Before we start the debate, I should inform the House that I have selected for debate the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add:
'Welcome measures in the Gracious Speech to improve criminal justice, despite the failure of the Government's previous 12 such Acts to deliver improvement;
further welcome measures to reform the excessively bureaucratic legislation previously introduced to curb anti-social behaviour, and other measures, proposed by Her Majesty's Official Opposition, to protect the public from sex offenders;
but deplore proposals within the European Arrest Warrant that could lead to the arrest of people in Britain for actions which are not crimes in Britain, or to the deportation of British people for trial in judicial systems where there is no presumption of innocence;
will study with concern any proposals for the restriction of the Xdouble jeopardy" rule, or the introduction of past convictions into court proceedings;
and regret the failure of the Government to address the central issues of crime today, such as the lack of true neighbourhood policing, the falling rates of detection and the lack of a coherent strategy to lift young people off the conveyor belt to crime.'.
As I have said on previous occasions both in the House and outside, the Home Secretary bears a heavy responsibility. The integrity and energy with which he discharges that responsibility continue to evoke admiration in all parts of the House. As we enter what may be dangerous weeks and months due to the operations of unseen and malign forces, he and the officials and agencies that work with him will have the unswerving support of the Opposition in their efforts to protect the British public from those threats. I hope that we may soon be given a full statement on the nation's preparedness.
I am hopeful about the Government's proposals on child protection and sexual offences. I believe that there is much common ground, as we said yesterday, and I hope that we shall arrive at a consensus on many of the proposals that we have made to tighten the law protecting children. I feel confident also that the House as a whole will agree on many measures in the criminal justice Bill. It is a matter of consensus that we require new codes on criminal offences, sentencing and court procedures, and that we need a new working relationship between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts.
It is a matter of consensus that we need more thorough protection and support for victims and witnesses. We need to explore means of preventing the ludicrous position whereby people are often more frightened to be witnesses or victims in court than to be accused in court. Witness intimidation should attract the stiffest penalties, and using violence to pervert the cause of justice should be viewed as striking at the heart of our legal system's integrity.
However, there is a danger that the Government will present measures that fail to tackle the most genuine problems, such as lack of neighbourhood policing and the conveyor belt to crime that leads our young people to hard drugs and persistent offending. There is a danger that the Government will conceal that failing by introducing measures of questionable practical utility in the fight against crime that nevertheless score headlines because of their illiberalism or lack of sufficient attention to fundamental liberties.
We shall carefully consider the Government's proposals on trial by jury, double jeopardy and the disclosure of previous convictions during criminal trials. We fully acknowledge the truth behind Lord Justice Auld's statement that criminal justice is not and should not become a game. Like the Home Secretary, we want the guilty to be convicted, but we remain inalienably attached to the principle of the presumption of innocence. That also applies to the principle that the prosecution should continue to have to show beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.
We will scrutinise with energy and in detail the provisions of the criminal justice measure that deal with those matters. We shall seek agreement and constructive solutions, but we will use every parliamentary means at our disposal to prevent the enactment of measures that contravene or threaten the fundamental principles that I described.
I appreciate from studying the Conservative amendment that the right hon. Gentleman has not rejected the change to double jeopardy out of hand, but would not such a change require compelling evidence to persuade the Court of Appeal? It could not simply be decided to prosecute again a person who had been acquitted of a major offence for that same offence. The Court of Appeal will have to be persuaded that compelling evidence exists. In practice, it is unlikely that there would be more than half a dozen cases in four or five years.
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that we spotted that. However, how will the jury engaged in the retrial be prevented from presuming guilt if its members discover that the Court of Appeal has already ruled that compelling evidence exists to suggest guilt? The Government will have to answer that question in drafting the Bill, and we shall investigate the matter.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, we shall have plenty of time to deal with the matter in detail when we examine the Bill.
We shall not acquiesce in any measures in a European arrest warrant that lead to the arrest of people in this country for actions that are not crimes in this country. We shall vigorously oppose a European arrest warrant that compromises the principle of the presumption of innocence. Let us be clear about what such a warrant means. If a British citizen publishes in Spain a statement that is construed by the Spanish courts to constitute xenophobia, he could be tried in absentia. Without having broken a law in this country, he could be removed to prove his innocence before a Spanish court that presumes him guilty. We cannot accept that.
I am sorry to intervene at this stage of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but we must be accurate about the European arrest warrant. The proposals in that element of the Bill would ensure that no country could try someone in absentia on the ground that they are presumed guilty. Under the European convention on human rights, which the right hon. Gentleman has often attacked, there must be a presumption of innocence. The Bill will make it clear that no country will have the right to extradite under the European arrest warrant without agreeing to the presumption of innocence.
I fear that, having examined the detail of the measure so far, I am not convinced that that is the effect of the drafting. If we become so convinced, that will be a great help. However, I have a dark foreboding that we are heading towards a major parliamentary battle about the European arrest warrant.
I fear that we may also have a battle about the international co-operation Bill. We thought that it would be an uncontroversial measure, and we warmly support the strengthening of international co-operation in the war against terrorism. Without adequate safeguards, however, we cannot countenance police officers from another jurisdiction mounting a surveillance operation in this country without the permission of a British judge.
XCrime and social breakdown affect everyone, but it is the poorest and most disadvantaged whose quality of life suffers most."
He went on to say that
Xthis autumn we will focus on tackling these problems. We are pursuing radical reform of the Criminal Justice System, tackling anti-social behaviour and restoring social cohesion to fragmented communities."
I have recently been reading another remarkably similar speech, in which the speaker also referred to
Xthe fracturing of social cohesion".
A press release from the same source on the same date called for
Xa new national strategy for crime prevention", and the same speaker went on to echo the Prime Minister's recent article in The Observer by pointing out that
Xit is the weak and the vulnerable who suffer most from crime".
[Interruption.] That second speaker was not, as has just been suggested, my right hon. Friend Mr. Portillo; nor was it the Home Secretary. It was none other than our current Prime Minister, when he held my post of shadow Home Secretary in 1993.
I wonder whether I am alone in finding this process a trifle surreal. It is almost as though someone else had been governing the country for the past five years. It is almost as though each year sees a new relaunch of the same ambition, a new start to history, and as though time past disappears in a constantly reinvented present. There is a reason why listening to the Prime Minister is such a surreal experience, and a reason for the constant reinvention of the present. Alas, the record of delivery—or, rather, of non-delivery—requires the progressive elimination of history. The single biggest test of a criminal justice system is its ability to catch and convict criminals. This Government have failed that test. When the Prime Minister first called for a new national strategy for crime prevention in 1993, he pointed out that only about one in 25 crimes resulted in a conviction. He regarded that as a damning indictment of the previous Government. Today, after five years of a Labour Government, only one in 40 crimes result in a conviction.
Let me give another example of the year zero principle in action: the example of asylum. We have recently seen the completion of the passage of an asylum Bill. Its main purpose was to redress the damage done by the extraordinarily inept measures taken by the current Foreign Secretary when he was Home Secretary. Those ineptitudes are to be addressed by introducing—alas, in a somewhat cack-handed fashion—a panoply of Conservative measures once derided by the present Prime Minister and the present Foreign Secretary: the white lists, the denial of social security payments to those who do not claim asylum at the port of entry, and the accommodation centres. We hope that the new measures will bring about improvements, but, whatever the future may hold, the record of the last five years on asylum has been utterly dismal.
I fear that the record on reoffending is no better. The Lord Chief Justice recently said:
XI think that Government policy has to concentrate on avoiding reoffending. The reoffending figures are appalling".
He was right. When young people are convicted, they re-offend with appalling frequency: 75 per cent. of young offenders are reconvicted within two years of leaving our young offender institutions.
Since the introduction of the Youth Justice Board and our new measures, has there not been a 14.6 per cent. drop in juvenile reoffending? Is that not a success by anyone's standards?
A 14.6 per cent. drop sounds like a lot, until we realise that the figure for reconviction within two years is still about 70 per cent. I fear that there is no sign in the Queen's Speech of serious and radical proposals for long-term reform of the sentencing of young offenders. We have made proposals that could lead to the effective rehabilitation of such offenders, but I see no sign of that from the Government.
I shall in a moment.
We will not seriously cure reoffending unless we seriously address the dreadful and growing problem of heroin and cocaine addiction among our young people. Conservatives have made proposals to multiply tenfold the availability of intensive residential rehabilitation for young heroin and cocaine addicts and to compel them to take up such treatment and rehabilitation. I see no sign of such measures from the Government. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Ainsworth, who is in his place, has provided me with a written answer that makes it clear that treatment places means individuals Xreported as in contact" with treatment agencies.
The Government claim to have 118,000 treatment places, or, rather, 118,000 people in contact with treatment agencies. A different picture emerges when one realises that there are, in fact, only some 2,000 to 3,000 intensive residential treatment places in this country. The Government do not even know precisely how many there are. They content themselves instead with determining the number of people in contact, much as they content themselves with determining the number of waiting patients who are in contact with the national health service. Contact, as Nurse Edith Cavell would have said, is not enough.
The evidence base is enormous, and the most compelling case is that of the Netherlands, where the average age of heroin and cocaine addicts is increasing by about 360 days each year. In other words, almost no young people are joining the queue. The reasons for that achievement are twofold: the intensive and coercive use of intensive residential rehabilitation and, as a result of those measures and the splitting of the market, the young people of the Netherlands coming to regard heroin and crack as unfashionable.
I totally endorse a wide menu of treatment. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Netherlands, but a written report presented last week by the Netherlands Government to the European Observatory on Drugs makes no reference to residential rehabilitation. Indeed, the Netherlands approach outlined in that report does not incorporate residential rehabilitation.
I do not dismiss a small role for residential rehabilitation, but I ask again, precisely what is the evidence base on which the right hon. Gentleman makes his criticism of the Government by suggesting that a large amount of residential rehabilitation is needed? Which Netherlands evidence is he quoting?
I have, perhaps unlike the hon. Gentleman, visited residential treatment centres in the Netherlands and I have spent time with the Ministry of Public Health and Hygiene. I have talked to drug addicts who are and who have been in treatment and I have repeatedly visited residential treatment centres in other countries, including Sweden and this country. If he seriously denies that residential treatment is required for a considerable proportion of those who are seriously addicted to heroin and cocaine, I fear that he is living in a fool's paradise.
I wish to make progress.
There is a problem, which is how we are meant to take seriously the Prime Minister's promise to be tough on the causes of crime when his Government have failed to take serious and radical steps to lift young people off the conveyor belt to crime. How can we take seriously his statement that he will be tough on crime itself when his Government have not been serious about neighbourhood policing? The prospective criminal has a 97.5 per cent. chance of not being caught and convicted, so the need for such neighbourhood policing is acute. If antisocial behaviour is to be tackled seriously, that will not be done by legislation. If low level disorder is to be tackled seriously, that will not be done by legislation. It can be done only through neighbourhood policing. That means police on the streets, police officers proactively sniffing out low level disorder and crime, and police officers who are not hampered by vast reams of bureaucratic requirements and national policing plans. That means police officers being present where and when disorder and crime occur, seeing and being seen, protecting and being seen to protect the public, and recapturing the streets for the honest citizen.
We are five years into a Labour Government, yet a BBC poll reveals that 28 per cent. of the population cannot remember when they last saw a police officer. Of course, the Government tell us that they have reached record levels of policing. Once again, we are facing the airbrushed theory of history. What the Government mean is that they have very recently, and very slightly, exceeded the number of police officers that they inherited from the previous Conservative Government. Between 1993 and 1997 there were, on average, 127,000 police officers in England and Wales. In the five years of this Labour Government there have been, on average, about 126,000 officers in England and Wales. We should note that 126,000 is fewer than 127,000, not more. At a time when my own county of Dorset is under threat of losing 270 of its police officers from a force that is already ludicrously overstretched, no one in rural areas is going to believe that this Government are serious about neighbourhood policing.
I should like to give the right hon. Gentleman some very good news, which I gave to the conference of the Association of Police Authorities in Harrogate this morning. We have decided not to withdraw the rural policing element, so I am sure that he will stand up and say how pleased he is that Dorset's force has been saved from the vagaries of changes in the formula.
Hallelujah! If the Home Secretary would like to add that he will withdraw and reconsider the national policing plan, and that he will engage in serious neighbourhood policing, we would be genuinely very grateful.
Before my right hon. Friend gets too carried away by the Home Secretary's announcement, will he reflect on what sort of Government would even contemplate removing rural policing funding?
I fear that my right hon. Friend underestimates the effectiveness with which he and other Conservative Members may have determined the Home Secretary's position. The Home Secretary wanted to do something that was necessitated by the fact that he could see no other way of fulfilling certain targets that he had set. Now he has discovered that enough of a fuss has been made, he undoes that effort.
As my right hon. Friend Sir Brian Mawhinney knows, it is not unusual for Governments to try to find the easy way out. Thank goodness that this particular easy way out has been blocked. The fact is that this Government have no real regard for rural areas. They are perfectly willing to lunge for that easy option if they think that they can succeed, but when a fuss is made, thankfully, they retract.
No, I shall resist that temptation.
The sad truth is that the current Home Secretary appears unable effectively to deal with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor. It was once said in Russia—where the main newspaper used to be called Xthe truth" and the main news agency was called Xthe news"—that there was no truth in the news and no news in the truth. I fear that, in its presentation of its spending plans, the Home Office has clearly been following that pre-glasnost pattern.
Internal Home Office papers, revealed by The Guardian, show that Home Office civil servants admit that
Xthere is no serious prospect of any money being made available for secure training centres" which is one of the objectives. Home Office officials are also quoted as admitting that they have signed Xthe death knell" for this Government's aim of
Xdiversification for the prison service."
Indeed, the muddle on finances is so great that this toughest of all tough Home Secretaries finds himself making 17 per cent. of offenders subject to early release.
Wherever we look, we fail to see coherent, focused, long-term programmes to take young people off the conveyor belt of crime. We fail to see coherent, focused, long-term programmes to recapture the streets for the honest citizen through true neighbourhood policing. We fail to see properly organised finances that can support delivery of ambitious programmes. Instead, we see targets, units and initiatives.
In 2000, the Home Office set a target to increase the number and proportion of recorded crimes for which an offender is brought to justice. So far, the number has reduced, not increased. In the same year, the Home Office set a target to reduce the proportion of people under the age of 25 reporting the use of class A drugs. There has been no reduction, and the use of cocaine has risen. In 2000, the Home Office set a target of reducing robbery in our principal cities: since that date, robbery in our principal cities and elsewhere has increased.
I referred earlier to the Home Secretary's energy, which is prodigious. We have so far counted 95 initiatives since he came to office. Nor, over five years, have the Government lacked legislative energy. We have had the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, the Criminal Justice Act 1998, the Magistrates' Courts (Procedure) Act 1998, the Human Rights Act 1998, the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999, the Terrorism Act 2000, the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, the criminal justice Bills of 1999 and 2000, which were withdrawn, the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 and now, of course, five new Bills.
The legislative ambitions have been vast and, mostly, laudable, but have they delivered? The Home Secretary prefers to forget that when the present Foreign Secretary was the Home Secretary he said that
Xwe need a criminal justice system which deals with defendants quickly, efficiently and fairly."
He was right. The sad truth is that the present Home Secretary does not think—any more than I do—that his right hon. Friend delivered such a criminal justice system. That is why the Home Secretary said in March that
Xconfidence in the criminal justice system is low, and understandably so."
He is not the only person to have noticed that. The Minister for Criminal Justice, Sentencing and Law Reform recently and rightly told us that people
Xhave a deep and profound sense that the criminal justice system is failing."
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis recently told us that, after five years of this Government,
Xthe public are more than disenchanted with criminal justice—they are fed up with it."
The chairman of the Victims of Crime Trust told us this year:
XI have never seen the criminal justice system in such disarray."
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I join him in many of his criticisms, but does he accept that they could equally be made of his colleagues in the 18 years before he entered the House? The last Tory Government had 37 Home Office Bills, including 13 in the last year. However, crime doubled under the Tories and violent crime went up every year. In the last five years of the Tories, police numbers fell. On behalf of his party, does the right hon. Gentleman now say that those approaches and parliamentary initiatives were wrong and inadequate? If that is so, does he have a commitment to the funding to deliver what he says he wants and does he have a figure for the number of police that England and Wales need?
The hon. Gentleman is in the enviable position of being able to attack everyone on all occasions. We are currently discussing the question of whether this Government have delivered, and my argument is that they have not. The fact that we have had problems in the past—and we have—is not to deny that we succeeded in reducing crime significantly at the tail end of the last Government, because of the measures that the then Home Secretary took, which were right and which have been continued by the present Government, to their credit. The Government came to power saying that they would solve all the criminal justice problems that we had left unresolved. They have failed to do so.
We have had five years of Labour Government. We have had 12 criminal justice Bills. We have had vaulting ambitions, boundless energy and countless initiatives, but we have not had a clear, settled and effective policy. We have not had results or delivery. Let us hope that this year will be the first year in the five-year history of this Government that is truly a year of delivery for the citizens of this country, who face disorder on a scale that concerns all and terrifies some.
We are all agreed that there is a problem. We are all agreed that the official Opposition will help us with that problem. They will help us because they agree that there is a problem. They even agree that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and that legislation might be a good idea. They even agree that, in principle, the legislation that the Government are bringing forward might be worth supporting. There is only one proviso: that during the Bill's passage through the House, and especially in the House of Lords, the Opposition will go out of their way to do anything that they can to stop the legislation reaching the statute book. Moreover, they will take every opportunity to undermine the Government's efforts to make the legislation workable. That is my experience over 18 months as Home Secretary.
I want to make an offer—
I am surprised at what the Home Secretary has said. I remember that the Under-Secretary, Mr. Ainsworth, thanked the Opposition, at the end of the passage through the House of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, for their contribution to proceedings. I recollect that about 60 amendments tabled by the Opposition were accepted by the Government and incorporated into the legislation, which was thereby improved. Is that what the Home Secretary is referring to?
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is a decent, honourable and courteous man. After 459 clauses and half his life, he felt the need to thank those who had helped him both in Committee and in the House. I do not think that he was quite as grateful to those in the House of Lords who got in the way of making the Bill more workable.
I was about to make what I think is a generous offer. Yesterday, the shadow Home Secretary was generous enough to say that, with a fair wind, the Government's proposals would have the Opposition's support—subject, of course, to the detail of the legislation being acceptable. I accepted what he said. I want to make an offer to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Simon Hughes. They are welcome to suggest changes and improvements as we move through legislation, and to bring forward their own legal advice if they think that the Government's advice is flawed.
I cannot say fairer than that. We have established, as we did yesterday, that we are in such agreement that only two questions remain: is the Home Office up to drafting something that will work, and will the result have the impact that we want? I want the answer to both questions to be in the affirmative. I think that we can move forward in a spirit of total unanimity. I nearly said anonymity, but unanimity is the better way to describe it.
I shall turn to one or two points raised by Mr. Letwin in relation to terrorism. The Leader of the Opposition has enjoined the right hon. Gentleman to make the interesting if slightly zany suggestion that we copy the Americans and create a homeland tsar of Cabinet rank. Presumably, we would also have to create a homeland department to back that tsar.
I want to get this matter out of the way, as it is causing great disquiet. People have read The Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror, or reprints of the relevant articles. There is a genuine worry that needs to be dispelled, so I shall deal first with the structural issue.
Would it be a good idea to have one person of Cabinet rank whose sole job was to oversee and co-ordinate anti-terrorism measures—and that would include the work of the security service and the anti-terrorism branch of the Metropolitan police—and the civil contingencies now known as resilience? That person would take forward measures to enhance the plans that are already well worked out as a consequence of the threat of terrorism from Ireland. Would it help if one individual had that responsibility? At present, colleagues are required to co-ordinate through Cabinet Committees. They take responsibility and are held to account for the matters with which they have to deal for the funding that they oversee; and for the priorities that they have to weigh. Would it be better if that responsibility were put into one person's hands? That would detach measures on resilience and anti-terrorism from the mainstream activity of Government Departments.
A couple of weeks ago the House discussed the protection of Heathrow, in connection with proscription orders. Would it better for the Department for Transport to deal with that, or a separate Cabinet Minister? Would it be better for the Department of Health if a Cabinet Minister took away the role of determining and weighing priorities, of integrating with local activity, trusts and the work of the chief medical officer, and centralised it? Would it be better if a Cabinet Minister intervened in the detail of every Department rather than requiring Sir David Omand to produce integral reports highlighting and reinforcing the need for improvement where it is required and supporting the Cabinet Committees in getting buy-in from everyone across Government, not separating it into one person's bailiwick?
More important still, would it help to build the confidence of and reassure the nation if every time a newspaper made something up, that Cabinet Minister was expected to answer for it at the Dispatch Box? Would it be right, on the back of what The Sunday Times wrote or the interesting story in the Daily Mirror with named underground stations—reminiscent of a similar article by the same journalist on Irish terrorism—for a Cabinet Minister to jump up at the Dispatch Box or appear on the XToday" programme? I think not. The result would be that someone's whole focus in life would be answering the kind of scurrilous rumour-mongering that destroys the chance of getting real messages across so that when we say that there is a specific warning and indicate that there is a particular problem, people will not believe us.
I have listened to the Home Secretary very carefully and I accept that it is a fine and difficult judgment. However, does he accept that there is an issue of time? As Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman has six Bills to take through the House. The Secretary of State for Health has a complicated 10-year plan to deliver. The Secretary of State for Defence is probably about to be involved in a war in Iraq. And as for the Deputy Prime Minister, we will leave him on one side. Who will have the time and focus to get it right? We have seen conflicting answers to the same questions over recent weeks.
I do not believe that we have. I do not think that evidence has been adduced to indicate that conflicting answers have been given. I have been quite prepared to welcome the right hon. Member for West Dorset and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey for briefings and I will continue to do so. If they can show me contradictions in what has been said—bearing in mind the fact that those who are close to these matters, as well as journalists, know perfectly well who is responsible for speaking on behalf of the Government on these matters—I would be happy to write to Mr. Cameron and apologise.
There have not been contradictions; we have indicated that wild fantasies from those who do not carry responsibility for the consequences of their speculation in the media and elsewhere have not helped. That is very different from people saying that there have been contradictions in the message coming from the Government. I appeal to the British media: do not hide the truth or duck finding out what is going on, but for God's sake do not make things up on the back of the speculation of people who wish to demonstrate that they know more than others and think that they should be listened to.
Although I accept both what my right hon. Friend said to the shadow Home Secretary and what the Prime Minister said earlier, does my right hon. Friend agree that there was much public disquiet arising from reports that appeared during the past week or so, even if some of them were inaccurate? Does he also agree that terrorists would not have the slightest reluctance to strike at Britain if it was at all possible? In those circumstances, although I realise that some information cannot be given for security reasons, is there not a need to give as much information as possible, so that the public have a pretty good idea—no false optimism but no reason to panic? Such information should, of course, come from the highest level of the Government.
That is precisely why we issued information both on
We need to be transparently honest with the British people. Only then will people stop continually crying wolf, so undermining real opportunities to give warnings should the need arise. At present, there is the same level of heightened concern that we experienced at the same time during the run-up to Christmas last year. As I pointed out, there are concerns about the way in which we presented, and answered questions in the House on, the extra measures resulting from Sir John Wheeler's report on Heathrow. We indicated, as we did when we laid the orders, that we would reconsider issues that hon. Members have raised in relation to ports. We have constantly been prepared to consider suggestions for improvements.
There is general heightened awareness. There is no specific warning from the security or intelligence services about a designated attack in this country, about a site or about a method of achieving such an attack. There is a level of vigilance and security activity that has led to the arrest of those suspected of involvement in developing, planning or preparing to carry out terrorist acts.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the Security Service and to the anti-terrorist branch for what they are doing and for their continued vigilance. That is what I want from the services. I shall continue to undertake a co-ordinating role—that is what it is. I shall continue to report to the Prime Minister, which is the correct route, in order to safeguard the British people in the best possible way.
Should there be a specific and verifiable need for a warning and should we believe that such a warning could aid people to protect themselves or provide additional warning to others, or that it could, in any way, contribute to foiling a possible attack, we shall say so and we shall issue that necessary warning. That is a promise from the Government as a whole.
I have every confidence in the services and in their capability, and I hope that hon. Members will accept that. If there is a specific and verifiable issue that requires an answer, I shall always come to the Dispatch Box, but I make it clear again: to come to the Dispatch Box on the back of every piece of speculation would heighten tension and raise fears. It would discredit the process when there really was something to report to the House. That is the stand that I intend to take.
The Home Secretary has our sympathy and support on this matter. Indeed, everything that he has said appears to be consistent with his public statements and those made by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, and the exaggeration appears to be the result of the press speculating and exaggerating in an entirely unhelpful way. Given that we entirely accept all that the Home Secretary has said and agree that the approach is right, does he agree that any structural change in the way that the Government deal with such things—there are arguments for such a change—should be done, first, in a considered way; secondly, if possible, with agreement throughout the House; and, thirdly, not off the back of a change in the structures in the United States, with its entirely different system and history, which it seems entirely inappropriate to mimic two months later?
Yes, I would give that assurance. When I met Tom Ridge twice two weeks ago, he indicated that the United States faces a difficulty not only because of its federal structure, with enormous power in the hands of the state legislatures and elsewhere, but because it does not have the equivalent of MI5. The United States has no internal security and intelligence facility in the way that we do, but it is considering one because it is interested in the way in which we operate. We did not pretend to Tom Ridge that everything is perfectly fine here or that there is no room for improvement; we said that we would like to learn from each other, and I hope that we can do so.
The massive department with a multi-billion pound budget for which Congress is now voting in relation to the homeland security facility is way beyond anything that we in this country could contemplate without completely dislocating not only our government procedures but the investment that we need in key services that secure the kind of lifestyle, economy and services that make this country worth living in in the first place. The message has been clear from all parties that we must not allow others to disrupt our economy and social life because, if we do, they have won. It is as simple as that.
Of course I accept that there are limits to what can be done, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Defence Committee report, which is not a partisan document, revealed very serious concerns about whether the co-ordination was working in any serious way? Leaving aside all the hype of what necessarily goes on during Prime Minister's questions at both Dispatch Boxes, does he accept that the National Audit Office report on the national health service gives serious cause for concern? Does he accept that my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith was making a serious point when he mentioned that each of the Ministers currently most involved in such matters has a huge work load? I quail at the idea of doing such things myself. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, if this is a very serious concern for the whole Government, there needs to be some means or other by which someone or other is full-time in the job?
Someone or other is full-time in the job at some time or another, but it does not have to be a full-time politician, running around looking for a job to do. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right; I quail as well at the responsibilities that I hold, but I am very happy to keep them for a little longer. He is right to suggest that they are onerous, but they are integral to the security issues. The whole operation of the linkage between one aspect of Home Office work and another makes it the appropriate recipient for the political responsibility of co-ordination, as has been judged by different Governments for many years. We all agree that people should decentralise accountability and responsibility to those who carry it day to day, because we could not do such things from the centre. We are always being accused of being over-centralising, but people cannot have it both ways.
Yes, there is room for improvement. The NAO report suggested ways to improve and we are acting on them. We answered the work done by the Defence Committee in the normal way some time ago, but we also took its point about further co-ordination, which is why Sir David Omand, who is respected by everyone, has taken over, reporting direct to the secretary to the Cabinet on these matters. He is already doing a good job in pulling together and supporting the existing work that has already been put in train. So there is a constant process of improvement—there must be. As I repeated earlier, if anyone thinks that there is a problem inside a service or elsewhere, let us have a go at improving it, rather than being defensive about it.
The Home Secretary has talked a lot in the past few minutes about the need for co-ordination of various activities at Cabinet level. There is also a need to drive the change in the focus of our various security agencies, not all of which report to the right hon. Gentleman—some do, but some report to the Foreign Secretary. Their focus must be more on terrorism. I know that that is taking place, but there is a role to be played in driving that change and that focus, and in making sure that they have the resources to do it. That is not just a question of co-ordination.
The Prime Minister has direct responsibility in terms of the overall co-ordination of the security and intelligence services, and, through the Cabinet Secretary, for ensuring adequate resourcing. That resourcing has been put in place, and we have reported to the Intelligence and Security Committee on that resourcing and what was required. As it reported on
It would be helpful if I now moved on to the main debate. I shall be brief, as I know that many Members wish to speak. First, there is no difference between the shadow Home Secretary and me on the presumption of innocence or on the test of reasonable doubt. I do not want us to enter into debates this winter with any doubt between us on these matters. I also want to highlight an interesting debate which we shall probably have on Second Reading, so I shall not refer to it in great detail today: how those who are most attached to universal jury trial are most suspicious about trusting the jury when it comes to issues such as double jeopardy. We all need to reflect on whether we believe what we are saying. If we trust the jury, and we trust the process of guidance from the judiciary, we should be aware of that.
Another issue that the right hon. Member for West Dorset raised, to which I want to take exception—many of the points on which we cross swords over the Dispatch Box are issues of principle or are good points that I am prepared to refute or to concede—is that of police coming from overseas, which is a good example of the right hon. Gentleman making a little mischief. We have to give the Opposition leeway for a bit of mischief, but I want to put the record straight. What this is really about is someone coming into the country who has been carrying out surveillance on someone abroad, and being given, under the proposals, five hours to continue that surveillance so that our internal forces can take over. That is a staggering erosion of our rights and civil liberties. I imagine that there might be a whole article in The Daily Telegraph on the subject over the next week or two. There are serious issues about the arrest warrant that we should, and will, debate—such as the presumption of innocence and the right of appeal to the district judge—but that is not one of them.
What consideration has the Home Secretary given to the applicability to the debate on the European arrest warrant of the subsidiarity and proportionality protocol of the treaty of Amsterdam?
I think of nothing else. I have had difficulty sleeping recently, and now I know why. I am a great believer in subsidiarity in all its guises, which is why I want to refer briefly to the issue of neighbourhood policing, which was raised by the right hon. Member for West Dorset.
This is an interesting point. When I asked Bill Bratton to come across in January this year—he is the former New York police commissioner, who is now doing his bit in Los Angeles—I asked the chief constables to come along. I did so because I recognised that we would all want to embrace the kind of community policing that was successful in New York, and I said so when, a month after that, I had an interesting meeting with former Mayor Giuliani in this House. I was very pleased to be joined by the official Opposition, who shortly afterwards embraced the principles behind New York policing. I was pleased that we all agreed.
However, I cannot understand how I am supposed to dictate to chief constables the precise nature of their policing operations and the balance between intelligence-led policing and community neighbourhood policing while doing what the Opposition suggest. For example, the Police Reform Act 2002 was bitterly opposed some of, if not all, the time, although things sometimes changed from beginning to end. That legislation contained proposals about the links between community support officers and the people on the street and street wardens and about the need to reward those at the sharp end more through the new prioritisation and reward system. I sometimes ask myself a question, but let me ask everyone else; otherwise I shall lose them and they will fall asleep, and I will be left thinking of the question of Mr. Bercow about subsidiarity.
I will give way to my hon. Friend in a second. I just want to ask the House how I am supposed to order chief constables to introduce universal neighbourhood community policing and, at the same time, lay my hands off them so that they have operational responsibility.
What is most interesting about the Home Secretary's remarks is how much they tell us about the way in which his mind works. He assumes automatically that, if we call for neighbourhood policing, we believe that the only way that it can be imposed is from on top. Has he considered the possibility that one might construct arrangements that would enable local populations to have an effect on whether they were properly policed?
I agree entirely with that, and I said so to the police authorities conference this morning. However, the amendment that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have tabled blames the Government for not acting. It does not blame the chief constables, the police authorities or the failure to set up sufficient pressure groups at neighbourhood level. Incidentally, we agree on the need to fund neighbourhood watch and to vitalise communities. We agree on the civil agenda, but the amendment blames the Government. If I am to take the blame, I want to know what mechanisms to avoid the blame the right hon. Gentleman would give me. Then I will do my best, because I am sensitive to these matters to the point of bleeding when I am cut.
I would not dream of asking the Home Secretary to bleed. However, has he considered it possible that it is the Government's responsibility to create structures that enable local communities in this country effectively to influence how they are policed as they can in the United States? The Government have not come forward with any such measures.
The national policing plan aims to do just that. It aims to ensure that, within the overall framework, the objectives are laid down at local level and that there is proper accountability as well as responsibility for operational policing at local level. We would welcome any suggestions that would strengthen the plan, because I am strongly in favour of that. I want to ensure that we in South Yorkshire do as well on street crime as the West Midlands or the Met. I look forward to South Yorkshire doing that.
Absolutely. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the truly surreal experience is to listen to Mr. Letwin, who manages in the course of one speech to disagree with himself on at least three occasions? When my right hon. Friend reflects on the specific contents of his Bills, will he take note of the remarks of the chief constable of Merseyside, Mr. Norman Bettison, who, in welcoming the extension of the fixed-penalties scheme, has suggested that it might be beneficial to my constituents if it could be extended to cover juveniles as well?
The chief constable has a good point. We should consider doing that. I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Mr. Ainsworth, to produce proposals on that basis. That chief constable has won that argument.
In publishing the national policing plan with my right hon. Friend today, I realise that it can be attacked in two ways. One line of attack is to argue that the plan says too much and asks too much of people—in other words, that it has too many priorities. The other line of attack is to argue that it leaves things out. Given that people from similar organisations and, indeed, from the same organisations have made both criticisms, I am somewhat heartened by what we have achieved.
My right hon. Friend will recall that he visited my constituency recently. I am interested to discover what he learned from that visit because I observed the appropriateness of policing to particular communities. Policing works best when communities are supported by the chief constable and the divisional commander and when the police are supported by the community so that they work together to find the right partnership to make policing work. The police and the community in that area are as one in tackling crime, which is why there has been only one robbery in it in the past five years.
I was pleased to see that when I visited my hon. Friend's constituency at the end of September. In particular, I was struck by the mobilisation of the community. I think that the community constable had recruited 18 specials. I was most impressed by a young woman—I think she was called Donna—who gave about 20 hours a week of voluntary commitment, and she made a hell of a difference. We are all agreed on that type of policing.
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way.
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the national policing plan objectives do not displace local policing objectives? We thought that we had won the argument on rural policing a couple of years ago, only to find that by emphasising street crime in cities, the national policing plan countermanded the previous emphasis on rural crime. Notwithstanding today's good news on the continuation of funding, is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that his plans do not tie chief constables' hands?
There are differences within force areas. I presume that the hon. Gentleman is aggrieved because we have given his force substantial resources to take cognisance of street crime and all that goes with it, which means concentrating on Bristol. Within the overall resource allocation for street crime, and the requirement of 10 forces to give priority to tackling that scourge, force areas will need to reprioritise other activities. The national policing plan at a local level expects the force to do that. Forces are asked to draw up their own plans, including clear objectives and priorities, and I hope that they will do that. But make no mistake about it: when we lay out in the plan that antisocial behaviour and disorder should be taken a great deal more seriously by forces than they have been, whose hands are going up in disagreement? Who will go back to their constituents and say that the drive by the Government across Departments and agencies, pulling together in a new Bill measures that all of us would sign up to, is wrong?
Before I touch on the wider measures in the Queen's Speech, let me explain why the Opposition are wrong to suggest that individual measures introduced over the past five and a half years do not make a difference. Yes, antisocial behaviour orders did not work as envisaged. That is why we have changed them, and I will change them again if I have to. However, more than 650 have been made.
Let us consider other initiatives that have been disparaged. There have been more than 9,000 drug treatment and testing orders, more than 2,100 intensive supervision and surveillance orders, more than 12,000 reparation orders and more than 14,000 action plan orders. There have also been more than 7,000 detention and training orders, almost 2,000 electronically monitored curfew orders, more than 6,500 referral orders and more than 1,770 parenting orders. Those measures were disparaged, but they have made a difference to people's lives and to communities.
The measures that will we introduce on antisocial behaviour and on local co-ordination and partnership working will be made to work. They will alleviate the scourge of antisocial behaviour, which causes problems not only because of its immediate impact but because, as most people now agree, when young people in particular get the idea that they can cock a snook at the police and get away with anything, they will not only carry on with what they are doing but grow into more serious crime.
Of course we need preventive measures. By 2005, the end of the spending review period, we will be spending #450 million on the activities of the Youth Justice Board alone, which is a massive increase, 100 per cent., since its establishment in 2000. By the end of the review we will also be spending 50 per cent. more on prison places, and there are already 13,000 more places. By the end of that period we will also be spending 80 per cent. more on the probation service. We have recruited 2,000 extra probation officers since the inception of the national probation service.
We have a tremendous way to go, but the real obstacle is the end-to-end review of the criminal justice system. Yes, the system is failing. Some #80 million is wasted on failed, cracked or postponed trials and 40 per cent. of witnesses are unable to give evidence the first time they attend court. There is a failure in my Department to get prisoners to court on time, which delays or postpones cases. The collation and presentation of evidence from the police and the Crown Prosecution Service does not work. The management of court listings, with its overbookings, does not work. The way in which some lawyers play the system makes XBleak House" read like a fairy tale. We should and must slim down the wasted cost orders arising from the 30,000 cases that are postponed each year so that we can ensure that those orders are imposed and that the Legal Services Commission backs them up. We have to tackle the way in which people defend vested interests.
When I spoke at the Law Society's annual conference, I asked it to join us in finding a way forward. It has responded and is prepared to take up the challenge. I now challenge the Bar Council to do the same. It is no good people dragging themselves out of mediaeval England only to find that they have reached Tudor England. We need to be in the 21st century, where DNA, technical devices, electronic activity and all the methodology of a modern policing system are at our disposal. The criminal justice system and the judiciary must respond to that.
I do not attack the judiciary; I merely ask it to respond to the will of the people. We will shortly get a House of Lords judgment in the Anderson case. No one has to fear a democratically elected Parliament that exercises the will of the people in ensuring that the punishment not only fits the crime but sends signals to those who would commit the crime and allows us the space to have a correctional service that responds in a way that avoids reoffending.
Everyone fears that Parliament's failure to intervene, to be accountable and to exercise the authority to respond to the public will discredit democracy and will encourage those who want to turn against the system of government and the process that the judiciary undertakes independently on behalf of the people. We speak, and we are responsible and accountable to the people; it speaks, and is independent of the political process. In doing so, it needs to take account of the fact that in a democracy the two balancing factors have to go hand in hand. The balances and checks in our constitution must not be shifted to the point where the discrediting and the undermining of the legitimacy of our country's democratic Parliament leads others to hold it in disdain.
The Liberal Democrats welcome very much this important debate on the Queen's Speech. It is right that the whole of the last day, which is traditionally important, is given over to law and order. The Home Secretary, the Conservative shadow Home Secretary, Mr. Letwin and I have very different constituencies. However, there is not one of us who does not know that crime and the fear of crime is at the top of our constituents' agenda, so it is right to concentrate on these issues. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his consistent and constructive willingness to have dialogue about the detail of the Government's programme. He has heard me say in the Chamber before that we will take that opportunity up. We have always responded so far and have had, I hope, constructive dialogue on various matters in the past and will seek to do so in the year ahead.
We are having this debate, quite properly, against the background of an enormous amount of Home Office legislation. In the first five years of the Labour Government, 37 Bills were introduced. I estimate that at least 20—others claim 12—were to do with law and order. I suggested to the Conservative spokesman a moment ago that this is no different from the style of the previous Administration, under whom 51 Bills were introduced. In their last year alone,19 Home Office Bills were introduced, of which 13 dealt with law and order, so the phenomenon is not new. When we reflect on the way in which we deal with legislation in the year ahead, we must ask ourselves what we need to do here and what needs to be done elsewhere. How much do we need legislation and how much do we need administration to deal with the big issues confronting us all? How do we keep crime going down—I hope that journalists hear that, as according to the figures, it is going down with undesirable exception of violent crime—and make sure that detection and conviction go up?
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman's Government failed lamentably to tackle that, as violent crime went up every year under the Tories. I hope that he accepts that violent crime decreased for some years under Labour, but is now on the up again. For me, it is the most important criminal justice issue—violence in our community is the most dangerous, insidious and unacceptable aspect of criminality.
There are no easy answers—if there had been, I hope that the previous five Governments would have found some of them—so we must try responsibly to work out the best way of responding. There are six Bills on law and order in the current legislative programme, of which three are almost entirely non-controversial, but that does not mean that there will not be lots of amendments and debate.
Generally, however, people accept the desirability of including magistrates and crown courts in the same system, as long as justice remains local to the community and is not moved away from people.
A sexual offences Bill, trailed yesterday, will be introduced. A largely modernising, non-discriminatory and consolidating measure with a lot of good new components, it received broad support yesterday from Members on both sides of the House.
There are two measures to deal with our international responsibilities. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Ainsworth will be responsible for the Extradition Bill and possibly the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill, which was published today. By and large, those measures too are good, but the difficult issue, as the Government know, is whether people should be taken from this country to be tried elsewhere without guarantees of adequate judicial process and whether people charged by foreign authorities should be pursued when they come here. Both aspects of the problem are dealt with in the two Bills which, no doubt, will be hotly debated in both Houses.
There are two controversial Bills, including the prospective antisocial behaviour Bill—we have no idea yet what it or the White Paper will include. The Home Secretary is smiling, because he knows that that is true. I got the impression, if I may say so, that concept of the Bill came up on the outside lane rather late in the day before the Queen's Speech. I detected that there was originally intended to be one criminal justice Bill, and then something came out of the stables and took off, in a race of its own. Such Bills have often fallen at the last fence. Indeed, some parts of such Bills have never got on to the course, or not got over the first jump.
When the Home Secretary was in the coda phase of his speech, listing the positive achievements of the past five years, my hon. Friend Mr. Heath said quietly, XWhat about curfew orders?". That is an example of an initiative that emerged from the stalls, went to the starting point, but never appeared to be backed by anybody after that.
I hope that the Home Secretary will keep his word, as he has done with regard to other matters, and consult about the White Paper. There are some good antisocial behaviour initiatives in all our communities, and the best of the best must be shared and rolled out, if we believe that a particular initiative can have a wider application.
Not only do I support that, but I hope that in this case, where there is widespread interest and with so much knowledge out there, the Home Secretary might consider it appropriate for the Bill to have pre-legislative scrutiny, and also possibly to be considered by a Special Standing Committee, which could take evidence. People who give evidence could then feel part of the process. Antisocial behaviour affects communities, and if communities can have a say in the legislative process, they will feel much more engaged.
Many of us regret that the Bill that was not included in the Queen's Speech, was the one on corporate manslaughter. As the MP for a Thames-side constituency where the Marchioness sank, and with other colleagues around the House, I hope that it might still be brought in—not that we are asking for more work—under the additional opportunity provided by the statement,
XOther measures will be laid before you", as it is extremely important and it has been in the gestation phase for a long time.
I have one word to add to the important exchange that took place earlier on homeland or domestic security. That is, of course, the most important issue facing us. I hope that the Home Secretary knows that all of us, in all parts of the House, will work with the Government of the day and the Cabinet Ministers of the day to retain confidences and to share information and try to make sure that our citizens are protected to the best of the ability of all our services at all times. I join him in paying tribute to the security services, and in expressing surprise that the excellent debate that we had went entirely unremarked, although there were some important contributions.
I hope that there is a real debate about how best we cope with international terrorism. My intervention was not meant to say that there is not merit in the argument from the Conservative leader; indeed, our party suggested that the matter be considered. The idea is not new for us, but we advance it in a deliberative and careful way. We need to reform Government sensibly, intelligently and gradually. We should not suddenly come up with an idea and think that that is the complete solution. It must be the case, though, that solutions for a huge federal state like the United States would generally be inappropriate for a much smaller unitary or nearly unitary state like ours.
Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever we do with regard to homeland security, we must remember that among the things that we are protecting are individual freedoms? It would be a sad day if we ended up compromising the civil liberties of the innocent general public in order to try and catch the very small number of people who seek to violate them.
My hon. Friend raises a hugely important point. Our leader, in his response to the Queen's Speech last Wednesday, emphasised what unites all of us on the Liberal Democrat Benches. We are a party with a liberal tradition and a belief in civil liberty as the basis of our constitution. We start with the individual and individual liberty. That is why my hon. Friend and I voted together last year against many of the specific measures in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. We did so not because we are against dealing with terrorism or reducing crime and increasing security, but because we think, for example, that there are better ways of protecting liberty than keeping people locked up indefinitely without trial in a prison in south-east London. There was an honest debate about that issue and we will continue to make those points. I anticipate that we will advance them strongly in relation to one or two forthcoming Bills—not least the criminal justice Bill—and have the robust debate that the Home Secretary is always ready to have, although with an understanding of where the other parties are coming from.
I am not clear from the hon. Gentleman's remarks whether he agrees that there are worrying signs that that issue, which should be the top priority—I think that the Home Secretary described it as such—is not currently commanding the sense of urgency that some of us believe it should have within the bureaucracy.
I shall try to make a careful response. I do not accept that view. I think that the issue is being treated with urgency and commanding the attention of the Government. In the past two weeks, two things went wrong, and the Home Secretary has effectively accepted that both here today and in broadcasts. First, administrative errors were made that did not help. I refer in particular to the error made a week ago last Friday in relation to the release of documentation. Secondly, communication problems therefore arose about whether there was a specific threat. I think that that was a management and communication performance issue.
I accept what the Home Secretary says with regard to a structure in which he chairs a Cabinet Committee that is reporting to the Prime Minister, who is clearly seeking to achieve the careful balance that he explained at the Mansion House. That shows that the issue is treated as one of huge importance, as was reflected in the visit made by Tom Ridge and the deliberations about Europe and so on. As my hon. Friend Lembit Öpik implied, the Liberal Democrats occasionally think that the Government overreact not in terms of the politics of administration, but in their legislative response. That is what we hope to draw attention to.
Let me turn to law and order more centrally and deal with a moral question that has not yet arisen and an aspect of our experience of our politics that has not yet been reflected in the debate. The British crime survey shows that, since 1995, crime has been decreasing, yet we are punishing more and more. The Home Secretary has been clear in his personal views about the fact that we risk creating a society in which punishment becomes as central a feature of our criminal justice system as it has tragically and ineffectively become in the United States. If we continue to imprison more people, locking them up and keeping them out of society for longer, we will not reduce crime. Such an approach will probably reduce community cohesion and cause the recurrence of crime among people who enter schools of crime and come out better skilled as criminals. What we need to reduce crime is greater trust in strangers, forgiveness of wrongs, willingness in the community to intervene and willingness among people to be witnesses. We need a sense of community, and lots more imprisonment is not the right road to take.
Crime has increased massively in this country over the past 50 years, but that does not mean that if we have a choice between building prisons and communities, the answer is to build prisons. In the Liberal Democrats' view, the answer is to build communities. If we take the American road, with 2 million-plus people in prison and huge violent crime in inner cities, we risk abandoning our values along the way.
Before giving way to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I shall cite one example to illustrate a view that many others in history have held. While Winston Churchill was Home Secretary, the number of people imprisoned because of debt fell from 100,000 to 2,000, because he believed that it was wrong for people to be locked up for debt.
Indeed. The number of young men in prison under the age of majority fell by two thirds, because it was perceived, even at that time, that more imprisonment was the wrong road to take and that there were alternatives. Prison is a simplistic answer; custody is an easy answer, but it is very often the wrong one, apart from in very particular, obvious and extreme cases.
I do not want to dispute the hon. Gentleman's general point, but it is a precondition of building communities that some individuals are got out of the way of the rest so that everyone can get on with their lives. That will be as true in his constituency as it is in mine.
I accept that. However, as the director general of the Prison Service says every time he makes a public statement, and as the Lord Chief Justice and many others say, prison must be the last resort.
As I said at our party conference, violence to others should carry a presumption of custody. That is in a different league from property crime. One or two other crimes merit custody—for example, interference with the course of justice, which was mentioned earlier, and sex offences against young people. Society should have a clear view on those crimes. Some driving offences that result in death should also result in custody. Motorists who are guilty of bad, reckless driving that results in killing someone have often got off lightly, whereas a person who kills with bare hands is inside for a long time.
I therefore agree with Mr. Mullin: there comes a time when the regular offender has to go away, and the Prison Service must then be allowed to do its job of rehabilitation and of keeping offenders out of the way.
Would my hon. Friend add to his list of more heinous crimes white-collar crime involving a breach of trust—for example, preying on the elderly or the effective theft of other people's money by a professional person?
My hon. Friend has often raised that matter, which we do not debate sufficiently. Sometimes such crime should also mean custody. We must separate the breach of trust cases from those in which someone simply takes advantage of a happy chance, resulting in benefit to a white-collar criminal. The matter should be on the agenda for our debates on the criminal justice Bill; they will begin later this week with the publication of the Bill. White-collar crime is significant, not least to our country's economy, giving rise to the perception in constituencies such as mine, and probably in my hon. Friend's, that well-off people sometimes get off lightly compared with the less well-off, who are punished severely for relatively minor infractions.
The hon. Gentleman managed one example of offences for which it was wrong to imprison: property crime. He drew back from that when Mr. Burnett intervened with an example of a heinous property crime. Which sort of property crime, for which imprisonment is currently common, does not require it?
I shall repeat my earlier comments in a different way. The criminal justice system would be much better if there were two simple presumptions: that those who commit violence against another person will go inside for a period, and that those who commit a different sort of crime will not automatically go to prison. Those should be the presumptions, and the court should then judge each case on its merits and ensure that the punishment fits the crime. I shall not provide a shopping list. We shall have plenty of opportunities to debate those matters when we consider the criminal justice Bill. [Interruption.] In case Labour Front Benchers assume that Liberal Democrats endorse the Home Secretary's campaign to free the Archer One, I should stress that my views on interference with the course of justice make that case a clear example of when someone should be put away.
We shall hold a proper debate on antisocial behaviour, but we must be careful that we do not automatically link it to violent, serious crime. Much antisocial behaviour falls short even of criminality. Much behaviour that people find irritating is not criminal. Young people who hang around, make a noise or congregate in inconvenient places are in a different league from those who commit serious crimes. We must be careful that, when dealing with antisocial behaviour, we do not place it in the same league as serious and violent crime, because often it is not. Of course, if antisocial behaviour is not checked and is allowed to develop, it can gradually lead to serious and violent crime. Indeed, that can often become inevitable.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his rather extraordinary presumptions about those who commit violent offences and those who commit non-violent offences run counter to a great deal of the thinking that has been advanced by experts such as the senior judges on the Judicial Studies Board? In the light of his legal experience in the criminal courts at the beginning of his career, I invite him to reflect on the difference between, for example, a case in which someone with no previous convictions throws one punch in a pub under provocation—an offence of violence—and one in which someone steals thousands of pounds of their employer's money, bringing the business close to bankruptcy. Does not such a distinction undermine his rather extraordinary presumptions?
No, it does not. A presumption is where we start from, not where we end up. Let me give an example. The Liberal Democrats have long argued that there should be no mandatory sentences, even for murder. If a murder were committed as a result of 30 years of marital provocation at home, we do not think that the person would deserve the same punishment as someone with no previous history of provocation who commits a terrible crime. I accept the need for different solutions for different crimes, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would disagree with that.
There are, of course, two drivers of crime—alcohol and other drugs—and unless we deal with them society will never make progress. The Hackney study released by the Metropolitan police today shows that, of all the people arrested for any offence, 66 per cent. did not show free of drugs, and 32 per cent. showed traces of cocaine. Unless we deal with the problems of drug and alcohol abuse, most of the people in our prisons will continue to return to them. I was in Cardiff prison 10 days ago, and both the people to whom I spoke in the first block were there because of abuse—the first because of drugs, the second because of alcohol—and they had been imprisoned several times. Unless they are dealt with properly, they are likely to be imprisoned again.
Those are the big issues: violence, alcoholism and drug addiction. We have to work out how we should respond to them.
I hope that we shall not leave these debates without also realising how many good initiatives there are for dealing with antisocial behaviour and prospective disorder among young people. I shall give hon. Members an example. Last week there was a press launch in the House for a scheme called INaura, based in Slough, the aim of which is to ensure that youngsters who are excluded from school have somewhere to go, rather than being out on the streets. Intervention at an early stage, as many good examples show, can prevent people from going into a life of crime. Acceptable behaviour contracts appear to work well, as do parent control agreements. There are many forms of intervention that do not involve the use of the criminal law.
Something that does not appear to work, however, is to punish families financially if their child has become out of control. That is why we have argued strongly against the idea of taking housing benefit away from those whose children misbehave, which seems discriminatory and entirely misjudged. It is also why we resist the idea of adding to the prospect of fining the parents of truanting kids. That might work occasionally, but it is the wrong road to go down in correcting the family failures that have been presented as the cause of the problems.
There is agreement, however, that, of all the things that work, putting people on the street to deter and prevent crime is the most successful. That is why we are grateful to the Government and glad that, in the last Parliament, they increased police numbers, halting the downward spiral and starting to build the numbers back up. We are glad that the numbers are higher, and we congratulate the Government on that. I believe that the numbers will have to go higher still. We shall need objective evidence and advice on how to achieve that, and on how many police are needed in, for example, Somerset and Avon, Devon and Cornwall, Northumberland or the Metropolitan police area.
I know the view in my borough. The MPs—two Labour and one Liberal Democrat—and the Greater London Authority member have, on advice and according to experience, worked it out with the police that we need 1,000 officers at minimum, although we have fewer than 800. I am sure that many other communities take a similar view. We also need special constables, and we shall be happy to use community support officers. Neighbourhood wardens can do an enormous amount to deal with antisocial behaviour.
A year ago last month, we set up a neighbourhood warden scheme in Bermondsey that involves just half a dozen people in uniform. They have dealt with 754 abandoned vehicles, 225 cases of graffiti, 269 cases of defective or non-functioning lighting, nearly 500 cases of fly tipping and nearly 500 hazards. Much more importantly, they have made 1,000 community contacts and offered victim support to between 50 and 100 people. Racist attacks have gone down and security has gone up.
People on the street make a difference, and they are the most effective way, in our judgment, to ensure that our communities feel safer. I have a simple view: every community needs policing and every community will rightfully go on fighting until it has its own policing and its own police, whether it is a village, a town or a city.
I share the Home Secretary's view that one defect of the criminal justice process is the number of people who never make it into the process at all, because they are frightened off as witnesses and sometimes frightened off even if they are the victim. I understand that, last year, 30,000 cases never went the course because people did not come to offer proof—they were not willing to say what had happened or to give their evidence. A real problem is not what happens once the case gets to court, but the fact that it never gets there in the first place. I hope that we concentrate on that.
I say to the Home Secretary that, although I anticipate us having disagreements on a few issues to do with the main criminal justice Bill, the real failure of the system is not that all the people who go to court get let off. They do not. Most plead guilty, and most of those who do not are convicted anyway. The problem occurs before people get to court: either they are never apprehended or, if they are, the witnesses do not turn up to give evidence.
I must say a word about the big issues for the criminal justice Bill. We are not persuaded that there is a case for reducing jury trial in, for example, serious fraud cases. There may be ways to assist the jury and there may be ways to empanel a more appropriate jury, but juries have the public's confidence because the public think that people who are more or less like them are deciding the case. That is also why they think that lay magistrates who do not do the job full-time are, by and large, preferable to professional judges and district judges.
We shall be very reluctant to support a proposal for retrospective changes in the double jeopardy rule, which would mean that everybody convicted of the most serious offences that may be retried would suddenly become provisionally guilty or only provisionally acquitted. The case might always come back. The argument for future cases is different, but the big question, which nobody has answered yet, involves trials such as those in the Stephen Lawrence case in south London and the Damilola Taylor case. If a second jury were asked to try people who had already been tried in relation to either case, would it not be fairly clear, given the rules, that they were trying the case only because the Crown Prosecution Service and the Court of Appeal had said that there was a very good case to answer. Given the media backdrop, would not that inevitably mean that it would be extremely difficult to have a fair trial the second time around?
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the argument against retrospective law is that somebody should not be convicted for doing something that was not an offence when they did it? That does not apply in the example of double jeopardy, as the act was an offence when they committed it and all they did was lie in court.
I understand that argument, but even if the principle were applied only in murder cases, for example, those acquitted would have only a provisional acquittal for the rest of their lives. That is a bad thing in principle and in practice. It is not as if the criminal justice services do not have plenty to do.
The hon. Gentleman puts an argument that goes against not retrospectivity, but against the principle of scrapping double jeopardy in general. He speaks of how difficult it would be for future juries to forget past high-profile trials, but there will be high-profile trials in future, and it will be equally difficult for juries thereafter to forget that they have occurred. His argument has absolutely nothing to do with retrospectivity; rather, it relates to the need to formulate very carefully the test that permits a second trial. That can be done.
I understand the hon. and learned Lady's argument, but retrospectivity and the question of whether a fair trial can be ensured the second time around are two separate points. If it can be shown that a second trial can avoid the taint of prior media coverage, her argument might be adequate.
The third of three big issues to which I referred is previous convictions. The Home Secretary challenges us to accept previous convictions more frequently because he believes that juries should be able to see the whole picture in coming to a fair judgment. He says that we do not trust juries, but those of us who argue that previous convictions should not be disclosed do so because we believe that people should be tried for the offence for which they are on trial, without the whole of their previous life being an influencing factor. It will not be possible to have a fair trial if the fact that a person has been in trouble before, and been convicted, is frequently made known to the court. Of all the issues that we face, this one will give the Government the greatest difficulty in the House of Lords. I hope that, unless the Government change their position, Parliament as a whole will reject the proposal, because it will fundamentally change the principle that people are presumed innocent. It will put that principle at risk, and many more people will face the prospect of a jury that assumes that they are guilty.
I have mentioned the dangers of the prospects of increasing custody. However, I am equally worried by the apparent lack of clarity in the custody-plus plan, under which every sentence for a serious offence will have an equal sentence outside prison. Will it have the money to guarantee that people will get the continuing support from the probation service and the other services that they need? It would help if the Minister could explain whether Lord Falconer was correct in saying that the money will not be available for 10 years, or whether the Prime Minister was correct in saying that it will be available once the legislation is enacted. If we are to have successful punishment in the community, that money must be available.
When my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy spoke last Wednesday, he said that perhaps the big divide in Britain today is between the liberal and the illiberal, rather than between left and right. We hope that a similar divide exists between solutions that find favour with Parliament because they are tried and tested, and those that should not because they are just the latest gimmick; between solutions that have a long-term track record, and which will produce long-term answers, and those that are simply quick fixes; and between solutions that are likely to work, and solutions that just sound good.
We are as committed as others to fighting the battle against crime hard in order to bring it down, and to ensuring that we make our communities safer, but unless we make sure that we rehabilitate better, and that we prevent people from reoffending, as they so often do, we will not win that battle. In the year ahead, Liberal Democrats will work according to very simple principles. The justice system has to work equally for everybody. It must be trusted by lay people, because it is often led by them. People must be presumed innocent, not guilty. They must be treated with dignity, whether or not they have offended. Never will we give up on anybody, and never will we fail to believe that rehabilitation can work. We will come from that position, constructively, and we hope that we will have legislation that works, not just six more laws that—like many of those before them—make only a small, sometimes insignificant, contribution to reducing crime.
In the short time available to me, I shall concentrate my remarks on three proposed Bills: on criminal justice and sentencing, on antisocial behaviour and on the long-awaited Bill to regulate private rented accommodation—one of the few Bills that does not emanate from the Home Office.
I add my voice to the general welcome for the White Paper that outlines plans for a Bill to update the law on sexual offences. I was pleased to hear the Home Secretary say yesterday that he remains open to argument on anonymity for defendants in sex offence cases. That arises especially in allegations of child abuse, which are frequently made many years after the event on the shakiest of evidence and which frequently collapse long before they reach the door of the court, but not before they have ruined the lives of people who are, in many cases, wholly innocent. I draw the Home Secretary's attention to the recent report of the Home Affairs Committee on the subject.
We do not yet know what the criminal justice and sentencing Bill will contain, although if we can go by speculation in the media, it seems to grow fatter day by day. If the past is anything to go by, new clauses will still be appearing long after the Bill has left this place. Happy though I am to support any measures designed to improve the efficiency of our chronically inefficient system of criminal justice, one has to recognise that, as Mr. Letwin said, many of the problems that we face do not require legislation but firm management, efficient policing and, above all, a cultural change that gives due recognition to the interests of victims and witnesses. Sometimes, although not as often as alleged, the problems we face also require more resources.
Some of the measures in the Bill will help to reduce delays and, in general, I approve of them. Others are designed to tilt the balance in favour of more convictions and with those we must be much more careful. I favour anything that turns our judicial system into a search for truth rather than a game between two competing teams of lawyers, but I would not wish to see the presumption of innocence—a fundamental principle of our law—undermined. I will therefore need much persuading that it is right to allow a defendant's previous convictions to be disclosed to a jury as a matter of course.
I also have concerns about proposals to require disclosure of defence witnesses other than alibi witnesses, who must already be disclosed. We have not yet seen the precise terms of the Bill, but will that mean that the police will be free to visit defence witnesses and, as they say in the trade, Xrefresh their memories" or, in some cases, help them to forget what they previously remembered? It is not unknown for defence witnesses to be threatened with prosecution, or to be prosecuted, solely with a view to discrediting their evidence. I hope that no one will claim that that is a thing of the past, because I had such a case at my surgery only the other day. I warn Ministers that if the provisions work in the way that I have outlined, they can and will be abused. We will return to those issues on Second Reading, but I flag them up now.
I am especially interested in the antisocial behaviour Bill. There is some mystery about its contents, but I am told that it will include measures to restrict the use of air weapons—a matter on which I have campaigned for some years. I hope that in due course we will also consider imitation weapons.
We live in a society where an increased sense of rights has been matched by a diminishing sense of responsibility. It is time that the balance was restored. Antisocial behaviour is the greatest challenge that we face. It is not so much organised crime as disorganised crime that makes a misery of so many people's lives.
People come to my office—I am sure that other hon. Members have had the same experience—and break down in tears, begging to be evacuated from homes in which they have lived peacefully for years because they cannot cope with the noise, abuse and endemic yobbery that plague their lives and against which the forces of law and order appear powerless. We have to end the culture of impunity that surrounds antisocial behaviour, and I hope that the Bill will help us to do so.
However, we should not make claims for the Bill that are too large. I am sure that Ministers will not do that. The Bill will not be a panacea, and it should not be seen in isolation. It is simply another small step—an addition to measures already taken to improve the quality of policing and education, to treat drug addicts, and to wean young people off benefits and into work—along the road to restoring our battered social fabric.
Finally, I warmly welcome the proposed Bill to deal with rogue landlords. The Bill will be published in draft early next year. As I said earlier, it is one of the few measures in the Queen's Speech that does not seem to have emanated from the Home Office. I am led to believe that the Bill will give local authorities the discretion to license both multiple occupancy tenancies and single tenancies. That will enable us to cut off the flow of housing benefit to landlords who decline to take responsibility for the condition of properties or for the behaviour of tenants.
The Bill is long overdue. At present, public money in the form of housing benefit is being used to fund the destruction of parts of our inner cities. That is especially true of some of our northern cities, where there are large amounts of empty property. It is an incredible situation, and I am amazed that we have tolerated it for so long. The 10 largest landlords in Sunderland between them receive more than #1 million in housing benefit, which travels directly from the civic centre bank account into their accounts without ever passing through the property for which it is being paid. It therefore gives the landlords involved no incentive ever to go anywhere near the properties that they own, and some of them have never visited their properties.
Cutting the flow of housing benefit to rogue landlords is potentially the most effective measure that we can take to reduce antisocial behaviour. I have pressed for this measure since I was a Minister at the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and it cannot come soon enough.
In conclusion, I agree with those who have noted that there are no short cuts. Passing an Act of Parliament—or six, or 20 Acts—will not change the world. What matters is the cumulative effect. The Government have recognised from the outset that literacy, numeracy, training and then work are what will make the difference. It is a long, difficult and unglamorous road, but one from which there can be no turning back. Insofar as the Bills announced in the Queen's Speech help us along that road, they will have my support.
In my eight minutes, I want to make two points. The second of them is a constructive policy suggestion for the Home Secretary, and the first is a constructive criticism of the Government's record.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin referred, in his excellent opening speech, to the grandiose promises made by the Prime Minister when he was shadow Home Secretary. It has been a characteristic of the Government to make big promises and not to deliver on them.
The House has been discussing antisocial behaviour orders, and my mind went back to the Crime and Disorder Bill, which was given a Second Reading in this House on
Xreverse the apparently inexorable rise in anti-social behaviour and teenage crime."
He told us:
XThe Bill will ensure earlier, more effective intervention to nip offending in the bud."
He told us:
XIt is one thing for Parliament to pass the Bill; it is another to ensure that it is implemented effectively. That is why we are working closely with practitioners to develop guidance on implementation".
He told us:
XThe Bill will make a real difference to the quality of life of people in this country. It will help to . . . secure decent standards of behaviour from everyone."—[Hansard, 8 April 1998; Vol. 310, c. 370–79.]
That was an overblown puffing up of a Bill, particularly the antisocial behaviour orders that it contained. I had the privilege at the time to be the shadow Home Secretary. I gave the Bill our support—we did not divide on Second Reading—but I warned the Government that they were in danger of creating expectations that could not and would not be fulfilled and, as a consequence, there would be a degree of cynicism that people would not find attractive. Modesty forbids me from quoting what I said, but right hon. and hon. Members will find it in column 382 of Hansard.
The fact that we are coming back to antisocial behaviour orders—which I still support—is a reflection of the Government's failure to deliver over the past five years. The Home Secretary told us today that just over 600 ASBOs have been issued. The Government promised that there would be 5,000 a year, so to date there are 17,000 fewer than there should be. If we had 17,000 more of them, the proposed legislation would almost certainly not be necessary. I ask the Government to resist their inherent inclination to overblow their legislation and to have instead a degree of realism to which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and the public can relate.
My second point is a policy suggestion for the Minister's consideration. The Home Secretary hardly mentioned prisons. Given the Government's record, that is understandable. It is not clear whether the Government favour putting more and more people in prison—for we have the highest number in prison in our history—or getting them out of prison and back into the community. If I were the guardian of a policy that regularly released thousands of people early from prison for no other reasons than not having prison places and being unable to get any money from the Chancellor, I, too, would not wish to say much about my policy. However, part of the pressure on people to send their fellow citizens to prison is because the public have very little confidence in community punishment.
When I was shadow Home Secretary, I visited eight or 10 prisons. It reaffirmed my view, long held, that I do not belong to the minority of people who think that after people are put in prison, life should be made as miserable as possible to add to the punishment. That has never been my view. The punishment of prison is the adherence to a rigid regime and the deprivation of freedom. Yet community sentencing goes in exactly the opposite direction. It provides very little rigid regime and deprivation. I ask the Home Secretary to consider that he might do better to install a regime in the community that more effectively mirrored what prison does. If, instead of being free to roam around, people were restricted for longer periods—perhaps to their homes—so that their home or some specified environment became a substitute for prison and there was still an element of deprivation of freedom, my constituents and the general public might have more confidence in the policy.
At the same time, the Minister might take a look at his prison-building programme. Five and a half years ago, he announced that the Government would build a prison in Peterborough, yet five and a half years later the old buildings are still standing and nothing has been done. One reason that nothing has been done is that, as some of us pointed out to the former Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he put Railtrack into administration, the costs of private finance initiatives would rise. The Minister should remember that if we are to have a prison in Peterborough. Given his statistics, we shall probably need one, so will he get on with it?
Finally, will the Minister look at the work of Prison Fellowship? It offers some of the most effective means of helping people to turn from their wicked ways.
Sadly, at the heart of this year's Queen's Speech—its central theme—are crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour. There are to be four or five Bills. That shows the seriousness of the situation and how concerned the Government are about it.
I became a Member of the House in 1970 and, looking back over the past 30 years, my impression is that the situation as regards crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour has been getting worse and worse. From 1970 until the mid-1980s, crime and disorder were not a major problem in my constituency. Obviously, there was crime—there has never been a golden age—but there was little or no drugs problem in my constituency until the middle of the 1980s. Elderly people could live quietly on their estates, without fear that their doors would be kicked in, without fear of physical and verbal abuse or that bricks and stones would be thrown into their gardens. In Llanelli at that time, petrol was not thrown through letterboxes and ignited.
But something happened in the mid-1980s—or perhaps it was a manifestation of something that had happened previously. To test my impressions, I went to the Library—as, I assume, did Simon Hughes—and checked the XIndex to the Statutes" for the period 1970 to 2000. I examined statutes dealing with substantive crime and with procedure. I excluded Scotland, as it has a different system, but I included statutes on domestic and international terrorism. I tried to exclude the administration of justice, although there is some overlap between that, procedure and substantive crime.
My first impressions were confirmed, although the figures were startling. In the first decade, 1970–1980, seven statutes were passed; in the second decade, 1980–1990, there were 13; and in the third decade, 1990–2000, there were 27. There was a doubling every 10 years. Turning to the present century, there were two measures in 2000; three in 2001; and we are about to consider another four or five.
It is not, therefore, unreasonable to draw the conclusion that the number of statutes shows, first, that there is a real and accumulating problem and, secondly, that passing legislation does not seem to do much good. Furthermore, it seems to me that little attempt is being made to discover the causes, not of crime—they have been with us since time immemorial—but of the acceleration or accumulation of problems over the past 20 to 25 years. The Government do not seem to do much about that. As far as I am aware, there is not much written about it in academia, and the newspaper pundits who write about the environment, foreign policy, economics, defence and so on say little about it. There is little questioning about what is wrong with society that makes us have to pass so much legislation. Perhaps I can briefly suggest a few questions that we may wish to ask, without perhaps knowing the answers.
Is one reason the effect of the economic revolution that occurred in the mid-1980s? Many people believe that the dominance of the market place and the cult of the consumer have brutalised much of our society and diluted obligations to the community. Could one cause be the decline of religion, especially Christianity? Christianity provided a moral framework and social cohesion, particularly in Wales.
Does the modern pursuit of inclusiveness—I have to be very careful now—make for an amoral society? If we are all living cheek by jowl in that big tent without core values, to label conduct as good or bad, or right or wrong is considered disruptive—indeed, the vogue word is Xjudgmental".
What contribution to drug and drug-related crimes has been made by the tolerance and, in some cases, acceptance of using drugs, both soft and hard, by some of the media establishment and the entertainment industry?
What contribution to sex and sex-related crimes has been made by the commercial and media exploitation of sex, especially by television, where sex provides an endless supply of programmes, boosting the earnings of presenters and producers?
What effect has a child-centred education system had on a sense of order, discipline and an awareness of right or wrong in our classrooms?
Again, I must be careful. What contribution to the behaviour of children has been made by the decline in the traditional family where both parents—or one parent in a single-parent family—are forced to go out to work, very often with wages subsidised by the state, and when the time to look after children, to listen to them while they grow up, to talk to them and read to them is obviously limited by the stress imposed by the duties on their parents or parent? No doubt other and better questions could be asked.
The Home Secretary spoke about vested interests. They are everywhere, but I suspect that the answers to some of those questions may be inconvenient to some vested interests in commerce, the media and perhaps even in sections of the bureaucracy. By all means let us be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but let us try to find out what the causes are before we go down this road and slide further into a morass of ever more legislation.
Denzil Davies made some very interesting points. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down that line; I want to devote my eight minutes to the extradition Bill, which is fundamentally misconceived and seriously flawed. However, I agree that there is a need to reform extradition legislation, particularly in cases where terrorist suspects are sought.
The United States has been seeking the extradition of three people in connection with the east African embassy bombings for more than three and a half years. It took three years for their case to reach the Court of Appeal. As far as I know, they are still here, but that is not the worst case. The worst case is that of Rachid Ramda, whose extradition is sought by the French Government for the Paris bombings in 1995. He was arrested in November 1995. It took three and a half years for his case to reach the Court of Appeal. It then took the Home Secretary two years to deal with the order for his extradition. However, he is still here, on the seemingly entirely spurious ground that he cannot receive a fair trial in Paris as an Arab Muslim.
It is clear that the extradition procedure needs to be tightened, streamlined and speeded-up. The fault is not all with the courts, but I am amazed that, in the circumstances, the message has not got through to the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the House of Lords that such dilatoriness is not satisfactory—and I am also amazed that the message has not got through to the Home Office that such matters need to be dealt with more quickly.
I concede the need for this Bill, or a similar one. I concede that we need to limit the number of appeals and to tighten up the whole procedure so that we treat countries whose judicial systems we respect—and in which we think that people can get a fair trial—differently from those about which we have doubts. Currently, I think one can make about six appeals in the average extradition case. Under the proposals in the Bill, that would decrease to one, which seems sensible. The Bill goes far further than that, however. In the case of extradition to category 1 countries, it removes almost all the protections that our common and statue laws have built up over the years, and in the case of category 2 countries, it would remove some very important ones.
Three protections have been at the heart of our extradition legislation. Before we consider those, let us be sure about what we are considering: for the vast majority of the time, we are considering the extradition of British subjects for trial in foreign courts. The first of those protections is dual criminality—what one is accused of must be an offence in Britain as well as an offence in the country to which one's extradition is sought. Secondly, enough evidence must be presented to the British court before it orders extradition for it to be satisfied that there is a prima facie case to answer. Thirdly, there is the fall-back of the Home Secretary's discretion over whether to extradite someone—the fall-back of their elected Government deciding through one of their most senior Ministers whether to extradite them. Those rights and freedoms have been built up over a long period, and we should be careful before casually discarding them.
Part 1 of the Bill contains an extremely badly drafted list of offences, which carry no legal definition. What is racism or xenophobia, computer-related crime, or participation in a criminal organisation? Those are just three of a list of about 25 offences. That kind of drafting would not pass muster in an English criminal law statute, although, effectively, that is what it will become. It is incredibly vague, and it is subject to a great variety of interpretations. I do not see how xenophobia can be a crime, given that, as I understand it, it is a state of mind—although, apparently, one can be extradited for it. I shall refer later to what I regard as a hypothetical but nevertheless realistic example.
Secondly, in many continental jurisdictions, an investigating magistrate is entitled to arrest people for the purposes of his investigation. When does that right come into play? Somebody could be arrested on the say-so of a Greek or Spanish magistrate, and might spend a long time in jail while the crime or the offence is investigated. Many Members will have had constituents who have languished in Spanish or Greek jails—one of my constituents did so for a year and a half while awaiting trial on a relatively minor drugs offence. Before we put any of these provisions into operation, we must make sure that the countries to which faster-track extradition will take place have minimum juridical standards. For instance, if somebody is extradited, they should be charged within seven days, tried within three months, and an appeal must be made within a certain period. If the British plane spotters who returned from their holiday in Greece and were charged with espionage had been charged with terrorism, or a related offence, they would have had absolutely no defence against extradition. There would have been no way for them to stop the process of being extradited back to Greece.
At least non-scheduled offences, which are not on the list, require the rule of dual criminality. The prima facie rule does not apply to them, however, and the Home Secretary has no discretion with regard to them. In relation to category 2 countries, the situation is slightly better, as the prima facie and dual criminality rules are required, but the grounds on which the Secretary of State can resist extradition are very small and fall within a very tight definition of national security.
I shall give an example. One of the categories of offences for which automatic extradition applies is that of crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. The war that we conducted in Kosovo was considered by many legal authorities to be illegal, and I suspect that the Greek Government, who were heavily on the side of the Serbs in that conflict, would take that view. Were a Greek magistrate, on the complaint of a human rights organisation in Greece, to charge our Prime Minister, perhaps after he had left office, with criminal offences in connection with that, there would be no way under these proposals that that could be stopped. The Home Secretary must have a fall-back power to stop such wholly unrealistic activity.
What we saw in the Pinochet case—not many Labour Members sympathised with General Pinochet—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend Mr. Bercow says from a sedentary position, not many Conservative Members did either. What we saw, however, was an extremely dangerous precedent. We should not forget that the same thing might happen to a senior Minister in a British Government.
The legislation goes far too far. There is a problem and we need to reintroduce standards of dual criminality and provisions for a prima facie case and discretion for the Home Secretary. It is Parliament's job to protect the liberties of our citizens, in particular those liberties that have been built up over a long period. This is a case in which Parliament should stand up to the Government and make the Home Secretary think again. If we do that, we will have the vast majority of the press, the judges, lawyers, the House of Lords and public opinion and—dare I say it—justice on our side. I hope that enough Labour Members realise that they will find it very difficult to explain to a constituent why that person's child, wife or husband has been automatically extradited for something that is not an offence in the UK, for which no evidence was produced and for which there was no appeal to the Home Secretary. If extradition is automatic, people may languish in a foreign jail.
I am glad to be called because I particularly wish to speak about antisocial behaviour, which has badly affected some of my constituents in the past few months. If I have time, I also wish to talk about vagrancy and begging, which has always been an issue in my constituency.
In the summer, I received several complaints about a group of young children who were terrorising their neighbourhood. In fact, I met some of them on one of the regular visits that I make to the area. They were aged between about eight and 14, and the police tell me that none of them was involved with drink or drugs, but many of them truanted from school and some came from dysfunctional families.The group grew in size over the summer, particularly when the police were temporarily distracted by the tragic events in Soham. In passing, may I point out that I hope that if a request for additional funding is received, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider it sympathetically? The costs of Operation Fincham were excessive for a small police force such as that in Cambridgeshire.
By September, a group of 20 children, with a hard core of five or six, were involved in petty vandalism, arson, breaking windows and, in some cases, intimidating lone women and elderly people. I know that the people in the area were furious and turned out in large numbers to a police consultation meeting, which I also attended, in September. One woman told me how frightened she had been when a group of youths surrounded her car and made it impossible for her to get out and go into her house. She was rescued only because she happened to have a mobile phone with her and was able to summon help.
I discussed the situation with the police and they told me that the only way they could break this circle of behaviour was by involving other agencies, such as schools, housing associations and social services. Their first move was to get the children who were truanting back into school. The action that my right hon. Friend Estelle Morris took, when she was Secretary of State for Education and Skills, to encourage the prosecution and imprisonment of parents who fail to send their children to school had a positive and beneficial effect. Although it did not directly affect parents in my constituency, it certainly made them realise that the Government were serious about getting children into school.
The second move that the police took was to try to involve the housing associations. In this area, three housing associations cover social housing and the police tried to obtain their co-operation in threatening eviction orders if parents did not bring their children under control. That has been difficult to achieve, because several housing associations were involved and some were more co-operative than others. It is probably true to say that the independent housing associations have not worked collectively as part of the problem-solving process.
Social services were also involved in offering advice and support to parents. Such a multi-agency approach is effective and could be more effective as trust builds between the police and the different agencies. For example, the police tell me that there is a great variation in the co-operation offered by secondary schools. Some of them are very co-operative and invite the police in, while others are much more suspicious. More co-operation between schools and the police would be beneficial in such circumstances. The situation is now much improved and the police have been successful. The children now attend school or, in some cases, a pupil referral unit where they can be given much closer attention than in a mainstream school.
Following the events in the summer, I paid a visit to my local youth offending service at the invitation of its director, Tom Jefford. He wanted me to see the effect of Government legislation and how effective it had been on changing the environment around young people's behaviour. He invited all his section heads to come to talk to me about the work that they were doing, and I was particularly moved by a young woman who was in charge of the lay panels that interview young offenders and monitor their behaviour. Children who have been involved in the vandalism of the sort that I have described are given a caution for the first offence. However, for their second and subsequent offences, they have to attend a meeting of the lay panel, which may include the victim of their antisocial behaviour. I gather that the national participation rate of victims in the lay panels is around 20 per cent., but in Cambridge it is nearer 80 per cent. I heard that the young offenders attending the panels are often visibly moved and distressed on hearing of the victim's experience. We do not know whether this will have a positive effect on the offending rate in the long term, but the signs are good. Young people begin to identify with the victim, start to understand the effect of their behaviour on other people and become more socially integrated. The youth offending team was optimistic about the effect that such measures will have.
The team also told me about the acceptable behaviour contracts that bind a young person to a set of rules that govern his or her behaviour. The panels usually monitor the contracts and hold the young people to account if their behaviour does not reach the required standards. All such measures have proved to be extremely positive and beneficial.
I also talked to several police officers. The community beat officers in the city told me of the changes that they would like to take place. On the rules for antisocial behaviour orders, I understand that, at present, it is not possible to write down positive behaviour points on the orders. They usually say that a young person must not do something, whereas the police would like to write down what the young people must do. That would present a much more positive image.
I have already discussed the problems of children as young as eight in my constituency, and their parents must become much more involved. They should know where their children are and should be able to discipline them properly. In some cases, parenting orders will help. However, sadly, in many dysfunctional families heroin or crack cocaine may be a problem for the parents, and serving parenting orders on them is unlikely to lead to an improvement in their behaviour.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is introducing a Bill on these issues. It will certainly have my support.
Sadly, because of time, I will not be able to pursue the issues that Mrs. Campbell raised.
I want to focus on the anonymity of defendants in trials relating to sexual offences, and I was pleased that my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin placed such emphasis on the presumption of innocence and on the prosecution proving its case beyond reasonable doubt. I was reassured that the Home Secretary also endorsed the importance of those cardinal principles. However, if one's reputation is destroyed, it is of little consolation that one remains technically innocent. I hope that the House also paid attention to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and to the report that he has published.
The Government addressed this issue in a White Paper and said:
XWe are minded to retain the existing format in regard to anonymity for defendants as no other category of offence is dealt with in this way. However, we are still prepared to listen to the arguments of those who feel strongly on the matter."
Of course the Government are still prepared to listen. That is the purpose of Parliament. However, I also hope that it means that they are prepared to be persuaded by the arguments of hon. Members who feel as strongly about this issue as I do.
Sex offences and the way in which we deal with sex in the United Kingdom provoke extremism and a hysteria peculiar to us. The atmosphere in which sex offences are considered is uniquely charged because of the press coverage of such cases. The recent history of our media bears that out. We have only to consider the press frenzy following the Burrell trial, the television presenter whom the press accused of rape, and the police officer in the Soham case—mentioned by the hon. Member for Cambridge—whose name appeared on a list from the United States, to realise that those people are convicted in the eyes of the nation before there is any question of a trial.
Those are national figures and their cases are known to us, but the local press causes just as much damage. In 1998, 700 people attended the funeral of a 31-year-old teacher in my constituency called Nick Drewett. He was a popular and committed teacher, but he took his life when faced with charges of behaving improperly with pupils in his care. The master who was charged with him was acquitted. A significant factor in his decision to commit suicide was the sensational publicity that attended the investigation of the charges.
Nick Drewett is not alone. I presented a ten-minute Bill in 1999, which the NASUWT helped me to prepare. It gave me the statistic that between 1991 and 1998 there were 974 police investigations into abuse allegations against its members. No grounds were discovered for prosecution in 792 of those cases. The publicity in any one of those 80 per cent. of cases would do serious injustice to an innocent teacher.
My Bill attempted to protect teachers from injustice. I managed to convince my hon. Friend Mrs. May, who was our Education spokesman, to include similar measures in our manifesto at the last election. However, the principle does not apply only to teachers; it goes wider than that. I was slightly concerned about the Home Secretary referring to the will of the people. The fourth estate frequently claims for itself the will of the people and that it operates on behalf of the will of the people.
In the last Parliament, the Government introduced advanced measures to help complainants in sex offence cases. They are listed on page 19 of the White Paper. Although in 1985, 25 per cent. of complaints about rape resulted in a conviction, by 2000 that figure had fallen to 7 per cent. So 93 per cent. of those people who have to defend themselves against such complaints are innocent. That is what the presumption of innocence means. I notice the expression on the faces of Labour Members, but people are innocent until they are proven guilty. We cannot allow reputations to be destroyed by the publicity that accompanies cases in which people are innocent.
The decision-making process in the prosecution of sex offence cases is uniquely tilted. As a result of the atmosphere surrounding such cases, there is a tendency to press on with them. When the Crown Prosecution Service or the police decide whether there is a complaint to answer, the sensitivity of such cases, especially those involving children and, I now believe, in the more general case of rape, the tendency is to proceed to prosecution.
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware of the joint publication by the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate and police inspectorate, which came to the opposite conclusion? Cases do not go on when they are difficult. Instead, they are stopped when there is the slightest difficulty. The hon. Gentleman needs to get his facts straight.
How does the hon. and learned Lady explain the fact that the same number of people are being convicted 15 years later when the number of complainants has quadrupled? I have not read the document she mentions, and I will do so, but my experience—and no doubt that of others—and the statistics cast doubt on its conclusion. The tendency to continue with a case is more extreme if the complainant is a child, and the loss of reputation of the people concerned is also extreme. Such cases result in extreme and tragic consequences, such as my constituent's decision to end his life.
It was decided in 1998 to end the anonymity of defendants in such trials, but we have moved on from that. The White Paper gives an example of a practical difficulty. It states:
Xif a man escaped custody before conviction, the police could not warn the public he was a suspected rapist unless the judge exercised his power to lift those restrictions."
That is a pretty thin practical justification for the measures. The judge is plainly able to lift restrictions if someone is thought to be a danger to the public, and he would be right to do so. The balance of the argument has changed since 1998.
I accept that the hon. Gentleman is raising some difficult issues. Although I would not support sensational accounts in the newspapers, by the same token does he agree that the public's awareness of a person who has been charged with rape or paedophilia has often led to other victims coming forward who might otherwise not have done so?
I accept that sensational publicity around a case may encourage other people to complain, but there has to be a balance. The charges that are brought against people in such circumstances are serious. The public take them very seriously and the publicity that can result from people's names becoming known serves to destroy their reputations whether they are proved innocent or guilty. I believe that the balance of the argument has changed since the decision was taken in 1998 to remove anonymity from defendants.
Measures have been introduced to assist people who complain about such crimes to give evidence. They are protected from a defendant cross-examining them in court and there are powers to enable complaints to be made. We must properly balance those measures, especially in the light of the atmosphere that our media create around such cases, by giving defendants the anonymity to which they are entitled, in what is a unique set of circumstances, until they are convicted and found guilty of the crime. If we do not do that, the presumption of innocence amounts to mere words for the people who are on the receiving end of such allegations.
I trust that Mr. Blunt and the House will forgive me if I do not cover the points that he raised, because I want to concentrate on the important issue of the misuse of drugs. I am pleased that it is covered in the Queen's Speech, which I welcome.
The misuse of drugs is at the heart of the Government's strategy on social deprivation, health, environment and the quality of life of our constituents. People in my constituency would expect me to say that they share my opinion that the problem is serious. There is barely a family or a street that has not experienced the trauma that arises from drug addiction. Of course, those people expect the House and the Government to address their concerns.
The objectives in the Queen's Speech, including economic growth, an improved environment, a better quality of life for our people and investment in public services such as education and transport, are very noble and welcome, and so too is the regeneration of our towns and cities. Hanging over those noble objectives, however, is a big cloud in the shape of drug misuse. If that is an aspect of globalisation—and I believe that it is—it is right that we act both domestically and internationally. In the short time available to me I should like to make some points which I trust are relevant.
We should be seen to be tackling the problem along all parts of the chain, acting over the long term domestically and internationally. It is my firm belief that the sophisticated and complex nature of drugs issues requires the Government to be equally sophisticated and nuanced in their approach. Joined-up government is essential and must be to the fore, involving almost every Department in facing this serious challenge.
I am glad that the Queen's Speech refers to measures to deal with drug trafficking. Customs and Excise employees are important in that. I want to put on the record a point about those personnel, and I should perhaps declare my interest as a former civil servant and union activist. In 2000–01, we employed 22,803 people in those posts, and at 22,854 the figure for 2001–02 is hardly different. I am not alone in thinking that, with millions of people coming into the country and billions of tonnes of freight arriving, that is inadequate. There is a case for increasing Customs' number, and I believe that that would be effective.
I say that because, domestic though this problem is, it would hardly arise were it not for the fact that drugs are arriving here from other parts of the world. In the past year or so, the House has rightly spent a great deal of time dealing with Afghanistan, and we were reminded that over 90 per cent. of heroin on the streets of Britain comes from that country. I encourage the Government to continue their observation of what is happening in Afghanistan; to bear in mind what is taking place in other developing countries; to do their utmost to discourage the production and export of heroin; and to offer other job opportunities to those who are tempted to become involved.
At home, I want to deal with demography and with the environment and its impact on those sad, and very often lonely, people who are tempted to use and deal drugs. The use of hard drugs is far more prevalent among the unemployed than among the employed, and in a constituency such as mine, where in many places there is serious deprivation, that fact has to be borne in mind. We simply do not see the bigger picture. Do employment programmes in such deprived neighbourhoods take account of that? I am not sure that they always do.
Treatment, which has been mentioned, often focuses on drugs per se, but should we not also take on board wider issues, including obvious social exclusion? Drug misuse is not merely about statistics, important though they are; it is about people and families. We all see in our surgeries and elsewhere people who are traumatised by the antisocial activities of others or, sadly, by their discovery that young people in their own families, including well-educated young people who have been to college or university, have succumbed to the menace of drugs. I want to put an end to that and to the revolving-door syndrome whereby people move between institutions and hospitals without a solution to the problem. Prison has been mentioned. I have taken the view since I came to the House that we send far too many people to prison, and certainly too many who are mentally ill or have learning disabilities. To add the issue of drugs, without addressing it, is mistaken.
I thank the House for listening. I welcome the inclusion of this serious issue in the Queen's Speech, and I hope that we can return to it when legislation comes before the House.
The biggest law and order problem in my constituency is antisocial behaviour. I was tempted to spend my eight minutes talking about that, but as we have not yet seen any proposals on it, it would be difficult to comment constructively.
I want to pick up on something that my hon. Friend Simon Hughes said. It is clear that when communities start to work together to tackle antisocial behaviour, and members of the public become actively involved in working with agencies, positive steps are taken. However, there are parts of my constituency where people are still frightened to come forward because they think that there will be retribution if they get involved. Whatever the legislation says, we need to find a way of making sure that communities feel safe to work together.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the proposed legislation to deal with sex offenders. I welcome the document that was published yesterday and many of its proposals, including, in particular, the special protection for children and the most vulnerable in our society and the new crime of grooming. However, I make no apologies for spending most of my time talking about something that is not of immediate interest to the vast majority of my constituents because it is a hidden problem.
Yesterday I asked a question about sex tourism, and I was heartened by the Home Secretary's positive response. I hope that the forthcoming Bill will provide an opportunity to tackle this problem on a global scale. I first came face to face with it when I visited Cambodia. The visit was arranged by a non-governmental organisation, World Vision, but I had the opportunity to work with and speak to many other NGOs in this field.
While I was in Cambodia I met some of the girls who had been most affected by sex tourism. I visited a centre that rescued young girls from brothels, and I remember a young child who was so tiny that I could only assume that she was the daughter of one of the workers. The child was eight and had been sexually exploited. Her image will remain with me all my life. On a more positive note, I saw a great deal of work, including peer education projects and education for communities to help them try to understand the problem. On a lighter note, I also visited some of the brothel areas. It occurred to me that that was one occasion on which it was helpful to be a woman MP, because when I rang home and said, XI'm visiting the brothel area tonight," people were not unduly worried.
Cambodia is not yet a mainstream tourist destination, but the temple of Angkor Wat was recently voted one of the 50 top places to visit before one dies. Evidence is already emerging of the sex tourism problem, which has been highlighted in a document called, XChildren's Work, Adults' Play". In that publication, European men, many of them British, feature among the top five groups of users of what can only be regarded as under-age sex services. Places such as Cambodia and Bangkok are high on the list of people who are increasingly forced to go abroad to obtain their peculiar sexual kicks.
Cambodia's Ministry of Planning estimated that the country has 30,000 prostitutes under 18, its legal age of consent, with over 5,000 young girls in Phnom Penh. Worldwide, it is estimated that 1 million children are new victims of sexual exploitation every year—most of us will find it difficult to get our head round that figure. A lot of prostitution is prompted by poverty, so we must put in place alternatives for young girls who decide that they have no other option in life. I spoke to one young woman—she was 15—who had been rescued from a brothel, but had got used to the lifestyle and liked having money. There was no immediate alternative for her, so attempts need to be made to retrain girls with other skills so that they are not forced down that route again.
Many countries are doing their best to tackle the problems internally, while some poor countries may need the help of the international community. But the paedophile is a cunning beast and will seek other ways of getting his kicks. There is a weakness internationally, and we have to be one step ahead of the problem.
The Government could do a few things in the short term before the forthcoming Bill is introduced. First, when will they ratify the optional protocol—on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography—to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child? Secondly, France and Austria have taken the step of installing their own police in their embassies in Cambodia and possibly elsewhere so that they can better monitor incoming nationals. I hope that the Home Secretary will look at the benefits of the United Kingdom doing that, as it is a positive and practical measure that may deter people from seeking their kicks abroad since they will know that society is one step ahead of them.
There are also problems in the expatriate community. I do not want to distort the issue, as the problems do not all stem from tourism. A large number of people go abroad to work—it is easy to get a job as a teacher, for example. Because there are no police checks and their salary is comparatively high they can employ young girls, ostensibly as maids, and abuse them. Again, there must be international police checks so that when people move from country to country, we are one step ahead of them. My understanding is that known sex offenders do not have to register their travel destination for short visits. I give the Government credit for the Sex Offenders (Notice Requirements) (Foreign Travel) Regulations 2001, which compelled outbound offenders to register, but only for visits of eight days or more. Clearly, quite a lot of abuse can happen in eight days. Communities in different countries must work together to tackle that problem and while we have an opportunity to do something here, we should take the lead.
I welcome many of the Bills in the Queen's Speech, particularly those on home affairs, including the criminal justice Bill and measures on tackling antisocial behaviour and sex offences. I wholly endorse the comments of my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin.
On criminal justice, the public perception is of rising crime and a lack of police response. The other day, when meeting members of the South Yorkshire branch of the Police Federation, I was told by one that he had been on duty and had received a call from a young woman in distress who wanted a visit from a police officer. She was 137th on his list of calls to be made that day. He said that it was hours before he could attend to that incident. There is therefore a problem concerning the lack of police response to the public's calls. There is also a perception that the punishment does not fit the crime, so I welcome new measures on sentencing. I have previously raised in the House the issue of Crown Prosecution Service cases being dropped before they get to court or while the court case is proceeding as a result of lack of evidence. I have also spoken about the failure of the public interest: members of the public are simply not informed of the collapse of those trials.
I welcome initiatives on victim and witness support, especially the latter. In my constituency, a witness refused to give evidence in trial because he was sitting opposite the defendant while waiting to go into court. For want of a better expression, he simply lost his bottle or received threats from the defendant. He thought that discretion was the better part of valour, left the courthouse and would not give evidence. I therefore welcome the proposals that witnesses will be given support.
I also welcome the measures on antisocial behaviour, which will be debated at length in the House. Antisocial behaviour is a major concern in my constituency, as in other constituencies where people suffer from antisocial acts, graffiti and vandalism. In districts throughout the borough of Barnsley, youths congregate and instil fear into the local populations, even though they are not committing a crime. There is simply a perception among local people that they cannot walk down the street or get past those gangs of youths without being assaulted. I fully endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said about the problem of antisocial tenants. Some private landlords take advantage of a system in which housing benefit is paid directly to them rather than the tenant—we must take a look at that. In my constituency, a landlord who lives in the midlands refuses to visit a property where problems have arisen. The property is tenanted by a young woman who is not committing any crime, but her boyfriend is a known drugs offender in the area, and the police are finding it difficult to deal with the situation. The boyfriend is making the lives of the surrounding neighbours pure hell. He is a known offender and is wanted for drug and firearm offences. Obviously, local people are afraid.
I endorse comments made today about the need to look at problems caused by air weapons and fireworks. There is a fear in my constituency that fireworks are used as a signalling mechanism, especially among drug dealers. Quite apart from that, fireworks are used throughout the year. They are loud and noisy. At best they are a distraction and nuisance; at worst they are used as weapons and devices to blow up telephone boxes and destroy property. We need more than a code of practice. The time has come to look at introducing a legislative measure to restrict the sale and power of fireworks. The problem is getting out of hand and is one of the biggest issues in my postbag at the moment. Similarly, there has been a rash of incidents involving air weapons. I believe that there has been a fatality in the north-east, so the time has come for us to consider the problem carefully.
Although they are no longer part of the home affairs brief, I welcome the measures on alcohol licensing. I declare an interest as honorary adviser to the Northern Licensed Victuallers Association, and very much welcome the reforms in the alcohol and entertainment licensing Bill, especially the deregulation of opening hours. I do not believe that we will get 24-hour licensing in every pub throughout the country, and I do not believe that we would want that, but we can have some sensible relaxation of the law in relation to licensing. The portable licence is to be welcomed, as is the proposal to license the licensee as opposed to the premises. Licensing is not really a judicial function, and it can easily be transferred to a committee of magistrates, much as taxi drivers and others are licensed, as a local authority function.
The relaxation of licensing laws might reduce the antisocial behaviour that occurs at turning-out times, and the problems that the police have to deal with at certain times of the evening. That is well documented in the press, in journals and so on. When we consider alcohol licensing, we should examine the discounting schemes used by pubs and companies. In my area, pubs are a growth industry, and there are numerous applications for licences. We already have far too many public houses. The only way for them to attract a limited market is to offer tickets at #10 entry, which entitles people to drink as much as they like, or to offer two or three drinks for the price of one. Such schemes are leading to problems of drunkenness and disorder. I hope that licensing deregulation will address that.
I am taken aback at being called to speak. I owe an apology to all the hon. Members in the Chamber. As the Deputy Speaker knows, I had to leave the Chamber to attend a Standing Committee, so I appreciate being called so promptly, and I appreciate the forbearance of other hon. Members, who may have been present this afternoon while I was not.
There is much that the Ulster Unionist party welcomes in the Gracious Speech, particularly the proposals to deal with antisocial behaviour. I noticed that it is the Government's intention to deal with antisocial behaviour throughout the United Kingdom. At our last Home Affairs Question Time, I pointed out to the Home Secretary that while hon. Members criticise the number of antisocial behaviour orders that have been made in Great Britain, no such orders are available to the police or local councils in Northern Ireland. If the Government are committed to dealing with antisocial behaviour throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, will they please bear it in mind that we in Northern Ireland would love antisocial behaviour orders to be available there?
I was especially pleased to see that the Government intend to increase sentences for those involved in sex crimes, particularly against women and against children. In that regard, I draw the Minister's attention to a loophole that currently exists in Northern Ireland. We are the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land frontier with another European Union country, the Republic of Ireland. I have a constituent, a young lady, whose daughter, a very young child, was taken by her mother's brother on an outing, ostensibly to Dublin, to Butlins, and was raped in the Republic of Ireland.
The man was duly convicted in the Republic of Ireland and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. However, he was transferred to a prison in Northern Ireland, on the ground that he wished to be near his family, without members of his family being aware that he had been transferred. He had been included on the sex offenders register in the Republic of Ireland, but he is not included on the sex offenders register in Northern Ireland, so when he becomes free, he can reappear in my constituency. My constituent, and particularly her daughter, are very fearful of that man coming anywhere near them. That loophole needs to be cleared up.
The Ulster Unionist party expects Northern Ireland to be included in all the measures that are introduced to modernise and streamline the criminal justice system. We had an extensive review of criminal justice as part of the Belfast agreement, and many new institutions were developed through the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which has been on the statute book since July. There was a major shake-up of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. We lead the way in the reform of policing, in human rights and in criminal justice.
I commend to the Minister one of the changes that was introduced—the judicial appointments commission, a body that has been set up to appoint all but the most senior members of the judiciary. That gives an enhanced sense of accountability and transparency to those who sit on the Bench. The commission is designed to be representative of the community. Community involvement in judicial appointments is helpful to the judicial system.
I was pleased to see the references to international co-operation, given that Northern Ireland shares a land frontier with another EU member state. We suffer greatly in Northern Ireland, as does the Treasury, from cross-border smuggling. The Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office with responsibility for security has just returned from a useful trip to study cross-border co-operation between Canada and the United States of America in dealing with cross-border smuggling.
I hope that in the spirit of co-operation, the Government will make representations to ensure that the Irish Government, on passing their new extradition measures, will give sufficient powers to police forces in the United Kingdom to execute arrest warrants in that jurisdiction. That would be invaluable in countering those who are involved in cross-border smuggling. As the Minister will appreciate, the smuggling of fuel and cigarettes is used by paramilitary organisations, both loyalist and republican, to fund their paramilitary activities. Any co-operation between police forces in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom would be welcomed to clamp down on such activity.
I thank the Deputy Speaker again, and leave those points with the Minister, in the hope that he will incorporate them in future legislation.
I welcome the Queen's Speech. Reading the debates on the Gracious Speech in June 2001, I was struck by how much the Labour Government have achieved over the past year, and how little the rhetoric from the Opposition Benches has changed.
I am delighted with the focus on justice for victims of crime and antisocial behaviour. That is important to my constituents in Hamilton, South. Dealing with crime is a devolved matter for Scotland. Because of the need for United Kingdom-wide solutions, we have an opportunity for real partnership between Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. By tackling poverty, we are improving social inclusion, enhancing benefits and tax credits, and increasing employment opportunities. If we do not do that, we will not eradicate the crime that exists in many of our communities.
Crime and disorder is a UK-wide problem, but the Government have taken significant steps to deal with it. The Home Secretary admits that we have not solved the problems. The measures proposed by the Government are an opportunity to further advance the improvement in our communities that we all desire. I do not believe that it is a failure that each of the measures that we have introduced has built on the successful implementation of previous law. We have been building measures in a sensible way, seeing what works and listening to what communities are saying, particularly about what has to be done to solve the problem of antisocial behaviour and deal with that blight on our lives. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend Dr. Reid that pressure for action on antisocial behaviour is generally coming from the grass roots. We must take cognisance of that fact.
In the middle of Hamilton, we still have a problem regarding the yob culture. The same problem is endemic in many of our constituencies. My hon. Friend Mr. Illsley spoke about fireworks, which are topical. Local communities face considerable harassment and nuisance from children who regard fireworks as some sort of toy and apparently find enjoyment in putting them in pillar boxes or letter boxes. While an elderly lady in my constituency was waiting for an ambulance to take her to hospital, a rocket was put into to her letter box and lit. It hit the back of the hall. The trauma for that person, who was waiting to go into hospital, was substantial.
I should like to consider some solutions to the problems that we face. In Hamilton, South, we introduced a successful pilot scheme as part of our child safety initiative in which young children aged 12 and under who were out late at night after a certain time were collected by the police and taken back to their homes. Their parents were held responsible for correcting the problem. Unfortunately, the amount of policing time involved makes such an approach untenable in the long term, as police had to be moved from one area to another in order to make the scheme successful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central spoke about the 137th item on a list of calls. I should like to draw attention to a pilot scheme that is in operation in Hamilton, South in which a dedicated call centre has been set up and four experienced police officers work on a shift rota to take and screen the calls. Callers often report that a car has been broken into and that the police force cannot do any reparatory or investigatory work. Those taking the calls can advise the caller, perhaps saying XYou don't really need a police officer; this is what can be done."
Working in partnership with the likes of South Lanarkshire council, with which the police have a good relationship, those involved in the scheme have been able to deal with many of the problems that arise. When yobs are constantly causing problems in an area, the problems are highlighted and it is possible to ensure that the callers understand how to deal with them. If a problem relates to yobs in a drunken rabble, the police can look to the licensed retail outlets in that area in order to deal with it. The scheme is a good example of joined-up thinking involving the local council, the police and other bodies working together not only to be proactive, but to look in the long term at how best they can deal with the problems in their area and eradicate their causes. That is certainly a way forward.
Having outlined some of the problems that the Queen's Speech seeks to tackle and local initiatives that are working, I should like to express my welcome of the proposals and suggest a number of others. If the revised antisocial behaviour orders are used wisely, they can have a genuine impact. In my constituency, we set up an antisocial behaviour unit and found that it could make a difference in tackling problems in particular areas. Where people felt previously that they were in a hopeless situation, taking evidence and ensuring that families were taking responsibility for their children worked well and enabled us to prevent the problems from escalating out of control.
Another problem is young kids who are out of school during the day, especially in the afternoon. That is a problem not only of policing, but of education and trading standards. It is also a council issue. Those involved have to work together in particular to ensure that those young children are not involving themselves with alcoholic beverages because of peer pressure.
Last night, I welcomed to Westminster the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities fireworks task group, which has considered the problem of fireworks for the past six months. Some 22 local authorities have given evidence, along with the police. The group has made a number of recommendations that I would recommend to the Home Office for its consideration. Misuse of fireworks is one of the biggest problems that we face. Unless we deal with it, it will continue to escalate out of control. The group said that health and safety is one of the big issues and recommended that the retailers who are selling fireworks should be made responsible and that the law should be tightened to prevent fireworks from falling into the hands of young people.
I congratulate the Government on introducing a range of important measures, but crime and antisocial behaviour are not easy issues to solve. The best way for us to deal with them is to ensure that we exert pressure as Members of Parliament, consider the issues and deal with the problems.
I am very grateful for the chance to speak in this debate. I realise that at this stage in our proceedings, it is likely that a great many excellent points will already have been made, so I hope the House will forgive me if I reiterate a couple of those points, and especially those made by my hon. Friend Mr. Maples about the European arrest warrant, which is potentially very alarming indeed.
Let me give another example of why the warrant might go wrong. Let us imagine that a journalist is responsible for the production of some virulent anti-Welsh rhetoric of the sort that A. A. Gill produced not so long ago in The Sunday Times—I would not dream of repeating what he said, fond as I am of the Welsh, having contested a Welsh seat in 1997. The article might well be reprinted in a Spanish newspaper or read in an English newspaper on the Costa del Sol by a Welshman. It would then be possible under the laws of Spain to extradite the journalist to Spain for the crime of xenophobia against the Welsh.
I hear cheers of approval on the Labour Benches, but I do not think that that would be the right approach. It would be absurd. Even if my example seems frivolous, the problem that it illustrates is very far from frivolous. Two criminal systems cannot operate effectively in the same territory. The people of this country should be governed by the laws of this country. I say that not necessarily because I have any objection to the laws of any other country, but because the people of this country cannot vote out of office the legislators of Spain and did not elect them or give their approval to the laws under which A. A. Gill would be arraigned in my hypothesis. No matter how good the law might be, the approach is fundamentally undemocratic and alarming.
I am also alarmed by proposals to reform aspects of the criminal justice system. I do not quite understand why it is necessary to change the law on double jeopardy, which has protected citizens since the 12th century, as far as I can remember. We are told in the White Paper that the necessity arises from the tragic failure of the prosecution of the alleged culprits in the Stephen Lawrence affair, but as I think Simon Hughes pointed out, there is no earthly prospect of a fair retrial of those culprits. It is therefore nonsensical and illogical to introduce a change in the law on double jeopardy on that basis. Abolishing the rule against double jeopardy is a considerable potential extension of the power of the state to oppress the individual and could encourage the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to be less than diligent in preparing cases in the knowledge that they can always have a second bite at the cherry.
Speeches throughout the afternoon have made it clear that hon. Members of all parties are united in their desire to reduce crime, especially violent crime, and in their consciousness that the threat of crime eats away people's confidence and security.
The genuine deterrent to crime is not elaborate and possibly illiberal reform of the criminal justice system but helping police to catch criminals. To that end, the Government would be better advised not to monkey around with laws that have existed since the 12th century, but to consider methods of alleviating the bureaucracy that oppresses the police and that they use all too often as an excuse for not doing the job as effectively as they might.
I want to speak briefly about the problem of rural crime in my constituency, and people's genuine fear that the police will not come to help them. When people ring, the police say that they do not have sufficient numbers to attend the scene of the crime. The other day, a farmer rang the police to say that there were burglars in his barn. The police said that they did not have the numbers to attend, so the farmer rang back to say that he had shot the burglars. At that point, the police attended the scene.
There are too few police on the beat in south Oxfordshire. My constituents also face the problem of magistrates courts closures. Henley magistrates court was closed three years ago, and Thame magistrates court has subsequently been closed. No adequate reason has been given for that. I suspect that the demon of property prices in the area lurks somewhere at the bottom of the matter. Consequently, witnesses have to drive for a considerable distance, sometimes for more than an hour, to testify. That is a deterrent and leads to the possibility of delay and the collapse of cases. There is also a problem for local newspapers, which are unable to report the cases.
My hon. Friend Mr. Blunt attacked the fourth estate for causing hysteria. I want to make a brief defence of newspapers, which play an important role in our criminal justice system through alerting the public to what is happening and to cases that come before the courts. In recent months, it has been impossible for the Henley Standard—a great newspaper for which, I should declare, I write a column, unpaid—to receive advance warning of cases. They used to get them when cases appeared before Henley magistrates court and Thame magistrates court, but they receive no warning from Oxford of the cases that are coming up. That is absurd. Justice is a public matter. It should be a utensil of public shame, and the newspaper has a vital role in that.
Like my hon. Friend, I have a magistrates court—Trowbridge—that is threatened. Does he agree that it is shameful for Ministers to try to hide behind magistrates courts committees and blame them for closures when Lord Justice Auld made it clear that responsibility lay with Ministers?
My hon. Friend referred to my Xattack" on the fourth estate. I agree that justice must be public and that newspapers have a proper role to play. However, my point was to do with the way in which newspapers deal with sexual crime. I believe that there is a case for anonymity for the defendant when that is granted to the complainant.
I agree 100 per cent. with my hon. Friend. I simply wanted to show that I had listened attentively to his comments. I impute to him no disrespect for the Henley Standard and other local papers.
I want to refer briefly to the interesting contribution of Denzil Davies, who is no longer in his place. He asked whether we were genuinely tackling the big issues. There are six Bills that are supposed to solve the problem of crime in this country to consider. The right hon. Gentleman asked good questions about parental authority, the collapse of the family and education, which Mr. Tynan also mentioned. I agree that those are the main questions.
There is a nexus of problems that centres around children who go through school without showing respect to their teachers because they have no reason to show respect to their parents. Unless we begin to deal with the collapse of respect for authority, we will not begin to tackle the deep causes of crime. That may be a pompous thing to say, but one is entitled to be pompous in politics. It would be good if all hon. Members agreed that the collapse and loss of respect was the central problem for British politics and we all had the courage to say so from time to time.
I shall spend all my eight minutes on one issue, just as I used to spend all my pocket money on one toy every Friday, but the issue is not to be toyed with: it is jury trial.
What are the virtues of jury trial? First, it is democratic. Society suffers from crime and pays for its effects and for the incarceration of those convicted by the courts. Society should therefore be represented in the system that determines guilt or innocence.
Juries make better decisions. Twelve jurors have a breadth of experience and insight that no judge—indeed, no individual—could hope to match. They cancel out each other's prejudices and they have the advantage, which a judge who makes a decision alone does not share, of debate.
Juries are free from any suggestion that they are pro-prosecution or pro-defence; their independence is uncompromised. Trial judges, however, are selected. I do not know who selects them, but however much a judge tries to be impartial, it will not prevent public misgiving about a tribunal being less than independent.
Let us consider the way in which judges are selected. They do not simply appear out of the ether to try specific cases; they are put in place, and there are some interesting anecdotes about that. The trial of the Archer One was mentioned a short time ago. Hon. Members will recall that it was conducted against the background of a libel trial in which the defendant's wife had given evidence, been called Xfragrant" and provided important support for him. Gossip around the Bar, of which I was formerly a more active member, suggested that the defendant would act in the same way: he would not give evidence but get his wife to do so. The trial judge was subsequently announced. I shall not name him, but he is the greatest misogynist who has ever belonged to the judiciary of England and Wales. It was plain that he had been put in place by someone who had the power to do that to prevent a recurrence of events at the previous trial.
That information will not help Jeffrey Archer, even if he is told about it, because the jury, not the judge, makes the decision. However, the judge sets the framework, and selecting a judge to try a case is not an open process. If I were offered trial by judge instead of trial by jury, my first question would be, XWhich judge?"
The critical issue in most trials is the honesty and reliability of witnesses. The standards that should apply to both tests are those of ordinary members of society. Full-time judges do not qualify as that because of their background, training and the lives that they lead.
Who will opt for trial by judge? Judges will not try a cross-section of cases. They will have a diet of appalling sex cases because the defendants will believe that a jury cannot overcome its prejudices when making a decision. Unattractive, upper-middle-class fraudsters will believe that they might be better off with someone who broadly derives from their social segment rather than with a jury that comprises a cross-section of people. Cases in which defence lawyers hope for a technical victory in the court of trial or on appeal because of possible defects in the reasoned judgment would also probably be tried by a judge instead of a jury.
Allowing such opportunistic incursions into the fairest form of trial—that by jury—goes in the opposite direction from all other Government policies and risks bringing the law into disrepute. For the public at large, the perception is likely to be that some defendants can avoid justice by removing juries—the guardians of our democratic values—from the decision-making process.
I have a profound anxiety that, if we have the ability to elect trial by judge alone, it might not seem such a great variation, at some later date, to relocate the right to elect trial by jury to the judge and away from the defendant. The proposed change would pave the way for a future Home Secretary completely to remove the right to a jury trial, leaving it as a form of trial available only at the discretion of a judge at a directions hearing, which is an appalling prospect.
This argument reaches its height in the context of serious and complex fraud trials. The White Paper refers to a small number of serious and complex trials lasting six months or so, which highlight—it does not say how—the difficulties of jury trial. The Serious Fraud Office prosecutes such serious and complex fraud trials. Between 1988 and 1991, there was a 63.6 per cent. conviction—that is, success—rate; between 1999 and 2002, the conviction rate was 86 per cent. Those rates are both higher than average and are on an upward trend. Juries brought about those convictions. If the cases were so complex that the convictions were brought about by incomprehension and were therefore wrongful convictions, it is a surprise that there have been so few appeals.
It is the job of the lawyer to outline and present to the lay jury the evidence of the offences. Complex and unfamiliar medical or forensic evidence has to be given in wounding trials and rape trials; psychological and psychiatric evidence in murder trials may be crucial in distinguishing between murder and manslaughter, between life imprisonment and probation. I have been involved in trials with five or six psychiatric reports in them, and technical and scientific evidence about tissues, fibres and DNA can be relevant to every level of crime. In all cases, it is the job of the lawyer to convey to members of the jury sufficient information to allow them to follow the case.
The public explanation of the charges performs the further important task of ensuring that members of the public and the press also understand the nature of the case. The jury not only represents the public at the trial; its presence ensures a comprehensible exposition of the case. The assumption seems to be, however, that some cases are so complex that only experts are capable of understanding the allegations, and that, consequently, there can be no public explanation that is comprehensible to the layman. The trial is then reduced to exchanges between lawyers and the judge, probably in impenetrable jargon, and occasionally falling into Latin. The tribunal will then pronounce to the public that, as a result of its proceedings, which neither the public nor the press have been expected to follow, it has concluded on the guilt or innocence of the accused. I do not believe that the public would, or should, be satisfied with a criminal justice system in which people are at risk of long sentences of imprisonment following trials in which the state has admitted that it cannot make its evidence comprehensible to the public.
There are many defects in the criminal justice system, to which the Home Secretary referred. It is slow, cumbersome, inefficient, unco-ordinated, at times chaotic, and intractably unwilling to be changed. Change it! If I had a hundred minutes, I could tell the House a hundred ways in which it could and should be changed, but I can make no link between the need for change and the proposal to curtail jury trial. We should be proud of trial by jury: please, leave it alone.
I am privileged to follow Vera Baird, and I would like to associate myself with the comments of the hon. Members for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) about fireworks, which have recently been causing all sorts of grief in Newark and Retford. I thoroughly agree with the their comments about them.
I would like to spend my eight minutes underlining the comments made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin about the need for effective legislation on community policing. I want to concentrate entirely on my constituency, which is not a typical inner-city constituency but a mixture of market towns and rural areas. It is an area that should be a fairly quiet part of north-east Nottinghamshire, yet it suffers in a special way. Nottinghamshire has seen a rise in crime of some 2 per cent. over the last year, but, more worryingly, robberies have gone up by 54 per cent., sexual offences by 4 per cent., offences of violence against the person by 8 per cent.—and so it goes on.
The hot spot in Nottinghamshire is not Newark, Retford or Tuxford but Nottingham, and, of course, that is where the chief constable has to put his resources. Those resources are extremely limited, and I shall come back to that in a moment. We have already heard in other debates from Mr. Allen—I suspect that the hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Bassetlaw (John Mann) would agree with him—that all these areas are being stripped of their officers and resources so as to concentrate on the big problem, namely, Nottingham. Before I move on, I would like to pay tribute to the amount of work that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw has done on the drugs problem in north-east Nottinghamshire. That issue certainly touches my constituency and I am grateful for the exposure that he has ensured for the matter.
The problem in Nottinghamshire revolves around police funding. We are told that there is to be an extra #3.3 million for Nottinghamshire constabulary, and I am sure that there is. That will represent a 2.5 per cent. increase, which in real terms is not an increase at all. Nottinghamshire constabulary faces the same level of difficulty and reported crime as Merseyside, yet the number of officers on the beat is several hundred short of the number in Merseyside. To overcome this lack of funding, the chief constable has had no alternative but to step up the police precept in the council tax, which has risen by almost 20 per cent. in the last year. That has deeply irritated my constituents.
Despite that rise in taxation—and perhaps because there is no real additional central Government funding—the lack of policemen in my constituency is quite remarkable. I am told that, since March last year, an extra 55 officers have been available in Nottinghamshire. I am sure that that is so, but they are not to be seen in Newark, where we have gone from 42 officers to 29. When those numbers are divided into shifts, and when the new response system that the chief constable has introduced is brought into play, there are times when we have only two officers on duty to ensure that the town remains relatively law abiding.
In addition, the number of our special constables has fallen, and I have also been told that we are not going to receive any community support officers. I attended a recent meeting of Newark Business Club, at which we were told that if we wanted extra community support officers we would have to fund them ourselves at a cost of #20,000 a year per officer. Additionally, with the new systems that have been introduced to centralise response times, further officers have gone from Newark. We now get response vehicles only from 12 miles away, in Ollerton. It has been said before that Newark has been Xhollowed out" of its officers and its resources.
The Prime Minister has never visited my constituency, and when the Home Secretary came to Nottinghamshire we were not, strangely enough, on the list. Perhaps they did not want to see that the streets were pretty well unpatrolled, or that it can sometimes take 40 minutes to get a response on the telephone from the police. Interestingly, the striking firemen whom I visited recently in Newark said that one of their problems was that they were having not only to act as paramedics at the scenes of accidents but, with the lack of police officers in the area, to become de facto policemen themselves.
Even more worryingly—I make no comment on the rights or wrongs of this—a number of police officers have complained anonymously through the pages of the Newark Advertiser about the way in which their constabulary is run. This illustrates the completely unacceptable lack of confidence that has spread through the constabulary, which is being communicated to my constituents every day.
What are the solutions? I challenge the Minister and the Home Secretary to visit Newark to see what it is like and how community policing has broken down completely in that part of north-east Nottinghamshire. If the Minister doubts the effect of that and how seriously my constituents take it, let him look at the general election result in the constituency. The grievance is very deeply felt.
When the regional inspector of constabulary visits in January, I ask that he consider particularly carefully the system that has been imposed on Nottinghamshire constabulary and how Newark and associated areas are losing officers in order to police Nottingham. I understand the reasons behind that, but without extra funding my constituency and areas like it will continue to become increasingly lawless.
The Government's failure to announce appropriate measures is likely to continue to undermine confidence in our policemen and their support services. I ask the Government to try to re-establish that confidence and to try to prevent a bigger rift from developing between people and police officers.
I shall, if I may, speak about antisocial behaviour in particular and in general. The particular point—fireworks—has been raised by a number of Members. The issue has made my postbag bulge like nothing else over these past several weeks, and I am glad that the Prime Minister agreed at Question Time two or three weeks ago that there should be legislation. We do not yet know whether it will be included in the antisocial behaviour Bill or what form it will take, but it needs to be introduced.
The other day, I received a letter from a constituent, who says:
XOn Sunday . . . I was watching television in the conservatory at the back of my bungalow . . . there was a loud bang and a large, spent fireworks rocket came through the roof of my conservatory leaving a hole about 6-8 inches in diameter. Shards of the polycarbonate roof were scattered all around but fortunately I was not injured, only shocked. Had my wife been sitting with me, instead of in our lounge, the rocket and razor-sharp shards would have landed largely upon her and possibly caused severe injury. This was a firework from one of several parties taking place in the surrounding residential area and was, of course, impossible to trace.
I now know, subject to an insurance assessor's visit and approval, that I shall need the roof completely replaced at a cost of #1,450 plus VAT."
He goes on to suggest, not unreasonably, that it is time for something to be done, and it is. I hope that the Government will do it.
May I move from the particular to a general point on which I shall follow the interesting argument opened up by my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies and taken on by Mr. Johnson? It involves the larger question of the context in which we talk about behaviour. We regularly pass such Bills here but nothing happens out there, which suggests that the factors that determine behaviour have little to do with what we do here. We should at least be aware of that when we pass more legislation. We need to pass that legislation, but we need also to be aware of the dark, shaping forces that are causing the problems in the first place.
There is a paradox here. Looking back over the past generation or so, we find that people have better lives in many ways. They have more money than ever before and average earnings have gone up fortyfold during the Queen's reign. Life expectancy has gone up eight years. People can travel all round the world, choose from 100 television stations and have personal freedom of an order never seen in history, yet, over the same period and moving from the private sphere to the public, our society has reached a more parlous state than we have known in recent memory.
If we are honest with ourselves, which we must be in discussing those things, our society has become less civilised, coarser and cruder. People are less attentive to and considerate of the needs of others. Our public spaces have become degraded. We have the image of someone sitting in their house and being able to tune into 100 television stations or to access all kinds of wonders through the internet, yet being afraid to walk down their own street. That is the society that we have created.
A few days ago, the Home Secretary said in a television interview that the real problem is one of our culture. He was right. Saying that shows a necessary humility in a Home Secretary, but the question is, what is shaping our culture and what has made it like that when we have become ever more prosperous, liberated and self-controlling, yet ever more degraded and insecure in our social behaviour?
We see examples on every side. A leading international footballer can write of his premeditation in setting about committing violence on an opponent, there is the routine disorder that is celebrated in sections of the media and the coarseness and crudity emitted from our television screens. As the forces that traditionally shaped behaviour and provided support are weakened—the home is one example; the transformation in family life over the past generation has been extraordinary and on a scale never seen before—where do people get their values? They get them from the images that are transmitted to them from other places. Some people do not have the protections that came from those old sources and I am afraid that those images are corrosive—they produce the antisocial behaviour that we are talking about.
Soon after the general election, after I had been pontificating about the civic crisis and the need to engage people more in the process, I received a letter from someone who had heard my remarks but is not a constituent. I remember his letter well, because he went through what it is like to live on his street on his estate. He described the daily awfulness of being there and the sense of degradation. After going through the list, he said at the end, XAnd you expect us to vote?" He meant, XYou expect us to give legitimacy to a political system that cannot even guarantee the security of my street."
The bottom line for a state is whether it can guarantee the security of its citizens. If it cannot do so, its citizens will walk away from it. That is what is happening now.
First, I warmly congratulate Tony Wright on saying things that deserve and need to be said. His speech built on the contribution of Denzil Davies, which I admired, and at least part of that of my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson. There is indeed a great weakness at the heart not only of the Government's programme as enunciated in the Gracious Speech, but of society's approach to law and order.
I am fortunate in having in my constituency three prisons that provide an excellent service and many jobs. One is Albany, which is one of the foremost prisons in the country for dealing with sex offenders. The section of Hampshire constabulary that covers my county is 10th in the league table in terms of the ratio of registered sex offenders to population. Given that statistic and the prison, it is not surprising that many of my constituents are concerned about the number of people living in the constituency who have a record of sex offences.
Of course, the problem is that my constituents do not know—they can only assume. When the governor tells me that no prisoner released from Albany remains living on the island, I believe that absolutely, because part of a prisoner's release programme involves the giving of treatment on the mainland. There is a further problem, however, in that it is believed that many former prisoners come back, and of course, many other former prisoners from elsewhere also come to live in my constituency.
I want to discuss Sarah's law. In my view, the Government and my party have entirely the wrong approach to trusting parents with the knowledge that is necessary to assist in ensuring the safety of their children. Nobody can expect parents to bring up their children effectively without having as much knowledge as can be provided of those into whose hands their children might fall. I was greatly privileged to meet Sara and Michael Payne after the murder of their daughter. I congratulate them on the courageous and dignified way in which they have advanced the cause of Sarah's law. If we are to enable parents to do their job, it is essential that we give them information and—more importantly—that we trust them with it. Even more importantly, we must enable them to trust the authorities—be it the police, the probation service, or indeed ourselves—to do what is best for them and their children.
I use that issue as an illustration. I do not believe that the riots in Paulsgrove and the attacks on a paediatrician would have occurred, had parents been able to say to the police with reasonable cause, XI am worried about this individual—can you set my mind at rest?" The point is illustrated by the release of a former sex offender on to the Pan estate in my constituency. He was known to local parents. Parents were quoted in the Isle of Wight County Press as saying, XWe have no need to attack him. All that we have to do is to warn our children to beware of him." That is the kind of sensible reaction that one gets from sensible parents on a council estate when they are given information. There is no hysteria or riot—that happens when they cannot trust the authorities, and when they are unsure of the circumstances in which they are forced to raise their children.
I fear that, too much of the time, too many of us share this lack of trust in ordinary people. It seems that the Government do not trust ordinary people on Sarah's law, or to serve on juries. The Liberal Democrats do not want to trust them with information on previous convictions when serving on juries. Many of us, and many of our constituents throughout the country, do not trust groups of youngsters standing around on street corners. We fear to walk past them, when perhaps the best thing to do is to say, XHello, how are you?" Such lack of trust is becoming endemic, and we must reverse it if we are to turn society back into one that is more comfortable to live in.
The Government do not trust the people on capital punishment, and nor have many previous Governments. I deeply regret that. This Government do not even trust Parliament on capital punishment—they have signed a treaty that deprives parliamentarians of our right to represent our electors on it. In my view, the murder of the only witness to a crime is a crime itself deserving of capital punishment.
The erection of a panoply of complaints procedures has made the lives of police, prison officers and teachers impossible. A great machine of children's rights is determined to impose those obligations on parents as well, making their lives more difficult. As Mr. Mullin said, there is an increasing sense of rights, and a diminishing sense of responsibilities, in our society. I would increase the rights of those placed in lawful authority, in line with their increased sense of responsibilities. They and our community leaders are the front line against chaos. They are the people whom we must reinforce, and whose contribution we must reinforce, if we are to make society pleasant.
The pendulum has swung far too far towards what the Americans call liberalism. In the nature of things, it will swing back, and for that I am thankful, but let us not swing it back by adopting a kind of authoritarianism. To do that would be to swing it far too far in the opposite direction.
On Monday, I was pleased to attend a Xplanning for real" session in Edlington, a community that I represent that is full of decent people, with decent hopes and aspirations for their families and their village. To aid the session, local school children made a large-scale model detailing the whole village, complete with cardboard houses. However, the houses in two particular streets were depicted as blackened lumps, representing the demolished or burnt-out houses that have been virtually destroyed by the actions of a few families.
I commend my hon. Friend Tony Wright and my right hon. Friend Denzil Davies. They are right to point out that we need to discuss how these extreme situations can arise in such communities, and the ways in which the life we live and the culture in which we operate add to the problem. However, while doing so—and while supporting employment programmes and projects such as sure start, in order to tackle the behaviour that leads to such problems—we must deal with the here and now, and the few families who cause havoc in our communities.
Most people in former mining villages such as Denaby Main, Edlington, Conisbrough and Rossington—the latter still has a pit, but less than 300 people work there, compared with the many thousands who did so years ago—mention the pit closures of the 1980s as one reason for the decline in their communities. Those closures occurred without the necessary economic and social regeneration to rebuild their communities. People started leaving the villages, property prices stagnated, private landlords bought up former right-to-buy houses, and social cohesion declined as the number of workless households rose. Moreover, drug taking increased. I do not mean the trendy drug taking by certain people in the media to enhance their sexual performance, but drug taking in order to blot out the daily experience of life, and what people see in their communities. Decline in incomes, in work and in community morale is accompanied by physical decline: closed shops, boarded-up houses, graffiti and the antisocial behaviour that many hon. Members have talked about.
In such an environment, a few families in one street can wreck a neighbourhood. Small-time nuisance escalates into fear, intimidation and arson, and before we know it a whole area is blighted. A climate of fear exists, and the authorities—be it the police, local authorities, councillors or Members of Parliament—look powerless. Imagine the impact on a neighbourhood when a family associated with drug dealing, nuisance and all that comes with it—the late-night visitors, the fights, the disturbances—are evicted from their council property, only to move into a private rented house three doors away. The young people in these families appear to live almost unattended lives, bereft of any guidance or parental control. They drift in and out of the family home, or between two relatives' homes. They keep irregular hours, stay out late, and are virtually independent of their parents.
Local residents say that they want more police on the beat. In Doncaster, we do have more police, but perhaps that is not enough—perhaps more police on the beat is not the only answer. These antisocial families demand a more comprehensive response—from the police, from local authorities, and from the courts. We need to establish new jobs in the community, such as neighbourhood wardens and community safety officers—people who will be available for community liaison and who can ensure that information given to the police or the local authority is followed up. We need to ensure that we use new technology so that intelligence is gathered together. In that way, if a police officer whom a resident speaks to is not on shift the next night, the police officer who is on shift knows what the resident is talking about. We need joined-up thinking and a co-ordinated response. Otherwise, those families run rings round local agencies, soak up enormous time and energy, and still continue a reign of terror.
If other parts of the country are initiating good practice, we should also ensure that people in the community have access to that information so that they can place demands on the people who are empowered to ensure that they get it right at least some of the time, if not all the time. That is how we could give confidence to the people whom we represent.
I have always supported antisocial behaviour orders, but they could be more effective. There are still professionals in the police, local authorities, social services and the courts who believe that ASBOs should be the last resort rather than a power that can be used before the worst is done. Those professionals also do not consider using the other powers that the Government have provided to enforce the ASBOs. Parenting orders are a good example.
We need wider use of ASBOs and that can be helped by a swifter system for obtaining orders and a consistent response to breaches by the courts. In one notorious case in my constituency, the authorities took nine months to obtain an order against a 14-year-old involved in a string of incidents. A fortnight ago, the authorities went back to court when the order was breached. The breach alone can carry a custodial sentence of up to five years. Instead, for incitement to abusive behaviour—serious abusive behaviour in this case—the court imposed a 12-hour community reparation. That teenager will spend a few days caring for dogs at the local RSPCA facility. That is ridiculous. Breaches of orders should be seen as the final steps in a sequence of offences—not as isolated minor incidents. The Crown Prosecution Service should get its act together to better represent the community when dealing with such breaches.
Truancy is another issue. Some 25 per cent. of burglaries are committed by truants. Worryingly, truancy sweeps frequently show that truants are often with a parent or supported by a parent in their truancy. We must tackle that. Dragging the parents to court takes a minimum of 13 weeks—a full school term of truancy—and the parents would most probably receive only a fine. We need to consider withholding child benefit until a parent is willing to co-operate with the school and education welfare officers. As one head teacher told me, it is not just about poverty. The very same children who play truant with their parents' consent are often taken on holidays abroad by their parents. We need to tackle truancy.
As has been said, it is when people step outside their homes and see chaos that they feel that the agencies that exist are not supporting them. That is when they ask why they should vote and that is why we need national legislation that changes lives on our doorstep, and why the situation that people face on their doorstep should inform the legislation that we pass here.
My constituents in Romford are increasingly concerned that crime is rife in their community and they live in fear of becoming the victims of crime. The London borough of Havering is the second largest borough in the Greater London area, but we suffer the lowest number of police officers per square mile, the third lowest number of police officers per head of population, and the 11th highest number of crimes per officer.
Last week, I met the local borough commander for Havering and the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Lord Toby Harris. From my postbag and surgeries, I knew that the biggest concern of my constituents was crime, but my fears were confirmed in that meeting when the results of a recent consultation were revealed. No fewer than 80 per cent. of respondents were worried about being burgled. Some 77 per cent. were worried about being mugged and 76 per cent. were worried about experiencing antisocial behaviour. Massive concern is also felt in the borough about becoming the victim of vehicle-related crime. In addition, 46 per cent. reported that their fear of crime had worsened in the past three years, with only 36 per cent. of people feeling safe at night. Some 78 per cent. of people said that they were dissatisfied with the police provision on the beat.
I hope that the Minister will agree that those responses suggest that the problem is indeed serious. We need proper resources and enough police officers to have an active presence on the streets to deter antisocial and criminal behaviour, and sufficient officers in the police stations to answer the phone and deal with the public when they need help.
One of the biggest problems in Romford is criminal activities in the town centre, especially in the early hours of the morning. Romford has been described as the night club capital of east London, with the most night clubs and entertainment premises outside Soho. The town attracts thousands of youngsters every Friday and Saturday night, but most of them come to enjoy themselves and cause no trouble. However, there are those who take part in yobbish behaviour, causing damage and being abusive towards others. With such a volume of pubs and clubs, that creates a very intimidating atmosphere for local residents.
I welcome the Government's realisation that antisocial behaviour is a huge problem and their attempt to address it through the antisocial behaviour orders has been a start, albeit a small one. However, when the Government came to power in 1997, police numbers in Havering stood at 326. By September 2001, following a massive fall to 297 in December 2000, the 326 figure was restored. Today, we have only 320 officers, when the bare minimum it is estimated we need is 334. My borough includes three parliamentary constituencies—Romford, Hornchurch and Upminster—and 240 million people. [Hon. Members: XThousand."] I am sorry, I mean 240,000. We have lost a police station in Collier Row, in the north of my constituency and the Romford station is now the only 24-hour station serving the entire borough—all three constituencies. It is no wonder that confidence is so low and crime is increasing: the yobs know they can get away with their behaviour because there is little there to stop them.
If the Government are serious about law and order, I suggest that they tackle the problem at the root and give the police the numbers and the power they need to have a noticeable presence and the authority, once more, to fight back. We must also give the police the confidence to get on with the job, and cut them free of unnecessary paperwork and the culture of political correctness that is so damaging.
The drug problem is becoming rife. If we are to classify anyone as antisocial, those who deal in and take drugs must be prime targets. The Government's confusing approach to drugs will make our streets no-go areas for the decent majority of law-abiding citizens. If the Government want to stamp out antisocial behaviour, the message must be strong and clear. Drugs cause crime. Drugs destroy the lives of our youngsters. Drugs are simply wrong. I fear that no progress will be made until that message is sent out and real action is taken to stamp out drug use.
Police numbers and resources are not the only problem. On
When I heard about that, I was appalled. That repulsion and disbelief is shared by the thousands of people who have already signed a petition organised by Scott's parents to mark their disgust at the way in which the law appears to display more understanding for criminals than for victims and their families. How can our constituents have confidence that the rule of law is being upheld, and that their lives and their loved ones' lives are safe, when such judgments are made? I sincerely hope that the proposed Bill on criminal justice and sentencing takes careful note of cases such as that involving Scott Young in Romford. I hope that it strengthens punishments and creates real deterrents.
Crime in Romford and Havering has been at unacceptable levels for far too long. It is nothing short of a disgrace that the Government have failed to give police in my area the officers and resources needed to tackle the problem. The people of my constituency demand a better law enforcement service, and I completely—
Antisocial behaviour has become the most serious issue in my constituency, if visits to my surgery and the letters that I receive in my postbag are to be believed. It is clearly the same for hon. Members of all parties. The problem is not confined to the urban part of my constituency. Antisocial behaviour takes place in urban Donnington, in the market town of Newport, and in the village of Wrockwardine. Every part of my constituency is a source for the same complaint.
My constituents complain about abusive and aggressive behaviour, vandalism, hooliganism, graffiti, litter, noise, including a particular problem at this time of year, as other hon. Members have noted—fireworks. However, they also complain that the police do not respond adequately to their calls for help, that the council or their landlords do not care, and that the onus on them to gather evidence for prosecution is too heavy, and to give evidence as a witness in court too intimidating. As other hon. Members have noted, it is a simple truth that one individual—never mind a family or a gang—can blight the lives of all the people living in whole streets, estates or neighbourhoods.
It is also true that the police have been too slow to acknowledge that low-level crime can have a high-level impact. As my hon. Friend Tony Wright said so eloquently, the erosion of quality of life can lead to an erosion in people's confidence in the police's preparedness and ability to protect law-abiding citizens. It is not a problem only for the police, local authorities and landlords, however, although I agree with my hon. Friend Caroline Flint that they often do not do enough to respond to public priorities. The key issue is not just about the incidence of crime, or even people's experience of it. We must also tackle people's fear of crime.
In 1996, I conducted a survey in two market towns in my constituency. I found that two people in five were too fearful to walk the streets at some time during the day, and that one person in four—25 per cent. of the people surveyed—were too frightened to remain alone in their own homes.
A great deal has been achieved over the past five years. We have heard about reductions in the incidence of crime. In my police area of West Mercia, there will be 300 additional police officers by the end of the year. A senior local officer told me that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was the best piece of legislation to have been passed in the 25 years that he had been in the force. We have slashed youth unemployment, and introduced ASBOs, crime reduction partnerships, neighbourhood wardens and on-the-spot fines, and it is clear that such measures can work.
In the target areas, street crime has fallen by 16 per cent. in recent months. I welcome that, but the job is only half done if people do not feel safer. As has been noted, it is important to recognise that although our constituents are worried about the state of the world and our nation, they are most concerned about what happens outside their own front doors. If people believe that their neighbourhood is down at heel and uncared for, that is how they feel too. If their neighbourhood looks good, they feel good. We need to learn that lesson quickly.
We need a cultural change, as other hon. Members have said, that recognises that, in this affluent age, quality of life is a key priority for constituents. It may be that antisocial behaviour has not increased in recent years. It is a difficult thing to measure, but it is certain that people have grown more sensitive to it.
I support the Government's programme wholeheartedly. I am not in favour of illiberal legislation that simply catches the tide of public opinion. We in this House should be jealous of this country's civil liberties, and we will need to scrutinise the legislation that is put before us. However, it is surely right to shift the balance in favour of the citizen, and in particular of the victim.
It is a fundamental principle that social order is based on a balance of rights and responsibilities. People who refuse to fulfil their responsibilities cannot be allowed an absolute freedom to abuse the rights of others. It must be right to broaden the powers of police, local authorities, landlords and the courts. We need to get the message across to offenders that their antisocial behaviour will be tolerated no longer.
We need to get the same message across to parents as well, as other hon. Members have noted. We cannot force them to love or cherish their children, but we can oblige them to accept some basic responsibilities. As has been noted, there are 40,000 to 50,000 truancies each day. Truancy sweeps show that 80 per cent. of truants are found with an adult, who is often a parent or relative.
The link between truancy and crime hotspots is also difficult to argue against. As has been noted, a quarter of young offenders are former truants. I therefore agree with what other hon. Members have said about the importance of parenting orders and the withdrawal of benefit from parents, where that can be justified. We also need to support head teachers and other teachers in our schools. Putting police officers in schools is an extremely unfortunate step, but it is inevitable and in many cases welcome. I hope that there will be time in the legislative programme for us to hear more about the need to teach the fundamentals of citizenship in classrooms.
However, young people are not the only offenders; they are often the victims of antisocial behaviour, as well as its perpetrators. I spoke earlier about perception, which nowadays, with the help of the press and the media, often overwhelms reality. Young people are often perceived to be a problem when they are not. They gather on street corners and represent an intimidating presence for many people, but that is often because they have nowhere else to go. It is a great shame that our investment in public services contains too small an element for youth services and facilities.
There is little that is more important for hon. Members and our constituents than making neighbourhoods fit to live in. That is what people in our communities expect us to do. We must focus our resources on prevention as a priority, but we must act decisively when offences occur to detect and convict the perpetrators, and to protect our citizens and the quality of life to which they are entitled.
I therefore welcome the priority that the Government are attaching to the priorities of my constituents.
In the short time available to me, I wish to address my remarks to the issue of violence against women, particularly domestic violence.
I am pleased that the Government have given a priority to domestic violence, because under-reporting and under-recording are major issues when it comes to that type of violent crime. It is well known that one woman in four will experience domestic violence. The facts are starkly laid out in the White Paper XJustice for All"—on average, a woman will be assaulted 35 times before reporting it to the police; the police receive a 999 call every minute about domestic violence; and a quarter to a third of victims of homicide are killed by a partner or ex-partner. We are beginning to realise the extent of the problem.
It is therefore right that the Government have put an emphasis on tackling domestic violence. I warmly welcome their commitment to a consultation on it, as announced by the Prime Minister last week and reaffirmed today in Prime Minister's questions. However, it is important that the consultation moves towards a specific end. We are all aware of the need for action. Indeed, the Government have already introduced many measures to tackle the issue, such as the national network of domestic violence specialists in the Crown Prosecution Service to improve the prosecution process and the domestic murder reviews.
The White Paper XJustice for All" has already consulted on issues such as anonymity for victims of domestic violence. Will the consultation announced by the Government lead to draft legislation, with pre-legislative scrutiny? There is a strong case for having a draft Bill on domestic violence, and I feel strongly that if we are to embark on another consultation process in the new year, it must lead to a tangible form of legislation.
The Home Office has already shown its commitment to tackling domestic violence by funding a number of pilot projects throughout England and Wales which are aimed at tackling domestic violence. The women's safety unit in Cardiff, which I chair, and which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Jones, is one such project. It brings together seconded staff from key agencies such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the probation service, Women's Aid, the Black Association of Women Step Out and the police to provide a one-stop shop for women and children suffering domestic violence. The unit works closely with the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, the housing departments and social services to provide a service to women and children in Cardiff. A recent independent evaluation of the project has shown that the unit has made a difference in the service provided to women and children suffering domestic violence in Cardiff. We have factual evidence to back that up: the number of persons who have been charged with offences of domestic violence has increased significantly from 27 to 40 a month; the number of victims refusing to make a complaint has decreased significantly from 99 to 79 a month; the number of repeat victims has decreased significantly from 58 to 39 a month; and the number of concern for children reports has more than doubled from 22 to 50 a month. So we have had increases where we wanted them and decreases where we wanted them.
The project has clearly shown that a concerted, planned effort to change the tide of domestic violence can succeed. However, it was funded by a one-off, one-year grant from the Home Office of #300,000. The women's safety unit is waiting to hear whether it will receive mainstream funding from the Home Office. The funding runs out in February and I want to take this opportunity in debating the Queen's Speech, much of which has to do with violent crime, to urge the Home Office to make a favourable decision soon on this and similar projects throughout the UK. We have the hard data to show that the project is working in Cardiff, and I am sure that there is evidence for other such projects throughout the country. There is not much point in talking about a consultation on domestic violence if we do not look at what has happened in the projects that have been funded by the Home Office. The Government have given a commitment to action against domestic violence and they should, I strongly believe, follow that through by looking at these successful projects.
I welcome the proposals on domestic violence, and I welcome the consultation. However, to make it all meaningful, the consultation should lead to draft legislation that draws together the various strands for which the Government have already been responsible, and the projects that have been funded by the Home Office should be considered for long-term funding.
I welcome the plan to increase the number of fixed penalties for minor crimes and disorder offences and believe that these should be extended as far as possible. I am also pleased that the Government are taking the needs of the victim more into consideration. I have some concerns, however, about the proposal that the previous convictions of defendants will be revealed to courts in certain circumstances and I hope that its implications will be carefully considered.
It is difficult to make an objective decision on one particular crime if the previous convictions of the accused are revealed. I have no doubt that some of the miscarriages of justice that have occurred have been due to the police picking up suspects who have a previous history. The revelation of previous convictions is in many ways bound to influence a jury and could result in a defendant being convicted on his or her past crimes rather than on the facts of the crime considered by the jury. Although the White Paper says that the judge will decide whether previous convictions are relevant, that is putting power into the hands of one person. I am concerned that we do not open the way for people to be judged on their past history rather than on the crime that is being considered.
In common with other right hon. and hon. Members, particularly on the Labour Benches, I welcome the priority in the Queen's Speech given to crime and to tackling antisocial behaviour. In particular, I endorse the comments of some Members about the legislation on air weapons and fireworks. In common with many other Members of Parliament, at every surgery I have complaints from people pleading with me for the Government to do something about antisocial behaviour. It is the No. 1 issue in my constituency, particularly among the elderly.
The failure of laws and law-enforcing agencies to curb antisocial behaviour has two consequences. First, when people see illegal and antisocial activities going unchecked, it undermines their faith in the law and reinforces those tendencies within society to act lawlessly, so the problem snowballs. Secondly, as others have said, it undermines people's faith in democracy. If elected representatives cannot make laws that improve their constituents' everyday quality of life, the incentive to participate in democracy is removed. That is a profoundly dangerous development.
The agenda, which is difficult and profound, may go beyond legislation. My hon. Friend Tony Wright talked about the way in which people's behaviour towards each other has changed. We are trying to implement a programme that will in the long run change the way in which people behave towards each other. I support the proposed legislation's underlying philosophy of rights and responsibilities. However, we must recognise that such ideas start in the home, with good parenting, are continued in school and must be backed up and supported by the legislative framework.
People who commonly evade the law are often those who are most aware of their rights. Perversely, they use those rights to exploit deficiencies in our legal procedures to evade justice. The proposed legislation will go some way to redress the balance. Legislation must change the balance in favour of the community.
I am sorry that I cannot give way as time is limited.
I hope that the proposed fixed penalty system will be used so that certain antisocial elements are prevented from exploiting the legal system to evade being brought before the law. Although curbing crime is pre-eminently the responsibility of the police, the courts and the law enforcement agencies in general, it is not theirs alone: many local authority services also have a vital role to play. Education has already been mentioned and the youth service, housing departments and even environment departments are also important. They must all work together.
Comments have been made about the link between truancy and crime. It is important for education authorities to be clear about the law and about their obligations in implementing it if they are to have an impact on crime and antisocial behaviour in their area.
I welcome the proposals on tackling graffiti and fly tipping. They may seem only minor infringements of the law, but when people see graffiti and fly tipping in an area, it reinforces the impression that the prevailing standards are those of the antisocial minority rather than of the law-abiding majority and acts as a deterrent to decent people to move into the area.
Tackling drugs is vital to deal with crime. In my local authority, a community against drugs programme was implemented as part of the crime and disorder partnership. It is working. Funding for four police operations has already resulted in 45 people being charged with the supply of class A drugs, and money from the drug trade, as well as heroin and cocaine have been recovered.
Sandwell borough council wants to continue the campaign, as there is considerable evidence to show that heroin use is being checked and there is much greater community resistance to the drugs trade. I hope that funding for the programme will be continued.
My authority and others in the west midlands pioneered the use of antisocial behaviour orders, but they have found that court processes work against them. Common complaints are that derisory action is taken on breaches of ASBOs, that there are long waits for court appearances, and the general culture of the courts suggests that ASBOs are not an important part of their responsibilities.
Crime must be tackled at all levels, starting with good parenting, continuing throughout education and within a legal system that reinforces rights and responsibilities. I hope that local co-ordination will be specified in legislation to ensure that local authorities, the police and other agencies work in partnership to deliver it.
I want to address two related issues. A family in Church Gresley, which is close to my constituency office, perpetrated a reign of terror on citizens around their home for a period of between 18 months and two years. It was a large family, with a number of children who attracted friends who acted in much the same way. Several of them were prosecuted for offences, but the preparation of the antisocial behaviour order took a long time. I was involved because I had received so many complaints that I could set out for the police the details of what had happened in some cases. However, the encouraging aspect is that the ASBOs seem to have provided some relief, supplemented by a certain amount of informal community social control on which I shall not expand at present.
I welcome the implication in the Queen's Speech that landlords who fail to ensure that their tenants abide by normal tenancy obligations might lose the right to receive housing benefit direct. In the case to which I referred, the family's home was privately rented and the landlord simply took the money and could not care less about the behaviour of the tenants, despite the complaints that were made. Other hon. Members have referred to similar cases, which cannot be excused. The state should not provide a pay cheque for people who are prepared to ignore the behaviour of tenants who are terrorising an area. I strongly welcome the proposals and will scrutinise them in detail to ensure that they will actually work in such cases.
My other dominant concern has not yet been mentioned: the increasing prevalence of illegal camping in my area. Typically, there are four or five such encampments—I think there are five at present—despite the fact that the local authority provides two sites for travellers. South Derbyshire has long provided a home for people with a travelling way of life. We welcome them. They attend local schools and are part of our citizenry. However, we also attract a large number of people who scorn that hospitality and are a tremendous nuisance in our area.
Normally, such people occupy a site and then trash it. They dump debris, including destroyed cars, dead animals and felled leylandii. One of the major economic activities of such travellers is to chop down those nuisances in people's gardens, but they leave them in lay-bys and on other people's property. Such rubbish is scattered across the site.
The local taxpayer has to pay for the cleaning of the site, at a cost of between #2,000 and #3,000 a time. My local authority usually spends between #20,000 and #30,000 a year cleaning up after those travellers have left. It would not be so bad if they did not immediately move on to another site in the area and repeat the experience.
The councils, the police and the Environment Agency claim difficulties in responding. There are clear breaches of environmental protection law, but linking physical evidence to an individual is often difficult. There has been one successful case—an extreme one—in which the person set up a car-breaking business. Often, however, names given are unreliable and the police seem to be unable to pin down vehicle ownership. Hon. Members may not be aware that one needs a licence to haul waste and if one's vehicle is not licensed, it represents a breach of the law. However, it seems impossible to nail people for that particular offence.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has drafted proposals for new guidance within the existing law. They may or may not be adequate. Apparently, the matter rests with the Home Office, a Department which, I regret, has in the past had a reputation for gentleness towards abusive and antisocial travellers who bring law-abiding travellers into disrepute. I urge rapid consideration and firm endorsement of measures to reduce and, I hope, remove that nuisance. I note that the proposals on fly tipping in the Queen's Speech may help enforcement, because that is one of the major activities that I associate with such travellers' presence, and I would wish to move amendments if that is not the case when we see the Bill.
I turn briefly and finally to other points that have been made, particularly by my hon. Friend Tony Wright. The debate has certainly highlighted the institutionalising of social control. There has been an accelerating trend of transfer from informal social mechanisms—families, larger employers where people work for most of their lives, shared entertainment and social activities, shared military experience, deference and so on—to an obligation on the state to provide the same apparatus.
A good example is the work load of any Member of Parliament. In my grandfather's time—he was a Member of Parliament—few felt that they should turn to an MP to demand a response from the state. All hon. Members can now witness the fact that we receive such requests daily, yet let us consider this paradox: as the state increases its panoply of controls, its servants and representatives are held in less and less regard.
We fail to engage our citizens in parliamentary democracy if we do not succeed in engaging them in the apparatus of the state that they will for themselves through us, and we will need to reflect on that on another occasion. Their engagement is critical to the way in which any state apparatus may work, and many of the apparatuses that they wish and will through us will fail for that reason.
I wish to follow on from some of the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr. Illsley and the hon. Members for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and for Romford (Mr. Rosindell). I welcome the reform of the licensing laws proposed in the Queen's Speech. I acknowledge that they will do much to help tourism and lead to a saner licensing system. I also acknowledge that they will help to reduce the trouble—the violence and so on—that our police face owing to the 11 pm closing of so many licensed premises. Having said that, I want to draw attention to the problems that the reform of licensing will not address.
The reforms will not address the problems that occur in many metropolitan city centres, such as that in my own city, which have an extremely high density of licensed premises, usually with late licences—clubs and the like—and where the police encounter immense difficulty finding the resources to meet the problems that that density causes.
I hope that the forthcoming legislative programme—as has been mentioned, it is overwhelmingly sponsored by the Home Office—will include a proposal to deal with those problems. I suggest that a precept should be placed on the sale of alcoholic drinks in areas with a high density of licensed premises. Such a precept—for example, perhaps just 1p on a pint or an equivalent alcoholic drink—would be worth six coppers on the beat in my constituency.
The particular problem in Cardiff is that, during the last three years for which figures are available, the capacity of licensed premises has expanded from fewer than 8,000 to 13,500 in a 100-yd area in St. Mary street, which is in the heart of the city. The police estimate that they are policing 30,000 to 40,000 drinkers in the city centre on an average Friday or Saturday night. One reason why those figures have increased remarkably in Cardiff is the great success of the Millennium stadium, which is right next to that drinking area.
Some 3 million people have come to the city to attend the Millennium stadium in the past few years. That is a great success, and many of those people have had a good time and stayed on. They have decided that Cardiff is a good place to have a good drink at the weekend, and they often come from areas hundreds of miles away from Cardiff.
The problem is that violence has also increased. In the six months to
Although ending the 11 pm closing time for pubs and the 2 am closing time for nightclubs will lead to less friction, the high density and the level of drinking make it inevitable that the problems will continue.
The figures that I have just given come from the work of Professor Shepherd who is a consultant surgeon at Heath hospital in Cardiff and chair of the Cardiff violence prevention group. He has done magnificent work in co-ordinating hospitals, police, councils, ambulance services and others in drawing attention to such problems and trying to address them.
The number of police available on Friday and Saturday nights in Cardiff city centre is typically one sergeant, with eight constables on duty. That is not nearly enough, so they are supplemented from each of the 10 police districts around the rest of Cardiff. Those other police districts, which typically have three to four policemen on duty in the evening, will therefore have 25 per cent. of their police resources taken away to police the city centre.
Of course this is not just a problem for Cardiff. The chief constable of Nottinghamshire has said that it is
Xunacceptable that officers were being forced away from other areas, leaving city suburbs without sufficient cover."
He wants pubs and clubs in the city centre to pay a direct tax towards those policing costs.
Many of those who drink in Cardiff city centre come from outside Cardiff, but they do not bring with them the resources allocated to police them when they go there to drink. The people of Cardiff bear the costs in rates and reduced cover in other parts of the city. On the principle that the polluter should pay, I believe that a precept of a penny or two on alcoholic drinks in areas with high densities of licensed premises, with the money raised going to the emergency services, would be the most just way to fund the resources needed, rather than depriving other parts of the city of emergency cover.
On the basis of 1p a pint, if the 30,000 to 40,000 people in Cardiff city centre on an average Friday or Saturday night buy the equivalent of three drinks each—I suspect that they would often drink a lot more than that—it would bring in #1,200 a night, roughly equivalent to six extra policemen. There could be other mechanisms, but I hope that the Home Office will carefully consider that proposal to bring in resources to meet the causes of the problems and to fund those resources from the people who profit from the problems—the licence holders—and make very large profits on the alcohol sold.
I was described earlier by Mr. Letwin as living in a fool's paradise. I remind the House that I had asked him to provide evidence for his claim that what was needed for drugs treatment in this country was residential rehabilitation, because that was what worked. He cited the Netherlands as his evidence base. The Council of Ministers meets next Thursday and Friday, and I believe that the Home Secretary will be present. It will receive a paper from the European Union drugs co-ordination committee, in which AWUD—the co-ordinating group of Ministers in the Dutch Parliament—states that the policy in the Netherlands in recent years has been to move towards outreach work. Outreach work is a separate form of treatment from residential care—the two are competing variations.
I make that point because, in my few minutes, I shall concentrate on the issue of drugs and its relationship to crime. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and a little knowledge on the part of a senior politician is an even more dangerous thing. The same right hon. Gentleman said at his party conference that we should follow the example of Sweden, and that that would involve a tenfold increase in drugs treatment in this country. The Council of Ministers will also, of course, receive evidence from the Swedish drugs co-ordination Minister. Last year in Sweden, 9,887 people were undergoing drugs and alcohol treatment. The estimate of a tenfold increase in this country would suggest that approximately 989 people were currently receiving drugs treatment in this country, and that is not so. To suggest as the core part of an answer to a major problem remedies based on ignorance rather than fact is not appropriate in terms of good governance and decision making in this House. I trust that the House will treat such a lack of evidence with the contempt that it deserves.
On a good piece of news, I held a drugs inquiry recently, and my panel of six included a Church representative, the chaplain of Bassetlaw hospital, the Reverend Roy Bennett. Unfortunately—or fortunately—Roy has retired, and has moved from Bassetlaw in the last two weeks. He now resides in the constituency of West Dorset. He will therefore be available to the right hon. Gentleman to provide real expertise in terms of informing the debate and the policy-making of his party.
The issue of drugs is a major one.
No, I want to develop my point in the time remaining.
The evidence received in my inquiry showed that one in three households in the majority of my constituency were directly affected by drugs—the vast majority by drugs-related crime. When we looked at mining villages—or former mining villages—we found that the concentration was significantly higher. A majority of those households were directly affected, and often dually affected: a member of the extended family would be a drug user, while the house would have been burgled. As a user becomes drug-dependent—in virtually all cases in my constituency the drug is heroin, as appears to be the case in other former mining constituencies, rather than cocaine—they steal from their own family. As that dependency builds up, they progress to stealing from shops and breaking into houses, not for large goods but for goods that they can resell for small amounts of money. The item stolen most often from stores in my constituency is razor blades—they are cheap, easy to pocket, easy to sell on, and there is a big demand for them.
The police suggested that two thirds of all crime was committed by drug addicts. What that fails to quantify, however, is the vast majority of crimes that are not recorded, such as shoplifting. Therefore, that is a severe underestimate of the levels of crime taking place. The police in Nottinghamshire estimate a criminal income of #15,000 per drug addict per year. If we remember that that represents the resale value of stolen goods, that equates to #20 million of goods stolen from my constituency every year to feed drug addiction, which is the cause of the vast majority of crime. I do not pretend or claim to speak for any other constituency in any other area, but, in my constituency, that is the key issue in relation to crime. Of the 150 case studies of heroin addicts that I have provided—I shall provide the others if anyone wishes to see the 300 pages of detailed evidence—only one of them was not involved in crime. One young female drug addict told me that, for her, shoplifting is a way of life and a routine that is followed methodically.
In relation to the criminal justice system, the issue becomes more interesting. I shall not refer to our recommendations now, as the Home Office has received my report. I shall therefore concentrate on the biggest weakness, which is the National Treatment Agency. I have suggested that an Opposition-day debate could be allocated to the issue of the National Treatment Agency, as that would allow us to discuss such an important issue in great detail. The National Treatment Agency is a good initiative, but it is not working. In my constituency, nobody can evidence a single drug addict criminal—they constitute the vast majority of criminals—who has been treated. I have asked that question repeatedly, going back 10 years, since the pits were shut and as heroin has taken a hold in the mining villages in particular. The evidence base should be created so that we can quantify what the National Treatment Agency has been doing and it can be held accountable for a menu of treatment to be provided. The kinds of treatment that should be available are not available in my constituency. We demand action, whether from the Department of Health or the Home Office.
A central purpose of the measures in the Queen's Speech is to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of witnesses and the victim. I welcome that, as do other hon. Members. We must ask why that is necessary, however, at a time when the risk of being a victim of crime is lower than at any time in the past 20 years. In my constituency, burglaries are down by 20 per cent. in the past year alone, car theft down by 9 per cent., and overall recorded crimes down by 5 per cent. That is a tribute to Kent police and particularly to the area commander, Superintendent David Pryer, to extra investment in more officers and closed circuit television, and to the partnership between my local authority, the police and other agencies in pursuing the measures necessary to reduce crime. Although the chances of being a victim of crime are lower than they have been for many years, the consequences of being a victim are as devastating as they have always been. As the organisation, Victim's Voice—which has campaigned for many years for the rebalancing of the system—has pointed out, the consequences include the loss of one's job, financial hardship, physical and mental ill health, attempted and, tragically, sometimes successful suicide, alcoholism, divorce and the loss of one's home.
As if that were not enough, the criminal justice system can also humiliate victims and witnesses, depriving them of their dignity, especially in rape trials. In a recent Adjournment debate, I pointed out how the families struggling to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones in the Marchioness disaster found that struggle made worse by the treatment of the coroner who described them as
Xa number of mentally unwell relatives and survivors who mutually support each other."
He described one mother who was still grieving as Xunhinged". That is why we need to shift the balance of the criminal justice system in favour of victims.
As other hon. Members have noted, there is a second reason why the fear of crime persists despite the fall in the recorded crime figures. It is the persistence of those forms of antisocial behaviour that blight and tarnish the lives of many of our constituents. One constituent phoned me at home on a Saturday night not so long ago. He was at the end of his tether over what he had seen over the past month outside his front window. He listed what had happened. The doctor's surgery window had been broken; the dental surgery window had been broken; and the chemist's window had been broken. Someone had a real grudge against the health service. A shop had been vandalised; a car had been surrounded by thugs who pulled the occupants from it and beat them up; two phones were regularly vandalised; trees were torn up; and rubbish bins were overturned.
I received a letter recently from Victim Support in Gravesham about the circumstances of a particular family. It said:
XMr. and Mrs. Singh had been the victim of quite serious assaults by local youths and they were now both, but in particular Mrs. Singh extremely worried for their own and their children's safety. Mrs. Singh was very jumpy and quite obviously upset. She started at every sound and appears at times near breaking point. They told me that there was repeated harassment from neighbours and their children, in addition, to the assaults they had fireworks thrown at the house and only that morning someone had been on the flat roof at the back of the house and left a pile of clothing."
For the young people involved, that incident was a Xbit of a laugh". It was a way of asserting their authority over adults whom they knew very little about and with whose interests they were little concerned. However, their behaviour was a source of terror, fear and humiliation for the family. It must stop.
As I have said, in Gravesham, we have been working effectively in partnership with the police, local council and other agencies to pursue a number of antisocial behaviour orders, but there is recognition that the processes are often complex and too vulnerable to failure through technicalities. My community will certainly welcome the measures to make it easier to deal with loutish and antisocial behaviour, including the wider use of parenting orders and final warnings for young people. It will also welcome a number of other measures to curb alcohol-related crime and new powers to tackle graffiti, noise, litter and local environmental threats, including restricting the sale of spray paints.In my postbag, as in that of many other hon. Members, such quality of life issues are the most important to our communities.
The measures that we are discussing could have a significant effect on the level of social nuisance. Police in north Kent estimate that just 10 young offenders aged between 13 and 17 are responsible for 40 per cent. of crime in some areas. One young person had clocked up 76 arrests in just 18 months. Although it is true that a minority of young people are responsible for a large proportion of criminal and antisocial behaviour, we must also recognise that it is also true that a majority of young people are responsible for no criminal or antisocial behaviour at all. As my hon. Friend Peter Bradley pointed out, there is a real danger of demonising young people. We need to make sure that we re-engage those young people in the process of combating crime and antisocial behaviour.
In the time that I have left, I wish to point to two or three of the measures that are being pursued to tackle the root causes of such behaviour. First, I want to highlight disruptive behaviour in schools, which is the biggest challenge that faces us in education. However, it also offers the prospect of the biggest prize in dealing with crime and social disorder. If we can deal with the problem particularly in primary schools and in secondary schools that could pay a big premium as time goes by in preventing young people from moving on to a life of crime.
Secondly, I want to highlight the XMake Space" initiative promoted by the Kids Club Network. It is based on new research that shows that 70 per cent. of 11 to 16-year-olds believe that young people commit crime because there is not enough to do. The research also shows that almost half of parents do not know where their teenage children are after school. The initiative will provide a network of clubs that provide after-school initiatives for 11 to 16-year-olds. That will have a significant impact.
Finally, I want to mention the work of Gravesham Youth Forum. It engages young people and helps them to work with the local authority, other agencies and myself to tackle youth crime and disorder. Unless we involve young people in that process and ensure that they take responsibility too, we will not deal with the problems blighting our communities.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and his Department on many provisions in the Queen's Speech. Although it is easy to be swept away by events overseas—from our efforts to tackle international terrorism to possible military action against Iraq—it is important not to lose sight of our responsibilities at home. The word Xresponsibility" is especially important because the theme of rights and responsibilities provides the foundation on which this year's legislative agenda is to be built.
My constituents frequently tell me that one of their biggest concerns is the insecurity and, in many cases, outright fear that they feel as a result of crime. Although this country has been fortunate to have experienced broadly falling levels of crime—the British crime survey is testament to that—street crime and other forms of antisocial behaviour frequently dominate my postbag. For that reason, I am pleased that the Government intend to introduce measures to tackle antisocial behaviour.
An emphasis on local communities is the key. It is ultimately at a local level that people assess success. It is all well and good for politicians to trumpet national statistics, but unless people see tangible local benefits and feel safe in their neighbourhoods, all our hard work will be forgotten.
Last year's crime and disorder audit published for the London borough of Ealing, which covers my constituency, found that antisocial behaviour was one of the four most pressing concerns for residents, with more than a third of panellists saying that they were concerned about it. So I welcome proposals to extend the application of fixed penalty notices and to widen their enforcement, as well as plans to continue to improve the implementation of antisocial behaviour orders in the courts.
I recognise that the orders have had a mixed success. Research published by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders shows that they take an average of three months to obtain. But the principle behind them is right. We should work to improve the system rather than simply abandoning it. As NACRO points out, such orders can work, but it is essential that they take local circumstances into account.
Taking a more robust approach to quality-of-life issues, such as graffiti, fly tipping and the use of spray paints, also makes sense. The term Xzero tolerance" is often overused and misunderstood. Many people associate zero-tolerance policing with police brutality and the persecution of minorities, but that need not be the case. The problem often lies more in the execution of the policy than in the principle behind it.
The strategy is based on an article published in March 1982 called the XBroken Window Theory". It argues that if one window in a building is left broken, the others will soon be broken too. I agree that the system, which has been adopted in cities such as New York, is not perfect and that other factors, such as demographics, have played a part in falling crime. Any initiative on antisocial behaviour, and on criminal activity in general, will invariably focus on young people. The crime audit in my constituency found that in 2000–01, over 70 per cent. of suspects for incidents of robbery of personal property were males aged between 10 and 21.
Education plays an important role, especially in the early years. It is one of the best ways of reducing such crimes. As the Economic Opportunity Institute, based in Seattle, points out, quality early education is regarded by law enforcement officers in America as considerably more effective in crime prevention than trying more juveniles as adults or building more youth detention centres. We should also note successful initiatives such as the campaign conducted by the Boston police department, whose scheme includes co-operation between police officers and civilians to wash off graffiti and to run youth clubs.
Unfortunately, whatever progress is made in preventing youth and adult crime, there will still be offenders. I welcome the Home Secretary's plans to increase consistency in sentencing, as well as his custody minus and custody plus proposals. I am convinced that they will prove popular with my constituents as it surely makes sense to find useful alternatives to short-term custody which will benefit local communities.As a justice of the peace for 11 years, and having relevant experience of the system, I also support plans to reform the court system and to bring together magistrates courts and Crown courts to work within a single organisation.
I hope that you will indulge me for a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker, while I quickly cover proposals that fall within my remit as a member of the International Development Committee. I am pleased to note the continued commitment to development work and the plans to increase the aid budget still further. We have seen the terrible effects that suffering and disenchantment can create, and we have been made all too painfully aware that what happens in one nation affects us all. Improving the conditions of the world's poor benefits us all and it is also the right thing to do.
There is much to look forward to in the current legislative year. No doubt much will prove controversial as the Government try to strike the correct note, whether on freedom for hospitals, on freedom for individuals or on how best to balance the rights of victims and the accused.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in what is an important debate for all our constituents.
I pay tribute to John Mann who spoke, as ever, with passion and eloquence about the problems that face his constituency. As someone who spent the first nine years of his life in the east Durham coalfields, I understand the sympathy and concern that he displayed about the problems with heroin in former coal-mining communities.
My constituency is stuck between Southampton and Portsmouth. I am glad to see the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety, Mr. Denham in his place on the Treasury Bench. Both those cities have much greater crime problems than my constituency. Fareham is a relatively peaceful place, but I get an awful lot of letters from constituents who are concerned about antisocial behaviour. That issue affects people throughout the constituency regardless of their social class or the type of housing that they live in.
Many people saw the introduction of antisocial behaviour orders as a first step to tackling those problems. Many are disappointed that fewer orders have been issued than the Government suggested when they introduced them in the last Parliament. In Fareham, none have been issued. I have been made increasingly aware of the difficulties that the police and local council face in applying for antisocial behaviour orders. Despite the fact that they have worked hard together, there are too many impediments in the magistrates courts for the orders to be granted.
I, too, represent a Hampshire constituency. A police superintendent recently told me that antisocial behaviour orders were expensive and time-consuming. However, she said that the police had had a lot of success with acceptable behaviour contracts. Has that been the case in the hon. Gentleman's constituency?
The police and the council have worked hard to use many different orders to try to combat antisocial behaviour. At the end of the day, however, a much more severe sanction is needed for some of that behaviour. The hon. Lady may not be aware of a recent case in Portsmouth where an antisocial behaviour order was issued. Having read the list of convictions that the subject of the order had gained in recent years, I was surprised by the length of time that it took to issue an antisocial behaviour order—she had caused havoc across Portsmouth and in her local community.
I agree that there are other means available to tackle the problem, but ASBOs should be looked at again—we should make it much easier to apply for them so that they can be used to restore peace to local communities. There is one area in which ASBOs do not appear to have been used. A business in my constituency had great problems tackling the behaviour of a small group of people. The owner operated a retail premises, which those people would enter to terrorise his staff and customers. That happened repeatedly, but it was difficult for the owner to resolve the problem. He lost trade and staff, and ended up having to spend #5,000 of his own money to ban those people from his premises. We need to look at ways in which we can act more effectively to protect people in shops, whether they are customers or staff, so that owners do not have to resort to delving into their own pockets to protect their business from the actions of a small group of individuals.
When I went out with the local police in Fareham in the summer to get a better idea of the antisocial behaviour that they faced, they raised the issue of drink, which they felt was a more important factor in crime in the area than drugs. Mr. Bailey said that it is not just the police who have a role to play in tackling problems in crime. The Fareham police raised with me the way in which alcohol is sometimes sold by convenience stores. One police officer cited alcohol being placed near the door. Forty-eight cans of Stella Artois, for example, may be offered at a bargain price—people come in, see the cases of beer and run out again, getting away scot free. The till is not at the front of the shop near the door, but at the back. The location of promotional offers therefore creates an environment in which alcohol can be obtained relatively easily.
That police officer also drew to my attention something that was emphasised again by Portchester community school this morning. School council members came to the House today to look around, and I talked to them about the issues that they perceived were a problem in their area. Both they and the police said that too often people serving in convenience stores and off-licences were only 18, 19 and 20, knew under-age drinkers in the area and did not feel strong enough to stand up to their demand to be sold cheap beer and cider. Shop owners, who may be victims of crime, need to think about their role in preventing crime. If they take more responsibility for their actions—
The hon. Gentleman is a persistent intervener in all sorts of debates, and I am sure that he has something interesting to say, but I ask him to wait a moment.
If shopkeepers take greater responsibility for the way in which they sell alcohol, many of the problems that we face in Fareham arising from the sale of alcohol to under-age people will be resolved. I give way.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I entirely agree with his assertion that alcohol-related crime, especially among the young, is a huge problem. Will he therefore join me in welcoming the Government's moves to increase taxation on alcopops?
The hon. Gentleman has a long memory. That topic was raised in the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill, on which we both served. The debate then was about whether the tax increase was a means of controlling the sale of alcohol or a revenue-raising measure. On that occasion, the debate was a score draw, rather than a home or away win for one of us. In a debate about law and order, I do not wish to be sucked any further into a debate about levels of taxation on alcohol.
I shall move on briefly to the topic of drugs, about which the hon. Member for Bassetlaw spoke. A couple of weeks ago I visited a homelessness shelter in the centre of Fareham and spoke to the manager and staff there. The centre is run by a charity, Two Saints housing association, which has homelessness projects across south-east Hampshire. Part of it was the St. Dismas Society, which was set up in the centre of Southampton a number of years ago. One of the concerns that staff at the shelter raised with me was that when an addict is ready for rehabilitation—we may have a discussion about what form of rehabilitation is the most effective—the important thing is that some rehabilitation is available, but often the waiting list for rehabilitation is far too long and the resources have not been put into rehabilitation. As a consequence, some addicts decide after a couple of weeks that they are not that fussed about rehabilitation any more. They will continue to create the same problems in their community and in their family as the hon. Gentleman described in his speech.
In conclusion on this important matter, I hope that the Government will examine the way in which drug rehabilitation projects are resourced. It is a problem not just in the inner cities or in former mining communities. Every community throughout the country is touched in some way by the problems arising from drugs and their use in society. We all need adequate funding for rehabilitation to tackle the menace that drugs have become.
The influence of the civil liberties lobby has been in evidence in some—not all—of the contributions that we have heard today. One thing unites people who propound those arguments: they tend not to live on the estates where the problems that we are discussing today are worst. They can afford to cling to such intellectually pure positions when their car is not being damaged, their children are not being intimidated and their community is not being trashed.
This Queen's Speech finally recognises in full a phenomenon that has been growing over the past 20 years, plaguing communities throughout the land. It is no exaggeration to say that youth annoyance and antisocial behaviour have become an epidemic in town centres, suburbs and estates across the country. It is by nature low level and difficult to get a grip on. For that reason, perhaps, it has taken a while to appear on the radar screens as a priority for action. I have no doubt that it is currently the highest priority for action affecting proud working-class communities such as those that I represent.
I have noticed today the lack of interest in the debate among Opposition Members. The Opposition are scrabbling around for speakers. Until they understand the importance of the issue to local communities, I suspect that the only conveyor belt that they will need to worry about is the one that leads to permanent opposition.
Many of us have spoken in the House about how antisocial behaviour makes people's lives a misery. I have stood here and pointed out examples of how the system simply does not have the answers, and it is clear that the representations and arguments that we have put have moved policy. They are the most important single driver in the policy changes that we are discussing today, which is worth remembering for people who say that this House is often bypassed or irrelevant.
I shall speak for a moment about the origins of the antisocial epidemic, as I think that we need to understand it, and its effect on policing in our communities. Some hon. Members have said that it all starts in the home and others that schools are to blame. Without doubt, respect for authority figures has diminished. In some ways, that is a good thing. We are a far less deferential society and hierarchical class structures have been eroded to some extent, but the downside is the loss of a culture of mutual respect and tolerance.
I strongly believe that the antisocial epidemic can be linked to the social history of Britain in the '80s and '90s and to the Xno such thing as society" era, in which private wealth was elevated as society's prime goal above other things such as the common good. In the area that I represent—I suspect that the same is true for many hon. Members—young people growing up in the '80s and '90s in deprived communities witnessed a fast-developing consumer culture in which images and stories of wealth abounded, but at the same time all that they could see were run-down schools and estates, poor employment prospects and a lack of quality leisure opportunities. What sort of message did that send to young people about how we value them and what aspirations society has for their future? Thankfully, investment is now going into our communities, including those in Leigh, but in some of the most deprived of those communities, the legacy is a large number of disfranchised young people who have limited aspirations for their own future and engage in a range of risk-taking and antisocial behaviour that exasperates their neighbours.
Of course, it is the police who have picked up the pieces and borne the brunt of those problems, and I should like to say a word about the effects on policing. In seeking to address the situation, they face two problems: first, the sheer volume of calls reporting incidents involving antisocial behaviour; and secondly, not having the measures and tools available to them to mount an effective response to such calls. That has led to a highly unsatisfactory situation in communities in which the police patrol will turn up, but then say that there is nothing that it can do. The lack of anything more creates huge frustration among the public, and confidence in the police and the criminal justice system has been damaged because the measures and the tools have not been at their disposal in taking action against some of those young people.
My hon. Friend makes a relevant point. Does he agree that one of the best ways of dealing with the problem is to introduce more highly visible policing and more police officers on the streets around the estates where the problems are? People who call on the telephone and have to wait one or two hours or until the next day for somebody to turn up experience a bigger frustration, which causes even greater problems.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I do not know about his constituency, but I am beginning to find that the police are more in evidence on our streets. The introduction of community support officers has been a very welcome change.
One of the most damaging effects of the situation that I have described is that young people have come to believe that they run no risk of redress or punishment for their antisocial behaviour. That is why legislation is vital in this area: the cycle must be broken.
I shall draw attention to three issues that I hope the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers will consider before finalising their legislation. The first is under-age drinking, to which a number of hon. Members have referred, as it is a common thread in all the problems that we are discussing. On Friday, along with the Minister for Pensions, my right hon. Friend Mr. McCartney, I shall attend a meeting in my constituency of Lowton and Golborne youth crime forum. At the last meeting, we heard how frustrated people were about the fact that off-licences were selling drink to young people. Mr. Hoban referred to exactly the same problem. On Friday evenings, gangs of 40 or more young people gather at locations in my constituency and cause mayhem and problems. A common sight on a Saturday morning is the smashed bus shelter. As far as I can see, the only beneficiary is the company that makes the glass panels.
One issue that local police officers have raised with me repeatedly is their ability to confiscate bottles and cans from under-age drinkers. I believe that there is an ambiguity in existing legislation. It gives police the power to seize open bottles, but not carrier bags full of Stella Artois or White Lightning cider. We need to get at the supplies. The Home Secretary previously suggested that he would legislate and clarify the law. I hope that he will do that.
My second point deals with identity cards. At the risk of further inflaming the civil liberties lobby, I believe that the measures that the Home Office propose will be effective only when coupled with a compulsory identity card. I do not understand why people would object to giving their identity to a police officer on request. Many people carry bank cards and forms of ID. They should therefore not object to identity cards. I suspect that, beyond a vociferous intellectual minority, the public have no problem with compulsory identity cards.
As I said, I advocate compulsory identity cards and ask the Home Office to consider them. People who misbehave can thus be identified immediately, and the necessary action can be taken against them.
My final point goes beyond the Home Office remit, but I would like Ministers to consider balancing the tough regime with opportunities for children to engage in constructive activities outside school hours. In towns such as Leigh, which are away from the big city centres, facilities for 11 to 16-year-olds constitute a missing link. There is no cinema, no bowling alley and there are no skate parks, but I am repeatedly told that young people are interested in them. We badly need more investment in modest facilities for young people, such as places to meet and listen to music.
Although I welcome and admire the proposed legislation, I urge Home Office Ministers to do more about activities for 11 to 16-year-olds. Such provision is a missing piece of the jigsaw. If we do not act, there is a danger that society will perceive all young people as apprentice hooligans when they have talents that have never been brought out. If we do not show an interest in young people, we cannot be surprised when they start to rebel.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Andy Burnham, who made several points with which I agree.
Like other hon. Members, I want to concentrate on the criminal justice Bill and the proposed antisocial behaviour measure. As many hon. Members said, antisocial behaviour is the main problem that we face. A sense of disorder and increased fear of crime pervades all our areas. The Government are right to propose further measures to tackle those problems. However, as other hon. Members said, we must also try to understand what is happening in our society.
Why does a sense of decline pervade our society? Why is there a decline in respect for authority? Why do some families not appear to care about the problems that they cause others? Why do not our police command the respect that we would wish when called to specific incidents? What has happened to parental control? Those are important questions about genuine problems. They set the context for our debate on some of the problems on many of our estates.
As well as laws, crime and the courts, all hon. Members should consider the social issues that feed the different problems. Perhaps Ministers will consider a royal commission to examine that. Many hon. Members said that those problems confront us all, whether we represent urban or rural seats.
We must also tackle the problems that our communities face now. I therefore welcome the criminal justice measure, which tries to restore a proper balance between the rights of the accused and those of the victims and witnesses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh said, the Bill has been described as an attack on civil liberties. However, people in the communities that I represent are fed up with what they perceive to be an attack on their civil liberties. They want their civil liberties to be asserted over those of the drug dealer. They want their rights to be asserted over those of people who cause persistent criminal damage. They want their civil liberties to be asserted over those of the thug and the joyrider. These are not the rantings of the hangers and floggers, although it is easy to portray these people as such. They are the voices of ordinary, law-abiding citizens who are sick and tired of what is going on in their communities, and of the apparent failure of those in authority to deal with the problems.
How can we wonder at the disillusionment of these people with us? How can we wonder at the increased apathy that we see around us, or at the fact that the extreme right sees this as a fertile breeding ground? If we do not protect the rights of the majority, and if the state is not seen to stand up for these people, that sense of disillusionment with us, that sense of apathy, and the possibility for the extreme right to make gains in those communities will grow. I welcome the Home Secretary's efforts to rebalance the criminal justice system, and my constituents will welcome it as well.
I also welcome the antisocial behaviour Bill, which is to tackle what is supposedly low-level nuisance. It is not, however, low level, and we all need to adopt the zero tolerance towards graffiti, litter and noise nuisance, that has worked so effectively elsewhere. In trying to solve these problems, rather than to score political points, I must ask my right hon. Friend the Minister and other hon. Members how we can ensure that laws and regulations are used. We do not appear to be short of laws or regulations. Indeed, sometimes there seems to be an unwillingness to use existing laws. When people come to me and say, XThese people are joyriding round the estate and causing criminal damage", we do not need a new law passed in Parliament to get something done about it. There seems to be inertia in the system that prevents the law from being used, and if we cannot get something done about that we will continue to experience these problems.
How can we ensure that the laws and regulations that we pass are enforced? How can we ensure, for example, that something is done about persistent offenders, who are still being bailed, despite all that we have been saying? How can we get councils to take action against antisocial tenants who have been warned time and again about antisocial activities such as noise, when the councils are often unable to—or fail to—take such action? There should be no untouchables in our community, but many of our communities feel that such people exist. Those people believe that they are above the law, and that undermines all of us.
For all the criticisms of the police, and the arguments that have been made about the numbers of police in our communities—the numbers are increasing and I hope they will continue to do so—it is incumbent on us as the Parliament of this country to congratulate them on their work in some of the difficult situations to which they are called. In Nottingham, the police face particular problems with gun crime, and I salute the bravery of many of the men and women who face the real problems that many of us would not like to face.
My philosophy on this subject is summed up by the term Xtough love". If people do wrong, they must be caught and punished, but, alongside that, we have to consider how we should rehabilitate them and how, when they are in prison, we can prevent them from reoffending. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider that. The youth service has also been underfunded for several years, and we need to do something about providing more facilities for our young people.
This is the most important debate that we have had on the Queen's Speech. If we cannot resolve some of the problems relating to crime in our communities, apathy and disillusionment with us, the Parliament of this country, will only increase.
Tonight's debate has been punctuated by the odd speech from those on the Opposition Benches. No doubt they have been trawling the Tea Room trying to get enough people to speak, but when we get down to debating the legislation they will be in here complaining that there is not enough time to consider the issues.
We need to look at the background to our communities' concerns about antisocial behaviour. The Government came to power against a backdrop of rising crime—crime had doubled and police numbers were going down. Today, police numbers are reaching record levels in England and Wales and approaching record levels in London. The British crime survey published in July showed that crime had gone down 2 per cent., and we in London have seen the restoration of the housing allowance, which was taken away by the Conservatives. The training centre at Hendon is bursting at the seams with new recruits, which means more police officers.
My community of Eltham in the borough of Greenwich is one of the safest places to live in London and crime has consistently gone down over the past few years, but Eltham has recently suffered detrimental criticism at the hands of the media following a number of racist attacks during the summer. My constituents resent being vilified as racists by virtue of their postcode. That is done largely by feeble-minded journalists who are eager to create sensational headlines. Mr. Johnson spoke up on behalf of the fourth estate, but if my constituency has been given a fair hearing in the media over recent months, I would like to see it.
The media claim that they are standing up for victims of racism, but they have never considered at any stage the effect of their inaccurate reporting on the people of Eltham, especially the black members of my community. I must be the only Member of this Parliament who has black constituents come to his surgery to ask what is going on and whether they are safe to continue living in the constituency. People have lived there unharmed for more than 30 years, but when they see the media coverage they do not recognise the community being described.
No Member of the House can deny that they have racists in their community, and Eltham is no different, but I appeal for a more reasonable approach that deals with the issue of racism across all our communities without just describing it as a pocket—a localised problem—and sweeping aside the serious, endemic problem that we have in our society among a minority of people who are capable of carrying out serious racist attacks.
In dealing with issues involving racism and antisocial behaviour, I have discovered that what is needed locally is a better co-ordinated response from all the agencies involved. I have come across cases in which people have been moved to other parts of my borough to avoid harassment, only to find several months later that the very people they were moved away from have also been moved to that community. The same problem starts up again, but that would not happen if there were an effective local method of tracking people who have been involved in antisocial behaviour and harassing their neighbours.
Such records would have to be accurate to avoid the innocent being wrongly criticised in those situations and to avoid malicious accusations being put on people's records, but where there is clear evidence that such behaviour has taken place councils should be able to act to protect their tenants from families who refuse to behave in a reasonable manner.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety recently announced measures to streamline the process of obtaining antisocial behaviour orders and dealing with antisocial behaviour. That must be welcome, but I believe that local authorities need guidance on how to manage the process of obtaining ASBOs. To deal with antisocial behaviour, they need to start keeping records from the first intervention, whether it is a letter from the council or a visit from the local police. The process must begin immediately. That could streamline the gathering of the information necessary to go for an ASBO, should it be decided that that is the best course of action.
There should be one point of contact for all information gathered at local level. Guidance could ensure that local authorities and the police take the same approach in exchanging information about what is going on in our local communities. In my experience, beat officers have a very detailed knowledge of what is happening on their patches, but even where relationships are good, that sometimes breaks down when the police's objectives conflict with those of the local authority. A lack of co-ordination can also lead to individuals falling between two stools, whereby both the police and the local authority are aware of what is going on, but are not actually dealing with it. Better co-ordination at this stage would reduce the time and effort required to obtain antisocial behaviour orders, and would shorten the time taken to obtain an ASBO once the decision is taken that that is the only course of action.
The failure of ASBOs is that they have proven unwieldy, and it has also been difficult to gather evidence. Too often, residents are terrified to come forward and give evidence to the relevant authorities, which results in unacceptable delays, or people being forced to continue to live in misery. Two areas in my constituency have particular problems. In Eltham Green road, the local post box had to be blocked up because the Post Office could not guarantee the safety of the postal workers who emptied it. In Alnwick road, people have been forced into a curfew. They cannot come out after dark because of large groups of young people who act in an antisocial way, terrorising the neighbourhood.
The situation needs to be tackled through a co-ordinated approach and better exchange of information with the police. Local people need to be kept informed and given the confidence to emerge from their front doors and stand together against those who terrorise their neighbourhoods. Resources are needed to gather independent evidence, and we have the technology to assist us in doing so. We also need to send expert witnesses into communities to identify the individuals involved. Such witnesses could stand up in court and give evidence to ensure that effective action is taken against the perpetrators.
The measures set out by the Government in the Queen's Speech could result in effective action being taken against the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, who terrorise—
I shall be brief as I realise that others want to speak.
It used to be said that law and order and crime were not natural Labour issues, but given that we have succeeded in getting crime down in the past five years, and in the light of the proposed legislation and the tone of today's debate, those days are long gone. In fact, it is on the Labour heartland estates that crime levels are highest. Our young people are painted as the perpetrators of crime, but they are also disproportionately the victims. It is our old people who have the greatest fear of crime, even though the figures show that crime is actually falling. Although some fear of crime may not be rational, such fear is nevertheless a political reality. We must tackle that reality, as well as crime itself.
I shall not go into the problems in my constituency, which are similar to those that others have outlined. Instead, I want to be a little upbeat. My constituency was the first in the country to use an antisocial behaviour order, and it worked. We have also used parenting orders. Of the first 10 parents who were sent on parenting courses, six enjoyed the experience so much that they signed up for further courses. We have also run sure start programmes. Such initiatives are an investment in keeping crime down. New initiatives to put bobbies back on the beat in Hadfield will be extended elsewhere. We have a crime and disorder partnership, community safety officers and a rural policing initiative, through which a mobile police station serves 10 different villages for half a day every week. Those villages have never had such a service before.
The Connexions service is up and running—an investment for the future—and we have youth offending teams with cross-disciplinary connections. We also have two magnificent youth clubs: the Millennium Cellar, in Glossop, and Buxton For Youth, in Buxton. Both were conceived and created by, and are run by, young people themselves, often with the help of Crimestoppers and the involvement of the police. They are superb initiatives.
I want to say a quick word about the police in Derbyshire. I applaud what my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker said about police officers. I have regular contacts with police officers—police constables, inspectors, divisional commanders and the chief constable—and I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety for taking time earlier this year to meet police officers from my constituency to discuss the Police Bill, which we did rationally and constructively.
A few weeks ago, I was out on patrol with some police officers in Buxton. We were called to a group of young people about whom a complaint had been made. We found nothing wrong, but they wanted to talk and we spent time discussing with them what it would take to improve their reputation. There were four breathalysing cases that night and a road traffic accident. We took runaways back home. The incident of domestic violence that I attended with the police at 2.30 on a Saturday morning was handled magnificently, and all credit to them.
I know that the investment that we are putting into the police will pay off, but it has to go along with learning what works, and enabling the police to learn from good practice in different parts of the country by, for example, improving the way in which their IT systems work together. I am sure that the investment will happen.
I believe that I am the only person to mention this final point today. I very much welcome the draft Bill on corruption in the Queen's Speech, for reasons that I hope to develop in an Adjournment debate at a later date.
I shall concentrate on three issues that will feature in the criminal justice Bill: double jeopardy, mode of trial and offending while on bail.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on undertaking the mammoth task of reforming the criminal justice system. To say that the system is in need of reform is a huge understatement. One of the first things that Lord Justice Auld discovered when he started his review was that it is not even a system. As he said, there is no overall direction and there are no overall lines of management and accountability. The recommendations in his report are a very good start.
I encourage the Home Secretary to go even further and not let himself be deflected either by the House of Lords or the lawyers. I do not say that all his opponents will be lawyers, or that all lawyers will oppose his reforms—far from it. But it is often our learned friends who command the most attention because we assume that lawyers know all about the law and must be right. It is an observable fact about this place that many of our honourable and learned friends who are the most radical on every other issue turn out to be the most conservative when it comes to changes in the legal system.
Many lawyers are against any relaxation of the double jeopardy rule, although, to my mind, there is an overwhelming case for relaxing it. DNA testing is now used to prove the innocence of people previously found guilty. It is also used to prove the guilt of people who previously could not be brought to justice. Under the double jeopardy rule, however, DNA cannot be used to prove the guilt of people previously acquitted. It baffles me how lawyers can seriously defend that position, but they do. They care about miscarriages of justice when the innocent are found guilty, but they are less concerned about miscarriages of justice when the guilty are found innocent, even though it can lead to just as much suffering. What about the case of a rape victim who knows that the man who can be proven by DNA to have been her attacker is not only free but immune from prosecution because of double jeopardy? She may be imprisoned in her own home by the fear that that knowledge induces.
I do not have the latitude.
Why lawyers should care more about wrongful convictions than wrongful acquittals is a mystery. Perhaps they get to know about the wrongful convictions because those involved are, after all, their clients. Victims have no one in the legal system to speak up for them but only us. Perhaps it is because they do not like the courts to revisit their old mistakes. Doctors can bury their mistakes; defence lawyers have double jeopardy to bury theirs.
I am glad that the power to hold retrials will be extended to cover offences other than murder, as the Law Commission recommended. They will now include rape, manslaughter and robbery. I would go even further: the difficult hurdle in the system should be the Court of Appeal, which has to quash the acquittal, not the type of case involved.
I strongly counsel my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary against making the test Xcompelling new evidence" of guilt. That sounds as though one is trying to prejudice the jury. I agree with Mr. Letwin that that would not make for a fair trial. It would be far better to go with the formulation recommended by the Home Affairs Committee two years ago, which was that the test should be that the acquittal was unsafe.
I hope that the due diligence test will also be dropped. If the police miss a fingerprint or fail to interview a witness, it is not clear to me why a court should not be allowed to consider fresh evidence in a retrial.
I want briefly to mention trial by jury. I admit to being disappointed that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has had to give in to the relentless campaign in the other place and among some lawyers here against the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill. I have never understood why, as Auld points out in his report, England has the unique distinction of being the only legal system in which, for a range of relatively trivial offences, the accused and not the court decides in which court the trial takes place. As a result, jurors—and I have been one—may spend three days deciding who pinched a 60p can of coke.
I agree that justice should always be paramount, but that does not mean that we should have no interest in the cost effectiveness of the judicial system. Safety is paramount in any discussion of the railways, but that does not mean that we cannot discuss the cost effectiveness of the railway system. To my mind, it is crazy to have a #20,000 trial to decide who stole a can of coke.
I welcome the assurance in the Queen's Speech that the Government intend to introduce legislation rendering it impossible to appeal against bail for any imprisonable offence. I welcome that because the carjacker sentenced for the murder of estate agent Timothy Robinson on the streets of Battersea last month was on bail for a similar carjacking offence at the time that he committed the murder. Sadly, that is not unusual: 24 per cent. of bailees commit another offence while they are on bail. That murder could have been prevented if the proposed legislation had been on the statute book. If the murder helps to persuade the House to support the measure, some good may have come out of that evil.
I shall use the beginning of the time available to me by apologising for not being present for the whole of today's debate. I was present for the opening speeches, but then had to deal with an emergency constituency issue. However, I was delighted to hear, in those initial exchanges, that the Government have backed away from their proposals regarding the sparsity factor in the police funding formula. That would have dramatically affected policing in Lincolnshire. The people of Lincolnshire will be delighted, although it remains to be seen whether other factors will take funding away from the police in that area.
I welcome much of the Queen's Speech, although I have severe concerns—shared by other Conservative Members—about the potential eradication of some fundamental tenets of the British justice system. Such changes might prejudice a person's right to a fair trial. The three issues that spring to mind have been mentioned already in the debate—double jeopardy, trial by jury and the provision of information regarding previous convictions.
It is possible that the Government's proposals could tip the balance in favour of the victim, but they may also tip it in favour of convicting innocent people as opposed to ensuring that more guilty people are convicted. I strongly question whether a jury can remain impartial when it knows in great detail the previous convictions of an accused person. I suggest that such knowledge could prevent a fair trial from taking place.
I am delighted that John Mann has returned to his seat. He made, as always, an engaging and articulate speech on the problem of drugs. However, I take issue with two of his points. First, the problem of heroin is not peculiar to coalfield or ex-coalfield areas. I represent a low-wage rural area. We have terrible problems with heroin in the towns of Boston and Skegness and also in the villages between them—there is a heroin dealer in every village.
Secondly, I take exception to the hon. Gentleman's pronouncement that outreach drug work and rehabilitation centres are in competition. To my mind, they are not mutually exclusive and should work together. More funding should be put into both facilities to enable young and old alike to come off the drug habit into which they have so sadly fallen.
I am pleased to reply to what has been a good and serious debate. I have been privileged to be in the House for 15 years and have witnessed, as others will have done, a huge change in attitude when debating crime and law and order. When I first came to the House it was quite fashionable for Labour Members to claim that the criminal was the victim and needed help and counselling rather than punishment. So I welcome the conversion that we have seen this evening and the unanimity across the House on many issues, especially on antisocial behaviour and drugs. Some Labour Members seem to think that antisocial behaviour is limited to what someone referred to as the Labour heartlands but that is not the case. As my hon. Friend Mr. Simmonds said, the problems of drugs and antisocial behaviour exist in all sorts of areas, including small market towns. I share the town of Newmarket with my hon. Friend Mr. Spring. It has very serious drugs problems which my hon. Friend has worked tirelessly to address.
No, I shall not give way.
It is indicative that so many Labour Members have spoken tonight of problems in their constituencies and have welcomed the measures in the Gracious Speech. However, those speeches sounded as though they were being made in the first Queen's Speech of Labour Government rather than in year six. The background, of course, is that crime is rising.
No, I have already said that I will not.
The Government will claim that the British crime survey shows that crime is falling. However, the survey is not as reliable or as complete as the Government wish us to believe. It does not include retail crime, crimes in homes of multiple occupation or, indeed, murder. Most importantly, it does not include crimes against people under the age of 16. The equivalent survey in the United States, which includes crimes committed against children over 12, shows that 4.8 per cent. of crimes were against 12 to 15-year-olds. If that figure were extrapolated to the United Kingdom, it would mean another 600,000 crimes being recorded. It is hardly surprising that many people—including Labour Members, from what they have said tonight—do not believe that crime is going down. Others will point to the Prime Minister's initiative and his promise to reduce street crime. It is perfectly true that, using selective figures in selected areas, he has succeeded in reducing street crime in those areas, but in a wholly artificial and temporary way, by removing large numbers of police officers from other areas and other duties to flood the streets. That cannot last. In the modern idiom, it is not sustainable.
Let us be clear: when we left office in 1997, police numbers were rising. The new Labour Government reversed that and numbers fell catastrophically, so we welcome the recent increase in numbers, but for the Home Secretary to claim credit for getting police numbers back to 1997 levels by early 2002 really is bare-faced cheek.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin, in his introduction to the debate, and the Home Secretary in his reply, referred to terrorism. We support the Home Secretary's call to the British media not to cause unnecessary alarm and also his tribute to the role played by the security services to protect us, but I repeat my right hon. Friend's hope that there will be a statement to clarify various aspects of preparedness. That obviously could not be included during this debate.
I want to refer to legislation on sex offences, especially in respect of paedophiles. The House will be aware that I represent Soham, the scene of August's awful tragedy. I live nearby and we have close family links with one of the schools involved. Obviously, I cannot comment on the crime as the case is sub judice, but the experience of those weeks gives me a special perspective on that sort of crime, as does an even more recent constituency case in which a man is awaiting trial for the rape of two 13-year-old girls and other offences. All were the result of internet grooming. I have met some of the people involved, so I wholly welcome the measures in the proposed Bill.
I cannot support Sarah's law, which was espoused by my hon. Friend Mr. Turner, because I am convinced that it would result in vigilantism. I hope that the Home Secretary will have noted the concerns expressed about anonymity and that he will also consider other issues relating to paedophilia, for example, the failure of some people to provide the key to encrypted child pornography. When the problems of the Criminal Records Bureau have been resolved, will he consider whether psychometric testing could be incorporated in the checks on those seeking employment in residential homes and boarding schools? Will he examine the feasibility of the remote tracking of paedophiles, using satellite technology?
We wholly agree that a criminal justice Bill is necessary. The legislation needs dramatic reform. If the Bill largely follows the White Paper, we shall be able to support much, indeed most, of it. However, the public, like the Home Secretary, do not believe that the criminal justice system is effective in bringing offenders to justice. As was pointed out, it is hardly surprising that 38 per cent. of under-18-year-olds commit at least one further offence while they are on bail and that 12 per cent. of those bailed fail to appear.
My right hon. Friend Sir Brian Mawhinney referred to prisons. The Government appealed to the courts to stop sending people to prison and created the presumption that people serving less than a year can be released 60 days earlier on a curfew—now increased to 90 days. That is not a considered policy of reform; it is a panic reaction from a Government who see prison populations soaring.
When the former Home Secretary, now the Foreign Secretary, spoke on the Labour Government's Queen's Speech in 1997, he said:
XOur prison population today is 60,000 and rising. Many—indeed most—of those prisoners began their criminal careers as young offenders. The previous Government's failure to tackle youth crime effectively has contributed both to the high levels of crime and to the record prison population which we face today."—[Hansard, 19 May 1997; Vol. 294, c. 389.]
If that was true then—I assume that Labour Members believe that it was—what do they say now that the prison population is 72,000 and still rising?
My hon. Friends the Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Henley (Mr. Johnson) referred to the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill and the Extradition Bill. I am interested in the fact that no one—not even the Home Secretary—has attempted to justify the proposal that someone could be arrested in this country by another country for something that is not a crime in the United Kingdom.
I will not rehearse all our civil liberties concerns about those issues, and I welcome the Home Secretary's emollient remarks about listening to our arguments, but a number of hon. Members have slightly scorned the civil liberties issue. Everyone whom I have ever come across is usually in favour of restricting other people's civil liberties; the problem arises when someone's own civil liberties are restricted. That is why the job of the House is to find the right balance between creating crimes and dealing with the problems of criminality and protecting the civil liberties of people in our country.
Many hon. Members have mentioned antisocial behaviour by young people. Again, as I suggested a few moments ago, it sounded as though we were about to embark on a new Government, rather than their having been here for so long. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire modestly pointed out, the Government were told at the outset that antisocial behaviour orders and child curfew orders, which seem to have died a death, would not work in the way in which they were first devised.
We do not know what will be in the new antisocial behaviour Bill. I fear that it smacks of a panic reaction and the Xsomething must be done" syndrome. Very real issues have to be addressed, but the Government are addressing the symptoms, not the causes. Tony Wright made a pertinent remark: the issue is much more about values, standards and what is seen in the media than necessarily about creating more crimes.
What is really missing from this panoply of legislation is any sense of cohesion or strategy. The conveyor belt of crime exists, yet no real strategy to identify those who might get on it or to help those who are on it to get off is shown in the Queen's Speech. Some 90 per cent. of persistent teenage offenders were highly disruptive children, so we need to pay far more attention to providing residential treatment for young heroin and cocaine addicts, as my hon. Friend Mr. Rosindell said.
We need radical reform of sentencing for young people, so that they are not only punished, but as many as possible are rehabilitated. We believe that that involves combining punishment and custody with proper training, followed by a long period of supervision, not because we are soft or sympathetic to those people as individuals, but because trying to rehabilitate them makes economic and social sense. We need help for parents who cannot cope—real provision to enable them to steer their children away from that conveyor belt.
Most of all, we need to establish true neighbourhood and community policing, not as some sort of afterthought or simply for reassurance because it is thought that the public want to see a uniform, but as an integral part of policing and information gathering. A police officer who is always on his or her patch, not constantly being pulled away, will know where the problem spots are and who is spraying graffiti, causing vandalism or joyriding. If properly equipped with the right facilities and powers, those neighbourhood police officers will use other agencies to help them to do their job to keep order in the community. Most of all, that approach to policing will do much to stop young people becoming permanent features on that conveyor belt.
It is perverse for the Home Secretary to hide behind our opposition to central direction as an excuse for not having it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said, local arrangements, removing barriers and creating structures, including career structures, are all responsibilities that the Home Secretary could take up.
This Government and the Prime Minister came to power promising to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Ten years ago, the Prime Minister identified the problem. Since then, we have had more repeats than we would get from a plateful of kippers. When the current Foreign Secretary took office as Home Secretary in 1997, he pledged that our towns, cities and villages would be reclaimed so that everyone would be free to go about their neighbourhood in safety and security. We would all applaud that. He put through 12 criminal justice Acts before being shunted aside by the present Home Secretary, who has consistently dismantled everything that his predecessor did. We are now in the sixth year of the Labour Government, and we will finish undoing or correcting what they did in their first five years. Police numbers are finally above the figure at which they started, but crime is up. Detection rates are down. Recidivism is up. Almost every indicator has gone the wrong way, yet they plead for more time. How much longer do we have to wait for the Foreign Secretary's words to come true?
Two years ago, the Government promised in their targets that levels of fear of crime in the key categories of violent crime, burglary and car crime reported in the British crime survey would be lower. Have they missed that target? No, the target itself has gone missing. It has been dropped, forgotten, and is no longer mentioned. One does not necessarily reduce crime by making more things criminal activities. Instead of more initiatives, we need more police officers in our communities. Instead of more promises, we need action to address the causes of crime. Instead of excuses, we need results. I commend the amendment to the House.
I am very pleased to wind up the Queen's Speech debate and to be the final speaker after five days of debate. It has fallen to me to wind up for the Government because the Opposition decided that Mr. Paice, rather than the shadow Leader of the House, should reply to the debate. With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman—he and I respect each other—neither of us have any illusions about where we stand in the pecking order. As far as I can see, this is the first Queen's Speech for five years not to be concluded by the shadow Leader of the House. That says something about the state of the Opposition—[Interruption.]
The truth is that the Opposition have reached the last day of the Queen's Speech debate only to realise that they have run out of shadow Cabinet members capable of making a competent winding-up speech. I had thought that the reason that the Conservative party had chosen to structure today's debate in such a way was that they were determined to highlight home affairs. What a shame, therefore, that at 7.41 pm, the Opposition ran out of speakers, and they had to scour the bars, restaurants and cafes of the House to find someone. That tells us everything we wish to know about the Opposition's approach to this matter.
It was the Opposition who chose to break with a time-honoured tradition to devote the entire day to home affairs, and ran out of speakers at 7.40 pm.
I cannot reply to every speech made, but let me pick out a few highlights. First, Simon Hughes said that, in the view of the Liberal Democrats, crimes such as burglary and car theft should not be met with custodial sentences. I trust that that will be repeated on every XFocus" leaflet that is put out. If not, the rest of us should take on that responsibility, because Liberal Democrat voters would like to know what the hon. Gentleman thinks.
I have taken good note of the calls for action on fireworks, air weapons and alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. I will clearly want to consider those calls carefully when we draw up the Bill on antisocial behaviour.
I was reassured by the remarks made about extradition, and not because I believe that the criticisms were well placed, but because I believe that we will be able to reassure the House on the points made by Conservative Members. People will not be dragged off to Spain for writing articles in London that are legal here. The introduction of extradition without prima facie evidence was, of course, introduced for Europe by the previous Conservative Administration in 1991. Although I cannot respond to all the points that have been raised, we will be able to deal with them in detail when we discuss that Bill.
I welcome the broad support for the proposals for sex offenders that were outlined yesterday. Some details points were raised tonight and we should reflect on them.
My hon. Friend Julie Morgan asked about domestic violence and the forthcoming consultation paper. I can confirm that the paper will consult on changes to legislation, building on the approach taken in the White Paper XJustice for All" and with a view to legislating when parliamentary time allows.
There was a good debate to which Members on both sides contributed about the importance of drugs. It underlined the essential investment that we are making to double the number of drug treatment places that are available up and down the country.
The Minister has misrepresented our position on burglary and car crime, but I can deal with that point later. Can he clarify the Government's position on custody and the use of prison? Is the Home Secretary's view that we should seek to reduce the number of people in prison in England the prevalent one? Or is the Prime Minister's view that we need to build more prisons because the numbers going to prison will continue to rise the prevalent one? What is the Government's real view?
The Government's view consistently has been that we need to have prison for serious and persistent offenders. When, as we are doing for young offenders, we can develop sentences such as intensive supervision and surveillance programmes, which give us sufficient control over young people without custodial sentences, we shall develop those sentences where appropriate. What we should say to the people of this country is that we want the right sentences for the right criminals, and should not chase after particular numbers and targets and go in whichever direction they happen to take us.
If that is appropriate and it is the judgment of prison governors that it is right, we will support them. The policy is working; that is the answer.
As we have set out in the debate, the Government will take forward their programme of fundamental reform of the criminal justice system. That programme began with the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which introduced crime reduction partnerships and youth offending teams and established the Youth of Justice Board. It has already achieved a 14.6 per cent. of decrease in the rate of reoffending by and reconvictions of young people. The measures that we have taken so far have helped to contribute to the fall of 20 per cent. in the overall level of crime.
This year, we took through the House the Police Reform Act 2002, which created the framework for improving the performance of every police force in England and Wales. In the coming year, we will reform sentencing, court procedures and put witnesses and victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. Step by step, the criminal justice system is being reformed from beginning to end.
The Opposition have largely carped and criticised tonight, but I am no wiser about what they would do. They are still dogged by their record. Let us remember that, 10 years ago, the Conservatives thought that the police service needed reform. What did they do? They looked for somebody to reform it. Where did they look? They looked where any Conservative Home Secretary would look: not to the police service or the police authority, but to a man who made cigarettes. We remember the history. Sheehy came. Sheehy went. The Conservatives gave up on police reform and filed it under Xtoo difficult". But we have not filed it under Xtoo difficult". Instead of asking a tobacco manufacturer how to do it, we worked with the police service on the reforms in last year's legislation. That is why they will work and support our police officers in the work that they need to do.
Not everyone agrees with every part of the reforms. Any reform worth having will be opposed by people who do not want change. The same will be true of our changes to the criminal justice system. Not all of them will be popular with people who do not want change, but the ideas that we will introduce will come from the experience of victims, witnesses, police officers, lawyers, judges and magistrates.
Having abandoned police reform, the Conservative party never tried to reform the criminal justice system in their 18 years in government. It allowed the system established under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which was right and proper when it was introduced, to become inflexible and bureaucratic. It allowed the Crown Prosecution Service—a necessary initiative—to become too distant from the police with whom it needed to work closely. The Conservatives promised in 1992 to increase police officer numbers by 5,000 and ended up cutting them by 1,000. We have increased the number by 5,500 in the past two years and that will rise by an extra 2,500 by 2004. We are making the changes that the Conservatives failed to make.
The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire was elected when recorded crime in his county stood at 34,097. By 1997, it had risen under the Tories to 69,513. He will be pleased that it has fallen since Labour came to power in 1997 because that was not the case when he was a Minister. However, I hear hon. Members say that Labour cannot live off old Tory failures anymore. Apparently, the Conservative party is refreshed. It is reborn. It has a new leader, untainted by the past, and a new shadow Home Secretary, who is only marginally tainted by missing #20 billion a couple of years ago. The problem is that they are still getting it wrong.
The Conservatives said that no one would want community support officers, but 27 police forces will have them next year. They condemned the Government for not dealing with neighbourhood policing, but every time we discussed the Police Reform Act last year and said that we wanted measures to improve the quality of policing across the country, the Conservatives said, XNo. You can't do that. That's not the job of the Government."
Let us consider how Mr. Letwin reacted to the street crime initiative. He said:
Xanother day, another initiative, another summit, another quick fix."
By the end of September, street crime was 16 per cent. below the level at which it stood at the start of the campaign. The Conservatives said that the street crime initiative would drive up other crimes. In fact, in the 20 basic command units in which street crime fell the most, burglary and car crime fell too. In London and the west midlands, not only were there dramatically fewer young victims of crime, but there were fewer young people committing crime too.
The Conservatives said the street crime initiative was a gimmick. They were wrong. They got it wrong last time they were in power, they got it wrong this time and everyone knows that they would get it wrong again. Of course, a month ago in the House of Lords, when we said that asylum seekers who commit crimes—
Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add:
XBut humbly regret that the Gracious Speech distracts from sound policies which deal effectively with crime and its causes by proposing further untried quick fixes and measures which threaten civil liberties and the rights of defendants; believe that Government proposals for health and social care unfairly punish social services for Government failure, fail to provide proper democratically accountable decentralisation and create inequitable distinctions in funding between foundation hospitals and others; regret the lack of provision for free personal care for elderly and disabled people and the failure to tackle the pension crisis; note that the Government has failed to put the environment at the heart of its legislative agenda and address the crisis in the public transport system; note the 7 per cent. real terms reduction in funding per student by Government since 1997, and the failure to rule out top-up fees, allow the Welsh Assembly to operate its own student funding arrangements for Wales or re-open the Tomlinson Inquiry into A Level grade fixing; regret the continued failure of the Government to provide for a referendum on a fair voting system for the House of Commons; and regret the absence of the promised Bill to protect the Civil Service from politicisation and of Government measures to tackle the steep inequalities which continue to afflict the most disadvantaged members in society."—[Simon Hughes.]
Question put forthwith, pursuant to
The House divided: Ayes 55, Noes 319.