I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add:
"But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech makes no mention of the decline in police numbers since 1997; note the continuing failure of many of the Government's measures to combat youth crime and that the Government remains committed to the early release from jail of thousands of criminals; deplore the Government's further attempt to restrict the right to trial by jury and its failure to put forward any measures to strengthen the rights of victims of crime, or to make prisons more purposeful, or sentencing more transparent, or to clear up the chaos in the asylum system; and further regret the absence of measures to halt the decline of inner cities and the failure to create a coherent programme of actions since 1997 to address the conditions that give rise to the growth of crime in deprived urban areas, notably poorly-maintained housing, rising homelessness, increasing numbers of empty houses and failing inner city schools, which have combined with the Government's commitment to building on green fields to perpetuate migration from inner cities.
Last year, in the debate on the Address, I catalogued a series of failures by the Home Secretary and the Government and suggested that the contents of the then Queen's Speech would do little to rectify those failures. This year, I am obliged to observe an even worse catalogue of failures and the fact that this year's Gracious Speech will do very little to address the problems that most people encounter in their everyday lives as a result of the Government's abysmal failure to tackle crime and the causes of crime.
In the past year, despite promises of an extra 5,000 police officers, and then another 4,000, police numbers have continued to plummet; crime has risen by 190,000 offences, and the Home Secretary's legislation, which failed to work last year, has still failed to work 12 months later. To this day, not a single child curfew order has been issued, and all that the right hon. Gentleman can say in response to that lamentable failure is that it is the fault of the
conservatism of the social services departments.
So we now know that it is not his fault at all.
A year ago, when the Home Secretary was attacked for his misleading party conference speech, he blamed his officials. The same officials seem to have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong under his stewardship of the Home Office—that is a lot of blame. They were blamed for forgetting to renew the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts; blamed for wrongly briefing the right hon. Gentleman when he gave a press conference on asylum; blamed for causing him to give the Welsh Assembly powers over Welsh criminals; and blamed for causing him to publish the names and addresses in the Macpherson report. Can that be the same man who once said that
we take full responsibility as Ministers
and claimed that he would not hide
behind officials' skirts…?—[Official Report, 24 May 1999; Vol. , c. 33.]
If it is not officials, it is social workers. In reality, the buck stops with the Government, and the catalogue of failure on crime and disorder since 1997 shows that the buck stops with the Home Secretary.
The succession of Downing street leaks during the summer showed that the Prime Minister is rattled. Who can forget his request for eye-catching initiatives, particularly on law and order, to try to portray the Government as a success? Only a Government so out of touch, so totally unaware of the problems of real people, would think that a few eye-catching initiatives would be enough to hide their total failure on law and order. What did that request produce? What was the eye-catching announcement? Why, it was the appointment of Lord Birt as the Government's new crony crime tsar.
I recently asked the Home Secretary how many times he had met Lord Birt since his appointment. The answer was interesting. The right hon. Gentleman replied that he had met Lord Birt once, on 25 May. That is interesting because Lord Birt was not appointed until 10 July. The right hon. Gentleman has appointed a crime tsar to whom he has not spoken once since appointment. That is another ludicrous example of the Government's summer of spin.
What has the Home Secretary come up with after three and a half years in government? What eye-catching policies are to be introduced by the right hon. Gentleman over the next few months? He seems to have decided to use his final Queen's Speech in office to attempt to put right the failure of his first Queen's Speech. [Interruption.] That failure is indeed terrible.
First, there is to be a rehashed version of the Home Secretary's discredited curfew plan for young people. After nearly four years in government, he is still trying to make his first year's legislation work properly. Those are the proposals that the Prime Minister described, in the face of all opposition, as "eminently sensible". They are evidently not, because, after two years, not a single child care order has been issued. That might have been less catastrophic if the Home Secretary had accepted our original advice and set the age limit at 16, which—belatedly, and with no apology for past error—he is at last going to do.
Secondly, another Bill has been introduced to restrict the right to trial by jury. After three and a half years in government, the Home Secretary is still trying to get this unnecessary and thoroughly rejected legislation through Parliament. What better example could there be of this Government's arrogance? The Bill has twice been rejected in Parliament by what is, according to the Government's own claims, the more democratic House of Lords, yet the Government are still trying to push it through. The Home Secretary has been opposed by the Criminal Bar Association, the Society of Labour Lawyers, the Legal Action Group, civil rights groups, the Institute of Race Relations, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.
The proposals are opposed by everyone, it seems, except the Home Secretary and his colleagues. However, the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister have not always been so enthusiastic about the measure. This is the proposal of which the Prime Minister said:
It is totally unsatisfactory to leave this to magistrates to decide. Fundamental rights to justice cannot be driven by administrative convenience. If we are to speed up and improve court efficiency, there are better ways to do it.
This is the proposal of which the Attorney-General, Lord Williams, said:
This would be madness … I hope that Parliament will refuse to countenance legislation of this kind.
Furthermore, let us not forget that this was the proposal of which the Home Secretary himself said:
Surely, cutting down the right to jury trial, making the system less fair, is not only wrong but short-sighted, and likely to prove ineffective.—[Official Report, 27 February 1997; Vol. 291, c. 433.]
He said that only a few months before he introduced the measure in the House.
In case that is not clear enough, I shall quote from the Home Secretary's response to the proposals in the document, "The Review of Delay in the Criminal Justice System", published in 1997. He said:
We are opposed to a removal of the right of a jury trial. We do so because it is a fundamental right where people's honesty is at stake.
There we have it, as clear as day: the Home Secretary was opposed to that proposal. What made him change his mind in just a few weeks? Was it the fact that the proposal would reduce unnecessary delays in the justice system? No, it was not. It could not have been that, because, as the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), admitted, the Conservative policy of plea before venue had already done that. The answer is that the main effect of the Bill will be that more than 5,000 criminals will serve shorter prison sentences. That is the sole advantage of the Bill, from the Home Secretary's point of view. The Bill is wrong: it attacks fundamental liberties, and it should not proceed. We shall steadfastly oppose it.
What else does the Gracious Speech offer us? At first, we were quite hopeful that there would be a Bill to recover the assets of drug dealers and other criminals, but on closer examination that turned out to be only a draft Bill. I asked myself why. If I ask myself, I get a more sensible reply than if I ask the Home Secretary. Could he be having trouble making it comply with his human rights legislation?
It is fascinating to hear that when the right hon. Lady wants a sensible reply, she asks herself. Who did she ask when she introduced, at the recent Tory conference, her policy to deal with minor drug offences? Was it just herself, or was anyone else involved?
It involved a very large number of people who are concerned to eliminate the scourge of drugs from society. Is there a single measure in the Queen's Speech to attack the scourge of supply and demand of drugs? No, there is not. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about sensible measures to tackle that problem, he need not look to the Labour party, because it simply does not have the answers.
No, I want to make some progress.
I was asking whether the Home Secretary was introducing a draft Bill because he was having trouble making it comply with his human rights legislation. The Home Office briefing note on the Bill says:
care is being taken to ensure that the Bill would be European Convention on Human Rights compliant.
I am not an expert on spin, but that seems to be saying that the Home Office has no idea how to make the Bill compatible with other policies. This Administration continually lecture us on joined-up government, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot even join up his Department.
Just a few months ago, the Bill was supposed to be important. Let us look back a bit. A Minister said in May:
we need to confiscate unlawful assets that have built up. This should be the norm, not the exception … we will make sure the structures are put in place as soon as possible.
Who said that? Well, it was the Minister for the Cabinet Office. Another Minister said in June:
we aim to legislate as soon as Parliamentary time allows to give the police and customs the powers they need to track and then confiscate the assets of drug dealers.
Who said that? Perhaps if I continue, I will jog his memory. He went on to say:
To the communities who are fighting back we say we are on your side. To those causing misery—the dealers, the traffickers, the money launderers, we are on your case.
By now, we must all recognise the empty rhetoric. It was, of course, the Home Secretary promising to legislate as soon as parliamentary time allowed. What is wrong with now? I thought that he believed in speeding along.
If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is dilatory in his alleged failure to legislate, what was wrong with introducing such measures during 18 years of Conservative Government, when there was a complete failure to address the issues and to protect the communities that suffer from those serious organised criminals?
The hon. Lady cannot have been following the debate too closely. We introduced legislation on the confiscation of drug dealers' assets when we were in government. It is not an invention of the right hon. Gentleman. He has merely failed to follow it up, despite endless promises to do so. He stands convicted of failing to deliver on his promises. It is all spin and no delivery.
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that legislation on the proceeds of crime which was introduced in the previous Parliament was, in fact, a private Member's Bill, and was wholeheartedly supported by Labour? It was not introduced in Government time.
The hon. Lady cannot rewrite history. If she is looking for which Government promoted that piece of legislation, she will find that it was the previous Conservative Government.
Before that entirely futile interruption, I was asking why the Home Secretary was, to use the word of the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), dilatory. I did not say anything so harsh; I asked why he was dithering. If he is so attracted to early release, why does he not release some of his legislation early? He has found time for a totally unnecessary Bill on trial by jury, to which he has not previously committed himself, but not for a Bill to confiscate criminal assets, to which he has committed himself time and again.
What has the right hon. Gentleman to offer? There is no Bill to end the crisis in policing—just further burdens on the patrolling officer. There is no Bill to tackle last year's rise in sexual offences; no Bill to enhance the rights of victims in the justice system; no measure to make prisons more purposeful; no Bill to make sentences more transparent. Does that not show that his priorities lie not in effective action, but in headline-grabbing announcements in an attempt to salvage his long-gone reputation for being tough on crime?
The public will not be fooled by the announcements. They have seen and suffered from the decline in police numbers.
I want to tackle the right hon. Gentleman first. When I said that people had suffered from the decline in police numbers, he shook his head. Does he dispute that? If he does, I shall give way to listen to him. He does not dispute it; he denies that people have suffered from the decline in police numbers.
The right hon. Lady has made much of headline-grabbing announcements and eye-catching measures. Would she regard automatic fines for first-offence cannabis users as an eye-catching measure and a headline-grabbing announcement?
I regard the fight against drugs as a top priority, and I am sorry that the Government do not share that ambition.
The public lived through the massive rise in crime last year. They do not understand—it is as simple as that—the Home Secretary's decision to release nearly 27,000 prisoners from jail early to offend again.
My right hon. Friend was with me when I talked to the chief constable of Dorset. Is it not a plain fact that it does not matter how much legislation this place passes if the police do not have enough people on the ground or enough resources? They have no overtime budget, so they cannot take special measures. Crime is going up while police resources are being kept unacceptably low.
My hon. Friend speaks correctly for his constituents and for those of many other hon. Members, including those of Labour Members who are unwilling to admit the facts and who cheer in derision when we claim that people have suffered from more crime. If those hon. Members think that the real world does not consist of rising crime, they do not live in it.
I shall make a little progress; I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would want me to do so.
The public want action to tackle the rise in crime through effective sentencing and through an increase in police officers. They want action to ensure that prisoners serve the sentences given to them by the court. We are committed to such action. The Prime Minister describes that as "nonsense". Nothing better encapsulates how completely out of touch this Government are.
The Prime Minister once said:
the people's priorities are our priorities.
However, he is now saying that the people's priorities are "nonsense".
As the right hon. Lady has got on to the issue of resources, will she clear up a certain amount of confusion between her and the shadow Chancellor, who has gone out of his way to say that there would be protection for resources allocated to health and education? Regarding the Home Office, he has said that money allocated to asylum and immigration would have to be additional and that savings would therefore be made elsewhere in the Home Office. Those savings could come only from the probation service, the Prison Service or the police. Which service would they come from?
The right hon. Gentleman can do better than that if he puts his mind to it. It is only three years since we funded 3,000 more police officers than the right hon. Gentleman is funding at the moment. If it was possible to do that then, it is possible to do it in the future. We had a record prison building programme, which we could afford. If it was possible to do that then, it is possible to do it in future. We made probation more effective than ever before. If it was possible to do that then, it is possible to do it in future. The real difference between the right hon. Gentleman and myself is willpower. He does not have the will, but we have the will to tackle crime.
I hope that the right hon. Lady feels better after that. I have a simple question for her: would she increase police spending above the level that we promised?
As we are going to increase the size of the police force, I should have thought that it stood to reason that we shall have to pay more. However, as we were paying that only three years ago, it is not an insurmountable mountain. The Government regard the matter as an insurmountable mountain and have completely failed to tackle it.
I look forward to the people repaying the Prime Minister's compliment in describing their priorities as nonsense when, with effrontery, he asks them for another go at government. I am confident that four years of utter failure will be repaid in full when that time comes.
I am sure that we all remember the Government's commitment to licensing reform. Last June, a front-page story in The Times was headed "Pubs to open around the clock next year". The Times assured us:
As early as summer next year, Britons will be able to enjoy the same liberal drinking laws as the rest of Europe, where people spill out of restaurants, cinemas and theatres to drink in cafés and bars until the early hours of the morning.
That idyll was spun to The Times, but it appears to have been wrong. Clearly, the Home Secretary has changed his mind since June.
Were the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph wrong when they reported that the Government wanted to increase the sentence for dangerous driving after the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said:
there is a strong case for making causing death by dangerous driving the motoring equivalent of manslaughter, which has a life sentence. Parliament and the public are entitled to expect the courts to impose long and heavy sentences in serious cases.
Was the Minister just making that up as he went along, or are the Government committed to it? If they are, where is the legislation? Or has the Home Secretary completely ignored the wishes of his colleague in the Home Office?
Mr. Lembit Ã–pik:
Is the right hon. Lady aware that, as a result of inaction on the licensing laws, this new year's eve, which is the official beginning of the millennium, we shall go back to the usual free for all, rather than have the successful implementation of extended licensing laws that we saw last year? That has been a disappointment to many licensees.
I am sure that that has been a disappointment to many members of the public as well as to licensees. The hon. Gentleman chose his words carefully when he talked about the Government's inaction.
There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to protect the honest law-abiding person from the criminal. There is nothing to protect the person—
I shall finish this passage.
There is nothing to protect the person who seeks to protect his own home and property. As usual, the Government's focus is on the criminal—on releasing the criminal early and ensuring that the criminal is free to commit more crime. They have done nothing to protect the decent and law-abiding householder.
May I finish this passage? Then I will give way.
It is my view that when a man enters another's property with unlawful intent, he has forfeited his right to equal consideration. People must be able to defend their persons and property or go to another's aid without fear of penalty at law. We will ensure that making that a reality is a priority.
I now give way to my right hon. and learned Friend.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Is not her point exactly made by the reintroduction of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, which takes away the right of the ordinary citizen with a clean record to go for trial by jury, but causes a repeat thief who has been convicted time and again and is currently getting an average of just under 11 months from the Crown court to get no more than 3.6 months from the magistrates?
My right hon. and learned Friend is right. Running through the Government's approach to the justice system is a theme of less justice for the victim and more softness for the criminal.
I shall finish this passage.
The message that the Government have been sending is, "Don't worry—there are fewer people about to catch you, and if they do catch you, it's okay, you will never have got out so quickly." From the victims' point of view, never will criminals have been released so quickly to terrorise them still further.
For four years the Government have ignored the plight of the victim. They have released almost 2,500 burglars from jail early and allowed almost 50 more burglaries to be committed by criminals who, but for the intervention of the Home Secretary, would still have been in jail. That cannot be said to be the action of a Government who favour the honest person. It favours only the dishonest criminal.
I do not think so.
Does the Home Secretary agree with Sir John Stevens, the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation, when they say that the police are in crisis? Does he recognise that police numbers have fallen by 3,000 since he took office? Does he acknowledge that the number of police constables in the service rose year on year throughout the 1990s until he became Home Secretary, and that there are now fewer constables than at any time for a decade? Does he understand the problems caused by the loss of more than 4,000 special constables since 1997? If the right hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he is showing himself to be at odds with every other person in the country who knows that that is the Government's record. If the right hon. Gentleman does acknowledge all those things, why is there nothing in the Gracious Speech to rectify the situation?
The chairman of the Police Federation said that
since 1997 there has been sustained under-investment in the police, resulting in thousands of fewer police officers, heavier workloads and rising crime.
The Police Superintendents Association says:
The situation is urgent. The police service is moving towards the edge of a crisis.
How can that have happened under a Government who promised to support the police? Have the Prime Minister's words from 1994 been entirely forgotten? Did he not say in his leadership election statement:
We want to see more police on the beat … ?
As the campaign manager for that election, the present Home Secretary no doubt had an input into that speech, so what has happened? Did not the Home Secretary himself say before the election:
Our priority is more police officers on the beat … ?
Is the Home Secretary aware that the Metropolitan police are still working below the safe minimum specified by Sir John Stevens in June this year? Does the right hon. Gentleman know that there are sometimes just 300 police officers patrolling the streets of the entire capital on any one night? Is he also aware that the force is short of more than 800 civilian workers, with the result that 200 front-line officers have been transferred to desk jobs? If the right hon. Gentleman denies these things, he will show himself to be even more out of touch than I previously thought.
Recently, I asked the right hon. Gentleman what assessment he had made of morale in the police service.
Yesterday I received a reply from the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South, which stated:
The number of people leaving a profession may be taken as an indicator of morale.—[Official Report, 11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 65W.]
The hon. Gentleman kindly listed the numbers leaving the service under this Government. Since 1997, the number of voluntary resignations from the police service has risen by almost 500 officers a year. By the Government's admission, morale in the police is lower now than it was in 1997.
So what is the Home Secretary doing? He is increasing the burden on the few patrolling officers he has left. He is asking them to stop a drunk in the street and obtain his name and address—that is, if a drunk carries his name and address. The police are then to ask him to hand over £100. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking the police to do that, he must first provide them with the support that they need by way of more officers and better protection.
The police are in crisis. The Home Secretary once said that the police would have his strong support, but, having been given the chance to act, he has failed to do so. That has been the truth of his stewardship—it has been all spin and no delivery.
Some time ago the right hon. Lady asserted that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to protect ordinary, law-abiding members of the public. Has she overlooked the private security industry Bill? Is she unaware of the many representations made by members of the public to various Members about their relatives who have been seriously injured by unlicensed door supervisors? Is she aware also of the enormous pressure from the public for the Bill? Does she appreciate the enormous help that it will provide to the public and the police? The regulation of door supervisors is known to cut street crime by up to 75 per cent., which allows the police to direct their efforts elsewhere.
If there were more police, there would be fewer door supervisor incidents. If there were more police, officers would be able to do their job properly. They would be able to police in a proper fashion. That is at the root of the Opposition's complaint. Many of the Government's measures are ill-conceived and they have not worked. Even those that have some merit will not be successful unless there are sufficient police to implement them.
The word "crisis" seems to follow the Home Secretary. It is surely not too big a word to be applied to the asylum system. Once more, the right hon. Gentleman talks tough, but we are still waiting for effective action to be taken. The National Audit Office report states:
The asylum system is under severe strain.
Despite having been given the chance, the right hon. Gentleman once more fails to act. This year, his supposed flagship legislation was implemented. He argued that it would reduce the number of asylum claims being made by economic migrants. He said that his new voucher system, introduced in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, would
not deter genuine asylum seekers … but it would deter economic migrants.—[Official Report, 27 July 1998; Vol. 317, c. 44.]
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity to tell the House what effect the legislation has had. Given that the number of asylum applications for
this year has increased and that the percentage of cases refused has remained the same, in what way is the legislation a success?
Will the right hon. Lady clarify whether it is still her policy to build detention centres to house all asylum seekers who are waiting for their cases to be heard? What is the cost of that policy and from where will she get the money?
If the hon. Gentleman is patient, I will come to exactly that point.
The asylum system even led a ministerial colleague at the Home Office to ask the head of the immigration service to draw up plans to use old Army barracks if there were a sudden influx of asylum seekers over the summer. There are still many more than 6,000 asylum applications being made every month, and there is still a backlog of more than 70,000 claims waiting to be processed. The vast majority—more than 80 per cent. of claims—are still being refused. It does not seem to matter much what the decision is, because few of those whose claim is refused are ever removed—thousands simply disappear into the community. What is the Home Secretary's latest estimate of the number of claimants who have disappeared? Does he even know?
I have proposed a system of reception centres to house claimants and provide them with the service that they need. By contrast, the Home Secretary has relied on a failed system of dispersal, placing burdens on under-prepared local councils and failing to tackle the root of the problem. Often, the greatest sufferer is the genuine asylum seeker. Despite that, the right hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrats—they are not excused from the charge—attack my policy for being too harsh. So, a policy that is designed to speed up claims and deal with decisions quickly is harsh, while a policy of failure is thought to be better.
Where is the legislation in this Session to deal with the asylum crisis? Is sorting out the asylum system not sufficiently eye-catching for the Prime Minister? Perhaps that is why there is no mention of it in the Queen's Speech. Does the Home Secretary welcome the decision taken by P&O Ferries to employ private officers to check vehicles travelling on its ferries? Is he embarrassed that the company is doing the Government's job for them? If not, that says quite a lot about the Government. The Home Secretary says that
the system must be speeded up.—[Official Report, 27 July 1998; Vol. 317. c. 44.]
Again, all spin and no delivery.
What did Her Majesty's Gracious Speech have to say about dealing with the impending crisis in the prison system?
Before the right hon. Lady turns to the impending crisis in prisons, will she answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) about the cost of all the detention centres needed to house approximately 30,000 asylum applicants and the speed with which she would deliver that policy?
The speed with which it will be delivered will be with all possible speed—[Laughter.] That is the sensible answer. I have watched the Home Secretary make promise after promise that he has been unable to fulfil, so I only make promises in terms that I know I can fulfil. I can fulfil that and I intend to do so.
Ah, so the key question is not getting the system straightened out; it is what the policy will cost. Now we know what has driven the Home Secretary's approach to the asylum system. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well what the policy would cost because he has done the costings for Oakington. He knows that the policy would not require new build in every case; he knows that the private finance initiative would spread the costs; and he knows that the early projections for Oakington showed a saving against social security costs.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that if this country acquires a reputation for dealing quickly and toughly with asylum seekers, fewer people might seek asylum in this country?
If my hon. Friend is asking whether there are long-term savings to be found, the answer is yes, but that to me is a secondary consideration to getting the system jolly well sorted out and making it fair and effective.
As I was saying, there is nothing in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech to deal with the impending crisis in the prison system. The Home Secretary appeared to admit the crisis when he said that he wanted to intervene before I talked about it. In recent months, we have had the debacle of the raid on Blantyre house, a strike in Brixton, numerous reports from the chief inspector attacking conditions in prisons throughout the country, and the resignation of the governor of Feltham young offenders institution, amid allegations of Dickensian conditions. Yet since 1997, we have heard little from the right hon. Gentleman about the conditions in Britain's prisons. He was only too happy to highlight problems in the prison system before the election, but he has maintained a rather strange silence since.
Prisoners now spend less time each week on purposeful activity than they did under the previous Government. [Interruption.] Apparently, it is a matter for laughter that the number of suicides has increased. Last year, there were 91 self-inflicted deaths in Britain's prisons. By October this year there were already 72, yet there is no mention of any of that in the Government's new measures. Nothing has been proposed to make prison more purposeful, effective or humane—three aims that I should have thought were shared by all hon. Members.
Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of the past week has been the chance for the Home Secretary to put an end to his disastrous special early release scheme. I have made no secret of my opposition to the scheme since it began, nor have my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench. When it was put through Parliament, we described it as wrong and we opposed the early release of prisoners under the scheme.
The Government went ahead, however, and, to date, some 27,000 criminals have been released from jail early. Most of those did not serve even half the sentence that they were given by the judge. They include 4,000 drug offenders whose average sentence was 20 months but who on average served eight months; 2,500 burglars whose average sentence was 19 months but who on average served seven-and-a-half months; and approaching 200 people convicted of assaulting police officers and who were given nearly five months but who served only one-and-a-half months. Of the 27,000 released, more than 850 have breached their curfew, with 50 remaining unlawfully at large, and between them they have committed 1,000 more offences, including two rapes.
The Home Secretary said:
We want to send a clear message to violent criminals that they can expect the stiffest penalties if they commit robberies or other street crimes.—[Official Report, 23 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 560.]
Yet he has released more than 1,000 robbers under the scheme on whom the average sentence imposed was 26 months while the average sentence served was 11 months. Apparently, however, they were not serious robbers. According to the right hon. Gentleman, the average sentence for convicted robbers placed on home detention curfew was just over two years. He said that he thought all would agree that that gave an indication of the relative seriousness with which the courts regarded each of the offences in question. Therefore, according to the right hon. Gentleman, if one commits a robbery and, to put it mildly, distresses a victim—one might even do something worse—and that merits a sentence of just over two years, that is not serious.
The right hon. Gentleman constantly tells us that no sex offenders will be released on the scheme, yet three sex offenders have been released. I accept that that was the result of error rather than intention, but it means that the right hon. Gentleman's assurance was not met by action. That is why, however eye-catching the initiatives announced by the right hon. Gentleman, or however popular they appear to be at the time, no one believes any more in his ability to implement them effectively or to see them through properly.
We are delighted that the Government have finally accepted our recommendation to raise the age limit for curfews to 16, but how many crimes does the right hon. Gentleman think have been committed by 10 to 16-year-olds in the past two years? We are also concerned about the ability of an understaffed police force to implement those curfews properly. We are determined that however well the private security industry is regulated, we will not allow it to be used as a substitute for the police service.
We are concerned that the number of car crimes should be reduced, but we do not believe that it is right to increase regulations on law-abiding businesses if those regulations will not be effective. First and foremost, we believe that releasing nearly 300 car thieves from jail early is no way to reduce the number of offences. The Government have said that they intend to tackle anti-social behaviour, but releasing from jail early more than 700 people guilty of assault, more than 300 people guilty of violent offences and 100 offenders guilty of drunkenness has done nothing to help.
Crime is rife in our inner cities. The chairman of the Police Federation said:
there is a sense of disorder, and anarchy in many inner city areas. Most people would avoid these hot spots altogether, as there are no police officers to turn to.
Until the number of police officers increases, that will continue to be the case. We must tackle the conditions of poverty and need which drive much of that crime. The Government have not done anything to tackle those causes, despite their continued promises. The programme set out by the Home Secretary is one of missed opportunities. It contains nothing to reverse last year's rise in crime; nothing to increase the number of police officers in England and Wales; nothing to enhance the rights of victims in the justice system; nothing to protect the law-abiding householder; and nothing to end the lunacy of a policy that sends dangerous criminals out on to the streets extra early. There is a space for a Bill restricting the right to justice, but no time for a Bill to make prisons purposeful or sentencing more transparent.
It is now clearer than ever that the Government's pre-election promises were nothing more than spin. Since 1997, we have had nothing but fudge and failure. The Home Secretary spun, "I will tackle anti-social behaviour." Three years later, nothing has happened. He said, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", but he has been tough only on crime fighters and victims. The programme before us seeks to put right all the failure of the previous three years, but the people of this country now know that the only way to reverse the Government's failure is to reverse their position. That is why they will not be the Government after the next election.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to discuss the Government's record on crime. In her closing remarks, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made a slip, for which we should forgive her. She said that I was seeking to put right the failures of a previous Government. I am sure, however, that she was referring to the failure of the previous 18 years of Conservative Government.
Our record speaks for itself, not least when compared with that of the Conservative Government. In their first three years, crime rose by 20 per cent. In the first three years of the Administration of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), it rose by 40 per cent. In the first three years of the current Administration, it fell by 10 per cent. The Opposition cannot gainsay those figures because they do not happen to like the truth. The figures come from the British crime survey, which was established by the previous Administration in 1981 as the single most authoritative survey of overall levels of crime—recorded, reported and unrecorded—in the country.
The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers said that
the Survey undoubtedly provides the best indicator that levels of crime are showing a reduction.
He also said:
The latest British Crime Survey is excellent news.
I look forward to the right hon. Lady coming to the Dispatch Box to welcome that good news.
Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that that decrease applies to 1997–98 and not to the current period? Will he further admit that his figures—not ours—show that crime rose last year?
The right hon. Lady is wrong in her first point. The survey compares the two years 1997 and 1999. The sample published in October covered 1999. The only difference from the recorded crime figures is that the British crime survey charts all crime reported by individuals to the surveyors, rather than merely that which is reported at the time to the police.
I do not mind if the right hon. Lady wants to trade recorded crime figures. As I said, they show that crime rose by 20 per cent. between 1979 and 1982, in the first three and a half years of the Conservative Administration. In the first three years of the Major Administration, it rose by 40 per cent. In the first three years of the current Administration, it will have risen by 7 per cent. However, the British crime survey shows a 21 per cent. reduction in burglary, a 15 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime and a 4 per cent. reduction in violent crime. Moreover, the right hon. Lady seeks to create, almost out of nothing, the suggestion that there is some crisis in law and order. Crime is too high but, thanks to the measures that we have put in place during the past three and a half years, it is coming under control. We should compare that with the situation over which she and her colleagues presided, when crime was out of control.
Other evidence shows that people feel safer. The English housing survey, which was published just two weeks ago, involved a huge sample. It was established, I believe, under the previous Administration. Respondents were asked whether they thought that crime was a serious problem in their neighbourhood. Again, we should compare the figures, which in this case are for 1997–98 to 1999–2000—they are up to date. The number of people in a neighbourhood who thought that crime was a serious problem dropped by a third in those two years. In some areas, the drop was more than half. The reason for that is that the measures that we put in place are working, as I shall explain.
Does the Home Secretary understand that my constituents and, I suspect, those of most other hon. Members do not live their lives comparing this survey with that survey or this crime figure with that crime figure? Their daily lives and daily experiences are entirely different from that. Will he please address the concerns of our fellow citizens? The Queen's Speech and his approach to it are entirely erroneous and completely outside our daily experience.
Of course we have to deal with the figures. Indeed, any Opposition seek to dine out on figures, and I do not particularly blame them. However, the Opposition try to avoid the point when the figures show the reverse of what they assert. Of course I am aware that concern about crime and disorder is still far too high. How could I not be aware of that as one who seeks to be assiduous in representing his constituents? It will take us some years before we get levels of crime and disorder back to those when Labour was last in office during the 1970s, although I certainly shall not rest there either, when they are at half the current level. The measures that we are putting in place are working.
On the question of whether we will help victims, who is saying that a persistent criminal who has been charged with the theft of a Mars bar or a can of Tennents lager should have the automatic right to claim trial by jury? People like the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). Who is saying that that right should be exercised by the courts, on the merits of the case, which would bring us into line with every other sensible jurisdiction? The police, the Magistrates Association and a great many victims of crime, who have suffered from the way in which persistent criminals have run the criminal justice system that the hon. and learned Gentleman supports absolutely ragged.
On the Home Secretary's point about the jury trial Bill, he is aware, and will he kindly acknowledge, that the Bill's drafting will not allow the courts to look, one way or the other, at the reputation of the person seeking jury trial?
We could have a debate on the Bill's exact drafting. We could also discuss whether the precise recommendations of the royal commission back in 1993 are the most appropriate or whether those that I inserted in the Bill are preferable. I did so on reflection because of the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the royal commission's proposals could have been discriminatory where the circumstances of the defendant—including, for example, the colour of his or her skin—might be taken into account. However, the starting point for that discussion must be an agreement that the current arrangement is simply unacceptable and needs to be changed.
I shall give way in a moment.
The truth, as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire knows, is that he opposes any change. No matter how much we changed the Bill's wording, he would still believe that the persistent petty criminal who steals a Mars bar or a can of Tennents lager has a right to claim jury trial, whatever the inconvenience to the police, magistrates and, above all, victims.
I shall answer the question if the right hon. Lady will stop whining and just listen for a change. By God, as I listened to her going on about early release, I prayed for that facility to be made available to hon. Members, condemned as we are week by week to listen to her speeches.
As it happens, this matter came up in the House once in the previous Parliament. It was not an election issue. I am perfectly prepared to say, as I said years ago, that on reflection and having looked further at the evidence I changed my mind. I am willing to acknowledge that. The more I considered the issue, the more I came to the view that changing the law to bring it into line with what happens in Scotland and almost every other jurisdiction is sensible and just, especially to the victims but also to defendants.
The Home Secretary knows that my colleagues and I will oppose the proposed abolition of anyone's right to choose jury trial as strongly in this Session as we did in the last. He selected five Home Office Bills as part of a programme of only 15 Bills—the Hunting Bill and four others. He is determined to reduce crime. Do objective figures show that the abolition of the right to choose jury trial will significantly reduce crime or increase the number of guilty people being properly convicted? Where is the objective evidence, because the rhetoric of the past three years has so far not revealed it?
I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question in detail, but in coming to this issue he can properly claim to be a member of the liberal establishment, which was so roundly condemned by the Leader of the Opposition in a speech earlier this year. It is astonishing that the only people whom the Opposition now pray in aid in support of their position on the mode of trial Bill are members of the liberal establishment—not only the Liberal Democrats, but the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, the Law Society and, I do not mind saying, the Society of Labour Lawyers, which has a view with which we happen to disagree. At least we have the courage of our convictions.
No, I will not. I shall make some progress. I must answer the points made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).
It is our strong belief that, under the current mode of trial system, many defendants who are almost certainly guilty never get to trial. As anyone who is familiar with the magistrates courts or the Crown court knows, the offences involved are typically regarded as too trivial for the Crown court. Many Crown court judges have written to me to assert that point. Such cases often drop off the list or a bind-over is accepted at Crown court.
As we are talking about a change for the future, it is difficult to calculate with any precision how many more defendants are likely to be convicted. On the best judgment available, I contend that more defendants who are guilty would be convicted and would probably plead guilty at an earlier stage, to the huge convenience of victims. There is no evidence to suggest that magistrates are less capable than the Crown court of coming to a just decision on relatively simple issues.
No, I shall make some progress.
At the general election, we wrote our manifesto against the background of a doubling of crime under the Conservative party. We are now delivering on the commitments that we made. We were committed to a root-and-branch reform of the youth justice system, which the previous Administration had left in decay. We promised to halve, within five years, the time that it takes to get persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence. When he was Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) described that as undeliverable, yet we have already reduced the average time by seven weeks and we are on target to meet that promise.
We promised to replace repeat cautions with a single final warning, to establish youth offending teams, to streamline youth courts and to create new parenting orders. All those measures are working successfully.
I want to make some progress, but I will give way later.
We promised to decentralise the Crown Prosecution Service. The previous Government introduced a fundamentally flawed CPS system in 1985. We promised to provide tougher punishment for repeat violent and sex offenders, and greater protection for victims and witnesses in court. All those things have been done.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked me about victims. Since we took office, the grant to the victim support scheme has increased by 50 per cent. and there are now witness services in all Crown courts, as there will shortly be in all magistrates courts. That is what we are doing for victims. We are not just talking about victims; we are acting on their behalf. Victims impact statements will be introduced next year. The latest report from the British crime survey indicates that victimisation levels are at their lowest since 1983.
We promised to get tough on anti-social behaviour and to introduce anti-social behaviour orders. More than 140 are in place and, with the support of police and councils, are working well. Many more are in the pipeline. Police officers have told me that in, for example, the London borough of Islington—I could cite many other examples—the mere prospect of the seeking of an ASBO has greatly strengthened their hand, and that of the local authority, when they are dealing with the scourge of anti-social behaviour.
The clerk to the justices at Banbury has told the local superintendent of police and the chief executive of the district council that, unless an ASBO is applied for in respect of a persistent offender, his advice to the justices is that they should not grant it, as that would be in breach of the human rights legislation. As a consequence, not a single ASBO has been applied for or granted in north Oxfordshire. I merely ask the Home Secretary and his officials to investigate why clerks to the justices, who I am sure seek to do an honourable job, seem to be so confused by guidance that I suspect was issued by the Home Office.
I apologise for not being familiar with the magistrates in north Oxfordshire on a personal level, but it seems that they have misdirected themselves. The advice is clear. I believe that the Lord Chief Justice delivered a judgment only last week or the week before, the details of which I shall be happy to give the hon. Gentleman. The court, quite properly, concluded that the procedure for obtaining an ASBO was a civil procedure, and was not affected by the claims made by the applicants—in respect of article 6 of the European convention on human rights—that it was a criminal procedure.
I suggest that the clerks to the justices and the police and local authorities look carefully at the protocol on application for ASBOs, which we drew up—or others drew up on our behalf—very carefully with the Justices Clerks Society, the Magistrates Association and others. That protocol is being applied very helpfully.
By definition, a new order means that people must do things that they have not done before; but where ASBOs are being used, they are being used successfully. They have certainly been used successfully in my constituency, and in Preston, where three have been made, they have helped to reduce crime and persistent disorder to an extent that earlier measures did not achieve.
There was another promise in our manifesto—interestingly, not a word was said about it—that we said we would implement, and we have done so. We promised to create new offences of racial harassment and racially motivated violence. To their great shame, the Conservatives rejected those proposals in government; they specifically voted them down. Yet, after all their mocking of child curfews—I could parry that by citing any number of measures to deal with offences created when the right hon. Lady and the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) were in office, which have not been used at all—the new offences of racial harassment and racially motivated violence had led to 921 convictions by the end of last year alone. They have been hugely important in ensuring that, at last, we give members of the black and Asian communities some confidence that, where they are subject to vile crimes of racial harassment and racially motivated violence, they can get redress.
The right hon. Lady points to an increase of 190,000 in the number of recorded offences. Included in that number are quite a number of offences of racially motivated violence and domestic violence. We want the number of such offences that are recorded and reported to the police to go not down, but up. However, we want the overall level of violence to go down. The British crime survey shows exactly that.
We promised tough action on drugs through new drug treatment and testing orders, which again were dismissed by the previous Administration. They are now in place. The number of prisoners testing positive for drugs has almost halved from about a quarter in 1996–97 to 12.5 per cent. this October.
One reason why the programme—yes, crime and disorder is still too high—is working is that we are tackling not only crime and disorder itself but something that the Conservatives did not even understand, still less deal with: the causes of crime. We are taking action to deal with the immediate and the underlying causes of crime. We are dealing with the immediate causes of crime through our crime reduction programme and the new deal, which, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer often said when we were in opposition, is as much an anti-crime policy as it is an economic policy. That has helped to halve long-term unemployment among the young.
If we want to stop someone offending it is critical that we provide that person with the prospect of a job at some speed. The right hon. Lady witters on about prisons. I do not think that she wants to go too much into her record on prisons. Otherwise, I will remind her of her complacency when pregnant women prisoners were chained to radiators. I remember, too, in early 1996, her wriggling for two weeks trying to defend the indefensible. Her right hon. and learned so-called Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe had to come to the House to bail her out of that huge embarrassment.
Will the right hon. Gentleman remember the ending of slopping out? Will he remember that purposeful activity rose to a peak under the previous Government and has been declining ever since under his Government? Will he confirm that slopping out has returned in some prisons, that the suicide rate has risen and that purposeful activity has declined? His record is generally one of complete shame on that issue.
I think that the right hon. Lady was a bit hyperbolic at the end, but, on the implementation of the Woolf recommendations, which go back to Lord Hurd, progress was made when she was at the Home Office, but she is remembered distinctively not for progress on the Woolf reforms but for, in a completely bone-headed way, seeking to defend the indefensible and allowing pregnant women prisoners to be chained to radiators. Instead of saying that that was a disgrace, she came to the House to defend it.
What we are doing, which the right hon. Lady failed to tackle, is to ensure that prisoners are properly educated. Three quarters of prisoners are educated to below level 2. They cannot get 95 per cent. of jobs, which require a basic minimum of education. We are putting that education in—
I will in a second.
We are ensuring under the new deal, which the Conservatives deride at every opportunity, that appropriate prisoners can secure jobs for when they leave prison, so that they do not face the terrifying situation of going through the gate, going back to old haunts and to persistent offending.
I will give way to the right hon. Lady again at least four times.
In addition, the sure start programme and the working families tax credit are providing much greater support for children of low-income families. The new deal for communities is targeting the areas of greatest social dislocation and crime. It is ensuring—I am sorry that it did not happen in the past—that money is properly spent to improve behaviour in those areas, as well as the physical environment.
As we agreed when we debated the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 just before Dissolution, the whole House and the country have been profoundly shocked by the savage death of young Damilola Taylor, and our hearts go out to his family and community. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has assured me that no effort will be spared in bringing his killers to justice. We hope and pray that their huge efforts are successful.
I echo the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) that, in recent years, north Peckham had been making tentative steps towards its revival. It is extremely important for that community, and for the parents and children in that community whom I have met, that the progress of the past three years in not set back by the tragedy. Indeed, our resolve to make the area better is all the stronger.
In the past three and a half years, we have made a good start—but it is only a start. Ours is a strategy for the long term, and fundamental to it are two key factors—investment and reform. Investment in policing and crime fighting will increase by more than 20 per cent. in cash—which is almost 12 per cent. in real terms—in the next three years, with a 7 per cent. real increase in spending next year alone. That is the highest annual increase for 15 years, with targeted resources going on recruitment and technology. We are also investing record sums in closed circuit television schemes, crime reduction projects and projects aimed at tackling issues as varied as domestic violence, crack cocaine dealers and racial crime.
Given the crime survey figures that the Home Secretary mentioned and what he described as the successes of the new deal, why is it such a priority to deal with the so-called yob culture now?
We have to deal with crime in whatever form it occurs. In Cardiff, in the hon. Gentleman's own Principality, there is a very good example, on which we are drawing, of how excellent co-operation between police, the city council and the accident and emergency department led by the eminent Professor John Shepherd is working to reduce violent and alcohol-related crime. Why is it important to do that? A majority of people who go out on a Friday or a Saturday night, or on any other day of the week, have a right to be able to enjoy themselves peacefully and without being assaulted or abused by others who are drunk or worse.
It is important to do that because—this is our argument about anti-social behaviour generally—if we fail to check allegedly low-level disorder, such people get out of control in their own minds and graduate from having a pop at someone to breaking a beer glass on their heel and smashing it into someone's face. If they think that they can get away with such behaviour, they might start to think that, generally, that is the best way of resolving conflict and enriching themselves. Therefore, dealing with allegedly lower-level disorderly crime is a very important way of cutting off the graduation route between such people and higher-level organised crime. I do not see any direct contradiction—indeed, there is none—between what we are doing to deal with such behaviour and what we are doing at the more serious end of crime.
Three years ago, evidence was produced showing that, unfortunately, compared with otherwise similar low-income estates, disorderly estates on which there were higher levels of graffiti and litter and a greater sense of abuse had higher crime levels. If we nip lower-level offending in the bud, we can stop offending entirely.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has referred to the success of the project in Cardiff. Obviously, the situation varies from area to area, and the needs of each area have to be considered. However, will he invite hon. Members on both sides of the House to urge health authorities, police and local authorities in their constituencies to learn the lessons of the Cardiff project and to learn that it is possible to reduce the amount of violent crime that damages victims?
Yes. In doing so, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who piloted the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 through the House. One of the central provisions of that Act—section 17—requires not only police and the local council but all the other authorities, including the health authority, to work together. The truth is that, in some areas, health authorities are working effectively together, but in others they are not. They should follow Cardiff s example. Professor Shepherd and his colleagues have shown that by co-operating with the other partners in the area to reduce alcohol-related and violent crime, health authorities can save the staff in the NHS and the NHS budget a huge amount.
Tied to our programme of investment is reform. The legislation to be introduced this Session will further help the police and their partners to use those extra resources most effectively. The two key strands of investment and reform mark out the choice on law and order between a Government who are delivering and a Conservative party trapped by its own contradictions.
We are also combining investment and reform in immigration and asylum matters. We inherited a legacy in which investment had been cut, the number of immigration service staff, astonishingly, had been cut and London and Kent local authorities were faced with an unbearable burden of asylum seekers. It was taking 20 months, on average, for an asylum decision and appeal to be determined.
We are putting additional resources into the system and reforming it. For many years, only 30,000 to 35,000 decisions were made. In this calendar year, 100,000 decisions will be made and the target for the financial year is 150,000. Families with children are already being dealt with inside the two months plus four months target, and we are aiming to reach that target for all other applicants by the middle of next year. Some 4,000 additional staff are being taken on to improve caseworking still further and to ensure that we secure more removals.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked where the asylum and immigration legislation was. She is not interested in the answer, which is that we are setting out to implement the comprehensive Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
The real question is, what would be in the right hon. Lady's Bill? Throughout the progress of the 1999 Act, only two measures were challenged. One was the ending of cash benefits, which was a huge pull factor for port applicants. We said that cash benefits had to go and would be replaced with a national asylum support system, based mainly on the provision of support in kind. The right hon. Lady's party voted against that, so I assume that clause 1 of its proposed Bill on asylum would be the restoration of cash benefits at ports, with the consequential increase of £500 million as well as a significant increase in the numbers of unfounded claims by asylum applicants attracted to this country.
The other matter that the Conservative party voted against throughout the Act's proceedings was the civil penalty on lorry drivers carrying clandestine immigrants. If there is one measure in the Act that has made a difference and ensured a real tightening of security, not only by the immigration service but by those carrying and ferrying such clandestines, it has been the imposition of a civil penalty. Why does the right hon. Lady think that P&O suddenly decided to employ security guards? It is because, under principles of civil penalty established in 1987 by the previous Administration and taken on by us—but as the Conservatives have no memory, they have forgotten that—P&O, along with other carriers, faces the prospect of a substantial bill if clandestines are carried on its ferries. It has decided, sensibly, to tighten its security. Otherwise, hauliers might vote with their feet and go to more secure ports.
Why, at long last, has the port of Calais decided to tighten perimeter security? The answer is that it realised that under the threat of the civil penalty it would lose trade—indeed, it was losing trade—to other, more secure, ports. This measure has worked.
Of course I will give way to the right hon. Lady. I need to hear from her whether her proposed Bill would at least be consistent with what she said before, restoring cash benefits and repealing the provisions for the civil penalty. What is her answer?
I am asking the questions, because I am intervening on the right hon. Gentleman. A man in Kent reported to the police that he believed that he had clandestine entrants in his load. He co-operated with the police who, when they found clandestine entrants, fined him £14,000 and drove him out of business. What would the right hon. Gentleman say to that man?
The answer is straightforward: there is an appeals process, and we do not seek to operate the civil penalty system unfairly. The person has a right of appeal—end of story, and the right hon. Lady should know that.
If right hon. Lady would like to, she could tell me what else would be in her proposal. She could provide more details on locking up all asylum seekers, but she refuses to do so. I asked her several questions about where the money would come from, and she said we knew the figures. I shall give her the figures; she is happy to rely on them. The cost of providing at least 60 detention centres to house 30,000 asylum seekers is £2 billion. She could get that money on hire purchase, through the private finance initiative, but would have to pay a little more. The cost of running those centres is £1 billion.
The right hon. Lady may say that the time scale does not really matter, but it will take years to establish the centres, not least because in Kent, where we are trying to establish one detention centre at Aldington, Conservative-dominated Ashford district council opposes its establishment, as does the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green)—a Conservative. Furthermore, the local Conservative parish councillor is so offended by the idea that there might be asylum seekers—albeit, locked up—in his back yard that he has pleaded that it offends his rights under the Human Rights Act 1998, and has succeeded in gaining an adjournment of the planning inquiry.
I admit that we did not expect that the Act would be used in those circumstances, and we look forward to the courts regarding the case as entirely vexatious and worthless. It is interesting that, although Conservative Members talk in general about establishing detention centres, they fight every proposal to establish them. They know that that is a promise full of deception; they cannot deliver it. They have neither the money nor the will to do so.
May I tempt the Home Secretary back to the Government's policy for a moment? What is his estimate, since the previous Queen's Speech, of the number of people who have been told to leave the country at the end of their appeal process but are still here for one reason or another?
The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question is the same as the one that he would have given had he been in my position—we can only estimate the number of people who are in the country wholly illegally. Perhaps this will be in the Conservative proposal, but unless we introduce compulsory identification cards for everyone who is lawfully resident in this country and provide the police with the power to stop individuals and ask them to produce their identification cards, and to arrest them if they do not have one, we shall remain in the area of estimates. We are putting vast resources into increasing the number of removals.
The number of removals is already higher. Before Conservative Members start trading figures about other countries, I should say that, for example, in Germany—often cited as a paradigm—the numbers are rising; it has 500,000 rejected asylum seekers whose addresses are known because they still claim benefit, whereas at least in this country, when asylum seekers lose all entitlement to be here, their entitlement to benefit is also, quite properly, removed.
What is the estimate? The right hon. Gentleman will not tell us. Will he confirm that if everyone was housed in secure reception centres and not merely allowed to disappear, he would not need identity cards and would have a much more efficient system? Will he also confirm that the costs that he has mentioned, first, include unused capacity; secondly, make no allowance for deterrence; thirdly, make no allowance for the changes in decision making; and fourthly, include the costs of case-working staff, whom he would have to employ anyway in centres or in the community? When he has added all that lot up and taken into account the fact that new build is not necessary and that PFI can work perfectly well, will he not admit that our proposal will save money in the end and produce a more efficient system?
The prolixity of that question shows that the Conservative's have no real proposal; it is simply intended for the headlines. Our estimate takes account of the fact that there is no unused capacity in RAF stations or former mental hospitals. We have scoured the country to find places, such as Aldington, and when we have the whole of the local Conservative establishment has opposed our proposal. They would continue to do so if—God forbid—the right hon. Lady were doing my job. Our estimates are based on very slow progress.
The right hon. Lady suggests that we should lock up all asylum seekers, but let us be clear that the proposal includes not only healthy, single, adult males but those who are unhealthy and every woman and child. They would have to abandon any bail provision, which would break various aspects of the 1951 convention. In my more rash moments, I look forward to her doing that.
Let me make progress, because many other hon. Members wish to speak.
Where we have promised investment and reform, the shadow Chancellor promises cuts. Where we have introduced proposals for reform, the Conservatives promise only outdated and discredited ideas, with their very dismal record still fresh in the memory. The Conservative party calls for more police, yet suggests that we are spending too much on the police; it described our plans as "reckless". The shadow Chancellor refused to match our promises on the police, confounding what the right hon. Lady says.
I know only too well that opposition is not a happy place. Indeed, we can all judge that from the right hon. Lady's composure today. The Labour party learned the hard way that, to be taken seriously as a Government, it is necessary to have policies and spending plans that stand up to scrutiny, but after three and a half years in opposition the Conservative party does not have even the beginnings of a coherent set of proposals on law and order.
Let us consider a proposal that was made a huge example of at the Conservative party conference, but about which the right hon. Lady has been surprisingly reticent. Indeed, when she was asked about it last week, she said that she would not rehash the arguments. There was a headline-grabbing policy at the party conference. She tried to pull a rabbit out of the hat, but all she got was a harebrained scheme—a policy so off the wall that it was immediately discredited by the police, with her shadow Cabinet colleagues salivating at the prospect of going on television to denounce her.
The right hon. Lady's deputy, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), joined the queue entirely gratuitously some time later. In an interview that he gave to the New Statesman, he said:
The idea that the police should raid every home in the land looking for dope smokers is transparently absurd. Personal use has effectively been decriminalised. A vast clampdown is unrealistic.
That represents a vast dumping on his own apparent boss. That fiasco was not simply embarrassing but catastrophic for the right hon. Lady and her party because it exposed, as never before, the policy-making chaos at the heart of the Conservative party, and it is the same story on police numbers.
Overall police numbers have declined since 1993, but we are taking effective steps to increase them again. The last people who should criticise us about police numbers are Conservative Members. When they were in government, numbers fell by 1,500, despite the right hon. Lady's promises, made from this very Dispatch Box, to increase them by 5,000. As I have said, they described our spending on the police from 1999 as "reckless". Most crucially, the shadow Chancellor is now saying not that they would increase spending, but that there would be savings in every part of the Home Office budget, apart from that relating to asylum. It is, perhaps, a mark of the regard in which the right hon. Lady is held by her colleagues, especially the shadow Chancellor, that every time she has asked about additional spending today, she has been forced to waffle and bluster.
I shall give way in a moment. The right hon. Lady has dined out on her reputation for straight talking. I shall give the House an example. Asked whether she would match our spending on policing, she said this on the radio:
We might wish to spend in a different way. Sorry, I am just not going to say Yes or No to that. I think that is not a valid question at this stage.
Not a valid question? What an extraordinary state of affairs. It is apparently valid for her to assert that police numbers would rise if she took office, but invalid for anyone to ask her how she would pay for that. It is valid for her to trumpet her ends, yet invalid for her to be asked to explain the means.
As the right hon. Gentleman is complaining about not getting answers to questions, will he please answer the very clear question that I put to him some time ago? He may have thought that he had escaped it. Is it not a fact that slopping out is back? Is it not a fact that suicide rates are up? Is it not a fact that self-harm in prisons has increased? Is it not a fact that assaults and long-term staff sickness have increased? Is it not a fact that purposeful activity has decreased? Is it not a fact that the Home Secretary has made a total mess of his prison system? Will he now answer those questions? As he is calling for answers, let him do some answering.
God save us! Let me out of here, please, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It gets worse and worse.
I regard it as reprehensible of the right hon. Lady to make party political capital out of the number of suicides in prison. She understands the circumstances in which prisoners take their lives. She knows that we are working with the Prison Service as hard as, if not harder than, her Administration did to deal with this problem. The idea that she should try to trade insults about it is utterly beneath contempt.
I return to the issue of police numbers. As a result of our crime fighting fund, the number of officers joining the police service now exceeds the number leaving it. Wastage in the police service, despite all the myths that one reads in the newspapers, is about half the level in the public services generally, and way below the levels in the private sector. On overall wastage in the police service, as the answer given by the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), has shown, retirements and resignations have decreased in recent years to less than 5 per cent.
The police training colleges are full, and extra money has been provided to boost the pay of post-1994 officers in the Metropolitan police. We have set aside funds to ensure that forces recruit up to 9,000 more officers than they had previously planned to recruit, to bring overall numbers to record levels by 2003–04. The police service is not in crisis. Were it in crisis, crime and disorder levels would not have come down in the way that they have done over the past three years.
A sensible Opposition would recognise that the issue is not only about overall numbers—although I want to see those numbers going up—but about how effectively existing police numbers are used. The shift in police numbers has been marginal: about 2 per cent. There are 125,000 police officers, and nearly 60,000 civilians working in support of them. An even more crucial issue than whether there are 125,000 or 126,000 officers is that of how effectively each of those of officers is used, led and managed. That is what we have been doing.
We have provided the police with the powers to deal with inefficiency—which needs to be exposed in the police service—with unacceptable levels of early retirement and sickness. As a result of our bearing down on sickness, the equivalent of 700 officers have been added back to operational ranks. We are cutting by one third the number of forms that officers have to process, as we said that we would when we were in opposition. While the Conservative party waffles about red tape, we are getting on with cutting it.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a second.
Another way in which we are making the police service more effective is by ensuring that it serves the whole of our community: black and Asian people as well as white. The police are fully engaged in implementing the recommendations of the Lawrence inquiry. When that report was published, all parties in the House welcomed its recommendations. However, in his speech on the police last Wednesday, the Leader of the Opposition accused us not only of having
tied their hands with red tape
political correctness.—[Official Report, 6 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 19.]
I listened to that with great interest. I have dealt with the issue of red tape, but what can the right hon. Gentleman have been talking about when he used that grubby euphemism, "political correctness", unless he was talking about the joint efforts of the police and the communities, backed by the Government, to ensure that the police work in partnership with all communities? I think that he had that in mind, but he did not have the guts to say it. The police working in partnership with all communities is at the heart of what we are doing.
I should like to take the Home Secretary back to the point about police numbers. He made the extraordinary claim that the number of police will go up by about 9.000 by 2003, yet he told me at a meeting of the Select Committee on Home Affairs the other day that the latest figures showed that there were 2,700 fewer police officers, up to March this year. He told me that, since March, the numbers had fallen by a further 200. Is he now telling the House that the turnaround in recruitment and retention is such that the numbers have dramatically increased since he gave us the figures in September?
I should like to think that the hon. Gentleman is too intelligent for that question. He knows the answer-9,000 additional recruits. I gave the figures, but the happy news is that, when I was at the Home Affairs Committee three weeks ago, I gave provisional figures that the numbers in September were down by 200. In fact, they are down by only seven. The best estimates for the latest weeks is that the numbers are now starting to rise.
Our crucial idea of partnership, and getting everyone involved in reducing crime, lies at the heart of the five Bills that we announced last week. They will give greater powers to the police, extend the modernisation of our criminal justice system, and bear down on those who threaten society, including those who use anti-social behaviour. We introduced five Bills and a draft Bill. They include the Private Security Industry Bill, which will, at last, provide for the regulation of the private security industry in England and Wales—again, something that the previous Government could have done but failed to do.
The Vehicles (Crime) Bill will ensure that we are able to meet our target of cutting vehicle crime by one third over a five-year period, and build on the great success of the police and local authorities in reducing vehicle crime over the past four years. It will also ensure that much of the income from speed camera fines can be reinvested to improve road safety.
We come to the issue of targeting the profits of crime. Too often, when criminals are caught, they hang on to their ill-gotten gains and emerge from prison to enjoy their fast cars and large houses. That defeats justice and presents a damaging role model for young people. The draft Bill on the proceeds of crime will set out proposals for levelling the playing field. Measures were introduced in the previous Parliament, but they have not worked as effectively as they should have done, or as effectively as similar measures in the United States and Ireland. That is why we are introducing the proposals.
The police and the courts cannot operate with one hand tied behind their backs. Too often, they have been unable to deal properly with disorder and other criminal behaviour. Too often, they have been prevented from hitting back at the criminals who make life a misery for so many. The legislation that I have outlined today will give the police and the courts the powers that they need to ensure that justice is done. We have achieved a great deal in the past three and a half years, but crime and disorder levels are still too high. There remains a great deal to be done. The measures in the Gracious Speech continue our programme to make the country safer and more secure, and I commend them and the Gracious Speech to the House.
Between 9 o'clock and midnight last night, I was out with a crew from the London ambulance service. The first call was to a cardiac arrest of a three-year-old in Walworth, which is in my borough of Southwark. Thanks to the skill and extreme professionalism of the crew, they managed to get to the child in time—by a matter of minutes—to prevent him from dying, which he was at a high risk of doing, and to take him to St. Thomas's hospital, where he soon recovered. I spent the rest of the evening with the crew and they explained to me that the ambulance service is often so overstretched that they cannot even get to people who are at high health risk.
People who work on our behalf to protect law and order have the same problem but with victims of crime. Yesterday morning, I was in the office of the borough commander in Southwark, whose police officers the Home Secretary has rightly particularly commended for their work in the past few weeks. The commander made the point that although he and his colleagues are absolutely committed to what they do—they have allocated 50 officers to try to find out who killed Damilola Taylor—they have staffing problems. They are 48 officers short of the establishment of 807 officers, and 23 people short of the civilian establishment of 220. Officers are owed 3,800 days leave that they have not been able to take because they have been working to do the job that is required of them.
None the less, the force has charged people for 17 of the 19 murders in Southwark in the past three years. Only a recent killing and that of Damilola Taylor have not so far resulted in an arrest. The police force is in some ways highly successful, but it has no more than the capacity, with difficulty, to respond to immediate pressures. It cannot do the job that it would like to do to protect people, and to provide the law and order strategy and support that the community needs.
The Home Secretary is right to focus on the first Home Office aim:
Reduction in crime, particularly in youth crime, and in the fear of crime, and the maintenance of public safety and good order.
We want a more orderly society for the good of everyone. In Southwark this morning, we were shown an extremely good initiative to achieve that end. The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis were present. The intention was to target hate crimes in Southwark by fully involving young people, the local authority and the relevant partners and agencies.
The launch made it clear, as did the borough commander in Southwark yesterday and every police officer to whom I have spoken, that there are no simple causes of crime and no simple solutions. As the Minister of State said this morning, we need sustainable, long-term strategies. The hate crime initiative is such a strategy. If there are no easy explanations and solutions, the Queen's Speech needs to contain policies that are proven to work effectively and have a sound base. We do not need measures that are appealing baubles to be put in a political shop window but which, although superficially attractive, are not worth much when one looks at them closely.
The great feeling that there is particular evil and malaise in our society is in some ways misguided. Of course there is a huge amount of crime, but there is nothing new about crimes with knives and weapons. The streets were just as unsafe 100 years ago in that respect. When I first started work with youngsters in Southwark, kids often carried knives. [HoN. MEMBERS: "A 100 years ago?"] That was not 100 years ago, but in the 1970s. Kids have not started to carry knives just in the past few years. Alcohol has also caused crime throughout the last century, and there is probably no great difference between its impact today and its impact 100 years ago Having said all that, there is one difference today, and that is drugs, which are now more likely to motivate people to commit crime and to make them unaware of the harmful consequences of their behaviour. I agree with Ministers: the escalation and spread of harmful drugs in our communities need to be tackled. Drugs cause a huge amount of crime and misery, and create many more victims. They not only make victims of the people who take them, but affect many more people through drug-related crime.
We often hear a litany in debates such as these in which we compare the records of the Tories 18 years in government and Labour's three and a half years in government. We would expect attacks on the Tories and their credibility to be obvious. However, it is difficult for a party to attack with credibility another Government's record on crime when that party was in government for 18 years and crime doubled, when violent crime increased every year during those 18 years, and when convictions fell so greatly during the same period.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has a duty, as I have, to provide an opposition, but she has to remember to be humble about the failures of her party, too. Up until 1992—before she was a Minister—the number of police officers increased, but they decreased in the following five years, when she was in government. The two pledges by the then Prime Minister to recruit 5,000 extra police were not delivered. Indeed, over that period, there were nearly 500 fewer police. A little gentle humility, which the right hon. Lady's faith and mine enjoin us to adopt, would be welcome.
As for the Government, we are three and a half years into their term and there is a rumour in the air that this Parliament might last for only four years. The Queen's Speech is so thin that, even with the five Home Office Bills, it does not look as though the Session could last much beyond May even if we tried hard to prolong it. According to the figures, crime fell in the first period of the Government's term, although it now seems to be rising. Violent crime has unarguably increased. [Interruption.] I shall be happy to let the Home Secretary respond in a moment, but the figures are not straightforward. It is not clear that crime is decreasing. Offences of violence increased by 16 per cent. in the past year according to British crime survey and other independent figures.
However, where the Government stand most indicted—no matter how much they try to hide it—is on the issue of police numbers. I tabled a question as quickly as I could when the House resumed after the Queen's speech:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officers there were in each police force and in total at the end of September; and what was the total in March 1997.
It was interesting, to put it neutrally, to see the answer. The Minister of State replied:>
Information about the number of police officers at the end of September 2000 is being prepared and will be published shortly in a Home Office Statistical Bulletin.—[Official Report,11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 61W.]
I gather that it will be published this week. It might even show that the number has increased by one or two over the past six months, but even if it has gone up by a few, it has decreased by nearly 3,000 since the general election. There are fewer officers doing the job that the commander in Southwark and the chief constable of Cumbria, to whom I spoke a couple of weeks ago, want them to do. However much people might argue that we do not get better law and order with more police officers, I have never heard anyone argue that we get better law and order with fewer.
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether he wants the Home Secretary or the chief constables to set the number of police officers?
That is a good question from the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. When the Government came to power, they said, following legislation introduced by the Tory Government, that the setting of police numbers was a matter not for them but for chief constables. Yet, at the Labour conference before last, the Home Secretary made a big speech announcing more money for the police. Suddenly, the Government intervened, saying that that money must be spent on more police officers and that police chiefs were not free to spend it on what they wanted. That is why the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) asked the right question. The answer is that the police should be allowed to choose what to spend the money on. The Home Secretary should not be telling them what they should spend their money on, as the Government have recently been doing, in contrast to their approach when they first came to office.
I noticed that there was also one other figure to which the Home Secretary did not refer: one that the Minister gave me yesterday in a written answer. I asked the Secretary of State to set out
what proportion and total amount of (a) total Government spending and (b) gross domestic product was spent on policing in each of the last five years.—[Official Report, 11 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 60W.]
When Labour came to office, the proportion of Government expenditure spent on policing was 2.05 per cent. That rose to 2.12 per cent. and 2.17 per cent. in 1998–99 and 1999–2000 respectively. This year, the figure is lower than at any time since Labour came to office, at 2.07 per cent.
More tellingly, police provision as a proportion of money GDP has fallen every year since 1996–97, and, at 0.81 per cent., is now lower than at any time since the Government came to office. Only from the beginning of the new financial year in April—probably a matter of weeks before the election—will there be an increase, for the first time under this Labour Government, in the money spent on policing as a proportion of our national wealth.
When people were asked to vote Labour at the election and were told that there would be more bobbies on the beat and that Labour would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, they never imagined that every year for the first four years of a Labour Government the amount of our national budget spent on the police would fall, and that the number of police would be down, not by tens or hundreds but by thousands, or that the numbers would start to creep back up only just a few weeks before the next election.
I answered the hon. Gentleman's written question. He might have done me the courtesy of setting out in full the figures that I gave him. Here they are: in 1996–97, police spending under the Conservatives as a proportion of Government spending was 1.98 per cent; in 1997–98, the figure was 2.05 per cent., rising to 2.12 per cent. for 1998–99, 2.17 per cent. for 1999–2000 and, as the hon. Gentleman said, 2.07 per cent. in the current year. Next year and the year after, the figure will be 2.15 per cent. In every year of the Labour Government, the proportion has been higher than that under the Conservatives, and as a result of the comprehensive spending review it is targeted to keep on rising. The hon. Gentleman might have given us credit for that.
I entirely accept that. I was not trying to be selective. That is why I read out the list. The list of figures for police provision as a proportion of money GDP shows that, even in two years' time, the percentage spent will be less than that spent in the year before the election. The Minister must look at both figures.
No, I will not give way.
The central point is that not only has the proportion of spending as a total of our wealth fallen but the output, to use the Home Secretary's word—people on the beat; those whom we buy—has fallen. That has had a direct effect on the amount of crime, criminality and the number of people caught.
The Tories are confused. They still have not sorted out whether asylum seekers should be detained or housed only in reception centres. They still have not decided whether they believe in mandatory sentences. They first believed in mandatory sentences for everybody, but were against them when Tony Martin was convicted. They still have not decided whether they are in favour of zero tolerance for drugs, or whether, even if they knew their policy, all of them are in favour of it. That all adds up to a lack of credibility, which is not overly persuasive. The Tories' policies have been tested by only one significant by-election in the past year—in Romsey—and we know that they got a drubbing there.
There is therefore real danger and sadness in a Labour Government trying in some respects to be as populist as the Tories. The Home Secretary sometimes makes thoughtful contributions, as he did on "Newsnight" the other night. Indeed, I watched his performance on Sunday lunchtime television, which seemed straight down the line and entirely uncomplicated. I do not criticise him for such contributions. However, he often falls prey to the same temptations as Opposition Front Benchers.
The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister came up with the wacky idea of walking drunken hooligans to the cash machine, before they realised that it was totally incredible. It was dropped after police chiefs told them that it was a good idea to do so. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have now come up with the idea of curfews for 10-year-olds to 16-year-olds. There has been no pilot scheme, trialling or testing and clearly there has been no great support from anybody in the know. The right hon. Gentlemen also persist with the idea that it is central to the Government's law and order strategy—the measures are in one of the key four Bills before the election—to take from people the right to choose jury trial, although there is not a shred of evidence that it will affect crime figures. As the Home Secretary has conceded, that entirely contradicts his party's position of only a couple of years ago. One regular worry about the Government is that principle behind policy is often difficult to define, and that the principle of defending civil liberties behind policies is often not to be seen at all.
There are five Home Office Bills. We shall talk about the Hunting Bill on Monday, so I do not intend to detain the House on it, other than to say that our party is opposed to hunting with hounds but our manifesto commitment was that everyone in both Houses should be free to vote according to their conscience. Like other parties, we shall do so. We support the Vehicles (Crime) Bill and the Private Security Industry Bill, which are in large measure uncontroversial and come in the category of what we would call sensible reform. They have been widely trailed.
We regard the jury trial Bill as absolutely foolish, wrong, misguided and not at all central to any sensible law and order policy. The Home Secretary has miscalculated if he thinks that he will get it through Parliament. It will pass through Parliament only if, first, the Government use the Parliament Act, and, secondly, it proceeds far enough by the time the relevant 13 months to have passed. My colleagues and I, and those in the other place, will do everything in our power to delay, as well as prevent, the legislation. We believe that we shall again succeed, and that for a third time the Government will have wasted their effort in trying to pass a Bill for which they have no manifesto commitment and to which they therefore have no constitutional right to expect Parliament to agree—and in relation to which they certainly have no justification for the use of the Parliament Acts.
Is the hon. Gentleman lobbying the right hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), the Minister for Justice in the Scottish Parliament, to bring the Scottish legal system in line with the present English legal system on mode of trial? For as long as I can remember, the prosecution has chosen the mode of trial in Scotland, yet there has been no clamour in Scotland to change to the system in England and Wales. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman are in the same party, so is the hon. Gentleman thinking along those lines?
I am sure that the hon. Lady has been involved in such debates before. We have been round the course often. The Scots have an entirely different system—w[Interruption.] hey have different courts and powers. The lower court has no power to send a case to a higher court following sentencing. Different people decide about the prosecution. The systems are not comparable, so I do not seek to lobby my right hon. and learned Friend, and he does not seek to lobby me.
No, I want to push on.
We have not yet seen the fifth Bill, the criminal justice and police Bill, but we understand that one of its great new ideas is the fixed penalty notice for people under the influence of alcohol. It sounds a little incredible to walk someone who has been arrested to the police station to give them a fixed penalty notice.
Clamping them might be possible, but I do not understand that yet to have been proposed. Dealing with people is entirely different from dealing with a car—an obvious and relatively immoveable object sitting by the side of the road. There is no problem about identity or the nature of the beast. One does not have to consider whether someone is drunk or sober, and there is no one to answer back or fight back. I think that the Government will realise that their proposition is probably unworkable and little more than another bauble in the shop window. The measure is intended to look tough, but is unlikely to succeed.
The curfew proposal is more serious. Our gut reaction is to be against it. For the first time in my life, I convened a focus group and, when I consulted its members on the issue, they were against it. Yesterday, I went to Walworth school in my constituency and talked to the youngsters there. One youngster at that secondary school gave an accurate summary of the inaccuracy and wrongness of the proposal when he said that it would be like punishing the whole class for the mistakes of one or two people. Those youngsters were not at all persuaded about the proposal and I shall tell the Home Secretary about their suggestions in a minute. I have not found any police enthusiasm for the proposal. If there were loads of police and they had nothing better to do than wander around and try to deal with all the youngsters on the streets, it might be credible. In Scotland, the Strathclyde experience is not a parallel and has not been defined in any event as a curfew.
The Government must make the case and win the argument. We do not think that they will, and it is highly likely that my colleagues and I will seek to remove this part of the Bill in both Houses. In contrast with what the Government normally do, we have seen not seen a trial or testing of the proposal in England or Wales, and there is no evidence that it works. Indeed, the best Home Office research suggests that it is the wrong way forward. It is a sign of the authoritarian streak that keeps reappearing in the Labour party and is without sound principle. The right to silence was lost some years ago; the burden of proof is often under threat; and the right to choose jury trial the Government want to take away. There is a worrying trend in the Labour Government's policy that seeks to be more and more authoritarian and less and less understanding of the fact that people's basic civil liberties should also include being able to walk around in the evening or at night. That should hold for law-abiding citizens, whether they are under or over 16.
I shall say a further word about young people. There is real demonising of young people. Society often demonises them in general, but there is a particular risk of those in the inner city being demonised. I chose to live in the inner city in my early 20s, and have never moved away. We all know that there are brilliant models of good young people who will be the citizens and leaders of the future. We should listen more to them before we start ghettoising them by estate, street, postcode or neighbourhood. If we go down the road of having curfews, we risk alienating many more young people than we will get on the side of the police and order.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that young people in Strathclyde and Hamilton in Scotland support the joint initiative of the police and local authority? That initiative works in Scotland and is very similar to what the Government are proposing. It is a child safety initiative which protects young people and the victims of crime. Young people who are the victims of crime are out on the streets, not the perpetrators.
I have seen a briefing from Strathclyde and talked to Scottish colleagues. The scheme is targeted on individual youngsters who are regular offenders. That is different from what the hon. Lady is saying. Powers already exist for young offenders to be dealt with in the usual way. The police do not need extra powers to do that. The scheme is linked to constructive activities for young people to divert them from crime, which are as important as the scheme itself. The idea that there is suddenly a blanket approach at 9 or 10 o'clock for a certain age group, which is very difficult to define, as opposed to proposals for specific youngsters, tackles the problem in the wrong way. We agree on the need to deal with individual regular offenders, but we do not accept generalised views of certain areas or estates.
Of course, we will discuss this in more detail when the Bill is in Committee. If the hon. Gentleman examines the proposal, he will see that it is very similar to that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna). Far from being an imposition from the centre, it gives a power to local authorities and local communities. Application for that power must be preceded by discussion with the local community.
I accept that. We shall return to this debate later, but may I quickly say that the same power has been available for the under-10s but, so far, no one has asked to use it. The power has now been extended to under-16s, but it has not been trialled or tested and there have been no local opportunities to see whether it has been taken up or worked. Suddenly, there appears to be a policy for which there will be national legislation. The Home Secretary may have spoken to different people, but I have not met any significant numbers of police or lay people who have said that they need the power. Without the numbers of police that are needed, the power will probably—indeed, even certainly—not be used in any event.
I shall press on, and come back to the hon. Gentleman in a second.
Today's debate also concerns the inner cities, where it is intended that the power will often be used. Of course, in our inner cities we must encourage personal responsibility and support for families and must make sure that there are diverting activities for youngsters. However, above all we must build up sustainable communities. That is a catchphrase, but it refers to more than bricks and mortar, and is about communities of geography and communities of identity as well. When we allocate homes to people, we must stop disregarding where their family lives, where the nursery school is and where the carers and people who can do the babysitting are. Lord Young, now a Labour peer in the other place, is an eminent sociologist who has written a book that I commend to colleagues. In "The Communities We Have Lost and Can Regain", he makes it clear that if we are to regain proper law-abiding life in the inner cities, we must get rid of politically correct housing allocation policy in the public sector, which has disregarded community ties in the allocation of houses over the past 20 or 30 years. Lord Young says that we must return to an allocation policy that is far more sensitive to the communities that we are seeking to build and strengthen. We also need more sport and out-of-school activity. Clearly, better education, jobs and training are needed, too.
One thing is needed above all, however, and it is the same for inner cities as it is elsewhere: there must be a renunciation of violence. Coupled with drugs, the great evil is the willingness of people to resort to violence in the home, on the pitch, in the playground—where there are bullies—and on the streets, where people use knives, bottles and anything else. Too often, our role models use violence. Too often, television programmes display violence and videos glamorise it. Unless we all have a less violent society, there will always be violent youngsters. Children are not violent in their first few weeks of life or when they first go off to nursery school. They start to be violent only because they see others behaving violently.
One cannot object to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. His position on child curfews is commendably clear, in contrast to the fog of confusion that descends when it comes to police expenditure. Using our fertile imaginations to the full, let us envisage a scenario in which there is a Liberal Democrat Administration and the hon. Gentleman is Home Secretary. Is he seriously telling the House that his party would increase police expenditure as a proportion of national wealth? In that case, at what time today did he decide on that policy?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes and the answer to the second is that that policy was not decided today. I should be surprised if the hon. Gentleman had not read our alternative Budget but, if he has not, I shall send him a copy. The policy is in that document, our pre-manifesto and our alternative Queen's Speech. If the hon. Gentleman has not read those documents, he should take them to bed with him, because they might at least keep him quiet.
To conclude, police officers are not the be-all and end-all, but they are centrally important. Our party has made a commitment to the fact that we need at least 130,000 officers in England and Wales. How many we need thereafter should not be decided by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard), the Home Secretary or the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), but by an advisory body that regularly gives independent, objective advice from a standing conference.
There is an entire police agenda, and we regret that the Government have not allowed an opportunity for it to be debated. The debate should be about pay, conditions, housing, pensions, special constables and more retained officers. It should also be about neighbourhood wardens and a community safety constabulary.
We need a Prison Service that works; at present, it is often direly ineffectual. If we prevented many more who leave prison from reoffending, as half do within two years, there would be a chance of bringing crime figures down. That entails dealing properly with drugs, alcohol, violence and sex offenders.
We need a crime prevention programme that spends the worthwhile budget granted by the Home Secretary. At the end of the first year, only 2 per cent. of the budget of £383 million had been spent.
We need fair treatment for all our citizens. The Home Secretary rightly seeks to make sure that that is Government policy, but he has had one blind spot. Contrary to the views of many Labour party members, he insisted that asylum seekers should shop with vouchers, whereas everyone else shops with money. If anything will stigmatise people who are already stigmatised, it is the fact that they must go out on the street unable to act like self-respecting citizens.
Lastly, we need better treatment of victims, as we agree throughout Parliament. My colleagues and I believe, among other things, that victims should have a better opportunity to present their case to courts after sentence, not just in writing.
There may be a shared commitment to the law and order agenda, but there is also a dangerous auction between the Government and the Tory party for sounding tough, as opposed to being effective. That is not the way to go. We will support policies that have shown that they are likely to be effective—which have been tried and tested and command widespread support. We will oppose policies that take away liberties for no matching benefit. That means that the Government will get our support this Session for some of the Bills, as I have suggested, but if they insist on taking away the right to choose jury trial, we will oppose them, and we believe that we will defeat them.
Several Hon. Members rose—
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoiled what seemed in some respects to be a serious speech with some petty knockabout. It is almost inevitable that he will criticise both other parties—that is virtually written into the script before he starts—but the self-indulgent knockabout, whereby he caricatured sensible proposals with a soundbite, was disgraceful.
For example, the proposal for fixed penalties would be quick and effective, it would avoid red tape and time in the courts, and it would teach a lesson. It is a sensible proposal which should not be caricatured. The hon. Gentleman then argued that the right, as it is described, of people to choose where they are to be tried is fundamental. He was blown out of the water by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg).
The court should decide where either-way cases should be tried. That is a balanced approach. Magistrates would be required to give reasons for their decision about where the trial takes place. That would allow cases that ought to go to a higher court and be subject to a stronger penalty to be dealt with appropriately. The comments of both the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) were inappropriate. The safeguards are in place, including the right of appeal to the Crown court against the magistrates' decision.
I am pleased that, having considered the arguments, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary changed his view on the matter, and I am glad that he is pushing forward with the policy. It is ludicrous to argue that the court in which a case is decided should be settled on the whim of a defendant, by the gamble of a defendant who knows that he is guilty, or possibly on the basis of the quality of legal advice that he gets, rather than being decided objectively by the court.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to persevere with the sensible enabling measure on curfews. Again, the caricature of that by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey did him no credit. Of course, civil liberties need protecting. The civil liberty of young people, as well as that of older people, to walk the streets at night safely needs to be protected.
We frequently hear complaints that children and young people are out on the streets way after the time when that is reasonable and are causing nuisance and problems. What is the response? The police say that their hands are tied and there is nothing they can do. The measure will give them the capacity to tackle such nuisance. For example, when I discussed that type of nuisance with the local community on a housing estate in my constituency, a woman stood up and said, "I know that that is a real problem. My son is one of those causing the nuisance." Several other people said, "Oh, no. Your son is a nice lad." She said, "He is a nice lad, but he is over 6 ft. His dad left home four or five years ago. I can't stop him if he wants to go out at night. He says to me, 'Why should I stay home when everybody else is out on the street?'".
Let us look at the process of consultation set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. First, the local authority has to propose a scheme, which must be approved by the Home Secretary. Then, the area and the problem must be defined. The problem must be discussed not just by the local authority and the police, but by the local community. There should be an opportunity to listen to people like that mother, who wants to be given back the authority to set reasonable limits for her child, and to listen to the community, which wants to set limits in respect of children's behaviour, rather than allowing those children to run amok, out of control.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to discuss with him right now the merits of the curfew scheme, but he appears to be proposing a penalty without a trial. Does not that conflict with the convention?
Here we have another lawyer trying to wrap us up in words, instead of considering the problems that affect people in the streets and on our housing estates. We are discussing giving authority back to parents and the community. Of course, if no problem exists, the measure will not be used. Communities will take back control where yobs are creating misery for local people, but local authorities are not obliged to act on the measure, and nor are the police.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) gave the example of Hamilton, which shows that where a problem exists and such a scheme is used in a targeted way, it can be beneficial. The scheme does not have to be used if warnings and co-operation with the local community do the trick. It would be marvellous if it were never used and nuisance were reduced on our estates, but the power will be available. There will be no excuse for the police, the local authority or anyone else saying that there is nothing that they can do.
I hope that it will be recognised that the child curfew scheme has a dual purpose. As well as protecting residents' interests, it is also intended to protect the interests of children. Often, horrific things happen because children are out on the streets at night, when they should not be. The figures from the Hamilton child safety initiative are stunning: 87 per cent. of parents of children returned home by the police approved of the initiative. That shows the extent of support from parents. Crime and public complaints about disorder fell by 23 and 22 per cent. respectively, and crime associated with juveniles, such as theft and vandalism, was down by 49 per cent.
I say to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, let us look at the facts before we ignore the civil liberties of those who are disturbed by groups of youngsters behaving in a yobbish manner, and let us make sure that we target that problem.
The Hamilton initiative was a child safety initiative. We should rid ourselves of the notion of curfew. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success achieved in Hamilton and the extent to which neighbourhoods and communities are asking for the scheme to be extended prove the worth of such initiatives?
Yes, absolutely. Partnership with the community is central. That is provided for in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 with respect to the younger age group. We have listened and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has rightly responded to the request for the age limit to be increased. Such schemes can tackle the problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) said.
The programme in the Queen's Speech keeps faith with those who backed Labour in the belief that we would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. From police resources to the banning of hand guns, from cash to crime reduction and the strategic developments in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Government have delivered.
It would be easy for the Home Secretary to sit back, after three years of frenetic activity, and relax for a while. Instead, the Queen's Speech shows the Government intensifying the battle against crime and the fear of crime.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is tackling some of the scandals that the previous Government left behind. I remind the House that the Conservative Government ignored the strong advice of the Select Committee on Home Affairs about the urgent need to regulate the private security industry. The Committee's report was debated in Back-Bench Opposition time because the previous Government were afraid of tackling the issue. The previous Home Secretary gave not the slightest glimmer of hope that he would tackle the problem, whereas my right hon. Friend is grasping the nettle. I shall tell the House why.
When I undertook a review of the issues on behalf of the then shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who is now Prime Minister, I found an appalling situation. A senior police officer said:
I personally find it monstrous that people with convictions for burglary in dwelling houses are being allowed to run businesses and work for such companies whilst having strings of convictions for the offence for which they are purporting to protect the public.
Another senior police officer, referring to a new security firm, said:
You may share my concern and dismay when I tell you that … the person who formed the company is a man with many previous convictions and is currently on bail as well as being a disqualified driver. Working with him in his security business is a man who has 23 pages of convictions on the Police National Computer … most of these convictions involve burglary and theft in domestic property. He has only recently been released from prison and he too is a disqualified driver.
That sounds a fine team. These are the sort of people who need to be controlled.
The previous Government neglected the problem and refused to respond, whereas my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has responded. I accept that the strategic issues involving the Crime and Disorder Act, for example, had to be put in place first, but we are tackling the scandal in the first Parliament of a Labour Government. I am delighted to welcome the news from my right hon. Friend.
I also welcome the promise to regulate wheel clamping, which can be a real nuisance and a danger, especially for women drivers, if it is done in the wrong place at the wrong time. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) for campaigning for a change in the law. Clamping is of course a useful mechanism in the right place at the right time.
I challenge Conservative Members to put their constituents' safety and peace of mind above the temptation to make petty party political points. They should support the use of antisocial behaviour orders instead of threatening to abolish them. Those of us who have seen the misery created on a housing estate or in an inner-city area by one or two families or two or three individuals running amok, often committing a series of low-level crimes that create nuisance and intimidation, know that the ASBO was a much-needed measure.
The order is designed to prevent such activities. There are about 30 known breaches of ASBOs, the penalties for which have ranged from fines to imprisonment. I urge the courts to use their powers well. The message must go out from the courts that breach of an ASBO is no trivial matter. It is meant to be a preventive measure, and the courts must support the intention of the House that people should be warned, on the basis of their past behaviour, to stop antisocial behaviour so that others feel safe in their homes.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to maintain momentum on two fronts. The first is the crime and disorder partnership. Next year, every local authority and every police division will have to have regard to the crime and disorder audit in their area. There are good examples of the way in which that was done the first time round. The outcome must be much better the second time round so that real problems can be targeted. The second front is youth crime. I commend the work of Lord Warner and the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales and local youth offending teams in getting the necessary measures into place. I am pleased that the courts are succeeding in reducing the time that is taken to get young offenders before them.
Many of the measures in the Queen's Speech will help us to continue the success of the past three years, which have shown a reduction in crime. I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about the success of the Cardiff scheme. We need to learn from that, and ensure that safety and freedom from violent crime is the success of the next three years so that people can walk the streets in safety. It can be done, and it must be done throughout the country.
The rag-bag of measures in the Queen's Speech is a rather sad reminder of the grand rhetoric that accompanied the coming into power of the Government only three and a half years ago. It is a long way from all the great talk about the third way and modernising Britain. We have come down to a thin Session, with some worthy and some unworthy little Bills to fill in the time between now and the general election.
We know that the general election is a short time away—it is one of the worst-kept secrets in politics. It is likely to be on 3 May. The secret has been kept so badly that the Prime Minister will lose considerable face if he adjourns the election beyond that date. As a result, the Queen's Speech was bound to be thin, with few measures. However, the Government were not full of ideas and purpose, with Ministers competing with each other in trying to force Bills into the last legislative programme before the election. Having read the Queen's Speech, it is obvious that the Government had to go round Whitehall to find Ministers who wished to introduce Bills to fill in the time between now and May. The fourth Queen's Speech of the Session shows a Government who have run out of steam.
As ever, the Government went back to the Home Office, which had a staggering number of Bills in the previous Session. The electoral prospects were considered and it was rightly decided that the public are still concerned about crime and law and order. As we know from some notorious memos, the Prime Minister has been desperate to find eye-catching initiatives that will tell the public that he meant what he said when he used the utterly meaningless phrase about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The right hon. Gentleman was shadowing me when he produced that phrase, and it was one that made him the leader of the Labour party. On the day that he became leader, he was no more capable of explaining what it meant than he was when he uttered it. It is not the only example of a good one-liner in politics that carries someone a long way.
We know that the Prime Minister wishes to have eye-catching initiatives, preferably those with which he can be personally associated, to show that he is being tough on crime and on the causes of crime. Therefore, the Home Secretary—
No, I am sorry. I have only 12 minutes and I speak at much greater length than that on any occasion.
The fact that the Home Office has produced five Bills reveals that, when faced with the demand to produce sufficient to make the legislative programme dominated by Bills on crime, it could do very little to fill the gap. Regulating the security industry is an old chestnut for the Labour party. It will burden the police with a considerable amount of administrative work and make demands on manpower, which will be tied down in regulating one of the few industries that is left unregulated in this over-regulated country.
Vehicle crime measures seem worthy but not terribly important. Anything that reduces the amount of vehicle crime is to be welcomed, and if new legislation makes the law easier to enforce, so be it. I would welcome an attempt to tackle some of the weaknesses that have been displayed in the law on money laundering and on the proceeds of crime. It is a complex problem and the Home Office is able to promise only a draft Bill.
We are left with an attack on disorderly conduct. I am sure that I shall welcome part of it. We know that in market towns and suburbs throughout the country—not only socially deprived inner cities and bad urban estates—there is concern about minor disorder, vandalism and petty crime, which make such a great difference to people's lives. As politicians have always known, the difficulty is finding what can be done in legislation to tackle the problem. If something is done to make it easier to prosecute people for drinking cans of beer in the street and easier to get a penalty from people who are drunk in the streets, that will be welcome. Some of the other proposals seem again to be scraping the barrel.
I shall learn more about the Strathclyde experiment, but I am slightly alarmed about curfews. It is contemplated that a youngster who has not previously been in trouble may suddenly get in trouble for going out at the wrong time of night. That is because somebody has decided that a curfew should apply in a certain area. If we are not careful, we shall be drawn into introducing draconian measures that are misguided responses to public concern.
I am sorry, but no.
Why is the last Session of this Parliament to be spent discussing minor matters of vandalism, drunkenness and youthful delinquency on estates? The Government were told by their focus groups that such matters mattered to the public. Why did the Prime Minister come up with the dotty idea of waking up drunken youths and taking them to a hole-in-the-wall machine so that they can produce their credit card and pay an on-the-spot fine? Out went Mr. Gould with his focus groups. We all know that when people talk about crime, they mention people throwing around litter bins, drinking in the street and gathering in the town centre, so the Home Office has been asked to produce measure after measure to tackle such behaviour. If something worthwhile emerges, so be it, but I echo the observation made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe): if the Government think that such measures will cheer up the public and make them think that the Government are now on top of the problems of crime and disorder, they will find that they cannot meet the expectations.
In relation to his policy on the police, the Home Secretary has unwisely made foolish and misleading remarks about police numbers, so we have all gone back to playing the numbers game—arguing about how police numbers are moving. When I was Home Secretary, I removed from myself the absurd responsibility given to me for deciding how many police officers should be allocated to each and every police service in the country. The whole point of creating a more effective police service is to provide proper resources and leave to the local chief constable, in conjunction with his officers and local police authority, the responsibility for setting local priorities. Some police services want many more policemen, some want fewer and greater civilianisation, and some have other priorities.
What needs to be tackled and enhanced is police effectiveness, which means that resources have to be right and morale has to be raised. We also have to follow up the work of targeting individual crimes, setting proper performance indicators and not allowing too much police effort to be diverted into populist measures, such as installing better cameras to increase fines derived from speeding motorists to finance the police service and ease the burden on the Treasury. Instead, we should concentrate on supporting the best chief constables and the best police authorities in getting the best from their service.
The fifth Bill the Home Office has come up with is a complete disgrace and it is the reason why I speak today. To fill up the Session with law and order measures, the Government have reintroduced the Bill dealing with the right to choose jury trial. It is the most illiberal measure. The Bill has been thrown out, rightly, by the reformed House of Lords, and it looks as though the Government are returning to the charge to use the Parliament Acts to push the Bill through.
I no longer understand why the Bill has been produced. Originally, the reason was to save money—about £120 million—but that argument no longer stands up and the Government have abandoned it since it became apparent that about £80 million of that was meant to be derived from the shorter prison sentences that magistrates were to hand out. It sounds as though the Home Secretary thought that the Bill would alter the incidence of crime in this country, but I consider that most unlikely. Is the recidivist charged with stealing a Mars bar more likely to be convicted by magistrates than by jurors, and does that help to improve the effectiveness of law enforcement? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has the first idea why he is introducing the Bill.
The Bill has often been described by junior Home Office Ministers as a measure to modernise the criminal justice system, but the right to choose jury trial for the offences catalogued in the Bill, some of which are fairly serious, is not some ancient mystery. We do not just tolerate the fact that jury trial is still to be used in respect of all the most serious crimes. It is a traditional liberty. It is not an attack on magistrates courts to say that Crown court trial is superior: in Crown court cases, there is prior disclosure of the case against the accused and of documents, arguments about the admissibility of evidence take place in the absence of the jury, and there is the jury itself. When the Conservatives were in office, every member of the Labour party would, rightly, have described juries as a bastion of our liberties and jury trial as something that anyone accused of a significant crime should be entitled to choose.
There has been an argument about whether a bishop or a Member of Parliament who is accused of stealing a Mars bar should have greater right to jury trial than the man who already has 15 convictions and is accused of the same theft. The Government's reaction to that complex issue has been to go in the illiberal direction: so impressed are they by the argument that one should not discriminate between the two types of accused that the bishop, or the Member of Parliament, is to lose the right to choose jury trial if he is accused of, say, obtaining property by fraud, or many of the other offences covered by the Bill.
The Government are persisting with the Bill because they do not want to lose face: they introduced it, so they are going to persist with it. They have been defeated by new Labour peers, the Liberal party and the Conservative party. Against them is ranged the liberal establishment, so if they use the terms employed by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), they can appeal to the right-wing, populist section of the public by arguing that it is too kind to criminals to give too many people the right to jury trial.
By such measures, one can judge the state of a Government. At the end of their period of office, the Labour Government are tired and worn out. They cannot produce significant legislation on the subject of law and order, so they persist with a most illiberal measure that is wholly contrary to the concept of civil liberties. The Queen's Speech should be condemned on that ground alone.
People in my constituency, both young and old, are trying to do something about crime and disorder to supplement the Government's actions since being elected and their plans for the new Session.
At Stockland Green secondary school, members of a youth crime prevention club have used a £4,000 grant from millennium quest funding to learn how to fit mortice locks, and are now doing so in the homes of vulnerable members of the local community. That crime prevention work provides another message, as most of the club members are girls.
In Castle Vale—a thriving former tower block estate where residents are helping to lead regeneration—young and old are involved in a series of groups combating domestic violence, drug abuse and anti-social behaviour, in conjunction with local police, council officers and people from the Castle Vale housing action trust, which is leading the efforts. Only this morning, I received a letter from the trust telling me that, after an 18-day trial, it had successfully gained five out of five possession orders against the homes of those who have committed offences against the community. Nobody wants anyone else to lose their home, but everyone must understand that there is a limit to the mayhem and chaos that families—whether individual members or whole families—can and do cause to their community.
The interesting thing about today's news is that, if the trial had even been contemplated five or seven years ago, there would have been a public demonstration on the estate to protect those residents who were stealing the security and safety of others, because the residents would have thought that they had to stick together. For the first time, 26 residents—many of them neighbours—the police, the remarkable head teacher of Castle Vale comprehensive school, contractors and others have gone to court to back up evidence and make statements regarding misbehaviour, anti-social behaviour and crime committed by those against whom the possession orders were sought. I pay tribute to the people of Castle Vale, who have now insisted that they will take back to themselves the safety and security that has been stolen from them. They are not waiting for others to prevent or solve crime. They understand that we all have a responsibility.
In her calmer moments, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) knows that, however many officers there are, the police alone cannot prevent and solve crime, hence the importance of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the community safety partnerships that are developing between communities, councils, police, the voluntary sector, businesses and others. The development of policing based on operation command units underpins that by giving local police—more local under that policy—full responsibility for crime, its prevention and detection in the areas they serve. The House knows that additional officers and extra money do not, by themselves, guarantee a lower crime rate. It is not numbers alone that are critical; leadership, equipment and links between the police and the local communities that they serve are the more important key to combating and reducing crime.
I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that we should make it clear that we do not regard being young as being an offence. All but a small handful of young people are law-abiding and want to take advantage of the extra opportunities that teachers work so hard to offer in our schools and colleges, and which employers offer in the workplace, to make the most of their lives.
But that said, small, thoughtless groups of yobs can and do combine to steal the safety and security that everyone has a right to expect in and around their own homes. There are many areas of my constituency, not all of them facing severe deprivation, where the few cause nuisance, annoyance and fear to the many. That is why I welcome measures in the Gracious Speech to make our high streets and town centres safer—safer for young people who are the main victims of crime as well as for others—and to get in early to try to divert young people from anti-social behaviour and petty crime.
The anti-social behaviour orders and the new plans for fixed-penalty offences, such as being drunk and disorderly and using insulting words, are wanted in communities in my constituency and, I suspect, throughout the country, by the police and public alike. But those are only a few of the tools available to the courts to deal with persistent young offenders. However, they have the advantage of insisting that parents take proper responsibility for the behaviour of their children when they are away from home, and of providing the help that they need to do so if necessary.
The present and new powers have to be seen against the fact that the Government have helped 250,000 young people, left to rot by the previous Government, off the dole and into jobs and training. About 1,300 young people in my constituency have been helped off the dole by the new deal, off benefits and into jobs and training, and most of those have gone into what I would call properly paid jobs, not subsidised ones.
I especially welcome the moves in the Gracious Speech to crack down on cowboy clampers, an issue ignored by the previous Government, and, if the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is anything to go by, one which they thought was completely unimportant. In and around the centre of Birmingham, cowboy clampers operate from mobile phones, publishing no business addresses and using tactics, including terror, to extract cash from helpless victims. In one case, a young woman was asked to hand over jewellery when she could not produce a credit card to obtain cash from a cashpoint. In another, a woman suffering from severe diabetes, who did not know the city and did not have a credit card but needed to get home to take her medication, was held up by cowboys until she managed to contact a friend and raise money. Those are abuses of our constituents.
I am also pleased to welcome what has been proposed for security guards—bouncers—on club doors. Much progress has been made in Birmingham and elsewhere in that regard, and I am delighted that that will be extended throughout the country.
The Opposition make much of the fall in police numbers. In fact, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that started in 1992, when the Opposition forget that they were in office. It is also when they took responsibility for setting police numbers from the Home Secretary and gave it, properly, to chief constables. I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald did not explain her apparent change of mind. It follows from all that she said that she wants the Home Secretary to be given the powers to set police numbers in 43 police forces throughout England and Wales—an impossibility.
It is extraordinary that not a single member of the shadow Cabinet is on the Opposition Front Bench. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald has just returned, but it has been empty for some long time. The right hon. Lady comes back just in time for me to remind her that, despite having been in office for 18 years, Conservative Members think that it is enough just to say sorry. It is not enough for those victims of crime which doubled when the right hon. Lady was in the Home Office and the Conservative Government were in power. It is not enough when they presided over a regime when, although there was more crime, fewer people were sent to prison. We had more crime and fewer criminals. It takes a brilliant Government to achieve that.
In my constituency, under the Government whom the right hon. Lady supported, the chance of being burgled rose from one in 32 to one in 13—and it happened—and the chance of being a victim of violent crime trebled. That was the so-called golden inheritance with regard to law and order.
In contrast, during the next year alone, the police are being given an extra £10 in every £100 to build their strength. The crime fighting fund, targeted to deliver results, has the cash for an extra 9,000 officers over and above what chief constables planned for this year and for the following two years. In the west midlands, that will mean about an extra 1,300 officers during the next three years.
But at a time when 1 million extra people are in jobs, with unemployment at its lowest for 25 years, the police will find it harder to recruit, as will other public sector employers, such as the health service, schools, the fire and ambulance services, and so on. In such a labour market, it is not so much cash which will attract the recruits likely to be of most value to the police force, as commitment, wanting to be part of a body helping to restore pride among the different communities in the areas where they live.
During my time in the Home Office, crime fell year on year, the prison population rose to record levels, and the number of constables rose year on year. How does that compare with this Home Secretary's record?
The figures of the Government of whom the right hon. Lady was a member speak for themselves.
As other employers in the new high-tech industries have found, money is not enough to secure and retain the recruits that they need. We should learn the lessons where we can. It is not for nothing that Japanese companies operating here test for commitment before giving people the opportunity to apply for a specific job.
It is good to know that people in my constituency now have a lower fear of crime than they had a few years ago, although for too many it is still too high. More is being done to build links between the communities and those agencies which can help them to reclaim the safety and security that too many have had stolen from them. The Bills in the Queen's Speech are part of that process, but the real difference will be made by people in local communities who get the help that they need when they need it to reawaken that sense of belonging and community which is the best guarantee of safety and security.
There has been a good deal of ding-dong on police numbers during the debate. They are a problem for us in Bedfordshire. The numbers have fallen since the last election. The main figure that I have in mind is that, during the previous 18 years, they rose by 16,000 nationally, which puts the fact that they have fallen under the present Government into perspective.
The other worry about policing is the difficulty of recruitment and problems of morale. It is not easy for the police. I know—and I see beside me my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney)—that there are real problems at Huntingdon Life Sciences as a result of the serious misbehaviour by the animal rights movement, which is putting the police in great difficulty. I urge the Home Secretary and the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), to turn their attention to that. I am sure that they will do so.
I join my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) in deploring the reappearance in this short Session before the general election of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill to abolish the right to trial by jury. That is hopelessly ill judged. It is remarkable that a Labour Government—who, to their credit, had leading shadow opposition posts occupied by the Home Secretary who then condemned any such suggestion, and by the Attorney-General and Prime Minister who condemned such ideas—should then make a volte face to bring in such a thoroughly illiberal and inappropriate measure.
This is the third time that the Government have introduced the measure. On the first occasion, it was thrown out by the other place because it was inequitable with regard to different types of defendant. Far from learning their lesson and leaving it there, the Government then reintroduced the measure in an even more inequitable form, which tried to ensure that ordinary people who sought the right to trial by jury could not even have their personal circumstances taken into account. The Government managed to get some support from the Runciman royal commission for their first Bill. They also gained support for it from the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, albeit in a speech that was, I am bound to say, rather lukewarm.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a succession of lawyers to keep making these points when not one of them has declared an interest in the issue?
That is a matter not for the Chair, but for the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), who is addressing the House.
I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) is fully aware that I have been a member of the Bar for 35 years. I have not done any criminal work since before I entered government in 1986, but my position as a Queen's Counsel is well recorded. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman does not want to address the important points.
I rise in case my silence is taken as assent to criticism. I have not practised for 20 years and I have no intention of doing so again. Members of an illiberal Government who are damaging civil rights will not do their cause any good by attributing base motives to hon. Members who are defending the right to jury trial.
Sir Nicholas Lye11:
I return to the faults of the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill. When I read the Gracious Speech, I was astonished not only that the Government were reintroducing the Bill that opposes the right to jury trial, but that it had exactly the same words and title, which demonstrated that they intended to use the Parliament Acts to force its passage if they were so minded.
In an intervention on the Home Secretary, I pointed out the disgraceful inequities of the Bill, apart from my opposition in principle to the underlying concept. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government would listen carefully, so I hope that he will at least consider making some amendments. As he knows, the Bill has been attacked by Lord Bingham, who wrote to him to say that he was thoroughly unhappy with the fact that all circumstances cannot be taken into account. The Bill has also been attacked by Professor Michael Zander of the Runciman royal commission. One of the express reasons why the commission supported such an idea, however, was ensuring that all relevant matters were capable of being taken into account. If we have to take time to consider the Bill on the Floor of the House and in Committee, I hope that it will be examined with an open mind. I shall continue to oppose it root and branch as it is of no benefit whatever to the criminal justice system.
It constitutes a serious deprivation of one of our fundamental liberties—a liberty that goes back as far as the century after the Magna Carta, if not to the Magna Carta itself.
My right hon. and learned Friend may be disappointed to learn that he will not be able to discuss the Bill in Committee or on Report on the Floor of the House. I understand that the Government intend to table a motion to dispense with the Committee stage and with Report.
If my hon. and learned Friend is right about that—I hope that the Minister will respond to that point—it shows the Government's complete disregard of democracy in this country. The Bill has been thrown out twice by the other place, which contains more Labour peers than ever before. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary know perfectly well that some of their most respected lawyers in the other place oppose the Bill. In those circumstances, it is disgraceful in constitutional terms for them to think it right to deal with a measure that removes the rights of private citizens by introducing it for a third time.
What shocks me most, however, is that the Home Secretary does not fully understand what the Bill covers. He sought to justify it by speaking about petty offences relating to Mars bars. Indeed, he used the Mars bar example on several occasions during his speech. I invite him to acquaint himself with the rights removed by the Bill. It removes the right to trial by jury with regard to the whole swathe of what are called either-way offences.
The document "Criminal Statistics England and Wales 1998" contains 10 pages of either-way offences. I think that that will open a few eyes. The indictable-only offences cover only three pages. In the 10 pages of either-way offences, a mere petty theft offence can hardly be found. The pages cover offences as widespread as fraud, forgery, grievous bodily harm, wounding and the whole range of drug offences, from the most serious to mere possession. They also cover theft, violent disorder, the entire range of public order offences and of firearms offences, obscene publications offences and environmental protection offences. They cover more than 500 different offences for which the rights of the ordinary citizen to trial by jury are to be removed.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Magna Carta and the 12th century. Does he accept that we are now in the 21st century? The Government have been encouraging people in communities such as mine to enter the justice system. My brother is going into the magistracy. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman have no confidence in our magistrates and in people who are well equipped to take care of such matters?
I have great confidence in our magistrates. I grew up in a legal family. My stepmother was a magistrate and chair of the Bench for 25 years in Dacorum, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) well knows. Of course I have that confidence. However, the hon. Gentleman will also realise the quality of trial by jury. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe said, it provides the opportunity for proper disclosure, much better legal aid and a wider degree of defence.
No, not for the moment.
Trial by jury provides many more opportunities for careful trial. The important point is that there is confidence in the system as it currently stands. The examples given by the Home Secretary and the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South, on saving money undercut their case. Indeed, after we had dealt with the Bill in Committee last time round, the Minister of State said that he was not prepared to rely on saving money as a reason for introducing the measure. One wondered what the reason was. On analysis, there is no good reason for introducing the Bill. The money that the Government intend to save will supposedly come from shorter sentences—not for people who steal Mars bars, but for regular thieves who are currently receiving an average sentence of 10.9 months. They will supposedly—I find this supposition curious—be given sentences by the magistrates court averaging merely three and a half months. That is the most bogus sort of statistic that can be advanced to justify a Bill of this nature.
However, the Bill is more fundamental, which is why my references must extend through our history, to the middle ages and beyond. Our right to trial by jury confers the right not merely on the citizen, who may or may not be worthy of it, but on our communities at large to control and supervise our criminal justice system. That is an important democratic right. It applies whether or not the offence is serious, like the Ponting offence. It applies in respect of a comparatively trivial offence such as stealing a telephone call—an offence that arose in a case that I tried when I became an assistant recorder. The jury threw out the case. For the young man involved, the decision probably made the difference between a successful career in the hotel trade and the loss of that responsible career. However, the jury threw it out because, I suspect, they thought the charge was disproportionate.
In this democratic society, our criminal justice system is controlled by our democracy—by ordinary people through the little parliaments of the jury. As Lord Devlin rightly said, every jury is a little parliament. That is a tremendous foundation of our liberties. The Government are wrong to take that away, and we ask them to think again.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him in terms of subject matter, as I want to discuss the problem of crime in inner-city areas.
I am astonished that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who has a reputation for being a decent kind of Tory, does not understand the link between crime and the fundamentals that cause crime. Crime and the causes of crime, and the eradication thereof, involve a twin approach. Although serious crimes are committed in my constituency, including murder, sadly, on a regular basis—it is almost always drug related—it is often the low-level anti-social crimes that disrupt the quality of life for many of my constituents. That is why I welcome those parts of the Queen's Speech that will combat anti-social and yobbish behaviour.
The other night, a constituent of mine whom I know came out of his home, which is close to the city centre of Manchester. He confronted a youth who was urinating on the street and who had obviously had a good night out drinking. When my constituent remonstrated in very mild terms—he explained that he and his neighbours lived nearby and that the youth's behaviour was not very decent—the youth and two friends beat up my constituent so severely that he was hospitalised.
I do not want to make a trivial point about the connection between crime and alcohol, other than to say that the climate of impunity around the use and abuse of alcohol in our city centres and elsewhere must be dealt with soon. I welcome the relevant provisions in the Queen's Speech, which begin to build on the other measures that the Government have taken, including anti-social behaviour orders and local area partnerships, which are beginning to build a new relationship between communities and the police.
Sadly, the reality is that in communities such as mine confidence in the police has been severely eroded in recent years. That is obviously partly because the police were confronted by a seemingly inexorable rise in crime. I am afraid that the previous Government deserve enormous discredit for that rise, which was built on the previous Government's incompetence not only in terms of the law and order agenda—although they were incompetent in that regard—but in terms of the agenda that includes issues such as work. The link between very high levels of unemployment, which were created by the previous Government, and criminal behaviour is obvious and immediate.
I am glad that unemployment has begun to fall under the present Government—that has had an impact on my constituency—but there has been no related or immediate ratcheting down of criminal behaviour. That will take considerably longer, as we begin to change the culture and climate in which we operate. We need to rebuild a sense of community in our society. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) for his role in introducing anti-social behaviour orders, which have been tremendously important.
However, I issue a caution. I have said and will continue to say that my police force needs more constables and policemen on the beat and elsewhere. I have told the chief constable of Greater Manchester that he is responsible for ensuring that the inner city has a fairer share of the available resources. However, we must confront the way in which the police manage those resources internally.
In a recent case involving the first anti-social behaviour order in Manchester, the stipendiary magistrate granted anonymity to the relevant youths. The courts thereby let down the police and, more important, the community. In one example, an ASBO was breached. Although the police had been told by members of the community, including local councillors, that the young offender was in breach of the order, the police did not operate effectively to bring that young person to justice. The police were not setting the standards that we expect, and which we are entitled to expect, from them—that is the only way to make the new compact with the public work.
Good developments are under way, including the sure start initiative in Manchester which is beginning to make a big difference. The local area partnership is an important part of the effort to rebuild the relationship and trust between the police and the local community.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) discussed the allocation of homes and properties. He raised a fundamental point. I hope that the Government will think hard about a proposal that is missing from the Queen's Speech and that, even at this late stage, we can have a rethink. I am referring to the way in which properties are let to different groups. That problem involves not the local authorities in my constituency but private landlords.
For example, in east Manchester there is a large new deal for communities project, which involves reinvestment in that community. That process is obviously undermined by criminal behaviour, which does much to deter people from repopulating the area and prevents them from regarding it as an area worth living in. A significant number of private landlords, but not all of them, are a major source of concern to local people because they persist in taking no responsibility for the behaviour and attitude of their tenants. A very limited number of people can do enormous damage to the fabric of the wider community—they can fundamentally disrupt the way of life of many people. It is therefore not unreasonable to say that we need tougher controls.
The time has come to examine whether we should license the private landlord sector. If landlords are not prepared to accept their responsibilities, we need powers to coerce them to do so. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will sympathise with my suggestion that private landlords who do not accept that duty should cease receiving the housing benefit on which many of them depend to make a profit. I urge those on the Government Front Bench seriously to consider legislation in that connection. If such a change is not introduced within a reasonable period—the demand for it in my constituency is enormous—we put at risk the gains that the Government's investment in this context is designed to secure.
There has been some discussion about the curfew, although that is an unfortunate term. Wiser counsels in the Chamber have referred instead to child protection. We should approach this debate from the perspective not of curfews but of protection. The concept of a curfew involves political difficulties and raises other more general problems for our society. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench will ensure that a message is sent, making it clear that there is no generalised assault on young people. The approach does not involve saying that all young people in a particular area are inherently difficult or problem causing—that simply is not the case. In all areas, even those with high levels of criminality, there are young people who are an asset to society and who are an important part of the social cement that binds communities together.
I was at a pensioners do over the weekend and was gratified to see the work that the community and, in particular, the very young members of that community put in to ensure that that group of pensioners had a good Christmas evening. Those young people might, in different circumstances—perhaps on street corners—have appeared to me and to other members of the community as individuals potentially capable of causing terror. The fact is that they are not—they are decent young people.
We should say loudly and clearly that most young people are an asset to society—they are the future on which we must build. It is important to get across the message, through the rhetoric of curfews or child protection, that there is no generalised attack on our young people.
Many hon. Members want to speak in this debate, so I shall conclude on this point. Of all the issues that affect my constituents, crime is probably high on the agenda. When I talk to them on the doorstep or when they write to me, they always demand that more should be done. The Home Secretary said that crime and disorder rates are still too high. We should be honest—I wish the Opposition would be a little more honest—and get away from the political rhetoric. The Conservatives had a terrible record for which they will not be forgiven. If we can establish that there is a demand for the rebuilding of communities to be the basis on which we attack the fundamentals of crime, we will be attacking crime and the causes of crime.
No one in the House is in favour of high crime rates or communities being racked by disorder. The debate is about what measures, particularly in the Gracious Speech, would provide a better chance of reducing crime and enabling communities to live in a more orderly and stable fashion.
Last Wednesday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) pointed out:
The Queen's Speech said that the Government would combat crime and anti-social behaviour, and promised curfew orders.— [Official Report, 6 December 2000; Vol. 359, c. 19.]
Those were the words of the first Queen's Speech of this Parliament in 1997—I share my right hon. Friend's sense of deja vu. The implication is that the Government have not made much progress in the intervening three years. I want to consider those issues from a constituency perspective.
I am happy—or at least I am content—that I no longer have to stand at the Dispatch Box volleying statistics back and forth, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the Home Secretary were doing earlier. However, I want to mention a couple of constituency-related statistics. The Audit Commission's performance indicators for Cambridgeshire show that in 1999–2000 the total number of crimes committed per 1,000 of the population was 95.5, which is an increase over the figure for 1998–99. The total number of violent crimes committed per 1,000 of the population was 9.8, which is also an increase on the figure for 1998–99. When I tell the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), that crime is rising in my constituency, I offer her the Audit Commission performance indicator statistics.
Another of those statistics caught my eye. The percentage of victims satisfied with the police's initial response to violent crime and burglary had decreased from 1998–99. I hasten to add that that is not because the Cambridgeshire constabulary is not impressive, but because there are not enough police in the constabulary or on the beat. I recognise that the Government plan to spend more money on law and order next year. However, even with that expenditure, the Cambridgeshire constabulary will not reach its establishment level by the likely date of the next general election.
I shall not make a speech about resources. I have acknowledged that more will be provided, and I want to thank the Minister and the Home Secretary for recognising the case that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and I have been making to them about one or two special policing pressures in Cambridgeshire. I do not expect the Minister to respond tonight; I merely want to encourage her to continue to think about those problems before the final figures for Cambridgeshire are announced.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has left the Chamber, because it was a bit like old times. In 1997, when I was at the Opposition Dispatch Box, he stood at the other one encouraging the Conservatives to support anti-social behaviour orders. At that time, I said that the Opposition were not against such orders in principle, but we thought that the Government were grossly overselling them and that they would be much more difficult to put in place than he was leading the House to believe.
On the ground that anti-social behaviour orders might turn out to be a good thing, I have constantly badgered Peterborough city council and the Cambridgeshire constabulary in Peterborough about the introduction of such orders. About 10 days ago, I received an interesting letter from a senior police officer enclosing a copy of the new draft protocol. That was in November 2000. The House will recall when that became the law of the land. The officer said:
The Home office has recently forwarded long awaited guidance on the protocols and procedures
for these orders. The guidance was issued in June 2000. That is more than two years after the legislation was enacted. The letter went on to say that the police are
concerned about the degree of evidence required when preparing an application and the fact that in many respects, the substantive offences of public order and criminal damage for example, may have been more straight forward to evidence.
It said that the police
look forward to receiving further legal advice once the outcome of
court cases are known particularly about the degree of evidence required in practice.
The senior police officer cited a case of two youths who were to be pursued with an anti-social behaviour order. They went to court on 5 October, and they went back to court on 2 November, on 21 November and on 1 December. I have to tell the Minister that there has still not been an anti-social behaviour order issued in that part of my constituency. I shall not take lectures from the Home Secretary about supporting anti-social behaviour orders. We would be interested to see whether they actually work, but they have not worked in Peterborough. The police and the council together have not been able to make them work. That is a disgrace, because it is more than two years after the event. It is particularly disgraceful given the rhetoric that accompanied the introduction of these orders. It is no wonder that the Home Secretary was sheepish when he said that there had been 140 such orders throughout the whole of the country.
Something caught my eye in The Hunts Post, the local paper. An article on 29 November stated:
The Home Office has ordered police forces to compile regular crime updates for people living in rural areas.
The failure of anti-social behaviour orders and this new bureaucratic encouragement sums up the Government. People in the rural parts of my constituency know about crime first hand because they are the victims of it. They know about the fear of crime because they live with it. They see police being diverted from rural areas into the towns and into the city of Peterborough.
No. I am sorry, but I have only a limited time.
Despite all the community efforts—neighbourhood watch, farm watch and all the rest of it—people know that the real problem is resources. What my constituents want is not more statistics but more action.
When we considered the legislation that introduced anti-social behaviour orders, I asked the Home Secretary whether the Government would legislate to stop the practice of prostitutes' cards being plastered all over the phone boxes of London. I did so with the support of Westminster city council. The Minister may remember that I handed a number of those cards to the Home Secretary across the Dispatch Box—they were safely in an envelope. In his response, the Home Secretary told the House that he would act swiftly. He and I agreed that this practice needed to be made illegal.
I was grateful for a letter that I received this very week from the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke). He said that he was writing to me because I had an interest in the matter, and added:
As you will be aware, I announced on 9th June that we—
would develop detailed proposals for a new criminal offence.
That date—9 June—was the best part of three years after the Home Secretary had told me that the situation was a disgrace and that the Government would act immediately.
The Minister of State wrote that a consultation period had followed, and ended by telling me:
We are keen to make progress.
Where have I heard that phrase before? Like most of my constituents, I have no idea whether what is proposed in the Gracious Speech will make any significant difference, but I, and they, have a perfect right to be sceptical. We have heard all this before, time and again, in overblown rhetoric—and overblown rhetoric to which Ministers' attention was drawn at the time.
The proposed Bills reflect Government failure, not Government success, and that is how they will be understood come 5 April or 3 May. I ask the Minister to start getting serious about translating into action in my constituency some of the promises that the Government have made.
As my predecessor said in his maiden speech,
It is with some trepidation that I find myself on my feet at this early stage.
I find the experience just as daunting as he did back in 1966, but, as he did, I will
take my courage in both hands and rely on … traditional tolerance.—[Official Report, 4 May 1966; Vol. 727, c. 1686–7.]
Donald Dewar was a great man. He has secured his place in history as the architect of the first elected Parliament in Scotland for 300 years. I know that Opposition Members held him in just as high esteem as his hon. Friends. We shall all miss him, and the House will be a poorer place for his passing. The people of Anniesland will also miss him. When I was campaigning in the by-election, I was repeatedly told, "He will be a hard act to follow." He certainly will.
Donald stood for many things, but his lasting legacy will be his endless work to achieve social justice for all, regardless of their ethnic, religious or social background. No one can fill his shoes, but I will try to walk in his footsteps. He was one of a kind, and will be remembered by many as a man of high ideals and principles. The recent by-election was perhaps not as memorable as the one that he fought in 1978. That was a turning point in Scottish politics. The nationalists were riding high until that by-election in Garscadden, but they never recovered from the defeat and as a result Scotland can be said to have been Labour to this day.
The Anniesland by-election a few weeks ago may not have the same lasting effect as that in Garscadden, but time will tell. It certainly dented SNP morale, and I hope it will be the platform for a famous Labour victory in Falkirk, West next week.
Like Donald, I can say that Glasgow is my home. In fact, I was born in the constituency—more years ago than I care to remember—and I live there now. I am proud to be a Glaswegian, and to be the representative of Anniesland in the House.
The area of Anniesland is not known for its scenery or architecture, but, as someone who has spent most of his life there, I have always found that it is the people who make the difference. They are without doubt the friendliest, most fair-minded and politest of people and, despite the many problems they have experienced, I hold them in the highest esteem. I would submit them for comparison with people anywhere in the country.
The people of Anniesland have many different backgrounds and social standards, but whether they come from Drumchapel, Yoker, Knightswood, Blairdardie, Anniesland, Kelvindale or Jordanhill, I shall be honoured to represent them.
The issues raised during the by-election were, in my opinion, those that will be raised at the next general election: pensions, the health service, education, jobs, housing and social justice. There was a general feeling that the Government had done a good job on all fronts. Although there was a low turnout of 38.5 per cent., a colleague said—and I feel that he hit the nail on the head—that the only time there was a high turnout at a by-election was when a highly unpopular Government or a popular Opposition were in place. As Labour won well over 50 per cent. of the votes, neither must be the case. The result appears to support my colleague's opinion.
The constituency of Glasgow, Anniesland has one of the highest proportions of over-60s in the country—31.4 per cent. Thanks to the present Government, they are better off to the tune of £5 for single pensioners and £8 for pensioner couples from next April. Moreover, we should not forget the £200 winter fuel allowance that they have just received, and the free television licences for over-75 s.
Health is important to everyone, but to the elderly in particular. I was happy to see the promise of extra investment in the Queen's Speech, and the commitment to modernising health care. That shows Labour's continued commitment to the NHS.
Unemployment in Anniesland is higher than the national average, but, thanks to the present Government, it has fallen by nearly 14 per cent. in the past three years. Since the new deal started in April 1998 more than 1,100 young people have started on the programme; 437 have found work through it and 390 have gained work experience or training through new deal options.
I was extremely pleased to see other excellent proposed legislation in the Queen's Speech, which will be of interest to the people of Anniesland. I believe that the criminal justice and police Bill, which we have been discussing, will help to solve the problem of young people making a nuisance of themselves. The only thing that I would ask for is extra money to allow local councils to invest in facilities to keep those young people interested in matters other than vandalism and crime in general. Keeping the young off the streets is only part of what is needed.
The Hunting Bill is another measure that is long overdue, and I shall be happy to make my vote count. My main thanks, however, must go to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has managed the country's finances with an even hand. He has made it possible for us to give increases to pensioners and to raise spending on the health service, as well as putting the economy in a position that enables us to bring down unemployment and maintain low inflation. As they say in Scotland, he is a canny Scot, and I am sure that the next Finance Bill will continue the good work.
All that legislation and more will be well received by the people of Anniesland. However, although I am happy with the content of the Queen's Speech, I would like to see more radical legislation in future to meet the needs of the elderly and the unemployed in particular and, in general, the needs of those who look to a Labour Government to give the helping hand that our opponents refuse. I have already mentioned extra money for councils to use for youth projects and I would particularly like help to be provided in educating the young on the misuse of drugs, and a way to be found of communicating to them the harm that they do themselves.
I believe that the Government have done well in the past three years. With a stable economy, we are now seeing the benefits of good, sound management. The moneys given to health, education and employment, social services and pensioners have shown who really cares about the people of this country. The fact that unemployment has fallen so sharply, and the introduction of the minimum wage, back that up. Some years ago, I remember, people—including some Opposition Members—were saying that the minimum wage would increase joblessness. How wrong could they have been? I hope that the Chancellor can do more in the years ahead, and that the minimum wage will be increased by well in excess of inflation—but only if the country can afford it. In the words of a now famous song, things can only get better.
In closing this, my first speech in the House, let me say again what an honour it is to serve the people of Glasgow, Anniesland. I give my word that I will do my best to achieve all that is expected of a Labour Member of Parliament. I will always have an open door to those people, and an open mind to policies that seek to improve their lives. I will try to ensure that Donald Dewar's legacy of social justice for all, no matter who they are or their walk of life, is continued.
I thank hon. Members for their tolerance.
May I be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson) on his maiden speech? As he rightly said, his predecessor was regarded with great respect and affection in the House and outside. He is and will continue to be sadly missed. Having heard the hon. Gentleman's comments, I am sure that he will be listened to with interest and respect whenever he is fortunate enough to catch the Speaker's eye.
My constituency surgery last Friday began with a lady to whom I will refer as Mrs. A. She expressed concern that her young son, who is 14, had been walking home from school in October when he had been set upon by two youths, one aged 14 and the other 15, and for no apparent reason beaten up. She said that what was particularly horrifying about the attack was that the assailants had deliberately sought to cause the maximum injury to her young son's head—to cause the maximum pain, but with the minimum visible bruising.
Mrs. A went to the police. Her son was seen by a surgeon and was photographed. Statements were taken. The assailant was well known: her son knew who it was and the police knew who it was. That was October. In the middle of December, she does not know what has happened in that case, whether the youth has been charged or whether he has been taken to court. She has heard no more from the police.
A little later in my surgery, a couple came to see me. I shall refer to them as Mr. and Mrs. B. They live on the same housing estate in Banbury. They are public-spirited people who act as foster parents. They had bought their foster child a bicycle. That foster child, who is also 14, had been riding on the estate when he had been attacked suddenly by the same youth. He had been beaten up and his new bicycle had been damaged.
Mr. and Mrs. B told me that the youth was well known to them, too. He was frequently seen driving around the estate in a motor car, or riding speed bicycles around the estate. He had vandalised their garden and broken down their fence. He was well known to the police and had caused much difficulty to a lot of people.
Mr. and Mrs. B had come to see me because they were particularly upset. They had just heard from the police that the Crown Prosecution Service had advised that no proceedings should be taken against that youth as, ultimately, it had been decided that it was their foster child's word against the youth's word.
It was the same assailant in both cases. The attacks happened on one housing estate in Banbury, which could not be more middle England. What was particularly disconcerting was that Oxfordshire social services, which had placed the foster child with the foster parents, advised that it would be inappropriate to place any other foster children with them for the time being because they could not provide a safe environment. If a safe environment in which to bring up children cannot be provided in housing estates in Banbury, something serious is happening.
When I took the matter up with the local police, I was told by Inspector Choudhary of Thames Valley police Banbury sector:
It is true to say over the past few months the levels of policing in the Ruscote area have not been as we would have all liked, but this was due to a number of abstractions from the team that deals with that area. I can assure you that this situation will be resolved as I have made changes to the shift patterns of the officers who patrol Ruscote area and as of January far greater police presence will be visible.
People living in Ruscote and Banbury want policemen on the beat now. They do not want to have to wait until January, but I suspect that the situation will get worse, rather than better. For the first time in the 17 years that I have been an hon. Member, I and other parliamentary colleagues in the Thames valley have been written to by the chief constable of Thames Valley in these terms:
I am writing … to tell you that, from the latest examination of our recruitment and retention figures, it is clear that the situation is getting significantly worse. We have already lost 90 officers so far this year from April-October through transfer or resignation, whilst normally we would expect to lose no more than 40 in a full year. Recruiting too has become far more difficult.
Currently, the vacancies are being held at the centre … but it is only a short time before these vacancies will be felt on police areas—especially those in the south east of the force where I have most difficulty with retention.
There are many more applications
in the pipeline and there is no doubt that we are seeing the start of a significant exodus of officers from this force due to high housing costs … These trends are also accompanied by the fact that we are finding it more and more difficult to recruit replacements.
No wonder the Oxford Mail carries headlines such as
Thin blue line gets thinner.
Inspector Martin Elliott, who represents the Police Federation locally, said:
What was a very thin blue line on the streets is now not even thin, it's dotted. This is a crisis—we will lose more officers this year than we will take on.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul West said:
We have lost more than double what we would normally experience.
The Police Federation has put a lot of the blame for the staffing crisis in the Thames valley on the lack of a rent allowance to offset high living costs in the area and on the fact that many officers recruited in the last big drive are reaching retirement age.
I, too, share the view that it is pointless ping-ponging statistics across the Dispatch Box, but we have a problem on the ground in the Thames valley. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will listen to the case that has been put by the chief constable for a housing allowance for officers in the Thames valley. Otherwise, we will have a serious situation.
In relation to curfew orders, David Marchant, secretary of the Thames Valley Police Federation, said:
We've not got the officers to enforce the current laws of the land at the moment, without imposing new ones.
There is no point in the Government introducing further criminal justice legislation if the police officers are not in place to enforce existing legislation.
My other concern is in relation to anti-social behaviour orders. One would have thought that the youth who appears to have brutally attacked two young people on the Ruscote housing estate and to have created considerably more mayhem on the estate was an ideal candidate for an anti-social behaviour order. However, for whatever reason, I have been told by Superintendent Reeve and Grahame Handley, chief executive of Cherwell district council, that when they sought the advice of the clerk to the justices of North Oxfordshire magistrates they were told that his advice to magistrates would be that, unless it was a persistent offender, an anti-social behaviour order should not be granted.
Corroboration for that came to me today in a letter from the chief executive of Banbury Homes, which has much of the social housing in Banbury. He wrote about some evictions that it had succeeded in obtaining against some anti-social tenants on another housing estate in Banbury. His letter states:
We are also dependent on the co-operation from the Courts in order to consider Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, and in the Banbury area we have been advised that such co-operation will not be forthcoming.
The Secretary of State said that, in his view, Oxfordshire magistrates had misdirected themselves on anti-social behaviour orders. All I know is that the Home Office has responsibility for issuing guidance to magistrates courts on such orders. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 has been in place for more than two years. It is incredible that, in my area, not a single anti-social behaviour order has been issued and that, throughout the country, only 140 have been issued. If that legislation is to work, surely the Home Office should seek to discover from magistrates courts, the Magistrates Association, the police and local authorities why they are not making more use of legislation that the House passed at the beginning of the Parliament. If they do not make greater use of it, all the new legislation is simply posturing. When the Government say that they will bear down on yobbish behaviour, it is simply posturing if they do not also provide sufficient police numbers to police our streets and ensure that the magistrates courts effectively implement legislation that has already been passed by the House.
On Third Reading of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), said:
The fact that these debates have taken place will assist us in ensuring that the guidance offered to the courts on the use of anti-social behaviour orders is precise.—[Official Report, 23 June 1998; Vol. 314, c. 871.]
What has happened in my patch is precisely nothing, and it is time that that changed. I do not believe in demonising young people, and I firmly support the work of organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. I also think that, whenever possible, one should seek alternatives to custody for young people, and that the work of groups
such as NCH Action for Children on replacements for custody is excellent. However, I also think that we have to recognise that, sometimes, there are persistent young offenders who cause a disproportionate amount of mayhem in our communities.
The House has a duty to those communities to ensure that there are sufficient police numbers and that the courts have sufficient powers to deal with those young people. Unless the Government are prepared to do that, all the measures in the Queen's Speech on law and order are simply posturing.
So far, the debate has dealt only with crime, whereas the annunciator says that it is about home affairs and inner cities. I should like to talk a little about inner cities, perhaps establishing a precedent that other hon. Members will follow. I shall also deal specifically with the matter of universities located in inner-city areas and the recent explosive unplanned growth in the number of houses in multiple occupation—which most people know as HMOs.
The fact that a growing proportion of our population needs short-term lets which can be found in HMOs is not disputed. Demand is especially keen among the younger population of single people and couples living together in short-term lets. Such housing suits their life style and needs, as it does those of modern industry, inner-city universities, and commerce generally. The need for "flexible" labour sources is reflected in the amount of temporary accommodation for young people who are in the process of acquiring a degree and those who have short-term contracts in the labour market.
There are serious concerns about the problems associated with HMOs, such as their quality, potential extra fire risks and generally low standards. The Government's stated intention to legislate to raise safety standards and improve the general quality of such housing stock is—to say the least—welcome. However, I was very disappointed that the need for such special legislation was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Such legislation would have been very welcome as a long overdue attempt to improve the lot of tenants in HMOs and—just as important—the lot of those who comprise the long-term residential communities in properties adjoining universities in our inner cities.
Today, I wish to draw to the House's attention a specific use—or, more accurately, misuse—of current housing stock, which has led to serious damage to well-established family housing stock and to the natural living communities in and around our two inner-city universities in Leeds. I shall speak about the specific area that I have been elected to represent. Hon. Members may also know a part of my constituency—Headingley, which is now known not only for its cricket and rugby facilities but for its HMOs. Last year, it had a 52 per cent. turnover in its electoral register. It is a seriously destabilised community.
Sometimes, it seems that there is a grim determination abroad not to understand an argument that has been made very many times to universities, local government and the national Government about the form and nature of the damage caused in inner cities by the explosion in the number of HMOs in university areas such as those in Leeds. It is devastating to witness at close quarters the process of destruction of a community caused by the number of HMOs.
"Term-time only" use of HMOs causes houses owned and managed by private landlords to be used only seasonally. Such use has a very simple purpose and effect: to remove vast sums from those areas. HMOs are like giant pumps sucking out not only money, but complex community stability that took generations to build. They also seriously damage the physical and cultural amenities that are usually found in warm, self-sustaining communities.
Such communities should contain, for example, a mix of small shops that trade year-round, not only seasonally. One manifestation of the change in Headingley was the loss of a very famous small family run toy shop called Pumpkin Corner. The reduction in the number of families in the area has resulted in there being fewer children there. If there are no children, there is no need for a specialist toy shop. Although loss of the shop has perhaps not caused significant damage to the local community, such losses are suffered time and again.
The notion has been floated in some circles that it would be helpful to develop voluntary links with the student housing sector, and particularly with some of the private landlords. However, the idea that that will slow down the process of community impoverishment, let alone preventing the untrammelled so-called market forces that are now at work from destroying larger parts of our inner-city areas, is simply fanciful and manifestly not true.
We need responsibility for the defence of our communities to be taken by our elected local and national government. We need action to ensure the defence and retention of inner-city areas for the year-round housing of needy families and first-time buyers—who are now priced out of the market—rather than the transformation of areas surrounding our inner-city areas into barren transit camps. Such a process is currently under way in those areas. It is being participated in unwillingly by the good landlords, and uncaringly by short-term and profiteering landlords. The need for greater provision of safe and good-quality accommodation for the student population is not being dealt with by the current process of unmanaged market forces.
Sadly, not only the Government but the universities have been found wanting in the matter. In Leeds, the universities' behaviour towards the community who supported them for generations has been found seriously wanting. They have shown at best an ineffectual concern, and at worst a betrayal of the support that they have received from local communities, on which any continuing mutually beneficial economic and social relationship depends. They have betrayed the community.
The expansion of student numbers in higher education is, to put it mildly, a laudable policy objective, and it is being achieved. The objective would be especially laudable if the numbers reflected a large increase in students from social classes 3, 4 and 5. I look forward to such change. Meanwhile, however, students who live in areas where there are many HMOs for term-time only use are often themselves the victims not only of the worst excesses of a free-market housing policy, but of the area's increasing crime.
The types of crime mentioned in today's debate are occurring in and around those university areas. Such areas always contain a young population who have constantly to relearn the lessons of history. As the student population in such areas is replenished annually, the areas have a permanently renewed youthfulness that never matures.
The supporters of unfettered free-market forces were right about the market providing—it provided substandard accommodation for large numbers of students, and not just in Leeds. The same free market also failed—and fails—to invest in new housing stock. It is important to acknowledge that we all seek good-quality and safe living conditions for the overwhelming number of students who live in the inner-city areas of Leeds. The free market economy wants a guaranteed profit—that is, guaranteed through a public support of education. It is a common trait, which has become manifest in other former public sector industries, leading to all kinds of failures and human disasters.
I am told that in the southern end of Headingley, there are more than 1,000 so-called empty beds in HMOs. That part of my constituency is becoming steadily impoverished. The poor quality of the provision and its continuing decline means that neither students' parents nor the students themselves wish them to live in such poor conditions. As a result, there is a growing dereliction created by the profit-farming landlords. It reminds me of the dustbowl farmers of the American mid-west in the 1920s and 1930s—pillaging the land, profiting and moving on to pastures new for even greater profits. Local government has found this unplanned-for growth in HMOs irresistible, as it has not had the powers to stop it. The evidence of such growth is before our very eyes, and its predicted spread is taking place.
One consequence of the expansion of these transit camps and empty beds is a dramatic drop in the family occupation. It is not a question of losing one family shop; there is a serious threat to schools in the areas damaged by the growth in HMOs. At least two primary schools in my constituency are experiencing serious difficulties related to the fall in numbers of primary school-aged children. One of those schools is just 10 years old. It was built when the demographics showed a secure, continuous supply of young children.
The Government's stated policy of recovering inner-city areas for reoccupation by long-term residents is working in parts in Leeds—for example, in the riverside developments in the centre. However, such developments are not occupied by young families working in the shops, offices and call centres. They are moving out of the city centre—first-time buyers have no chance of buying a city-centre property.
The pressure that that puts on greenbelt land is understood, but it also adds enormously to the polluting effect and the CO2, level. The so-called rush hour is now 12 hours long. That kind of pressure means that Headingley lane has the dubious claim of being the second most polluted road in Leeds.
In one way, managing the unparalleled growth in student numbers is wonderful—it is what we all want. The growth in the educational process is, from my perspective, as essential to the nation's health as the national health service. In fact, the NHS depends on it. However, I am concerned that we are in danger of destroying the very centres—
It is helpful to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best). He started the debate on the inner cities, which seems to have slipped as the lawyers have pounded their Benches. [Interruption.] "Spoken as someone who is not a lawyer" might be a better way of putting it.
When I dashed home last Wednesday and turned on "Newsnight", I heard the Home Secretary being interviewed. I did not hear him very clearly, but I thought that he was talking about the inner cities again. He said, if I heard him correctly, that he put all the blame—or a considerable proportion of it—for the state of the inner cities on what happened in the 1980s. That is rubbish.
When I arrived in this country in the early 1970s, I worked in the east end of London. I can tell the Home Secretary that the state of the east end of London then was deplorable. The state of housing—almost entirely council housing—was shocking, as were the streets and transport. The atmosphere and environment appalled me.
Over the years, I have regularly visited many of the estates in that area and in south London. Many have improved—equally, many are still absolutely appalling. One—the North Peckham estate—has been featured recently because of that awful, awful incident. I used to know the North Peckham estate quite well from a number of visits.
There have been successes, which have been largely brought about by co-operation. I do not know of the Cardiff example that was mentioned, but that sounded as though it resulted from a similar approach. By co-operation, I mean co-operation between the community, the Government—to a degree—the local authority, the police, the faith communities and the private sector. I believe that the private sector is key.
My reason for saying that derives from my shock when I became a Conservative councillor in south-west London and looked at some of the estates there. They were absolutely disgusting. Anyone who has been on a train leaving Victoria station going towards Clapham junction will see, as they go across the river, a highly coloured, novel estate—post-war, modern build. In 1978, and for a year or two afterwards, the crime level on that estate was so high that the police only went there multiple-handed, frequently carrying arms. It was a no-go area. Taxis would stop outside and let their passengers out. People walking there had to go in pairs, looking out in case something was dropped on them from above. In the case of a local policeman, it was a Ford Cortina gearbox. I suspect that that "Ford Cortina" ages me somewhat.
That estate has changed completely because of co-operation between the community, both inside and outside the estate. It has changed largely because of the private sector, but even more important has been home ownership. The right to buy turned that estate around. About 55 per cent. or 60 per cent. has now been sold. There is a pride in that community; the crime level on the estate is now so low that it does not have a closed circuit television camera.
Many of these ideas were used up and down the borough. Most of the estates, if not all of them, changed fairly rapidly as the environment changed. Again, that was largely due to our getting the private sector to work for the public sector—collecting rubbish, cleaning the streets, maintaining street lighting and removing the graffiti. We introduced ideas that were new then—we may have been the first borough in the country to use CCTV. There were other things such as building out crime, using colour, cleaning up the parks and introducing park police. One helpful factor was the abolition of the Greater London council. [Interruption.] I hear deep breaths being drawn.
In those days, the GLC was the most interfering, difficult body that any local authority could suffer in London; it either slowed progress or wrecked it. In addition, the Inner London education authority was abolished. Under ILEA, education in inner London was appalling. Its standards were either the worst or the second worst for the whole of its life, but its expenditure and cost to the nation and the people was far an away the greatest.
Perhaps the biggest change, especially in those times, was the fact that Wandsworth was determined to work in co-operation with the police. In those days, the GLC had a police committee, which was effectively an anti-police committee. All the left-wing local authorities—there were quite a few then—had anti-police committees, and the police received no co-operation from the local authorities that needed to co-operate. It was not just a matter of money, bearing in mind that that authority consistently—under whatever Government—received either the second lowest or lowest external grant, but managed, by using decent services, not to penalise its local people, consistently asking them for the lowest rates, poll tax or council tax.
Despite the fact that there is no boundary around the area—other than that drawn on a map—the result was that people liked the authority. The community came with it, preferring good services at the lowest cost. People had been moving out of the area, but they have now moved back; it has become a desirable place to live. Education in the area has improved and there are new schools, new Church schools and new city technology colleges. Competition between the schools has become co-operation. Education in the area has a long way to go, but it is on the way.
In 1978, Wandsworth started on a par with Lambeth, Hackney and Haringey, but there is now a huge difference between them, which results from their different attitudes. As I said, this is not a matter of money because, after all, Wandsworth's total external support is £756 per head and the band-D council tax is £401 this year, whereas—I have mentioned the North Peckham estate—Southwark receives a grant of £1,093 per head but soaks its local people at band-D of £845. Other factors must be considered, such as the different policies of those councils.
As the lawyers were hammering on the Benches earlier, I shall compare crime in Southwark and Wandsworth. It is not good in either authority. I understand that last year there were 600 violent incidents and 500 drug offences in Wandsworth, but there were 1,500 violent crimes and 1,639 drug offences in Southwark. That is reflected in what has gone on in that authority. I wonder what Southwark did, or did not do.
In the early days, Southwark fought the right to buy, tooth and nail. Those who bought their homes were squeezed with extra on-costs. The authority fought the use of the private sector. Even when compulsory competitive tendering was introduced, it continued to use its notorious in-house, poor-quality and expensive services. So its council estates were in poor repair and heavily squatted. They had filthy streets and graffiti everywhere. Maintenance was poor in general. There were drug addicts at every turn; litter and used syringes on every corridor; and old sofas and burnt-out cars throughout the estates. I remember walking through them. Of course, Southwark was politically correct—in education with bog-standard comprehensives and with continued poor co-operation with the police.
Even today, many local authorities fight working with the police and the private sector. For example, Southwark is carrying out many major works and has an in-house engineering team, but there is not a single qualified engineer—I mean one who has a degree—in the whole team and the authority will not use the private sector if it can possibly help it.
I turn now to the Queen's Speech and what this Government have done to help. They have not really helped. They have cut the right-to-buy discount, so people are persuaded that home ownership is not for them. They have introduced best value. Best value involves loads of consultations and reams of consultation documents, which has produced consultation fatigue. It also involves benchmarking groups between local authorities—the awful compared with the appalling. They have talked about beacon boroughs, but an authority can only become one if it is politically correct—never mind the service. Costs arise especially as there are armies of auditors in the Audit Commission being fed on tons of papers, collected by armies of council bureaucrats. There is no best value in that. The aim of best value was to cut out the necessity to use the private sector, so there is a return to in-house teams and standards drop. The Government have introduced a new scrutiny system, but it enables incompetent authorities to hide their incompetence.
I have spent 21 days during the past few months with the Metropolitan police. I have never seen a more demoralised force in my life. It is absolutely pushed to the limit. The figures for the police force in Wandsworth for March 1997 show that it had 596 officers; that figure has now dropped to 570. The figures for Southwark for 1997 show that it had 861 officers; that number has now dropped to 821.
To make matters worse for Metropolitan police officers, they are running round with best value strung round their necks, having to produce figures for auditors—with an unbelievable 59 targets to try to meet—rather than getting on with constructive policing. The Government have also created a Mayor and the Greater London Authority, which have added to costs.
The inner cities need pragmatism from the experience of success. They are not getting that; they are getting the knee-jerk dogma of those who have failed.
May I say to the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford) that I do not intend to rise to some of his more controversial comments about the GLC? I merely point out that its abolition was opposed consistently by a great majority of Londoners; it was an act of political vandalism that owed everything to ideology and nothing to the sort of local government efficiencies about which he was talking.
I welcome the proposals on home affairs in the Gracious Speech. Many political journalists mocked the legislative programme that we have introduced, but I would expect them to do so. Most political journalists have no great connection with the realities of street life, such as that in the area of London that I represent. Indeed, the most dangerous thing that most political journalists experience is being hit by a wayward champagne cork at a good dinner.
I listened to yesterday's statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the Nice summit. There has been enormous concentration—on television and in the media—on the euro, national vetoes and qualified majority voting, which are all very significant subjects. However, not one person has ever stopped me on the streets of West Ham to talk about national vetoes, the euro or QMV. They are not subjects of debate for my constituents. I am not saying that they are unimportant, but they are not the kind of thing about which the people whom I represent are overly concerned. That is not surprising. When I listened to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, even he did not seem to know what those issues were all about. That was certainly the impression that he gave. Those are not the issues discussed by the people I mix with in the pubs in my constituency.
Much of the talk in my constituency is about the very issues that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred to in his speech. I want the Labour party to make law and order a central part of our election strategy. Of course it will be electorally popular because it is socially necessary. Any party that could guarantee safe streets would win an election hands down. However, it is not possible to give a cast-iron guarantee of safe seats [HON. MEMBERS: "Safe streets."] Yes, safe streets, but I am very glad to say that I have a safe seat. I hope that all my colleagues feel the same about their constituencies. They certainly look safer by the day, when we consider the performance of the Leader of the Opposition.
There are many things that we can do to make our streets safer, such as providing more police, more CCTV cameras, more information hotlines and, of course, better street lighting. However, the most important thing that we need to do is to mobilise our local communities. Peer pressure is the strongest pressure needed to cut crime in our areas.
I have not lost sight of the need to deal with the causes of crime. There is little point in addressing the symptoms and ignoring the causes. However, I must make an important point. One understands that unemployment, poor education, bad housing and a lack of facilities can generate crime, but none of those factors excuses crime.
I had a pretty bad experience in my constituency recently. It was certainly the most dangerous—although not the first—incident that has happened to me in 17 years of representing the area. Ironically, it took place on the eve of the "Respect" campaign that was being launched by the local authority in Forest Gate. Indeed, it is a very good local authority, which was voted council of the year in 2000. If the incident demonstrated anything, it was that there is a need for respect on the streets of Forest Gate—certainly, as far as the local Member is concerned.
As I left Forest Gate station, I was trailed by four yobs who assaulted me. A knife was held in my side and I was robbed. At that point, I did not want to hear about their personal problems or to be told that they were the real victims. What I wanted was a posse of police to come screaming down the road to give them all a good truncheoning. Unfortunately, that did not happen and I was deprived of 50 or 60 quid. I was, and remain, very angry, but I am looking on the bright side—at least I will not have to canvass those yobs; I have worked out that I can mark them down as Labour doubtfuls, assuming that we ever find out where they live.
The incident received a great deal of national publicity because it involved a Member of Parliament. If that helps the community and the authorities to focus attention on the problems of street safety, it will have been a worthwhile experience, but not one that I would wish to repeat every week. The reaction to my experience was interesting. All too many of my constituents have had similar experiences, but they do not get the coverage that I received. A large number of people have written to me, sent me cards and stopped me on the street to express concern. Every child in a class in Selwyn road primary school, which I had recently visited, wrote me a lovely letter with a picture. It was very touching. Interestingly, the letters revealed that one in three of all those kids in a primary school in the east end had experienced a similar incident through a member of their family.
We have to wake up to that fact. Such a crime focuses the attention of people who have experienced it. I exchanged a few jokes with Harry Redknapp, the manager of West Ham, when he saw me coming out of the ground. He asked whether I wanted him to walk me home so that I would be safe. I said, "I think I can survive, Harry. I might run into a few Chelsea supporters, so it's best you don't walk with me." Then he said, "My mother is frightened to go out after dark." When it gets dark at a quarter to four in the afternoon, many of our elderly citizens are imprisoned indoors. That is an appalling indictment of what is happening in our communities.
The response and follow-up actions of the police at Forest Gate and Plaistow stations were superb, but the uncomfortable fact remains that in an area such as mine, the police simply do not have the resources to deal with the amount of street crime that they face. It is not a party political issue; it should unite us across the whole House because all our communities suffer from the effects of street crime.
I asked for a snapshot of an eight-hour period of duty in Newham in my constituency for Friday 8 December. There were three unexpected deaths—a two-day-old baby was found in Newham college and the bodies of a 17-year-old and a 20-year-old were found within three hours in Winsor terrace in south Newham—and a security guard was stabbed in McDonald's on Barking road. Those events were in addition to normal policing. There were also seven robberies, a number of burglaries and 45 motor offences in those 24 hours, and there have been 24 murders in Newham since December 1999.
Having said that, it is interesting to see that crime in Newham is falling this year as a result of close co-operation between the London borough of Newham, the police and local communities. However, as the regeneration of the community is extended through City airport, the Exel exhibition centre and the new university, more demands will be put on our police force. The Home Office must recognise that. On the current method of allocation, we are 70 police officers short and the force is desperately trying to recruit.
The vast majority of my constituents are decent and law-abiding, but there is a sizeable number of criminals and anti-social yobs who must be dealt with. I know that I speak with the full authority of the great majority of my decent constituents in the east end in saying that we want the Government to pursue their initiatives and to ensure that the police are given adequate resources in order to turn such good initiatives into reality on the ground. We can pass as many laws and initiate as many different schemes as we like, but unless we give the police resources to effect those laws and schemes, we shall leave ourselves open to ridicule and criticism.
I should like to make two suggestions in conclusion. First, I believe that most street crime is associated with drugs. It is so easy to get drugs on the streets of my constituency. People are openly rolling spliffs on street corners. I have consistently argued that the war against drugs is simply not being won. If a strategy for war is not working, it is best to try to change that strategy rather than persist with it. I firmly believe that we should decriminalise the personal use of cannabis and set up a commission of inquiry into the legalisation of all drugs. [Interruption.] It is an interesting and controversial point, but we should at least be prepared to consider it. If we were to decriminalise certain categories of drugs, it would lead to the most dramatic fall in criminal activity in this country in peacetime.
Secondly, we in this House do not fully understand the yob culture. Many factors have led to the yob mentality, and they are attitudinal as well as social. We should consider a compulsory scheme of national community service. I shall develop that point at some other time—obviously, not in this debate. I have not turned into some Colonel Blimp from Tunbridge Wells, I just think that we should look radically at what is going on in our society and come up with some radical solutions.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). Either he is getting wiser in his old age or I am going soft in the head, because I confess that I agreed with a great deal of what he said. It is refreshing for a Member to bring original thinking and some passion to the House. We all share in his tribulation with the yobs. He experienced what so many of our fellow citizens have had to put up with, and I salute his courage.
I know that others want to speak, so I shall try to be brief. I want to make three key points. The first does not concern the principal subject that we are debating, but we are entitled in debates on the Queen's Speech to discuss other matters. I want to put on record that I am concerned about the proposal in the Gracious Speech that
A Bill will be drafted to provide for safer travel on the railways, in the air, at sea and on the roads.
I record for the benefit of Government Front Benchers that the air accidents investigation branch is in Farnborough in my constituency. It is respected throughout the world for its professionalism and technical expertise. I do not wish the Government to take any measure that would impair the working of that organisation. Please leave it alone; leave it to be independent.
I turn to the issues specifically before us. The Home Secretary tried to paint far too rosy a picture of the Government's achievements since the election. The figures do indeed speak for themselves. I cannot conceive how the Government can possibly hope to present a credible picture on police recruitment. The Home Secretary told us earlier that he wants 9,000 extra police by 2003. However, on the basis of figures with which he has provided us, we are already 2,700 or 3,000 short, so reaching the figure that he suggests does not seem realistic. Even if we were to recruit such numbers, where would we find the capacity to train them? I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer), has heard from the Manchester area, whose bid for 30 recruits was cut back because training places are not available. It is therefore not possible to achieve those figures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) spoke about difficulties, and I wish to draw the attention of the House to those faced in Hampshire, which are the same as those in the Thames valley and Oxfordshire. Recently, there was a meeting of 700 members of the Police Federation in Winchester guildhall, about which Alan Gordon, the chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation said:
I have never witnessed such numbers, and I believe it is indicative of the strength of feeling that exists within the rank and file members.
I sincerely hope that it has not been lost on the ACPO team who were at the meeting how angry, annoyed and frustrated our officers feel about shortages of staff, pay and conditions of service within this Force.
Mr. Gordon was referring to the Hampshire force, which is 80 under strength. I dare say that the money is there, but the force cannot obtain the men to do the job. So far this year, 96 officers have resigned, against an expected target of 70. The chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation reported that nearly 130 officers were on long-term sick leave, which is an increase of more than 20 per cent. on last year's figure, and a further 120 officers were on restricted duties. As Mr. Gordon said, those figures amounted to nearly 10 per cent. of the force being unavailable for front-line duties before taking account of annual leave, rest days and court attendance.
Throughout the land, the police force is in crisis. It is no good the Home Secretary coming here and telling us what a fantastic job the Government have done because that has not been reflected on the ground, as one Member after another has testified. The hon. Member for West Ham said that he needed a load of bobbies to come to his rescue, as does every other victim of crime. However, they are simply not available. From everything that I have been told by Norman Brennan of the Victims of Crime Trust and the chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation, there is no doubt that morale is at rock bottom. It is partly a question of pay, and partly one of conditions. No fewer than 60 police officers in Hampshire have decided against making contributions to their pension funds because they cannot make ends meet if they commit themselves to making those payments.
The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but that is a fact, and it should be of great concern. Police officers are asking their chief constable whether they can take other jobs to supplement their income. In most cases, the chief constable is forced to say that that is not on, as it would be bad for officers' health and their commitment to the service.
There is also the question of status. Other Members have referred to the way in which the police have been battered. I make no apology for adverting to the Macpherson report. If the Government are not prepared to recognise the damage that has been done to police morale throughout the country—but particularly in London—by painting the police as institutionally racist and kicking them from pillar to post all the time, they do not understand what is going on in forces throughout the country. Today, a petition with 16,000 signatures was handed in by Norman Brennan on behalf of Steve Hutt, the policeman who was dismissed for making an unfortunate remark, which he has subsequently regretted. Morale has been seriously damaged by the Macpherson report and it is a great shame that the Government do not recognise that.
We are engaged in party politics, so it is fair enough to take part in the battle of trading figures on police numbers. However, we deceive ourselves if we pretend to the British people that the solution to all the problems of yob culture and street violence is wholly within our hands. It is not, as parents have a role to play. I genuinely believe that many of our problems stem from a lack of parental control. It is fair also to say that parental control is absent because the nature of families has changed. About 75 per cent. of the population are married now, whereas a few years ago the figure was 92 per cent. A fundamental change is taking place in the make-up of society and of families. Overwhelming evidence shows that children benefit from being brought up in a household with a mother and father who are married. To suggest otherwise is to ignore all the evidence.
That is not to say that those brought up in other types of household will turn to crime or become irresponsible citizens, but evidence shows that there is a greater likelihood of their prospering if they are brought up in a household where the parents are married.
When the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), addressed a conference that I organised on the cost of family breakdown, he said:
we know that the evidence demonstrates that marriage does work in creating a stable, coherent framework in which children can be brought up and acquire the values that are the bedrock of a stable society.
A report which I was responsible for drawing up, with others, on the cost of family breakdown shows that there is a relationship between broken families and the level of crime. The report states:
Home Office statistics for 1998 show 21 per cent. of all crime was committed by children under the age of sixteen. The significance of this lies less in the fact that they are responsible for up to 5 million
burglaries a year … than in the fact that 90 per cent. of juvenile offenders under sixteen come from broken families, and more than half have been excluded from school.
There is a clear message to the House and to the country. Of course, people may live the life style that they want, but society is paying a price for certain styles of family. The Government should be unequivocal, instead of pandering to political correctness, with one Minister set against another—the Home Secretary and his Minister of State both supporting marriage, but others forcing through the age of consent legislation in another place, and the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities saying, I believe, that all life styles are equally valid. The Government must recognise that the evidence shows that marriage forms the best basis.
I hope that the Government will recognise that the position is not as rosy as the Home Secretary painted it. There are serious difficulties with the Government's policy. The Opposition have proposed some solutions, particularly with respect to the family, that should help to reduce the level of crime.
In the debate so far, many hon. Members have spoken about the fear of crime. Like many other hon. Members who have spoken, I represent an inner-city area, and to me nothing symbolises that fear more accurately than the number of houses that I see in my constituency that have metal gates on the front door, because these days it is not enough to shut one's front door if one wants to shut the world out.
Because security is in part a state of mind, is it any wonder that our constituents who find that bloody syringe in the gutter or in the park next to the children's swings, who have to live through the comings and goings at houses where drug dealing takes place, who see the remains of the latest burned-out joy-ridden vehicle, feel that the area in which they live is in decline? That is certainly true of parts of my constituency.
We have in our society an extremely sensitive measure of the quality of life in particular areas. It is called house prices. Is it any wonder that there is such a disparity between the value of properties in different parts of Leeds, as is the case in other major cities?
As a relatively new Member, I have been surprised by the extent to which crime is drugs-related. In the police division of Holbeck, which covers the largest part of my constituency, 60 per cent. of the crime is thought to be drugs-related. Like many of the police officers to whom I speak, and, I suspect, an increasing proportion of hon. Members, I believe that we need a genuine debate about the scourge of drugs, and, to be controversial, I would include alcohol within that debate because of the effects that it has.
The other strong message that I want to put across on behalf of my constituents relates to what I describe as incivility and menace, to which other Members have referred. I am talking of neighbour disputes, children who are out of control, anti-social behaviour, the person next door who plays loud music into the small hours despite having been asked kindly to desist and cars being joy-ridden round estates. Joy-riding is a strange term because it brings no joy to my constituents, who have to listen to the screech of car tyres and the crunch of metal. Last month, one of my constituents, an elderly lady, had a joy-ridden car driven into the back of her house. The windows were smashed, and it is no surprise that she wants to leave the area.
These are unquestionably crimes in the eyes of the victims, who come to my surgery and ask with simplicity and force, "Why should I have to live with this?" They are right to ask that question and we must have an answer.
I shall make three quick points. First, I do not believe that law-and-order soundbite wrestling, to which we have been treated in parts of the debate, is the solution. In truth, every Member knows that the problems are complex and the solutions elusive. We must consider police responsiveness. In my experience, nothing causes more aggravation than the policing waiting list. Inevitably, when the police receive a phone call, they will prioritise the man with a knife over young people causing difficulty in a neighbourhood. Yet it is frustrating for those on the receiving end of that menace and trouble not to have a police response.
I am interested in the neighbourhood warden initiative, a scheme which was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions. Leeds is lucky in that it is one of the 50 schemes that has received funding. Two parts of my constituency, Beeston and Cottingley, will benefit. There is real potential because neighbourhood wardens might be able to undertake some police functions, including responding to a call and taking some details. With the best will in the world, even if we had in place now all the police officers who the Government will fund, those officers would still find it difficult to respond to every call.
Secondly, there is community policing. I have had the good fortune to meet good community police officers in central Leeds. Their work, and the uninterrupted time in which to do it, is crucial. It may not register in all the measures of police efficiency, but I believe that their form of nosey neighbourliness, if I may so describe it, is just as effective as their colleagues rapid response.
Interesting things have been happening on the Lincoln Green estate that have been initiated by Police Constable Tony Sweeney, the community police officer, working with the housing department and the council. There was a crackdown on crime involving several agencies. Nurses have been brought in from the local hospital to live in empty flats.
I was saying that house prices are a measure of demand. The social landlord equivalent of house prices is void rates. In April, there were 187 void properties on the Lincoln Green estate, and now there are only 68. Whereas the burglary rate for residential properties was averaging about 16 a month, it is now down to two or three a month. That is the result of hard graft locally, co-operation and commitment. The police, the council and the residents' association, which has only recently been formed, are working together to make a difference.
Thirdly, we need to consider the causes and the consequences of crime. There should be a consequence to our actions, and that is why I am strongly in favour of restorative justice schemes. We rightly feel the anger that Members have expressed on behalf of the victims of crime, but there is another voice in our heads which asks, "Why?" I recognise that there are those for whom crime is a career choice. However, we neglect at our peril the fact that criminal behaviour and low educational attainment are closely linked. We know that poverty is a factor. We know that those who are addicted to drugs are driven to find the means to feed that habit. And how often do we read that those who have committed the most appalling crimes of violence were themselves subjected to abuse and beatings when they were young? My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) is right to say that that can never be an excuse, but it does, in part, offer an explanation.
Since we can only give back to each other and to society that which we have been given, giving love and security to young people and showing our commitment to them, working through sure start and the literacy and numeracy initiatives, and carrying out better inspections of local authority services for children may, in themselves, be just as important long-term contributions to solving the problem of crime as any other measures that we take. They are all expressions of the "us", rather than the "me" society, and if they work, we might be able to restore hope to the people whom I represent, who desperately need it.
I am grateful to be called to speak. If there were two speeches by Labour Members to which the Home Secretary should have listened, one was made by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) and the other by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). We have learned a great deal from them this evening, and I regret deeply that the Home Secretary made a speech that was less interesting and less sensible than theirs.
The Government say that they will focus on cutting crime, but the Queen's Speech provides little evidence of a focus on anything other than a desire to do as little as possible save spin their way to the forthcoming election. The appearance of action is no substitute for action itself. The failure to recognise the problems that need solving, or the wilful refusal to see what is staring us all in the face, are not what the country requires in the Queen's Speech.
Why is there nothing in this Session's programme to ensure that police numbers are increased substantially to meet the needs of areas such as rural Harborough? The police force in my county has to cover not only the city of Leicester, with all the social and other crime-related problems that appear to be so prevalent in new Labour's urban Britain, but the huge area outside the city—rural Leicestershire and Rutland—which presents huge problems of isolated communities separated by long distances, cash-strapped district councils, a farming economy in crisis, village schools closing down, difficulties recruiting teachers, and drugs being sold to schoolchildren. The Government say that they are determined
to combat all aspects of crime to protect all members of our society
and I am sure that they would like to do so, but I heard nothing in the Queen's Speech and I have seen nothing of sufficient purpose or result achieved in previous Sessions to justify my having any faith in the Government's aspirations, or that their proposals will help my constituents.
Tackling disorder and disorderly conduct was the aim of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Why has so little been made of that legislation? Police and local authorities have made scant use of anti-social behaviour orders and parenting orders, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. Have the Government bothered to find out the reason, or whether any one reason or group of reasons lies behind that apparent failure? No, they have not, so they now propose general curfew orders which are draconian, illiberal and a desperate response to the Government's failures. It is wrong to impose a penalty on anyone, let alone a whole group of young people, without due process, but despite the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Government clearly care little for due process. I suggest that it will be futile to impose general curfew orders if there is an insufficient number of police available to carry out their existing tasks.
The Government say that they want to make more use of tagging, or electronic home curfew orders, so that young criminals can be kept at home rather than sent into custody. That is fine in theory: it is far better to sentence a teenager to a home detention order than to send him to a young offenders institution, and I tried to do precisely that a little while ago. I sit as a recorder and I had before me a group of naughty, silly, bored teenagers who had, earlier this year, mugged a train passenger at a London railway station late one evening and stolen his mobile telephone. It was their first offence. The courts bend over backwards not to send youngsters inside when a more constructive alternative is available, and I suggested that the teenagers be kept at home between 7 o'clock at night and 7 o'clock the following morning. However, I received a letter from the Home Office telling me that judges should not sentence teenagers to home curfews because the authorities have neither the machines nor the ability to monitor them, and individuals who break a curfew are caught only by chance, usually in connection with some other offence.
Tagging has been available since the Criminal Justice Act 1991, and it was extended under the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. However, the Government have failed to implement their warm-sounding words at every turn. The Government are not so much guilty of lacking the right intentions on criminal justice, as the managerial competence and willpower to carry their intentions through into action on the street and in the courts, be they adult or juvenile.
The Government propose legislation to regulate the private security industry, which is no doubt a hugely worthy subject. The Select Committee on Home Affairs dealt with that matter in the previous Parliament when the Conservatives were in office, largely at the behest of Labour Members, but when the Labour party took office it did nothing about it. Why not, and why only now? The Government are simply trying to fill up the time between now and next spring. The Labour party had 18 years in opposition. The Government should be bristling with ideas, but they are not. They are, I fear, a thought-free zone.
Instead, the Government give us a Bill on foxhunting. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) wasted a golden opportunity with his private Member's Bill to do something for his constituents. He made a gross error of judgment and achieved nothing. Now the Government are doing the same thing on a national scale, and their offence is made all the worse because their Bill comes in the wake of the Burns report. The Bill's motives are clear and they are of the lowest. It is throwing a bone to the left-wing, anti-rural element in the Labour party, to persuade it that a Government led by this Prime Minister has not lost touch with its class warfare roots. Foxhunting is not at the top or anywhere near the top of the country's agenda. The Home Secretary knows that, and should have had the courage and the clout to stand up to the Government's business managers to get rid of the Bill and use the time to do something of benefit to the whole country.
The Home Secretary should have done the same with regard to the jury Bill. That was not a manifesto Bill the first time, it was not a manifesto Bill the second, and it is not a manifesto Bill this third time. It is unwanted, unnecessary, unpopular, illiberal and unintelligent, and it represents another missed opportunity.
The Home Secretary tried to rely upon the support of the previous Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, on Second Reading on the last occasion. He misused the correspondence with which Lord Bingham had provided him and he fell apart in trying to defend his actions. I have no doubt that during the next few weeks the Government will unravel as they try to produce a third and deeply silly jury Bill.
We have wasted a great deal with this Queen's Speech and during the next few months the Government will learn that to their cost.
As we approach the end of the Government's first term, it is appropriate to look back at what we have achieved and to look forward at what we have yet to do. Last week, I heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) speak of the shocking and tragic killing of her young constituent. She described the environment of the blighted estate in which Damilola Taylor lived and she rightly expressed the Government's vision in trying to improve and transform those conditions. She said that we have recognised the dreadful problems of social exclusion which blight our inner cities and outer estates. We are determined to address those needs and we have devised a range of policies and programmes, such as welfare to work, sure start, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, healthy living centres, education action zones, new deal, and so on.
In truth, we cannot know if all those policies will be effective, but we should and shall be judged on whether they work. We also deserve credit for our bold ambition—it is a bold ambition—both because of the difficulty of the task and the extent of the problem.
The social exclusion unit report identified 44 districts where there was at least two thirds more unemployment than normal, where the under-age pregnancy rate was one and a half times the normal, where 37 per cent. of 16-year-olds had no GCSE grades above grade D, and where mortality rates were 30 per cent. higher than normal. That is what characterised those communities. The report "Bringing People Together" estimates that there are between 1,600 and 4,000 such neighbourhoods. That is roughly 15 million people—30 per cent. of the population of these islands live in those areas.
At the beginning of the 21st century and at the end of this Labour Government's first term, I am confident that members of the previous Labour Governments of Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan would share our ambitions, if not all our methods. The solutions tried in the past have not worked. Where we have increased social welfare programmes and poured in vast resources, there has been little effect other than perhaps increasing dependency. Our Government have embarked on a new policy of helping people to help themselves. I am pleased that the Queen's Speech continues that process by announcing Bills to tackle the continuing problems of the yob culture and benefit fraud, along with Bills to reform schools and help homeless people.
However, the Queen's Speech is something of a disappointment to many people in my constituency because of what it does not contain. Our 1997 manifesto promised a Bill to license houses in multiple occupation. Indeed, the Green Paper on housing published earlier this year outlined such a scheme. It seems that Ministers believe that that is not a sufficient priority for legislation this year. I am disappointed with that decision, although I understand the pressures of competing Bills in what may be a short programme.
Most Ministers and Members of Parliament will not see the need to increase regulation of houses in multiple occupation, or, if they recognise that need, they will not view it as a priority. That is the case because the distribution of houses in multiple occupation is neither random nor uniform. It is aggregated where there is unusual demand for short-term accommodation or unusual supply of surplus hotels or vacant housing. Those circumstances fall roughly into three categories. They apply in some northern cities—Leeds has already been mentioned—where the population is rapidly falling. They apply also in some seaside resorts. Finally, they apply in constituencies such as mine, which have benefited from the rapid increase in student numbers during the past decade.
The extension of the opportunity to participate in higher education to so many more young people is, indeed, a great benefit. Raising the education skill levels of our future work force is also a benefit to society. That benefit is not, however, unalloyed. During the past 10 years, the two universities in Cardiff, Central have increased their student numbers from a combined total of 10,000 to the present total of 30,000. That has occurred without any planned accommodation, transport or social infrastructure.
That rapid change has not happened without an undesired impact on local communities. In the inner-city wards of Cathays and Plasnewydd in my area, up to two thirds of properties have been converted into student flats. Most families have sold their houses to large-scale landlords and moved to quieter neighbourhoods. Local schools have suffered massively falling rolls and are struggling to cope. Much of the remaining indigenous population consists of elderly people, who often feel alienated from the new communities in which they live, although they have lived there all their lives. Streets that were filled a decade ago with house owners with a long-term commitment to their property and community are now owned by three or four large-scale landlords who live elsewhere and may never even have seen their properties. Such properties are often managed by letting agencies. Both landlords and letting agencies have only one clear commitment: to maximise the rental income in the shortest possible time.
Those are communities that are under stress and in which regulation is overdue. Short-term tenants such as students are highly vulnerable, as the properties that they inhabit may be unsafe. Although additional safeguards exist for some houses in multiple occupation, the current definitions exclude the houses in which the majority of students in my constituency live—three-bedroomed family properties.
Cardiff students union has identified at least 160 students and several landlords who have lost money to a letting agency called Castle Management, which is based in Cardiff. Customs and Excise finally moved in and took the owners, Naiz Taj and Sha Unia, to court over a specimen debt of £12,780. The court order forced the business partners into liquidation on 8 November this year. I believe that Mr. Taj left the country the following day, leaving an estimated debt of £250,000, which he owed to students and others. What alarms me is the ease with which he and his partner could return and set up a new business that would prey on students and others.
It is common for students to pay bonds and non-returnable administrative fees to agencies that secure their houses and retainers of up to half or three quarters of the rent on houses that may be sub-let. That is unacceptable, and regulation and legislation is needed. The local council and students union should consider setting up bond boards to try to overcome those problems.
We could set up partnerships, but the Government should recognise that regulation of houses in multiple occupation is an essential requirement for some of our inner-city estates. That is not essential everywhere, but it is extremely important in some places. I hope that when the Minister winds up, he will give me and my constituents some reassurance about the fact that the legislation, although late, will not be forgotten.
Her Majesty's Gracious Speech announced three housing Bills. All of them will be of interest to people living in our inner cities and beyond. The first Bill will speed up the home-buying process, the second is a commonhold and leasehold reform Bill and the third is a Homes Bill to help the unintentionally homeless.
Proposals to speed up home buying are long overdue. Compulsory sellers packs, which will contain standard and essential information and provide buyers with crucial documents, including survey information, search details and a contract proposal, are welcome. The question is whether those proposals will work. The pilot scheme in Bristol was not a true test because the sellers did not have to pay for their packs. When sellers are asked to pay, will they be prepared to do so, and will the financial institutions recognise the packs or call for their own surveys?
The service targets to encourage faster local authority searches are welcome, as are measures to encourage the use of new technology to speed up the service. We await the detail of the legislation, but hope that something can be done to speed up the home-buying process and to reduce the unnecessary costs that are often incurred by genuine buyers.
Before commenting on the commonhold and leasehold reform Bill, it is worth remembering what the Government said in their consultation paper:
The existing residential leasehold system is fundamentally flawed. It has its roots in the feudal system and gives great powers and privileges to landowners. Despite a series of reforms over the last thirty or so years, abuses continue to flourish causing misery and distress to leaseholders.
From a 1992 estimate, there are approximately three quarters of a million long-leasehold flats in England and Wales. Leasehold is the system of tenure whereby the leaseholder buys a lease, often at the market price for freehold flats, for an extended period but does not gain the advantages of owning his property outright.
Liberal Democrats recognise that while leaseholds might suit some people, many leaseholders are unhappy with the system, and our policies would be geared to helping them to enfranchise themselves. The Government have recognised the need to change leasehold arrangements and have offered two proposals in a draft Bill. Those proposals involve the introduction of commonhold and, for those who cannot afford or do not wish to join that scheme, further reform to the current leasehold system.
Commonhold is a new form of tenure for blocks of flats and other multi-unit properties. However, many leaseholders and their associations have criticised the Government's proposals. They feel that the Government's objectives will not be sufficient to end the "misery and distress" experienced by leaseholders. Their criticisms are threefold: first, that leasehold will continue to exist without a schedule for its full removal; secondly, that commonhold will not be a solution for leaseholders because 100 per cent. of tenants and the freeholder must consent, which is highly unlikely; and thirdly, that in order for leaseholders collectively to enfranchise under the proposed plan, they would have to allow the freeholder to retain the "marriage value" of the property when the lease has less than 90 years remaining. What reassurance can the Minister give to convince leaseholders that their fears are unwarranted?
The Homes Bill will implement the homelessness package outlined in the housing Green Paper. It will meet the Government's manifesto commitment to restore the duty on local authorities to provide homeless people in priority need with settled accommodation. Can we expect it to set out a more strategic and preventive statutory framework for tackling all forms of homelessness? That would create a modern framework for reducing homelessness by shifting the emphasis from crisis-driven intervention to a long-term approach focused on tackling social exclusion.
The formulation of the new duty will mean that homeless people in priority need will be provided with settled accommodation, but what about homeless people who are not in priority need? Will the new legislation improve the assistance given to them? Under the existing legislation, authorities are required to provide advice and assistance to help that group secure accommodation. However, the level of service provided is often poor, with applicants sometimes sent away with just a list of bed-and-breakfast establishments.
The housing Green Paper emphasised that local authorities should provide accommodation for homeless people who are in priority need if they have the scope within their housing stock to do so. However, authorities already have that discretion if they wish to use it. It may help in areas where there is less pressure on the housing stock, but it will not improve the position for people in most areas of the country where the pressure on housing is greater.
We believe that the intention should be to improve the level of service as far as possible for homeless people in all areas of the country. We recognise that in high-demand areas it is unrealistic to expect authorities to provide accommodation for this group. However, the quality of advice and assistance is not dependent on the amount of stock available, and there are numerous examples of good practice achieved in various parts of the country.
The housing Green Paper floated proposals to reform the social housing lettings process, to introduce more flexibility and to promote choice. Which of those proposals will be implemented in the Homes Bill?
We agree with the aim of allowing local authorities to implement lettings schemes that are relevant to local needs and priorities. That is consistent with promoting a stronger strategic housing role for local authorities. However, there is a need to ensure that, within a more flexible framework, meeting housing need will continue to be a key priority, and that certain basic requirements are met in all local authority areas. We believe that local flexibility should be underpinned by a set of minimum standards, which could be set out in regulations.
The Green Paper was clear that applicants should be suspended from the lettings process only in exceptional circumstances and that vulnerable groups should be safeguarded. Any reform of the lettings process must also give priority to providing a robust mechanism for ensuring that the current wide-ranging exclusions from social housing are brought to an end.
We hope that the Homes Bill will contain important new measures to prevent homelessness, and that the emphasis of the statutory framework will shift from crisis-driven intervention to a more long-term approach. Will the legislation include the proposals in the housing Green Paper to place local authorities under a duty to carry out homelessness audits and to publish strategies for preventing homelessness in their area? Will it ensure that social services departments participate fully in this process so that homelessness strategies operate across all relevant parts of the local authority?
With the social housing sector continuing to diversify and the stock transfer programme set to increase to 200,000 units per year, it is important that robust arrangements are in place to ensure that housing need continues to be met after transfers have taken place. That links in with the scope of the strategic role of housing authorities and with the emphasis on creating sustainable communities, as set out in the Green Paper. Will that be recognised in the legislation?
Will the legislation recognise that the current statutory framework does not give adequate protection to victims of racial violence and harassment? That was recently highlighted by a case reported in The Guardian, in which a family who had suffered persistent racial harassment were not offered alternative accommodation by their local authority. That is a complex case, but it highlights some of the housing difficulties faced by victims of racial abuse.
The current homelessness legislation makes it clear that it is not reasonable for a person to continue to occupy accommodation when they are experiencing violence from a partner or another associated person. Shelter, the housing pressure group, does not expect the first draft of the Bill to include new provisions in this area. Is this another area where the housing lobby will have to wait and see?
The present homelessness legislation sets out categories of people whose vulnerability is such that they are considered to have a priority need for housing. They currently include people with dependent children, pregnant women, those who are vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or disability, and those made homeless as a result of a natural disaster.
The housing Green Paper proposed the extension of priority need to new groups, including homeless 16 and 17-year-olds, people leaving care and those who were vulnerable as a result of violence and harassment or had an institutionalised background. Will those measures be included in the Homes Bill, or will they be introduced in new regulations under powers conferred by the Housing Act 1996?
Homeless people who experience domestic violence and who have dependent children are currently considered to have a priority need for housing. However, although they may be considered homeless under the current legislation, people without children who are fleeing domestic violence are often not found to be in priority need by some local authorities, and are therefore not entitled to temporary accommodation.
I, too, welcome many of Shelter's proposals. As for how councils can extend provision for the homeless, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government's intended review of the £8 million increase in revenue support grant should take place earlier rather than later?
The hon. Lady is right. It is just a pity that that did not happen in the first year after the Government took power and that we have had to wait three years. As a result, public funding for housing will be less at the end of this Government's term than it was under the last Government.
In relation to people with institutionalised backgrounds, it will be important to consider any proposals within the wider contexts of tackling social exclusion and reducing reoffending rates. The social exclusion unit's 1998 report on rough sleeping revealed that about half the number of rough sleepers had been in prison or on remand at some time. Many prisoners have a history of homelessness, local authority care, drug abuse and mental illness. Without a home to go to or support on release, people are likely to reoffend and begin a cycle of homelessness or crime. Will the Homes Bill set up a clear framework of guidance to establish the circumstances in which people will be considered to be vulnerable?
There are some disappointments in the Queen's Speech. There is no mention of housing benefit reform, and the housing benefit restrictions for under-25s are still in place. As others have said today, many housing organisations were disappointed to learn that legislation was not included to deal with houses in multiple occupation. HMOs include a number of properties in many inner-city and other urban areas.
The Government claim to be keen to implement such legislation, but it is not in the Queen's Speech. Many organisations say that it should be a top priority for the first Queen's Speech after the general election. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will act quickly?
The House spends too little time debating housing issues, yet housing is vital to the quality of life of all our citizens—and that applies to none more than those in inner cities. In that regard, the Queen's Speech has taken a very small step forward, but many questions remain unanswered, and hundreds of policy proposals remain on the shelf.
The Deputy Prime Minister is unable to join us this evening. We wish him and his family well—he is attending an important family engagement—and welcome in his place the Minister for the Cabinet Office. I have no doubt that she will bring her usual refreshing candour and honesty to the debate.
This has been an interesting discussion, marked at its heart by a clear division between those who believe that the priority in the Queen's Speech should have been tackling the root causes of crime and those who believe that symptomatic measures are sufficient.
We have heard many interesting contributions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), in a characteristic tour de force, listed the Government's failures to tackle crime at its source. The core of her case was the irrefutable point that rising crime figures are driven by the decline in police numbers under the present Government. The Home Secretary, who has now resumed his seat, spoke for an hour, in considerable detail. What was disappointing about his response was his failure to answer any of the specific points that had been raised, particularly those relating to the decline in police numbers and police morale, to evidence of a decline in the state of the Prison Service, and to the estimated number of asylum seekers now staying on illegally in the country. He would not give us a single answer on any of those points.
Most amazing of all was the Home Secretary's attempt to demonstrate that crime in this country was not rising at all—an observation that will be as alien to people living in our inner cities as was the Minister for Transport's claim that the railways were not in crisis.
Is the hon. Gentleman disputing the irrefutable evidence from the British crime survey, which showed that crime overall went down by 10 per cent. between 1997 and the end of 1999?
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am referring to his own figures for crime in the past year. Crime has undoubtedly gone up; it has gone up in almost every major city.
If the Secretary of State will excuse me, we have very little time left for the winding-up speeches, so I will make some progress.
Some remarkable contributions have been made, notably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who referred with great eloquence to the threadbare and dangerously illiberal proposals in the Queen's Speech; by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), who spoke with great knowledge and authority on the dangers of the withdrawal of trial by jury; and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford), who spoke with the depth of knowledge that derives from having been responsible for Wandsworth for many years. There were other important contributions, notably those by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry).
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson) on a remarkable maiden speech. It was delivered with great verve, eloquence, passion and feeling. We appreciate his contribution to the debate.
The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) kept us well entertained. He started with a whimsical reference to the Greater London council and moved on to talk about his unfortunate experiences in West Ham, for which he has our sympathy. However, he then continued to argue for the legalisation of drugs, which lost us somewhat. Finally, he said that he was no Colonel Blimp from Tunbridge Wells, which will come as a considerable relief to some of my constituents.
The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) made a remarkable bipartisan contribution that was rich in detail. He made the point that the solutions to the problem of the inner cities and inner-city crime are complex. He is surely right. He argued strongly for community policing, for neighbourhood wardens and for the social causes of crime to be tackled.
The relationship between crime and the decline of the inner cities is inextricable. Their decline is the engine of social deprivation and the driving force of poverty, welfare dependence and loss of opportunity for children who are left behind at a time of prosperity for the rest of the country.
The inner cities account for 53 per cent. of all crime and a larger proportion of violent and serious crime. As the Rowntree Foundation said,
cities have the brightest lights and darkest corners feeding the hopes and fuelling the fears of millions—
a sentiment that can be shared by Members on both sides of the House. Cities' success or failure will determine the country's success or failure in tackling Britain's major social problems and in dealing with the problems of crime at source.
After three-and-a-half years of prosperity, today the state of our cities is not better but worse than in 1997. According not to my figures but the Government's own figures, poverty has increased. According to the Government's own figures, the gap between rich and poor has increased. According to the Rowntree Foundation, 500,000 more people are living below the poverty line than in 1997. According to Oxford Economic Forecasting
and the university of Bristol, the north-south divide has increased, despite the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister seems to think that it does not exist at all—I quote:
There is no North-South divide on unemployment.
Perhaps the Minister might like to comment on that in her winding-up speech. Does she agree?
Crime in the inner cities has increased. The Home Secretary would like to pretend otherwise, but his own figures suggest that there has been a 16 per cent. increase in crime in urban areas in the west midlands; a 12.6 per cent. increase in London; a 9 per cent. increase in Southwark, to choose a topical location, where police numbers have been cut by 40 since the election; and an 8 per cent. increase in Merseyside, where police numbers have been cut by 300 since the election.
Before the general election, the current Home Secretary said:
Poverty and lack of opportunity cause crime. But crime and disorder … reduce opportunity even further.
In other words, we are caught in a vicious circle which the Home Secretary has perpetuated. [Interruption.] Consequently, the exodus from our cities has continued: not only have Newcastle and Manchester lost 16 and 22 per cent. of their populations in the past 30 years, but in the past three years—
The exodus is perpetuated by the Government's own policies which encourage building on green fields, particularly in the south-east and south-west where more than 60 per cent. of new houses will inevitably be built on green fields. Let Members on both sides of the House also remember that for every executive home built in the countryside, there is a family leaving the inner city, a school roll decreasing in the inner city, a shop nearer closure in the inner city and crime increasing in the inner city. The two problems are inextricably linked. The death of the countryside is also the death of the inner cities.
The decline of our inner cities is not new, but its continuation should not only concern every hon. Member but serve as a call to action for every hon. Member. Against that background, the Queen's Speech is a bitter disappointment. It will come as a bitter disappointment to all those who, in the past three years, worked so hard—many with the Government—to develop a programme for the inner cities. However, that disappointment comes as no surprise following the flop of the urban White Paper, which was a great disappointment not least to Lord Rogers, who, with great and commendable reservation, said:
this White Paper falls short of what is going to be required to engender a real urban renaissance.
The Queen's Speech was an opportunity for imagination, coherence and boldness. Instead, almost nothing in it is of the slightest relevance at all to the causes of crime or to inner-city regeneration. It is full of measures that are peripheral, vacuous, illiberal and gimmicky, and it is clearly designed to be eye-catching, with a view to a general election but nothing else.
Where in the Queen's Speech are all the measures that Lord Rogers called for and that would have commanded bipartisan support in the House? Where are the urban priority areas that were going to be the centrepiece of Lord Rogers's reforms? Where are the new powers for regeneration companies that would have required primary legislation? Where are the measures to reverse the exodus from our cities and to arrest building over our countryside? Where are the measures to level the playing field on tax, which have been universally called for by all those who are involved in inner-city regeneration? Where are the measures to bring coherence to a Government programme that is totally incoherent, splintered and full of Elastoplast, politically correct initiatives?
It was the Government's own performance and innovation unit that referred to
too many Government initiatives causing confusion and not enough co-ordination
and it was the Prime Minister who, a year ago, gave the Minister for the Cabinet Office the task of ensuring that
joined up Government for the socially excluded is a reality in every part of the country.
Can the Minister point to one single measure that will help her in that cause, or does she agree with us, Lord Rogers and the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee that the programme for the inner city is too fragmented and dissipated and that money is being wasted? Does she agree that there should be a single regeneration Minister; that urban regeneration companies need statutory powers and to be rolled out across the country; that there should be increased policing as a prerequisite for spending money on urban regeneration; and that it would be better to spend money first on education and policing before a penny is spent on developing new and expensive buildings or fortifying houses, so that politicians can parade down the streets congratulating themselves on their progress?
Does the Minister agree that the Government's priority should be policing—community policing in particular—and education first, and money spent on everything else second? Is she satisfied that the current programmes are coherent, fundamental and co-ordinated, or does she agree with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? I hate to bring him into this debate, but he said:
there is a risk of having far too many central projects and too many … programmes
and that a top-down approach from Whitehall would not work.
When the Minister for the Cabinet Office goes back to Redcar for Christmas and meets youths and young people on the estates, does she believe that she can sell the curfew orders to them as a way of improving their life style and encouraging them to stay in the cities, or of giving them a single reason not to leave and move to the countryside?
It was the Minister herself who said in June:
this Government's top priority is to tackle the root causes of poverty, homelessness and social exclusion.
Will she tell us what in the Queen's Speech helps tackle one root cause of poverty, homelessness or social exclusion? Which of the Government's achievements is she most proud of? Is it the 3,000 increase in homelessness since 1997? Is it the 50 per cent. increase in those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Is it the
fact that the Government have spent less money on regeneration than we did? Is it the growing number of empty houses in our cities? Is it rising crime and the fact that the Home Secretary does not even think that crime is rising? Or is it the accelerated house building on green fields?
Is not the truth that the choice at the election will be between a Conservative party committed to governing for all, increasing police numbers in the inner cities, rolling out regeneration companies under a single Minister, reversing years of failure of Labour councils and local education authorities, and a Labour party which masquerades as a party of the less well-off but which took a mere three-and-a-half years to run out of ideas, forget its origins, forsake the inner cities and betray its own heartlands?
May I echo what other right hon. and hon. Members have said about the excellent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson)? It was very impressive—the content was good, it was well informed and he gave a wonderful performance. I think that the House will hear more from him in the future. We all join him in the tribute that he paid to his predecessor, Donald Dewar, a well-respected man of integrity whom the House misses.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary opened the debate by setting out very clearly what the Government are doing to fight crime and the important legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech to help to achieve that. As a Government, we have always maintained—and this relates to the last point of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman)—that there are two sides to that coin. We said that we would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.
To address some of the causes of crime, we are not only making major investments in policing, CCTV and other crime reduction projects but are putting equal emphasis on a comprehensive programme of action to help communities blighted by crime, unemployment, poverty, poor health and a poor quality of life.
When we came to power in 1997, we faced tremendous challenges. As a result of 18 years of Tory Government, crime had doubled, communities had been ravaged by nearly two decades in which long-term unemployment doubled, homelessness and poverty had more than doubled and child poverty had tripled. It was a poisonous legacy fuelled by serious under-investment in places and in people. Many communities were destroyed—one has only to look at what happened to the mining communities in Yorkshire and elsewhere in the 1980s to realise that that is so.
The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells says that social measures are lacking in the Queen's Speech. Yes, they are, because we are working in parallel. Bills match each other. We have already introduced the new deal. We have provided an extra £5 billion for local authorities to tackle the scandalous housing repair backlog that we inherited. We shall provide an extra £250 million over the next three years to help key workers buy houses in our major towns and cities—houses for nurses, teachers, police officers and others.
We are starting to rebuild our roads and railways. We have set up the new deal for communities. We have committed £350 million, over three years, to regenerate coalfield communities. I shall not continue the list because it goes on and on, but I have mentioned the things that we are doing. [HON. MEMBERS: "We want more."] We have begun to modernise central and local government and to reform the civil service and service delivery. We have established regional development agencies to drive forward economic growth and regenerate the regions in partnership with local communities.
Many of those threads have been drawn together by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and published in the White Paper on urban policy, "Our Towns and Cities: The Future". We have set explicit targets for improvements in the delivery of those services. To help to take that forward, early next year we shall publish our action plan for neighbourhood renewal, building on months of extensive consultation and discussion.
Hon. Members present in the Chamber tonight will have heard many hon. Members, who are expert in the subject, talk about their local communities and the nature of the problems that they face. That has been reflected in many contributions. I should like to respond to some of the points that have been made. My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) agreed that the yob culture must be taken on and that trust must be built between the police and communities to tackle violence and crime where people are threatened.
On curfews, we do not want to discriminate against kids. I was struck by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central said that he viewed curfews as a child protection proposal, which is a positive and clear way to express it. Curfews are intended to protect children and their communities. They will apply to 15-year-olds and under—children of statutory school age. It is not a blanket proposal. We will not pick every 14 or 15-year-old off the streets.
Curfews will be used by local authorities in conjunction with the police, and they will have to go to the Home Secretary for ultimate authority. They represent a thoughtful way in which to help children who are under threat. Alongside that proposal, we are tough on the causes as well as on the crime. We are helping to keep kids away from crime, with summer schools and youth inclusion schemes, which have cut crime rates and kids have better opportunities as a result.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) argued that we need to achieve sustainable communities and that we need to abolish allocation policies to achieve that. I am pleased to let him know that the Homes Bill, which was presented today, will reform the way in which local authorities allocate housing. The Bill will be published tomorrow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Mr. Best) was disappointed that the Queen's Speech did not include proposals to license houses in multiple occupation—HMOs, as he referred to them. I am afraid that, unfortunately, we have not found it possible to find time for to license HMOs in this Session, but the Government remain committed to introducing such legislation when parliamentary time allows.
My hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Central and for Leeds, North-West, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), asked whether the Government should look further at licensing landlords in the private rented sector. In the housing Green Paper, which was published in April, we consulted on possible approaches to tackle the worst practices in the private rented sector. We shall announce our conclusions later this week and will then address that issue.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) wanted a draft leasehold reform Bill, and one will be published, as well as the Homes Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) suggested in an intervention that we would miss out Committee and Report stages. I assure him that any Bill that the Home Office introduces will be taken through all the relevant stages, as will all the other Bills.
Several hon. Members, including the right hon. and learned Members for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), raised the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill, which will benefit victims, and the criminal justice system generally, by ensuring that cases are not delayed and do not waste the time of the Crown court unnecessarily. The right to elect jury trial has been used by many defendants in criminal cases to cause delays in the courts. Research shows that in the majority of cases in which a defendant elects a jury trial he will change his plea from not guilty to guilty once the case goes to the Crown court.
Several Labour Members argued that defendants in Scotland have never had the right to choose which court will try them, and I have never heard anyone in either House of Parliament complain that that has led to inferior justice over the border. Any change of this kind needs to be alive to the need for safeguards. That is why we are providing a right of appeal to a senior judge against decisions by magistrates that they should hear a case.
My hon. Friends the Members for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) spoke of the relationship between crime, drugs and alcohol. I assure both my hon. Friends that we are working hard to do what we can on what is not a short-term problem but a complicated issue. We have programmes on prevention, education and treatment. We need more on that front. We have gone a long way, but we still have an awful long way to go. We are working in Europe and south America to try to stop the supply of drugs, or at least to cut it down. This is not an easy issue, but I can assure those who have expressed concern about the impact of drugs on their communities that we are doing all that we can to ensure that the problem does not get worse. We hope that it will now get better.
The hon. Member for Torbay raised the question of housing legislation. We are grateful for his support for our proposals. The Homes Bill was introduced today and it will be published tomorrow. It will cover issues such as reform of the house-buying system and the strengthening of the safety net for those made homeless. I do not have time to go into detail now, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied in relation to many of the points that he raised this evening.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), raised the question of police numbers. I shall not go into the arguments that we have already spent some time discussing. Suffice it to say that
there was agreement that decline has been steady since 1993. It is worth noting what the Police Federation blames for the decline in police numbers. Its chairman, Mr. Fred Broughton, said in 1990:
The principle reason, without any doubt, is the damage that was done at the decision of the last government to take housing allowance away from new recruits.
We have boosted the pay of the 1994 recruits to the Metropolitan police by about £3,500 to compensate for that Tory mistake. More will be given, year on year, to increase police numbers, aiming at an increase of 9,000 over the next three years.
On the points raised about the urban White Paper, I want to make it clear that many of its proposals do not require legislation. For example, new planning guidance, PPG1, new millennium communities, more urban regeneration companies and the £180 billion, 10-year transport plan do not need legislation. We have already legislated in some areas—for example, on the new powers for councils to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will introduce—
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add:
'But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech makes no mention of the decline in police numbers since 1997; note the continuing failure of many of the Government's measures to combat youth crime and that the Government remains committed to the early release from jail of thousands of criminals; deplore the Government's further attempt to restrict the right to trial by jury and its failure to put forward any measures to strengthen the rights of victims of crime, or to make prisons more purposeful, or sentencing more transparent, or to clear up the chaos in the asylum system; and further regret the absence of measures to halt the decline of inner cities and the failure to create a coherent programme of actions since 1997 to address the conditions that give rise to the growth of crime in deprived urban areas, notably poorly-maintained housing, rising homelessness, increasing numbers of empty houses and failing inner city schools, which have combined with the Government's commitment to building on green fields to perpetuate migration from inner cities.'—[Mr. Arbuthnot.]
Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Calling of amendments at end of debate), That the amendment be made:—
The House proceeded to a Division.
|Division No. 1]||[10 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Ballard, Jackie|
|Allan, Richard||Beith, Rt Hon A J|
|Amess, David||Bercow, John|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Beresford, Sir Paul|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Blunt, Crispin|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Body, Sir Richard|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Boswell, Tim|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)|
|Baldry, Tony||Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia|
|Brady, Graham||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Brake, Tom||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Breed, Colin||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Lansley, Andrew|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Leigh, Edward|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Letwin, Oliver|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Lidington, David|
|Burns, Simon||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Burstow, Paul||Livsey, Richard|
|Butterfill, John||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Loughton, Tim|
|Cash William||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|McIntosh, Miss Anne|
|MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew|
|Chope, Christopher||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Clappison, James||Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Major, Rt Hon John|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Maples, John|
|Collins, Tim||Maude, Rt Hon Francis|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Cran, James||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Moss, Malcolm|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Day, Stephen||Norman, Archie|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Oaten, Mark|
|Duncan, Alan||Ottaway, Richard|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Page, Richard|
|Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Paice, James|
|Faber, David||Pickles, Eric|
|Fabricant, Michael||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Fallon, Michael||Prior, David|
|Fearn, Ronnie||Randall, John|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Rendel, David|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Robathan, Andrew|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Fraser, Christopher||Ruffley, David|
|Gale, Roger||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Garnier, Edward||St Aubyn, Nick|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||Sanders, Adrian|
|Gibb, Nick||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Gidley, Sandra||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Gill, Christopher||Shepherd, Richard|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Soames, Nicholas|
|Green, Damian||Spring, Richard|
|Greenway, John||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Grieve, Dominic||Steen, Anthony|
|Gummer Rt Hon John||Stunell, Andrew|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Swayne, Desmond|
|Hammond, Philip||Syms, Robert|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Harvey, Nick||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Hawkins, Nick||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Hayes, John||Townend, John|
|Heald, Oliver||Tredinnick, David|
|Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)||Trend, Michael|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Tyler, Paul|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Horam, John||Walter, Robert|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Waterson, Nigel|
|Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)||Webb, Steve|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Wells, Bowen|
|Hunter, Andrew||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Whittingdale, John|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Keetch, Paul||Wilkinson, John|
|Key, Robert||Willetts, David|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Willis, Phil|
|Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Yeo, Tirn||Mr. James Gray and|
|Young, Rt Hon Sir George||Mr. Keith Simpson.|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Allen, Graham||Dalyell, Tam|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Darvill, Keith|
|Ashton, Joe||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Austin, John||Davidson, Ian|
|Bailey, Adrian||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Banks, Tony||Dawson, Hilton|
|Barnes, Harry||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Barron, Kevin||Denham, John|
|Bayley, Hugh||Dismore, Andrew|
|Beard, Nigel||Dobbin, Jim|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Doran, Frank|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Drew, David|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Benton, Joe||Edwards, Huw|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Efford, Clive|
|Berry, Roger||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Best, Harold||Ennis, Jeff|
|Betts, Clive||Etherington, Bill|
|Blackman, Liz||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Fisher, Mark|
|Blizzard, Bob||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Flint, Caroline|
|Borrow, David||Flynn, Paul|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Foulkes, George|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Galloway, George|
|Burden, Richard||Gardiner, Barry|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Gerrard, Neil|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Caborn, Rt Hon Richard||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Godsiff, Roger|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Goggins, Paul|
|Caplin, Ivor||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Casale, Roger||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Caton, Martin||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Cawsey, Ian||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Grocott, Bruce|
|Chaytor, David||Grogan, John|
|Clapham, Michael||Hain, Peter|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Torn (Coatbridge)||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Hanson, David|
|Clelland, David||Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet|
|Clwyd, Ann||Healey, John|
|Coaker, Vernon||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Coleman, Iain||Hendrick, Mark|
|Colman, Tony||Heppell, John|
|Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)||Hesford, Stephen|
|Cooper, Yvette||Hewitt, Ms Patricia|
|Corbett, Robin||Hill, Keith|
|Corston, Jean||Hinchliffe, David|
|Cousins, Jim||Hodge, Ms Margaret|
|Cox, Tom||Hoey, Kate|
|Cranston, Ross||Hope, Phil|
|Crausby, David||Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)|
|Cryer, John (Hornchurch)||Howells, Dr Kim|
|Cummings, John||Hoyle, Lindsay|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Hurst, Alan||Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)|
|Hutton, John||Morley, Elliot|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||Mudie, George|
|Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)||Olner, Bill|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Organ, Mrs Diana|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Pearson, Ian|
|Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa||Pendry, Tom|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Pike, Peter L|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth||Plaskitt, James|
|Kemp, Fraser||Pollard, Kerry|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Pond, Chris|
|Khabra, Piara S||Pope, Greg|
|Kidney, David||Pound, Stephen|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Kingham, Ms Tess||Purchase, Ken|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Lammy, David||Radice, Rt Hon Giles|
|Laxton, Bob||Rammell, Bill|
|Lepper, David||Raynsford, Nick|
|Leslie, Christopher||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Levitt, Tom||Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)|
|Lewis, Terry (Worsley)|
|Linton, Martin||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Rogers, Allan|
|Lock, David||Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff|
|Love, Andrew||Rooney, Terry|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)|
|McCabe, Steve||Rowlands, Ted|
|McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)||Ruddock, Joan|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|McDonagh, Siobhain||Salmond, Alex|
|McDonnell, John||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|McFall, John||Savidge, Malcolm|
|McIsaac, Shona||Sawford, Phil|
|McKenna, Mrs Rosemary||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Mackinlay, Andrew||Sheerman, Barry|
|McNamara, Kevin||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert|
|McNulty, Tony||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|MacShane, Denis||Singh, Marsha|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Skinner, Dennis|
|McWalter, Tony||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|McWilliam, John||Smith, Angela (Basildon)|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Mallaber, Judy||Soley, Clive|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Southworth, Ms Helen|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Spellar, John|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Squire, Ms Rachel|
|Martlew, Eric||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Maxton, John||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Stevenson, George|
|Meale, Alan||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Merron, Gillian||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Michael, Rt Hon Alun||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|Milburn, Rt Hon Alan||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|Miller, Andrew||Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Mitchell, Austin||Stringer, Graham|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)||White, Brian|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Temple-Morris, Peter||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Timms, Stephen||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Tipping, Paddy||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Todd, Mark||Wills, Michael|
|Touhig, Don||Winnick, David|
|Truswell, Paul||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)||Woolas, Phil|
|Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)||Worthington, Tony|
|Turner, Neil (Wigan)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Twigg, Derek (Halton)||Wyatt, Derek|
|Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Tynan, Bill||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Vaz, Keith||Mr. Kevin Hughes and|
|Vis, Dr Rudi||Mr. Jim Dowd.|