that people receive interest on debt, but of ensuring that debts are paid. There is a solution: we could put a lien on the building that has been built, on behalf of those who supplied the materials. If the builder goes into receivership, the suppliers will get their money back through the sale of the property.
The banks do not seem to be interested—they are interested only in securing their own loans. It is time that the Government spoke up for the small businesses that have been ripped off for the past 10 or 15 years while the Conservative Government sat back and laughed. They even had a President of the Board of Trade who admitted that he postponed paying debt as long as possible and hoped that the companies would go into liquidation. It is up to the Labour Government to show the way on white collar crime as well as on disorder. I commend the Queen's Speech to the House.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I really do believe that this is a turning point in politics—a time when millions of people can begin once again to trust those who govern and to have hope for the future.
I am proud and honoured to have been elected as the first woman Member of Parliament for Salford and to be a Salfordian, born and bred in our city. Salford is very much a city of firsts and it may surprise some hon. Members to hear of the vast range of achievements of Salford and her people. We have always been at the forefront of innovation and enterprise. In 1806, Chapel street, at the heart of our city, was the first street in the country to have gas lighting. In 1824, Salford corporation introduced the first horse-drawn omnibus service from Pendleton to Manchester. Those hon. Members who are aware of the historic, but friendly, rivalry between our two great cities will appreciate the significance of the direction of that journey.
Salford has always valued learning and knowledge and in 1850, at Peel Park, the first unconditional free library was opened to the public. We have always been green—even when it was not fashionable. In the 1920s, Salford police were the first to wear white uniforms, so that they could be seen through the smog. Perhaps in response to that, the council promoted the first Clean Air Act, in 1956; and, in 1972, Salford was the first modern city to be declared completely smoke free—no longer the dirty old town.
Salford has a proud history and a proud record of parliamentary representation—hardly surprising for a city at the forefront of both the Chartist and Suffragette movements. I pay tribute to two of the city's most recent representatives—Stan Orme and Frank Allaun.
Stan was a skilled engineer, a lifelong member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, a keen and effective shop steward and a fighter for working people. He was elected Member of Parliament for Salford, West in 1964 and rose rapidly to become Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office in 1974 and Minister for Social Security in October 1976. He was always concerned to represent the people of Salford, especially those who were unemployed and those suffering hardship. Stan also played a major role in the Labour party and was a wise and respected chair of the parliamentary Labour party from 1987 to 1992. For 20 years, Stan was on the Labour Front Benches and made a tremendous contribution to the political life of this country. I wish both Stan and his wife Irene good health and happiness in all their future activities.
I also have the honour of succeeding Frank Allaun, who represented part of my seat, Salford, East, from 1955 to 1983. Many hon. Members will recall Frank's irrepressible spirit, which inspired so many of us. His fight for the reduction of arms expenditure, for full employment, for decent housing and rights for working people will long be remembered. Frank was, and still is, an active campaigner and I know that he will take a keen interest in the work of this Government. Again, I wish him and his wife Milly joy in everything they do.
Stan Orme was a great friend and colleague of Edmund Frow, who, together with his wife Ruth, worked tirelessly over the past 50 years to establish the largest collection of books, journals, pamphlets and other material charting the history of the struggles of working-class people. I am delighted to be a trustee of that library, which is now firmly established in Salford, but sad to report the death of Edmund Frow last week. I know that his spirit will live on in the work of his library.
Salford people have known some very hard times indeed, but the qualities of Salford men and women shine through the adversity of their everyday lives. They were and still are people with courage, determination, wit and compassion, and they have an unrivalled ability to see through falseness and to expose insincerity. Salford people, even in the hardest of times, possess an indomitable spirit and strength that cannot be crushed. In recent years, however, that strength and resilience have been sorely tested. The Conservative Government's boom and bust economics destroyed thousands of our manufacturing jobs, leaving many skilled people without work and consigning a whole generation of youngsters to a future with no hope of a job and no sense of self-esteem. It is in those conditions that crime breeds, and Salford people have lived with the fear and the reality of crime for far too long.
I welcome the proposals in the Queen's Speech for a radical overhaul of the youth justice system. The current revolving door of arrest, bail, cautions, further arrests and further cautions does nothing to stem the tide of offending or to provide justice for the victims of crime. I welcome the proposal to introduce reparation orders, whereby offenders must face up to the consequences of their crimes. I welcome, too, the involvement of parents, who must take responsibility for the actions of their children.
In Salford, we have taken many initiatives to try to identify young people who are at risk of becoming involved in crime, and to show them that there are positive things that they can do: that they do not need to steal cars or deal drugs to have some status. Fairbridge, a charity based in Pendleton, is doing a marvellous job working with young people who are at risk and some who have committed crimes. Its programme of activities combined with intensive personal support has been proved to cut re-offending by half, and it is helping two thirds of the young people back into work or education and training.
A young man in Salford, on whom many agencies had given up, went through the Fairbridge programme and wrote to thank the charity:
You have given me the chance to do things that I never thought possible, to become part of a team, to see that if I want to do something there is nothing to stop me from trying.
We need to change others' attitudes in such a way.
We must have a twin-track approach—swift and effective punishments and long-term investment to give our young people jobs and hope. That is the real way to make our cities safer places to live.
Salford has more than a proud history: there are exciting times ahead. By bringing together our enterprise and our love of beauty, art and culture, we are forging a new city, which is an exciting and vibrant place to live.
On 19 June, building work begins on the Lowry centre—a national landmark millennium project, which will be a centre of excellence for the performing arts and will provide thousands of jobs for local people in its construction and operation.
We shall soon witness the extension of Metrolink—the light rapid transit system through the city.
The university of Salford has just launched its business and ecology centre, designed to help industry stay ahead of environmental regulation and increase its ability to compete with the best in Europe. In Salford, we shall also have the national centre for virtual reality—the ultimate in new technology.
We in Salford are famous for having our feet on the ground, but we also know how to dream. Our dream is of a city with a self-confident and vibrant community, freed from the fear of crime, giving our young people the chance to work and to have pride in themselves and their achievements.
I believe that it will be this Labour Government who will liberate the skills and talents of Salford people and I look forward to playing a part in the exciting work that lies ahead.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With permission, I should like to make a brief statement.
The House will recall that, earlier this afternoon, both the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) called for the publication of an official document, namely, notes of meetings held on 10 January 1995. The request was made to me, as property in such documents rests in the Crown for the time being.
Having taken advice, I have decided to authorise publication; I shall describe how that will be done in a moment. Before doing so, however, I want to make it clear that at no stage in reaching my decision have I read the documents in question. Given that they relate to the work of Ministers in a previous Administration, it would have been totally inappropriate and contrary to the conventions for me to be able to read them before they were made public.
The document for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the right hon. Lady sought publication were the transcribed notes of meetings held on 9 and 10 January 1995. The official record of the meetings on 10 January was made by the Private Secretary—a note dated 17 January—and was published by my predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, on 19 October 1995. That record was drawn up by the Private Secretary, using notes made at the time of the meetings. The request made to me today is for publication of a transcription of the Private Secretary's handwritten notes.
In fact, I am now publishing two documents. The first is an exact transcript, prepared today, of the Private Secretary's contemporaneous manuscript notes of meetings on 9 and 10 January 1995, on which the official note of 17 January 1995 was based. The second document is a fuller version of those same notes, prepared in October 1995 for the then Home Secretary, which fleshes out the manuscript notes. The House will note that this transcription contains a number of typing errors and other mistakes. I am, nevertheless, publishing it as my predecessor saw it. Both documents are now being made available in the Libraries of both Houses and in the Vote Office.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very grateful to the Home Secretary for agreeing with such speed to the requests that were made earlier. I hope that the documents now published will shed light, not only on matters that I raised today, but on that other issue which was of such concern to the House in October, and before that in January—exactly who insisted on the insertion of the word "Today"?
I am grateful for the chance to make my maiden speech today—just in time, by the sound of it.
I regard it as a great honour to represent Battersea in the House. The constituency has many claims to fame. In 1892, it was one of the first constituencies to elect a Labour Member of Parliament, although he was not a member of the Labour party, which had not been created, but of a home-grown organisation, the Battersea Labour League. In 1922, Battersea became the first constituency to elect an Asian Labour Member of Parliament, Shapurji Saklatvala. In more recent years, it has been represented by Douglas Jay, who was its Member of Parliament for 37 years and was followed by Lord Dubs, whom I am sure many Members would wish to congratulate on his recent appointment.
In the past two Parliaments, Battersea was represented by John Bowis, whom I knew long before he was a Member of Parliament, when we worked on opposite sides of Smith square and sometimes had a drink in the Marquess of Granby. Although we are from different parties, I am glad to say that there were never any personal differences between us and I am glad to pay my respects to him and to the work that he did for his constituents during his 10 years as their Member of Parliament.
Sadly, I cannot claim to have the same respect for some of Mr. Bowis's colleagues in Wandsworth borough council, who did their best to gerrymander Battersea into Conservative hands, as a few of them had the honesty to admit, by selling entire estates to private developers and, more insidiously, by selling vacant flats on the open market instead of renting them to people who they knew to be in acute housing need—unlawfully, as the district auditor has since found.
It is traditional to say a few words about the constituency that one represents. Battersea, and Balham and central Wandsworth, which are also in the constituency, have been changing rapidly. Traditionally, they made up a tight-knit community where one could often find three generations of the same family in neighbouring streets, but, as a result of Wandsworth's housing policies, many sons and daughters have been unable to find anywhere to rent in the area and have had to move out. Families have been dispersed and communities broken up by the policies of a party that called itself the party of the family. Strangely, although the council has been found to have been acting unlawfully and although the motive was obviously political, no action has been taken.
In the few minutes that remain, I shall talk about what the Conservatives have done, not only in Wandsworth, but nationally, which has been far worse. In that regard, I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to restore confidence in the integrity of the political system. Before the general election, the Prime Minister warned his predecessor that he risked leaving a stain on his reputation by his failure to act decisively on the cash for questions affair.
The money involved in cash for questions was only ever counted in thousands. What will stand to the discredit of the outgoing Government for far longer was their failure to stop the corruption of our political system through the growth of large secret donations to the Tory party, often from overseas. That is why we should all welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to regulate and reform the funding of political parties. The unpalatable truth is that the past two Tory election campaigns were financed to an alarming extent either by British business men who believed they were buying honours or by overseas business men who believed they were buying favours.
When the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, he said that no honours could have been sold because that would have been illegal under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925. Such blind faith is not apparently shared by Scotland Yard, which recently investigated the alleged case of cash for knighthoods involving the former Conservative candidate, Derek Laud.
Scotland Yard could also look at the case of Sir Graham Kirkham, who received his knighthood soon after making a donation of £4 million to the Conservative party. It could also investigate the entire honours system over the past 18 years; it will be found that more than 50 per cent. of the honours given for services to industry or to exports went to the 5 per cent. of firms that make donations to the Conservative party.
Indeed, if Scotland Yard could investigate undeclared private donations as well, I am sure that it would find an even closer correlation between donors and honours. The Conservative party could certainly assist by opening its books for inspection. That, I am sure, would reveal that the systematic sale of honours has always been a significant source of Conservative party funds. Indeed, the system might have continued indefinitely—
I am not trying to be controversial; I see that the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) has now come out in favour of a ban on overseas donations—so I am making a cross-party point, although the right hon. Gentleman's conversion is somewhat Pauline, given that his party fought two elections with tainted money. To make the point, I need only mention Asil Nadir, Octav Botnar, Nazmuddin Virani of BCCI, John Latsis, Mohammed Al-Fayed and Slobodan Milosevic—and I could go on.
The Conservative party has always maintained that the money is given with no strings attached and for purely idealistic motives. Common sense should tell Conservative Members that if they raise money from business men, especially overseas business men who have no hope of honours, there must be the expectation of a favour. All their troubles can be traced back to this basic failure to understand human nature: the Hamilton affair and the Aitken case both sprang from a single disillusioned donor. The best thing the Conservatives can do now is make a clean breast of it and open their books to public inspection.
There is a cancer in our political system: it is called undisclosed income. If Conservative Members want to help to clean up sleaze, I suggest that they take action quickly to ban overseas donations and to declare all donations over £5,000, as our party has done—before they are forced to do so by law. Every other European country has introduced at least these two restrictions in the past 20 years. It is to the eternal discredit of the outgoing Government that they held out so long against sanity.
I begin by congratulating the Government on their election victory and the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), on his appointment. The right hon. Gentleman and I have had many jousts across the Dispatch Box over the past three years. I wish him well in his office.
I also join in the right hon. Gentleman's tribute to Sir Michael Shersby. He was a true friend to me; like the Home Secretary, I benefited considerably from his experience and detailed knowledge of the police and our criminal justice system.
I congratulate all who have made their maiden speeches in the debate. I was able to hear only the last two of them, both of them good in their own way. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears); I thought her speech was a model of what a maiden speech should be. I am sure that we shall hear a great deal from her and from the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton)—and from all who made maiden speeches today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has made a number of allegations about my conduct as Home Secretary. The most serious was that I misled the House. Let me state categorically that I did not. I shall deal with each of her allegations in turn.
At the heart of our disagreement is the decision that I took to dismiss Derek Lewis as director general of the Prison Service. My right hon. Friend disagreed with it. She is entitled to her opinion, but I believe that she is wrong. In September 1994, six prisoners, five of them IRA terrorists, broke out of Whitemoor prison. Just four months later, after I had been given repeated assurances about improvements in security by the then director general, three dangerous prisoners escaped from Parkhurst.
The independent report into prison security, which I commissioned, severely criticised the management and leadership of the Prison Service. It concluded that "it is surprising that neither he"—
the director general—
nor his board recognised the signs and symptoms of failure and inefficiency that were so obvious and so dramatically illustrated by the escapes from Parkhurst and Whitemoor".
The report made no such criticism of me. As I told the House at the time, if it had, I would have resigned.
I believed then, as I believe now, that the conclusion of that report made Mr. Lewis's position untenable. My right hon. Friend has questioned the adequacy of that report. I reject that criticism. The report's author, General Sir John Learmont, is a distinguished and respected soldier, and former quartermaster general of the Army. One of his fellow assessors was an experienced prison governor and regional director of Her Majesty's Prison Service. They reached their conclusion after taking evidence from Derek Lewis, and after taking account of his response to their criticisms.
It is true that the picture of the Prison Service presented in that report was different from that presented to me by Mr. Lewis. It is true that I had to choose between them. I did. I believed then, and I believe now, that it was my public duty to take that decision. On that matter, I had to overrule my right hon. Friend. That is at the heart of her grievance and her disagreement.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am not at liberty to disclose the advice given to me by senior officials, and I shall respect that convention. If the permanent secretary wishes to respond to the hon. Gentleman's question, it is for him to do so. As the hon. Gentleman, with his long experience, knows full well, it is not for me to disclose to the House the advice that I received from the permanent secretary on that matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald made a series of other allegations. Many of them relate to a meeting that took place on 10 January 1995. The House should note that my right hon. Friend was not present at that meeting, as it took place some six months before she became a Minister at the Home Office.
Let me tell the House about the circumstances in which that meeting took place. It occurred on the day on which I had to make an important statement to the House about a series of failings in the Prison Service. On 1 January, Fred West hanged himself at Birmingham prison; on 2 January, there were riots at Everthorpe prison; and on 3 January, three dangerous prisoners escaped from Parkhurst.
Questions were rightly being asked about the future of John Marriott, then governor of Parkhurst. There had been serious shortcomings in the security arrangements at his prison. Indeed, the position at Parkhurst was later described by Derek Lewis as a shambles, yet I had been given specific assurances by Mr. Lewis about the security improvements which he said had been made there.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald spoke at length about the successes of the Prison Service under Mr. Lewis. There were also some spectacular failures. Little wonder that I wanted some answers.
When the former Home Secretary came before the Home Affairs Select Committee in January 1995 to answer questions from me about geophones at Parkhurst, he said that the money was there and available. I understand that he subsequently learned that the money was not there and was not available. Why did he not either write to me or inform the Home Affairs Select Committee that he had made a mistake? Why was it buried? Was it simply because he did not want to come clean?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I shall deal with that allegation in detail in a moment or two. The money that was due to be spent on geophones was indeed switched to another budget and then replaced, and the money intended to be spent on geophones was spent on geophones in the very year in which it had always been intended to spend it on geophones. That is the short answer to the inaccurate question put to me by the hon. Gentleman.
The decision taken so far as Mr. Marriott was concerned was to move him from his job as governor to other duties, pending the outcome of the disciplinary investigation, rather than to suspend him. As Mr. Lewis has explained on many occasions, that was entirely a decision taken by him and other members of the line management team. That was what he told the Home Affairs Committee of the House. I do not believe that he misled the House.
I was, of course, entitled to be consulted about that decision, and I was. I was entitled to express a view, and I did. I have never made any secret of the fact that the view that I expressed at the time was that the decision to move him was a fudge. That view was recorded in the minutes of the meeting, which I placed in the Library at the time of our debate in October 1995.
What I was not entitled to do was to tell Mr. Lewis that he should suspend Mr. Marriott, and I did not tell Mr. Lewis that he should suspend him. The decision was one for Mr. Lewis, and, indeed, he decided not to suspend the governor. At no time did I cross the line between what I was entitled to do and what I was not, and at no time did I threaten to overrule Mr. Lewis.
My right hon. Friend quoted an answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). This was the question:
Mr. Lewis says that he was given a deadline by the right hon. and learned Gentleman by which to agree to the removal of Mr. Marriott, after which he would be overruled. Is that true?
This was my reply:
There was no question of overruling the director general. He made the decisions that were made on that day."—[Official Report, 19 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 520.]
I stand by that reply. Indeed, a similar question was directed by the same hon. Gentleman to Mr. Lewis when he appeared before the Select Committee. Mr. Lewis was asked:
Did the Home Secretary tell you to make sure Mr. Marriott was off the premises by the afternoon?",
No he did not.
My right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) referred to geophones. The truth is simple. I was asked at the Home Affairs Committee whether money had been transferred out of the geophone budget. I replied:
No, not to my knowledge.
That was an accurate answer, to the best of my knowledge at the time.
Six months later, officials told me that money had been transferred out of the geophones budget, but that equivalent sums, as I have just described to the hon. Gentleman, had been transferred back into it, so the sum earmarked for geophones was spent on geophones in the year in which it was intended that the money should be spent. In the words of Mr. Lewis,
the decision was of no practical significance.
That was why I decided that it was not necessary to write to the Select Committee.
My right hon. Friend's final allegation is that a piece of Conservative Central Office briefing sent to hon. Members was in substance inaccurate. It is, of course, a deeply shocking allegation that Central Office briefing should ever be inaccurate. In fact, my right hon. Friend concedes that the briefing was technically accurate. That may make the more cynical Members think that it was one of the better documents provided to the House by party headquarters. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Dr. Mawhinney), the chairman of the party, will forgive me.
I have always acknowledged that Mr. Lewis was not allowed to serve the remaining term of his contract. That relates to the point made by my right hon. Friend in relation to what was said about the matter of compensation. However, the fact that he was not allowed to serve the remaining term of his contract does not mean that his dismissal was either unjust or unnecessary. I do not believe that it was either.
I have dealt with all my right hon. Friend's allegations. I do not believe that they have any substance. Every decision that I have taken in my career in government was taken because I thought that it was in the public interest.
Miss Widdecombe: I am most grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. As ever, his replies do not address the precise questions that I raised. I am interested in his response that there was no question of overruling the director general. In the transcripts that the Home Secretary has now made public, my right hon. and learned Friend said:
It will be seen publicly as a
I don't want to intervene formally.
My right hon. and learned Friend is now telling us that he always knew that he could not intervene. The fact is that he did contemplate intervening formally, and that is why he said so.
The fact is that I did not intervene, and that I did not cross the line between what I was and was not entitled to do. As the former director general has said on numerous occasions to the Home Affairs Select Committee and in many other interviews that he has given, the decision taken on that day was his decision.
I say this to my right hon. Friend: she is perfectly entitled to disagree with my judgment, but there is no basis for her attack on my integrity. I came to this House determined to uphold the highest standards of public life, but I was also determined to get things done. I believe that I have done both, not least in my time in the Home Office.
I have told the House and the hon. Gentleman that I was entitled to be consulted, and I was.
I was entitled to express an opinion, and I did. However, I was not entitled to tell the former director general what to do, and I did not. He did what he had always intended to do: he did not suspend the former director general; he decided to move him. It was his decision, as he has explained to the House and to the nation on numerous occasions.
I turn now to the main subject of this debate. When the Prime Minister was in opposition, he set me a challenge. At the beginning of my term of office as Home Secretary, he asked me to accept one criterion to measure the success of my policies: falling crime. Had the Prime Minister known what would happen over the next four years, I doubt whether he would have set me that challenge. In the next four years, recorded crime in England fell by 10 per cent.—that is more than half a million fewer crimes; the biggest fall in crime since records were first collected in 1857.
The police deserve much of the credit for that success. They have revolutionised the way in which they fight crime, targeting persistent and known offenders, using the latest technology, and taking the fight to the criminal. The Conservatives are proud of the part that we played in helping to make it happen. We challenged the liberal consensus that criminals should not be held responsible for their actions. We evened up the scales of justice by putting the needs of the victim before the interests of the criminal, and we put the protection of the public at the top of our agenda.
In all this, we received little help from the Labour party. It opposed our reforms to the right to silence, it opposed giving the Attorney-General the right of appeal against lenient sentences, and it opposed stiffer sentences for the most serious offences, such as taking a gun to a crime. All those reforms have now been accepted by the Government—they have been adopted as if they were their own.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we shall soon know whether Labour's change of heart is genuine or whether it is a cheap fake. We have yet to see the details of the Government's crime and disorder legislation, but I support the broad objectives set out by the right hon. Member for Blackburn this afternoon. We want juvenile criminals to be quickly and properly punished. We want irresponsible parents to be held to account for their children's behaviour. We want action to tackle drugs.
Unlike the Labour party, we always have wanted these things. We legislated for secure training centres for persistent juvenile offenders; Labour voted against them. We gave courts the powers to make parents attend court with their children; Labour voted against them. We proposed mandatory minimum sentences for persistent burglars and dealers in hard drugs; Labour voted to wreck those measures. They will not be in the Government's Bill. I pledge today that we shall do everything we can to reinstate them.
In January, the right hon. Member for Blackburn promised that he would repeal the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. He went so far as to boast that this would be a monument to his time as Home Secretary. He had previously denounced that Act as racist. Yet there is no mention of any such repealing legislation in the Gracious Speech. One assumes that the Home Secretary used the word "racist" deliberately. It is not, after all, language to be used lightly. What can we infer from his reluctance now to repeal that legislation? Is it simply an oversight? Is the legislation no longer racist, perhaps? Or is this just another example of the Home Secretary's moral indignation evaporating into hot air?
One of the few consolations of Opposition—there are not many—is watching Ministers eat their words. It has not taken them very long. Not long ago, the present Home Secretary used to wax indignant about privately managed prisons. Despite the fact that Her Majesty's chief inspector was unstinting in his praise, for example, of privately run Doncaster, the Home Secretary discounts such prisons as morally repugnant. Those are strong words, but are now apparently to become a staple part of the Home Secretary's diet. Last week, he announced that he would, after all, sign any contracts that were in the pipeline for privately run prisons.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's conversion. Those on the Benches behind him do not look too happy about it, but I welcome it, as I welcome his conversion on so many other things: the right to silence, DNA testing, extra stop and search powers for the police. In fact, in area after area, he has modelled his policies on mine.
It has been suggested that I have something of the night about my character. It is, of course, well known in folklore that creatures of the night have no reflection, so hon. Members will understand my relief as I look across the Dispatch Box and see my reflection smiling back at me.
The Gracious Speech contains a commitment to a firearms amendment Bill. I believe that the Government's decision to ban all pistols is wrong. We passed legislation to ban all handguns from the home and to outlaw high-calibre handguns altogether, but we believe that to go further represents an unacceptable and unnecessary infringement of law-abiding people's liberties. The proposed legislation will do nothing to reduce handgun-related crime. It will force our remaining pistol shooters to give up their sport, and will debar Britain from Olympic pistol shooting for the first time since 1896.
We will oppose that vindictive measure. It does, of course, completely contradict assurances given last year by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who was in his place until just a few minutes ago. He told one of his constituents that there had, unfortunately, been some misrepresentation of Labour's position on the ownership of handguns. He wrote:
We support a ban on the holding of handguns in residential property. People such as yourself will still be able to own handguns. but they must be kept safely under lock and key at properly run centres".
Since then, the policy has changed. To judge from the Government's early days, it is the right hon. Gentleman's outspoken colleagues—if there are any—who are now to be kept safely under lock and key at properly run centres. Incidentally, I can promise the hon. Member for Hartlepool that I have no intention of challenging him for the title of prince of darkness.
At the centre of the Government's legislative programme is a Bill to incorporate the European convention on human rights into British law. We support the convention, to which Britain was one of the first signatories. The convention helped anchor democracy across Europe, but we are not persuaded that incorporating the convention into British law is either necessary or desirable.
Incorporation would mean that judges might find themselves having to make what are essentially political decisions. In any event, human rights in Britain are not under threat, even after the election of a Labour Government, but the sovereignty of Parliament is under threat, and incorporation of the convention would be a further blow to that sovereignty. As the Lord Chancellor has on a previous occasion admitted:
Incorporation will involve a very significant transfer of power to the judges.
Indeed, the first few weeks of the Government's tenure have been characterised by the parcelling out of Parliament's powers to unelected bankers, unelected Brussels bureaucrats and now unelected judges. That diminishes the sovereignty of Parliament and the sovereignty of those who sent us to Parliament, and it is their power which is being whittled away.
Throughout the previous Parliament, we heard a great deal from the Labour party, and especially from the present Prime Minister and Home Secretary, about standards in public life. They never tired of telling us that it was vital that only the highest standards would suffice. They made it known that, if any allegation was made against a Labour Member, his feet would not touch the ground before he was removed. They were particularly dismissive of our contention that a man was innocent until proven guilty.
Yesterday, a Labour Member was accused of committing a criminal offence. What was the reaction of the Government Front Bench? First, there was a television interview with the Home Secretary at his most solemn and sanctimonious. Then the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) was invited to Downing street for a cosy chat. Now we read in this morning's Times that the Labour leadership issued a clear warning that it would consider the hon. Gentleman's suspension from the party if criminal charges are brought against him. "Consider"—goodness me, what decisive judgment.
The truth is that, while the Labour Government pretend to be able to govern the country, they cannot even govern the Labour party. It seems that they cannot even govern Govan.
Let us be clear about the challenge that faces this Parliament. We have a Government who have made many promises, and our task in opposition is to hold them to those promises. We shall support them when they act in the national interest, and we shall oppose them when they do not.
But let us never forget that this is a Government who won power by scaring pensioners into believing that their pensions would be taken from them. This is a Government who won power by terrifying the sick that their national health service would be dismantled. This is a Government who won power by suppressing every belief that brought their members into politics in the first place. That is why it is not only our duty to provide opposition but our privilege to do so. We shall provide opposition with vigour, resolve and relish.
What a contrast there was between the sad effort of the former Home Secretary to look like a leadership contender and many of the contributions made to this serious debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) on his opening speech, because he was gracious in defeat. I cannot imagine a more exciting challenge than my present role as deputy to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, nor a finer team to work with. I look forward to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border offering constructive amendments to our positive legislation and such help as I have given him in recent years.
Conservative Members should revisit the mantra that crime has fallen dramatically in recent years. Has the shadow shadow Home Secretary not noticed that violent crime increased by 11 per cent. last year alone? There may have been dramatic falls in some offences, such as bicycle theft, but it is patronising for the shadow shadow Home Secretary to tell the elderly that they do not need to worry about crime, because they know the reality behind the fear and the statistics of crime. Even if the risk of attack, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, is greater for a young man than it is for a pensioner, the risk is too high for both. That provides a political imperative for this Government. During the debate, my hon. Friends, old and new, and from every part of the country, underlined our priority to tackle crime.
There are so many hon. Members to congratulate. The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) told us of the beautiful conservation areas in his constituency. He implied that they contain endangered species: I thought that he was talking about animals, but perhaps he was referring to the rarity of a large Conservative majority. He offered a bizarre recipe for success when he encouraged hon. Members to concentrate on winning the support of convicted murderers as a way of tackling crime.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) gave a short and powerful speech dedicated to his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) also referred to his home area. He, like me, is a Labour and Co-operative Member of the House, and I welcome him to it. They were two of many speeches that looked beyond party loyalties to civic and local pride and a sense of community. That is the essence of what is best in the House of Commons, and the essence of the message that we must get across if we are to tackle the problems of crime and disorder.
I endorse the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) to Roland Boyes, who was a former Member. He was a fine representative of his constituency and a good friend to many hon. Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) paid tribute to John Bowis, who has left the House. He was rare among Conservative Members in that he took an interest in the plight of the Somalis before the hidden war in the north of Somalia became a matter for press and media comment. I also pay tribute to him. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea showed his ability to bite back when he was harassed by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) in a controversial intervention.
I join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary in paying tribute to Sir Michael Shersby, whose death shocked and saddened us all. With Sir Michael, I and a few others took the first steps to establishing an all-party group on the police. The role of the police is central not only to catching criminals, but to the larger objective of keeping the peace and creating a decent society. We need a balanced dialogue with the police. I recall that such an approach was encouraged by the late John Smith and by the then shadow Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, when we formed that group. Such dialogue led to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), serving as a consultant to the Police Federation. That role was previously played by my predecessor, Lord Callaghan. I am delighted to have my hon. Friend as a colleague in the Home Office now.
This is an example of the way in which new Labour has rediscovered the art of listening. We have listened not only to the federated ranks, but to chief constables and superintendents. I suggest to Opposition Members that they will have to rediscover the art of listening, for in the past few years they have not listened to the police, they have not listened to the public and they have not listened to the anger that there is out there about the way in which crime has impacted on communities. It is dialogue of that sort that has led us to our determination to build a partnership with the police and others to tackle crime.
I was pleased to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), who explained that he would have to leave before the winding-up speeches. He expressed a wish to work with the Government on matters of common interest, referring particularly to the need to tackle drugs and the scourge of drug-related crime. We shall welcome his and his party's input on issues such as drugs policy, and I assure him and all parties that we shall always be prepared to listen with respect to the contribution of other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of bullying in schools and the workplace—which needs to be tackled—and issues relating to the marches in Northern Ireland, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) did sterling work in Committee on legislation earlier this year. Now that Stirling is a Labour seat, we are allowed to say that. I agree with him about the importance of a ban on handguns. Like every Member of Parliament, he illustrated the importance of so many of our proposals. We all have a street here or a village there in which the atmosphere of the community has broken down into disorder. That is why the policies that we are adopting—the proposals for community safety orders; the proposals to nip things in the bud with young offenders—are so important.
We heard a maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond), one of eight new Kent Members. Over the years, he has been a distinguished voice, working for equality outside Parliament. He described graphically the concern of his constituents, especially the elderly, about youth crime and disorder. Indeed, I think that he showed the appropriate balance of care and determination to tackle those problems. He has a distinguished record on low pay and poverty, but he also recognises that crime hits the poor even more than the rich, and that the two are not alternatives: both are problems in society that need to be tackled.
The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe)—a number of Kent Members seem to have taken part in tonight's debate—referred to the return to the Home Office of responsibility for the voluntary sector. I thank him for his kind words. I found his speech entertaining, but slightly barmy. Let me make it clear that it is not for us to tell the voluntary sector what to do; our task is to nurture that sector and work with it. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, far from being inclined to be a dead hand, the Home Office welcomes back responsibilities for the voluntary sector with enthusiasm—an enthusiasm which is felt by those working in the Home Office, as well as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and me.
I must tell the hon. Gentleman—who is clearly developing a massive pessimism—that the reason for that is that the Home Office should not be the Department for doing nasty things to people. It should complement the work of fighting and preventing crime—and doing nasty things to those who need to have nasty things done to them—with the work of rebuilding our damaged communities, and encouraging citizenship through volunteering and voluntary action.
In his engaging way, the hon. Gentleman painted a picture of post-election Britain that I do not recognise. He seems to be suffering from some classic symptoms of depression, but I ask him to look at the faces of people in the streets since Labour won the election. What we see in their faces is a sense of relief and liberation. Far from being a dead hand of puritanism, Labour is a promise to a population who feel released by hope. People are already smiling more under a Labour Government.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. He spoke about hope; his party was supposedly elected on the basis of great hope. One of the Government's targets is to reduce the number of people who are incarcerated. If he has not reduced that number in a year, will he resign?
Our aim is to attack crime and its causes so that there are fewer offenders and fewer victims. That is the target. Locking people up when that is necessary is a punishment and protects the public. It is an instrument to give the community the security that people have lacked during 18 years of Conservative rule. I was speaking about the positive side of rebuilding the community, but it seems that the hon. Gentleman does not want to hear about that.
The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent said, pessimistically, that he could see no way in which we could bring unemployed people back into work. He seemed hopeless on that front, but success was being achieved in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s until the destructive force of the Thatcher era destroyed hope and opportunity for young people and, incidentally, made me angry enough to stand for Parliament. In a powerful, short speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) also emphasised the need to offer hope to young people.
The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), another Kent Member, this time a retread, seems to have learnt nothing during his enforced exile. How on earth can it be social authoritarianism at its worst—which I think were his words—to require parents to meet their responsibilities and help them to be good parents? Do not the Conservatives believe in that? He criticised the Conservative Government for the Children Act 1989 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. He said that they were too centralising and state interfering. He deplored the incorporation of the European convention on human rights despite the fact that, as has been said more than once, it was written by a man who became a distinguished Conservative Lord Chancellor. The absurdity of that was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) in his short but pungent intervention.
By contrast, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) said that, in effect, he was joining a family business. He told us about his colourful predecessors, Edwina Currie and George Brown. The Chief Whip wants me to inform him that there is no need to keep up that tradition. Wearing such a lurid tie and supporting Gresley Rovers is quite enough, thank you very much.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) made a thoughtful speech after we ran out of Conservative Members. It is interesting to note that Conservatives who have wandered in lately do not seem to have noticed that the Conservative Benches were virtually empty during large parts of the debate and the party ran out of people who wished to contribute.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears) demonstrated her roots in her community and constituency. Hon. Member after hon. Member, and especially my hon. Friends, spoke about the problems of crime and the need to tackle them. They highlighted why this issue is so high on the new Government's agenda.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made a powerful contribution to the debate. I do not intend to go into the detail of the dispute between members of the previous Government, but the right hon. Lady acknowledged that there is a need for the relationship between Ministers to be sorted out. We take note of what she says, but I can tell the House that a significant step has already been taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has decided that Ministers will take responsibility for answering questions on the Prison Service instead of effectively using officials as scapegoats. I have frequently disagreed with the right hon. Lady on all sorts of issues, but no one could doubt the strength of her conviction or the seriousness of her criticism in today's debate. She criticised the waste involved in the £250,000 cost of sacking Derek Lewis. I reflect merely that local authority councillors would have been surcharged for such behaviour, but the former Home Secretary escaped penalty, at least until today.
Will my hon. Friend invite the former Home Secretary to explain how he justifies spending large sums of public money on a person whom he deemed to be either lacking in competence or bad in performance, when other people—people we represent—get nothing when they are dismissed for lack of competence or poor performance? But there is hush money to silence someone whom the former Home Secretary dismissed.
The former Home Secretary gave us no explanation of the inconsistency between the sacking and having to admit that it was wrongful dismissal, but I believe that there are many other issues for which he will still be called to account. Although we have heard his defence tonight—an opportunity that was denied Derek Lewis, as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald made clear—the former Home Secretary did not convince the House and he will not escape the consequences of his behaviour in office.
The shadow Home Secretary made a robust defence of a position that many people may have regarded as untenable. It is for others to judge whether he succeeded. For Members of Parliament, this unseemly spat between two former Ministers distracts attention from their failure to tackle crime and its causes, from the previous Government's activities while in power and from this Government's positive and constructive programme, which is in contrast to those activities.
We have heard the shadow Home Secretary deny responsibility for so many disasters in his time as Home Secretary that the tone of today's speech comes as no surprise. He defended even Conservative central office briefings, which is a sign of desperation. He has the cheek to stand on his record. It is undeniable that he is in denial as he refights the battles he lost during the last election and during the couple of years before, just as he is in denial as he refights the battles over the sacking of Derek Lewis.
The shadow Home Secretary says that we have adopted his measures on issues such as gun control. He had the cheek to claim that he was in the lead on issues to tackle crime. Has he forgotten that he introduced the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 with no element to deal with violence in any way? It contained nothing to do with drugs, drug-related crime or weapons until Labour moved amendments. Who was the Home Secretary who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support legislation to deal with combat knives, stalkers, people who abuse children, and people who travel abroad to abuse children?
We will take no lessons from the former Home Secretary. Over recent years, it is we who have set the agenda on law and order and he who has had to follow us. It is on his failure to tackle crime that I criticise him. He seems to believe himself to be some sort of teflon-coated reincarnation of Houdini. It is his failure on crime for which he will be remembered.
The shadow Home Secretary criticised the announcements in the Queen's Speech on the banning of all handguns, but banning all handguns will set a clear line in law on those weapons, which are portable, easy to conceal and lethal to use. That is why there is such widespread public support for the Labour party's position on the issue. I believe that our proposals will succeed on a free vote.
The shadow Home Secretary was very keen on quoting Mr. Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, when it favoured something that he said, but what did Mr. Fred Broughton say about our proposal on handguns?
The proposal to ban the private possession of handguns is a victory for common sense. No system can guarantee to exclude every potential mass killer, but we owe it to the victims of
Hungerford and Dunblane to take the strongest possible action to prevent a repetition of past tragedies. We believe the public will strongly support this decisive action.
The Government believe that taking such action is right. We believe that it will be decisive, that it will have public support and that it will be supported by the House.
Will the Minister tell the House why he is so determined to pursue innocent people—who are participating in a sport that is endorsed by the Olympic Foundation—whereas he was so insistent on watering down the former Government's tough measures to deal with repeat burglars and repeat drug dealers?
The hon. Gentleman obviously has not listened. He was also inaccurate in his description of Labour's record. The simple fact is that the public, the police and the Government believe that—so far as it is possible to do so in legislation—drawing a clear line, which involves banning all handguns, is the safest way in which to deal with the issue.
Will the hon. Gentleman recall, please, that the need to tackle those issues arose because of the death of 16 children by a man using handguns that were possessed legally? The Opposition will have to answer whether they really want to resist our proposals and obstruct legislation that the police, the public and the Government believe is necessary.
I have answered the question. It is for Opposition Members and their consciences to determine how they should reply.
The shadow Home Secretary said that he supports the European convention on human rights. Why is he therefore afraid to allow British courts to apply its provisions in British courts? Why is he afraid to repatriate the convention's provisions, as we propose to do? We propose to trust British courts, instead of saying that Britons must go abroad to benefit from the provisions offered under the convention.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald went beyond an attack on the former Home Secretary to make a devastating critique of lowered standards in public life. In some of her remarks, she called on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to end sleaze and to restore confidence in the House and in standards in public life. I assure her that neither my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nor my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be found wanting on that matter when action is required.
The simple answer to the question asked by the shadow Home Secretary is that the Government's reaction to allegations about a Labour Member was simple and straightforward—to ask the police to investigate the allegations.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that he wished that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald had been in the Chamber during his speech, so that he could ask her whether she had expressed to the then Prime Minister her deep and serious concerns. That question hangs in the air.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed also showed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the respect of saying that my right hon. Friend believes what he says and that he is serious about being tough on crime. The right hon. Gentleman need not worry, because my right hon. Friend will be tough on crime, and he will be equally tough on the causes of crime. Above all, however, he will be effective. The issue will be one of what works, and the purpose will be to allow the public to be safe in their houses and on the streets. The previous Home Secretary consistently made similar statements, but my right hon. Friend means them, and he will deliver on them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) was absolutely right to highlight the terror inspired by crime in local communities. During the general election campaign, there was dissonance between the debates in the media and the comments that we heard on the doorsteps. I am sure that all my hon. Friends agree that, when we spoke to people—whether they were in Exeter, Cambridge, Birmingham, Cardiff, Colwyn Bay or the London boroughs—they were not reassured by the frenetic posturing of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Their experience was different. Crime used to be something that happened to other people; now it happens to them, their families and their friends.
"Prison works" was the mantra repeated by the former Home Secretary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East said. Prison should work; it should hold securely the people sentenced by the courts, provide a regime that is firm but fair and return offenders to the community less likely to re-offend and more likely to be responsible citizens. The last Government failed to make prison work. Prison must be more effective. Being caught and punished must be more certain. However, prison cannot work on its own.
The increase in offending under the Conservatives was matched by a drop in the number of people being caught and punished. Let us examine the statistics: only one offence in 56 now ends in punishment by a court, and only one crime in 750 ends with a custodial sentence. Prisons cannot solve crime on their own any more than the police can fight crime on their own. That is why effective action is needed for young offenders so that crime is nipped in the bud and why a range of measures to tackle violence and intimidation is so important. It is also vital to have effective partnerships between the priests and local authorities. Together—[Laughter.] Well, it would be a good thing if priests worked with them, too. The police and local authorities must work with the local community, including residents, the business community and the voluntary sector to tackle crime and its causes. Indeed, young people have a great deal to offer.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border shared with me the privilege of judging the Prudential youth action awards. I am sure that he agrees that when judging those awards, it became clear that if young people are regarded as the hope of the future and as being able to contribute, they can help to tackle crime and its causes.
This is a matter for the whole of the Government, just as it is a matter for the police and local authorities. It is a matter for the whole of society because the devil makes work for idle hands. In this context, we should be aware of the relevance of opportunities for young people aged 18 to 25 and, indeed, the relevance of nursery education to our long-term efforts to tackle crime and its causes.
Let us consider the false prospectus and the flurry of absurdities in the Opposition's amendment. First, the amendment begins with the words "But humbly regret"—the shadow Home Secretary has a great deal to be humble about, but anything less humble than the shadow Home Secretary is hard to imagine. Secondly, it tries to cast doubt on our commitment to giving second-time serious violent and sexual offenders automatic life sentences. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that we will do that later this year.
I remind the Opposition that it was my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who first identified the scandal of sentencing that is inconsistent and fails to be progressive. We shall tackle these issues as the previous Government did not.
The third absurdity is that the amendment calls for
the reinstatement of the original provisions of that Bill"—
the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997—
to give third time burglars and dealers in hard drugs mandatory minimum sentences of three and seven years respectively—save in exceptional circumstances".
That is what the Act says now. The former Home Secretary began by brooking no exceptions and then did a U-turn, but refused repeatedly to explain his exceptions. It was most frustrating trying to draw blood from a stone. We defined the exceptions as relating to the offence or the offender or likely to be unjust. In voting for the amendment, the Opposition will be voting to be unjust. That is the ludicrous situation in which they find themselves.
Fourthly, the amendment congratulates the previous Government
on its achievements on tackling crime and protecting the public",
but that Government failed to tackle crime and protect the public. It ends with the ringing slogan that we should carefully examine the rights in the European convention.
The Government will offer the community hope and opportunity, punishment for those who offend, safer and healthier communities, a balance between rights and responsibilities and the chance of safety in the community for those who wish to live their lives safely. We shall be tough on crime and on the causes of crime and we shall build healthier communities because Britain deserves better.
|Division No.1||9.59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)|
|Amess, David||Baldry, Tony|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Bercow, John|
|Arbuthnot, James||Beresford, Sir Paul|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Blunt, Crispin|
|Body, Sir Richard||Leigh, Edward|
|Boswell, Tim||Letwin, Oliver|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Lidington, David|
|Brady, Graham||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Brazier, Julian||Loughton, Tim|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Luff, Peter|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Bums, Simon||McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|Butterfill, John||MacKay, Andrew|
|Cash, William||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Madel, Sir David|
|Major, Rt Hon John|
|Chope, Christopher||Malins, Humfrey|
|Clappison, James||Maples, John|
|Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)||Mates, Michael|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Maude, Rt Hon Francis|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian|
|May, Mrs Theresa|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Merchant, Piers|
|Collins, Tim||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Colvin, Michael||Norman, Archie|
|Conmack, Sir Patrick||Ottaway, Richard|
|Cran, James||Page, Richard|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Paice, James|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Paterson, Owen|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)||Pickles, Eric|
|Day, Stephen||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Robathan, Andrew|
|Duncan, Alan||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Duncan Smith, lain||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Evans, Nigel||Ruffley, David|
|Faber, David||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Fabricant, Michael||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Fallon, Michael||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Flight, Howard||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Forth, Eric||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Soames, Nicholas|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Fraser, Christopher||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Gale, Roger||Spring, Richard|
|Gamier, Edward||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Gibb, Nick||Steen, Anthony|
|Gill, Christopher||Streeter, Gary|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Swayne, Desmond|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair||Syms, Robert|
|Gray, James||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Green, Damian||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Greenway, John||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Grieve, Dominic||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald||Townend, John|
|Hammond, Philip||Tredinnick, David|
|Hawkins, Nick||Trend, Michael|
|Heald, Oliver||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward (Old Bexley & Sidcup)||Viggers, Peter|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Waterson, Nigel|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Horam, John||Whittingdale, John|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Wilkinson, John|
|Hunter, Andrew||Willetts, David|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Wilshire, David|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Jenkin, Bernard (N Essex)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Yeo, Tim|
|Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Mr. Bowen Wells and|
|Lansley, Andrew||Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)|
|Ainger, Nick||Clarke, Tom (Coatbddge)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Allen, Graham (Nottingham N)||Clelland, David|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Coaker, Vernon|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Ashton, Joseph||Cohen, Harry|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Coleman, lain|
|Atkins, Ms Charlotte||Colman, Anthony|
|Austin, John Baker, Norman||Connarty, Michael|
|Ballard, Mrs Jackie||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Banks, Tony||Cooper, Ms Yvette|
|Barnes, Harry||Corbett, Robin|
|Barron, Kevin||Corston, Ms Jean|
|Battle, John||Cotter, Brian|
|Bayley, Hugh||Cousins, Jim|
|Beard, Nigel||Cox, Tom|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Cranston, Ross|
|Begg, Ms Anne (Aberd'n S)||Crausby, David|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Cryer, John (Homchurch)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Cummings, John|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Benton, Joe||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John(Copeland)|
|Betts, Clive||Dafis, Cynog|
|Blackman, Ms Elizabeth||Dalyell, Tam|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Darvill, Keith|
|Blizzard, Robert||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Boateng, Paul||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Borrow, David||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Dawson, Hilton|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Dean, Ms Janet|
|Breed, Colin||Denham, John|
|Brinton, Ms Helen||Dismore, Andrew|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nicholas (Newcastle E & Wallsend)||Dobbin, Jim|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)|
|Browne, Desmond (Kilmarnock)||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Burden, Richard||Doran, Frank|
|Burgon, Cohn||Drew, David|
|Burnett, John||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Butler, Christine||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Byers, Stephen||Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey)|
|Cable, Dr Vincent||Eagle, Ms Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Cabom, Richard||Edwards, Huw|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Efford, Clive|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Ellman, Ms Louise|
|Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)||Ennis, Jeff|
|Campbell-Savours, D N||Etherington, Bill|
|Canavan, Dennis||Ewing, Mrs Margaret|
|Cann, Jamie||Fatchett, Derek|
|Caplin, Ivor||Fearn, Ronnie|
|Casale, Roger||Field, Frank|
|Caton, Martin||Fisher, Mark|
|Cawsey, Ian||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Fitzsimons, Ms Loma|
|Chaytor, David||Flint, Ms Caroline|
|Chidgey, David||Flynn, Paul|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Follett, Ms Barbara|
|Church, Ms Judith||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Clapham, Michael||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Foster, Michael John (Worcester)|
|Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)||Foulkes, George Fyfe, Maria|
|Galloway, George Gapes, Mike|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Gardiner, Barry|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||George, Andrew (St Ives)|
|Gerrard, Neil||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||King, Andy (Rugby)|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||King, Miss Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A||Kingham, Tessa|
|Godsiff, Roger||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Goggins, Paul||Kumar, Dr Ashok|
|Golding, Mrs Lfin||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Gorrie, Donald||Laxton, Bob|
|Grant, Bernie||Lepper, David|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Leslie, Christopher|
|Griffiths, Win (Bndgend)||Levitt, Tom|
|Grocott, Bruce||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Grogan, John||Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Hain, Peter||Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Linton, Martin|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Hancock, Mike||Livsey, Richard|
|Hanson, David||Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||Lock, David|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Love, Andy|
|Harvey, Nick||McAllion, John|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Healey, John||McCabe, Stephen|
|Heath, David (Somerton)||McCafferty, Ms Christine|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||McDonagh, Ms Siobhain|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Macdonald, Calum|
|Heppell, John||McDonnell, John|
|Hesford, Stephen||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Mclsaac, Ms Shona|
|Hill, Keith||McKenna, Ms Rosemary|
|Hinchliffe, David||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Hodge, Ms Margaret||Maclennan, Robert|
|Home Robertson, John||McMaster, Gordon|
|Hood, Jimmy||McNamara, Kevin|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||McNulty, Tony|
|Hope, Philip||MacShane, Denis|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Howarth, Alan (Newport E)||McWalter, Tony|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||McWilliam, John|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Mandelson, Peter|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)||Mallaber, Ms Judy|
|Marek, Dr John|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Hurst, Alan||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Hutton, John||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Iddon, Brian||Martlew, Eric|
|Illsley, Eric||Maxton, John|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd)||Meacher, Michael|
|Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)||Meale, Alan|
|Jamieson, David||Merron, Ms Gillian|
|Jenkins, Brian (Tamworth)||Michael, Alun|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||Milbum, Alan|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Mitchell, Austin|
|Jones, Ms Fiona (Newark)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)||Moore, Michael|
|Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)|
|Jones, Marlyn (Clwyd S)||Morley, Elliot|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Monis, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Mounfford, Ms Kali|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham)||Mudie, George|
|Keen, Mrs Ann (Brentford)||Mullin, Chris|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth||Murphy, Dennis (Wansbeck)|
|Kemp, Fraser||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Khabra, Piara S||Norris, Dan|
|Kidney, David||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Spellar, John|
|O'Hara, Edward||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Olner, Bill||Steinberg, Gerry|
|O'Neill, Martin||Stevenson, George|
|Opik, Lembit||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Organ, Mrs Diana||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Osborne, Mrs Sandra||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Palmer, Nick||Stott, Roger|
|Pearson, Ian||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Pendry, Tom||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Perham, Ms Linda||Stringer, Graham|
|Pickthall, Colin||Stuart, Mrs Gisela (Edgbaston)|
|Pike, Peter L||Stunell, Andrew|
|Plaskitt, James||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|Pollard, Kerry||Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Pope, Greg||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Pound, Stephen||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strangford)|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro & St Austell)|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Timms, Stephen|
|Purchase, Ken||Tipping, Paddy|
|Quin, Ms Joyce (Gateshead E)||Todd, Mark|
|Quinn, Lawrie (Scarborough)||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Radice, Giles||Touhig, Don|
|Rammell, Bill||Trickett, Jon|
|Rapson, Syd||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)||Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Rendel, David||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Tyler, Paul|
|Rogers, Allan||Vaz, Keith|
|Rooker, Jeff||Vis, Rudolf|
|Rooney, Terry||Wallace, James|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Rowlands, Ted||Wareing, Robert N|
|Roy, Frank||Watts, David|
|Ruane, Chris||Webb, Steven|
|Ruddock, Ms Joan||Welsh, Andrew|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||White, Brian|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Whitehead, Alan|
|Salmond, Alex||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Salter, Martin||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Sawford, Philip||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Willis, Phil|
|Shaw, Jonathan||Wills, Michael|
|Sheerman, Barry||Wilson, Brian|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Winnick, David|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)||Wise, Audrey|
|Singh, Marsha||Wood, Mike|
|Skinner, Dennis||Woolas, Phil|
|Smith, Ms Angela (Basildon)||Wray, James|
|Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Smith, Ms Jacqui (Redditch)||Wright, Tony (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Wyatt, Derek|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Snape, Peter||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Soley, Clive||Mr. John McFall and|
|Southworth, Ms Helen||Mr. Jim Dowd.|