I inform the House that there will be an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
The Gracious Speech set out the Government's determination to address the most fundamental responsibility of any state: the safety and security of its people. In the economy over the past seven and a half years, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have built stability and security for the economy as a whole, security for the family, the lowest unemployment for 30 years, and inflation and interest rates at their lowest level for decades, and as a consequence we have allowed people to build their lives and their families through their own prosperity and the contribution they can make to others.
The Prime Minister is endeavouring, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the parties there, to do the same for Northern Ireland. On the international scene, we have sought to bring greater security, stability and freedom to people across the world. In our neighbourhoods and communities we seek to provide the stability and security that allow cohesion, equality and opportunity to flourish. To protect people and their security in the community and the neighbourhood, and to remove, wherever we can, the threat to them, subliminally or in reality, we are taking the measures set out in the Queen's Speech.
Rapid economic, social and political change has affected the world over the past 20 years in a way that none of us could have foreseen. Those changes have brought great gains, but they also bring insecurity. They lead to greater movement of people and to changes in communication, which bring tremendous opportunities but can also bring fear. Satellite television and 24-hour, seven-day-a-week news bring the opportunity to understand what is taking place across our globe, but also bring all the downsides of fear and instability. People see in their own homes—in their lounges—what previously would never have been known to them other than in the headlines of a newspaper the following day.
In that environment, we must consider what is necessary to protect our people, secure their confidence and create an environment in which difficult debate can take place in the House and broadly across the country about what measures are proportionate, necessary and wise to secure the future of our nation. In that spirit we set out the home affairs agenda in the Queen's Speech, not to bring fear but to remove fearfulness from people's lives. We are addressing the real issues, the worries and people's day-to-day concerns—sometimes subliminal, sometimes up-front—to ensure that they can open their minds and hearts to listening, understanding and responding to progressive policy.
It is a simple fact in our history and that of Europe and the world that the greater the insecurity people feel, in the form of physical threat, economic instability and insecurity in their own lives, the more likely they are to turn to extremes of left and right. The more secure people are in their lives, the more they trust Government to secure their well-being internationally, as has been argued by all parties in the context of defence spending over the years, and the more likely they are to engage in sensible debate about the big challenges that face us.
With the change in the threat, the breakdown of the cold war and the changes that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary dealt with only a few minutes ago, there are new and different challenges. We must try to anticipate what steps should be taken to ensure that in a decade people do not turn on the politicians of the day and demand to know why action was not taken. To be able to answer the question, "Did you do enough?" with the words, "Yes, we did," is not to threaten people but to ensure that insecurity, instability and fear are taken away.
I hope that the Home Secretary will accept that there are very few Members who would wish him other than well in the difficulties that he is facing.
Given what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the pressures that are on us to ensure that we have law and order, security and a lack of fear, what does he say to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who covers my area, and to the Police Federation, who say that all the measures that he is introducing will give them an incredible burden of bureaucracy, which is having a great impact on how they fulfil their duties in ensuring that the public of Greater London in particular are reassured, as I am sure he wants them to be? There is a gap between what he intends and what the police can enforce.
I have not heard one word from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis or from the commissioner-elect to suggest that bringing together the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, immigration and Customs brings anything but a reduction in bureaucracy as those services combine to share information and investigation and to support the Metropolitan police. I have heard no suggestion that the extra resources now and in the immediate future into the special branch services run by the Metropolitan police do anything but free up officers to be diverted to neighbourhood team policing, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I saw only two weeks ago in Bexley, and which we were proud to reinforce. The deputy commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, was with us, and was proud of the programme that he, the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Authority are putting in place.
I hope that later this week, when we announce the police grant, we will be able to reinforce the programme of continued expansion of the neighbourhood policing programme that is being put in place throughout the country. Clear, definable and quick identity, to which I shall turn in a moment, helps rather than hinders the police.
I am not entirely sure what the intervention was intended to demonstrate. I cannot find any proposed measure, with the possible exception of the charities Bill, which obviously the police have a major interest in, that would increase anything such as paperwork.
Yes, I have. I have experimented. I filled in such a form. It took 90 seconds of dictation, but it might have taken seven minutes if the person I was dictating to wrote very slowly. We will improve the forms through electronic equipment that will allow information to be tapped in, which can then be used for intelligence policing and will be held on the mainframe computer.
As that issue is not in the Queen's Speech, I shall make progress with some of the things that are. The capacity of the security services to protect us is dependent on how we resource them. That is why we have doubled the resources and capability of the security, intelligence and special branch services. That is why since 2001 we have put in place an extra £2 billion of security and resilience investment. That is why we are putting in place new electronic border controls—the first in the world—that will allow us to be able to monitor and surveille those coming in and out of the country, and will enable us eventually to be able to reinstate embarkation controls, which were done away with a decade ago.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. If they do not work, they will be utterly useless. I am glad that we are getting such agreement this afternoon. To be totally honest, I think that across the House, perhaps with one or two exceptions, most Members agree in their heart of hearts with most of what I am saying. There will be differences of nuance and approach. One thing is absolutely certain: despite the fact that we are clearly closer to a general election than we were a year ago—I will put it no more strongly than that—I intend to continue listening, responding to and, where possible, accommodating the concerns of all Members of the House on my own side and on the Opposition Benches. Some of the measures will undoubtedly be improved by the strength of people engaging positively with them.
I agree that we have a great deal in common on some of the issues, particularly in relation to terrorism. With that in mind, was the Home Secretary disappointed that the Leader of the House chose to try identify a difference between the parties and imply that one party was stronger on terrorism than others?
It is not like the old adage: one party is not at prayer while the other is singing hymns. This is not about a particular political party being better at securing the well-being of the nation. The point that the Leader of the House was rightly making—I have made it myself over the years—was that our party too often neglected the explanation of what we were doing in terms of security, law and order and policing, to the point at which there was a perception in the public mind, God help us, that the Conservative party was more likely to secure well-being in the community of the population. As it happened, that was a complete calumny, not only because as we saw in the Conservatives' last Parliament, they reduced the number of police, let more prisoners out of prison and failed to address youth justice, but because the people whom we represented over those years were hardest hit by crime and less secure than those whom the Conservative party represented at that time, although not now, as they represent such a small and diminishing area of the population—and long may it remain so.
As a stickler for not saying I have a number when I do not have one, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will tell me. Would he like me to give way so that he can tell me how many times I voted? I remember voting for the renewal of the Act. [Interruption.] Ah—so the question is not whether I voted for it, but whether I voted against it. My glass is half full, not half empty, and that is the way it is going to be. To remove fear of difference in our communities, we need to strengthen hope and have half-full glasses rather than half-empty ones. Strengthening our identity is one way of reinforcing people's confidence and sense of citizenship and well-being. Knowing one's true identity and being able to demonstrate it is a positive plus. It is a basic human right that all of us should treasure, so reforming the identity system, as I will spell out in a moment in relation to the Bill that we published today, is crucial.
As we are having a touch of agreement, may I ask the Home Secretary whether he agrees that some of his measures are raising fears, to which I hope he will respond, relating to personal freedom? There seems to be an enormous proliferation of the state database. Recently, for example, there has been the integrated children's system, and we are going to have a centralised medical database, while anyone who applies on a form for a university loan will see that there is an enormous number of questions—and so on. It smacks of the beginning of an authoritarian state.
I do not accept for a moment that a sensible, rational, computerised system of medical records is a threat to the individual. The system means that medical records can be transferred immediately and are accurate and available. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health—I am pleased that he is here this afternoon—has pointed out that some administrations have got piles of forms all over the place and records here, there and everywhere and that it sometimes takes weeks to transfer people's records. To secure the immediate transfer of records is a positive gain for people and provides security against bad prescription and bad treatment.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that in last year's consultation document the Government stressed that the carrying of ID cards would never become compulsory? We now understand that an ID card will have to be produced to apply for a passport, which is mission creep towards "compulsory", is it not?
No, no. If people are asked to produce their driving licence and they do not have it, they are asked to attend a police station with it. If they attend a bank and the bank wants to check their identity, it will accept an ID card. If they do not produce an ID card, it will expect to see a passport or some other immediate form of identification. The question has been put, "If you want to get a passport, will you have to produce your ID card?" No; when people get a passport, they will get an ID card, which is the point of the system. They will not have to carry the ID card everywhere they go, but they may well choose to do so.
On Second Reading, which will occur before Christmas, I hope to disentangle and demystify the proposals in the Bill. The process has been a struggle and we have consulted on the matter for the past three years—on
I am not persuaded about the case for ID cards, and I do not think that the Home Secretary will persuade me. Is the difference in practice or in principle? I share his view that the Government's duty is to protect the state and citizens, but does he share my view that for a free-born British citizen who has not been convicted of any offence, the presumption should be that the state does not intrude in their lives and hold information on them, rather than the opposite? Will he accept that we should have minimal state interference, not creeping state interference?
The hon. Gentleman has demonstrated my point. The Bill spells out that we do not intend to hold any more information than is currently held because of a range of requirements, including driving licences and passports. We currently have the largest take-up of passports in the world—we believe that 93 per cent. of the population will have a passport in the next three years. We will require the same information for identification on the clean database.
We will debate the clear database and the ID card system on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. I hope that we will improve the Bill, and if hon. Members feel that safeguards and measures can be taken, I am happy to continue that process. That is why we responded so positively to the Home Affairs Committee report and took on board many of the proposals, including the separate card, the overarching commissioner and the safeguards that the Committee recommended. We built those in precisely to reassure people that, far from taking greater information and holding it, we will in fact require less. In relation to the census, for instance, we will be able accurately to determine who is in the country, and where, in a way that is not as intrusive as the current census, whereby one can be fined for giving wrong information or failing to fill in the form.
We need to take a deep breath on this. I think that Simon Hughes mentioned the word "principle"—
The right hon. Gentleman gives me an appropriate moment to sit down, because it takes my breath away to hear the word "principle" from Liberal Democrats.
In the spirit of the constructive approach that the Home Secretary is taking, one matter that has not been addressed is that over the years the databases held by the Government have become increasingly available to other departments of Government. For example, it used to be the case that Inland Revenue data could not travel outside the Inland Revenue. That in itself introduces a serious issue of privacy and access to data. Does he intend to deal with that in the coming Bill?
Yes, I do. Verification is absolutely crucial in relation to the transfer of data. Let me be clear about this. The point of the biometric identifiers and the clean database is not to facilitate the card but to ensure accurate identification of the individual in order to verify that they are who they say they are. It is as simple or as complex as that.
I hate to disappoint my right hon. Friend, but the prospect of identity cards is very much opposed in my constituency. Setting aside the issue of what people perceive to be a possible infringement of civil liberties, the concern that has been expressed to me rests on the verification of identity that is presumably safeguarded in the form of a biometric card. That leads me to this question: how many people will be required to have a machine that can verify that the card presented to them is genuine? Will every policeman on the beat have to carry a small machine? Clearly, every police station will need one. What will be the inherent costs of that over and above the introduction of the cards?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes that view and has asked that question, but not because such questions are not valid—they were dealt with through the consultation and the draft Bill. I am happy to undertake, as part of the development of the legislation, further consultation and information sessions. It would be sensible to do that inside and outside the House.
We have made it clear that for most verification purposes facial recognition will be fine, because the level of verification required will be minimal. In situations where it is necessary definitely to determine identity, where there is doubt about the identity, or where the facial recognition clearly gives room for doubt, readers will be available to enable verification to take place in locations where it matters most—for example, where free public services such as hospital services are provided, where people are seeking permission to work, or in major police stations that deal with organised crime. That would automatically be fed back to the database. There is no difficulty about this at all. People will not go round seeking our identity for its own sake, but for verification purposes as regards entitlement to services or to work, or to avoid multiple identities or the fraudulent misuse of identity.
While I am about it, let me get rid of the myth that we are creating an identity card similar to that in other European countries. Incidentally, I should put it on record, because I have heard senior politicians make this mistake, that the United States does not have an identity card—it has an insurance number, which is not the same thing. No European country has biometric cards or a clean database. The difference is profound, but we shall revert to that on Second Reading.
Does the Home Secretary agree that there is all the difference in the world between applying for a driving licence, which is required for something that people do not have to do but can opt to do, or applying for a passport—some colleagues have never done that—which gives protection when travelling abroad, and an identity card? With an identity card, there will be no choice. Am I right or wrong?
The Bill, on which Parliament will vote, will provide that the development of biometrics for secure passports will be accompanied by that of a database that makes the biometric worth putting on the passport. It is not only for travel to other countries, thus saving the passport holder large sums of money in future—$100 a throw per individual for the United States—but it will make it possible to deal with matters that I have spelled out, such as avoiding forgery and multiple identities. When the biometric is placed in the passport and registered on the database, a biometric card will be issued to the owner of the passport and an additional charge will be made on top of the main cost, which is incurred by secure passports that use biometric identifiers and the database, to ensure that people have an easy-to-use separate card, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee.
We believe that it is right to bring together various agencies in the new Serious Organised Crime Agency to safeguard ourselves from organised crime. I believe that the House agrees with that. We want to do that because it will add value, allow agencies to cut overhead costs, ensure the necessary sharing of information in the new agency—that did not historically happen—and ensure that investigation and intelligence go hand in hand. We believe that, by putting the agency together, we can work more closely with the police throughout England and Wales on cross-boundary activity and do a better job of working with our partners in Europe and elsewhere on transnational organised crime.
Clearly, it is critical to deal with specific issues that have worried hon. Members. The most obvious is animal rights terrorism. I believe that we would all welcome the ability to get new laws on the statute book as quickly as possible to deal with extremists who threaten life and liberty. As one of those under threat, according to their website, I am keen to get the provision on the statute book as quickly as possible.
My constituents in Oxford welcome such provisions, which I thank the Home Secretary for including. Will he comment on the rumour about a provision to deal with economic sabotage, apart from the harassment provisions? It is feared that the latter will not be enough in themselves to preserve the vital, life-saving work of biomedical science in many of our leading institutions. Further provisions are needed.
We take the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course, he is close to the subject because of his constituency interest. I am about to lumber the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Caroline Flint with something. I do not set a precedent, but I would be happy for my hon. Friend to discuss with the hon. Gentleman the difficulties and the way in which we might proceed. I say that in the spirit of my earlier comments: we are genuinely trying to reach a consensus and widen the debate on these issues.
Organised crime obviously touches on drugs. No one could be unaware of the problems that lie behind the misery that is brought to our streets. Getting a grip of drug trafficking and ensuring that we reduce it and the quantity of drugs that enter the country are key targets of the new agency. People trafficking will also be a key target. However, we also believe that we need to strengthen the law on the issue of how we operate at neighbourhood and local level in relation to drugs, so we undertook a consultation with the police, and the measures that they have suggested are incorporated in the consultation that we initiated last Thursday in relation to the proposed drugs Bill.
We have already strengthened arrest referral, bail restrictions and the development—now to take place in 98 separate areas—of the drugs intervention programme. We have increased the number of people in treatment by more than 50 per cent. and we will have doubled by next year, from 2002, the resources going into treatment services, but there are obvious areas that the police have raised with us that require action, such as testing on arrest rather than on charge, dealers being picked up who previously pretended to be users, and people who swallow, to evade a dangerous and horrible process. We will legislate to allow the other end of the horrible process to take its course.
Will the Home Secretary tell me how his proposals on drug dealers affect the state of the law? Currently, if a person is arrested with a large amount of drugs he is presumed to be dealing, rather than having the drugs for personal use. How will that be affected by the proposed change in the law?
The police will be able to designate a very small amount of the substance—previously, they picked up individuals who claimed to be users, not dealers—and to deal with the offenders as part of the development of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which we will also be strengthening at the same time.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the measures that he is introducing to attack the problem of drug dealing and to attack those who sell drugs. Will he pay at least as much attention to the benefits of drug education programmes, such as the drug abuse resistance education, or DARE, programme in Nottinghamshire, to try at least to inoculate a number of youngsters who would otherwise perhaps fall into the clutches of drug dealers?
I do, and when I was in Nottingham I indicated my support for that and similar effective programmes. We are pleased to say that the rise in class A drug use among under-25s has been halted and is beginning to be reversed. That is an extremely welcome trend. There is a thirst among young people for information. The Frank campaign has received 3.5 million hits on the website and 600,000 phone calls. There has never been a Government campaign of any nature that has received such interest and commitment, which shows that we can—if we work together—turn the corner.
Improving drug treatment is not confined to the community. In 1997, there were nine prisons with full treatment and rehabilitation programmes. There are now 136. The development through the correctional services legislation, which is also in the Queen's Speech, of the offender management service—this links prison and probation and encourages probation to draw in other services at local level for a comprehensive, holistic approach to the needs of those who have been involved with the criminal justice system—will allow us to be able to join up what happens in prison, whether on drug treatment, education or work programmes, with what should happen when those individuals are being rehabilitated in the community, and our prolific offenders policy. It is really important that we get this right.
We are also introducing as part of that the statutory ombudsman, which will be widely welcomed in terms of being able to follow through complaints and deal with the issues raised by the independent inspectorate. We will be extending the availability and the powers necessary for electronic tracking, including for young people, which will also be part of the draft youth justice Bill, which will be published during this Parliament.
The Home Secretary has rightly referred to education and rehabilitation. Does one or other of the forthcoming Bills seek in any way to address the ongoing problem of the churn in prisons as a whole, and young offenders institutions in particular, whereby people who are put on courses, or given the chance to acquire training, are then shunted out of the institution before they have the important opportunity to complete that course, acquire that qualification or finish that training?
Certainly, there is a big problem, and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Paul Goggins, is aware of the way in which people are moved, often at a crucial moment. I accept entirely that that is a challenge for the service, including the Youth Justice Board. When detention orders have been issued and youngsters have perhaps been in secure training centres, we need to consider imaginatively how electronic tracking can allow us to release them under very strict supervision to follow those courses. At the Youth Justice Board conference, at which I chose not to speak but to have a dialogue with the young people on the platform, it was remarkable how those young people who have been through the system felt that being there long enough, and having that security long enough, was an absolutely key element in their future well-being. That took me aback, and the hon. Gentleman's contribution is therefore apposite.
We are not confining the proposals in the Queen's Speech to personal protection or the normal criminal justice law. As we have spelled out already—I want to make it clear that we will do this by Christmas—we will introduce the draft Bill for scrutiny on corporate manslaughter. That is a cross that I have learned to bear in terms of finding my way through the labyrinth of getting agreement on such an extraordinarily complex area. I am therefore looking forward to Father Christmas delivering it in time, and I hope that it will at least satisfy some people, even if it does not satisfy everyone.
One Bill brings a joy to me, because it is not about enforcement, security or organised crime—it is about the way in which we can encourage people to give of themselves, their time and their service and to join together in voluntary and community organisations. That is the charities Bill. Making a difference to people's lives is what all of us in the House, of every party, are here for. Providing service and making a difference to people's lives is part of civil renewal and civil society. We need a new relationship between the political democracy that we hold dear, and the civil democracy, in which people participate in their communities, in their neighbourhoods, and in the lives and well-being of their families and others, to give support and to give their time, backed, not run, by Government. The charities Bill is intended to modernise and reform the outdated laws that we have.
Taken together, the Queen's Speech is about the citizen, identity, protection, organised crime and protecting us from new ills and new threats, as well as dealing with old ones. Above all, it is about examining the vision of the future, and being prepared and strong enough to take on that future, and to take the right measures now to secure our nation.
In view of the way in which the Home Secretary presented his speech, emphasising agreement, I will at least start by welcoming some of the proposals in the Queen's Speech.
The Opposition welcome three proposals in particular. First, we welcome the plan to establish the new Serious Organised Crime Agency—SOCA. It would be impossible for us not to welcome it—after all, it was first suggested, I think, by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin. As we have previously debated SOCA in the House, the Home Secretary is aware that we have detailed concerns about the make-up of the agency, which we will raise on Second Reading. In general, however, we believe that SOCA will be a valuable weapon in the fight against serious crime.
Secondly, we welcome the proposed clampdown on animal rights extremists, although it is not clear whether that can be carried out without changes in primary legislation. Within that same Bill, I note that there are plans to overhaul police powers, extend powers to community support officers, reform arrangements for the recovery of criminal assets, introduce an offence of incitement to religious hatred, amend witness protection procedures and extend antisocial behaviour measures. So I can tell the right hon. Gentleman now that, while we support major elements of the Bill, all six parts, 155 clauses and 16 schedules will be scrutinised very carefully by us.
I did not count the sentences.
Thirdly, we welcome the introduction of measures to strengthen the charitable sector. I associate myself entirely with what the Home Secretary said at the end of his speech. Again, however, we will scrutinise the details extremely carefully. This is an area that needs serious reform, and it would be quite easy to get it wrong.
The Government have been in power for more than seven years. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members should enjoy it while it lasts.
The Queen's Speech is dominated by home affairs. Why? Because Ministers know that the British people are deeply worried about law and order. Because Ministers have failed on law and order. Because—from border control to gun control, from street crime to drug crime, from violent, drunken behaviour to murder—this Government have lost control. No wonder this Queen's Speech, the Government's eighth, does not build on the past seven. Instead, it seeks to solve some of the problems created by the past seven. It is less a manifesto for four more years than an apology for the past seven years.
When the British people elected this Government, they thought that when the Government promised to be tough on crime they meant it. But crime is up, and violent crime has nearly doubled. The British people wanted action, and what they have got from this Government is just talk. They are all talk, for example, on controlling immigration. The British people hoped that when the Government proposed firm control of immigration, they would deliver. Instead, the Government have weakened our immigration rules, and up until this year have waved more than 1 million people into this country. Moreover, they have failed to remove more than a quarter of a million people who should not be here in the first place.
When, during the coming election, Labour Members find their constituents queuing for houses, queuing for school places and queuing for hospital beds, they should look no further than their own Home Secretary. But perhaps he thinks that the problem has been fixed. It has not. Let us take immigration from eastern Europe, for example. According to the Home Office, a maximum of 13,000 immigrants a year will enter Britain in the wake of EU enlargement. In five months, since
I have a simple question. Does the right hon. Gentleman object to those people coming here and working, and aiding and lifting our economy? [Hon. Members: "They are illegal."] They are legal. They are registering. They are paying to register. They are paying national insurance and tax. Above all, they are serving in our restaurants, our hotels and our transport system, which presumably the right hon. Gentleman would like them to vacate.
What I object to is the fact that we, almost alone in Europe, were unwise enough not to accept the seven-year period that allowed countries to control immigration from eastern Europe of people wishing to work in those countries.
Is not the foolishness of the Home Secretary's intervention explained by the point that my right hon. Friend was making? The Government said that a certain number of people would come in, but the real fact is that probably 10 and certainly eight times that number have come in. The Government do not have a grip on their own figures, let alone the system.
My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. It is clear that the problem has not been fixed, and there is no Bill in the Queen's Speech to get to grips with illegal immigration—about which the Home Secretary famously, in his own words, "hasn't got a clue". We do not even have the Bill recently promoted in the media by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—I do not know whether my hon. and learned Friend read about it: the Tory Asylum Bill, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster apparently thinks of it.
The weekend before last, The Sunday Times set out Labour's election supremo's thinking on immigration. Its story bore the headline "Milburn seeks limit on asylum". It claimed that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster thinks that
"this is the one area where the Tories have the clear advantage" and that he is "urging" the Home Secretary to adopt Conservative proposals for a quota on asylum seekers. Indeed, it was reported that the Prime Minister was sympathetic to adopting the Tory approach. Let me assure the Home Secretary that if he introduced such a measure, he would have our support, but I suspect that it will take a real Conservative Government actually to make such measures work. Instead, there is not even one measure in the Queen's Speech to deal with the problem of uncontrolled immigration—no action, just more talk.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand the connection between having an identity card scheme and controlling the flow of illegal immigration? Once those people arrive in the UK, it will control what they are able to do and enable them to be arrested and deported. I cannot understand why he does not see the connection.
First, we do not actually deport the people who are identified at present; 250,000 of them are still in the country. Secondly, I am not sure that I would choose a £27 million programme over a £3 billion programme for that control, let alone in 10 years' time, which is what the Home Secretary appears to be proposing.
In a moment.
The Government are all talk, too, about fighting crime. The reality after seven years of Labour is that British society is less safe than when the Government came to office. Many town centres are now almost no-go areas on a Saturday night. As discipline has broken down in our schools, truancy has increased and a new generation of young criminals is growing up. The police are tied up in paperwork and entangled by political correctness—the inevitable result of an approach based on targets. Real, lasting results have been sacrificed in favour of short-term targets.
Certain categories of crime may be falling, but overall crime is up. In a small number of cases, the Home Secretary has tackled the symptoms of crime, but he has not tackled the causes, so, for example, as we see the number of burglaries fall, we witness the number of other crimes, such as drug offences, rise. As one target is met, another is needed. As the Government's focus switches from crime to crime, so, too, does the criminal's; but the criminals are always one step ahead of the Government.
Only last week, the Association of Chief Police Officers suggested that the reason that burglary was going down was that burglars find it easier and more profitable to pursue other crimes. Police officers to whom I have spoken suggest that burglars have taken up anything from robbing whole truckloads of new equipment to smuggling drink, tobacco or drugs.
That is not surprising. After all, the Home Secretary can scarcely claim that he is catching more burglars—not when detection rates for burglary have fallen since the Government came to power—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary talks about his prison population. Well, today, we have heard more evidence of the failures of Labour's early release scheme. His prison without bars scheme is leading to more unnecessary crimes being committed. A leaked report to the Daily Mirror—I am sure that that is the right hon. Gentleman's favourite publication—finds that failure rates under the scheme have doubled since the Home Secretary extended it, including 7,000 crimes and breaches; more than 2,000 prisoners were completely lost track of under that scheme. The report also suggests that
"there is no evidence to suggest a period on Home Detention Curfew had any positive influence on reducing . . . offending rates."
The reference was to the early release scheme. Indeed, I do not disagree with detention curfew as an extension to prison, but it should not be instead of prison. That is the problem the Home Secretary has got himself into by not having enough prison places, even on his Carter report forecasts. It is hardly a resounding success for the Government's criminal justice policies.
There is little in the Queen's Speech to end the merry-go-round of criminality: little to help the police improve their detection rates and nothing to relieve them of the burden of Minister-made paperwork. There is nothing at all to get the police back where they want to be—out on the beat and on the streets. That is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the whole Queen's Speech.
In 1997, the Labour party promised to relieve the police of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens and to get more officers back on the beat. Seven years later, the Government pledge to reduce bureaucracy and the costs of government to promote efficiency. Recently, an article by Leo McKinstry in The Spectator—[Interruption.] It was also in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, but I am giving the earlier reference. He noted that the number of Government bodies established by the right hon. Gentleman, first as Secretary of State for Education and Employment and then as Home Secretary, is more than 1,100, and claimed that those bodies have a budget of a staggering £12 billion, so the Home Secretary hardly has a good record on reducing bureaucracy.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety—I hope that she is paying attention—recently claimed to the Home Affairs Committee that the Government had already scrapped 7,700 unnecessary police forms. I was very impressed, so we tabled a written question to ask her to list those forms, but we were told that details are not held centrally, so it would be interesting to know how she counted them.
Last week, the head of the Metropolitan police told us that the fight against crime is at risk because officers are spending too much time answering questions from bureaucrats. There are too many inspections and too much monitoring. One force reported 37 inspections in a year. No wonder Sir John Stevens said last week that enough is enough. There is no firm action on crime; just more talk and more paperwork.
The Government are all talk on drugs. The Government have had 15 initiatives, summits and crackdowns on drugs. The outcome is more drugs, more dealers, more crime and more violence. Some 76 per cent. of people think that the Government have failed them on the war on drugs, and they are right. Britain has more than 1 million class-A drug users. Young Britons use twice as much cocaine as those anywhere else in Europe except Spain. Ecstasy use has doubled since 1997. Hard drugs are all too easily available, as is shown by the price of drugs on the street. Crack cocaine can be bought for less than the price of a glass of wine. Heroin prices have halved. With the hard drugs trade, comes drug gangs, drug barons, drug territories and, all too often, drug wars.
The price of drugs has fallen because the Government have failed to disrupt supply, and they are failing to do so both at home and abroad. At home, we have what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner calls our "porous borders". It is too easy to smuggle anything into this country, whether people, guns or drugs. Abroad, the Government took on responsibility for actions against the Afghan drug producers. Since they took on that responsibility, opium production has soared to record levels, flooding the streets of Britain with cheap heroin, filling the veins of our young people with drugs and the pockets of the drug barons with money. It is an incompetent shambles, and the fundamental cause is confusion at the top of the Government. That confusion caused the resignation of the Government's own drugs tsar.
I will give way in a moment.
After all, how can one describe as anything other than deeply confused a policy that, on one hand, talks in a disapproving way about drugs, but on the other, seeks to declassify cannabis? Young people took the move as a signal that the Government were telling them that it is okay to smoke cannabis. That is probably why last week's European drugs report showed that Britain's 15-year-old boys smoke more cannabis than those in any other country. [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Caroline Flint, says from a sedentary position that that is out of date. I suggest that she read not just her own Department's publications, but those of the Department of Health, which is a touch more up to date than she is.
The Metropolitan police also admit that more people are being caught with cannabis, but fewer are being arrested. That is the effect of the Government's decision to reclassify that dangerous and addictive drug. Yet in this pre-election Queen's Speech, more than 10 years after the Prime Minister first promised to be tough on the causes of crime, the Government suddenly promise a crackdown on drugs.
Will the shadow Home Secretary clarify whether, as I assume from his comments, it is Conservative party policy to change back that reclassification?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right: it is our intention to change back that classification to give the right signal to the youngsters of this country. We will then not have to spend £1 million on putting up notices in every police station that say, "It's still illegal to smoke cannabis."
We will look at the Government's proposals on drugs on their merits. Overall, their proposed Bill does not offer the solutions that the British people want. The British people do not want programmes that have proven to fail, with completion rates of only a third and a reconviction rate of 80 per cent. They want programmes that rehabilitate drug addicts and free them from the life of crime that pays for their next fix. They do not want heroin and crack cocaine freely available on our streets. They want secure borders that disrupt supply and rid our streets of the drug barons, dealers and gangs. They do not want cannabis, which is undoubtedly far more potent than ever before, being obtained and smoked by our young with impunity. They want strong action against every illicit drug.
After seven years of Labour and as a direct consequence of its policies on drugs, there are more addicts, more dealers and more crimes. Suddenly, five months before an election, Ministers want us to believe that they will suddenly do something effective about drugs. Let us not pretend that there is much more to the Government's Bill than a desperate attempt in a run-up to an election to hide seven years of failure. After all, is that not what the Queen's Speech is really all about? I suppose we should take it as a great compliment. One day the newspapers tell us that the Labour party is worried about being outflanked by the Conservatives on immigration; the next we see an entire Queen's Speech designed to claw back the ground that it has lost to the Conservatives on crime.
That is very sweet. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I admire him intensely. What particular country will he be thinking of when, if he ever gets into the position, he wages his war on drugs? What examples will he follow?
There are some good examples. Sweden, with its rehabilitation programmes, is a good example and some aspects of the American programme provide a good example. That has shown a reduction of 11 per cent. in teenage addiction in two years. There are a number of models that we can follow, and we will pick the best from each of them.
The next issue that I want to talk about is terrorism. Having earlier welcomed some of the proposals in this year's Address, I now want to add that we would have welcomed proposals that were trailed for the Address but not delivered in it—namely, proposals to deal with the threat of terrorism. The Government have decided to introduce only a draft Bill on terror. The Home Secretary promises action if he wins the next election, but we need action now. Terrorism is a problem today, not tomorrow; it is a problem that Governments should be addressing today and not tomorrow; and it certainly is not something that they should spin for electoral gain however the Home Secretary cares to describe the actions of the Leader of the House last week.
There are many practical things on which the Government could legislate now. For example, they could allow evidence gained from intercepts to be used in court. That was recommended by the Newton review nine months ago. Nine months later: nothing— no action, just more talk. Yesterday, we had the unprecedented spectacle of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who, I suspect, knows at least as much about prosecuting terrorist threats as the Home Secretary, effectively giving a warning to the Government. In a signed article headlined "Dangerous times need jury trials", he said:
"We do not want to fight terrorism by destroying precisely those things terrorism is trying to take from us. Open liberal democracies fail if they try to protect themselves by becoming illiberal, closed and oppressive."
The Director of Public Prosecutions added:
"So criminal trials must remain routinely open and take place before independent and impartial tribunals. In Britain, people have great affection for trial by jury."
I am listening for the Home Secretary to say yes to that too. The director continued:
"Public faith in public justice will not survive abandonment of these fundamental principles . . . Changes in the criminal trial process have to be approached with great caution and a clear head."
All I can say to that is, "Bravo". I hope that the Home Secretary is listening.
The right hon. Gentleman has just criticised the Government and the Home Secretary for not bringing forward a counter-terrorism Bill in the Queen's Speech and introducing only a draft Bill. However, at the same time, he appears to support statements that suggest that this is an issue of controversy on which there should be debate. Surely a draft Bill is the right place for such debate.
The issue is now; the issue is today. The proposals that we are talking about have been around for a long time. I have referred only to the most recent report recommending the use of intercepts, but the Lloyd report goes back to 1996–97. The issue is not new, and it could have been debated at any point in the past few years.
The issue of jury trial and, in particular, that of intimidation came up last year. I presume that that is the concern being aired here. It was the very first thing that I had to discuss with the Home Secretary when I took up my current role. We agreed with him that judges would be able to hold a trial without a jury in the event of clear evidence or a clear suspicion of actual or prospective jury tampering or jury intimidation. That provision is there already, so I do not think that we need further action to protect our system. Indeed, the point that the Director of Public Prosecutions made—I find it difficult to believe that he said it without the approval of the Law Officers, so there is an interesting division in government—was that the suggestion would never be a good idea, full stop, irrespective of how many Bills must be discussed over the coming years.
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I share his strong view and that of his colleagues on the defence of jury trials. May I take it that in the coming year in both Houses, his party, like the Liberal Democrats, will ensure that there will be no further reduction in jury trials? Does he agree that such reduction would send a strong signal to terrorists and those who are against liberty that they are winning the battle rather than losing it?
My short answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes. He will remember the heated nature of our discussions last year. We endeavoured to achieve an outcome that protected justice and our long tradition of jury trials, yet also protected the state's ability to prosecute in circumstances in which intimidation or tampering could take place. I think that we got pretty close to an optimum outcome last year, so I would be incredibly surprised if we changed position. The hon. Gentleman can be assured that I shall continue to adopt the stance that I have taken thus far.
I want to reinforce my right hon. Friend's point. I understand that since the 1996 legislation was passed, there has not been a single case of a jury trial being retried as a result of nobbling.
My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. To be fair, those on the other side of the argument may cite the Northern Ireland example, but that is rather different because the community is affected entirely by terrorism. In general terms, however, we achieved the right outcome last year, so the Conservative party will stand by that position in the coming months.
I want to move on from terrorism to identity cards. Let me tell the House plainly that before 9/11, I would not have countenanced them for a moment. Since 9/11, however, we must at least consider them. Identity cards are not a panacea in the fight against terrorism. Spain has identity cards, but they did not stop the terrorist attack in Madrid. Turkey has identity cards, but they did not stop the attack in Istanbul. Identity cards are no substitute for the practical and sensible things that the Government could be doing to reduce the terrorist threat now.
Again, I must remind the Home Secretary that his Government continually warn of the imminent threat of terrorism. However, even if identity cards are introduced, they will not take effect for some time. We have set tests that the legislation must meet before we will offer it our support. To make things easy for the Government, I have kept the number of tests down to five—I am sure that the Home Secretary is used to the concept of five tests.
First, the legislation must clearly define the purpose of the cards. The Government are being vague at the moment, so we need to know whether they will deal with terrorism, illegal immigration, welfare fraud or other matters. How will the purposes be prioritised, because the demands of each are different?
Secondly, will identity cards effectively address the purposes that are laid out? Is the technology sufficiently well developed and robust? As the Home Secretary implied, we must consider not only the cards, but the measurement systems, communications and software that will be needed to support them. Will they be robust against deception or attack?
That brings me on to my third point. Is the Home Office capable of making the cards work? Let us be honest: the single Government Department that one would not want to put in charge of a major technology project is the Home Office. It is famous for the passport office disaster—
I am coming to that.
The Home Office is famous for the immigration computer collapse. [Interruption.] I seem to be exciting the Home Secretary. We now learn that the computers to support ID cards might be provided by EDS, which provides the computer system that supports the CSA, which Mr. Banks mentioned. That is not exactly confidence boosting, is it? I hope that the Home Secretary will try to address the problem on Second Reading and Report so that we can get a clearer idea of the likelihood that the system will work.
Fourthly, when the Government have decided the purpose of ID cards, will they really be the most cost-effective way of tackling the problems? At the moment we barely know who is in our country because we have no proper embarkation controls at our ports—[Interruption.] I am happy to give the exact story to any Labour Member who wishes to intervene, so I do not think that they should. Reintroducing such controls, as we will do, will cost a mere £27 million, which is nothing at all compared with the £3 billion cost of the cards—[Interruption.] I am not sure that I can repeat the Home Secretary's comments. He intimates that £27 million is not a good number. Let me put it this way. The figure of £27 million comes from the National Audit Office. The figure of £3 billion comes from the Home Office. I know which one I trust, and that is just for the database.
Finally, there are real concerns about the threat to people's civil liberties. With this Government we should be more cautious than ever. Remember, this is the Government who tried to gather information on the background of Pam Warren, the survivor of the Paddington rail crash, when she questioned their commitment to reform the railways. This is the Government who tried to attack the reputation of the 80-year-old Rose Addis when her family complained about the treatment she received on the NHS; and it was this Government who dragged the name of Martin Sixsmith through the mud simply because he dared to take on and expose the methods of spin and deceit that they made their hallmark. Frankly, why should anyone trust this Government of all Governments to treat the information they hold about them with respect and sensitivity?
I am going to put a question to the Home Secretary, which I hope he will answer on Second Reading. Will he give me a guarantee that the legislation will include specific clauses to punish severely anyone who misuses the Government database for political, commercial or personal ends?
We will look at that in detail. I am pleased to hear that offer. A quick glance through the Bill today did not reveal that guarantee, but we will see it when it comes up for debate, no doubt as a Government amendment, when we will consider it carefully and ensure that it delivers what the Home Secretary says it will deliver before we take the matter further.
The introduction of identity cards may be necessary, but such a major alteration to the balance in the relationship between the individual and the state should not be taken lightly. So I can tell the Home Secretary that this Bill, too, will face the most careful scrutiny from Opposition Members.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend is suitably sceptical about identity cards, to which many of us believe there are cogent objections. Pursuant to the last question that he put to the Home Secretary and his reply to it, does my right hon. Friend agree that on the subject of the purpose of the cards, it is also important to elicit from the Home Secretary a commitment that the Bill will not contain provision for order-making and regulation-making powers that would enable the Government to add to the purposes effectively through the back door?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The progress of the Bill has been marked by the avoidance of difficult questions at every turn —putting them off and taking them at some point later—so that people vote for something that is not compulsory yet, but which might be one day. He makes a good point about the purpose. The reason for raising the purpose at the beginning of the tests is that it has an impact on whether the scheme will work and on its cost-effectiveness. It also has an impact on what we need to do to protect civil liberties and personal privacy along the way. So he is right. We will try to avoid Henry VIII clauses or similar measures in the course of our discussions on the Bill.
Where in this Queen's Speech were the radical and distinctive policies that we were promised by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster last week? Where was the unique and distinctive vision for Britain? Nowhere. If the Government want to fight the next election on the issue of crime and security, we are more than happy to do so.
People know that the Government have spent seven years focusing on the wrong priorities. They also know that the sudden interest in tackling crime is born out of political calculation rather than real resolve. But real resolve and real action are what we need: action to put more police on the streets; action to put more criminals behind bars; action to help turn people away from drugs; action to get a grip on immigration; action to keep Britain safe from harm. Those are the people's priorities. Those are our priorities. Those are the things that will decide the next election, and for us, that election cannot come soon enough.
In the brief time I have available, I should like to deal with two of the major criticisms that have been made of the Government's proposals in the Queen's Speech. That unfortunately means that I will not have time to deal with the criticisms made by David Davis. His speech was a disgraceful performance. He abandoned any pretence of making an overall assessment of the Government's record to date. It is of course fine to point to areas where crime has not gone down, but only if proper credence is given to the fact that, according to the British crime survey—the best measure—crime overall has come down substantially under this Government and that that is an achievement of this Government. The chance of being a victim of crime is at its lowest level since the British crime survey began. Not only did he disgracefully not even acknowledge that reduction, he did not begin to say how the £1.7 billion-worth of cuts in the Home Office budget that his party proposes would help build on the success so far.
The criticisms that have been made of the Queen's Speech fall into two categories. One is that the Government are playing with the politics of fear. The other is that of the liberal left and has been made, among others, by Baroness Kennedy in a recent article in The Guardian. I want to touch briefly on both.
I do not believe that there is any evidence that the Government are playing on the politics of fear. Indeed, it would be a dangerous game for Governments even to attempt to do so. That is something for Oppositions, as we have seen this afternoon. The major measures in the Gracious Speech—the Identity Cards Bill, the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the introduction of the National Offender Management System—build on the real achievements of the past few years, and each addresses a clearly identified problem and need in an appropriate way. There will be much to do to scrutinise the detail of that legislation, but I do not see how any of those measures can be seen as trying to whip up a fear of crime.
The more fundamental criticism made from a liberal left perspective, and often reflected in our media, is that the Government are in some way indulging in a fundamental act of illiberalism; in a wholesale sweeping away of freedoms and protections; in a casting aside of principle; in using the excuse of terrorism, asylum seekers and criminals; and in exploiting fear to encourage people to sacrifice freedom and privacy. Those are all criticisms made by Baroness Kennedy in The Guardian last week. I hold no personal grudge against her; she is an eminent lawyer and she puts the case articulately.
We need to respond not because those views are necessarily held by the population as a whole, but because there is an influential body of opinion that agrees with her and, indeed, regards that criticism of the Government as an unchallengeable truth. That leads some people to say, "Perhaps we just have to go along with this Government because the other things they do are good." That view needs to be challenged, because those of us who believe that we take a liberal left position and who are on the centre-left of politics should feel comfortable with the Government's agenda. At its heart, it is a progressive one. The view that the proposals are fundamentally illiberal is a sweeping assertion that does not stand up to analysis. It disguises and covers up the reasons why the Government have developed their approach.
It was argued last week by Baroness Kennedy that just law is
"the mortar that fills the gaps between nations, people and communities, creating a social bond without which the quality of our lives would be greatly undermined."
I agree with that, but to create that social bond, the legal and criminal justice system must be seen to work and must enjoy public confidence. It is not good enough to assert that our system is the best available if every member of the public can point to its failings.
The conflict that has emerged under this Government is between measures that are designed to tackle specific failings in the system and a legal and judicial system that at times appears either to deny or ignore the problems. In past criminal justice Bills, the Government have had to address court delays, the causes of cracked and failed trials, the unnecessary adjournments for reasons of tactics or personal convenience, and management of the system that left so many witnesses feeling as if they were on trial. Too few people in the criminal justice system were prepared to admit or tackle those problems. The Government have been forced to deal with the consequences of the major legal development of my lifetime—the parallel system of decision making developed entirely by the courts, with no reference to Parliament, in judicial review. There are few areas of government that cannot be challenged, usually at public expense, under that procedure.
We are told that we worry too much about terrorism. As Baroness Kennedy puts it, there is
"fear-inducing rhetoric about international terrorism."
It was not rhetoric that killed so many people on
We need good law to provide the foundations of a strong society that can offer good public services and decent protections at work. We want a society that does not turn its back on others, but manages both economic migration and refugees legally and soundly, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary seeks to do. The problem with being told that the whole exercise is illiberal is that it may deflect us from the proper examination of specific issues, including oversight of the identity card scheme, the practical use of terrorism powers and the way in which the police use the new general power of arrest. Rather than just claiming that the Government are involved in a big illiberal exercise, the House should scrutinise those individual issues and make sure that we get them right.
In the time available to me, I wish to look at the proposals on home affairs in the Queen's Speech. First, however, I want to deal with the issues of fear and the climate of fear that the Home Secretary addressed.
Since taking on my home affairs responsibilities, I have accepted that there is almost always a Dutch auction on crime in which people compete to talk the toughest. Indeed, I have found myself doing so— the temptation is particularly strong when I am on the streets talking to victims of crime, as their experiences make me angry. I therefore understand why there is tough rhetoric on crime, but I feel strongly that a bidding war or a Dutch auction in which people out-tough each other on terror is a very dangerous step. I regretted the comments by the Leader of the House last week, and found them offensive. I had assumed that there was a general understanding that, while there may be differences in our method, as the Home Secretary acknowledged, the parties in the House stand shoulder to shoulder in our approach to terrorism.
I have two abiding beliefs on this issue. First, I do not for one minute underestimate the seriousness of the situation that we are in, and entirely accept the fact that we face a threat. I entirely accept, too, the very good work that our security forces are doing—frankly, it is a miracle and a tribute to their work that we have been able to enjoy security since 9/11. Secondly, I do not doubt the Home Secretary's personal commitment to doing everything that he can to make sure that our shores are safe. He has strong integrity on this issue, and when he goes to sleep at night, he must be sure that he is doing everything he can to ensure that this country is safe. I am prepared to make those two acknowledgements and all that I ask in return from the Leader of the House and others is that they accept the need for Opposition parties sometimes to question those policies and stand up where we can for the principles of justice and liberty. When we do so, it is wrong for us to be attacked for being weak on terrorism. It is a difficult issue that requires a balancing act. The problem was touched on by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Mr. Denham. Security and liberty do not rest easy together. We recognise the dilemma and there must be some give on all sides. However, as the Prime Minister recognised in interventions on the leader of my party in the debate last week, tough love and tough liberalism are possible, and the two principles can be married together.
We have made it clear that we support the resources that the Home Secretary has put into the intelligence services. We support the greater use of intelligence gathering and the interception of communications, and we should like that to be admissible in court. We are prepared to look at the idea of special security-vetted judges and the measures being used in other parts of Europe to see whether we could have proper trials in those cases.
I am uneasy about two matters. First, there is the move towards trial without jury. There must be a way round that. A number of sensitive trials taking place involve juries, and I welcome that. The retention of a jury element in trials is a principle worth defending.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Home Secretary's reaction to my right hon. Friend David Davis on the subject was surprising? It is not we or the hon. Gentleman's party who suggested that terrorist trials should take place without a jury. The suggestion came from the Government in the past two weeks, yet today there seems to be a resiling from that position and a lack of clarity about what the Government intend. Why do they keep raising the issue if, as the hon. Gentleman may agree, juries are perfectly competent to deal with such cases?
I am grateful for the intervention. In my darker moments, I would say the Home Secretary has a habit of floating ideas in the press that are never delivered. If I were being charitable, I would say that he is probably genuinely struggling to produce legislation in this area without undermining civil liberties. Perhaps he will clarify the matter now.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, bearing in mind the time available to us. If he examines what he said in Hansard, that he was prepared to consider security-vetted judges to undertake, I presume, trials that would otherwise be difficult in terms of the evidence, and if he examines what I said on the issue on the Dimbleby programme, which was precisely that there would be cases in which security-vetted judges were necessary, will he accept that with security-vetted judges, one cannot have security-vetted juries? In the very limited number of trials involving security-vetted judges, as he suggested this afternoon, it is inevitable that the judges would sit without a jury.
I do not agree with the Home Secretary, but we can engage in debate on the matter. A model could be put in place in which the judge, who is security-vetted, is given information about how the evidence was gained so that he can be reassured about the sources, and the information can be given to the jury without their knowing where it came from. That is a sensible split that would allow the information to come through and the trial to take place with a jury.
This is crucial. In a normal trial, the defence is given all the detail of the accusations and the material. That is why we invented public interest immunity. In the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in the superior court of record, the defence is grumbling that under the rules that we have to apply to protect the sources, we cannot give that information to the defence.
The Home Secretary is due to have a draft consultation on the issue. I suggest that we start from the principle of trying to retain the jury. I want to look at all the systems, at what happens in mainland Europe, and at the idea of a security-vetted judge who deals with aspects of the case, with the jury remaining at the heart of the process. We will engage in that consultation, be sensible about it and try to find a way forward.
I shall make a little progress.
The Liberal Democrats are profoundly uncomfortable about holding individuals in Belmarsh without charging them. Seeking a way in which they can be charged should be a priority. The Home Secretary will have noted the UN's remarks on the subject over the weekend. We will consider effective measures on terrorism, but I hope that he will allow us, without too much criticism, to keep talking about the principles of liberty and justice in that debate.
I shall move on to other measures in the Queen's Speech on which there will be wide agreement. There is agreement on the Liberal Democrat Benches about the establishment of SOCA—the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I hate the name, which does not sound macho enough, but the idea is a good one. The world has moved on. It has become much more complex than ever before. Criminals operate globally and have techniques and tactics that require a different response. SOCA is a sensible way forward. It is no longer good enough to require forces throughout the country to have the skills and knowledge base to deal with that type of crime. Attached to the Bill, however, as ever in the Home Office, are other measures. When we get to that debate, which I believe is next week, we will want to understand more about the powers for fingerprint before arrest. Those could be measures that are helpful, save police time and enable them to deal speedily with identification, but we will want reassurances that measures put in place to protect individuals who are fingerprinted after arrest will also be applicable to the powers to fingerprint prior to arrest.
We welcome the measure to introduce a civilian custody officer. That could allow the police to get out of the station and on to the street, which we have long argued for. As long as proper training is available, that is a sensible measure. I have some concerns about the additional powers proposed in the Bill for community support officers. It has long been our view that they are valuable but they are not the same as fully trained police officers. The more powers are tagged on to them, the closer CSOs get to becoming police officers, but without all the advantages and protection of proper training. We will want to examine that proposal.
Sensible measures are proposed with regard to protests outside Parliament, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of banning a protest outside Parliament because of its visual impact. Arguing that visual impact is a ground for removing a protester is disappointing. After all, where else in a democracy should one be able to hold a banner and register a protest?
The contracting-out of antisocial behaviour orders, which is dealt with in SOCA, causes some concern. I would not want that to end up as the sort of money-making scheme that resulted from individuals having the power to issue parking tickets, for example. We unreservedly welcome the power to get rid of uninsured vehicles more quickly. That is a matter with which all Members of Parliament have had to deal in their constituencies.
Finally on SOCA, we have concerns about the lines of accountability. Both the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, the agencies that will merge to form SOCA, reported to the service authority and there was a line of accountability there. SOCA will report to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is accountable not to Parliament, but to the Prime Minister. On Second Reading and in Committee, perhaps we can examine the lines of accountability. I should have thought that it would make sense for the agency to have some accountability to Parliament and perhaps for the Home Affairs Committee to have a role in looking at its work.
I am conscious that other colleagues want to speak, but there are other Bills that I want to touch on. On the management of offenders, I welcome the wording in the Gracious Speech on the importance of tackling reoffending, which concerns me greatly. If there is one measure we can take to tackle crime, it is to stop more than half of those who leave prison committing another crime. The prison population is a captive audience and a great deal can be done with them. Mr. Bercow was right when he spoke about the need to tackle education issues. He mentioned joining up education so that individuals who move from prison to prison can continue their courses. I draw attention to the inability of prisoners to finish a course when they leave prison. I remember meeting a hairdresser training in a prison, who said to me, "I'm being released in three weeks' time." I said, "That's wonderful news, isn't it?", and she said, "No, it's not. I want to finish my course. I'd like to stay here for another two months because I can't finish my course anywhere else." That is nonsense. We need to examine such issues if we are to tackle reoffending.
The National Offender Management Service, as it is known, has been controversial largely because of the way that it was launched. We want reassurances from the Government that the proper resources are being provided so that, as powers are required for probation to do more, there is the resource and back-up to enable the service to do that effectively. We welcome the Home Secretary's useful phrase of prison without bars. I believe that tagging has a role to play. In this context, I disagree with the shadow Home Secretary. Keeping people out of prison who have committed non-serious crimes is more effective than putting them into a situation where more than half of those who have been incarcerated come out and commit more crimes.
The Home Secretary did not refer to antisocial behaviour orders, but there is another ASBO measure in the Queen's Speech. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with the Home Office this time. Another Department will have responsibility for it. ASBOs will have our support, as they always have, if they are matched with sensible measures that deal not only with issuing punishment but with enabling us to tackle why the individuals concerned got into difficulties in the first place. Punishment should be matched with sensible measures to stop people reoffending.
We will support many of the sensible measures to which the Home Secretary referred that deal with drugs, but I have concerns about the ability to access proper treatment. The Home Secretary referred to the matter on several occasions, and we have no disagreement with him, but the evidence is that there is still difficulty in accessing treatment and getting individuals who are prepared to take part in that process. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the disappointing figures from the Prison Service only last week that showed that about 51 per cent. of treatment programmes in prison had collapsed. If we cannot manage a treatment programme in a situation where the individuals concerned cannot go anywhere else, it does not bode well for programmes that are to be run in the community. It is important that resources are made available.
The Home Secretary did not mention his proposals on juvenile services. We welcome them. It is one of the areas in which the Government have done excellent work. I have seen the projects and there are many lessons that can be learned from the way in which they are being handled in terms of early prevention that could be transferred elsewhere.
The Home Secretary will not be surprised to hear that the one area of difference relates to the Bill on identification cards. The Bill was published early this afternoon. As indicated earlier, there will be an opportunity before Christmas to consider it on Second Reading. I shall reserve my main comments until then. We shall want to talk about costs. I am still unclear where the costs are heading. At one level, I am pretty convinced that the figure is about £3 billion, but press and academic reports tell me that the figure is heading for about £10 billion.
The Home Secretary promised the Home Affairs Committee on
As the hon. Gentleman is being precise about figures, or rather asking questions about figures, why was it when he published an article recently that he was precise in saying that the cost would be £3 billion? Where did he get that from? Why has he changed his mind on this important subject? I do not mind people changing their minds, but this seems to be political opportunism.
I was basing the cost on Home Office figures that have been given to us. I shall be happy to give the hon. Gentleman the audit trail. The costs change every day when we ask the Home Office different questions. That is largely because the spec changes. I think that I am making a conservative estimate by saying £3 billion. Various press articles have referred to £10 billion. Much depends on whether we include in the costs the simple cost of making the identity card or whether added on to that cost are the implications of having a reader in, for example, every hospital, post office or benefit office. Until we know the detail of how widely the Government plan to use the system, I cannot give an accurate estimate. That is why I am saying that the cost will be somewhere between £3 billion and £10 billion.
Why have I changed my mind on this issue? The answer is that I examined it in more detail and I am not convinced of the merits of the proposal. I freely admit that I was one of those who used to say, "If you have nothing to hide, why does it matter?". As I have said, I have changed my mind. Sometimes, when people change their minds, they become firmer. I am clear that I am opposed to the measure.
When we reach the debate on ID cards, I want to examine the issue of biometrics and their effectiveness, on which I think we shall have an interesting debate. Various tests have shown that there is a failure rate or error rate of between 2 and 5 per cent. on the facial scans that are involved. Given that so much emphasis is being put on technology, I will need great reassurance that the technology being used for biometrics is accurate.
There is also the issue of individuals who can come to the country for three months, on holiday, and not need a form of identity. How will that work in terms of some of the controls? There is also the point that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden made very well about the Government's track record on computer programmes. We will need a great deal of convincing about the effectiveness of the programmes and on the issue of data. We will need reassurance about where that data will be available.
We will want carefully to probe the timescale. I see emerging a system that is neither compulsory nor voluntary. As we work through a rolling programme over the next 10 years of when individuals have to change their passports, even in five or six years' time less than half of the population will be covered by the scheme. However, half the country will have had to get an ID card—they will be compulsory—while the other half will not be in that position. We are heading for chaos and misunderstanding, particularly if the plan is to roll the scheme out to include benefit access. There will be great confusion. At the end of the day, even by the Home Secretary's own admission, it will be another 10 or 12 years before everyone will have one of the cards.
Do the Government plan to use the system to include health and benefit fraud? I understand that the largest amount of benefit fraud that takes place does not involve people pretending to be somebody else but people pretending to have something that they do not have. I do not know why we are introducing a system to tackle a problem that I do not believe exists and about which I believe that the Department for Work and Pensions is uneasy. It is odd that a study that has been commissioned by the Department is being considered but has not been made public. I would welcome a reassurance that the report that it has commissioned to ascertain whether it could use ID cards in relation to benefits will be made public. In Committee, it would be useful to know what a Department that could benefit from the system thinks about its potential use.
We will want carefully to probe how the power of arrest will be used in relation to ID cards. The Home Secretary said on the Dimbleby programme on Sunday, I think, that people will not be arrested for not having a card with them. I accept that, if that is what the right hon. Gentleman said.
I have not had a chance to read the Bill. The Bill was only published at 4.30 pm, a time when the Government would know that Members would be sitting in the Chamber. I am not a speed reader and I have not had a chance to read it.
It was in the draft Bill, which was prepared for consultation many months ago.
The Government have always been clear that there will never be any requirement in the proposed legislation for people to be required to carry identity cards. I have made that position clear on a number of occasions. It was in the draft Bill that was prepared for consultation. It is in the Bill that was published this afternoon. I wish that the hon. Gentleman and others would stop suggesting that the situation is any different.
I am grateful for the Minister's clarity. He is virtually admitting that a draft Bill never gets changed with this Government and that the Bill that follows it carries on in the same way. I shall not base my remarks on a draft Bill. I want to know what is happening now. I am accepting at face value what the Bill says and what the Minister says about arrest, but I want to follow through that scenario. We will want to probe carefully. If an individual is asked to show his or her ID card and is not in a position to do so, will he or she be asked to go to the station to show that card? What happens in those circumstances if people refuse to have a card or to show it? That is what many individuals, particularly some in ethnic and black communities, will want clarity on, particularly when we see a large increase in the use of stop-and-search powers in respect of those groups.
We will give measures that we think are effective and sensible a good hearing but reserve our right to argue where we can and speak up on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party for the principles of liberty and justice.
I should like to start by saying how much I welcome the Government's proposal to take extra measures to protect medical researchers, including many in my constituency, against the unacceptable activities of some animal rights extremists.
I also welcome the Government's intention to reintroduce the proposal to create a specific offence of incitement to religious hatred, which fell in the House of Lords. As a person of no religious belief, I do believe that no one should be discriminated against or become the object of hatred because of their religious belief. Plenty of people have suffered in the past, and these days it tends to be Muslims who are suffering. We have already outlawed religious discrimination in employment, which is a step forward, and we are now proposing to provide the same protection with regard to incitement to hatred, which has been happening.
I hope that we can go further on just two points. In the proposition that was advanced previously, but rejected by the House of Lords, people were also to be protected against incitement to hatred as a result of their not having any religious beliefs. I hope that that will continue to apply. I should also like the Government to take this opportunity to abolish the ridiculous common-law offence of blasphemy. It is absurd to provide any such special protection for any religion, but as the existing law protects only the Church of England, it is even more ridiculous. A law that was established at York assizes in 1836—the last time the measure was really determined—is not fit for the 21st century.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the blasphemy law, but there seems to be a contradiction in his argument. He thinks that religion should not be protected by blasphemy law, especially as the law applies to only one faith, but he also wants an offence of incitement to religious hatred that will do precisely that for all religions. Is there not a contradiction in his position?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so dim that he cannot distinguish between somebody expressing dislike of a religious belief or even ridiculing it and incitement to hatred against people because of their religious beliefs. He should be able to spot the difference, even if he is a Tory.
Turning to more general matters, we must all recognise that laws need updating to keep abreast of changes in society. The new factor that we have to face up to is the existence of the suicide bomber; a person who is willing to sacrifice their own life while taking the lives of others. Our criminal justice system has never had to contemplate how to deal with such people. Unlike people who might be described as conventional terrorists, suicide bombers are not deterred by the threat of detention and punishment after the event, which does not offer any protection to a potential victim either. Anticipation and prevention are what is required.
That is why I was happy to support the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which permits the detention of non-British subjects without trial if they come from countries to which our returning them would break our obligations under international law. That was a stop-gap measure, however, and I believe that the gap has been stopped, although at some cost. It has damaged our international reputation as a country with an open society with the rule of law and the right to a trial.
I urge my hon. and right hon. Friends not to await the outcome of the court decisions on the Belmarsh detainees; win, lose or draw, I think that there are better ways of achieving what they want than detention without trial. I believe that it would be possible to adopt measures that protect the people of this country, which is paramount, but which at the same time do not bring our system into international disrepute. I think that the proposals of the Joint Committee on Human Rights would go a long way towards achieving what we want. For example, there should be changes in criminal procedures to permit for the first time the use of intercepted phone-tap evidence. Personally, I have never understood why such evidence is not used. If it is possible to open envelopes and look at people's letters, I do not see any difference in principle.
At the same time, we would need some fairly savage penalties for anyone on the side of authority who was using what we might call electronic wizardry to falsify any such information. We need to ensure that there is not a lot of over-enthusiasm. None the less, it would be possible to let people out of Belmarsh or wherever, subject to the restriction orders that the Joint Committee proposed, with extremely intensive surveillance and electronic monitoring. The security services might welcome such action, as it would give them the opportunity to maintain surveillance and perhaps catch people who try to get in touch with those who have been let out.
We must always bear in mind that we need to protect the people who are here in this country, but we must also remember that the objectives of terrorists in modern times have not been the overthrow of Governments. No established democracy has ever been overthrown by terrorists, whose object is to get us to bring our own sacred institutions into disrepute and to damage us in international affairs. They want us to cease to be an open society and to practise the rule of law, and to abandon our commitment against arbitrary action against individuals. They love it when we have to put up with the trappings and inconvenience of enhanced security measures. They want us to abandon tolerance of diversity and freedom of expression, and they are delighted if we inhibit the right to trial and, more particularly, the right to trial by jury.
I will find it very difficult to support the concept of terrorist trials without juries. We have the precedent of the Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, and it has to be admitted that they seem to have worked fairly well. However, in terms of abandoning jury trials because of the fear of intimidation, I cannot accept that the situation in England, Scotland and Wales is like that in Northern Ireland at the height, or depth, of the troubles, or like that in Sicily when the mafia were waxing strong. I cannot believe that the scope for intimidation on the mainland, so to speak, or the ratio of intimidators to the potentially intimidated are on the same scale as people in Northern Ireland experienced.
No, as I do not have much time.
We must ensure that if we do these things properly and allow jury trials, for example, the security services can exploit the fact of people being intimidated by spotting the intimidators, tracking them down and dealing with them. I should be very reluctant to contemplate the abandonment of jury trials in respect of any criminal activity, including terrorism, on the mainland. Such action would be a significant step away from what we hold sacred, and it would be in exactly in the direction that the terrorists and the Mr. Bigs behind them would like us to go.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Dobson, who always, absolutely without exception, has something original to say, and I hope that those on the Labour Front Bench have listened carefully to his strictures.
A number of speakers have already made it clear that many of the measures in the Gracious Speech are welcome. I myself would, rather ungraciously, say that they would be even more welcome if more than a handful of them stood a chance of reaching the statute book before the date on which The Sun newspaper has said the election will be held. It would be instructive to hear from Ministers which measures they expected to stay the course and which, after all the hype, were only soundbites.
The Prime Minister himself helpfully pointed out that
"There are still far too many victims of crime", and that he is determined to ensure that
"we have respect and responsibility back on the streets and in the communities of Britain."—[Hansard, 23 Nov 2004; Vol. 428, c. 23.]
Everyone would agree with both statements.
I remind Ministers that eight Bills in the Gracious Speech have implications for police resources; admittedly, three of them are draft Bills. I draw Ministers' attention—I need not draw the attention of the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety, because she was there—to a useful debate that took place in Westminster Hall on
"There are several imponderables in our current position on police funding".—[Hansard, 10 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 296WH.]
All former Ministers understand that imponderables always exist when one approaches the pre-Budget report; we used to call it the autumn statement.
Obviously, we all realise that announcements on police funding are due to be made shortly, but unless substantial additional funds are made available, it would be beyond the ability of many police authorities, including my own, to cope if any of the eight Bills were to reach the statute book.
The number of police officers in Norfolk has increased, which is welcome; less welcome is the fact that the council tax increase over the past four years to pay for that growth is nearly 66 per cent., and this year's budget alone accounts for a 13.5 per cent. increase in council tax. Norfolk police authority faces a particular problem in funding its pension obligations. The Government have made it clear that they will cap council tax increases, and Norfolk only narrowly escaped capping last year.
In the Westminster Hall debate, hon. Members from both sides of the House acknowledged that most police authorities needed about a 5.5 per cent. increase just to stand still. In Norfolk, if we are lucky, the calculation is that we shall have an increase of between 3 and 4 per cent., so we will be adrift by around 1 per cent. of meeting the obligations in existing legislation. If the Government are serious about the Gracious Speech, Ministers must convince us that they will make available to police authorities the means to bring about the improvements that they claim they wish to see in place; otherwise, it is only talk.
I want to comment on a specific measure in the Gracious Speech that the Home Secretary did not mention, perhaps because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is dealing with it; namely the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. The Bill was helpfully trailed in The Times on
I am enthusiastic because the Bill will give more local authorities, and indeed the police, powers to deal with those various nuisances. I understand that powers that have already been given to district and unitary authorities will be extended to parish councils. Ministers—the Minister who replies this evening may want to respond to this point—might give some thought as to how practical those proposals are for average parish councils.
Norfolk has 550 parish councils, and the average parish council has an annual income of about £7,000 a year. When one takes into account what that must be spent on—grass cutting, street lighting, the clerk's payment, a car scheme to pay volunteers to drive people to hospital, water rates, insurance, repairs, sundries and other things—there is not an awful lot left to pay a member of staff to issue on-the-spot fixed penalty fines.
Mr. James Booty, chairman of Northwold parish council in the centre of my constituency, thinks that the clerk—a lady of at least my age—might not welcome that addition to her duties. The average income, which is painfully extracted and meticulously accounted for, would not stretch to employing a new kind of parish constable.
The new power is good, and it may be possible for larger parishes and town councils to provide that service at a cost. However, no parish council of an average size anywhere in my county will be able to provide it. Given travel costs and the distance between communities, joining forces to provide such a service is not a practical proposition.
I know that the constituency represented by the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety is in Greater Manchester. Will she carefully examine communities that are different from the one that she represents? Such communities are just as bothered by graffiti, fly-tipping and abandoned cars as those represented by Labour Members. I hope that she will give some thought as to how the proposal, which is good, might work in a rural area such as mine, otherwise hon. Members who represent rural areas will be forced to conclude that the new powers are not for us.
I found the approach of Mrs. Shephard constructive, which is how we should approach those significant issues.
I broadly support the Government's outline programme in the Gracious Speech. I certainly enthusiastically support the Home Secretary in the way in which he goes about his job; he is an outstanding politician.
May I give a brief account of an incident that took place recently and that very much concerns me? At 2.45 am on
Most of the murders and the street crimes that take place in my area are associated with drugs. I must question the drugs Bill and say something unpopular; this is a minority view in the House, but the war against drugs is not being won, and I do not think that it ever will be. We could make the penalties so harsh that people are terrified. In some countries, they chop off people's hands and hang people for drugs offences, which does not appeal much, even to a curmudgeonly old loony such as myself. We should perhaps think what many people in this House and elsewhere consider unthinkable, which is to broaden the legalisation of drugs; not all drugs, but certainly those that are generally considered to be recreational.
I can see many advantages to such an approach, but this short speech does not allow me to develop them. Legalisation would provide many advantages with regard to reducing violence and criminal activity. I do not know the answer, but, at the very least, we should have a proper public debate, and a royal commission could study the matter. We cannot keep saying that we need more legislation in order to wage war on drugs, when we are manifestly not winning that war. When one is not winning a war, one should examine one's tactics and strategy.
During my years as an MP in this House, I have become cynical about human behaviour. Perhaps it is right and appropriate that I should be leaving this place, because I find myself becoming more angry about what is going on, not less so. I could very well be losing my sense of perspective, but I do not think so. I believe that we are moving inexorably towards an increasingly violent society where the response by Government and law enforcement agencies will become commensurately harsher.
Many factors have contributed to this depressing state of affairs. We appear to have more freedom, choice and prosperity, but undoubtedly have fewer values that are common to us all. Respect for institutions has been undermined, especially vital institutions such as our own. There is a culture of blame; it is always someone else's responsibility. Few seem ready or able to blame themselves if something goes wrong or to take responsibility for their own actions. People are bombarded with trivia until the trivial, the soulless and the empty-headed become the norm.
People are saturated with images of violence and contempt for human and animal life through television, magazines and newspapers; indeed, even through the very toys that we buy our children. At about this time of year, I do my usual tilt against the windmill by proposing a Bill or tabling an early-day motion on banning the sale of war toys. If people want to know where the gun culture starts, it is when we give realistic toy weapons to our boys. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not agree, but it is a theory that needs examining. If we do that, or assume that there is no harm in violent Playstation games, we lessen people's resistance to violence. I honestly think that that is a root cause of many of the problems that we face in our society.
I do believe in personal freedoms and liberty, but for some that seems to mean licence. That is unacceptable, because in the end the greatest personal and civil right must be the right to go about our lawful business without fear of violence and intimidation. It takes only a small minority of individuals in our communities to destroy those rights, and we must deal with those people. Unfortunately, as is evident from the proposed legislation, there is a price that we must all pay in order to establish a framework of discipline and control within which we can continue to enjoy and operate the greater freedoms.I welcome the proposals on ID cards—
I do; I have changed my mind on where I stand. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman may not be surprised to learn that I would go a bit further nowadays. I also believe in a mandatory national register of DNA. When I tabled an early-day motion on that matter some 18 months ago, I attracted 25 signatures, so I am certainly not alone in this respect.
I welcome the serious organised crime and police Bill. Again, I would go further by saying that we should routinely arm all our police. It has been suggested within the police force that that should be the subject of a referendum among the police. I want vigorous public debate on such matters. I can understand why some people would find my views anathema, but I want to hear their reasons why. I want to engage in the argument so that together we can try to resolve these major problems as a collective and responsible House, not make them into narrow, vulgar party political attacks.
Those are some of the issues that we should be addressing. I understand why some might think that I am pushing the limits. That is fine; it would not be the first time that I have found myself in a tiny minority, even in my own constituency, but I believe that we have a right, and indeed a duty, to raise such matters. I admit that I have changed my position on several of them, but I merely echo the words of Maynard Keynes, who said:
"When circumstances change, I change my mind—what do you do?"
It is always a great privilege and pleasure to follow Mr. Banks, not least given that his evolution through this House has ended with his making the sort of speech that went out of fashion at Conservative party conferences of the late 1950s, where speakers deplored the lack of respect for institutions among the young and cited the need for discipline. If he can learn to love his constituents and to believe in democracy, he will have made it to our Benches.
I want to draw the House's attention to the similarity between policies and houses. When houses languish unsold year after year, it is almost certainly because there is something wrong with their foundations. I have to tell Labour Members that there is no policy that has been hawked, unsold, around Whitehall for longer than identity cards. When I was in the Cabinet, it was brought to us time and again, but every time we examined it—it was always brought to us as a solution looking for problems—we found, when each of the problems that it could potentially solve was identified, that it had no utility and its advantages evaporated. The police told us that they rarely had any problem in identifying people, only in demonstrating that they had done that of which they were suspected. The security services told us that terrorists rarely conceal their identity, only their intention—as was apparent in the case of those involved in the 9/11 tragedy, in Madrid and in Constantinople.
The immigration services told us that all illegal immigrants can, and mostly do, claim asylum. Once they have done so, they are given an identity document and fingerprinted, as has been the case since July 1993. That document now takes the form of an identity card. Without it, they cannot claim benefits or get legal employment. A compulsory identity card would therefore be of little practical use unless people were required to carry it and the police were empowered to stop and to require information from anyone who looked and sounded foreign. If the Government are proposing to introduce a system whereby members of ethnic minorities are required constantly to justify their presence in this country, they should stand up and say so; unless they are prepared to do that, the proposal will have no impact whatever in identifying and stopping illegal immigration.
It has been suggested that the identity card might be of value in curbing benefit fraud. As Secretary of State for Social Security, I was aware that the amount of benefit fraud that relies on false identity was, at most, 1 or 2 per cent. of the total. I proposed to introduce a benefit payment card, but that was to improve the security of payment and to replace the insecure method of order books and girocheques. Unfortunately, that system was abandoned by the Labour Government after a couple of years because they believed that they could not make it work. Even though it had worked in Ireland, they could not upgrade it from a system that covered roughly 1 million people there to one that would cover 15 million people here. How will they be able to make work an identity card system covering all 60 million people in this country?
When identity cards have been tried elsewhere, they have failed to prevent crime, terrorism, fraud or illegal immigration. Because systems that exist elsewhere do not work in practice, the Government propose to introduce a system that exists nowhere and hope that it will turn out to be wonderful. I have to tell them that there are plenty of reasons for believing that it is a racing certainty that it will not work. Previously, all such large projects have failed, as we know from the experiences of the Child Support Agency and of the Home Office itself. We know, too, that private firms such as banks and credit card companies have not taken the route of biometric identifiers, because they think that the benefits will be less than the costs and that the system will not work that well, and because they know that even on the Government's own tests there is roughly a 7 per cent. incidence of false negatives. If each of us had to show our card once a year, that would mean 4 million false negatives. Are the Government prepared to accommodate that amount of accusation and suspicion of the general public, who would be falsely accused of not being who they are?
If the system is not compulsory, it is pointless. All the advantages that the public at least perceive as deriving from identity cards work on the assumption that people will have the cards on them when they are stopped by the police, who believe that they may be a criminal or an illegal immigrant and so on.
Today, the Home Secretary prided himself on the fact that the opinion polls show that 80 per cent. of the population are in favour of compulsory identity cards. That is the sole reason for their introduction. It is a focus group-driven policy.
And we decided not to introduce it—largely because I argued against it in Cabinet—on the grounds that I outlined.
The Home Secretary believes that the policy is a good idea because it is popular. When the Labour Government in Australia introduced a similar proposal, it had even greater support. However, as it wound its way through the Australian Parliament and the upper House, the mood changed, and eventually, according to the opinion polls, 90 per cent. of the Australian public were against it. The measure was defeated in the upper House and contributed to the defeat of the Australian Labour Government. I hope that the pattern is repeated here.
In the short time available, I want to consider two subjects. The first is nannies, if I may be so indelicate as to mention them, and the second is the politics of behaviour.
I mention nannies because it is said that the Government and especially the Home Office are the architects of the nanny state. It is always interesting to hear Conservative Members speak about nannies because they have had more experience of them than Labour Members, so it is strange that their conclusion is so negative when ours is rather positive. Perhaps those who have had them view them differently from those who have not. We see them as people who protect, look after and nurture, especially when others in life are absent. We are therefore puzzled by the way in which the nanny state is attacked.
In the past, the nanny state was invoked to attack a range of progressive measures. It was invoked to protect the intimacy of family life and enable men to treat women as chattels. Intruding into such a relationship was seen as terrible interventionism. When the state tried to intrude into employment relationships to stop sweated labour or exploitation in the workplace, we were told that that constituted terrible intervention in the contracts of employment. When the state intervened to protect consumers against being ripped off by producers, we were told that that was an infringement of basic caveat emptor principles. Even now, we are sometimes told that having a Food Standards Agency to protect people and ensure that food is properly labelled so that people know what they are eating is some sort of nannyish interventionism, or that setting up a Financial Services Authority so that people are not ripped off by mis-sellings of the financial services industry is inappropriate nannyish intrusion.
In all those cases, if the state does not act, what is left is not an oasis of private freedom but private power. My approach to identity cards is broadly the same. The state's job and that of public power, acting in the public interest, is to harness and tame private power. The state is called on to do that, and a democratic Parliament is asked to do that, too. I want a state that makes freedom a practical reality for most people. That means an active state, and so, on the nanny state, I say bring it on. We need it to act in the way that it does.
My second point picks up on some of the comments that my hon. Friend Mr. Banks made about the politics of behaviour. The subject goes beyond the routine party exchanges and invites us to consider more widely some of the issues that underpin the measures proposed in the Queen's Speech. Frankly, we have a problem and we all know it. In the past generation or two, society has advanced in all sorts of ways. People are richer, they can do more, they consume more, they travel more and their access to everything has increased. Yet alongside that, two other things have happened.
First, there has been an erosion of what could be described as the civic infrastructure. That is why we complain about the loss of community. We feel that something has gone. It is not surprising that some of the older people in our society feel that most acutely, because they remember—and tell us—how it used to be.
Secondly, a behavioural revolution has happened. If we are honest, we will admit that we have witnessed a coarsening of our society in all sorts of ways. It goes beyond the way in which one party attacks another, and invites us to examine matters with a much longer perspective and consider some of the large causes. Most people would accept that something profound has happened to the traditional authority structures in our society, especially to the major institution of the family.
We can play the figures endlessly but I shall give one version. Almost 90 per cent. of children born in 1958 still lived, at the age of 16, with both natural parents. For children born in 1970, the figure was down to 82 per cent. For children born in 1984–85, it was down to 65 per cent. In a quarter of a century, a 25 per cent. drop occurred in the number of children who live with their natural parents at the age of 16. That must have an impact on the quality of relationships and of life in our society. That is reflected in the crime figures.
Almost all the other indicators in our society in the past generation or two have moved in the right direction, but crime has not. I am not considering only the past few years, when the Government have a good record. Since 1950, crime has increased tenfold. Violent crime has increased by 1,375 per cent. Why do we spend so much time discussing what is happening to our town centres? Why do we spend so much time talking to our constituents about the fact that they feel fearful in their streets and neighbourhoods? Because they do: the fear is not invented; the quality of their lives has deteriorated.
We should be ashamed that beautiful foreign cities are tortured by the booze cruisers from this country and that 75 per cent. of admissions to accident and emergency departments at the weekend are caused by people who are fuelled by alcohol. We see what is happening all around us, and it comes down not to what a Government or party do but to behaviour in our society, which is reflected in the media, where images of violence—trivial, casual violence—are pumped out round the clock. On "EastEnders", people shout at each other. When they do not shout at each other, they hit each other. Such images are constantly pumped out.
My comments are abbreviated, but I conclude that it is no wonder that the politics of behaviour has come to the top of the political agenda. However, if Government are being asked to fill the gaps that the decline in other institutions leaves, can they do it? The answer is that I do not know, but if they do not try, they will be letting down the people we represent
It is a pleasure to follow Tony Wright, who made a thoughtful speech, especially on the subject of the family. However, if he and the House do not mind, I shall return to identity cards, which have played quite a part in the debate.
I confess at the outset that, up to this Parliament, I was not one of those who were passionately exercised about identity cards; I certainly was not a passionate advocate of them when they were being discussed under the last Conservative Government. My right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley eloquently put the arguments against— I accept that there are arguments for and against in principle—and as he said, the idea has been around for a considerable time.
The benefits of introducing identity cards will be very small—with one exception—on, for example, issues such as illegal immigration and benefit fraud, whereas the costs will be great. Taking all that into account, I have not been greatly exercised about the issue. However, serious though the arguments in principle put by my right hon. Friend and others are, there is another consideration, which we in the House must also take seriously. I took it seriously as a member of the Home Affairs Committee when we considered the evidence. We received evidence from the Government, who wobbled a little from time to time, and from the police and other expert sources that identity cards would make a contribution in dealing with the threat of terrorism.
Serious though the issues of principle are, and serious though the issues of illegal immigration, benefit fraud and organised crime are in their own way, terrorism is something that we in this Parliament must learn to treat as of overriding importance. If we are told that there is evidence that identity cards will assist in dealing with terrorism, we have to take that seriously, even though they may not be the complete answer and only one of a number of ways of dealing with it.
This is where I part company with the Government, who have been wobbling on this very question. I rely not on the evidence from them but on the evidence that the Committee received from the Association of Chief Police Officers and others. The Government have made this part of their case, but I find very surprising the time scale that they have set out for introducing identity cards. If identity cards will assist in dealing with terrorism and if, as the Government have accepted, identity cards have to be compulsory to achieve the full benefits, why on earth are the Government proposing to proceed in such a leisurely way?
This afternoon, the Home Secretary talked about looking back in a decade's time, perhaps after some terrorist incident, to see whether we did everything we possibly could, but it will be nearly a decade before identity cards are in force. As I understand it, according to the Government's original timetable—I want to hear from the Minister if there is any alteration, because different versions have emerged—it will be another three years before identity cards become available, and then only as and when people apply for one, or for a driving licence or a new passport.
Then, there will be a number of years—up to four—during which people gradually acquire identity cards. Then, and only then, will there be a further debate and a vote in the House on an affirmative resolution as to whether identity cards will be introduced. That will not be until 2012 or 2013. Presumably, there will then have to be a further delay while all those people who do not have an identity card are issued with one.
All that will take a considerable time, which brings to mind this country's last experience of identity cards, when it faced a serious threat in 1939. Over a time scale not dissimilar to that which the Government now propose for getting around to introducing compulsory identity cards, identity cards were proposed, introduced, implemented and used, serving their purpose until people got a bit fed up with them and it was nearly time for their abolition. It does not add up.
If it is the Government's case that identity cards are part of the fight against terrorism—I am prepared to accept that we should take that seriously—why on earth are they taking such a long time to introduce them and why are we dealing with them in this way? The whole thing smacks of interdepartmental wrangles and a lack of grip in taking decisions. We have already heard this afternoon that the Government have been discussing this matter for three years; if it is urgent, let us get on with it quickly.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees that the 1939 typewritten and carbon copy version would not be adequate to meet the needs in respect of modern fraudsters, so would he be kind enough to tell the House what off-the-shelf technology he would introduce for use today?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because he has made an important point about the Government's proposals. I look to them for an answer on this question: is it their case that something inherent in the technology that they are using is preventing them from introducing identity cards on a faster time scale? If so, I look forward to hearing about that from them. If they have decided on this leisurely introduction for other reasons, we must take that very seriously indeed.
I want briefly to discuss some other issues that have been raised, two in particular. The one issue that my constituents put to me more than any other is the fact that they would like to see more police out on the streets and more police tackling crime. I am sure other hon. Members have heard the same thing. On the question of numbers, the Home Secretary has again this afternoon, as has the Prime Minister on a number of occasions, spoken of the increased police numbers under his stewardship. The more I hear the Home Secretary talking about the increase in police numbers, the more I think he is launching a savage attack on his predecessor, because for every year between 1997 and 2002 police numbers in England and Wales were lower than those inherited by this Government.
At the beginning of the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Prime Minister said to one of my hon. Friends:
"I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree that 12,500 extra police officers—record numbers of police officers and community support officers—is something that the Government can be very proud of."—[Hansard, 23 November 2004; Vol. 428, c. 23.]
He happily lumped police officers and community support officers together, but does that mean that he should have felt shame just before the last general election—
Oh dear. I think it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman. He is being selective, as the Prime Minister is being selective, about police numbers. I shall come to another issue on which the Government are being very selective, but my constituents in Hertfordshire have had the worst of all worlds: there has been the substantial increase in police precepts, which the hon. Gentleman might be aware of and which has certainly taken effect in other parts of the country, as well as other forms of taxation, yet we are not getting fair treatment from the Government over police funding, because we have lost out under the police funding formula, which was implemented two years ago as part of the local government funding formula.
Now we have the spectacle of the chief constable of Hertfordshire and the chairman of the Hertfordshire police authority—both well-known Tories, I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker—coming to the House to ask Members of Parliament of all parties to help them in their fight to try to keep police numbers in Hertfordshire at the same level. I can tell Ministers that my constituents are absolutely fed up with the Government over this. They are very worried about a reduction in police numbers and they are right to be so.
The other area of great Government selectivity is crime statistics, and I am afraid that we had another example of that this afternoon from the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, on which I serve. Although I agreed in large measure with many of the other things he said, I am afraid that the Government have nothing to give themselves a pat on the back about in respect of crime figures and claiming that they are winning the fight against crime, other than the fact that they are prepared to be very selective indeed in their use of crime figures.
I remind the House that this Government, in choosing between the British crime survey figures and the recorded crime figures, which give different outcomes, now disregard the recorded crime statistics and choose to rely on the British crime survey figures—
I will give way to the Minister in a moment if she wants me to. This Government do that even though they chose to rely on the recorded crime statistics over and over again in chastising the last Conservative Government. Comparing like with like, what do the recorded crime statistics show? Even making statistical allowances for changing methodology, recorded crime has gone up and violent crime has gone up by 44 per cent. since this Government took office.
If we examine the British crime survey figures, on which the Prime Minister is now wont to rely, even though he himself used the recorded crime figures previously, we see that crime has come down, but the problem for the Government is that they show that crime started to come down in 1995. I do not remember the then Opposition going round the country in 1997 saying that the Government were doing a good job because crime was coming down, as measured by the British crime survey. The fact is that crime was coming down much faster between 1995 and 1997 than it has been since. Even in those British crime survey figures, there are some worrying trends, such as in gun crime, which has doubled, on any view, over the past five years. There was no mention of that in the Queen's Speech, and the Government are showing great complacency and no determination to try to get the figures back to the level to which the country was used before gun crime became all too frequent. In the brief time that I have left, I shall give way to the Minister, if she still wants to make an intervention—no, she clearly does not.
I hope that the Minister will take some of my comments to heart, because the Government have nothing to be proud about on tackling crime. The country is looking for a much more radical approach, especially on police numbers: people want a greatly increased number of police used in a much more effective way.
I want to concentrate in my eight minutes on the Identity Cards Bill.
I wish that we still lived in a world in which ID cards were not necessary, and in which there were no suicide bombers, but we now live in the global village, facilitated by the jet engine. I am also totally in favour of managed migration, but that is facilitated by people having the skills and ability to get jobs in this country, which is different from what is happening in my constituency, where too many young men are getting entry visas on the back of marriage to young girls, many of whom are born in my constituency. It is totally unacceptable that the human rights of those girls are being abused simply for the economic enhancement of families in Pakistan, and sometimes families in Keighley.
Aspects of the ID card legislation will make that more difficult and disrupt the behaviour of young men coming in as husbands. Increasingly, in my constituency, young men are coming in as husbands to girls who have been forced to marry them, and who then come to me to try to get out of acting as a sponsor. We call them reluctant sponsors, and there are too many of them in Keighley. Frequently, the young man does a disappearing act—he leaves the girl, sometimes shortly after arrival, sometimes after they have one or two children, so she is left holding the baby, paying the mortgage, earning the wages and doing everything. She can do absolutely nothing about it. She then comes to me about the case, tells me that she has been married and that the man has left her. What will we do about it?
The problem is that the young man can just disappear into his extended family—biraderi—and he is lost to the girl, the Government and the various agencies such as the police. Aspects of the introduction of an ID card would help to disrupt the behaviour of those young men. We are told that the Bill will
"Ensure checks can be made against other databases to confirm an applicant's identity and guard against fraud . . . Enable public and private sector organisations to verify a person's identity by checking against the National Identity Register, with the person's consent, to validate their identity before providing services"
Let us bear in mind that these young men who go AWOL are frequently able to use the various services available and to gain money from the social security department. The Bill would also
"Create new criminal offences on the possession of false identity documents" which frequently occurs—
"including genuine documents that have been improperly obtained or relate to someone else . . . Include enabling powers so that in the future access to specified public services could be linked to the production of a valid identity card."
All those aspects would disrupt the lives of young men who leave before gaining indefinite leave to remain, and help to curb the activities of many young men who leave after—and sometimes on the very same day—that they receive their indefinite leave to remain.
This is just one aspect of curbing the activities of families who force their daughters into marriage. Other things can be done, however, which would help young girls resist forced marriages. On
I was in the Chamber at that time, and it may assist the hon. Lady to know that the Home Secretary had trailed that speech in its entirety in the press, and then thought that he might address us later with the same text. Unfortunately, the Government had not protected their work.
I am not sure about the Government protecting their work, but as the hon. Gentleman said, I know that the Home Secretary was not able to say to the House the things that I will read out now. It is important that we have on the record what the Home Office is promising to me and my constituents in Keighley, who are being abused in such a dreadful way.
I am not sure whether primary legislation would be required, or whether the proposals could be introduced by secondary legislation or other measures, but the Home Secretary was going to say:
"The new measures build on existing work with public agencies, the voluntary sector and community leaders to raise awareness of forced marriage and to encourage victims to seek support and advice. They also strengthen immigration controls in order to break the cycles of violence that follow forced marriage.
The package includes a new joint Home Office-Foreign Office Forced Marriage Unit; a consultation to be launched later this year on whether to create a specific criminal offence of forcing someone into marriage; forced marriage to be targeted as a specific abuse in the revision of key inter-agency guidance on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children which will have statutory backing; the minimum age for marriage entry clearance will be raised from 16 to 18".
That follows a measure introduced a year last
The Home Secretary would also have said that
"an additional forced marriage entry clearance post" is to be
"created in Islamabad to help reluctant spouses and increase our ability to support victims."
Most of the problems in regard to which I must intercede originate there.
I welcome the Identity Cards Bill because it will go some way towards disrupting the behaviour of young men who have taken advantage of young girls who are forced into marriage. However, I look forward to the introduction of the measures mentioned in the document to which I have referred.
I am pleased to follow Mrs. Cryer, she made a brave speech, and I believe that much of what she said should be noted and acted on by Government.
When the present Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard, was Home Secretary in the 1990s, crime fell by 18 per cent. in four years. That is a fact. It had never happened before, and it has never happened since. In contrast, under the present Government crime appears to be out of control, and in my constituents' opinion sentences are frequently far too lenient.
Prisons have a role to play in protecting the community from dangerous offenders, and placing convicted criminals in the safest environment for themselves. Prisons per se are not the problem—but, in my view, more attention should be given to their management and to the regimes imposed within their walls. Prisons should not be allowed to become universities of crime. The endemic drug culture should be stamped out. I disagree with Mr. Banks.
Careful attention should be given to proper induction and the appropriate housing of new and young offenders. Prisoners should have a properly structured day with less entertainment, less time spent in their cells, more education, more basic learning, more work and more physical exercise. We urgently need a huge boost to police numbers, in conjunction with an energetic prison-building programme and a coherent effort to get young people off drugs and off the conveyer belt of crime.
As we have heard already today, the UK has a million hard-drug addicts for the first time ever—yes, a million. I make no apology for taking a hard line on drugs. They destroy lives, they destroy society and they render all our efforts to reduce crime worthless. As many know, the drug culture spawns the gun culture, and both help to create the culture of violence.
Today, parts of Britain are virtually no-go-areas. Towns and cities that were once peaceful are now overrun with gangs brandishing guns—and who are in the middle? The decent, hard-working people whose lives are ruined. We must never give up on the war against crime and the war against drugs.
Too many people are afraid: afraid to stay in their homes, afraid to leave their homes, afraid to summon help and afraid not to summon help, afraid to barricade their doors and afraid to be trapped behind their doors. I want criminals to be afraid: afraid of being caught, and afraid of being punished. I believe that if social cohesion is to succeed, people should be happy and secure in their own homes.
If that is the case now—I raised this with the Prime Minister in the Liaison Committee—how is it that many people on the Upton and Moss estates in Macclesfield are having their lives made hell by yob culture, antisocial behaviour such as the production of graffiti and litter, low-level crime involving theft from cars, stealing of cars, and burglary? These are the activities of a limited number of people who, sadly, are often driven by drugs.
Does the Home Secretary accept that many of those people whose lives are being made hell can no longer rely on the police? As we have heard today, the police say that they have inadequate manpower to respond to incidents on estates such as the two that I have mentioned. In my meetings with them, the police are forever telling me that they do not have the resources to devote to dealing with the various incidents that are reported. What are the Government going to do about that, and what are the courts going to do about dealing with the young people who are apprehended and who are making people's lives hell? Too often they appear to pat them on the back and return them to the community.
Of course the answer is zero tolerance, but, as the Minister knows, zero-tolerance policing demands more police—a lot more police, and I mean real police. The Government have responded by recruiting 25,000 people who cannot arrest anyone. Police officers must not be employed to conduct by proxy the Labour party's war against the motorist or the country dweller; and they must not be impeded by the dead weight of regulation that the Government have imposed. Police should be properly resourced and empowered.
The Cheshire constabulary's main focus in the Macclesfield divisional command area is on the reduction of crime and the strengthening of local policing. As the Minister will know, it is about to undergo a force-wide reorganisation in order to deliver more officers to community policing in visible, accessible local policing teams. That can be delivered only through reorganisation of existing resources, and rationalisation of the way in which senior officers currently resource so-called response policing—in other words, taking officers away from the panda car role.
I could say a great deal about approaches made to me, as a Cheshire Member, by the police and the police authority about the shortage of resources. They want to undertake many very desirable projects, but that will take officers from the existing establishment. The clear alternative is, I think, the Conservative alternative. We will set the police free to cut crime.
While I support the hard work of the Cheshire constabulary and the Macclesfield division locally, the problem is that the Government's plethora of initiatives and vast bureaucracy are preventing the police from doing their job. There will be no more national targets, and no more ring-fenced funding. Those are Whitehall priorities at present. A future Home Secretary under a Conservative Government will recruit 40,000 police officers, and we must ensure that they, like all our police, are properly trained.
The Cheshire constabulary would gain an additional 640 or so police officers within nine or 10 years under Conservative proposals. They must not be diverted to perform tasks determined by political correctness. Their task must be just good, traditional policing—deterring crime and catching criminals. We should look to the example set a few years ago by the mayor of New York, Rudy Guiliani. He made New York a safer city than London.
I would like to say much more, but time will not permit me to do so. In the United Kingdom today, there is a silent struggle between the decent, respectable, law-abiding citizen who wants to look after his or her own, pay his or her dues and get on with life and a noisy minority who care nothing for anyone: people who only respect force. I think that too many people currently believe that the majority is a soft touch. We need a change of culture—a return to the values of decency, discipline and respect. That was spelt out extremely well by Tony Wright. For that we need a change of Government. We need a Government who do not just talk, but are resilient and determined to succeed and to represent the interests of people.
It is always a pleasure to follow Sir Nicholas Winterton, not just because it means that his speech has come to an end but because, as we all know, he speaks with passion about his constituents. I noted with interest that it was a mere 44 seconds before he mentioned them.
The programme of legislation in the Queen's Speech does not just address the challenges; it embraces the opportunities of the future. It should not be seen in isolation from the Government's other actions. We are seeing record investment in our public services, coupled with the necessary reforms. There are also the five-year plans coming from Departments. I think that on Thursday, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his pre-Budget report, we shall hear more that will demonstrate the key themes that underlie this Government's programmes and policies. Those themes are the combination of security with opportunity. Developing an opportunity society will enable us to address many of the issues raised in the debate, such as keeping communities together and respect in communities and in society. If we can begin to provide people with opportunities, many of the difficulties that require the Home Office measures that we are discussing will no longer exist and we shall be able to move forward in a positive spirit. A programme of opportunity will allow people to advance on the basis of their endeavour, hard work and talent, not because of wealth and privilege, which is all too often still the case in our country.
If we are to have an opportunity society, it needs to be built on firm foundations, which requires two things: a strong and stable economy and security in our streets and homes and at our borders. The Queen's Speech rightly commits the Government to continuing on the path of economic stability. Labour can be proud of its record on the economy. It is a Labour success story. In 1997, early in office, we took the difficult decisions to give independence to the Bank of England and to stick to the two-year spending limits that we inherited from the Conservative Government—criticised by many people at the time—and because we have economic stability, we have record levels of people in work and low interest rates, and inflation is under control. That is the first part of the foundations that we need for an opportunity society.
Secondly, we need security in our homes, in our streets and at our borders. Some people have criticised the Queen's Speech as creating a climate of fear, but those critics are wrong: in reality, the measures set out in it will address the genuine concerns of people in my Tyneside, North constituency and elsewhere in the country. As a Government, we are reflecting the issues that are the people's priorities. After being in office for seven and a half years, it is crucial that a Government do not lose touch with the concerns of the people they represent.
When a Government or a political party lose touch, they become dogmatic. They no longer represent the people they want to serve.
I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's contribution. Can he explain why the Government have failed over the past seven years to address people's concerns about crime? Has he any explanation that he wishes to advance to the House about why that failure has taken place?
I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's argument, as I do not feel that we have failed to address those concerns. When I look at my constituency of Tyneside, North, which I know better than his constituency, I know that, 10 years ago, when we had record youth unemployment, there were people who were prisoners in their homes. They would not leave during the day or in the evening because crime was out of control. I know the record in the Northumbria police area—the police are getting crime under control and they can do so because of the measures introduced by the Labour Government.
The Government are not complacent, however. We know that, as time moves on, the nature of crime changes, so many of the measures in the Queen's Speech deal with crimes that have developed over recent times: terrorism and the problems of the corrosive effect of drugs on our communities—something that all European countries have to face, not just the UK alone. I do not accept the argument that we have failed on crime, although I acknowledge that there is a good deal more to do to ensure that we reflect the concerns in the communities that both I and Mr. Grieve represent.
The problem is that, if political parties do not deal with priorities, they become irrelevant. The Conservative party has failed to address that problem, but it is one of the lessons that we learned when we were in opposition for 18 years. We became separate from the people we wanted to represent and they saw us as a distant party, not in tune with their needs or aspirations. Labour is now in tune with what people want, but when I look at the modern Conservative party, I see that you are repeating all the mistakes we made in the 1980s and the 1990s. You are the political party—
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Conservative party is now the body that is out of tune, and while it remains out of tune and out of touch, it will be seen as dogmatic and irrelevant by the people of this country. That is my message to Opposition Front-Bench Members: they are repeating all those mistakes.
I was interested to hear the views expressed by Mr. Oaten, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats. He seemed to be saying that liberty and security were mutually exclusive. The important thing is to get the balance right. If we ensure that people are secure, they will be able to exercise the freedoms we want them to have. I congratulate the Home Secretary on getting the right balance in the measures that he is proposing to the House. He is being responsive, not reactionary; strong but fair; informed, but not intolerant. The measures are right for our time.
Has it ever occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government's constant zeal for regulation and their imposition of solutions through legislation on crime may in fact be contributing to the problem?
I accept that over-regulation that leads to an increase in bureaucracy can stand in the way of tackling crime, but I do not accept that regulation per se is inappropriate or wrong. On many occasions when I was in office, I received representations from people who wanted the Government to act, and that is all too easy. When they were in government, some Opposition Members might have responded to such proposals, but sometimes the right thing is to say, "No, we will not introduce measures because there are other ways to tackle the issue."
If we are to have an opportunity society, built on the strong foundations of a good economy and security in our homes and streets and at our borders, we must as a Government tell people what that opportunity society will bring. The Prime Minister set out some of those things in his speech to the Labour party conference, but we still need to address two major issues. We need, first, to tackle child poverty and, secondly, to increase home ownership.
The Government have an excellent record on tackling child poverty. We have made a commitment to eradicate it by 2020 and, by next year, 1 million children will have been lifted out of poverty. Any centre-left Government could be proud of that record, but the next stage will be the real challenge so, in 2005, I hope that we shall have a clear commitment that, by 2010, we will lift a further million children out of poverty.
The number of owner-occupiers has been stuck at 70 per cent. since the early 1990s. If we are serious about providing opportunities, we have to increase that number dramatically.
It takes political courage to be a Government of change and reform. I welcome the fact that the Government have rejected the easy, safety-first option. We are providing opportunity and security in a changing world. It is an ambitious goal that is reflected in the Queen's Speech, and I am confident that it will commend itself to the House.
Mr. Byers has just accused the Conservative party of being out of touch. I am proud to declare a non-pecuniary interest as a serving special constable—something I do to enable me to keep in touch. I hold a warrant with the British Transport police, as does another hon. Member, and I believe that I am right in saying that one further parliamentary colleague holds a warrant with the Home Office force. I want to comment on some omissions from the White Paper and the Queen's Speech, in neither of which was the British Transport police mentioned at all.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety—sadly, she is not with us at the moment—would no doubt say, "Ah, that is a transport matter." Well, let us look at a few of the facts. The British Transport police are responsible for covering 10,000 miles of railway track. We deal with 3,000 depots and stations. There is a travelling population of 5.5 million people per day and a further travelling population of 130,000 rail staff on the trains, at the stations or travelling to or from work. Just as an aside, the railways carry 400,000 tonnes of freight a day, which is also policed.
The BTP deal with every Home Office crime except bigamy. That includes homicide, crimes of violence, sexual offences, robbery, theft, fraud, as well as railway offences, accidents, fatalities and suicides—those delightful things that delay hon. Members on the tube known as "one-unders"—and it is the British Transport coppers who go down under the train and get out the bodies. I noticed that the Home Secretary, when launching his White Paper two days after the Berkshire train crash, could not bring himself to mention the fact that BTP officers were under that train in the dark, pulling out the living and the dead. The BTP deal with anti-terrorist strategy, graffiti and major incident handling, such as the Berkshire crash. They also police travelling sports fans.
The BTP comprise 2,280 police officers. If that number is divided by the accepted figure of 5.8, to take account of sickness, training, shift patterns and holidays, we are left with 400 police officers to cover the entire railway network—10,000 miles of track and 88 police stations—at any time. We work in pairs, so there are 200 pairs of police officers to deal with all that.
During a day, more people go through Oxford Circus tube station than live in Kent and, at any time, Oxford Circus tube station is policed by two police officers. That is a transport matter, of course, not a police matter, because the Government do not fund the railway police effectively. The railways operators are required to fund—or underfund—the people who do that job. The inspector of constabulary and the Home Affairs Committee have both acknowledged the fact that the force is underfunded. That force, which deals with as much terrorism—possibly much more—as any other force in the country, has been given a year's funding by the Secretary of State for Transport to help it deal with terrorism.
A year ago this Christmas, I was out on patrol at Waterloo station, and there was considerable hostility coming towards the uniform from the public. A few weeks later, a bomb went off in Madrid, and I was on patrol at King's Cross station and people came up and said, "Thank God you are here." BTP officers will not be there if they do not have the money to deal with terrorism. When the criminal justice information technology system is replaced under the Government's programme, the BTP will not get the funding. There is no provision for that funding in the Bill.
Much more important than all that, those 200 pairs of coppers who are out on the beat at any time arrest people, as do my local coppers who police my constituency—North Thanet—and Margate and Herne Bay. On a Saturday night, there might be half a dozen policemen on patrol in Margate and Herne Bay—if we are lucky—and if each of those pairs arrests one person, that pair of coppers is off the beat for five hours, dealing with the bureaucracy that the Government have placed on them. If there are three arrests—three drunks from three pubs—there is no police cover at all. Please do not tell me that the policing of this country is anything remotely resembling adequate because it is not.
At the start of the debate, I asked the Home Secretary how long he thought it would take to fill in form 5090—the Metropolitan police stop and search form. He said, I think, that he could do it in 90 seconds. He said that it certainly would not take seven minutes, which rather gives the lie to the idea that he had not heard any complaint from anyone because that is the figure used by John Stevens, the commander of the Metropolitan Police. Anyone who filled in that form in 90 seconds could not possibly have done the job properly. Of course, the Home Secretary then said that, if the person that he was dictating to was slow, it might take a bit longer.
Do Home Office Ministers understand that the form that will be introduced, appropriately on All Fools day, is bigger and will take longer to fill in? When I am out on the beat interviewing someone, I do not need a pad in one hand and a pen in the other, leaving myself entirely vulnerable. I need to be able to do the job that the country requires its policemen and women to do. A Metropolitan police official—not an officer, but a member of the board—said that the policy would help the public because it would give them the chance to stop and chat to policemen. The form is nonsense.
I have 33 seconds left. Let me say this to the Minister: whatever else she does, she must keep the promise and get rid of the bureaucracy. The Government have not got rid of 7,000 forms; they are piling the forms on to the police. We have not got time to fill them in, and we have not got time to do the job.
We all share the regard and gratitude for the British Transport police that Mr. Gale has just so eloquently and passionately described, but I shall not follow him down that route.
This is a strange and uncomfortable Queen's Speech. A quarter of the 32 Bills are about tougher action on terrorism and crime and imposing tighter security measures generally, so the Speech has been described, rather sensationally in my view, as stoking the politics of fear. The motive is far more likely to be neutralising and wrong-footing the Tory party in the one remaining area where it might have some appeal. The problem with that strategy is, of course, that it has a high price; we defeat the Tories by adopting something akin to their policies. Moreover, if the objective of the Queen's Speech is to demonstrate that the Government are tough on security, we would do well to remember the catchphrase that the Prime Minister once highlighted, which needs only a small adaptation now; we should be tough on terrorism, and tough on the causes of terrorism.
The cause of terrorism in the current context are surely, clearly, our participation in the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, when it was known that Saddam Hussein had no connection whatever with the 9/11 attacks. Our involvement in Iraq is exposing the country to the possibility of terrorist counter-attack, and the most effective means of reducing that exposure would be not to restrict civil and human rights in this country, but to make known our commitment to a staged, early troop withdrawal as soon as elections and the security situation feasibly allow.
Of course, I entirely understand that it will be said that the deteriorating security situation does not allow such a policy; but, again, the key fact is that 150,000 foreign troops are occupying the country, and the brutal methods used by the US forces in pacification are now feeding the insurgency. In the last analysis, the Iraqi invasion is a US policy, not a British one. If we want to reduce the threat of terrorism in this country, by far the most effective route is to disengage as soon as we can from this US venture in Iraq and to make public our intention to do so.
The Queen's Speech, however, proposes something rather different. It foreshadows a new draft counter-terrorism Bill which, it has been suggested, may include using Diplock-style, no-jury trials in terrorist cases. That proposal has already some discussion.
The hon. Gentleman has already made a point on this issue, and we heard it. I am actually agreeing with him.
It has also been suggested that the draft Bill would include allowing phone tap evidence to be admissible in court and would introduce a new offence of "acts preparatory to terrorism". That is worrying on several counts. We already have the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the legality of which has been challenged. There must be doubt as to whether draconian legislation is achieving its purpose at all. Home Office figures show that, of the 644 people arrested since September 2001 on suspicion of terrorism in this country, only 17 have been convicted. All of them were Irish nationalists, Sikh militants or members of organisations with no connections with al-Qaeda. Not a single person convicted has been shown to be a member or associate of the al-Qaeda network.
What is most worrying of all is that although harsh anti-terror laws may not be very effective in achieving the purpose towards which they are ostensibly directed, they coarsen the policing culture over the much wider area of domestic law; for example, in lowering the burden of proof in court and emasculating the right to silence. That is too high a price to pay when anti-terrorist gains are very limited.
Those are all reasons why we should be uncomfortable with the Queen's Speech. However, what is disturbing is not so much what is in it as what is not in the speech. It has been said in the current highly popular market lingo that this is the third-term offer. If it is, it is rather disappointing to say the least that there is nothing in the speech about the great underlying injustices in Britain today. They include the growing inequality in income and wealth, a greater centralisation of power than ever before, the erosion of human and civil rights to which I have referred, the lack of adequate workplace protections in so-called flexible labour markets, increasing marketisation of public services undermining equality of provision and the need for a foreign policy more independent of the United States.
In the time left, I would like to give one or two examples. Although the Government have—I very much agree with my right hon. Friend Mr. Byers—done a good deal to assist the incomes of some of the poorest in society, the level of poverty remains, as he indicated, far too high. There are 12 million on income support, and inequalities are still growing. The basic state pension is only £79 a week while the latest survey shows that the average income, including bonuses and incentives, for the chairmen and chief executives of the top 100 FTSE companies is now £1.6 million a year, which works out at more than £32,000 a week.That span of inequality is grotesque. The very least that should be done is to increase the pension in line with earnings while subjecting the fancy pay increases for the richest executives to shareholder approval.
I refer to one other fact that has come to light in the past few days. When 2 million pensioners get a pension of less than £80 a week, it is frankly indefensible that judges who get pensions of between £75,000 and £90,000 a year should be, as now seems mooted, exempted from the tax that the rest of us will all have to pay if our total pension funds exceed £1.5 million. I hope that the Government will have another look at that.
On civil and workplace rights, it is crucial that the draft corporate manslaughter Bill is brought forward quickly and is not watered down. The Health and Safety Executive has indicated that 80 per cent. of deaths in the workplace are due to managerial negligence or incompetence, yet the average fine is only £30,000. That needs to be looked at again.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Meacher, who made a thought-provoking and brave speech.
Looking at the events of the day of the Gracious Speech, it seems a rare feat of timing for the story of the foiled terrorist attack on Canary Wharf to have broken on that very day. It was subsequently discovered, if I am right, that if the incident had been real, it would have occurred a long time ago. The Queen's Speech was laden with references to security and terrorism, so it was a good day to exhume security news albeit of dubious provenance and vintage. Do we really live in a society that is so much on the edge that it should warrant 10 Bills out of 37 to be on security and crime?
Is there any confusion here? The Government are in favour of 24-hour drinking. They famously targeted young peopled before the last election saying, "If you want 24-hour drinking, vote Labour." However, they also talk about an alcohol harm-reduction strategy that is aimed at reducing the harm caused by alcohol misuse. However, the strategy is led by the very industry that produces more and more alcopops each year, with the drinks being targeted at the young and frequently consumed to huge excess by the very young and under-age. When will the Government stand up to the drinks lobby and outlaw such drinks? When will the Government tackle the whole question of under-age drinking by ensuring that licensees uphold the law? Or are the Government, as Sir Simon Jenkins said in a piece last week,
"mesmerised by the drinks lobby, which it means to indulge with longer drinking hours"?
Earlier today, David Davis said that there also appeared to be muddled thinking on drugs policy and the relaxation of the laws on cannabis. According to health statistics, we are told that its increased use has been phenomenal, and one wonders what the proposed drugs Bill will do about that. I fully accept that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 needs to be reviewed, and I look forward to seeing the details of the proposed Bill.
The raw truth is that more than two thirds of all property crimes before our courts emanate from a need to feed drug addiction. That is an appalling statistic. We may be in danger of looking at the symptoms rather than the cause. Are we not tough enough on the causes of crime, to coin a phrase? That is where I welcome moves to increase the effectiveness of drug interventions and programmes, but I must say to the Minister that they may prove to be no more than empty words unless they are provided with far more resources. In Wales, fewer than 40 rehab beds are available for the country and, in many towns in rural settings, we need more than 40 just to serve those areas.
Yes, but I am very much against that policy. I will remain within the party and always will, but I am very much against the policy and have spoken many times against it. I am on the record on that. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point.
Against the constant barrage of the impending terror for which we must all wait, we will shortly consider the counter-terrorism Bill, which I suspect the Government will not publish until the Judicial Committee has considered the legality of aspects of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. From what we already know, the proposed Bill will be a little worrying. The use of Diplock courts cannot be justified. We will only feed terrorism at the end of the day if we are, indeed, under threat. Should not a terror suspect face the same legal procedures as any other suspect? Why should they be different in that regard? What is the distinction based upon? There is a danger that, by not extending full judicial guarantees under the rule of law to all suspects, martyrs could be created. That would surely serve to exacerbate the problem that the proposal attempts to address. The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton referred to the phrase "acts preparatory to terrorism". I am also worried about that, and I hope that it will not be a euphemism for convicting people with a lesser evidential burden.
I hear from the hon. Gentleman that that might well be the case, but no doubt we will be able to discuss such matters in due course.
In principle, I see the need for the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill because it is clear that organised crime today is as sophisticated as it gets and that the fight against it must take a different form. I accept that a new body to co-ordinate effort and concentrate on the problem could be useful, but such a body must be accountable and the way in which it exercises its powers must be as transparent as possible. The body's powers will no doubt be vast, so it must be a priority to build in from the start a robust system of accountability so that the public are happy with channels of complaint, if that is necessary, and, more importantly, so that their confidence is gained from the beginning.
I welcome the announcement of a youth justice Bill. During my years of practice in the youth courts, I often did not see the point of sending youngsters away to learn more about crime because that seldom had positive results. However, I saw the way in which the hard work of probation officers and social workers could turn youngsters about. We all know that there is good and bad in everyone. I welcome the intensive supervision and surveillance orders, inasmuch as I know the detail about them, because they will provide a useful alternative to custody. They will not be a soft option, but will offer a more creative approach. It will be far better for youngsters to remain in the community doing something useful than to go to a place where they might meet peers who know more about crime than them.
I remain totally unpersuaded by the arguments for the Identity Cards Bill, which has finally come forward after the Home Secretary's heroic struggles. Although we are supposed to be in a climate of fear, which is meant to soften us up for the Bill, there was strong opposition to the proposal when it was last discussed and I think that that will be equally strong today. We were told in the past that the two main justifications for the cards were to combat benefit fraud and terrorism, but I do not accept that at all. It is plain that we would not have avoided 9/11 or the awful occurrences in Madrid by having identity cards. Furthermore, if the cards are so necessary to combat this urgent threat, why will it take up to 10 years to introduce them? We are told that official figures show that the cost will be about £3 billion, but that will no doubt double by the time that the cards are introduced. However, even £3 billion would pay for about 60,000 new police officers on the beat, or even cover 25 per cent. of Wales' public spending over a year. We could put the money to far better use.
Hon. Members have mentioned the database, and we know of the Child Support Agency fiasco and the situation in the Department for Work and Pensions last week, so we must ask whether the Government are capable of putting together a proper information technology system. The scheme could be divisive and might lead to more "sus stops", with people from ethnic minorities being stopped far more often than white people; it is a dangerous path to go down. I believe sincerely that identity cards are an irrelevant, expensive and unproven measure that should have no place in our society. When we debate the details of the Bill, I hope that the House will reject the ill-conceived and, perhaps, illiberal measure.
We have heard much about the need to rebuild civic society. I agree with that point and hope to return to it later. However, a precondition for doing that is making people feel secure. If people feel insecure, they do not look outwards at society, but turn inwards to themselves and their families. A society that is insecure is not confident and outgoing, but prey to every charlatan and peddler of racism, xenophobia and other weird so-called solutions to people's fears. That explains why I welcome the measures outlined in the Gracious Speech on improving security. I am especially keen for the Government's proposals on tackling organised crime and the menaces posed by drink and drugs to be put on the statute book.
Like Mrs. Shephard, I think that the Bill to provide for cleaner and safer communities is important. It is undoubtedly the case that such things as vandalism, graffiti and yobbish behaviour make people feel insecure in their neighbourhoods. Such actions can cause the decline of a neighbourhood into one in which there is more crime. The Government have done a good job on tackling crime and improving policing, but there is no doubt that we need to do more. I commend the work of Superintendent Julia Clayton and her team in Warrington. They are putting more resources into community policing and piloting a project that begins with the environmental audit of a neighbourhood before moving on to examine the priorities for the police and other agencies in conjunction with community representatives. I hope that the cleaner neighbourhoods Bill will assist them and others in that task.
We talk about the police tackling such behaviour, but other agencies must also play their part, especially housing authorities. Those authorities must tackle antisocial behaviour by tenants. There are parts of my constituency in which a small minority of people—often only one family—make life hell for the people around them. All too often, housing officers do not use the powers that we have given them to tackle that problem, and that is a disgrace. They seem to accept such behaviour as a norm, but I grew up on a council estate and know that it is not the norm, so it is unacceptable for them to behave in such a way.
Although housing officers must use the powers that we have given them, we must also examine housing allocation policies carefully to prevent such problems from occurring in the first place. For example, there are small blocks of flats in nice parts of my constituency in which the authority consistently houses people with drug problems, people who are vulnerable and people with other assorted difficulties. As well as tackling the bad, we must help people who are vulnerable, which means that we should provide much more supported housing. Such housing is expensive, but the cost will be more expensive in the long run if we do not provide it.
I welcome the Government's proposals to tackle binge drinking, but I hope that they will also examine the amount of under-age drinking in our society and address not only pubs, but off-licences that sell to under-age drinkers. I would like to see an offence of knowingly buying alcohol for a person who is under age because the problem is often caused by those who enter such premises to buy alcohol for under-age people.
We must remember that the majority of our young people are good and decent, and we need to offer them more than we do at the moment. We do not provide properly for our young people, so I would like to try to encourage the good in our youngsters as well as tackling the bad. We should not only think about what we offer them in schools. We should also stop telling them that education is about only economics, although an education system that does not equip people to earn a living will, of course, fail. We should offer our young people the best to allow them to expand their interests in arts, science and sport outside the curriculum, and the Government's proposals on extended schools will go a long way towards achieving that.
We also need to examine our youth services closely because they are underfunded and inadequate. They are often the first services to be squeezed when local authorities are in difficulty because they are not statutory. I want youth services to consider the way in which they work with schools and voluntary organisations to provide our young people with opportunities and challenges. If young people are not given challenges, they do not grow up and do not take responsibility. Every parent remembers the first time that they sent their child to deliver a message or to post a letter on their own while they hung out of the window, ensuring that their child was all right. Unless we allow our children to do that, they do not grow up and we fail them.
I also hope that we utilise the facilities that we already have but which are underused. It is a great scandal that loads of facilities in schools are not used for most of the time because it costs governors to open schools out of hours. We need to find ways to support them in making those facilities available to the public, especially to young people, all the year round. Again, there is a cost, but it is far less than the cost of building lots of new facilities.
We need a two-pronged approach of making people feel secure and rebuilding our civic society. That rebuilding has to be done primarily by making better opportunities available to our young children and by giving them a better example. We may have failed the current generation, but it is vital that we do not fail the next one.
There is much that has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House with which I can agree. I am attracted to the suggestion by Helen Jones for a new law that makes it an offence to buy alcohol for those who are under age. However, there is no purpose in it unless we have the police to enforce it, and unfortunately we do not seem to have them available to enforce such wonderful ideas.
I want to concentrate on identity cards. In particular, I want to associate myself with my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary's analysis of them. He displayed a welcome scepticism about the good sense and practical utility of introducing identity cards. I also wholeheartedly agree with what Mr. Oaten said about them. His analysis was entirely correct. I also take note of the practical experience and analysis of my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley, who as a Cabinet member saw at first hand the pitfalls that are inherent in trying to introduce an identity card system.
There is no point in repeating what has been said, but I agree with Mr. Meacher that there is an unattractive illiberal tinge to the Queen's Speech. When we consider identity cards and their practical utility—let us forget about the principle for a moment—it is important that we weave that in with all the other pieces of legislation with which the Government wish to frighten the public between now and the next general election.
The argument seems to rest on the somewhat strange idea that if someone has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear, and on that basis we should all accept with open arms the introduction of identity cards. There is a huge flaw in that. I still practise at the defamation Bar and remember acting for newspaper defendants who were the respondents in applications for interlocutory injunctions, which are interim injunctions that prevent them from saying anything defamatory. The counsel for the claimant would point out that if the newspaper was not intending to say anything nasty about his client, there could be nothing wrong with my client agreeing to be bound by an undertaking that he would do nothing of the sort. That is, of course, an insidious change of the balance. It is up to the claimant to demonstrate that the newspaper or anyone else is going to do something unlawful. It is wrong to place that burden on the defendant.
One might just as well say, "If you're not going to do anything criminal, you can't object to being bound over to keep the peace. If you're not going to do anything criminal, you can't object to being subjected to a curfew order from 11 o'clock at night to 7 in the morning. If you're not going to do anything unlawful, you can't object to being subjected to an order for bail. If you're not going to do anything unlawful, you can't object to being subjected to a tagging order." The whole insidious move behind the Government's proposals is to reverse the burden of proof and the balance of power between the citizen and the state.
The state has a duty to protect, and I, as a subject of the Crown, have a duty to obey the lawful commands of the Government. However, the balance requires the Crown in Parliament—the Government—to respect my rights and freedoms as a citizen. The Identity Cards Bill and some of the other illiberal measures in the Queen's Speech will insidiously change the climate.
Mr. Byers spoke about the freedoms that the Government want to give to the public. I do not know whether that was deliberate or accidental, but it was instructive. Freedoms belong to me as a matter of right and they are not a gift from the Government. When he speaks, he does so on behalf of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who speaks on behalf of the Prime Minister. In that one expression, the Government's whole agenda was exposed, and it is one that we should recognise and speak up loudly against, irrespective of our views on terrorism, antisocial behaviour, illegal immigration and bogus asylum seekers.
The agenda that the Government wish to encourage between now and the general election, whenever that may come, is that they will decide what protections people need and they will feed out certain privileges, which they describe as freedoms. One of the great freedoms will be the compulsory possession of an identity card, with which people can walk freely in the streets without being hindered by a law officer of the Crown.
At the end of the 18th century, there were two great revolutions—the French and the American. If I had to make a choice, I would want to follow the example of Jefferson in my attachment to revolution and personal freedom and in my refusal to accept a Government who wish to place burdens on me. This Government have chosen the route of Robespierre. I am not suggesting they are going to cut our heads off literally, but their metaphorical position is to set up a committee of public safety to allow them to control every aspect of our lives, and to ensure that they control the levers of our very breathing and the way in which we exist and go about our lawful business. [Laughter.] It strikes me that, despite the guffaws of Labour Members, they are trapped in the Government's agenda, as outlined by the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North.
The atmosphere of political engagement and discourse is changing in a way that the Government are too stupid to realise is happening—or perhaps they are not too stupid and know what they are doing, hoping that we are too stupid to realise what is going on. I urge the House to be extremely careful about the illiberal measures that the Government are introducing.
I congratulate the Home Secretary and his Department on a number of proposals in the Queen's Speech. Many of the ideas in the agenda get right to the heart of the concerns felt by many of my constituents. I am sure that there is much in the proposals that they will welcome. I am particulary pleased about the emphasis on security, as the issue of law and order—whether it be concern about drugs, antisocial behaviour or any other activity—features regularly in my constituency postbag. It is not just the victims of crime who suffer. Even non-violent crimes can cast a shadow over entire neighbourhoods; communities are faced day in and day out with graffiti, abandoned cars, noise nuisance and cycling on the pavement.
With that in mind, the clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill should further equip local authorities to deal with quality-of-life issues, which the residents of my constituency raise with me quite often. The Bill is rooted in the broken-windows theory of crime: if we tackle low-level problems such as fly posting and graffiti quickly and aggressively, we will send a message that will bring down the levels of more serious crime. That method undoubtedly works when applied properly. Although we have to act sensitively when dealing with diverse communities such as those in my constituency, the results can be extremely positive.
On a completely different scale, I welcome the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, and specifically the establishment of a Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will take over a number of functions. It hardly needs saying that we live in an increasingly globalised world, where ease of travel and electronic technology have brought not only great benefit but real challenges, as criminals, not to mention terrorists, can exploit such advances to work across international boundaries. That is especially true of drug smuggling and people trafficking, as well as of the growing problem of organised criminals who smuggle migrants—often at great risk to those migrants; it has been reported many times that migrants have drowned in the sea while travelling—while generating large profits for themselves.
Tackling those criminal groups effectively will require a co-ordinated response that the new agency should be able to provide. It could also enhance our effectiveness in combating terrorist organisations and their sympathisers who may fund their networks through other criminal activities, as is so often the case. Of course, there are challenges with creating such a new body. As the Police Federation notes, there needs to be an effective integration of the new body into the existing structures, so that intelligence and information are passed on and not lost or withheld in counter-productive turf wars.
Although the agency will be useful at a national level in challenging drug trafficking, it is essential that we provide the police and courts with the powers necessary to tackle drug use locally. Just last week, I received a fax signed by a number of local shopkeepers who were concerned that groups of drug users and dealers loitering outside their stores were having a damaging effect on local businesses and the community at large. I hope that the provisions in the drugs Bill will therefore go further not just in reducing the number of users but in ensuring that those taken off the streets are given the support and treatment that they need to beat their addictions so that they do not offend again.
On balance, I support the introduction of identity cards. Various sections of the community oppose the proposal, while others support it. Of course there are real concerns, which should be aired and discussed, but ultimately, as long as the card is used not to create profiles but simply for identification, it should be a means of ensuring that someone is who he or she claims to be. Law enforcement professionals and the public as a whole appear to support the introduction of ID cards—at least, as far as the public are concerned, as long as the card remains affordable. Last week's report that identity fraud occurs every four minutes in the United Kingdom is a sobering reminder of the challenges that we face.
I am not sure how I feel about the Police Federation's call for the compulsory carrying of cards, as I do not believe that the card will be useless if the law does not compel people to carry it at all times. However, that is probably a moot point, as the Government have said that it will not be compulsory to carry a card. If someone has not broken any law, I do not see why the police would have any further interest in them. The trick will be for the Government to ensure that the system is efficient and secure, so that the public can have confidence in it.
I also support the introduction of an equality Bill, which is to include a new commission for equality and human rights to replace existing equality bodies and to oversee new laws on age discrimination, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. As a Member of Parliament who represents a hugely diverse constituency, I can certainly see the benefits of a body recognising the challenges faced by different racial and faith groups. However, bringing the issue of equality under a single umbrella organisation should encourage further moves towards fair treatment of all groups, including women, and underscore the point that any discrimination is wrong and will be tackled vigorously.
As should always be the case, the Government will need to be mindful of the reservations that people may have, and do have, about legislation. When dealing with issues of security, safety and even terrorism, it is all too easy for legislators to undermine a sense of well-being even as—
The Home Secretary told us in his opening remarks that his drugs Bill will allow test on arrest, not on charge. Like all the Bills in this Queen's Speech, that is nothing more than grandstanding for the electorate. It sounds tough, it looks tough, but in county towns such as Taunton it will not be the answer.
The issue of drugs is the biggest one in our society. It has moved way beyond that of the permissive society of the 1960s, when drugs were generally used by the middle classes. Drugs have now permeated every element of our society. Many hon. Members might not understand or appreciate the fact that the drugs in supply at the moment are much stronger, if cannabis, and less pure and far more dangerous, if heroin, cocaine or crack.
After 15 initiatives, a number of summits and even a drugs tsar, what has changed in the past seven years? The answer is that drugs have tightened their grip on our society. There are 1 million more violent crimes a year—up 44 per cent.—and a great number of them are committed by those who are looking to acquire money for drugs. Gun crime has doubled from 12,000 to 24,000 crimes, and nearly all of that increase will be drug-related. Two thirds of property crime is drug-related. Perhaps the biggest, loud and clear message to many young people has been that cannabis has been downgraded to a class C drug.
I accept that not all those who have smoked, will continue to smoke or will ever smoke cannabis will end up as class A drug addicts—that is absolutely not the case. However, it is 100 per cent. the case that every heroin addict in our country started off smoking cannabis. I ask those who say otherwise to interview people who come to us looking for help for their drug addiction. Every one of those whom I have asked in the county town of Taunton has said that they began by thinking that drugs were not really a problem because cannabis is not a problem. The battle for hearts and minds in our society is being lost. It is a sad fact that more people are being caught with cannabis and fewer of them are being arrested, while more are doing drugs.
Like many other county towns, Taunton suffers from late-night loutish behaviour. The Government, mindful in the past year or so that they were about to introduce 24-hour drinking, have woken up to the concerns of many people in Taunton about antisocial behaviour, and have asked the local police to concentrate on it. The police are mainly concerned to maintain law and order on the street, the knock-on effect of which is that the policing of drugs and their excessive use has, unfortunately, been reduced in Taunton. Drugs, however, have not gone away—it is simply the case that fewer resources are thrown at them.
Locally, we have campaigned for an ioniser machine, which produces readings showing whether club-goers have handled drugs. Some hon. Members will know that a large number of £20 notes bear traces of drugs, mainly cocaine. The ioniser machine produces sophisticated readings that can be used to determine whether someone has been handling drugs to such an extent that they are likely to be a supplier. Unfortunately, in Taunton, there has not been enough money to fund the required number of police or supply a machine. However, thanks to Chief Superintendent John Snell, who has managed to raid another budget, we will have that £30,000 machine, but we do not have enough money to fund the police officers needed to operate it. We have had to turn to the clubs themselves to provide the money. Clubs spend a huge amount on business rates and raise large sums for the Treasury from the tax on alcoholic drinks. To some extent, it is fair that they should fund the policing that is needed, but by the same token, we should provide county towns such as Taunton with the wherewithal so that the police can operate the drugs machine and undertake associated duties.
I am grateful that the police are finding the funding for the machine, but if drugs are the biggest scourge of our society, we could do much more. Seventy-six per cent. of people think that we are losing the battle against drugs, with 1 million class A drug users and more 15-year-olds smoking cannabis than ever before.
Does my hon. Friend blame the style of drugs education in this country, which is more like drugs information? Young people in school learn more about drugs as a result of what passes for drugs education, which creates curiosity by providing information about a range of drugs. They are told how to take them and which ones should not be mixed together, which encourages drug use.
No doubt, drugs education will enhance the interest of some inquisitive individuals and lead them to experiment. However, it is important that young people are made aware of the danger of drugs. To some extent, that can be done through education, but a great way to educate anyone who might be thinking of dabbling in drugs is to show them a user who has gone too far. I therefore welcome the picture sequence that the Government used to highlight the plight of three drug users—over a period of time, their faces were completely destroyed and at least two of them are no longer with us. I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary said that there would be a huge expansion of drug treatment programmes under his drugs Bill, but it is not enough. It is Conservative policy to increase the provision tenfold.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by drug treatment? The Government have ensured that the number of people in treatment has increased by 54 per cent. Treatment is not just residential, and we recognise that people continue to need support in the community where they live. We need prescribing by GPs and many other forms of treatment. What does he actually mean by treatment?
It is not for me to tell a Home Office Minister precisely what drug treatment means, when two thirds of drug testing orders in prisons and elsewhere fail. The Government have been in power for seven years but they are still not giving proper attention to drugs. We know that for the simple reason that more people take drugs now than in 1997. As a result of misguided education and other factors, we are not getting the message across. The Government have missed an opportunity, and it is a shame that in the week following the Queen's Speech we have heard much more about identity cards than about drug testing and treatment orders. Much more could be achieved if the drugs problem, and not just ID cards, received front page coverage.
I am disappointed that the Queen's Speech does not include a Bill on regional government. It is said that devolution is a process, not an event, and despite the result of the north-east referendum, that remains true. The region still has to struggle with the north-south divide and a politically and economically strengthened Scotland, Wales and London. The process must continue, and I hope that the legislative measures promised by Her Majesty will deal with other relevant issues. The continued representation in Cabinet of Scotland and Wales must be ended in the interests of fairness, as we must attempt to create a level playing field. There is no justification for continuing to dedicate parliamentary time to Scottish and Welsh questions, now that both countries have devolution. That is not a sideswipe at Scotland, Wales or my hon. Friends who represent such constituencies—indeed, I have great respect for them—but a recognition that the balance has shifted and must be corrected.
The Barnett formula must be revisited, although I do not believe that scrapping it would necessarily bring huge economic benefits to the north-east. It has been overtaken by circumstances and the process of devolution, and contributes to the imbalance of economic power in the United Kingdom. The Gracious Speech does not contain any reference to the ongoing issue of reform of the House of Lords, although a brainstorming session by a small cross-party group resulted in its stated intention to introduce a draft Bill in the current Session. Its ideas turn on the principle that the majority of Members of the second Chamber should be directly elected. Members of the group seem to have learned little from the recent experience in the north-east, where it was clearly shown that there is little enthusiasm among the electorate for more elected politicians. Perhaps the idea of abolishing the Lords and replacing it with an elected House should be put to the people in a referendum.
I welcome the sudden conversion of the official Opposition to the cause of local government. Current trends, which were started by the Conservatives, should be put into reverse and power should be transferred back to local authorities. The ongoing review of the balance of funding between central and local government is an opportunity to begin the process, but will Ministers have the guts to do so? Is there a real belief in subsidiarity in the Government or in the official Opposition, or is subsidiarity merely a means of bypassing local authorities by giving the impression of empowering local communities, while Whitehall holds tightly on to the power and the purse strings?
The education Bill as outlined in the Gracious Speech cannot be criticised for its stated intention of raising standards in all schools, but when I read that it will introduce yet another new relationship with schools, I get very nervous about the direction in which it might take us. I repeat the warning that distancing schools from local authorities will be inconsistent with the Every Child Matters initiative. Now we have the self-styled guru of education, Mr. Chris Woodhead, dedicating himself to the reintroduction and strengthening of elitism in our education system. Perhaps those of my hon. Friends who embraced Mr. Woodhead in 1997 will reflect on the warnings they were given then, and listen more carefully now.
During the previous Session of Parliament, I raised the issue of consumer credit and the horrendous effects that the activities of some of the less desirable companies can have on members of the public and I gave examples of constituents who had suffered. Ministers promised that they would look seriously at the matter, and I welcome the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of a consumer credit Bill to begin to tackle abuses in this area.
Measures financially to assist and encourage young people who choose further education and/or training are also welcome. I draw attention to the recent report on the performance of colleges of further education. I am proud to say that any criticism in the report applies to a minority of colleges and certainly does not apply to Gateshead or Newcastle colleges in my constituency. Those colleges provide a wide range of excellent opportunities for young and not so young people in the Tyneside and wider area. They are an example of how further education and training should be provided and are a vital part of the regeneration of the area. Our region badly needs to train new craftsmen and to retain and retrain those we have.
In that regard I make a plea to Ministers to revisit the smart procurement policies talked about in 1997 but never effectively implemented. It must make sense to ensure that highly skilled workers are not cast aside because of temporary gaps in order books, when Government Departments know that they will be needed at a foreseeable time to carry out new work. There ought to be a way of planning the procurement of equipment in the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere so that we do not lose vital skills and families do not suffer unnecessarily.
I welcome the inclusion in the Gracious Speech of a Railways Bill. I hope that that will give us the chance to look not only at the national rail infrastructure and services, but how that links into local and regional services in a proper integrated way. I ask the Secretary of State for Transport to look again at the modernisation plans that our local passenger transport executives have in their filing cabinets and help them to realisation. Tyne and Wear metro system is popular and efficient, but it needs upgrading and extending. Plans to do just that will be presented to Ministers in the next few months, and I hope that they will receive a fair hearing and a favourable response.
I make a plea for more local control over local bus services. The Railways Bill is intended to tackle the dysfunctional system that resulted from Tory privatisation. The Tory privatisation and deregulation of local bus services has ended up with an equally dysfunctional system. Recent changes to services in Gateshead have highlighted the inappropriateness of reliance on the profit motive to provide essential local services, and I hope that the Government will look favourably on reintroducing local regulation into local transport systems.
The successful bid for the franchise for the north-east main line will be announced soon. In general, GNER has done a good job and, on the basis of my experience, would get my vote, but I hope that during the process Ministers will look at another aspect of the responsibilities of franchisees. I refer to our great railway stations. These give rail travellers their first impression of the place where they alight, and it is much more important to the town or city than it is to the train operator—so it is with Newcastle central station in my constituency. GNER looks after its customers very well and the areas used by GNER passengers are generally well kept and well maintained. However, other areas used by local and regional trains are less well catered for. The station would be far better managed by local authorities.
There is much to be commended in the Queen's Speech. I support the proposals to introduce new measures to clean up neighbourhoods and protect the environment. I welcome the proposal that there should be more visible security on our streets. The street wardens and community support officers that we have are popular and effective.
Finally, I welcome the reference in the Queen's Speech to security, for "security" is a word that encapsulates all that most of my constituents want from life. People want and need to feel secure in their homes, in their communities, in their jobs and in their retirement. They want to be secure in the knowledge that there are good, efficient public services to support them and their families and to help them live long and contented lives.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Clelland. It has been a particular pleasure to hear the range of views expressed from the Government Benches in the course of the debate, ranging from pure 24 carat, 100 per cent. new Labour from Mr. Byers to the lucid and cogent demolition by Mr. Meacher, not just of the Government's security measures in the Queen's Speech, but of the Government's record on civil liberties. I would not necessarily go quite as far as he did in criticising the Government's record on civil liberties, but he was on to the central issue that we should be discussing when we consider the Home Office contributions to the Queen's Speech.
I shall talk about freedom. There are times when the House needs to address directly some of the fundamental issues that concern us, and a debate on a Queen's Speech that is dominated by Home Office Bills is one such occasion. The key question that should concern the House is whether the restrictions on all our freedoms that are proposed by the Government are necessary to provide us with safety and security. If the answer is no, as I believe it is, to approve this raft of legislation would be a betrayal of our duty to stand up for the rights and freedoms of all citizens. We should learn from history. Governments that hide under the cloak of promoting public safety are often more concerned with their own administrative convenience.
As my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier said, great crimes have been committed under the guise of "committees of public safety". Fortunately, in our democracy, we are not at risk in that way. However, we are at risk in more subtle ways.
Every instinct of a parliamentarian, whether of a broadly left-wing or right-wing perspective, should bridle at Governments who promise more order in return for a little more intrusion of the freedom of the citizen. All too often, the result is that the freedom disappears and the habits of intrusion remain, and the order never arrives. The streets do not become any safer and the terrorist threat is not reduced. Given the various Bills laid before us, it does not require Nostradamus-like predictive powers to see that we are faced with just that sort of bad deal. It is predictable that those who oppose some of these Bills will be accused of being soft on crime or even soft on terrorism. That will be a cheap and ridiculous accusation. We must be firm in sticking to our duty in assessing the details of the proposed legislation and always remembering our other duty of maintaining the freedoms of our citizens.
In the raft of measures that are before us the country is being offered ineffective authoritarianism. If the Home Secretary gets his way with these Bills, he will end up harassing the innocent and missing the criminal. All these Bills need to be put in the context of what has come before from the Government. Across the range of Departments we have a Government who believe that Whitehall knows best and that if it is needed to make criminals out of people who need to be discouraged from wrong behaviour, they, the Government, will be effective in making society safer. That will not happen. In the end, the Government will be wasting police time by taking police officers away from dealing with serious criminals and, at the same time, damaging the relationship between the police and the overwhelmingly respectable and law-abiding members of the public.
It is a testament to the dangers of the Home Secretary's approach that millions of people now believe that they are much more likely to have a policeman after them if they drive a car than if they deal in drugs. After eight years of this Government we can see why they have reached the point where they are ineffective authoritarians. That is a charge that it would have been impossible to lay at most previous Labour Governments, some of whom were famously liberal.
It is a peculiarly new Labour trait to believe that old is always bad—that the burden of proof lies on existing practices and institutions to show that they still matter. So the ancient freedoms represented by the right to trial by jury or the right not to have an official document proving one's existence just do not register with this Government. If they find that people feel unsafe in their communities, as many Labour Members have admitted they do after nearly eight years of new Labour Government, old freedoms can act as no barrier for new powers to this Government.
The next problem—it is a key problem for many of the proposed Bills—is whether the new powers will be effective. This is where I join hon. Members on both sides of the House who have expressed a strong and sensible degree of scepticism about the likely effect on law and order and safety in our community of the various Bills that have been laid before us.
I was one of those who had not been against identity cards in principle as long as they met my original criterion of providing us with safety and security in return for the restriction of freedom. However, I must tell Ministers, as have other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the more I look at the detail, the less likely it seems that we will be getting a good exchange—that we will have more security and more order in return for less freedom.
The Law Society has made a cogent case against the Government's proposals. It states that it does not believe that
"adopting an identity card scheme is a proportionate response to the challenges which the Government is trying to address."
It also says:
"Many of the proposed benefits the Government claims for its proposals can be achieved without a costly and complex identity card scheme."
There has been much discussion of the costs of the scheme that the Government propose. Currently, bids range between £3 billion and £10 billion. History tells us that the amount will be at the top end rather than the bottom end. All experience with computer-driven Government projects says that the Government's ambition of getting the project through in 10 years is also probably ridiculously optimistic.
There lies the nub of why the measure will be ineffective. If it is urgent in the fight against terrorism, the Government should be getting on with it quickly. If it is not urgent in the fight against terrorism, benefit fraud or illegal immigration, the Government are trying to lead the people up the garden path and into thinking that identity cards will be an effective solution to those problems. The Government, I hope in this House and certainly in another place, will be well advised to drop this idea.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill is basically a good idea, but there are elements that will damage relations between the police and ethnic minority communities in particular. On the drugs Bill, my hon. Friend Mr. Flook eloquently made the point that many of the measures would appear ineffective.
That is the root of the problem—ineffective authoritarianism and false populism. Various polls have been thrown about, but I point the Government towards the poll carried out by the Reform think-tank showing that 71 per cent. of voters believe that the Government are imposing too many infringements on their civil liberties. If these Bills pass into law, they will diminish our historic freedoms without adding very much to our security. The final verdict will not be what the Government want, which is that they are tough on crime; it will be that they are weak on freedom and the defence of freedom, and that would be shameful.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow Mr. Green, with whom I share a dark secret: we are both avid supporters of Reading football club, although I have less distance to travel to see the home games.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not only for what he is trying to do to make our communities more secure, to help break the link between drug addiction and crime and to give local councils such as Reading and local police forces new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour or for his efforts to combat serious organised crime. He rightly deserves praise for all those measures and many more besides, but my admiration for him goes far beyond the fine job that I think he is doing as Home Secretary. He is a man of great integrity and unquestionable honesty and commitment. At a time when others are trying to use his personal and private life to bring him down and destroy him, he needs to know that, on the Labour Benches and elsewhere in the country, he has our full, absolute and unflinching support. He has earned that, and he richly deserves it.
I wish to speak in favour of much, but not all, that is in the Queen's Speech, although I fear that, with the general election perhaps only a few months away, many of the measures will not see the light of day without the re-election of a Labour Government for a third term. Although we should take nothing for granted, I believe that that seems an increasingly likely prospect. I have not spoken to a single Conservative Member who believes that Mr. Howard will inherit the keys to No. 10 Downing street, but I have met hundreds of voters who are more than alarmed at the prospect of his inheriting that position.
In this short contribution, I want to deal with three specific issues: Traveller encampments and the problems associated with them; antisocial behaviour and binge drinking; and the link between drugs and crime and the use of drug dealer assets. I have two Travellers' sites in my constituency, and they create different problems. One is at Pangbourne hill and the other is at Portman road. Both involve breaches of the law of the land. At Pangbourne hill, a group of Irish Travellers have legally purchased a plot of land, but have breached every planning law in the book by creating hard standings in an attempt to establish a permanent caravan site in an area of outstanding natural beauty overlooking the Chiltern hills and well outside the settlement boundary as defined in the local plan. It is to be hoped that the new stop notices, which are about to go out to consultation following the introduction of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, will provide a useful measure to enable local authorities to prevent the construction of permanent unauthorised encampments.
On Portman road, the problem is of an entirely different nature and scale. There, on a roadside verge in an industrial estate next to many residential properties, a group of Travellers has created a disgusting rubbish tip around their squatter camp. Local businesses were threatened with violence if they did not offer employment to the Travellers, who had the brass neck to go on to local radio and say that they are claiming income support as a means of subsistence. Local residents have had to endure loud noise, drunken revelling, fighting and Travellers breaking up cars within a few yards of their homes.
Why on earth do we not use the welcome new antisocial behaviour orders to deal with such conduct? Those Travellers' behaviour is every bit as bad as, if not worse than, that of groups of drunken teenagers in my constituency, who have rightly been subject to youth dispersal notices and ASBOs. Merely moving on groups of Travellers from one location to another does precious little to address the two underlying issues—the conduct and behaviour of some Travellers and the lack of suitable sites.
Those Travellers who act unlawfully on sites that they have purchased have used the mechanism of the Human Rights Act 1998 to prevent themselves from being removed or stopped. Indeed, I question whether a stop notice will be effective when the 1998 Act is invoked. ASBOs are not used against Travellers because the police do not have sufficient resources.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have had a welcome increase in police numbers in the Thames valley. The use of stop notices raises no problems with regard to human rights and we are yet to see whether they will be as effective as the Government claim.
I welcome the clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill announced in the Queen's Speech. It seems to address the problems of fly-tipping, abandoned cars, noise nuisance and litter, which are all problems experienced by my constituents as a result of the Traveller encampments at Portman road in Reading and, sadly, replicated elsewhere across the country.
Moving the problem around is no solution. Laws that apply to the rest of us must also apply to Travellers. As yet, no ASBOs have been used to control the nuisance, threats and intimidation experienced by people living near to some, but not all, those temporary encampments. It is rich for the Conservative party to seek to make political capital out of that issue, because in 1994 a Conservative Government decided to remove the obligation on local authorities to provide suitable Traveller sites. The current review by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is considering that matter, and I hope that it will take careful note of the recommendations of the ODPM Committee to reinstate that requirement, which I suggest should be implemented on a county-by-county basis.
We have lost the carrot and stick. We do not have the carrot of a strategic network of sites where Travellers can stay and we seem reluctant to use the stick of the tough new powers that are available to curb unacceptable behaviour. A new approach is needed to break out of that cycle and I hope that the clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill will help; it is certainly the approach recommended by the majority of councils in the Thames valley region.
The second area that I want to touch on is antisocial behaviour and the application of the new powers, as well as the consequences of binge drinking in our town centres. Other hon. Members touched on that too. In Reading, we are enthusiastic users of the antisocial behaviour legislation in our communities and on our estates. We have used acceptable behaviour contracts to quieten youth disorder.
Innovatively, we have used seven ASBOs on the most prolific street sex workers. Fining drug-addicted prostitutes £40 for soliciting is plain stupid—what on earth will they do other than to go back on the streets to earn the money? I am proud that our approach to using the welcome powers that the Government have given us—if you like, tough love—has resulted in five of the seven most prolific prostitutes engaging in treatment programmes. We have used ASBOs to cut crime on the Dee Park estate by 25 per cent., and I was proud to hear today that the residents there have won £1,000 in the taking a stand awards, which were announced today by the Home Office.
Turning to binge drinking in our town centre, my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, recently conducted a survey that was publicised this morning on the "Today" programme. It indicates that the majority of Labour Members would welcome a voluntary or compulsory levy on some pubs and clubs, and particularly the large pub chains, that are happy to draw profits from our town centres and hold happy hours to encourage young people to drink and get out of their faces, but will not face up to the consequences of the crime and disorder that the excessive use of alcohol engenders. When I spoke today to my local area police commander, Chief Superintendent Dave Murray, he told me that, when he wants to put together a Pubwatch meeting in Reading, he can get the local publicans, but not the managers from the big chains—they are not interested because they are on an incentive scheme that depends on how much alcohol they sell. It is time for the people who create some of the problems to pay back into the community the costs of policing our town centres.
The last issue that I want to consider in the brief time that I have available is the repatriation of drug-dealer assets. The Queen's Speech contains a drugs Bill, which is welcome, but we could go much further. Seventy per cent. of all acquisitive crime in my community is linked to hard drugs. The Assets Recovery Agency has been a success, but instead of the money going into a Home Office pot, why not ensure that the profits from dealing in class A drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin go into drug treatment programmes? The ill-gotten gains of drug dealers could then be spent on dealing with the problems that they themselves created: there would be a certain natural justice in that.
These proposals will be supported by my local authority and local police force. Reading would be happy to act as a pilot for such projects. In my view, there would be wide support from the community as a whole, particularly those whose lives have been damaged and families torn apart by the evil of class A drugs.
I should like to concentrate my remarks on witness protection and community support officers.
I welcome the new measures to protect witnesses when giving evidence in court, but also necessary are ways in which to protect the identities of people who wish to help the police in gathering evidence on the everyday minor crimes that blight the lives of ordinary law-abiding people—theft, vandalism, graffiti, gratuitous noise, intimidation and drink and drug-related bad behaviour by the antisocial minority, most of whom are well known to the police but elude punishment. People are heartily fed up with that, and it looms much larger in their minds than terrorism. All that most people want to do is to pay their dues to society and to get on with their own lives without interference. That should not be too much to ask, but the antisocial behaviour of the few is now so entrenched that the perpetrators feel immune from punishment. The challenge is to teach them that they are not and to encourage witnesses to come forward.
Nowadays, the use of mobile phones and texting means that ever-larger numbers of youths congregate in public places in the evenings. Groups of six or 10 have grown to 50, 60 or even 70. When a resident or a shopkeeper calls the police to report, for example, a broken shop window, a damaged car or two youths picking up a crate of beer from an off licence and running off without paying for it, it is very difficult to identify the individual culprits out of the crowd. Even if they are still at the scene when the police arrive, as they often are because they feel so confident that they will escape punishment, it takes a brave witness to say, without any doubt, "It was him." Bearing it in mind that they all wear similar clothes, often hooded jackets, it takes a very confident witness not to be persuaded to waver when being questioned in court.
Of course, many witnesses are not prepared to go to court at all for fear of reprisals, and I am not sure that the proposals for giving evidence behind screens or via video links would adequately protect witness identity. That is a particular problem in "neighbours from hell" cases in which it is obvious where the complaint has come from. Neighbours from hell know only too well who their victims are. They enjoy making other people's lives a misery and the power that comes from intimidation. The reluctance of witnesses even to keep diaries or to report incidents of damage to their homes and cars or of threats of violence means that it takes police a very long time to gather enough evidence to support the issue of an antisocial behaviour order or an eviction order, or a drugs raid. Victims are often reluctant for anyone else to take up the problem in case they get the blame and suffer recrimination. In the meantime, victims continue to suffer day in, day out. One of my constituents recently suffered reprisals after being seen leaving my constituency office. Much more clandestine arrangements, such as confidential telephone contacts and neutral places for reporting information to police, need to be made to protect victims until the problem has been solved. Victims dare risk no visible contact with the police. Therein lies the real problem.
Only the most intractable cases ever reach the courts, yet magistrates see the defendants, polished up for the occasion and on their best behaviour, and are often persuaded to give them another chance. The effect on their neighbours is devastating and the antisocial activities are often stepped up as a deterrent to future complaints. Let us be under no illusion: the worst offenders collect ASBOs and injunctions like trophies. A common outcome is that the victims have to move house to escape an intolerable situation and the neighbours from hell prepare to claim another scalp from the unsuspecting new occupants.
Measures such as ASBOs, curfew orders and dispersal orders will not work unless they are enforced robustly and without slippage, and that takes police resources. Havering police, who are hopelessly overstretched, struggle valiantly to maintain public order when so much of their time has to be spent at the police station filling in endless forms instead of out on the streets fighting crime.
Of course, there is no substitute for beat policing, by real constables with real powers, who are familiar with their neighbourhood. Current police strength in Upminster makes beat patrolling a distant dream, but if the police we have were released from the burden of paperwork at the police station, they could be on the spot to issue fines and fixed penalty notices.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill also includes a provision to increase the powers of community support officers, and that concerns me. To the untrained eye, the uniforms of CSOs are so similar to those of police constables that members of the public cannot easily tell them apart. I believe that that is intentional. I believe that the public are intended to gain the impression that there are a lot more police on the streets than there are. It is a sort of confidence trick.
When CSOs were first proposed, a presentation was made to the Select Committee on Home Affairs and I was assured that the public would be able to distinguish them from police officers. Many of them cannot. My constituents often think that they have seen two policemen patrolling their road. They have not; they have seen CSOs. They are not police. They have received only three weeks' training, they have scant knowledge of the law and no power of arrest. That is not their fault. They have applied for the job in good faith, they are doing exactly what they have been asked to do and doing it well. However, how can they possibly achieve their purpose in deterring antisocial behaviour when a police car with two real officers in it has no effect?The sort of people who commit antisocial behaviour realise very quickly that CSOs are not police.
I am running out of time and I want to read a quote from the Law Society. It states:
"we are concerned that giving civilians police-type powers risks causing an increased scope for confusion amongst members of the public as to precisely what powers non-police officers have."
My other concern is the funding of CSOs. My excellent divisional commander finds his CSOs a helpful addition to his police strength. One advantage is that they are not called away in an emergency as constables often are. However, the salient word is "addition." CSOs should be "as well as", not "instead of" police constables. My concern is about the way in which the funding of police constables is affected by the budgetary provision for CSOs. If the funding for police constables and CSOs comes from the same global budget, is the latter at the expense of the former? Whatever the answer to that question—I hope that it is no—the decision about whether there is more operational gain from four constables or six CSOs, which constitute the budgetary equivalent, should be made in response to local need and circumstances and should not be imposed centrally. I hope that the Minister will tell me that that is the case.
Everyone agrees that law and order is a big issue but Conservative Members frequently suggest that no change is needed. I want to concentrate in the short time available on the proposals for identity cards. First, I shall focus on some of the good work that the Home Office has undertaken on electronic crime.
A number of speakers have said that the Department does not have the capacity to introduce an ID card system because of previous IT failures. That somewhat misses the point in terms of the superb work being done by, for example, the national high-tech crime unit, which launched a project called Endurance at the CBI this year, and in areas spanning simple nuisance through to extortion. Important issues surround Operation Ore and others matters in which a high level of policing was achieved by sophisticated techniques. A number of people have ended up appropriately serving jail sentences.
I want to make a point about the comments of Mr. Oaten, who seemed to argue that some conspiracy theory is developing. For example, in an article published recently, he says:
"Whether you trust them"— the Government—
"or not, we should not pass laws which could be abused by future administrations."
I think it will be a long time before we have a Conservative Administration, but even I am not as afraid of them as that. We can confidently consider the ID cards proposals and be sure that in the civilised democracy in which we are privileged to live there will be a stable system that can be used.
My preferred system would be akin to that described in a good letter in today's edition of The Times. The writer argues:
"A universal reliable identification scheme which curtails their activities"— that is, those of criminals—
"will do far more for me than the rights lobby's hysterical fixations ever will.
None is remotely secure enough to prevent someone else doing these things in my place and there is little or nothing in any of them to establish my unique identity. So let us move the debate on to what data an identity card would hold, where and when it should be required, and how the data disclosed should be used."
That, clearly, is the whole point.
We can move forward in a positive way. We need to ensure, as the draft Bill seems to do, that when a police officer, with just cause, asks to see information he can legitimately do that. Eventually, as the system evolves, if a police officer seeks information from someone who has committed a road traffic offence, no one in the House will disagree that it is perfectly reasonable to use electronic data to ensure that that person is adequately insured. Of course, such an inquiry should go no deeper; it should stick at the matters relating specifically to the offence that has been committed.
Important issues need to be looked at and we should consider the booklet published by the NO2ID campaign. I see that the hon. Member for Winchester is looking across the Chamber; he is a contributor to the booklet. It is almost as if no Government could possibly procure any IT system, but that is manifestly daft. However, I urge the Government to heed advice that I have given before. First, they should ask why the function is needed. We have debated that this evening. Secondly, they must involve the end user and customer in design and development. That includes involving the public. Thirdly, they must ensure that the project is scaleable, which presents a real challenge to any IT designer. Most importantly, they must procure outcomes, not grey boxes. I strongly urge my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that whatever contract is put out for the procurement of an ID system, not a penny piece is paid over until the system is up and running and working. If contractors do not want to participate on those terms, then we should not invite them to tender.
The Opposition expressed some concern about Henry VIII clauses in the Bill. They would not, I hope, extend that concern to Henry VIII clauses about technology. We do not want a technology-specific Bill. We need a Bill that is sufficiently broadly drafted to ensure that, as technology evolves, new technologies can be applied without having to consider fresh primary legislation. Clearly, the principles as to the limits to which the Bill can take ID cards need to be firmly established, but how they work technically should not be dealt with in the Bill. We need a technology-neutral Bill.
I have covered briefly some of the whys in relation to the ID card. I agree with the Government, and would go much further in terms of my model ID card. I have also covered some of the hows, but I advise caution on going forward. As I said, the Bill must be flexible, not technology-specific, and it must evolve as some of the questions that I pose are addressed. But the proposal is not an alternative to policemen and women; it is just a tool, which could, if well designed, be of great use to the state and the citizen, and to the private sector.
Eighteen years ago, 5,600 people a year died on our roads. Of those, 1,200 died because the driver or motorcycle rider had consumed more than the legal alcohol limit. The figures are now much lower; 2,000 fewer die on the roads, and about 800 fewer die because of drink driving. Little of that was changed by the law; most of it was changed by culture and people's expectations.
I look forward to the day when we no longer have 2,400 new serious criminals each week, and when a third of young men have not collected by age 30 a conviction for which they could have been sent to jail for six months or more. In the short term, I look forward to the Home Office having and publishing cohort studies showing what is the experience of, say, each six-month cohort of young people, each year, so that we get regular figures, which, I hope, will show improvements. Once we learn what begins to make an improvement, we can reinforce what works, and stop doing what does not work.
Too often, when there is a problem, Ministers, as well as Back Benchers, propose to the House one of three solutions: a law to make something a crime, in the expectation that that stops it, although I have illustrated that with 2,400 new serious criminals each week, that does not work; tax and spending, which the present Government have shown does not work well; or exhortation, and there is no real evidence that that works either. What is needed is to try to get into people's minds and habits, and, occasionally, to use low technology.
Unlike Mr. Banks, who thinks that constituency casework is in some way a bore, I find it rather useful in terms of illustrating national issues with local experience. To deal with drugs dealing in my constituency, I should like the police and local authority to use low-tech camera surveillance, some open and some covert. Wherever there is a suspected drug dealing place, especially if it is someone's home in a residential area, I should like the police openly to put a camera outside and to film the people who go in for a couple of minutes' business and then come out. I suspect that most of the amateurs, most of whom probably fund their illegal drugs habit by dealing, will find it awkward. The more we make things awkward, the less likely it is that that will happen.
I am not an expert on drugs. I was just too young for national service, and just too old to be invited to join the permissive society. I thought I might wait until I was 60 to try some of these things; now that I am 60, I think I shall wait until I am 70 or 80. I believe, though, that it is possible to deal with some of the young people who go in for experimentation, first by making it more awkward for people to offer them drugs free, and then by helping them to understand that trading in drugs—even at the lowest prices—leads to the kind of life that they would not choose to live. We must give them that choice, as well as bringing about the culture change that worked with drink-driving.
I wish that the Government were as interested in justice as they are in law. Every Member of Parliament will see a report from the Criminal Cases Review Commission stating that a problem involving pension costs for its own staff is leading to a significant delay in cutting the waiting time for people with well-founded cases for a review of their own position. In those instances people have been convicted, the appeal system is not working, and the CCRC thinks that it is worth investigating their cases in detail. There is a reasonable suspicion of injustice, and in some cases—including one or two cases that affect constituents of mine—there has definitely been an injustice.
I should like the Government to spend a little less time on their rhetoric and on the treadmill of law that they produce in the House, and a bit more time on ensuring that—at least for the next two years—the CCRC is given a budget that will allow my former constituent Mr. Derek Jack Tully not to wait until he is dead to have his case reviewed. I cannot argue to the CCRC or even to Ministers that his case is as urgent as that of those who are still in jail, because he is out of jail now; but I do believe that he needs a chance to exonerate himself, given that he should not have suffered his conviction.
Mr. Tully's case, however, is not the main point that I am making. My main point is that the Government should spend money on what actually aids justice. I should also like the Minister to tell us which Minister is responsible for the people locked up in Belmarsh jail who will not face a trial, and which Minister is responsible for the British nationals and British residents in Guantanamo Bay who—whether or not they will face a military commission—have not been given representation. Indeed, we cannot be sure that those in Guantanamo Bay have not experienced things that, in plain English, would be called torture; unacceptable behaviour.
Who will stand up on behalf of the Government and say "I will take responsibility for answering questions"? Who will say "I will say what we, the Government, have done with the American authorities while trying to protect people here, there and around the world"? Who will say that the Government recognise that people are not protected by being put in a legal limbo where they cannot, in fact, be protected from the kind of behaviour that I thought our free countries were dedicated to stamping out throughout the world?
I hope that we can also deal, through law, with some of the Government's changes involving the fast-tracking of people whose presence in this country is suspected of being unauthorised; failed asylum seekers or illegal migrants. On Saturday I took up the case of Crispen Kulinji, a Zimbabwean who, I understand, had spent four days in Malawi in his life. He had clearly been tortured, and clearly had to escape. He came here, and because the only way in which someone in his circumstances can come here is by obtaining a Malawi passport or something similar, he has been fast-tracked back to Malawi via Harare, where it is very likely that the authorities will have taken hold of him. I hope that the Government will take account of such cases. I hope that they will consider whether they have gone too far in cutting off legal aid that would enable people to secure competent lawyers to put their cases. In Mr. Kulinji's case, I suspect that the expulsion order would have been overturned.
We have some business remaining from last year. I support the Government on the Mental Capacity Bill. I will not vote for euthanasia, and I hope that those who condemn the Bill on the grounds that it supports euthanasia will read the Bill and understand the 15-year campaign behind it. I support the Law Society's doubts over the Mental Health Bill, and I hope that the Government will try to explain why the Law Society and I should feel more relaxed about it.
I think that the Government have scored less than 50 per cent. on law and order. That is not good enough, and I hope we can soon unite those who want a Tory Government with those who think that the Tories will act in the national interest rather more effectively than the present Government. As I suspect everyone knows, there are too many Labour Members of Parliament, and voting Liberal is not the answer to any serious national problem. My party has the national interest at heart, and I hope that we are as successful in the next election as we were in the referendum in the north-east.
I enjoyed much of what Peter Bottomley said until the last couple of sentences. He seemed to take off in flights of fancy.
The debate has been interesting. I particularly enjoyed the contributions of my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, who made some important points about the need to remove the blasphemy law in favour of a measure to outlaw incitement to religious hatred, and of my hon. Friend Helen Jones. She made an important point about the youth service, which is often forgotten—a Cinderella service—in the whole crime and law and order debate.
I was somewhat perplexed when Mr. Garnier accused the Government of being the French revolution of the modern era. In fact, from the speeches we heard today, if there were to be a Danton-style triumvirate, it would be the hon. Members for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and Mr. Howard.
I had thought to speak about identity cards, not least because while rummaging through some old papers yesterday, I found my mother's old ID card. However, when I realised that she was given it in 1969 by General Franco's fascist dictatorship in Spain I thought that it would not really help my cause.
I decided instead to talk about drugs, for two simple reasons. First and foremost, as many have already said, drugs are one of the major problems that face every community in the land. About 38 in every thousand people in the country have some kind of drug dependency problem, although I want to correct the figure touted by many people in the debate—that there are 1 million drug users. That is overstatement by a considerable degree. It is certainly true that a million people say that at some point in their life they have taken a class A drug, but that does not make every single one of them a problem drug user. It is important that we get the figures right, and I think that the number is more like 250,000, although that is not to deny that there is a significant problem.
In my constituency, we have a significant drugs problem. Some time ago, the major regional dealers in Birmingham and Bristol decided to start marketing their services in the south Wales valleys. Unfortunately, that has led to the devastation of many families and individual lives, characterised, as many Members will know, by a potent sense of desperation and powerlessness, which undermines the strong sense of community historically experienced in many mining constituencies, such as mine.
I have especially in mind the problems we experienced in the Rhondda in 2002 when, over 10 days, 12 young people died through drug-related problems during the weekend of the Queen's jubilee. We have not had many drugs deaths since then. Some of the policies that the Government have implemented have changed things and given people the possibility of moving away from their drug dependency, although there is still a significant amount of work for us to do.
I want to draw the House's attention to some specific areas where there is work to be done, although I recognise that the Bill that will be introduced will help us to ensure that criminals with a drug dependency problem are given the right treatment from the moment they enter the criminal justice system, especially through the requirement that there will be drug testing on arrest and not just when a person is charged. There are a few issues on which the Government need to move faster. It is important that we get the statistics on drug-related deaths right. Members may have seen the claim in The Times a few days ago that Spalding in Lincolnshire was the country's drug death capital, linked to a report that showed that 12.1 in 1,000 deaths in Boston and Spalding were drug-related. In fact, contrary to the headline, the figure for Brighton and Hove was twice that number, at 25.3 deaths per thousand—a significant number.
It is easy to take such figures for the truth, yet since 1984 the Government have produced no advice on how coroners should determine whether a death is drug-related. Some coroners will record a death as drug-related only if a needle is found in someone's arm; others will do so if there is a positive toxicology report of any kind. The truth is that it is time the Government produced new guidance for coroners. They promised to do so two years ago, but there has still been no new set of guidelines. Some drug-related deaths may be going unreported in some areas of the country, and if we are to ensure that we get the right resources to every part of the country, we need to get the statistics right.
Secondly, of course, we need to tackle the waiting list problem. We have done a significant amount in the past few years. Two years ago, the waiting time for the various kinds of drug treatment in Rhondda was about 18 months to two years. We have now cut that down to about four months, thanks to a significant extra amount of money from the Welsh Assembly Government for a new drug treatment centre in Llwynypia. The Government have done sterling work in cutting the average wait from about 12 weeks in 1997 to just over two weeks, but waiting times are still considerably longer in a significant number of areas of the country.
I will not give way to my hon. Friend because I know that at least one other very important Member wishes to speak on this subject, and she has already had a go.
I agree with those hon. Members who have said that we need to tackle not just the regional dealers but the small dealers in local communities. Often when I have spoken at secondary schools on any random set of subjects, many young people come up to me and say, "We all know where the dealers are, but the police never do anything about it." That is the problem. Sometimes, the police decide that it is better to know where the local, small-time dealer is, because they are trying to catch the big, regional dealer. The problem for youngsters is that they always know where they can go to get their drugs. We need to destabilise the supply at local level, which involves tackling the small-time dealers.
We also need to focus much more significantly on education. The Government have done a great deal with the Frank programme, which is excellent. In some parts of Wales, we have had the drugs awareness resistance education programme—DARE—which has also been good, but we need to go a step further. It is not enough just to have schools teaching about drugs; it is much more important to ensure that the home environment enables youngsters to talk with their parents about drugs and the problems that they face.
In Sweden, there is a programme whereby every parent of a 13-year-old is sent readily comprehensible information that they can use with their children. Building that relationship is one of the important things that we could do to tackle the problem of drugs. It is not particularly important to get macho, as Mr. Oaten said earlier, or to be tough. The important thing is to get the policies right, and I believe that the Government are travelling in the right direction, but we still have a significant way to go.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the Queen's Speech and to concentrate on home affairs, especially when the quality of the debate has been so high on both sides of the House. I was particularly struck with the thoughtful contribution made by my namesake, my hon. Friend Tony Wright, who made a subtle and incisive speech. I also agree with my hon. Friend Helen Jones on many of the points that she made.
The Queen's Speech contained many proposals that will directly benefit my constituency. Its focus is right and reflects the achievements made after seven years of a Labour Government, but I should like Ministers to consider some points to ensure that my constituents gain even more from the proposals set out in the Queen's Speech.
The Government are right to focus on safety and security, and to provide reassurance in our communities. As the Home Secretary said earlier in the debate, the economic competence of the Chancellor in the face of several global recessions since 1997 has ensured that, in my experience, my constituents are no longer saying, "Why can't we find work or a training place?" They are now concentrating on quality of life issues, and rightly so.
Nevertheless, there is a clear link between crime and economic prosperity. Let us consider a potential business man or woman. I imagine that they would not contemplate setting up a business in an area where they run the risk of losing stock or machinery through burglary on a nightly basis or having to repair their property time and time again after acts of mindless vandalism. Promoting safer and more secure business communities would greatly reduce social costs and help to rejuvenate deprived areas such as Hartlepool. I urge Ministers to do more in that regard.
On the proposals on drugs in the Queen's Speech, further progress with drug rehabilitation is a welcome step. I completely agree with the setting up of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I ask Ministers to ensure that a key part of the agency's remit and the drugs Bill is to crack down on dealers. All too often for the young men and women growing up on our estates, the most successful member of their peer group is the local drug dealer, with a flash car, decent clothes and plenty of money in their pocket. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was a great step forward, and I hope that the proposed legislation as outlined in the Queen's Speech will go further towards ensuring that people, including present and potential dealers, recognise not only that crime does not pay but that they will be punished severely for peddling drugs in our neighbourhoods.
I also welcome the proposals to extend financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds involved in education and training. By giving real financial incentives to continue studying or training, the Government will help the economy by producing a high-skilled work force and, as a nod to the antisocial behaviour theme, help keep people on the straight and narrow.
I believe a central element of the Queen's Speech is the Government's determination to do more to tackle antisocial behaviour. I applaud that, because this is the major concern of my constituents. People's quality of life is blighted by petty crime—from graffiti and noisy neighbours to gangs of youths on street corners threatening and alarming residents. We in Hartlepool are in a curious position in which crime has come down by 20 per cent in the past three months, yet fear of crime is rising. I shared a platform on Saturday with the head of Hartlepool police, Chief Superintendent Dave Nixon. He specifically said that crime is reducing in Hartlepool as a direct consequence of the Labour Government's initiatives.
When I talk to my constituents about the fear of crime, however, it is the specific fear of antisocial behaviour that concerns them. It is walking past a gang of youths on their way to the shops to buy a pint of milk that intimidates them. I do not think that the proposed legislation should scare people, but reassure them. Responsive neighbourhood policing by which residents know the name of their local policeman or woman or community support officer is precisely what my constituents want. This will reassure them and help to reduce the problems on our streets.
I would also like Ministers to consider whether technology could be used to tackle the problems. I have been on a Friday night patrol with the local police, and I asked the officer concerned about the point continually made by the Conservative party about additional bureaucracy. He responded that he did not think that there was such bureaucracy. On the contrary, he said that he thought the number of forms was being reduced. However, he made the valid point that technology, such as hand-held BlackBerries to capture information, could be used. I ask Ministers to consider the provision of such technology on the front line for police to act against crime.
Most of all, I hope that the details in the proposed Bills in the Queen's Speech help to ensure that communities can take control of their own lives. For when residents say enough is enough and communities set their own standards of behaviour, great advances can be made, and I do not mean that in a way that encourages vigilantes. However, given the tools, the powers and the freedoms to make a difference in their areas, normal, decent hard-working people will lift their communities forward. That has been seen in my constituency in areas such as Burbank, where local residents, empowered by the Government, have reclaimed their streets and are making a real difference. It also means providing relevant and up-to-date places for young people to go, so that they can socialise without being intimidated themselves or intimidating others. I do not mean rewarding people for bad behaviour, but recognising that boredom and a lack of appropriate facilities often help to cause antisocial behaviour. I ask Home Office Ministers to provide funding in my constituency and others to allow for good facilities to nip problems in the bud.
I hope that the Government go further in stripping away empire building, which means that agencies such as local authorities, the police and registered social landlords do not share information for fear of losing some of their perceived power. My constituents do not care about that—they want results. They want their streets safe and clean, and the local villains locked up. Hartlepool has been massively successful in pulling together agencies to ensure that results can be delivered, but we need to go further to ensure that all relevant agencies co-ordinate more of the information available to them so that problems are responded to quickly and antisocial behaviour is minimised.
The proposed charities Bill is also a welcome step. Ministers have a real opportunity to co-ordinate legislation in the Queen's Speech by linking the Bill with antisocial behaviour legislation, thus granting greater powers to voluntary and residents' groups. Hartlepool has strong residents groups, and they are a key reason why we are tackling the problems in our town. However, I ask the Government to consider whether the charities Bill's powers will be sufficient to allow charitable status for residents associations, for example, or to reduce bureaucracy sufficiently so that more money will be available on the front line for residents associations to tackle the problems in our neighbourhoods.
The Government have done much to reduce crime in my constituency and throughout the country, and the measures in the Queen's Speech are a further step in the right direction. We need to do more to reassure my constituents in respect of their fear of crime and antisocial behaviour, and the proposed legislation, if enacted, will help to do that.
As is so often the case in Queen's Speech debates, we have had a wide-ranging discussion on difficult issues, freed from some of the constraints we face when considering individual Bills. Several aspects of the debate were extraordinary. Tony Wright attempted an analysis of several of the underlying causes of crime and disorder in our society. I did not disagree with the views that he expressed with his characteristic care.
As I listened to the hon. Gentleman, I was struck by the fact that he was raising a real issue that Labour Members should perhaps consider. He rightly identified a society that is getting richer and consuming more, yet in which there is erosion of civil infrastructure while the behavioural revolution seems to be moving in the wrong direction. We must pose the question, on a cross-party basis, of how that has come about. It seems to me that it is at least partly a result of a system in which traditional values have been eroded and consistently undermined by those seeking change and education has been transformed, but in which—we must also accept this—the desire of many for permissiveness has not always been matched by people respecting the obligations that go with that.
At the other end of the spectrum, we heard the depressing, albeit honest, vision of Mr. Banks. Freed at last from the constraints of his constituents, he effectively told us that he had reached a point at which he believed that the only solution to his constituents' problems was an armed police force. He went on to say that only enforcement to prevent people from doing such things as playing nasty war games would start to moderate behaviour. Is it not the case that over the past decade, we have consistently seen one legislative attempt after another to moderate people's behaviour by regulation, yet that has completely failed to achieve desired goals? The Government come along and ban the shooting of .22 pistols because they say that that will send a powerful signal that violence is unacceptable. Far from that doing anything of the kind, however, the use of guns has risen, yet law-abiding people and those who might have attained a state of responsibility by being allowed to use a handgun in a gun club are prevented from carrying out a legitimate activity.
Mr. Byers provided us with an astonishing Panglossian view of the world. After seven years of a Labour Government and seven years of endeavour, he asserted that somehow the consequences of the rise in crime that now concerned him could have nothing to do with Government policy whatsoever.
I regret to say that the right hon. Gentleman's comments were echoed by Mr. Denham, who I am afraid made a speech that could have been written for him by the Home Secretary. There was no criticism of Labour, yet in his important capacity as a Committee Chairman he highlighted the very fact, which he failed to do today, that there is not much point in criticising the judges for the Sentencing Guidelines Council and its recent guidelines because the fault lay with the Home Secretary for failing to draft the Bill properly, which led to the introduction of those guidelines. The consistent view of the House is that we have insufficient time to consider legislation.
We had many contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House, identifying what was going on in their constituencies. It was a pretty unhappy picture, but all the more telling because it came from their own experiences. My hon. Friend Mr. Flook talked about the widespread use of cannabis and the disintegration of communities in his constituency. My right hon. Friend Mrs. Shephard pointed out that as her police force is chronically underfunded, it is a bit difficult to expect it to carry out its functions, something that was picked up by other hon. Members.
My hon. Friend Mr. Clappison went into considerable detail on his views on identity cards. He also highlighted the problem of police precepts. My hon. Friend Mr. Gale said that the police are hamstrung by bureaucracy and gave telling personal experience of that, which the Home Secretary denied in the course of the debate.
My hon. Friend Angela Watkinson explained that community support officers in her constituency are not well regarded. They have been referred to as scarecrows within the police force. I might not agree with that pejorative term, but if the Government want to introduce neighbourhood policing, they will need police officers to bring it about.
No, I did not. I certainly did not intend to. It came from my mouth, not hers.
My hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton described how drugs were so destructive in his community.
I am bound to say that there were also some interesting contributions from Labour Members. Mr. Meacher highlighted his anxieties about current trends as the Government try to tackle the problems. He was worried about them establishing Diplock courts in terrorist cases, but they are not contemplating that because they already have the power to set up such courts. It is clear from what the Home Secretary said that he is thinking about setting up a form of special court, similar to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, to try terrorist cases in a completely different and, I suspect, inquisitorial fashion from the way in which they are tried at the moment. There can be no other explanation for what he said on the "Jonathan Dimbleby" programme one Sunday. That fills me with great foreboding.
The problem is that the Government have form when it comes to our civil liberties. If they were saying that we had to alter jury trial for terrorists or introduce identity cards after years of libertarianism, I would listen carefully, but instead they tell us that those things are necessary when, over the past three years, we have had a procession of illiberal authoritarian measures, which, as my hon. Friend Mr. Green rightly said, combine authoritarianism with ineffectiveness. We had the attack on jury trial generally; the ruthless attempt to get previous convictions and bad character mentioned, before we reined them in, even in cases in which it would have been manifestly unfair; and the disgraceful attempt to oust the jurisdiction of the courts in the case of asylum seekers, who are not a popular group. At the end of that, the Government tell us that the measures that they are introducing will reconcile and balance liberty with security.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley, my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier and my hon. Friend Peter Bottomley pointed out, all these measures, particularly when they refer to the undermining of jury trial for terrorists or, for that matter, religious hatred, to which I shall return, and certainly on identity cards, need to be considered very carefully in the context of their impact on our civil liberties. I have to say that I simply do not trust the Government at all on those issues any more.
I note that as usual the crude mixture of populism and necessity is invoked to justify the measures, while at the same time the Government have failed so badly in getting a return on the massive investments that they have made in trying to curb crime. We hear about drugs, but we know that the drug treatment that the Government envisage is a pale imitation of what is available in Sweden, or indeed, in the more enlightened states in the US, and has not worked. We hear about ASBOs, but from what we see on the ground, most of us believe that they are not working at all. [Interruption.] Not only is there a 36 per cent. failure rate through breach, we know that many other ASBOs are regularly or routinely breached but never taken back before the courts. When I put that question to the Minister, she said that she was terribly sorry but that there was no central collation of that information.
The Government's record is a poor one. Will ID cards work? We are pragmatic; we will listen to what the Government have to say, we will scrutinise the legislation in detail and we will try to come up with constructive suggestions to ensure that our civil liberties are not eroded and lost. We shall certainly look askance at any attempt to diminish jury trial.
The matter of religious hatred exercised the enthusiasm of Mr. Dobson, but I am unpersuaded by his argument that the measure will not have the unintended consequence of leading to a general blasphemy law under which all religious groups will hurl insults and insist on the prosecution of each other as they engage in such criticism. That is the experience in Australia where such a law has been implemented. I recommend that the right hon. Gentleman look carefully at those issues.
This Government's problem was highlighted in a comment made just before the 1997 election. I was listening to a radio programme on which Mr. Charles Powell, as he then was, was asked for his opinion of the Leader of the Opposition, as the Prime Minister then was. Mr. Powell was asked what the right hon. Gentleman was trying to achieve for his country, and after a moment's pause, he answered that he thought that the then Leader of the Opposition found Britain too feudal and wanted to make it more Napoleonic.
I thought that that was pretty bad at the time, but it now dawns on me that Mr. Powell did not specify whether he was talking about Napoleon I or Napoleon III. This Government are indeed modelled on the Government of Napoleon III. There is the crude populism, the use of referendums to try to get results and to rubber-stamp Government decisions, the undermining of governmental procedure, the willingness to cut corners and, on some of the edges, the whiff of corruption—[Interruption.] Oh yes. On some of the edges there is the whiff of corruption in the way in which the Government suborns the civil service. That was highlighted by my right hon. Friend David Davis in his speech. The truth is that the Government are not succeeding at all in curbing crime, but my goodness they are successful in restricting our freedoms.
The point was made during the debate that in many parts of the country the police are seen less and less as the protectors of freedom. That has been my experience in my constituency, and it worries me enormously. The fact that the police are ineffective in dealing with crime but very good at imposing the regulations that the Government have introduced brings them into disrepute with the public. This country needs a proper reassessment of what can be done to reduce crime, empower local communities and introduce proper community policing. We must ensure that sufficient police officers are available to achieve that aim and we must ensure that there are proper immigration controls. As a result, people will be reassured that they can live in a society where they can engage with one another for the common good. The Government seem to be incapable of delivering that—all that they can deliver is more law, more regulation and more failure.
We have had an excellent debate in which we went from Napoleon to Robespierre in a couple of contributions. There were 26 speeches in what was, rightly, a popular debate.
There is no more important challenge than home affairs facing the country today, and the policies and measures that we have set out should help us to build the foundation of security on which we can establish hope and opportunity in the years to come. The Government have tried to look forward in a changing world and anticipate the challenges, using our ingenuity and imagination to formulate the ideas to meet them. There is a fundamental difference between the Opposition and us, and it is best summed up in the recent words of the Prime Minister, who said:
"I am an optimist about Britain; and the difference between an optimist and a pessimist is not that the optimist believes that the world is wonderful and the pessimist believes it's beset by challenges; the difference is the pessimist believes we will be defeated by them; the optimist thinks the challenges can be overcome."
I am an optimist too. Whether it is identity cards, which will help us to disrupt terrorism, prevent people trafficking and ID fraud, combat illegal working and ensure proper access to public services, or measures under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill to enable us to keep ahead of sophisticated and dangerous criminals to make this country the most hostile environment for them to operate in, we are trying to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
We heard a number of excellent contributions, including the speech by my right hon. Friend Mr. Denham, who was absolutely right to say that our measures were not about stoking the fear of crime but promoting security and making sure that the criminal justice system was on the side of the decent majority. I could not agree more. Mr. Oaten welcomed a number of our measures, including those set out in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill and the offender management Bills. I am delighted that, once again, he supported measures on antisocial behaviour. Are we witnessing the rehabilitation of the Liberal Democrats? I hope that there will be no reoffending. Simon Hughes opposes ID cards in principle, while the hon. Member for Winchester opposes them in practice, so the Liberal Democrats, like the Tories, may be facing both ways on the issue.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, in a thoughtful speech, expressed his long-standing commitment to press us to abolish the offence of blasphemy. We will keep the matter under review. He also talked about the balance between security and liberty. He knows that we will introduce draft legislation, but it is a difficult balance to strike. In a supportive speech, Mrs. Shephard, for whom I have the greatest respect, talked about parish councils' ability to impose fixed penalty notices. Many parish councils have asked for those powers and they can band together to try to increase their capacity to implement them in their area. I am sure that she will welcome the extra 85 police officers and 12 community support officers announced last week for her community.
My hon. Friend Mr. Banks must be demob happy, as he set out his proposals for ID cards, a national DNA register and the arming of all police officers. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the last suggestion, and neither can I agree with his proposals to legalise harmful drugs that ruin far too many lives, particularly those of young people. Mr. Lilley spoke about the period when he was a member of the Cabinet. I am afraid that that was quite a long time ago. The world is changing very fast and I had the sense that he, together with a number of his hon. Friends, was looking backwards, not forwards. The purpose of our proposals in the Queen's Speech is to try to anticipate future challenges.
In an extremely thoughtful speech, my hon. Friend Tony Wright spoke about the politics of behaviour, the fact that we have lost many of our community facilities, and the importance of the quality of relationships—a matter to which I shall return in my comments about Sir Nicholas Winterton.
In a serious and thoughtful contribution Mr. Clappison set out his support for ID cards. He spoke about the need to get the technology right, and I entirely support him on that. He spoke about the difficulty of getting more police officers in his area. I am sure that he would not want to go back to the day under the Tories when we had 1,100 fewer police officers and no community support officers at all.
The hon. Lady said that things have moved on. I pointed out that, in my day, when we asked the police, the immigration service and the security services whether they valued identity cards enough to contribute their own budgets towards the immense costs of such a scheme, they said no. Have things changed? Will they pay out of their own budgets for the scheme or do they not really want it?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the police, the security services and all those charged with our protection welcome enormously the prospect of identity cards to tackle serious and organised crime, terrorism and the other threats that face us. Again, I ask him to try to look forward, not back.
In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend Mrs. Cryer set out her commitment to making sure that young women in particular are not exploited in forced marriages. She argued that the world has changed remarkably and that, in her words, we now live in a global village. She is right and I am sure that she will make a valuable contribution to the consultation that is to take place.
I could not resist the speech of the hon. Member for Macclesfield when he spoke about the importance of decency in our communities and being able to tackle antisocial behaviour and other things happening in his community. I am not given to self-promotion, as the House knows, but I commend to the hon. Gentleman a pamphlet that I wrote recently, entitled "The Politics of Decency", which sets out my belief that decency is a left-wing progressive value that underpins modern socialism. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will welcome that. I am happy to give him a free copy.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Byers emphasised that Labour was in tune with what the people want, that our proposals are the people's agenda and that the Tories are in danger of repeating the mistakes of the 1980s.
Mr. Gale, who I know is closely involved with the British Transport police and plays an important role there, rightly highlighted the contribution that they make to tackling crime. I can tell him that they have had extra resources for street crime and for implementation of the Airwave facilities. The recording of stops is being used by the police on Merseyside to gain intelligence to enable them to target their resources on hot spots, and they are finding that extremely useful.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Meacher made some allegations about the implications of Iraq and the effect of that on terrorism. I reject his allegations. He spoke about the policing culture being coarsened. I believe that the policing culture is becoming more in tune with our communities.
Mr. Llwyd wanted us to stand up to the drinks lobby. I am delighted to tell him and other hon. Members that we are making the alcohol industry take its responsibilities seriously. We are getting rid of happy hours and irresponsible drinks promotions, and I have said clearly that we want a voluntary scheme for the industry to contribute to the costs of policing, but if the voluntary scheme does not work, I have not ruled out the prospect of legislation.
My hon. Friend Helen Jones rightly called for it to be made an offence for people to buy alcohol for under-18s. I am delighted to tell her that that is an offence and we have recently made it the subject of a fixed penalty notice.
Mr. Garnier said that the political discourse is changing. It was he who spoke about Robespierre, but unfortunately I was not present at the time. He is right. Political discourse is changing. The measures that we are proposing have the support of the people. We are addressing their concerns and we are on their side.
I welcome the support of my hon. Friend Mr. Khabra for ID cards. Mr. Flook wanted us to tackle drink and drugs. We are doing a great deal on that agenda. My hon. Friend Mr. Clelland wanted more involvement of local authorities, particularly on antisocial behaviour. We are committed to making that happen.
I am worried about Mr. Green. I see that he is in his place. I was not sure whether he should be a Lib Dem. I can see that he has moved this evening. He is on the Tory Benches but closer to the Liberal Democrats. I am delighted to see that he is edging that way.
My hon. Friend Mr. Salter is a champion of his community. He raised the issues of binge drinking, the need to use confiscated assets for drug treatment and the need to use antisocial behaviour powers on Travellers. I commend my hon. Friend for speaking up on behalf of his constituents. We shall certainly examine all the matters that he raised.
Angela Watkinson talked about witness protection. She will be delighted that we will be extending the special provisions to victims of antisocial behaviour cases. I am sure that she is delighted also that the Met police are getting an extra 250 community support officers, some of whom will no doubt patrol her constituency.
My hon. Friend Mr. Miller is an expert on information technology matters. I remember him advising less computer-literate Members such as myself about our computers. He had some wise words for us about the contracting process for ID cards, which I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will take seriously.
Peter Bottomley talked about the need to change the culture of crime among young people . I am sure that he is aware of the measures that we are taking to do exactly that.
My hon. Friend Chris Bryant raised the drugs problem in his constituency. I am sure that many of us face the same problem in our constituencies. We need to get more people into treatment and have tough sentences for drug dealers. The new drugs Bill will do exactly that.
My hon. Friend Iain Wright, in an excellent contribution on behalf of his constituents, raised the importance of safety and security. He made the link between economic prosperity and crime. He said that we should take tough action on drug dealers, and he was absolutely right. I know how hard he has worked to tackle antisocial behaviour in his community. His constituents can be proud of an extremely active Member working on their behalf.
All our proposals are about balancing rights and responsibilities and liberty and security. It is a difficult balance to get right but we are determined to do it. We will have tough enforcement for those who break the law, from perpetrators of antisocial behaviour to serious criminals, including drug dealers. We will also provide help for those who want to change their lives and live in a different and better way, with youth work, drug treatment, help with parenting, reducing reoffending and intensive supervision.
We have not heard much this evening about the policies of either Opposition party. We could have tough liberalism or we could have compassionate conservatism. They are easy slogans but let us judge them as we will be judged, which is on what they do, not just what they say. Both parties have got records. They both have form on these issues. The Lib Dems voted against the antisocial behaviour powers to disperse teen gangs. They voted against imprisonment for the possession of drugs. They opposed fixed penalty notices and said that they were a gimmick. They want to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
The Tories want to freeze the Home Office budget. There would be £1.6 billion of cuts. How many police officers and community support officers would be involved? The Tories have form. Crime doubled while they were in office. There were 1,100 fewer police officers, record numbers of prison escapes and mass unemployment. For me, that is the real politics of fear—fear of unemployment, fear of crime, fear of poverty and fear of homelessness. Our programme is about creating hope, building communities that are free from fear where everyone has a chance to do well. There will be a clear choice for the people of this country at the next election, whenever it comes, between optimism and pessimism, between security and fear and between hope and despair, and I know which side we are on.
We are on the side of the decent majority of people who go to work, who pay their taxes, who look after each other and who want their children to do well. Our measures will lay the foundation for success. I am sorry that Conservative Members have not acknowledged that the decline of decency that we have all talked about might be the fault of Tory values, which for nearly two decades made virtues out of greed and selfishness and vices out of service, duty and community spirit. Does anyone really doubt that mass unemployment juxtaposed with yuppie culture in the 1980s, with some young people living high-octane lifestyles and others with nothing to look forward to but the giro, did nothing but breed resentment, anger, criminality and antisocial behaviour? I commend the measures in the Queen's Speech.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.