§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)
The Gracious Speech includes three Home Office Bills. Two—the Police Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill—will play a key role in our fight against crime. The third measure—the Sunday Trading Bill—is intended to clear up once and for all the question of Sunday opening. I hope that the House will have an early opportunity to debate that measure in full and to reach a decision that will put the law on a satisfactory basis.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
>: Has my right hon. and learned Friend had an opportunity to see the item in today's Financial Times, in which it is made clear that Sainsbury's link promotion to the willingness of staff to work on Sundays? Does that not negate the Government's promise to shop workers that working on Sundays will continue to be voluntary for all staff, both those already employed and those who will be employed in the future?
§ Madam Speaker
If the Secretary of State will forgive me, I should like to make a short announcement that I had forgotten to make. So many Members seek to speak today that I have had to limit speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock to 10 minutes. I hope that those speaking outside those limits will also consider the other hon. Members who wish to speak and will make short speeches if possible. That did not happen yesterday.
§ Mr. Howard
If my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman) studies schedule 4 to the Bill with great care, as I know she will, she will find that it provides the answer to the question that she asked on the basis of the report.
When I became Home Secretary, I said that we must reject the view that we are helpless in the face of rising crime. In October, I set out the most comprehensive law and order package ever announced by a Home Secretary. Today, I want to explain how the measures that I propose fit into our overall strategy to fight crime.
I have always said that we need to take action right across the board. It is no good simply concentrating on one area alone. We must do all we can to prevent crime, to 330 catch criminals, to ensure fair justice and to give courts the power they need to pass appropriate sentences. The measures in the Police Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill will help us in all four respects.
The police response to my proposals has been very encouraging. The Association of Chief Police Officers has said that the proposals wouldhelp to redress the balance in favour of justice for victims, witnesses and the mass of law-abiding citizens".The Police Federation said unequivocally that my proposals wouldhelp tremendously in the fight against crime".What a contrast is the reaction of the Opposition. 'The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has, characteristically, uttered a torrent of words but, equally characteristically, his words are totally hollow. The hon. Gentleman is prepared to pronounce on everything except my proposals, ducking and weaving as he attempts to avoid committing himself to being in favour or not in favour of any of my 27 points. Finding the Labour party's policies is as difficult as finding Michael Jackson, but I can say that it will take a good deal longer to detoxify Labour's policies when and if they are ever found.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield seems bent on squeezing every ounce of advantage from the right to silence before we finally deal with it, but I must caution him. Everything that he says will be used in evidence, and the evidence is overwhelming that the hon. Gentleman has not the faintest idea of what he would or would not do if he had any responsibility for these matters.
The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown )—[Interruption.] One cannot expect the right hon. Gentleman to be present for a debate on a subject as unimportant as law and order. The right hon. Gentleman said that reforming the criminal justice system was irrelevant to tackling crime. What on earth does he mean-tackling offending on bail; ending cautions as a substitute for prosecution for serious offences; dealing with the so-called right to silence that is abused by terrorists and hardened criminals?
The right hon. Gentleman may think that those matters are irrelevant, but I can tell him that the police and the victims of crime do not agree with him, and nor do we. Yet again, when it comes to the vital national debate about crime, the Liberal Democrats remain true to their long tradition of utter irrelevance.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way so early in his speech. Does he agree that whether the reform of the criminal justice system is relevant depends upon the content of the reforms? The 64 Bills already passed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government have shown them to be singularly inept.
§ Mr. Howard
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to pay rather closer attention to the words of the leader of his party. The press release on 25 October by the right hon. Member for Yeovil made the point that any reform of the criminal justice system was irrelevant. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the press releases emanating from his party, he will see that my comments were entirely justified.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
We are all trying to understand the Home Secretary's thinking. Would he 331 regard it as a reasonable defence if some thug explained in court that his crime of violence was caused because his grandmother was lonely during the war?
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman seems determined to trivialise a serious debate. I do not propose to descend to his level of triviality: I propose to deal with the real issues as they arise.
I shall take the main elements of my strategy in turn. The first of them is preventing crime, and this Government put crime prevention on the map. We set up and funded Crime Concern, which levers in private sector money for crime prevention schemes. We encouraged neighbourhood watch schemes, which now cover more than 5 million households. We are doubling the number of safer city projects, providing better security for housing estates, improved street lighting and more secure car parks.
There are many things that can be done, and under the Government they are being done. We are spending £200 million across Whitehall on all aspects of crime prevention, and that figure excludes what the police spend. Crime prevention, is a natural and continuing ingredient in the work of almost every police officer, whatever else the police are engaged in. The patrolling officer who tests the lock on a door is engaged as much on crime prevention as on anything else, and let us not forget the money that the private sector invests in crime prevention. That runs to billions of pounds.
We must also tackle the menace of drugs, which is a factor in a great deal of crime. That is why we have 20 drugs prevention teams across the country to prevent the spread of drugs misuse, and why we have legislated to seize the profits of the drugs barons.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
On the question of drugs, has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the report in today's issue of The Sun that yet another major prosecution for drugs offences has collapsed because the defence wished to know the names of the informants? What action does my right hon. and learned Friend propose to deal with that?
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend identifies a very serious problem, which was carefully considered by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. The commission made certain proposals, and we are considering them very carefully. I assure my hon. Friend that I am entirely sympathetic to the point he raises, and I am determined to take action to deal with it.
We will do everything we can to prevent crime, but no society has ever managed to eradicate it. That is why we need to do more to catch and punish criminals. The main responsibility for crime detention will always lie with the police.
One of my recent critics had some interesting things to say about that. He said that the police should be weaned off the silly, old-fashioned idea that their main job was detecting crime and catching criminals—"the canteen culture", he called it derisively. Now, apparently, I have come along and ruined everything. The boys in blue are starting to go back to the bad old days, when they enjoyed nothing so much as feeling collars. To those coppers in their canteens who see their main job as clearing villains off the street, I have a simple message: "Carry on, constable: I will back you all the way."
332 My job is to sweep away the obstacles that stop the police getting on with the job of clearing up crimes and arresting criminals. That is why, under our Police Bill, I will set key objectives for the police service. I want to give the police a clearer focus for their work. That is why I have accepted all the proposals of the inquiry to cut police paperwork, which will free as many as 2,300 police officers for front-line work. That is why we must give the police the modern equipment and technology that they need to beat the modern criminal.
Next year, the national collection of criminal records will be computerised, and the police national network will also be in place, saving up to £100 million over 10 years. Next year too, if Parliament approves, wider DNA profiling will be available to help the police to catch criminals.
The police do a difficult and dangerous job, frequently putting their own lives at risk to help others. We need to make sure that they have all the protection that we can give them. When I became Home Secretary, the police asked to undertake trials of a new expandable side-handled baton, which could give police officers better protection. I said that they could go ahead, subject to scientific evaluation. I can announce today that that evaluation has now been successfully completed, and that trials of the side-handled baton will go ahead as soon as possible in many parts of the country, including London.
We also need to make sure that the police service is managed efficiently, and that police officers are rewarded properly. That is why my predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, set up the Sheehy inquiry. The reaction of the hon. Member for Sedgefield to the Sheehy report told us a lot about Labour Members. It would not be quite right to say they do not have a policy towards the Sheehy report; in fact, they have four.
When the Sheehy inquiry was announced, the hon. Member for Sedgefield welcomed it, saying that itmay … come out with sensible reforms".When it was published, he said that it was entirely right for me to consult about its contents. No sooner had I started consulted and listening than he said we should scrap it altogether. Writing in the Daily Express, as he frequently does, he said that the slate should becleaned of these unnecessary matters".Then, when I announced my conclusions, he simply could not bring himself to say whether he agreed with them or not.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield's counterpart in another place had no such difficulty. At the very moment when the hon. Gentleman was engaging in one of his rambling responses in this House, the noble Lord McIntosh took quite a different line:our fundamental reaction … it is in fact a very welcome basis for future discussion of the way forward for the police service." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 October 1993; Vol. 549, c. 943-4.]The hon. Gentleman could not bring himself to say that.
We know what happened to one Labour spokesman —Lord Desai—when he disagreed with his party's policy on value added tax. When the Leader of the Opposition finally noticed what had happened, Lord Desai got the sack. On this occasion, if there were any justice in the world, it would not be Lord McIntosh who got the sack but the hon. Member for Sedgefield. 333 The fact is that Lord McIntosh was right to welcome my statement. It was good for the police, good for the taxpayer and good for the public. They want the most effective police force possible, and that is exactly what they will get.
§ Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)
In the spirit of not adding to the burdens of the police, will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider the proposal in the Queen's Speech to make ticket touting a crime? Does he agree that we are in danger of scapegoating touts for more serious crimes, such as ticket forgery or failing to manage football grounds properly, which are not rightly the responsibility of people who happen to be selling a few tickets outside the grounds?
§ Mr. Howard
It pains me to disagree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps her disappointment will be lessened when I assure her that the police have supported the proposal to which she takes exception. I do not think that she need worry too much about additional police burdens in that context.
The Police Bill will also help to build the close partnership between police and public that we need to fight crime effectively. It will give us strengthened police authorities, working with their local police to respond to local needs. All our police reforms are directed towards one goal: ensuring that we have the most professional and effective police service possible. The British police are the best in the world, and I want things to stay that way.
Nothing saps police morale and public confidence more than breakdowns in the criminal justice system. The need for reform is widely accepted. Our approach to the report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice is to follow up its 352 recommendations as quickly and carefully as we can. We are looking at the report as a whole, but some proposals can be taken forward sooner than others. I intend to deal with those matters—including almost all the proposals that I announced in Blackpool on 6 October—in the legislation planned for the current Session.
Some action does not need legislation—for instance, cautioning. At present, there is too much of it. A recent survey commissioned by General Accident found that 60 per cent. of those aged between 13 and 17 thought that offenders committed crime because they believed that they could get off with a caution. It take that very seriously; we need to put a stop to cautioning for serious offenders and repeat cautions, save in the most exceptional circumstances. That is what the new guidance will achieve.
Of the 27 measures that I announced in Blackpool, 18 that require legislation will be dealt with in the Criminal Justice Bill. We will take action to crack down on the widespread abuse of bail. About 50,000 offences are committed by people on bail every year, and more than 40,000 people breach police bail. We will reform juries by banning those on bail from serving on them: no one wants someone on a jury one week and in the dock the next. We will introduce a new offence of witness intimidation, and allow retrials to take place if juries have been nobbled.
We will also deal with the so-called right to silence. That does not mean that those cautioned by the police must answer questions, but it does mean that their refusal to do so can be taken into account in a court of law. When the commission's report was published, the hon. Member for Sedgefield said that he supported retaining the right to silence. Why? After all:No one has anything to fear from being asked reasonable questions about where they were.334 Those are not my words, but those of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), a shadow Cabinet colleague of the hon. Member for Sedgefield.
Does the hon. Member for Sedgefield agree with his colleague? I think it is about time we were told. I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to lay any doubts to rest. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is continuing to take advantage of the right to silence; we will let him do so for as long as he can.
§ Mr. Grocott
Perhaps, during the few remaining minutes in which the Home Secretary's words are transmitted live on television, he will answer the question that the public outside are asking. It is not the question with which he has been dealing so far: as usual, his speech has simply been part of his leadership bid.
Will the Home Secretary answer a very simple question? Why has crime rocketed under his Government, and why have all his attempts—and those of his predecessors—to reduce the level of crime been so hopelessly inadequate?
§ Mr. Howard
The House will have noticed that even the prospect of television could not bring the hon. Member for Sedgefield to his feet to address the question of the right to silence.
The hon. Member for the Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) asks about the measures that have been taken by the Government over the past 14 years. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman about the past 14 years. The Government have been passing measures to increase the powers of the courts and the police, and the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have voted against every one. We shall not take any cackle from Opposition Members, because during the past 14 years they have attempted to thwart every measure that we have taken to deal with those matters.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
Has the Home Secretary considered getting rid of remission, rehabilitation and parole? If somebody is sentenced to ten years imprisonment, let them serve it. If they misbehave, give them extra years, and if there is no room in the prisons, why not open up the army camps to keep prisoners under lock and key so that they cannot burgle our homes and break into our cars? Then we shall begin getting to grips with law and order.
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend's point chimes perfectly with that of the hon. Member for the Wrekin. One of ihe provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which the Labour party voted against, was to increase the proportion of the prison sentence that the people detained there served. We wanted to increase the time spent by people in prison, and the Labour party voted against it and have voted against every measure that we have taken over the past 14 years.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman who rises to ask a question was present during the entire 14-year period and went into the division Lobby on every occasion to vote against those measures.
§ Mr. Soley
That is precisely the point that I wanted to put to the Home Secretary. In answering my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, he still has not told us why all the policies have failed, which is why we voted against them.
More importantly, why is the Home Secretary now bringing forward legislation that asks us to overturn many of the Acts that the Government have introduced, such as parts of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which I and other Opposition Members warned him would be bad for police efficiency, without doing anything to improve the accountability of the police, as the Government said that they wanted to do? Why throw that Government Act out now?
§ Mr. Howard
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not seeking to misrepresent matters by suggesting that he was in favour of any of the tough measures we took, or that he voted against any of the measures that we have again considered.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. It does not amount to opposition to those measures, to say as the hon. Gentleman has consistently said, that the police should be under the control of local authorities. If he thinks that that would have produced more effective policing, he stands alone in the country on that issue.
§ Mr. Howard
I am coming to the Liberal Democrats, and shall give way when I have said a word or two about them.
We should be told about the attitude of the Liberal Democrats to the proposal to deal with the right to silence. Last week on Channel 4 news, the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) took the place of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who was not allowed out on that day. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye affected outrage that I was not proposing to follow instantly and unquestioningly the majority recommendation of the royal commission. "What an outrageous way" for a Home Secretary to behave, he said.
What a revealing comment. The Liberal Democrats have joined The Guardian in the anti-democratic league. How outrageous, they say, for democratically elected politicians to take decisions. They urge that the responsibility should be given to others such as the royal commissioners and civil servants—to anyone but those who stand directly accountabe to the people.
We will have no truck with such drivel. We shall listen, but in the end it is for Ministers accountable to this House and to the people of this country to decide.
§ Mr. Don Foster
A minute ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to misrepresentation. Will he confirm that he referred earlier to a press release issued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and, in effect, claimed that my right hon. Friend had said that the reform of the criminal justice system was an irrelevance in the fight against crime? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirms that, will he tell the House to which press release he was referring?
Will he now reflect on the words actually used by my right hon. Friend:the criminal justice system is quite clearly not reducing crime—and it has not been reducing crime for the last twenty years"?336 In particular, my right hon. Friend was referring to the rise of 120 per cent. in the level of crime during this Government's administration.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman should have turned over the page of his leader's press release. He would then have seen the words:The extent of crime completely dwarfs the capacity of the criminal justice system to deal with it.
If that is not saying that the criminal justice system is irrelevant in dealing with crime, I do not know what is. If the hon. Gentleman had looked at the whole of his right hon. Friend's press release, he would realise that it entirely supports my point.
§ Mr. Foster
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for the Home Secretary to mislead the House as he has just done?
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Gentleman should understand that the Secretary of State is not deliberately misleading the House. All hon. Members, Ministers and Secretaries of State are responsible for the comments they make. That is part of what robust debate is about. I hope that there will be an opportunity to call the hon. Gentleman or his party's spokesman, who can then rebut remarks as he wishes.
§ Mr. Howard
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is sensitive about his leader. I dare say that it is not the first time, and I am sure that it will not be the last.
It is not enough to catch criminals if the courts do not have the powers they need to punish them effectively. Many of my measures will help the police to catch more criminals. I hope that they will have the support of everyone in the House. Other measures will enable the courts to convict more criminals, and I hope that they, too, will have the support of every hon. Member.
Some of those caught and convicted will be sent to prison—not by me, not by the Government, but by the judges and magistrates whose task it is to pass the appropriate sentence upon them. That is why I said in my speech at Blackpool that I am not prepared to judge the success of our policies by how much the prison population falls.
§ Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that for too long there has been a presumption that magistrates will not send people to prison. Will he assure the House that that presumption is now for the birds, and that in future magistrates will be allowed to use their powers rather than have them constrained?
§ Mr. Howard
Magistrates and judges must use their discretion. One of my objectives is to remove as many as possible of the fetters on that discretion.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield has said that he wants to be tougher on crime, and that he wants to catch more criminals. However, at the same time he criticises my policy of building more prisons. Perhaps he can tell the House where the courts would put the extra criminals if they were caught and convicted through the hon. Gentleman's approach to being tough with crime. The fact is that he has not got a clue.
Prison, of course, is only part of our strategy. I will review the national standards for punishment in the community, which will continue to play an important part 337 in our strategy. It must be effective and rigorous. Courts must always be free to send dangerous, violent and habitual offenders to prison. That is the protection that the public demand, and that is the protection that I am determined to provide. Prison sentences should be a real punishment. That is why I have said that conditions in our prisons should be decent but austere.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
My right hon. and learned Friend is getting a lot of silence from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Is he aware that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) recently made an important announcement—important from the point of view of the Opposition—of a major policy on how to deal with young criminals? The hon. Member for Brightside proposes that young criminals should be tracked, and that tracking should be the new Labour party policy on how to deal with young criminals.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend say how tracking will reduce crime, because there is no evidence whatever that just keeping track of a criminal will reduce crime?
§ Mr. Howard
I am not sure about that particular suggestion—[Interruption.]—but in answer to my hon. Friend, I have a good deal more respect for the views of the hon. Member for Brightside on matters of law and order than I have for the hon. Member for Sedgefield.
I said at Blackpool that prison works—and it does. First, it deters many people from crime. If the sanction of prison were not available, who can possibly doubt that many more would be tempted to commit crimes? Secondly, while they are in prison, criminals cannot commit further crimes against the public. That can have a real and quantifiable effect. Our research into a sample of burglars given community service orders in 1987 suggested that, had they been in prison for a year, we could have prevented between three and 13 crimes per burglar.
A recent survey in Watford showed that just 25 burglars admitted between them to committing 1,124 offences—more than 44 offences per burglar. Of course prison is expensive. Of course it does not prevent all criminals from offending again, any more than fining, cautioning or punishment in the community.
What are those who oppose prison saying? Are they saying that society cannot afford to protect itself; that, to save money, dangerous criminals should be allowed to walk free; or that, because prison does not always stop offending behaviour, we should never send criminals to prison, irrespective of the rest of the public?
Those questions are particularly relevant to the small group of persistent juvenile offenders with whom the law as it stands simply cannot deal effectively.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those who say that, if persistent young juvenile offenders are locked up, they will learn how to be criminals completely ignore the fact that those youngsters have learnt everything there is to learn about crime, without ever having been in custody?
§ Mr. Howard
I fear that there is a great deal of truth in what my hon. Friend says. We are all familiar with the problems caused by that group, who terrorise their local communities and offend again and again, in spite of all attempts to contain them. That is why we will introduce a 338 new secure training order for 12 to 14-year-olds, which will provide the education and discipline they need, while protecting the public from their criminal behaviour.
We intend also to raise from 12 months to two years the maximum sentence for detention in a young offenders institution for 15, 16 and l7-year-olds, so that courts have the flexibility they need to deal with that age group.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)
Returning for a moment to adult offenders, is the Secretary of State criticising the judiciary for not sending enough people to prison for long enough? Is that the import of his remarks about sentencing?
§ Mr. Howard
It is clearly necessary to use words of only one syllable to explain matters to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon). I have said—and will say again for the hon. Gentleman's benefit—that my measures are intended to increase the number of criminals caught and the number of criminals convicted. In such circumstances, the courts will want to send some of those criminals to prison. That is why it is necessary to provide additional prison accommodation. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)
My right hon. and learned Friend has criticised the Opposition for attacking the six new prisons that he has announced, but are they not being only consistent? The last time that a Labour Government were in power in in 1979, they cut capital expenditure on prisons by 20 per cent.—at a time when the prison population was rising.
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend is right. That is why we had to engage in a massive prison building programme, which we did shortly after we were returned to office.
We have a packed agenda of measures to tackle crime. Contrast that with the Opposition. The hon. Member for Sedgefield has been shadow Home Secretary for 16 months, but we have not heard one policy from him. All we have heard is a single sound bite—tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. The hon. Gentleman resembles nothing so much as a cracked record, going endlessly round repeating a meaningless mantra.
What proposals does the hon. Gentleman have for getting tough on crime? The nearest he has come to a reaction to my proposals is to describe them as gimmicks. Last week, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) described them as born of rhetoric.
Gimmicks? Rhetoric? Are my proposals for the increased use of DNA gimmicks? Are they simply rhetoric? Is cutting down on cautioning a gimmick, or rhetoric? Are my proposals for longer sentences for young offenders or for secure training units gimmicks or rhetoric? Is my proposal to deal with the misnamed right to silence a gimmick or rhetoric?
It is time that the hon. Member for Sedgefield faced up to his responsibilities. It is nearly two months since I announced my 27-point plan at Blackpool. It is time that we and the country knew where the Opposition parties stand on those important matters. Do they agree with them, or do they not? The time for prevaricating, evading and trivialising is over. We want answers from the hon. Gentleman, and we want them this afternoon.
The Government stand four square behind the police. We give priority to the victims of crime. We want the criminals, not law-abiding members of the public, to live in 339 fear. We are putting more police officers on our streets. We are building a partnership between the police and local people to prevent crime. We are cracking down on bail bandits, squatters, trespassers and all those who break the law. We are protecting the public from juvenile offenders who blight their communities, and we are toughening up punishments to step up the war against crime.
That is what the British people want. That is what the Government will provide. That is what the measures contained in the Gracious Speech will achieve, and I commend them to the House.
§ Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)
That was the speech that we expected of the Home Secretary. He never fails to disappoint us in these matters.
Two things are clear. There is no greater public concern at present than rising crime. It is the elderly, the weak and the most vulnerable who suffer most, not just from the commission of criminal offences but in the daily round of intimidation, harassment and abuse that is the lot of many people, not only in the inner-city estates, but in towns and villages throughout Britain. It is the first right of any citizen to live free from fear in safe communities.
However, the second thing that is clear is that up to now Government policy has singularly failed to deliver that right. We have had 14 years of Conservative promises of effective action and tough rhetoric, 14 years of the Government claiming that they will put the victim back at the heart of our concerns—14 years of new laws and talk, and 14 years of failure. That is the record on which the Government now stand.
The Government are right to signal, as they have done in virtually every Queen's Speech since they have been in power, that fighting crime should be at the heart of any new legislative programme. The question is, however, whether the Government now have a strategy to fight crime that is any more effective than the strategies which have gone before.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
Will the hon. Gentleman respond to the question that was put to him by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary? The hon. Gentleman wants more criminals to be caught; yet he has criticised the fact that the Government intend to build more prisons. Where would the courts put the extra criminals who are caught?
§ Mr. Blair
I have not criticised the notion that those who are a danger to the public should be sent to prison. What I have criticised and will adumbrate at length in my speech is the notion that prison works as the centrepiece of the Government's strategy. There is no evidence that prison works as the main element of a strategy to fight crime.
§ Mr. Howard
Can the hon. Gentleman cite a single statement of mine in which I have said, implied, or hinted that prison is the centrepiece of my strategy? I have said repeatedly that prison is an important part of the strategy, along with all the other measures that I am proposing. Why must the hon. Gentleman rely on misrepresentation to make his point?
§ Mr. Blair
It is pretty rich for the Home Secretary to accuse me of misrepresentation after what he did to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).
I find it extraordinary that the right hon. and learned Gentleman tells us that prison is not the centrepiece of his strategy, and that it is just an element of it. That was not how the Home Secretary sold his speech at the Conservative party conference. That was not what his political advisers were telling the press on 6 October. That was not what he was saying night after night during the Conservative party conference. The Home Secretary said—it was the centrepiece of his speech—that prison works. The truth is that he is now running away from that statement, because he cannot sustain it.
We believe that there should be four elements of a successful policy on crime. The first is a strong criminal justice system which protects the innocent and which convicts the guilty. The second is a comprehensive strategy to prevent crime and promote safer communities. That is vital, given that only one crime in 50 results in a conviction. Thirdly, we should develop local and accountable community policing. Fourthly, it must be recognised that there are underlying causes of crime which must be addressed and which require a co-ordinated policy across Government Departments, rather than the subject being left to the Home Office.
Added to those elements should be a prison service regime which is, of course, disciplined and challenging but which is also humane and dedicated to the reform of those who are in prison. The average term of imprisonment on any basis, although it has risen during the past few years, is still around two to three years. Therefore, prisoners and how they conduct themselves after leaving prison will be a vital component of whether we are successful in fighting crime.
§ Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)
During the hon. Gentleman"s earlier remarks, he said that it is the weak and the vulnerable who are often the victims of crime. In considering the causes of crime, does he at least accept that it is an unacceptable excuse for a criminal to say that poverty is the cause of crime when the victims are often poorer than the criminals?
§ Mr. Blair
I accept that absolutely and unequivocally. There is no excuse for crime. We do not believe that poverty, unemployment or any of those matters is an excuse for the criminal. We do say—I will deal with this later in my speech—that any sensible strategy should take account of the influence of social conditions in the breeding ground for criminality. I will attempt to establish that, not by referring to what Labour people have said, but by referring to what policemen and Conservative politicians have said.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Home Secretary's failure to mention the incidence of racial attacks and the resurgence of racism and fascism in Europe was a most startling omission? In that context, does my hon. Friend support the introduction of a new law to outlaw incitement to racial hatred?
§ Mr. Blair
As we have already said, we believe that a new law would send the important signal from Parliament that racial attacks should not be tolerated and that those 341 responsible for them should be weeded out and brought to justice as soon as possible. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
Let us be quite clear that we are not saying that all the measures advocated by the Home Secretary are wrong. We have not said that, nor have we criticised every measure that he has introduced.
§ Mr. Blair
May I continue for a moment?
The Home Secretary will recall that we co-operated in getting the latest Criminal Justice Act, which dealt with drugs and drug trafficking, through the House so that it gained Royal Assent before the summer break. As and when he publishes the details of his proposals, we shall comment on them. Our criticism is that they focus on only one element of a successful strategy to fight crime—the criminal justice system. Whatever lip service the Home Secretary pays to crime prevention—since the conference, he has started to introduce it to a much greater extent than before—he effectively ignores it and has downgraded it. He ignores the causes of crime and, in relation to the police and the policing of our communities, his proposals would make matters worse, not better.
§ Mr. Blair
I did not intervene on that point when it was mentioned earlier, but the hon. Gentleman and the Home Secretary must show why the royal commission's conclusions, which abrogate the right to silence but retain it in the police station where there are no proper safeguards for the accused, were wrong. Everyone agrees that there should be a duty of co-operation. The question is at what point that duty arises and under what conditions. I support the royal commission's recommendations in this respect, which were to ensure that—[Interruption.] Would hon. Members please listen?
The right to silence is used in two quite different respects. One is at trial and leading to the trial and the other is at the police station. At the present, the so-called right to silence applies throughout. The royal commission's proposals were that it should be abrogated, that one should be able to comment on silence once the charges are known and that there should not be an ability to have ambush defences. If people remain silent at trial, there should be an ability to comment on that fact.
The royal commission found, however, that there was no evidence that if the right to silence at the police station were removed it would lead to more convictions of those who were guilty; and it did believe that it might lead to injustice for those who were innocent. The Home Secretary must show how the royal commission's proposals, which were worked out after detailed consideration, are wrong. I do not think that that is an unreasonable proposition.
The right to silence is a complicated and difficult issue. It has formed the subject of previous royal commissions, and a working party from the Home Office was set up a few years ago to look into it. To deal with such issues with throwaway lines at a Tory party conference says something about the responsibility of the person who occupies the office concerned.
§ Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intrude on his 342 adumbration. While he is being specific, will he give us his views on the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993? He has also had time to study the proposed changes. Does he support them?
§ Mr. Blair
We gave our answer when the Home Secretary announced the details of his proposals the week before last. We 'said that we support changes that would make it more difficult for people to offend on bail. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) co-operated in getting legislation through the House to toughen the measures relating to bail.
While the Conservatives were telling us that juvenile offending was declining and that the Criminal Justice Act was a good Act, we were pointing out the problems. We have said throughout that any strategy to fight crime must deal not only with the criminal justice system but with prevention, causes and policing. While the Conservatives have a one-sided, one-club policy, it will not work for the reasons it did not work before.
Let us reflect for a moment on the history of the Government's crime policy because that history is in the process of being rewritten fairly dramatically. It must be clear that the Government do not start from a position of any great credibility on crime. Their record is appalling by any standard.
Apart from the period 1988–1990 when crime actually fell, it has risen by 124 per cent. since 1979. Violent crime has gone up by 113 per cent., burglary by 179 per cent. and car crime by more than 200 per cent. Since 1990, the so-called party of law and order has presided over a rise in crime of more than 50 per cent. Meanwhile, the number of offences leading to a conviction has fallen.
After 14 years, the Government are clearly in bad need of an explanation. In the past few days, two have been tendered. The first, by the Prime Minister in opening the Queen's Speech debate, is that all western countries have experienced a similar rise in crime. That will not do. In fact, on any comparable basis, Britain is at top of the crime league in Europe and the western world, and has been throughout the 1980s.
The other and most extraordinary claim is that somehow the party's previous leader, in the 1980s—the noble Baroness Thatcher—missed out on crime as an issue until the firm hand of the present Prime Minister was brought to bear upon it, and that she ignored crime as an important issue because she was too busy concentrating on other things.
Let us leave aside the inherent implausibility of the notion of Baroness Thatcher as a weak-kneed liberal who was rather soft on crime. It is nonsense. In fact she put crime at the heart of what the Conservatives were talking about in the 1980s. Their rhetoric was on the same lines as "back to basics".
Crime was a recurrent feature—one of the central planks of the 1979 Conservative manifesto. Eleven years ago, the noble Lord Whitelaw said:For the past 20 years the courts have been dangerously hampered by the law … we are seeking to mobilise our whole society in the battle against crime … Criminal behaviour has been too readily excused.Sir Leon Brittan said:There is today a great wave of anger against the wanton violence which disfigures our society. It is real, it is genuine and I share it to the full.The present Foreign Secretary said in 1986:It's time to bring the victim back to centre stage".343 A former Home Secretary, the noble Lord Waddington, said:If you want the fight against crime to be pursued with all vigour … put your trust in the Prime Minister and the Government".
§ Mr. Blair
In a moment.
In the 1980s the prison population rose and there were no fewer than 60 pieces of Home Office legislation. The truth is not that the Conservatives have had no policy on crime in the past 14 years, but that their policy has failed despite the hype given to each succeeding initiative.
Central to that myth is the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Contrary to what the Conservatives now say, it was not the culmination of the strategy pursued over 12 years; it represented a shift in policy due to recognition that the strategy of the 1980s had failed. That is why the present Education Secretary when he was at the Home Office put out in April 1990 a press release headlined,Fewer young adult offenders imprisonedwhich stated:I am pleased to be able to announce that the number ofyoung peoplegiven custodial sentences … has fallen … I feel very strongly that criminal prevention is often the key to dealing with young offenders. Time spent in prison sometimes only serves to reinforce the criminal tendencies of some young people … With punishment in the community young offenders can be confronted by their offending behaviour and taught to appreciate the consequences … I am hopeful that our new initiatives aimed at reducing further the adult prison population will enjoy similar success".That was, of course, why the Act represented a major change in policy.
§ Mr. Blair
In a moment.
The problem of the Criminal Justice Act was twofold. First, it went too far in certain key aspects, particularly the exclusion of previous convictions, and the desire to use it as a vehicle for cutting costs led to the wrong messages being given to the courts. In addition, the programmes of crime prevention that the hon. Gentleman rightly stressed, which are an integral part of the package, were not developed, so that the strategy also failed. The basic reason for the change in strategy was that, until then, there had been a huge rise in the prison population. But the crime rate had risen at the same time. What we have now under the new Home Secretary is not a new strategy but simply a reversion to the old one. It lunges from one extreme to the other and we never get a balance.
Ten years ago the Home Secretary told us that we must make more use of prisons. Three years ago we were told in a White Paper that prisons were an expensive way of making all criminals worse. Now we are told that prisons work. That is why the Government's policy has failed over 14 years.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
In giving an historical account, the hon. Gentleman alluded earlier to the importance of breadth and co-ordination in policies to tackle those problems. Will he say whether Labour has any policies in this area?
§ Mr. Blair
No, I shall give way in a moment.
The sensible, balanced policy is that prison is necessary but it does not work as a strategy to fight crime except in the limited sense that a criminal who is caught, convicted and imprisoned cannot commit a further crime while in prison. I do not understate the importance of that, but let us set it in context. In only one out of 750 offences, excluding motoring offences, will the criminal go to gaol. That does not mean that there should not continue to be prisons, but simply that we should not kid ourselves or the public that to cut crime all we need to do is force up the prison population.
The Home Secretary seems desperate to deny that he ever laid emphasis on prison.
§ Mr. Blair
In just a moment. The Home Secretary was running around Blackpool telling people that he had discovered the new slogan of the 1990s, "Prison works". Now he wants to deny it. He did not deny the slogan when Jeremy Paxman questioned him on "Newsnight". The first question to him was, "You say that prison works; tell me a country in which it has worked." He did not say, "That is not my policy; I don't know where you got that idea from, Jeremy." He said, "The United States of America." And he was pleased with himself and repeated it a couple of days later.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman is being absolutely absurd. Of course prison is an important part of our policy. That does not mean that it is the only part or the centrepiece of our policy, but it is an important part.
Is the hon. Gentleman in favour of building new prisons? If so, would prison be the centrepiece of his strategy?
§ Mr. Blair
I have made it clear that prison should not be the centrepiece of a strategy, for the very reason that I gave. The Home Secretary puts that question as though I had not already made the position clear, as I have on many occasions. Prison is necessary; those who ought to go to prison should be put there, and if that means more prisons, more prisons must be built. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] We have never said anything different from that. We have disagreed with the notion that prison works as a strategy for cutting crime, which is where the Home Secretary has fallen down.
§ Mr. Howard
The hon. Gentleman simply must get his facts right. I was asked on "Newsnight" a specific factual question. Jeremy Paxman asked me, "Can you name one country where the prison population has gone up and the crime rate over the same period has gone down?" The 345 factual answer to that question is the United States of America. He did not ask the question which the hon. Gentleman suggests that he asked. It was a different question and I gave a specific and entirely accurate answer.
§ Mr. Blair
The notion that the interview was merely an attempt to elicit various pieces of factual information that were unrelated to overall policy or strategy is an absurd bit of wriggling. The Home Secretary said that prison worked. If he reads his speech again, he will find that it contained barely a word about crime prevention: it was all prison, prison, prison.
The Secretary of State and his political advisers briefed the press like mad with the new slogan, "Prison works". When he was asked for an example of where that occurred, he said the United States. Now he wants to run away from that because the notion that the United States should serve as an example of criminal justice strategy has been greeted with incredulity by everyone.
I believe that I am right in saying that a couple of nights later the Secretary of State repeated the line that the United States was an example of where that policy worked. He did not tell Mr. Paxman that he was only giving pieces of factual information and that no policy conclusions should be drawn from them. That is absurd, and he knows it.
§ Mr. Blair
Conservative Members should wait until I have finished my argument because their education on this matter is important.
The Home Secretary did not even get his facts right. Over the past 12 years, the prison population in the United States has risen threefold. In the US, there are now more than 1 million people in gaol. That is proportionately six times as many as in Britain. The cost is more than $22 billion per year, and some states now spend more on prisons than on education. Yet violent crime has carried on rising. That is why everybody in the United States, from the Attorney-General and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation downwards, is saying that we need to consider causes and prevention as well as dealing with the criminal.
§ Mr. Clappison
The hon. Gentleman is coming to an interesting point in the debate. He must accept that there has been much improvement in community penalties and disposals in the past 14 years. However, for serious and persistent offenders, where other methods have been tried and have failed, there has to be a sentence of custody. Courts have to be free to protect the public by giving that sentence of custody where appropriate.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that courts should have the power to send 12, 13 and 14-year-olds to secure accommodation if they are persistent serious offenders? Courts do not have that power now. Does he support longer sentences for 15, 16 and 17-year-olds who commit serious offences? At present, the courts can only give them one year. What is his policy on those two matters?
§ Mr. Blair
We have given our policies on juvenile offenders at length. I believe that it was the Oppositon who first said that it was important that there should be secure accommodation for persistent juvenile offenders who are out of control. Our disagreement with the Government is that we want that policy to be built into existing provision so that the range of provisions in local communities will include secure accommodation as well as other measures.
346 Three years ago, the then Minister of State, Home Department—now the Secretary of State for Education—promised a further 60 places of secure accommodation, but not one has yet been built. The idea that the Conservative party can talk about these matters with any credibility is utterly absurd.
§ Mr. Shersby
On the matter of juvenile offenders, will the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to tell the House a little more about the alternative proposals on custody outlined by his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), who said:custodial sentences for young people should be replaced by a system of 'tracking' … 'Tracking' involves extremely close supervision of the individual at all times, accompanied by a positive programme of education, employment and social support.I am interested in that comment. Would the hon. Gentleman care to elucidate?
§ Mr. Blair
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the problem with reading from Conservative party briefing papers is that they are usually rather less accurate than the briefs that he received from the Police Federation. I am surprised that when the hon. Gentleman intervenes he does not ask me about the continuing concern of many serving police officers about the way in which the Home Secretary is conducting consideration of what replaces the Sheehy proposals.
In relation to my hon. Friend's statement, he was not saying that young people should not be put in secure accommodation, but that when young people are persistently in trouble there needs to be some multi-agency approach between social services and others so that the behaviour of those young people can be tracked to ensure that they do not re-offend. That seems entirely sensible.
§ The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)
A few moments ago, the hon. Gentleman reminded me that I promised the House, three or four years ago, that we would make about 60 extra places available to deal with young offenders. He is right; that is exactly the promise that I made to the House. Is he aware, however, that I was too trusting and a bit naive? I put my faith in Labour-controlled local authorities up and down the land, which have persistently refused to give planning permission and to co-operate with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's new plans for secure training units will not depend on local authorities, which have done nothing to help the drive against crime?
§ Mr. Blair
That briefing is thoroughly out of date. It is completely untrue. When that allegation was first made by the previous Home Secretary it was rebutted in detail. Labour local authorities have been trying to ensure that secure accommodation is built—in Leeds, for example. I appreciate that truth has become a pretty scarce commodity in what is said from the Government Front Bench, but the allegation is absolute and utter rubbish. [Interruption.] Labour local authorities and indeed others, including some Conservative ones, have been desperate to obtain Government agreement to build secure accommodation, but they are being given neither the capital nor the revenue funding. I have seen correspondence between Ministers and local authorities which bears that out.
§ Mr. Gunnell
When I was chair of social services, the Leeds local authority entered into an agreement with the Department of Health for the provision of an extra 10 secure places—there already being 27, which was the largest number of any local authority. We had an agreement for a further 10 places, but they were not delivered by the Department of Health, which had promised to honour that agreement.
§ Mr. Blair
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman please have a little patience?
What my hon. Friend says is right. Indeed, that experience is replicated around the country. I will give the House one example.
There was a debate in which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland)—I am sorry that she is not in her place, but I did not realise that the subject would be mentioned—spoke about juvenile offending in relation to the Sutton and Cheam local authority. A debate ran in the newspapers for days about how that local authority had failed to take action against those kids. It did not have the secure accommodation available.
If the right hon. Gentleman obtains the figures from the National Bed Bureau in Leeds, he will see that there is an excess of demand over supply for secure accommodation for young people every day of the week. The idea that that could be laid at the door of local authorities is therefore utter nonsense. I shall give way to the Home Secretary, but I will treat with a fair amount of caution any facts that he gives me.
§ Mr. Howard
The facts are these. In the current year, nearly £4 million of capital funding has been made available by the Department of Health to local authorities. Next year, £6 million will be made available for the building of those units.
If the hon. Gentleman wants some specific, factual examples, I draw his attention to what has happened in Leicestershire, which has been ruled by a Lib-Lab pact since about 1983. In 1983, when it first came to power, the administration refused to open a secure unit which had been built by the previous, Conservative, administration. It had to repay its grant because it would not open that secure unit. At a council meeting in Leicestershire on 25 March this year, that Lib-Lab council failed to endorse proposals to provide a new secure facility. As the Government wanted to act quickly, the capital grants that were available to Leicestershire county council were removed and allocated elsewhere. That is what is happening in this country, and it will not do for the hon. Gentleman to seek to deflect criticism elsewhere.
§ Mr. Blair
I understand that that is not the position in Leicestershire. The subject was mentioned before by the previous Home Secretary and it was very well rebutted at the time by Leicestershire county council. However, we can go into the facts another time.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that yes, this year capital allocations have been made, although, as 348 I understand it, there is still a dispute about the revenue funding, which is also important. That shows that many local authorities are willing to build secure accommodation. The problem is that they are not being given the resources to do so.
§ Mr. Dickens
I think that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased because I happen to think that his speech is quite clever and entertaining, and it is the type of speech that I hope that I would make if I were in the Opposition. May I, however, present him with a scenario? If the sentence that the court gives to someone who is convicted is supposed to be retribution, punishment and deterrent, and if all those things have not worked, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the only solution is lock and key—prison—so that the person cannot re-offend and burgle people's homes and steal their cars? I think that he believes that because obviously he believes in a prison-building programme.
§ Mr. Blair
I have made it clear that who the courts put in prison is a matter for them, and that I accept that those who require to go to prison should go to prison. The difference between us is the idea that one focuses all attention simply on "prison works" as the strategy in the criminal justice system.
I will mention the Home Secretary's conference speech in a moment, but I can tell hon. Members that it bears out exactly what we have been saying. Indeed, it goes further. If we intend to increase the strength of the criminal justice system, one major part of that is surely the treatment of victims in it. The Government are about to undermine the position of victims in the criminal justice system in one crucial respect and I shall spend a moment discussing that.
At present, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board assesses compensation on the same principles as common law damages-the actual loss to the victim. That is now to be replaced by a rigid tariff scheme, based solely on the type of injury suffered, without regard to loss of earnings. The minimum award will be increased to about £1,500.
According to our calculations, thousands of people—perhaps as many as 20,000—will not receive an award if the minimum is raised in that way. The new tariff system will also cause manifest injustice, since the huge variations in individual circumstances will simply be lumped together. Indeed, as the chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board has said, the loss of an eye for, for example, an elderly man as a result of a criminal offence is plainly different from that for a youth of 18 with his working life ahead of him. There should surely be provision to take account of the distinction between those two sets of circumstances.
§ Mr. Howard
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House his authority for the assertions that he has just made? Will he promise, here and now, to give a full and unreserved public apology if they turn out, when we publish our proposals in full, to be incorrect?
§ Mr. Blair
The authority for those propositions is the letters between the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and Ministers. Whether the position has now changed may be another matter. If it has changed, no doubt the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us, but he will surely not tell us that the notion of a tariff scheme replacing the compensation on the basis of common law damages was never considered. He will not tell us that.
§ Mr. Howard
Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question that I asked him? We have not made an announcement yet. We shall make an announcement in due course. If the assertions that the hon. Gentleman has just made prove to be wrong in the light of that announcement, does he promise, here and now, to make a full and unqualified public apology?
§ Mr. Blair
What I have just put forward is the basis of the proposals that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is at present advocating. If he is going to change those proposals, I am delighted at the change. But I note that he has not denied that those were the proposals at one stage, whether or not they have now been changed. If those proposals are to be changed, I am delighted.
§ Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)
Is it not equally worrying that the consultation proposals also suggest withdrawing the concept of payment for trauma? Will trauma no longer be one of the factors to be taken into account? For example, people working in postal and security services are regularly attacked, yet now they may get no compensation if their lives are ruined in future. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Government if they will wake up, withdraw their stupid proposal and come up with something sensible?
§ Mr. Blair
I entirely agree. If, by implication, the Home Secretary now suggests that he will not accept the Government's earlier position—he must mean that, or he would have not been silly enough to intervene in that way—I am delighted, and will give him the welcome now.
There are no serious new initiatives on crime prevention. For example, although the Government again pay lip service to the crucial issue of crime and drugs, yet nothing is to be done. It is clear that what works is local agencies striving, in partnership with local people, to target and prevent crime in their areas. We could point to examples of that all over the country. It is always said, even by Government reports such as the Morgan report, which was published a few years ago, that there must be a lead body—the Morgan report advocated the local authority—to co-ordinate crime prevention in each area. The Audit Commission confirmed that opinion a few weeks ago.
Not only are the Government failing to adhere to the proposals of their own committee, but—even worse—they are dismantling many of the programmes that have a key impact on crime prevention. Safer cities crime prevention projects are being cut; the urban programme is being run down; drug education officers' posts are being cut; two thirds of local authorities are cutting their youth services because of cuts in their funding. The Government are reneging on the promise to ringfence funding for residential care homes for alcohol and drug abusers; residential care places for disturbed young people are being closed. All those actions will have a dramatic adverse impact on crime further down the road.
The proposals on policing will make all those factors even worse. There is not a scrap of support anywhere for the Government's policy of replacing those elected by local people to police authorities with Government appointees. In particular, the chairman will no longer be an accountable person elected by local people, but will simply be appointed by the Government. The proposals are bigoted, undemocratic and regressive, and they will take policing in the opposite direction from that in which it needs to go.
350 This country has had enough of basic local services being taken out of local people's hands and turned over to unelected bureaucracies, unaccountable to anyone but Conservative Ministers sitting in Whitehall. In policing, that is most important of all. Community policing is about much more than bobbies on the beat, although that is part of it. It is about integrating the police service into the local community so that the police are regarded no longer as experts coming in from outside to clear up the consequences of criminality, but as partners in the community, helping, with others, to prevent crime and to deal with its causes. Let no one be in any doubt that, taken together, the proposals on policing threaten much local policing and will move us away from local community policing, in precisely the opposite direction from that in which we need to go.
I shall devote the last part of my speech to another fundamental difference of approach to crime. The Opposition believe that it is important to tackle the causes of crime, too. Let us be clear what we mean by that. No one excuses crime simply by talking of its causes, and we do not mean that people who are poor or unemployed simply rush out to commit criminal offences. That is not the concern. The concern is rather that we are developing within our society a subculture outside its mainstream and impervious to its rules of conduct, whose hallmarks are low educational opportunities, low job prospects, unstable families, drug abuse, truancy and crime. That is why any strategy to fight crime should tackle that subculture and its casues, especially in relation to young people.
It is not only Opposition parties who say that. Sir John Woodcock, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said:Police Officers in many inner city localities fear that a substantial number of young people in these areas are becoming detached from social norms".Sir Peter Imbert said:The crime map fits all too closely over the map of disadvantage".Last week the chief constable of Avon and Somerset said:It is only by tackling the root causes that we can make an impact.Even the Secretary of State for Employment, a week ago, said:We have to … bring young people on board and give them motivation and the will be become fully paid up members of society … before they are blooded into the criminal fraternity".The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and Lord Walker, like everyone else, say that we should also tackle the causes of crime. Even the Home Secretary implicitly accepted that there are causes of crime when he said that its roots could be traced back to the absent fathers in the second world war. As a piece of social analysis, that was unique…a rare feature in that area. Leaving aside the curious fact that there was no such effect after the first world war, and the equally curious idea that the children who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s whose fathers had been absent were apparently fine, yet stored up their psychological defect for onward transmission to their children, let us try to put the matter in a consensual way.
Let us accept that poor parenting can lead to crime; it certainly can. However, if one factor can lead to crime why cannot other factors—such as poor education, poor employment opportunities and poverty—lead to crime? Once we accept that individuals are in part influenced by the world around them, why must we stop at the family? 351 Do families not live in broader communities? Will not the circumstances of those communities also affect the families?
Is that not best expressed in the Cabinet Office papers presented to the Home Secretary and other Ministers before he made his speech at the party conference? Those papers said:There is a temptation to make a connection between single-parent families and criminality, but the evidence from research suggests that it is factors which often accompany lone parenthood, such as poverty, rather than the absence per se of the second parent, which are associated with a propensity to offend.If that is true, surely policies on education, employment, housing and drugs also become central to the fight against crime. However, the Government will not accept that, because if they do, they must accept their responsibility for the state of our country today. For too long crime policy has swung between the twin polarities of punishment and prevention. We focus either on crime or on its causes. In reality any sensible strategy needs to do both.
The Home Secretary should re-read his conference speech. Only one of his announcements had anything to do with crime prevention, and that was an old announcement. A few weeks ago on the "Today" programme, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that no one knew how to prevent crime. His is a one-club policy. The argument between him and others is not between those who want to be tough on crime, and penal or prison reformers; it is concerned with whether his strategy, relying on that one track, will work, to make our communities safer.
We require a strategy that both deals with the criminal justice system and, with common sense and with our purpose as a community, creates a society in which rights and responsibilities, opportunities and obligations, go together. That is why social responsibility is not a substitute for individual responsibility, but is the best way of giving it a chance to be realised. That is the difference between the two parties. That is why our strategy has a chance of success, and why we believe that the Government's strategy has none.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
To be fair to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), I must say that he made an impressive debating speech and handled a range of interventions most plausibly. However, I cannot extend my bouquet to him much further, for two reasons. The first is that as I listened to his speech and the way in which he dealt with interventions, I could not help feeling that the cause of law and order, and of improving the quality of life for the majority of law-abiding citizens, would be greatly advanced if politicians of all parties would forbear to misrepresent each other's positions on the subject. Although it may be uncomfortable to hear it in a debate such as this, there is much that unites us on the diagnosis of the problem, although some of the prescriptions have different emphases depending on the starting point.
The approach of the hon. Member for Sedgefield hinges essentially on what is called the multi-agency approach, which envisages all the relevant parties taking a share of the responsibility for dealing with and preventing crime. That approach is admirable in political rhetoric, but it is 352 probably more expensive and certainly more ambitious than one that is narrowly focused on dealing with crime principally through detection and punishment.
If the hon. Gentleman accepts that, he must talk long and hard to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) to find out whether the shadow Chancellor agrees with the considerable expenditure commitments that are implicit in what the hon. Gentleman has said. That might justify a future Labour Government raising taxation or borrowing more to pay for such worthy ends, but the hon. Member for Sedgefield should realise that his proposals have a big price tag.
§ Mr. Forman
I agree, but as long as the Treasury has to deal with expenditure annually—and the hon. Gentleman knows that that is how affairs are conducted—the saving, if that is the right word, often occurs well into the future, whereas the up-front cost is considerable.
I welcome the fact that the Government have decided to make law and order central to the legislative programme in this Session. People expect us to respond by giving an even higher priority than we have been able to give over the past 14 years or so, first, to preventing crime—I agree that one must have a strategy for crime prevention—and, secondly, to catching criminals. It is sobering to note the tiny proportion of people who are convicted in relation to the total volume of crime.
Thirdly, we must ensure that the courts have all the powers they need for appropriate sentences. Our next criminal justice Bill will address that. My proposals are especially relevant to the need to deal more effectively with the minority of recidivist young offenders, who cause our constituents a great deal of concern.
I agree with the hon. Member for Sedgefield that effective action on law and order needs co-operation between all who have influence and responsibilty for such matters. In that context one can recite the usual litany of parents, teachers, the police, the courts, the probation service and the media—which has not been mentioned much in the debate—and politicians in local and national government. In that context I welcome and draw to the attention of the House the action plan for a safer Sutton. That plan has been introduced in the area covering my constituency and is but one example—I am sure that there are many more—of how these issues can be tackled effectively at local level.
To some extent that plan is a microcosm of what could and should be replicated more widely. It involves positive co-operation between the police and the local authority and there is also a considerable input from the local Members of Parliament. It emphasises the action that the law-abiding majority can take to safeguard themselves and their property. As the House knows, a great deal can be done under the auspices of bodies such as insurance companies.
I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education the fact that the plan embodies a much greater effort to eliminate truancy in all its forms and to ensure that education welfare officers have adequate legislative powers to return truants to school. I have some information to the effect that those officers may 353 not have the full powers that they need for that purpose. All schools, whether they are in difficult areas or slightly easier areas, should give much higher priority to ensuring constant attendance during the school day. I welcome the recent tables published by my right hon. Friend which focus on that.
It is also right to back efforts such as Sutton's Youth at Risk scheme which, through admirable voluntary action, is designed to divert susceptible youngsters from crime at a timely stage before they embark on what would otherwise be criminal careers. One method by which that thrust of policy can be bolstered would be the early introduction of statutory identity cards. Initially, they could be introduced for those under the age of 18 and that could have many applications to problems such as under-age drinking and the ability of the police to deal with potential juvenile offenders.
However, the justification for identity cards is greater in the sphere of law and order than in social security, which is the one that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has mentioned as one of his justifications for such a scheme. If it proved to work well in the context of law and order and for those who are under 18—as I suspect it would—it could later be extended to everybody. There would be widespread acceptance of that. The Home Secretary should not be frightened of some rather noisy causes and interest groups such as the National Council for Civil Liberties and others who create disproportionate decibels but do not reflect majority public opinion on this issue.
In dealing more effectively with crime and anti-social behaviour, there is a role for the media in avoiding sensationalising and fanning the fear of crime beyond all reasonable limits. There is an important distinction between the reality of crime, many categories of which have been declining rather than increasing—many people do not realise that—and the fear of crime, which has undoubtedly been increasing, fanned by sensationalism.
For example, local papers, which have a considerable influence, should give at least as much prominence to sentences, even though some of them are passed months or even years after the offences, as they do to crimes, awful though some of them are. Any measures that we could take to increase the feel-safe factor as opposed to the feel-good factor among the law-abiding majority of our constituents would do more than almost anything to improve the quality of their lives. I have tried to be constructive because I think that the hon. Member for Sedgefield realises, if the truth be told, that there is much common ground between all parties on the vital issue of law and order.
I shall deal briefly with education because it is the other subject of the debate and I have some experience of it. By all means let us try to reform teacher training in the way that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education intends by encouraging a great deal more emphasis on classroom skills and experience. That is at the heart of his policy. However, in doing that we must be careful not to reduce too far the role of higher education institutions. They have a great deal to contribute and are not all like the institute of education in London university. Many of them are quite sensible, and not all speak with the voice of Professor Wragg.
Our established objective of raising the status of the teaching profession must continue apace. In that contect I hope that we shall press forward with our earlier drive to encourage graduate entry and participation in the profession as widely as possible. That should be backed by 354 frequent and timely in-service training and retraining which are vital in a world in which the needs of education change frequently.
We must concentrate, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education intends, upon what I would describe as the long-term education agenda of implementing the national curriculum, broadening the subject range post-14 and not just post-16, and encouraging parity of esteem for vocational education. That can be done by boosting such excellent qualifications as GNVQs, which are now beginning to catch on. That will improve people's chances of getting and retaining good jobs.
Against the background of the long-term agenda, it is worth mentioning that the reform of student unions, although set out in the Queen's Speech, is a relatively small measure that may well distract from the bigger issues. I should like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to put it into its proper perspective. Now that he has decided, rightly, to legislate for the voluntary principle—something that I have supported, on the public record, from the Dispatch Box—let us at least try to make the new arrangements as simple and workable as possible. Otherwise, we may suffer from the law of unintended consequences which so often dogs all legislation.
I should like to hear from my right hon. Friend—I shall be staying to listen closely to his winding-up speech—why his desirable objective of introducing the voluntary principle for student unions cannot be just as well met by the proposals put forward, for example, by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.
§ Mr. Forman
No, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not, as I am about to conclude.
I am glad to say that, in going back to basics—at any rate, in law and order and in education—Ministers are doing exactly the right thing. Even if, in the opinion of some of my constituents, some of the developments are overdue, they are nevertheless welcome to Conservative Members. Ministers should know that they will continue to have our strong support in their efforts under those two vital headings.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Many years ago, Aneurin Bevan used a vivid phrase, when he said that we live on an island made of coal and surrounded by fish and it would need an organising genius to create at the same time a shortage of both. That may still come to pass. Our problem now, which would do credit to the same organising genius, is an escalating crime wave and empty courts, particularly Crown courts.
The Home Secretary said that the Government will do all that they can to catch and punish criminals. I should have hoped that, before coming to punishment, he would mention prosecution. That is what is wrong today. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to adopt the posture of being tough on crime. I invite him to walk around the criminal courts to see exactly what is happening, to talk to the Crown Prosecution Service and get it to explain its policies, and—I am sure that he does this anyway—talk to policemen.
355 The Home Secretary said that if there were too much use of the caution, he would issue new guidelines. We have been asking for that for a long time. There has been a mushrooming of cautioning over the years. It has a proper and important place in the treatment of young people. The statistics show that the overwhelming majority of those cautioned do not come back to the attention of the courts. However, its use has got out of hand and it is being used for serious offences, so there should be guidelines.
Why has cautioning, over the years, come gradually to be used on a wide scale for repeated offences and against the background of the complete absence of a national register? A person can be cautioned in south Wales today and again a week later in Cumbria without anyone knowing about the first caution. Why has it taken so long for this great light to dawn on the Home Office? Every policeman to whom the Home Secretary deigns to speak will agree about the use of the caution. I am with the Home Secretary about new guidelines. I asked for them the other day and I shall look at them carefully when they are published.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
The guidelines were published about three weeks ago. We are now consulting on them. I should be happy to send another copy to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and equally happy to receive his comments.
§ Mr. Morris
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It must be less than three weeks, because I tabled a parliamentary question, which has obviously been forgotten about, the reply to which said that the guidelines would be coming soon. I look forward to examining them.
I support the policy of less paperwork for the police which was ventilated earlier. However, a great deal of their paperwork has been given to them as a result of previous Government legislation—to begin with, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—making a substantial inroad on the time that a policeman can be on the beat. Why should a policeman have to spend so much time summarising what has been given during an interview that has been tape recorded? He is not the best man in the world for that job anyway. I have raised the matter with police officers throughout the country and I suspect that every one would agree that, if that chore were taken from the shoulders of police officers and given to the CPS, much time would be saved.
My constituents want more policemen on the beat. When the chief constable of the South Wales constabulary asked for an increase of 40 in his establishment, the request was turned down. I suspect that he knows a great deal about the needs on the ground, but obviously someone knows better. I should like the Home Secretary to explain to me why the repeated request of my police force, and I suspect those of many others, for an increase in establishment is turned down time after time by the Home Office.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that when chief constables have more control over their budgets, they will be able to address that point in the way most suited to their area?
§ Mr. Morris
I suspect that, even then, the establishment will have to be agreed by the Home Office. If that is not so, 356 I should be surprised. Total budgets will still be constrained and the process may give only an illusory freedom.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman knows that Madam Speaker enjoined us to make short speeches. I have already given way twice, and I must get on.
We all know of the crime wave set out so clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). There has been a 50 per cent. increase in recorded crime since 1985, and a 124 per cent. increase since 1979. If we knew the way to solve the problem, no one would be more overjoyed than Labour Members and, I am sure, Conservative Members. Sadly, there is no complete answer. However, while the crime rate is escalating, the courts remain empty.
How does the Home Secretary explain why it is that, when I checked at the end of September as to how many empty courts there were in the south-east circuit, I was told that it was not exceptional for 24 Crown courts to be empty in any one day? I asked again this morning; on average, each day this week on the south-east circuit, about 19 courts are empty. I suspect that the same goes in circuit after circuit throughout the country. That is why I invited the Home Secretary to include the words "to prosecute" between his desire to catch and his desire to punish criminals.
Over the three financial years from 1990 to 1993, the number of cases received by the Crown courts has dropped, on average, by about 10 per cent. The number of offences committed to the Crown courts in the first five months of the last financial year fell by 14 per cent. compared with the same period in the previous year. On the south-east circuit, the number of cases received by the Crown court in the first five months of this financial year was 22 per cent. down on the number in the corresponding period last year. In the last month or so, there has been a slight resurgence and the figure is now down to 17 per cent. on the number in the corresponding period last year. That is the reality of the world of the Crown court against the background of an escalating crime wave. It is no wonder that the Home Secretary did not introduce the word "prosecute" into his vocabulary.
To a lesser extent, the position is mirrored in the magistrates courts, where the CPS case load has fallen by about 2.5 per cent. each year from 1990 to 1993. Magistrates courts dealt with 15 per cent. fewer indictable offences in the first quarter of 1993 than in 1992. It is against that background that we note that the number of notifiable arrests by the Metropolitan police were down by 22 per cent. in the last quarter of 1992 compared with the year before.
The combined effect of a smaller overall case load and a smaller proportion of cases ending in a hearing or a committal was to reduce the number of hearings and committals by nearly 6 per cent. over one year. That is an extraordinary state of affairs—an Alice-in-Wonderland situation. Against the background of an escalating crime wave, perhaps one day we will have a proper debate about what exactly is happening in our courts.
The number of cases that the police are instructed to drop by the CPS has increased by 78 per cent. in five years. Some 32 per cent. of cases are dropped on public interest 357 grounds. When I asked the Attorney-General the reason for that, all he could say was that it was not in the public interest to prosecute the elderly, the frail or those suffering from injury, or to prosecute when there was insufficient evidence.
No one disagrees with that principle, but the Attorney-General did not seem to understand that the cases dropped for lack of evidence are in addition to the public interest cases. A further 54 per cent. of cases were dropped on evidential grounds. That is not to be rejected—it is what the CPS was set up to do—but, when we look at the totality, how do we arrive at that substantial 78 per cent. increase? Are 32 per cent. of the people charged frail, elderly or injured? Against a background of escalating crime, we need to look at exactly what is happening in that regard.
Are financial considerations becoming more and more important in deciding what cases are committed to court?
§ Mr. Morris
No, I have given way already.
Can we ignore the suggestion that there is a Treasury-led economy drive that may have an important effect on decision making? In addition, there are disquieting anecdotes about cases which can be tried either way, where the CPS is offering lesser charges in order that cases can be tried in a magistrates court rather than a Crown court. I fear that the financial considerations and the Treasury's hidden agenda are the reasons for that.
The Home Secretary and the Attorney-General should conduct a proper inquiry and tell the House why, on the one hand, there is a huge crime wave, which goes up year by year, and, on the other, we have empty Crown courts and empty magistrates courts. It does not add up. Why is there not an increase of work in our courts to match the current escalation in crime?
The escalation in crime is causing my constituents, and the constituents of every hon. Member, very grave concern. Something is very wrong indeed.
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I agree with much of what the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) has just said, and I will return to it in a moment. I do not agree with much of what the hon. Member for Sedgfield (Mr. Blair) had to say. He treated us to 50 minutes of hot air, however attractively it may have been presented.
Of course we must tackle the sub-causes of crime, but there is nothing useful in saying so, because we are already doing that—in education, in speeding the end of the recession and in countless other ways. Of course we must tackle crime prevention through community policing, but there is nothing useful in the hon. Gentleman saying that, because we are already doing so.
What we had hoped to hear from the hon. Member for Sedgefield—and what the public may have expected to hear—is what more the Labour party would do if it were in power. The most immediate question is whether Labour Members will support my right hon. and learned Friend's measures to reduce crime. It appears from the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield that they will not. If they do 358 not, they will be the encouragers of crime, and their claim to be the party of law and order will be exposed as the utter nonsense it is.
One of the basics that we must get back to is a society in which there is less crime—for everyone's sake: the old, the weak, all of us. Media coverage of serious crime is greater than ever, and more people read newspapers, watch television and listen to the radio. The fear of crime referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) is substantial and must be reduced.
The fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, with the wholehearted support of the Prime Minister, has made the tackling of crime the top priority will be welcomed by everyone, except the criminals.
In what must be one of my shorter speeches, I would like to make two points. First, I am fed up with hearing, as we have this afternoon, the quite unfair and absurd statement that the Conservatives have been in power for 14 years, that crime is worse than ever and that we have done nothing about it. The situation is not as simplistic as that.
The world is not static, but in a constant state of flux and change. Despite the obvious fact that we are unfortunately part of a international crime wave, which has spared very few countries, Britain is one of the safest countries in the western world in which to walk the streets. The murder rate in Britain is half that of France; our violent assault rate is half that of Australia—to say nothing of the United States, where the murder rate of 24,000 is five times greater than Ours.
We are now a far more prosperous society, with more colour television sets, videos, personal computers and mobile telephones to steal. There are more home owners, and 5 million more cars on the road—more houses and cars to burgle and to steal from—than there were a decade ago. The temptations are much greater today than they were 14 years ago.
We have seen a disintegration in family life, with more single-parent families and fewer fathers at home to guide their children on the difference between right and wrong. We have had a disintegration of some education standards, because schools have lost the power to discipline children, to teach them respect for others in society and to teach them that bad consequences follow wrongdoing. We should not be surprised at the upsurge in unpunished juvenile crime, particularly in respect of the small band of hard-core persistent offenders.
There has been a worldwide spread in the use of drugs, which has driven people to commit crime in order to pay for their craving. The worldwide spread of pornography has corrupted people and lowered respect for others in society, particularly women.
During the past 14 years, there has been an undermining of the criminal justice system as a whole, particularly with the relevations of miscarriages of justice, in which legally innocent people have been convicted or many serious crimes. It must be said that this has happened mostly under the last Labour Government, not us.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain to the House what he means by the "legally innocent"?
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I would rather not explain it. We all do know precisely what I mean.
Few crimes seem to end in the offender being caught; if caught, the offender is too often cautioned, and no more; if charged, the offender is too often not proceeded against on the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service, as the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon has just said. If proceeded against, the offender is too often acquitted if he pleads not guilty. Some 60 per cent. of magistrates court and Crown court appearances on not guilty pleas result in acquittals. If he is convicted, all too often little in the way of a deterrent sentence is passed on the offender.
I suppose that the Government must take some responsibility for this state of affairs, although there has been an understandable reluctance to interfere in the sentencing process or in the judicial system generally—particularly when no other country seems to be doing it any better than we are, or achieving any better results. I think that the Government can be blamed to a much larger extent for allowing the sociologists to have a greater influence on the sentencing system than they ought to have had. As a result, a potential criminal rarely feels that the ultimate consequence of his criminal behaviour will be a long sentence of imprisonment.
Although there is an area in which Government must accept more blame, this Conservative Government cannot be blamed for most of the reasons for the increase in crime that has taken place over the past 14 years. To go further, and imply that the Government have done absolutely nothing to improve matters over that period, is too absurd for words.
We have increased the proportion of money spent on law and order more than we have increased spending on almost any other branch of the welfare state: it has risen by 87 per cent. in real terms. We have increased the number of police officers on active duty by approximately 30,000; we have paid, equipped, trained and led them better, to say nothing of giving them more powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Acts and the Prevention of Terrorism Acts.
We have poured money and resources into crime prevention, with 115,000 neighbourhood watch schemes covering 5 million households, 20 safer city projects covering 3,300 schemes and funds for estates action, city challenge, urban programmes and crime concern—all of which have achieved substantial successes in Rochdale, Manchester north Wales, Dorset and London, including London Underground. The amount of crime being committed has been substantially reduced.
We have also toughened sentences for violence, the carrying of weapons and child abuse. The average sentence for robbery has increased by about 25 per cent., and the average sentence for sexual crime by about 50 per cent.—to say nothing of the £1 billion that we have spent on the prison building programme, providing 18,500 extra places, and the change in the whole approach to victims and their support.
It is beyond me how anyone can say, or imply, that we have done nothing. Without those measures, crime would be very much worse. I hope that the idiocy of alleging that we have presided over 14 years of inaction while crime has flourished will now stop; it is a nonsensical argument if ever there was one, and it is no surprise that it continues to be peddled by the Opposition.
360 My second point is this. If we are to prevent crime in future, we shall have to bring back the element of deterrence. The sociologists have had their day. It is no coincidence that the abolition of capital punishment has resulted in a tenfold increase in crime involving weapons, and a fivefold increase in the number of killings. It is no coincidence that, since the abolition of the cane, our schools have become unruly places with a high degree of truancy, where teachers are frightened to discipline or control the rowdy troublemakers who go on to become the hard-core juvenile offenders.
It is also no coincidence that, since cautioning has blossomed and, in some areas, become the standard reaction of the system to wrongdoing, and since guilty pleas to lesser offences have begun to be accepted more and more by the Crown Prosecution Service in the magistrates court, so that cases do not go to the Crown court—another point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon—fewer offenders are frightened about what will happen to them if they are caught.
It is because bail has been given so freely that 50,000 offences have been committed by people on bail over the past year. Those villains are not frightened by the courts. It is because prisoners have had to serve no more than a third of the sentences imposed by the courts—we have now improved that to half—and because of lax regimes in some prisons that prisoners have been released before their proper time to commit crimes again, an example being the murderer who was convicted last week.
It is simply not correct for Ministers, judges or anyone else to say that the best deterrent is the likelihood of being caught. I was very pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary did not repeat that canard today. No one is deterred from crime by the fear of being caught if they have no fear of being charged, convicted and punished. It is not enough for a Home Secretary to say, "We will get tough," and then to persist in the old attitude to deterrence. We must return to a policy of deterrence that will really deter criminals: crime was almost always much lower in the years when we had such a policy.
Seen in that light, my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals for improving the situation even further are admirable, and should be warmly welcomed. Criminals will be deterred if more policemen are on active duty because we are increasing the number by reducing the paperwork, or because we are appointing more special and parish constables. They will be deterred if policemen are better managed and organised, so that they are even more efficient and effective. Terrorists will be deterred if the police have more powers to stop their activities, in the City of London or elsewhere.
Criminals will be deterred if the process of criminal trial is improved so that they cannot get away with intimidating witnesses or nobbling juries; if they are charged more often and cautioned less; if they are brought to trial more often, and not proceeded against less. They will be deterred if they cannot get bail so easily, and are not free to commit more crimes. They will be deterred if they know that they are more likely to be convicted if they keep silent when asked about their offences than they are now, with the right to silence.
Juvenile offenders and their parents—when those parents do little to control them—will be deterred if 12 to 14-year-olds can be taken out of circulation: taken away from the bad family background and the pressure of bad peers, and trained, educated, disciplined and given the 361 counselling that may stop them becoming persistent, hard-core adult offenders. Young offenders will be deterred if they can be made to serve two years in a young offenders' institution, giving the authorities some time in which to retrain and reprogramme them.
Can Opposition Members seriously deny that these measures will play a part in deterring criminals? To do so would be nonsense; if they do, the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield will be revealed as the hot air that we all suspected it to be.
Let me add just one point to the proposals that we have heard so far from my right hon. and learned Friend about deterrence. We must deter pornographers by redefining obscenity and bringing more charges. We must also give the power of arrest in cases of computer pornography, so that the evidence can be gathered for prosecution. We must find some way of deterring those who provide the constant diet of television violence that appears on our screens. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington that we can deter more villains if we introduce identity cards.
I have no doubt that the greatest single deterrent to violent crime that we could introduce is the return of capital punishment. With or without that penalty, however, there can be no doubt that a determined policy of deterrence through an even more effective policing policy, an even more effective policy of bringing people to trial, an even more effective and efficient trial system and even more effective punishment is the most likely way in which to reduce crime and make society safe again.
If we did that, we should have the grateful support of the British public. If the Opposition do not support us in that policy, the public will know exactly what to think of their boast to be the party of law and order.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
My old friend, the hon. and learned member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), will be gratified to know that my party broadly supports what he has said, and what his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said earlier. The Minister of State, Home Office—the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)—will be aware of my oft repeated view that, over the years, hon. Members collectively have somehow allowed the pendulum to be pushed far too far against those who have the task of enforcing the laws that we make in the House. Far too much attention has been paid to the anarchist textbook, paragraph 1 of which decrees that a complaint be made against the police in all circumstances, even if it is only against the minor offence of a faulty rear light.
We on this Bench broadly support the Home Secretary's measures. Those of us who represent Northern Ireland constituencies are able to offer advice on the basis of our unfortunate experience in the face of repeated chalenges to lawful authority in our part of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will relay that expression of support to the Home Secretary. In turn, I hope that we will be supported by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is present, and by one of his predecessors, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), both of whom have been aware of all the difficulties and have rendered great service to the people of Northern Ireland, despite occasional criticism.
362 I hope that hon. Members will understand if I direct my words toward the plight of Northern Ireland. I am somewhat gratified to know that, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a former Minister for Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Education, shall reply. If, by any chance, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) finds himself deserted by the teaching industry, he has a vast reservoir of good will and many good friends in Northern Ireland that he faithfully served, to which he can turn.
On 20 March, I publicly invited non-paramilitary parties, groups and individuals to assist me in designing what I call a blueprint for stability. I have forwarded my conclusions to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, but I can tell the House that I found a widespread desire for the restoration of accountable democracy to the people of Northern Ireland.
It should be noted that such an objective was shared by a large percentage of what is sometimes called the minority, which includes many people who normally vote for the SDLP, but who, like many SDLP councillors, are keen to see democratic structures in place in which they can participate to render a real service to Northern Ireland citizens—a praiseworthy aim for any elected representative.
I reported my broad conclusions to my party executive at the end of September. Unfortunately, the following day, 25 September, saw an unsettling statement on what has become known as the Hume-Adams plan. In the intervening eight weeks, there has been a progressive hardening of attitudes in the professional and middle classes, and that is always a bad sign in Northern Ireland. Many of those groups have in the past taken no part whatever in politics, but they are now in such a state of anxiety that they disbelieve any assurance, and suspect betrayal in every sentence they hear or read.
I have no means of knowing how long such simmering fears can be contained, but I know that something must be done to reduce the fever, and that the two governmental machines in London and Dublin must carefully weigh their words and actions if a crisis is to be avoided.
Also on 20 March, I suggested that the British and Irish Governments should set about removing the standing reproach implicit in the Irish claim to the territory of a part of the United Kingdom. I have long held the view that that breach of international law could more easily be put right by the two sovereign Governments, but I- was mistaken, for, in the intervening eight months, they appear to have made no progress whatever.
I had probably underestimated the strength of republican opinion in the south, which surfaced in the weeks preceding and during the annual conference of Fianna Fail, or the "soldiers of destiny" to use the English translation. That impossible barrier was described with great honesty by Prime Minister Reynolds when, in a television interview on Sunday, he patiently explained that, if he were to hold a referendum on the removal of articles 2 and 3, he would be defeated. We in this House have no right to question his judgment, nor should anyone assume that the approval of his electorate would be given in return for a British surrender to the demands of Mr. Adams—such a cave-in would merely transfer the force and meaning of articles 2 and 3 to Ulster shoulders.
The disastrous juxtaposition of discussions on political progress with the price demanded by the IRA in return for a halt to murder means, in effect, that Her Majesty's 363 Government are being required to do a deal, not with Mr. Reynolds, but with Mr. Adams. No amount of diplomatic verbiage can conceal the uncomfortable fact that Dublin is merely the conduit.
In the light of Mr. Reynolds's weekend revelation of that stark reality, there is now a large body of opinion in Ulster—I have detected signs in London, too—that is convinced of the impossibility of any Irish Government freeing themselves of the embarrassment of being the one European Union member that lays claim to the territory of another member state.
It has been put to me that, rather than waste the opportunity for peace, many would prefer to use their energies and talents in drawing together the various strands of what, in the aftermath of the recent atrocities, has proved my contention that, in Northern Ireland, there is one community not two, as a result of them being drawn together by common suffering.
That is the real message of the thousands of people who have marched for peace over recent weeks. They are not demanding a surrender to terrorist demands, any more than Londoners expected Churchill to surrender to Hitler so that our capital city would be spared daily slaughter on a massive scale. Like myself, some hon. Members present had first-hand experience of that suffering, and took part in the rescue operations during the blitz.
By far the greater number—I have used that term before, and use it instead of "majority", lest anyone should imagine that I was referring to the Protestant or the Unionist majority—of Protestants and Roman Catholics want us to give a lead in rebuilding democratic structures. No right hon. and hon. Member can doubt the capacity of the Northern Ireland parties to co-operate and work together for the common good. We have frequently demonstrated our willingness to do just that in agriculture, health, industry, energy and the environment. How the news industry hates us for behaving in a way that puts our Great Britain counterparts to shame. We expect neither praise nor sympathy from those who prefer pictures of bloodletting and street violence.
It is probably for that reason that there is now a conspiracy of silence on the steady advances made over the past three months in Northern Ireland by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), the Minister responsible for political development. It is their endeavours, which are supported by the Prime Minister, that will succeed where high drama will fail—as high drama always fails.
With our co-operation, they can be successful in supplying the essential ingredient that will stabilise a dangerously volatile situation. Their low-key discussions during the past three months will have enabled them to identify the common ground between the parties in Northern Ireland and—perhaps just as important—that between the strands within that greater number in Northern Ireland. That ministerial team will not be at variance with their colleague the Foreign Secretary, who said during Friday's debate:We must be able to deliver what we undertake and not to undertake what we cannot deliver.—[Official Report, 19 November 1993; Vol. 233, c.114.]It is patient, continuing well-doing rather than bursts of misplaced optimism and enthusiasm that must be a prerequisite for peace. I am confident that something 364 resembling the strand one model structure for a reinstatement of durable accountable democracy can be accepted, just as that concept was widely agreed during last year's talks. I am convinced that trust between the four main parties, thus achieved, would enable them to reach out the hand of friendship to the sovereign Irish nation on our southern frontier. Our ambition would be to develop co-operation on matters of mutual interest and common concern.
I end with a sincere invitation to all citizens of the British islands to set their hands to the task of laying solid foundations for a real and enduring peace.
§ Mr. John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate. We all listened carefully to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). I hope that he will forgive if I do not devote my remarks to Northern Ireland. I am sure that all in the House wish for peace in Northern Ireland and wish him and all the parties to the talks well.
I also listened carefully to the speeches from both Front Benches. I was pleased to find at least one point of agreement between them—that the Government are absolutely right to make law and order the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech. However, although my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary spelled out a comprehensive package of measures to deal with crime, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), whose speech I enjoyed, left me unclear whether his party intends to support those measures and how Labour Members intend to vote in the weeks ahead. We shall monitor that closely.
The area that I represent is predominantly rural. It is not usually considered a crime blackspot. However, during the past few weeks, Colchester has suffered a wave of burglaries, a rising incidence of drug abuse and an attempt with a JCB to remove a cash dispenser in Maldon high street—which was prevented only because an alert police constable was on the beat. There have also been armed robberies in Burnham and Southminster. My constituents do not expect such incidents and they are rightly demanding action. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on responding to those concerns and on winning so much time in the legislative programme.
I want to say a word about the police and immediately welcome the proposed police Bill. I am sure that reorganisation will improve police effectiveness. Like, I suspect, many hon. Members, I spent the summer visiting all the police stations in my constituency. Although I found a fair amount of concern about the proposals in the Sheehy report, I was encouraged to find that there was also a general willingness to contemplate change. Some of the proposals in the Sheehy report were strongly opposed by the officers to whom I spoke—in particular, fixed-term contracts and officers having to serve 40 years before qualifying for their pension.
There was acceptance—certainly in principle—of other proposals in the report, in particular the reform of the rank structure and new arrangements for determining police officers' pay. I believe—and I think the police officers in my constituency believe—that my right hon. and learned Friend listened to the concerns expressed and that, in general, he has the package right. 365 I want to take this opportunity to urge one point on my right hon. and learned Friend. I think that I speak for every hon. Member in saying that we were shocked by the murder of PC Patrick Dunne during the summer recess. However, the sad truth is that police officers are assaulted every day. Recently, four police officers were attacked in one week in my constituency. The last of them, PC Bob Walsham, was set upon by eight youths when he went to question them, having spotted them hanging around a garage. He was subjected to a vicious assault and suffered serious cuts and bruises—yet within 24 hours he was back on the beat.
I pay tribute to the courage and dedication that he showed, which I believe all our police officers show every day. The police need every protection that we can give them and they will be immensely encouraged by my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement this afternoon that he is to authorise trials of side-handled batons. It is something for which they have been asking for a long time.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will also continue to make clear to the courts the seriousness of any assault on a police officer. Assaulting a police officer is a most serious crime and it should carry a very heavy penalty. I hope that that message will continue to go out from the House and from the Government.
I want to say a few words about the proposed criminal justice Bill. Many of the measures that have been outlined are desperately needed, in particular those to deal with the problems of juvenile offenders and with the right to silence. There is a desperate need to be able to draw to the attention of a jury the fact that the person accused of a crime has refused to answer perfectly legitimate questions asked by police officers. There is also a need to impose some restriction on the availability of bail. Those are just three of the measures in the package announced by my right hon. and learned Friend and I strongly support them all.
I want to suggest two further measures that I believe would make a difference. The first relates to replica weapons. In 1991, almost 500 offences involved the use of imitation firearms. During recent years, there has been a steady increase in the use of imitation weapons in the pursuit of crime, but some of those incidents have not been recorded as offences.
In Colchester earlier this year, two people were spotted in a car in the high street, one of whom appeared to be loading a pistol. The police rightly reacted with a full-scale armed response. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Colchester is a garrison town and security is important. The police discovered that the pistol was not a genuine firearm, just an imitation. One of the two people concerned said that he had an interest in imitation firearms and was showing the pistol to his colleague. The police could do nothing because it is not an offence to carry an imitation firearm in a public place. I believe that imitation firearms are increasingly being used in committing crimes, and that is a matter that we need to examine.
At the moment, imitation firearms can be bought simply by picking up a telephone. There is no need to have a licence to possess them. It is easy to go out and buy an Exchange & Mart in which one will see plenty of advertisements for those weapons.
I accept that there are genuine collectors who have an interest in collecting firearms, or imitation firearms, and perhaps displaying them privately, but I do not see why people should be able to carry such firearms in public, with 366 the police being unable to do anything when it is quite clear to them that in fact those firearms may be used to commit a crime.
Secondly, I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to examine the issue of car crime, which remains one of the biggest law and order problems. Although we have had considerable success over the past year in reducing the steady rise in car crime—a tribute to the success of Car Crime Year 1992, which has made considerable progress—car crime is still increasing.
Considerable progress has been made in fitting improved locks and immobilisers, and technology is developing that will enable devices to be installed, such as the new tracker system and trackback, which will allow the electronic tracing of stolen vehicles. All those things are bound to make an impact on car crime.
One simple change to legislation could also make a difference. Recently, a change was made to the procedure for MOT tests. It is now a requirement that a vehicle's identification number be checked when an MOT test is carried out. That is clearly a step forward. But it is not a criminal offence to tamper with a VIN, erase it or interfere with it. The police cannot touch people who do that.
The story is told of a warehouse in the north of England that was found to contain the stripped-down parts of 35 motor cycles, not one of which had a chassis or identification number that had not been filed down. Apparently the warehouse owner explained that he thought that those parts looked prettier if one removed that rather unsightly piece of identification. The police were unable to do anything because they could not trace the owners of those parts—the identification marks had been filed away. As a result, they were unable to take any action.
The case for making it an offence to erase, tamper or interfere with a VIN is absolutely overwhelming. If we were to do that, it would make a difference to the amount of car crime. Both the measures which I have mentioned are minor when compared with the essential measures that are contained within the package that my right hon. and learned Friend has announced.
In each case, I think that the measures would make a small but noticeable difference. They would make life for the police a bit easier in catching criminals, and make the life of the criminal a bit more difficult. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will give them consideration in the weeks to come.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale) has made a constructive and practical speech. I hope that the points that he made at the end will be noted by the Home Office.
I note that although the Home Secretary chided my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) for being absent for his speech, the Home Secretary has chosen to be absent during mine.
The Home Secretary is the seventh Conservative holder of that office since 1979. No one can be more aware than he that the criminal justice system, which is his legacy, is not delivering what the country requires. For too many people, crime and the fear of crime adds an unnecessary dimension of misery to their lives.
The Prime Minister stated, in opening the debate on the Gracious Speech, that the centrepiece of his programme for 367 this Session is the criminal justice Bill. That is an acknowledgement that crime is a central concern in Britain today. But as the Home Secretary must know, where crime is concerned, to legislate is not to eliminate.
The measure of a successful criminal justice policy is that it enables the police, courts and prisons to work together within an adequate framework of law and with sufficient resources to reduce the level of crime. But crime in Britain has risen at unprecedented levels in the past 20 years. There were 5.7 million offences recorded by the police in the past year. The rise in crime now threatens to overwhelm all those charged by society with the duty to detect, try, punish and reform criminals.
The police clear up 25 per cent. more crimes than they did 10 years ago, but in that period the number of offences recorded annually has grown by 91 per cent. Our gaols are full, but the prison population is expected to rise. Indeed, a rise is now demanded by the Home Secretary. I understand that once more plans are being laid to float prison hulks on the River Thames. It is perhaps no wonder that, faced with such a daunting prospect, the Home Secretary appears at times to succumb to the sin of defeatism.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
Can the hon. Gentleman say which of the Home Secretary's proposals he will accept and which of them he will not?
§ Mr. Maclennan
I shall deliver my response in detail to each of the Home Secretary's Bills as they are published. The Home Secretary can wring his hands and remind us that crime is a worldwide problem. We heard that from the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). But the Home Secretary, rather wistfully, complained on the "Today" programme that no one knows how to prevent crime. Yet at other times he casts off such careworn thoughts. He says, like King Lear,I will do such things,What they are yet I know not,—but they shall beThe terrors of the earth.Perhaps in his heart of hearts the Home Secretary knows that his measures will not deliver. His gloominess just keeps breaking through. We have, however, a duty to confront the problem of crime, not to wallow in it as Conservative Secretaries of State are wont to do. Lower levels of offending are achievable, but we need a different agenda if they are to be achieved. Our approach must be hard-nosed and practical.
The problem of young offenders is a prime concern. One young man in four now has a criminal record by the age of 21. The Government's narrow focus is on incarcerating the tiny proportion who are hard-bitten repeating offenders. We need to discourage all young people from turning to crime. We do not need to reinvent borstal.
We need to tackle the increased use of drugs, for addicts often feed their addiction from the proceeds of crime. Liverpool is not yet New York, where a study linked 90 per cent. of addicts with crime.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am sure, but I have had a clear sign from the Chair that short speeches would be welcome.
368 The Home Secretary, rightly, is tough on traffickers and he has had our support in doing so, but he is not concerned enough about their customers. It is, for example, time to research the consequences for crime of the policy over the past decade of reducing the prescription of substitutes for heroin addicts.
We must have effective crime prevention measures across the country. Imitation is certainly the sincerest form of flattery and it is good to hear the Labour party spokesman today so trenchantly supporting the case that the Liberal Democrats and our predecessor parties have been arguing as the front line attack on crime since 1985.
The Home Secretary also did us the honour of coming quickly to the subject of crime prevention in his speech and highlighted a few successful pump-primed projects. But he has neglected to spread the best practice throughout the country, properly researched and properly funded.
We also need to increase the detection rate. For that we require police forces not only locally managed but determining their own key objectives and attuned to local needs. We need to increase the proportion of offenders who are tried and convicted in court. Last year the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued 193,000 cases. We must back the CPS not only with adequate funds but with laws that are clear and enforceable.
We also need to speed up process in the courts. The average period of time from charge to completion for an indictable offence in the magistrates courts has risen to 86 days—almost two weeks longer on bail or in custody than five years ago. That fact is rather more important than some of the measures to which the Home Secretary alluded in his short discussion of the problems of bail. Shortening the period between charge and completion would reduce the number of bail bandits.
We need to secure care and support for victims of crime and adequate compensation for the harm that they have suffered. I deplore the Home Secretary's suggestion that he contemplates standardised token payments to victims which disregard the actual impact of the crime suffered.
But if we must care for the victim, we must seek to correct the criminal. That requires a different approach to sentencing. The Home Office has calculated that a 25 per cent. increase in the prison population would be required to reduce the crime rate by 1 per cent. Yet in Germany, a fall in the prison population throughout the 1980s led to a fall in crime rates. Increased use of prison will not, by itself, reduce offending. Only the improved use of prison for correction will do so. In short, we need real solutions to the real problems.
That agenda seems far removed from the agenda proposed by the Home Secretary in his contribution to the debate on the Gracious Speech. He would have done well to avoid the trap into which his six predecessors stumbled. We have had streams of impulsive legislation in response to outbursts of public anger. Many Home Office Bills have arrived with built-in obsolescence. For example, Parliament passed the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in record time, as it was asked to do by the then Home Secretary. Yet just this weekend a child was killed by a dog which did not even qualify under the law as a dangerous dog.
The same failure is true of the legislation to ban joyriders. Only two weeks ago, another child was killed on a zebra crossing by a joyrider travelling at 70 mph outside his school in Tyne and Wear.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I shall give way when I have completed the point.
Evidently, the boy racers are not impressed with the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992. However, they do respond to programmes such as crime concern motor projects, for which the Government are less ready to offer nationwide support.
§ Mr. Maclennan
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I was saying instead of bouncing to his feet before I had completed my remarks, he would have heard the answer to his question. We could have backed the motor projects throughout the country that are designed by a partnership of local authorities, the police and the voluntary agencies to divert the energies and interests of the young into more constructive projects, which the police themselves believe are the most effective way of avoiding the horrors of joyriding.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That was a helpful intervention which I strongly support.
Frenetic law-making by the Government in the area of criminal justice has included a succession of U-turns of policy, the most recent being the disowning of the core of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. We have seen borstals built, filled and dismantled as failures. Prisons have been employed as a routine punishment and then, under new Home Secretaries, as punishment of last resort. Now, under the rule of the present Home Secretary, who believes that prisons work, they are again to be used as a routine punishment.
Unit fines have been introduced and abolished within months. A responsible Government would have retained the principle but reformed the practice. But after one or two misreported cases, the then Home Secretary announced that he was the only Justice Minister in Europe who believed that no such system could ever work.
Hon. Members may not have spotted that the man who was fined £1,200 allegedly for dropping the famous crisp packet was in fact convicted of assaulting a police officer who had asked him to pick up the crisp packet.
The Government's record of tacking from one direction to another is among the reasons why they cannot expect to be believed when they claim that now at last they are on the right course.
By bringing crime to centre stage, as the Government have done in this debate, the Home Secretary invites us to look at their proposed treatment of the police, the CPS, the courts and the prisons—the four great pillars of the criminal justice system. If any of those is shaky, the edifice 370 could fall. But at this time many are alarmed by the evidence that the foundations of all four are being shaken by the Government.
The police are caught up in uncertainty, false economies and centralised meddling. Chief constables asked for an extra 2,167 officers for this year. They received none. They have requested 2,475 more officers for next year. When the Home Secretary answers that call, I hope that he will remember his words to the Basingstoke Conservative Association earlier this month:we must never forget that our overriding priority is to protect the public.The Home Secretary is also apparently hell bent upon the dangerous course of imposing his paid creatures on our local police authorities and requiring those authorities to implement his key objectives. Under the thin pretext of local management, the Home Secretary's Bill will go two thirds of the way to creating a national police force under political control. That is anathema to the police service and it is a million miles from being back to basics.
The problems of the CPS are being swept under the carpet by the Government. Barbara Mills, as The Daily Telegraph commented in a recent editorial, is the wrong target. The article argued that she is not to blame for her organisation beingbureaucratic, under-resourced and poorly staffed.But if she is not to blame, the Government certainly are.
We shall have to wait for the publication of the criminal justice Bill to judge whether the Government have the measure of the problems in the trial courts. Certainly their proposal to bureaucratise and centralise the magistrates clerks service appears as a dangerous derogation of judicial independence, unlikely to reduce court delays or the length of trials.
With regard to the substantive law, the Home Secretary has ducked a response to the Runciman commission's core recommendations to avoid miscarriages of justice which have disfigured our system. In oracular fashion, the Home Secretary proposes to tinker with the right to silence, something that is seen in the United States as a fundamental human right which requires explicit constitutional protection. The contradiction between what the Home Secretary said at the Conservative party conference and what the Attorney-General has said on the subject makes it imprudent to seek to divine what is in the mind of the Government, beyond raising cheers from a few shellbacks on the Benches of their conscience.
The lack of dedication of the Conservative Government to systematic law reform may be measured by their acceptance of 33 reports from the Law Commission during the past nine years, none of which, however, they have found the time to implement. Does the Home Secretary intend to give effect to the proposals of the Commission on violence against the person which were published recently? I would not ask him to answer today, for we have waited for some years for answers on the earlier reports.
I turn finally to the prison service. The Woolf report, it seems has been abandoned and we are hurtling instead towards a major catastrophe in our prisons. From January to August this year, the prison population rose by 5,270. The number of young offenders in custody rose by 17 per cent. between January and September of this year. The Home Secretary says that he will no longer judge the success of our system of justice by a fall in the prison population. I am not aware if anyone ever has made such 371 a judgment. It would seem to me that a reduction in crime should be the proper measure of a successful criminal justice system.
The Home Office's own research found no link between rising crime and lower sentencing in England and Wales in the late 1980s. The research also showed that, in police force areas where sentences tended to be tougher, crime did not in fact fall. The Home Secretary apparently no longer holds out privatised prisons as models to the prison service. Those prisons are also to be subject to the pressures of overcrowding and that will be more dangerous in the hands of the amateurs upon whom the Home Secretary intends to call to run them.
It is true that privately operated prisons were common in the 18th century and that prisoners had to find the cash to buy their way out of those gaols. The last of those private prisons was abandoned in 1878, due to overcrowding. That was a few years before the treadmill was abolished. Those are basics to which few people in this country would wish to go back.
The truth is that the measures which the Government are now proposing have nothing to do with the British sense of justice or fair play. The measures owe more to recent traditions, where public service must be forced into centralised and commercialised packages and sold off to the highest bidder.
Conservative Home Secretaries themselves are becoming something of a tradition, but it is a tradition that is marked by signal failure.
§ Mr. James Cran (Beverley)
I begin with the observation that we have heard some rather good speeches from the Back Benches today. I draw attention to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). I feel that hon. Members will read his speech tomorrow, since my hon. and learned Friend demonstrated that he knows what he is talking about.
I also draw attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). All hon. Members will look carefully at what he said about the difficult set of circumstances in Northern Ireland. That is particularly the case with regard to those hon. Members who take an interest in Northern Ireland affairs. [Interruption.] Some of my colleagues are trying to tempt me to make judgments on other speeches, but I will pass on to the next part of my speech.
Another point that I wanted to make about those two speeches was that, by and large, they were non-political. If I can divine anything from what I hear from my constituents on the subject of law and order, it is that they are not terribly impressed by the political ball going back and forth between the political parties. Both the Government and the Opposition will be judged at the next general election by what they do rather than what they say. That is why I have been impressed by many of the points which have been made in the 27-point plan that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary outlined.
I welcome the Queen's Speech on this occasion and I also welcome the fact that the centrepiece of the Speech is law and order. It behoves me to say that when I had to speak on the Queen's Speech last year, I was not able to 372 speak with as much conviction or give it as much support. I will not mention why that was, but it related to a certain treaty whose name I am thoroughly sick of, as is everyone else.
Whatever I may feel about the Government's programme, my constituents are delighted that the Government are putting law and order at the centrepiece of their programme. Again, that point has been made by some of my colleagues. My constituents and the public in general are impatient for solutions, but, as with the Opposition, they do not offer many solutions.
I am no expert on crime and punishment and I speak as an ordinary citizen who is looking at the problem. There is far too much over-simplification on the subject of crime and we will do a disservice if we over-simplify the problem. It has also been made clear by others in the debate that the problem does not affect only the United Kingdom. This is the mistake that the Opposition make frequently because, in not making that clear, they take the argument back to party politics. The fact is, as has been made clear by other hon. Members, that crime is rising in all western states, and elsewhere.
I beware of the easy solution brigade, and I am pleased that my right hon. and learned Friend has not indulged in easy solutions. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) did us the service of introducing the question of back to basics into the debate. The Prime Minister is absolutely correct to crank up that debate. Again, that is not simply because I believe it, but because my constituents say precisely the same thing to me.
Hon. Members have mentioned respect for the law. I have, however, discovered that there is no longer a stigma attached to contravening the law. I did not discover that at a public meeting, but when I, too, regrettably, was summoned to a magistrates court. The offence was minor, I hasten to add, and happened a long time ago. I remember sitting in the waiting room of the magistrates court and I felt rather ashamed of myself despite the fact that it was a very small offence.
§ Mr. Cran
I am not going to tell my hon. Friend what the offence was. I talked to others who were in a similar situation to me, their having broken the law. [Interruption.] I am being heckled from my own side. Most of the others were there for far more serious offences than mine. However, I found that they did not care too much about being in front of a magistrates court. It was en passant, something to fill in that morning.
That is why the Prime Minister's call to go back to basics is absolutely correct, and he has struck a chord with the British people. I know that my right hon. Friend will accept, as I do, that it will be a long haul because it concerns changing attitudes. We must have something for the middle term and that is why we will study the criminal justice Bill and the police Bill which will be presented to us.
I shall concentrate on three issues, the first of which is juvenile crime. Beverley is no inner city but a very delightful market town. I should be surprised to learn that anyone here has not been there; those who have not should go. In common with other areas, Beverley had a serious outbreak of juvenile crime. For example, the Keldgate children's home receives disruptive children from a wide 373 area. That home is in a residential area, but in one year, there were 83 incidents of crime. I am not talking about petty crime—far from it; I am talking of incidents such as section 47 assaults. Perhaps the Minister will tell me what that means—
§ Mr. Cran
I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that. In other words, it is serious. I am also talking about breach of bail, breach of the peace, burglary, theft and the holding of offensive weapons, all occurring in the middle of staid, civilised Beverley. The community around the children's home was almost being terrorised.
I have been told of one occasion when a youth from the home, who was allowed out on demand, climbed on to the roof of the local library and caused £30,000-worth of damage. I believe that I should find it terribly difficult to do that amount of damage, but he did it easily and quickly. Needless to say, he was arrested, but then, alas, returned to the establishment. Of course, after only a few hours, he was able to open the door and walk on to another library roof. That is absurd, and I am delighted that the Home Office has recognised it as such.
As proof of the outrage felt in the community and of the fact that the Government are correct, I cite the community support group of the police authority in Humberside. It said:Committee members sought to identify factors contributing to the present situation and it was agreed that the policy of repeated cautioning of offenders, so freeing them to re-offend, coupled with the severe constraints placed upon staff at such residential homes by the Children Act 1989 as regards their ability to control the movements of resident young persons, were effectively removing any meaningful control over such persons.I am absolutely delighted that the Government are to deal with that particular problem with what I believe are to be called secure training centres for 12 to 15-year-olds.
Speaking as an ordinary citizen, I hope that it will not merely be a "locking up syndrome", which cannot possibly be sufficient. I am pleased to see the Minister agreeing. There is a need for more education, training and the teaching of what used to be known as civics. I have discovered that not many people nowadays know what civics is, but it must be a component of the Government's approach.
The second issue that concerns my constituents is trespass by gipsies and travellers. It is an equally difficult problem for any community. In my constituency, land has been habitually occupied by 40, 50 or 60 caravans which blight the surrounding area. Anyone who has seen such sites will know how bad they are. Legal action was taken by the local authority and the caravans moved half a mile down the road. The problem was not solved and the community found itself to be utterly powerless faced with travellers who, there can be no doubt, knew the law better than many of us. In my constituency, the problem has now been solved by designation, but the problem will merely move down the road.
In his splendid speech last Thursday, the Prime Minister said:If squatters, travellers or trespassers occupy people's property, they should be able to get them out—and quickly. The new Bill will ensure that they can do so."—[Official Report, 18 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 33.]374 I should like the Minister's assurance that that will indeed be the case, since it makes no sense merely to move the problem down the road.
§ Mr. Cran
I agree with my hon. Friend.
The third issue on which I shall concentrate is the new police Bill. Like all hon. Members, I am being lobbied—quite rightly—by all the police organisations. They know the profession and they wish to influence us. I have told them that I welcome the opportunity that will be provided by the Bill, but we must not demoralise the police force. There was a great deal of good in the Sheehy report, but it was overwhelmed by the bad, and I was delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recognised that fact.
I start from the premise that there is no point in alienating any work force. We must have a dialogue and we must listen. Of course, at the end of the day the Government will have to take decisions and they may not be the decisions that the police would wish, but I hope that exhaustive consultation will take place.
I have checked, but no police Bill was available, or at least not to me. I am keen on fixed-term appointments and hope that they will be included. It has been suggested that the principle should apply only to senior officers, but I am keen that it should apply further down the ranks. I do not suggest that fixed-term appointments should apply to existing officers, but there is no reason why they should not apply to new entrants into the profession. I hope that the Government have an open mind on the subject.
I am also convinced of the need to simplify the rank structure. From a business point of view, it is overly complicated. I believe that everyone would benefit from its being simplified, but it has ramifications for the ranks which may be abolished, so the issue needs to be considered sensitively.
I am also keen on appraisal-related pay. It is odd that Parliament is the only place in which I am not appraised at all, except possibly by my constituents once every four or five years.
§ Mr. Cran
I am reassured by my hon. and learned Friend, but, if my colleagues are not careful, they will make me lose my thread. I am very keen on appraisal-related pay and this is the only job in which I have not been properly appraised. One cannot possibly run an organisation without appraising those in it. The police organisations have their views on the subject, but they are open-minded enough to accept that appraisal is coming. I hope that, in one guise or another, the Government will also accept it.
If it is included in the Bill, I should not be against the amalgamation of police forces. I observe, however, that big is not always beautiful and it is certainly not always efficient. I have heard endless stories implying that we may have five or 10 police forces. I gently worry about that because accountability to the people whom we represent is best attained if they can relate to the police entity involved. If one thinks about local authorities—in my case, Humberside county council—people do not relate to them in any way. Thus if the police authority were to be any 375 bigger, I would need a great deal of convincing that that was the right direction to take. I hope that the Government will consider the issue carefully.
I am not against changing the membership of authorities, but I believe that not all local authority representatives are bad and not all business representatives are good. I hope that the Government have an open mind about who should be represented on police authorities. I am not arguing for local authorities, but many people in the community who are not business men could give good service. I assume that that aspect will be in the police Bill, although of course I do not know.
Let me finish by saying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I am kindly being asked to go on, but I am mindful of the demands of others, having waited to speak at the tail end of countless debates usually to be knocked out at the last minute.
I am pleased that the Queen's Speech is not too heavy although the Session started later than usual. The Opposition propose far too much legislation and the Government indulge in it too often. They should take heed of what I always tell my constituents: that legislation does not necessarily solve all problems. Quite often it exacerbates them.
Looking again at the Front Bench, I hope that, when the inevitable charge comes from the Opposition that the Government have run out of steam—one hears such quotes so often—we should rebut this. We should remember that legislation should be thought through carefully for a considerable length of time before any action is taken. We should not react to every problem by legislating.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)
I am sure that the House will understand why the hon. Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) could not bring himself to mention the Maastricht treaty at the start of his speech. The hon. Gentleman and I were often on opposing sides in the course of consideration of the treaty, but I find myself surprised to be in agreement with much of what he said today.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that our constituents are impatient for solutions to the problems of law and order, to emphasise that there is too much oversimplification and to tell us to beware of the easy solution brigade. I was surprised that he exempted the Home Secretary from membership of the easy solution brigade, as anyone who produces a 27-point plan for anything must fall firmly into that camp.
I shall concentrate on one of those easy solutions. The Home Secretary repeatedly mentioned the so-called right to silence. Whenever he referred to the right to silence he said that it was "so-called". I am puzzled as to why that should be the case as that concept is well understood and clearly recognised to such an extent that the Government propose to abolish it. Unfortunately, it is an easy solution for the Government because it is one of those technical issues which often concern lawyers and judges but have profound implications for the entire criminal justice system.
If the Home Secretary is to persuade the House of the force of his argument, he must be able to show conclusively that it will have a significant impact on the 376 level of criminality and the conviction rate. We need to know the justification for a proposal to change a fundamental principle of our legal system.
The Government's argument appears to be that sophisticated and experienced criminals persistently abuse their right to silence to frustrate police investigations and are thereby able to avoid conviction. Their argument rests on the proper assumption that an innocent person has nothing to hide and will therefore co-operate with the police by explaining where he or she was at the relevant time and what he or she was doing with a view to immediate elimination from police inquiries. That is the way in which I expect that the Government will put their argument.
There is little objection to the idea of allowing a judge to invite a jury to draw an adverse inference from the failure of the suspect to offer some explanation of the evidence apparently linking him or her to the commission of a criminal offence. That is the simplified version of the Government's proposal. Unfortunately, the concept of the right to silence is not so self-contained. It is not capable of being introduced in such a superficial way. It is the easy solution against which the hon. Member for Beverley warned us, because it has implications that go to the foundations of our system of justice.
The central position which guides English criminal law is that it is always for the prosecution to prove the defendant's guilt. Not only is the burden of proof placed firmly on the prosecution, but that burden can be satisfied only by proof of a very high standard so that a jury or magistrate—or a judge in Northern Ireland—is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt.
The proposition was set out in a celebrated way by Viscount Sankey in 1935, when he said:Throughout the web of English criminal law one golden thread is always to be seen. The duty of the prosecution is to prove a prisoner's guilt".Successive royal commissions—in 1929, 1981 and most recently in July 1993—have examined the argument and reached the conclusion that we should maintain the right to silence.
The abolition or abridgement of the right to silence would break that golden thread, as it would allow the judge to comment on the defendant's failure to answer police questions or to give evidence. The defendant's silence would thereby become potential evidence of his or her guilt. The jury would have to be told that they could interpret the defendant's silence as tending to show his guilt. The burden of proof that we have always placed firmly on the prosecution would therefore to some extent be shifted to the defendant and it would be necessary for the defendant to speak in order to show his innocence.
Such a change would have implications throughout our system at every stage in the process. The most significant effect, however, is likely to be at the first contact between the police and the suspect and it would obviously change the balance of any interview between a police officer and a suspect.
At present, the police officer is required to caution a suspect specifically in terms that the potential defendant is not obliged to say anything. That is the basic proposition of a caution. If the Government have their way, presumably it will be necessary for the police to warn a suspect that his failure to answer questions could lead to an adverse inference being drawn at any later trial. Police 377 officers would not need to press that fact, although some undoubtedly would do so. They would be able to coerce a suspect into answering their questions.
The mere fact of being approached and asked to answer questions by a police officer is generally sufficient to make most people nervous and confused and perhaps fail to give a proper account of themselves. That has long been recognised in common law. In the celebrated American Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona, Mr. Justice Warren clearly set out the underlying problem. He said:Without proper safeguards the process of custody and interrogation of persons accused of crime contains inherently compelling pressures which work to undermine the individual's will to resist and compel him to speak where he would not otherwise do so freely".Interrogations in police stations are inherently intimidatory, even to the most law-abiding and honest people. As a young law student I was required to accompany suspects to formal interviews conducted at local police stations. It was my job to ensure that suspects exercised their right to silence. Not only were they subjected to significant pressure to answer police questions, but I was frequently accused of obstructing the police in the execution of their duty. I was warned that if I continued in that way I would never qualify as a lawyer and the police would draw the matter to the court's attention.
Such formal and informal pressure is, sadly, commonplace in police interviews. Ultimately, and sadly, it leads to the suspect confessing to offences that are not proved in any other way before the court.
§ Mr. Heald
In the light of press coverage only today of a recent example of oppressive police questioning, the judge threw out the interview and the man was acquitted. Does not that protect the accused if the court can act in that way under section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984? Given that that protection exists, what on earth is the point of the right to silence?
§ Mr. Hoon
On the hon. Gentleman's second question, the right to silence cannot be taken as a self-contained part of the process, because it is inherent in how we conduct trials. On his more general question of how the legal system will protect suspects and defendants, the issue is whether we are confident in the integrity of our police. Ten years ago, I might have had no doubt in answering that question but, sadly, many citizens are increasingly suspicious about police officers' integrity. That is a cause for great concern. Sadly, anyone who regularly attends jury trials, throughout the country but particularly in the metropolitan areas, will know that juries approach police evidence with profound suspicion simply because in previous cases the police have taken advantage of their position and intimidated suspects and potential witnesses.
I criticise the proposal to abolish the right to silence because it tilts the balance still further in favour of the police. The approach that I have set out has been confirmed on many occasions. In its response to the Home Office working group consultation paper, "The Right to Silence", Justice expresses its concern about abolishing the right to silence and says:It is worth noting here that in Justice's experience of over 25 years of investigating cases of alleged miscarriages of justice, a false confession … was the most common cause of wrongful conviction.That is precisely the conclusion reached in the report of the royal commission on criminal justice under the 378 chairmanship of Viscount Runciman and presented to Parliament as recently as July 1993. Its terms of reference specifically invited it to consider the right to silence and it was asked to conduct research to look into that question. It did so carefully and came up with thoughtful conclusions and recommendations.
Despite the considered process of a royal commission, however, the Home Secretary announced at his party conference—probably for easy applause—that the Government intended to abolish the right to silence. That is not a proper way for a Government to proceed on such a fundamental issue.
Rodger Leng produced a study in which he concluded:The right to silence is rarely exercised and — about half of those who exercise it are convicted. For cases which fail, there is little evidence to suggest that the prospects for conviction would be enhanced by inducing the suspect to speak or treating his silence as evidence against him.That research was endorsed by the royal commission in a review carried out for it by David Brown, which is set out in paragraph 15, chapter 4, of its conclusions. I shall not read them into the record as hon. Members can read them themselves, but the conclusions made it clear that the commission's review of the research showed that there was practical advantage to no one in abolishing the right to silence. The Government must carry out as detailed research to justify their proposals as that carried out by the most recent royal commission on criminal procedure, in 1981, which came to exactly the same conclusion for precisely the same reasons.
Abolishing the right to silence will not only affect procedures in police stations. I assume that it is likely to have implications for the conduct of criminal trials. If the Government are to be consistent, they should propose to abolish the right to silence not only in police stations but during trials. If they allow someone who may be unrepresented to be coerced into answering questions from police officers on the basis that, later at the trial, an adverse inference may be drawn, why not—assuming that the suspect is legally represented and has been properly advised by competent lawyers—require him or her to give evidence in court? It surely follows that if the Government are determined to abolish the right to silence in police stations, a defendant should be required to give evidence in court. The principle appears to be the same. It would be interesting to see how the Government would tackle that problem.
If the Government are seriously considering abolishing the right to silence at trial, it will fundamentally change how our criminal system operates, because it is a basic proposition that it is for the prosecution to prove every element of its case. Under our present rules, a defendant cannot be required to assist the prosecution in proving its case. If the prosecution fails to prove its case, it is for the defence to submit that there is no case to answer. If that submission is rejected, it is still for the defence to call as much or as little evidence as it chooses. Its case for the jury might be no more than that the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. By potentially requiring the defendant to give evidence, the Government would be saying that the defendant must assist in proving the case against him and where a defendant refuses to do so an adverse inference may be drawn.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)
I put to my hon. Friend the case of someone who is arrested, brought into custody and demands to see his lawyer. His lawyer 379 comes, there is a privileged discussion which cannot be inquired into later by the court, and the lawyer tells him to say nothing. In court, the reason for that advice cannot be inquired into, but the defendant may say that his lawyer told him to say nothing.
Unless legislation enables the court to inquire into privileged communications between solicitors and clients, professional criminals—who will always have their brief—will ensure that they use their right to silence and have the protection of that privilege, while vulnerable people who are not usually in police stations may be in a much weaker position and will not have the same advantages as professionals in exercising some spurious right in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for setting out one of a number of practical problems that will arise if the proposal is accepted.
Another problem may concern a defendant who chooses to answer some of the police or prosecution questions but not all of them. What will the judge then say if that defendant has avoided answering the difficult questions, as defendants are tempted to do in such circumstances?
Will an adverse inference be drawn in those circumstances? Will such an inference be drawn if the defendant has been silent for some, but not all, of the time? Those are difficult questions and we need detailed investigation of the problem such as that carried out by the royal commission. By introducing the proposal in this way, the Home Secretary is opting for the easy solution.
The change might be acceptable in a different type of legal system. Where there is independent investigation of facts, as happens in different legal systems around the world, the independent investigator is usually in a position to compel all witnesses to give evidence and answer questions. It does not matter whether that evidence supports the prosecution or the defence. However, our legal system is an adversarial one, which means that one side is responsible for the investigation of the facts tending to show the defendant's guilt. It is therefore wrong in principle to suggest that a defendant's refusal, in effect, to help the opposition in any way implies his guilt. That is the issue that the Government must grasp when they consider the matter.
We have a particular type of system that has developed in a particular way and these are rules which follow on from our adversarial system. We cannot tinker with parts of the system in the hope that that will somehow solve the problem of crime. We would be tampering with the cornerstone of our system and we would regret doing so—unless the Government are capable of explaining it in the depth and detail that the royal commission was able to bring to bear in the report that it published as recently as July this year.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
I remind the House of Madam Speaker's decision earlier today that speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock will be limited to 10 minutes.
§ 7.2 pm
§ Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)
I welcome the Government's initiative in putting the subject of law and order at the top of the political debate. My constituents would rather describe these debates in terms of crime and punishment, because they believe that the increase in crime is related to the fact that we have forgotten that punishment is a good way of deterring crime and that we have, to some extent, gone soft. We spend too much time worrying about the criminal and pretending that the criminal is the victim of society. That is one of those modish ideas that has been prevalent in our society for much too long and on which the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) dwelt for far too long.
For the general public, the right to silence is largely a matter of giving people, against whom the police have serious reason to believe that they have a sensible charge, the opportunity to say nothing. Therefore, in many cases those people are not properly tried. During the debate and discussion on the Bill, I hope that a great deal more attention will be paid to that issue. It is what people want to hear.
In my constituency, people expect their Government to protect them and their property. They believe that they have a right to feel safe in their homes and in their streets, but they feel that proper attention has not been paid to that right because we are too concerned with being soft on those who are deemed to be society's victims. They want to see that changed.
Burglary is the crime that has increased most seriously in Essex and in my constituency. I am pleased that the police force in Essex has got on top of a great deal of crime, but burglary is increasing at a worrying pace—so much so that people are installing in their houses protection systems which might be more appropriate for Fort Knox. They are spending an enormous amount of money on such systems because they are afraid to leave their homes without some form of defence. That is a measure of the feeling of insecurity which exists.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State winds up, I should like him to address the relationship between the growth of crime and the increase in the use of drugs. So much of our crime, both petty and not so petty, is linked to the growth of the drug distribution business which, as we know, is illegal. The large increase in the number of prisoners in American gaols, which has been commented on already, is related largely to the incarceration of people involved in the drugs industry. Yet despite that, the industry continues to grow. It is difficult to see how much money society can afford to lay out in the pursuit of criminals involved in the drug business and still have enough left over to deal with more important issues.
Before I leave the House, I should like us to debate seriously the issue of how to deal with drugs and the people who take them and whether we should consider decriminalising some of that activity, simply because the alternative is to fill our prisons and extend the number of victims in our society who suffer at the hands of drug addicts in pursuit of money to support their habit.
During the Conservative party conference I launched a book—the name of which I would not dream of mentioning in this debate—and I held a book-signing at W. H. Smith's book shop. While I was signing the books I noticed an extremely shifty character walking around the shelves. He was dressed in a scruffy manner. The manager 381 was standing beside me opening the books for me to sign as there was a very long queue of people waiting.[Interruption.] The book costs £5.99.
§ Mrs. Gorman
I said to the manager, "There is a shady looking character walking around the shop. Could he be a potential shoplifter?" The manager said, "No, he is the detective." He told me that in shops such as W. H. Smith they have to have full-time detectives because just outside the shop in the precinct were drug addicts engaged in business of some sort. He said that one or more of them would come into the shop looking to steal goods worth about £150 during one day in order to pay for their drugs.
If we multiply that throughout the country and think of all those criminals going around the M25 at night, shooting off into quiet suburbs and what were once safe country villages, stealing goods to sell probably at a car boot sale in order to support their habit, we can see the roots of the growth in burglary. We also have a problem with shop theft. Also, many serious assaults on elderly people occur when, for example, their handbags are snatched after picking up their pensions or they are attacked in their home because it is often assumed that elderly people will have a little money tucked away under the mattress or in the teapot.
Much of the crime in Britain which is causing great concern to many people is tied up with the drug problem and we cannot avoid facing up to it. It is no good saying that we will maintain the same attitude to or punishment for this crime. In the United States a huge number of people are in pursuit of drug criminals and there is almost warfare. Despite that, America has not been able to control the increase in drugs-related crime. We must address the problem. More money and more policemen will not necessarily solve the problem.
I raised with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the creation of new crimes. He told me that the Gracious Speech contained provision to make ticket touting a crime. Although I do not like ticket touts—they are a lot of ratbags and many are disreputable characters—I regret that provision. Touts buy and sell tickets outside public events usually because somebody wants to get rid of tickets and I do not believe that we should look for ways of putting more people into our prisons. We should not be looking for ways of creating more crime when the police already have more than enough to deal with.
I shall address myself to the origins of the growth of crime, which partly rests in the family. I am pleased that, in the Criminal Justice Act 1991, we introduced the provision that parents have to come to court and accept responsibility for their children, and especially the cost of their crimes, and I am pleased that we are pursuing that line.
I also want to say a few words because the Secretary of State for Education is here and because, like so many people in this place, I have been a teacher in previous incarnations. I taught for 10 years in inner city schools in the London area. I assure the Secretary of State that the frustration that is felt by many children at their inability or inadequacy to cope with the syllabuses as offered and their total disinterest in academic work leads them, through boredom, to bad behaviour, which teachers no longer have 382 the ability to control, as clipping children over the ear or spanking them on the bottom is a thing of the past. We now have a serious problem, which is related to education.
By pursuing policies—of which I greatly approve—of giving schools more autonomy and preferably independence through grant-maintained status, which will allow variety to develop in course work and will lead to children being more interested in their school work, my right hon. Friend will help to reduce crime. That is a serious part of controlling the growth of crime by young people.
Last but not least, I feel strongly that we must pursue the level of punishment against people who attack women and children. I am worried about the soft sentences that are often handed out by rather geriatric judges when women are violently attacked.
§ Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)
I wish, if I may, to divert the debate, if only temporarily, to the subject of education, if for no other reason than to make the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) feel wanted. I fully intend to purchase the book by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) when it is remaindered.
The Prime Minister's great idea of "back to basics", insofar as it relates to education, seems to have its roots in a misreading of Dickens's "Hard Times", which Conservatives seem to believe is a denunciation of active education, symbolised by Sleary's circus, and embracing the educational philosophy of Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby.
The incessant experimentation with our education system in the past 15 years, especially since 1986, has been fuelled by an unelected, unaccountable and largely inexperienced small group, based on the Centre for Policy Studies, deriving change out of ideology, basing its assertions on myth and bar-room slogans rather than on any sense of rational planning for education, denouncing all opinion from practitioners in education as irrelevant because it comes from the educational establishment, whatever that is.
In The Times Educational Supplement in early October, the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), my neighbour, for whom I have a great deal of respect on matters educational, described a Government inthe grip of right wing ideologues.That constant change and turmoil has led to demoralisation and bewilderment in schools and colleges. I have visited 52 of the schools in my constituency since I was elected, and in every one of them the message has been clear: "Leave us alone for a few years. Allow us to consolidate the changes that we have already under way."
Now the implications for further changes in the organisation of teacher education threaten further turmoil, not just in the higher education institutions but in schools themselves, again ideologically driven and devoid of research and rational planning.
"Back to basics" in education means, as Professor Paul Black writes,nostalgia as a guide to policyor, as Stephen Bold has said, "curriculum as museum". If the nostalgia of Ministers for the education of the 1950s, which we read about, is examined, it is nostalgia for a generation of schoolteachers who were, on the one hand, highly educated in their disciplines, often classics or 383 history scholars with an enormous amount of knowledge to offer, and on the other hand, those rapidly retrained after the war, who called on immense skills and vast experience.
That was a great generation of teachers, but that generation has gone. The universities and colleges have been struggling to create a new generation of teachers who can combine the academic depth of those older teachers with all the contemporary demands for flexible skills, variety of delivery and social responsibility which we now properly demand of our schools.
Under the guise of reforming funding for teacher education, the Government are clearly bent on destroying it. It is not without significance that the Queen's Speech refers to funding teacher training and the Government's insistence on training rather than to "teacher education". There is a lot in a name. Teacher education is what one provides for human beings who are designed for crucial roles in the structure, morality and ethics of a whole society. Training is what one provides for human beings to undertake a specific task or set of tasks, with efficiency, to achieve targets in terms of output.
That is the role that is assigned to teachers by the radical right, and the curriculum packages that are forced on schools reinforce that role. It guides the Teacher Training Agency, a quango that is directly controlled by the Secretary of State, which has the brief to shift teacher education responsibility from the higher education sector to the schools themselves.
The consequences of that shift need to be examined before it occurs. We should not be left—as we so often are by the Government's education policies—like a small child thrown into a pool to learn to swim. "Act now, think later" is the Government's excuse for education policy.
The Government and their assorted Svengalis seem not to have examined the reality of what is happening in our teacher education institutions. Indeed, they persist in sneering references to teacher training colleges, which long since have transformed themselves into more mixed higher education institutions.
Some years ago, Sir Keith Joseph began asking pertinent questions about teacher education, and especially about the extent and quality of the student's education at his or her level. That produced a response from colleges in which they examined the fundamental nature of what went into the making of a good teacher. Most BEd courses were at least partially integrated with the subject-based courses that are taught for BA and BSc qualifications.
At the same time, student teachers were obliged to spend more and more time in schools, learning on the job—something that I have nothing against in theory. A four-year BA-QTS—qualified teacher status—student at Edge Hill college in my constituency spends, with attachments and block practices, more than 18 months in schools, and will have worked, during that time, in a wide variety of types of school, with different intakes and problems. In other words, the higher education institutions have already moved substantially towards what the Government seem to want, to the limits of what is possible without sabotaging the students' developing academic education.
The relationships of colleges and the schools they partner is two-way, and it is mutually beneficial. The complex relationships between West Lancashire schools 384 and Edge Hill college, for example, have taken years to build and are highly valued. Tutors are not locked in their ivory tower, promulgating theory, but are in and out of a wide variety of schools in connection with their students' work and as individuals, learning from the schools and, one hopes, helping the schools in turn.
The Government's disdain for theory is of a piece with their disdain for research and planning in education. I said earlier that a teacher is not simply a performer of set tasks, much though the Government would wish that. She or he is, to put it grandly, perhaps a moulder of society, a purveyor of values, both social and ethical—a functioning part of our economy, a transmitter of cultural values.
She or he is responsible for health and safety, for relationships within the local community, for the carrying out of the law with regard to education, and the rights of children generally. She or he has to be a psychologist, not to mention at times a psychiatrist. She or he has not only to deliver blocks of curriculum but to understand what a curriculum amounts to and what its basis is or should be. All that, as well as the sheer mechanics of delivery, preparation and evaluation amounts to what is often sneeringly summarised as "theory". How can the teachers in our schools hope to deliver all that?
Most teachers, rightly, already return to their higher education institutions regularly to update themselves on those subjects, for the sake of their own survival. A teacher's life is increasingly crowded and pressurised, as all hon. Members know from their surgeries and postbags. The only way in which schools could sustain increasingly school-based training would be by employing extra staff, even to deliver the sort of Bell and Lancaster training with which the Government are content.
Is it not true that the Government will use the funding that they extract from higher education to shore up the process on which they are set—to divert a species of subsidy to private schools, city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools? They will ghettoise teacher education if we are not careful.
Whatever the arguments in which the changes in teacher education are wrapped, the proposals are really about educating teachers more cheaply in the service of a curriculum that is increasingly becoming a frozen canon of blocks of acceptable knowledge. The Government do not want creative teachers with a critical analysis of knowledge or of systems of knowledge; they do not want school students who are critical and experimental.
I noted with interest that that well-known expert on education, Sheila Lawler, has declared:There is no reason to imagine that pupils learn from talking".I ask hon. Members to examine the total absurdity of that remark and the Gradgrind sterility of thought that underpins it.
One of the major benefits of higher education, as hon. Members will know from experience, is academic interaction with other students and staff. Unlike Ms Lawler, I believe that pupils and students learn massively from talking and comparing—
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I declare an interest because, as the House knows, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. 385 I offer my warmest congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on his announcement this afternoon that there are to be trials of the side-handled baton in police forces throughout England and Wales. My right hon. and learned Friend has taken that decision quickly, and I am sure that every police officer in the country will note that the new equipment will be available. I hope that it will provide officers with the added protection that they so desperately need.
I am pleased that my constituents in Uxbridge will feel, as I do, that, because a criminal justice Bill is the centrepiece of the Government programme, many of their concerns will be dealt with, and that the Government will take further steps to tackle crime.
In my constituency, domestic burglary has decreased substantially over the past year, as have a number of the other crimes which beset people in towns and cities throughout the country. The reason for that decline is Operation Bumblebee, conducted by the Metropolitan police, which has targeted burglars and receivers of stolen goods. It has been enormously successful, and I hope that similar operations will be undertaken by other counties, so that the outright war against the domestic burglar and the receiver of stolen goods will continue successfully.
The legislation referred to in the Gracious Speech has the support of the Police Federation, which welcomes the measures clearly intended to strengthen the criminal justice system and to call a halt to an era which, in the opinion of many police officers, has put the interests of offenders before those of victims and of society in general.
I am president of Uxbridge victim support, and I am only too well aware of the stress and anxiety caused to those who are the victims of violent crime and domestic burglary, to name but two areas of criminal activity. That is why my constituents and the police welcome the measures designed to deal with the persistent young offenders who are, there can be no doubt, responsible for much of the violent crime and burglary that are the scourge of our society.
It is right and timely that the Government should crack down on those who re-offend while on bail. As the Prime Minister said last Thursday:Some people seem to think that bail is a licence to commit crime."—[Official Report, 18 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 32.]He is right. That perception must be changed.
Surely it must be right to legislate for the provision of new secure units for persistent young offenders. That is a far better system than the tracking proposals by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), to which I referred earlier. However, I ask the Home Secretary, which Department of State will pay for the much-needed new facilities?
I believe that the initiative should come from the Home Office rather than from the Department of Health, as has happened until now. The problem that the House must face is that the Department of Health is responsible for the care of juveniles, and that consequently that Department has been expected to provide secure places for those who, until the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, would have been sent to prison.
The Department of Health and the local authorities have provided very few places; every police officer knows how difficult it is to arrange for a juvenile offender to be confined in secure accommodation. I therefore believe that the time has come for the Government to grasp the nettle 386 and to transfer the responsibility for secure accommodation for juvenile offenders from the Department of Health to the Home Office and local authorities, so that it can be provided quickly.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will be able to tell the House how many new secure units will be provided, what new resources have been earmarked for their provision, and where they are to be located. We need that information. I have heard generalisations about providing more secure accommodation too many times in this place; it is facts and figures that I want to hear tonight.
I welcome the announcement of changes in the criminal law to deal with those persistent nuisances, squatters, travellers and trespassers, who occupy other people's property and interfere with their lawful activities. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say something to give the police grounds for hope that there will be sufficient resources to enable them to deal with that extension of their existing activities.
I greatly welcome the reference to action to deal with child pornography, which is one of the greatest evils of our time. Any hon. Member who attended, as I did, the exhibition organised by the police at the Palace of Westminster on the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), any hon. Member who had the misfortune to see the disgusting and disgraceful material displayed there, will know that the stronger powers of search, arrest and seizure that are to be provided will help the police to fight those wicked people who are distorting and corrupting young people. The proposals should have the full support of every Member of the House, and of every decent man and woman in our society.
With reference to the proposals for improving the organisation and management of the police to make them better able to combat crime, it is only right for me, as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, to tell the House candidly that the federation has expressed concern about the idea of changing the way in which police authority members are to be chosen. When we see the Bill, the federation will want to consider carefully, as I shall, how the proposals for the appointment of chairmen and other members of police authorities by the Home Secretary are actually to be effected. Those changes are a considerable move away from the present composition of police authorities, which are based on local councillors and local magistrates.
To which body or authority will those police authorities be accountable? If the Government are determined to persist with this proposal, people appointed by the Home Secretary to serve on police authorities should have their candidatures vetted, and should be appointed by statutory instrument subject to the approval of the House. That would preserve the essence of democratic accountability, which many people believe is important in police authorities.
While the Police Federation warmly welcomes the fact that chief constables, together with their authorities, will have to determine spending priorities on equipment, personnel and so on, it is concerned about the setting of national objectives. There is a feeling that those objectives may give the Home Office too much control over police forces and chief officers.
Could there be a conflict between the evident desire of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to 387 decentralise decisions on the manpower and equipment needed in a particular police force, and perpetuating Home Office control through the setting of national targets and the appointment of police authority chairmen and members? We shall need to examine that when we debate the Bill.
I shall deal briefly with student unions. I am a member of court of Brunel university. I consulted the student union last week, and it gave me a number of reasons why it believes that the Bill's provisions are heavy-handed and in some cases unnecessary. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will give us a clear explanation of the purposes—
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) did not have time to finish what he was saying about student unions, because I dare say there is a great deal on which we would agree.
I have received hundreds of letters from students about the Government proposals to reform student unions. Although we have heard a great deal in the debate about the right to silence, my constituents are concerned about the right to make as much noise as possible. I have received letters not only from students, but from heads of colleges, university authorities, eminent academics and members of the local business community. To a person, they have condemned the Government's proposed reforms.
The Government seem to have concocted proposals for student union reform which range from the malign to the ridiculous. They are malign in intent and in their effect, and many of the so-called reforms appear to be designed to prevent student unions from functioning effectively and, more particularly, to deprive students of an effective voice in the community.
Furthermore, the Government's proposals are ridiculous in their distinction between core services, which would be eligible for public funds, and non-core services, which would not. As the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has rightly said in its formal submission to the Department of Education:The list of core services omits an astonishing range of positive and legitimate functions undertaken by student unions.The Department for Education's consultation note on student union reform says that it is the Secretary of State's view that publicly funded student union activitiesshould be limited to the core areas of welfare and advisory services, catering, sport, and student representation in institutional affairs.Sports clubs and societies are given the blessing of the Government, but all other student clubs and societies are excluded.
Are we seriously to believe that academic, music, drama and debating societies are less deserving of public support than sports clubs? The Government are in serious danger of undermining an important part of the educational experience of being a student. I can put it no better than in the words of the principal of Newnham college, Dr. Onora O'Neill. In her letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Dr. O'Neill states: 388Students learn not only in the lecture hall, the laboratory and the library, but from a range of more active experiences in which they develop both confidence and the organisational and entrepreneurial skills which are vital both for their careers and for their future employers. If in the future, student unions were not able to support any clubs except sporting clubs, a wide range of club activities that contribute greatly to the quality of education would be undercut. In this College we have nearly five hundred women students who will be going on to professional, business and academic careers of great variety for whom club activities provide important opportunities for training and support as they move into the fields which, in some cases, are still not very easily accessible to women. Among the clubs and societies whose financial basis would be swept away by the proposed changes are the Law Society, the Engineering Society, the Medics and Vets Society, the History Society, the Geography Society and the Environment Group. We also have a large number of students clubs which are less disciplinary in their orientation, but contribute in many ways to the confidence and skills of our students. They include the Music Society and the Drama Society. Sport alone will not provide the range of extra-curricular activities that we would all wish students to undertake.I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that we would wish all students to undertake those activities. Why, then, has he sought to undermine them—or are we to assume that the proposals are half-baked in spite of the extended period of so-called consultation that preceded them?
Another glaring omission from the list of core areas is student community action. Surely we would wish to encourage students to contribute to the wider community through voluntary work and fund raising for charities. One of the letters that I received is from an organisation in my constituency called Bridget's, which provides care and accommodation for disabled students at Cambridge and Anglia polytechnic universities. Bridget's is alarmed at the threat to rag activities, which contribute significantly to its funds as a charitable institution.
Another organisation, Emmaus UK, which provides accommodation and work for the long-term homeless and unemployed, is similarly alarmed. I have received a letter from its founder, Mr. Selwyn Image, who is a well respected local business man. He has asked me to do what I can to preserve the fund-raising activities of student unions.
The Government are right to identify welfare services as central to the work of student unions, but even here there are important omissions. There is no mention in the consultation note of welfare services for students from ethnic minorities or for homosexual students, both of whom continue to face prejudice and need particular support. We might regard the omission as careless, as another half-baked section of this half-baked document.
I hope that that is the explanation, because the alternative explanation is prejudice or worse, and there is some evidence for that. The briefing produced by Conservative central office for Conservative Members when the Secretary of State made his statement earlier this year cites the mere passing of a resolution in support of lesbian and gay rights by University college London student union as an "abuse" of public funds.
Many proposals in the forthcoming Bill will be seen as political oppression. The Government's proposal to restrict the ability of student unions to engage in any activity that might be deemed political raises serious questions in a democratic society. Many student unions are already charities and are subject to the law of charity, which clearly precludes political campaigning. However, charity law does not preclude the promotion and encouragement of political ideas, as is clearly established in case law. 389 In seeking to place greater restrictions on student unions than already exist under charity law, the Government threaten the basic rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech that are enshired in articles 10, 11 and 14 of the European convention on human rights. I hope that that will be taken on board. It is foolish effectively to deny students the ability to represent their interests in the wider community. As the National Union of Students has cogently argued, many decisions that directly affect the education and welfare of students are made outside the institution's structures.
No Government who had confidence in their policies and the strength to take criticism would ever dream of putting forward such a small-minded and vindictive set of proposals. I can do no better than end with the words of Dr. Peter Mathias, master of Downing college, writing to the Secretary of State as chairman of the Colleges Committee, the forum of heads of houses in Cambridge. He said:All colleges in Cambridge have examined the proposals in great detail and every college finds itself in opposition and every Head of House personally. I have seldom known such unanimity in the Colleges Committee. We are speaking primarily for our college JCRs"—the colloquial term for student unions in Cambridge—As far as collective memory knows, there have never been any significant problems about the misuse of public funds by these bodies. Yet the proposed legislation will impose elaborate bureaucratic and accounting procedures, where we consider existing legislation governing charities, and external checks with the college concerned, fully adequate to assure accountability. By virtue of the proposed division between 'core' and 'non-core' activities, JCRs will be inhibited in fulfilling normal college functions which are the essence of collegiate life—i.e. supporting through their normal budgets such activities as college academic societies, music, drama and other activities which fall outside the current definition of 'core' activities.We are asking that the proposed legislation, in its current form, be withdrawn as counterproductive, with consequences which will be much worse than the alleged problems which the proposals are supposed to cure.I echo that plea.
§ Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)
Over the past 14 years, the Government have massively increased resources on law and order and expanded the police service. Quite rightly, they have repeatedly strengthened the law and extended the range of sentences available so that there are longer sentences for sexual offences and violent crime and maximum life sentences for attempted rape. However, despite all those measures, crime has inexorably risen, from 500,000 recorded offences in 1950 to 1.6 million in 1970, 2.5 million in 1980, 4.4 million in 1990 and 5.6 million in 1992. That has led to increasing public concern about the growth in crime.
Whereas, 10 years ago, few people had personal experience of crime, now most people have either experienced it directly or know people who have. People fear leaving their homes at night because they might come back to find them burgled and they fear leaving their cars parked in empty places at night because they might be vandalised or stolen. That is a serious issue and, rightly, the Government are tackling it in a positive way with the measures outlined in the Queen's Speech.
I want to examine some of the reasons why the public have lost confidence in the system of criminal justice. The system has shown itself unable to cope properly, in particular with persistent young offenders. There is a widespread perception that young offenders can cock a 390 snook at the law and walk free from the courts. We know that the clear-up rate on crime is poor, particularly in relation to burglary. We also know that the courts, in dealing with crime across a broad range of offences, often seem unable or unwilling to give tough enough sentences and certainly not the sentences that most reasonable and sensible people would like to be given. We have seen a regrettable growth in violent crime, which greatly concerns people.
I probably shall not have time to develop the argument that the problems of law and order go very deep and reflect a much deeper malaise in our society and western society in general. The criminal justice system is in need of radical reform. Therefore, I welcome the measures that the Secretary of State has announced. I welcome the move to reduce the number of cautions used. There is no doubt that cautioning has been used far too often and in inappropriate cases. I also welcome the attempt to reduce the amount of paperwork that the police have to do.
It is ironic that, at a time of rising crime, apart from the increase this year, the prison population had been dropping. There was also a drop in the number of cases being brought to court. I should have thought that that was unacceptable. Earlier, we heard the Opposition's argument that prison should not be the centrepiece of measures to deal with crime. Perhaps it should not, but it should be an important part of measures to deal with crime.
My contention is that the liberal approach to crime has failed the country dramatically. There are too many criminals who have no fear of being caught. They know that the chances of being caught are slight. They know that if they get caught the chances are that the police will caution them, or refer the case to the CPS which will not follow it through. They know that if, by mischance, they end up in court, they will probably get off with a non-custodial sentence.
All that has had a serious effect on reducing the deterrence of the law in dealing with crime. I regret to say that the liberal approach to crime reached its height—if that is the right word to use—with the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I am pleased that some of the measures on sentencing in that Act are to be revised.
Reformers argue that prison does not work. They quote various reconviction rates, one of their favourite figures coming from a Home Office study in 1986 which showed that 63 per cent. of young male offenders released from prison were reconvicted within two years. However, they do not go on to say that a further study in the July Home Office statistical bulletin, which analysed 11,000 criminals given probation or community service sentences, showed that 65 per cent. of those people had a further conviction within two years. Therefore, it could be argued that no method of punishment is effective. That might well be the case, but we should not forget that, if somebody is in prison, while he is there, he cannot commit any more crime.
Too many of the reformers of the legal system are more interested in the criminal than in the victim and it is the victim of whom we should be thinking. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to resist the pressures that he will undoubtedly be under from the do-gooders both inside and outside the Home Office and to get on with the reforms outlined in the Queen's Speech.
In relation to law and order, people are probably most concerned about the young offenders. Far too much crime is committed by young offenders. We know that they play 391 a large part in burglary, much of it opportunistic. The public may not be so aware of the fact that, in the past 10 years, the number of custodial sentences for young people has dropped by 65 per cent.—from 63,000 to 17,000—as a direct result of the liberal approach to law and order. Has it led to a better society, to less crime among young people? Most people would doubt that. There is a great danger that the police have partially given up with young offenders because they know that if they follow the case through, the chances are that the young person will not get a severe sentence.
I welcome the measures to provide secure training orders aimed at 12 to 15-year-olds, but I wonder whether they will go far enough. As I understand it, they will apply only to those who have been convicted of three imprisonable offences. Perhaps we should consider intervening much earlier. If we can intervene early, we can sometimes stop those young offenders reoffending.
Some researchers argue that age is a great leveller in terms of crime and that the only cure for some young offenders is, frankly, that as they get older they commit far less crime. I would not suggest that we send young people inside for a large number of years—that would be totally inappropriate—but it is important to provide an effective criminal justice system. I do not believe that we have one at the moment and the Home Secretary is quite right to bring forward these measures.
There is a danger that the measures will not be effective, because deeper social issues are involved, and I hope that all parties will join together in looking at those deeper and serious social issues. We all have a responsibility to play our part in trying to reduce the levels of crime in society —not just burglary and vandalism, but some of the mindless violence that is endemic. Some people argue that part of such violence is influenced by what people see on television and video—that is another area that we need to tackle.
All those factors have an influence and I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to look at some of the wider and deeper issues so that we can tackle the problem on a broad basis.
§ Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)
The Minister's speech and much of the debate have focused on questions of crime prevention, bringing down levels of crime, stopping reoffending and protecting the victims. As an agenda, there is a great deal that everyone would agree with, but the issue is not whether it is the right agenda but whether the Government's proposals will actually bring down the levels of crime and whether the criminal justice Bill will make a real difference. I suspect that we will have a Bill that is a mixture of non-contentious, relatively minor changes and window dressing; set alongside that will be the cheap populism of the Home Secretary's speech, which promises far more than the Bill will deliver.
One of the 27 points that the Home Secretary announced, with which I agree, was support to victims of crime and the recommendations of the Royal Commission. I was disappointed that the Home Secretary did not mention that in his speech.
The issue of information by the Crown Prosecution Service, support to victims or witnesses and the way in 392 which people are treated in court all come under the criminal justice system. The Royal Commission made a number of recommendations about that. It recommended that victims should be kept informed of the progress and outcome of cases, including decisions about whether or not to prosecute; that the CPS should take steps to ascertain victims' views before decisions were taken; and that information should be given, if not through the CPS, through the police. When cases come to trial, everything should be done to ensure that facilities for witnesses and victims are adequate and that they are kept completely separate from people on trial. There should be witness support schemes in Crown courts.
Another simple point is that, at the conclusion of cases involving sexual offences, victims' statements should be returned to the instructing solicitors. The royal commission found evidence—and evidence has been quoted in other places—of victims' statements being handed around in prison afterwards.
Outside the criminal justice system, victim support schemes exist in many places, do good work and are widely used by the police. We have not heard from the Minister whether he intends to give those schemes the resources that they need. Another £200,000 is needed this year to enable them to continue and, if we are to implement some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, at least another £2 million or £3 million will be needed next year.
The gaps that exist in procedures for dealing with the families of murder victims have been brought home to me by what happened to a family in my constituency. I have talked to those people, who feel completely abandoned by the criminal justice system. They were unable to get information about why bail was granted to one of the accused. They could not find out what had happened and, when I asked, I was refused the information by the Recorder of London.
There is a problem for the families of victims in cases like that. They are not direct victims of the crime or material witnesses—they are not directly involved—but certainly in the case of relatives of homicide victims there are great gaps in the support given to them. There are supposed to be "victims of crime" leaflets and the victims charter, but they are not always issued by the police and are often of not much use in such cases. Also, families in that position may feel that the police are not the people who should provide such support. There is a need for organised and easily available bereavement counselling for families who are affected by homicide.
I hope that the Home Office will look at some of those issues and will follow through what the Home Secretary said when he accepted the recommendations of the royal commission. I hope that he will act on those recommendations and find the necessary resources.
If a map was drawn of areas of deprivation in London, and a map was drawn of where crime is committed in London, they would fit nicely together. The conditions that are the breeding ground for crime are the conditions in which the victims of crime have to live. There are streets and council estates in London where drug dealing openly goes on. What are teenagers supposed to think? They are unemployed; they have no prospect of work, no money and no youth services any more, and their parents are struggling to survive.
In the midst of all that, who do they see as the only people with money? The drug dealers and the burglars are 393 the only people who are examples of success. Is it surprising, in such circumstances, that some people are tempted and drawn into dealing in drugs, and then drawn into burglary and street robbery to pay for their drugs habit? I do not condone the individuals who commit that sort of crime, but we should not be surprised when it happens. When it does happen, the victims in the main are people who are already deprived.
The Government's answer seems to be that we put more people in prison. We heard that view expressed by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon). Secure places have not been provided for young offenders and some of the secure accommodation which now exists is in danger of being shut down. We are told that, for people who are slightly older, the answer is to put them in prison.
Recently I read a report in a local newspaper of a speech by a magistrates clerk to a Magistrates Association conference. He said:There is no surer way of manufacturing criminals than by sending boys in their teens to prison.He went on to say:It used to be said that a magistrate's job was to send people to prison, but they were changing that. In these days it was becoming more and more apparent that their job was to try to effect reform without recourse to prison.That was in a newspaper that I found recently among some old effects of my mother's dated 9 July 1937. It seems that some people have learnt very little in the past 60 years about the way in which we should deal with crime.
However, unless changes in the criminal justice system are matched by support for projects that try to prevent crime—projects organised by the police, local authorities and voluntary agencies—and by action to tackle some of the causes, such as unemployment, poor housing and the poverty that now exists in many parts of our inner cities, the change in the criminal justice system will be ineffective. We shall be back here in a year or two, with another Minister presenting another Bill and another change of direction; in the meantime, crime levels will have risen yet again.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
I am delighted to take part in this important debate. We all agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) said about relevant education. We have seen the introduction of general national vocational qualifications and the placing of a greater bias on vocational education to make education more relevant. That is entirely right, but the fact remains that there is no excuse for criminal behaviour.
One school of thought holds that we should have more understanding of the criminal mentality and that, if a person does something wrong, it does not matter because society will understand. However—as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) pointed out—so many crimes have now been committed that society has had enough.
I, too, have had enough. I am sick and tired of opening my newspaper in the morning and seeing headlines such asSex trap teenagers try to burn a wife to death",or "Playground rape", which headed a story about a girl of 11 being pounced on by young schoolmates. Another such headline wasPC and drug dealer shot".394 I am sure that we all remember the incident in which PC Patrick Dunne was shot. A story about a young girl of 15 was headedKnifed seven times as she fed pet horses".We have all had enough of reading such stories in the newspapers.
I was delighted when the Home Secretary announced, at the party conference, 27 measures to tackle the increasing trend of lawlessness. We should realise, however, that that trend is taking place in other countries as well; we should also recognise that 95 per cent. of crime in this country is committed against property. I myself have been a victim: my car was broken into twice in one week this year. I am very pleased that the Government are to take stronger action in regard to law and order.
I was delighted to hear the announcement about bail bandits, as that is one of the issues that interest me particularly. I recently held three public meetings in my constituency, all of which were well attended. At two of them I was handed petitions containing a total of 4,500 signatures, saying that people wanted to see the action that my right hon. and learned Friend is now taking. They were especially concerned about the granting of bail.
On Friday night, I talked to a gentleman who works in a bail hostel. He told me that one of the inmates had left the hostel and stolen a car. Having been caught by the police, he was bailed again. Next day he had stolen another vehicle, done a ram raid and crashed it. Someone could have been killed. Only then was that person given a custodial sentence. We need to tackle the problem of criminals who use and abuse the privilege of bail, continuing their career of crime.
At one of my local meetings, police described the career of one criminal over a 12-month period. He was bailed no fewer than eight times and during those 12 months—often when he was on bail—he committed 215 crimes. Such activity must be stopped.
One message came over loud and clear from my town hall meetings. Those who attended backed the Home Secretary's aim to build more prisons and want persistent offenders to be imprisoned. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East said, at least when such people are in prison we know that they are not out on the streets committing crimes. At present, unfortunately, too much crime is being committed by young offenders. Some are only 12 or even younger, but those aged between 12 and 14 will now be treated properly: they can be sent to detention centres. Not only will they be kept off the streets, which is important; they will be given the discipline that was lacking at home and the education that did not interest them at school.
I am disturbed by stories of young criminals who, when they are finally detected and taken to court, are given holidays abroad. One newspaper described a teenager who turned to crime and who—to his mother's horror—was "sentenced" to a holiday abroad. She said:It's scandalous. He was doing really well until he got it into his head that he would get motorbikes, skiing trips and foreign holidays if he was bad. He broke into a pub cellar and took alcohol. He also did £2,000 damage at a children's centre. He sees what others in care are getting and he wants the same.An idea is going around that such people can be sent on holiday abroad and that they will come back converted to the straight and narrow.
The same page of that newspaper told us:A teenage car thief who had an 11-week holiday in Portugal is on the run from council care.395 The holiday has cost £20,000. Such activity is an affront to the victims of crime, who want criminals to be put into detention centres or given custodial sentences. They have little truck with the slogan "Commit a crime and win a holiday", or the slogan "Commit a crime and get motoring lessons". That is the last development that we want.
We could all do much more to help reduce crime. I cannot speak too highly of my own Lancashire constabulary, who are working partnership with industry and schools to great effect. They are also operating a car watch scheme, which is being partly sponsored by Bradford and Bingley building society. More than 120,000 Lancashire car owners are taking part in the scheme: they display a luminous sticker and may well be stopped by police between midnight and 5 am. The arrangement is working extremely well.
We want more people to be involved in the special police force, which is being increased to 30,000. The last thing that we want is for people to become self-styled vigilantes, going around the country to track down crime on their own. They have the opportunity to adopt a role in the special force and to become involved in neighbourhood watch schemes. We now have 115,000 such schemes, covering 5 million homes. They are extremely successful and allow residents to take part in the detection of the crimes described earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East.
As one who represents a rural constituency, I was delighted when my right hon. and learned Friend made his announcement about parish constables. That will enable people in rural areas to help the police to detect the crime that has, unfortunately, been increasing in such areas because of improved infrastructure. It is possible to enter constituencies such as mine from one of the major cities in the north-west, after a 45-minute drive, and to perpetrate a crime; the stolen goods could be offered in a car-boot sale back in the city in a very short time. We need to support the police and we are doing so, in particular, with the announcement of the extended batons.
I am fed up with the rhetoric of Opposition Members. They talk about law and order as though they care. The Labour party manifesto at the general election devoted 155 words to law and order. That is how much they care about cracking down on crime. In debates on the measures that we have passed to crack down on crime, all that we have heard from Opposition Members has been rhetoric and how much they feel for the victims and they have voted time and again against the sort of measures that we need to introduce. I should be interested to see whether Labour Members and especially the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) follow us into the Lobbies when the Home Secretary's proposals are introduced because I suspect that the hon. Member for Sedgefield will think again of all sorts of reasons why he was unable to support the new legislation that we need.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
One basic principle of government over the past fourteen and a half years has been the process of centralisation. The Government have consistently put democratically accountable bodies and independent services under Westminster control, either by inserting their own placemen or through 396 more drastic restructuring. It is not surprising that there is more of the same in the 1993–94 programme. The programme is not "back to basics", but more of the same.
I shall briefly consider one quango that would be created under the proposed legislation and one body that is to be quangoised and I shall ask why a third is missing from the plans.
Having spent the largest slice of my professional life in the training of graduate science teachers, I shall raise two serious concerns about the new quango—the teacher training agency. Can it maintain a proper balance between classroom experience and the knowledge and understanding of educational issues—essential to becoming an effective teacher—in the initial training of teachers? Some have suggested that the teacher training agency is primarily a mechanism, through emphasis on school-based enterprise, to provide additional funding for grant-maintained schools.
Emphasis on school practice is important. Anyone who has been in the teacher training business—I was at the university of Leeds for many years—knows that over recent years there has been a consistent increase in the amount of work in schools and an increase in the breadth of experience as a result of students working in different sorts of educational institutions. Partnerships have developed between schools and universities and between schools and colleges, and those partnerships have proved fruitful in developing teacher training. However, a wholly school-based consortium may tip the balance too far and it would need a partner in higher education to maintain balanced training.
Of still greater concern is the control of research. The concept of giving research funding to the teacher training agency is quite disturbing. Research funding given to the agency must deal with issues relevant to initial teacher training. How wide is that remit? Will there be research into the psychology of learning, the motivation of teachers, the supply of teachers and the choices of sixth form students? Those topics are not directly related to initial teacher training and are not its focus, but they impact on it. One has to be careful when one has a research funding body, because inevitably it is liable to impinge on academic freedom. There is great danger in setting up an agency that funds research and is able to specify what areas of research it feels are desirable. One may well get Government-directed research that will conclude what the Government desire.
Having led a council and having been a member of its police authority, I am appalled by the changes proposed for police authorities. I noted the comments made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), the adviser to the Police Federation, who raised the issue of police authorities and correctly stated that chief constables were unhappy about the proposals and about changing the process of democratic accountability. There are a number of examples of events in West Yorkshire that were more easily dealt with as a result of elected members of the police authority having credibility with the public.
Those responsible for drafting the proposed legislation should carefully consider the aftermath of the Yorkshire ripper case. I had not long been in the job of leader of the authority when the case came to its conclusion and Peter Sutcliffe was sentenced. The Home Office must consider the analysis of the failings of the detection work, as it was eventually chance that led to his identification. As an 397 authority member, I had access to reports which are available to the Home Office but are still not generally available.
New technology was implemented as a result of the analysis of those failings, and changes were made at the top. We were able to talk sensibly with the then Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw. It was a proper co-operation between central and local government. Because of the public focus on the issue, having a democratically accountable authority was extremely important. West Yorkshire introduced community policing well before it was the norm or was encouraged by the Government.
The Home Office should also consider the policing of the miners' strike and compare events in West Yorkshire with those to the south of us and in the east midlands. People should consider why, in West Yorkshire, there was little violence and few of the problems that hit the national headlines. Sir Cohn Sampson was a superb chief constable of West Yorkshire at that time and every week he met democratically elected members of the police authority. Those meetings were also attended by Jack Taylor, then president of the Yorkshire branch of the National Union of Mineworkers, and representatives of the British Coal Board. We talked through likely problems and how to deal with them.
We had a police authority that was credible in the eyes of police and credible in the eyes of the public, because it was operated by democratically elected members. Ken Davison, the Tory spokesperson on police—and a business man and therefore "acceptable"—disapproved of magistrates being on police authorities and said that those authorities were unelected, unrepresentative, unaccountable and and affront to democracy. How much more would that be true of Government appointees? It will be extremely difficult to facilitate effective policing with the consent of the community if an authority is set up along the lines suggested.
Lastly, why is it that the part of the royal commission report that deals with miscarriages of justice is not being dealt with? That would be a devolution of Government decision-making and would be most desirable. People should study recommendations 331 to 337 in the report, together with recommendations 316 and 317.
I have spent a great deal of time during the past year and a half dealing with the problems of a constituent, Alan Dodson, who maintains his innocence—and who has been maintaining his innocence for the seven years he has been in prison. Because of that, he does not qualify for parole. I recognise the seriousness of the problem and I believe that recommendation 317 should be followed.
§ Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester)
I want to begin my brief contribution with a revelation. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer first arrived at the Treasury, I had the temerity to offer him some advice on his first Budget. I said, "Chancellor, on 30 November why do you not simply get up and say that the recovery is coming along, we have had some encouraging figures recently, we had a very full Budget earlier in the year, steady as she goes, thank you very much—and sit down." The House will have to wait just seven days to discover whether he has taken my advice.
398 Sadly, I do not have comparable access to Her Majesty, although my advice to her on the Queen's Speech would have been similar. We have a great deal of legislation; perhaps we have too much. Certainly, we need to think carefully before we introduce more. A century ago, we would have had a much slimmer Queen's Speech and passed much less legislation. Were we noticeably less well governed then?
This year, we have a substantial Queen's Speech, and rightly so. However, if next year's Queen's Speech is slimmer, I hope that we will not feel obliged to apologise for that. I am a believer in the old Tory adage that if it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. In government, as well as in other fields of endeavour, there are times when less means more.
This Queen's Speech is very full. It is precisely because nowhere does it propose change for change's sake that I welcome it. Every aspect of it goes with the grain of the aspirations of my constituents—
§ Mr. Brandreth
I talk to my constituents regularly. I have my finger on the pulse of my constituency. That is why I am here now and will be for generations to come.
It is self-evident that we need to sort out the muddle on Sunday trading. It is clear that our education reforms must include improving the quality of teacher training and a much greater emphasis on teacher training in the classroom. We all know that businesses, large and small —but especially small—are crying out for deregulation. As well as repealing unnecessary regulations, we need to tame unnecessarily officious regulators.
Central to today's debate and to the Queen's Speech is the concern with law and order. That is rightly so, because that is central to the concerns of my constituents and, indeed, the constituents of all hon. Members. Judging from my postbag, from meetings and from casual conversations, our constituents are more concerned about the growth in crime and the growth in the fear of crime than they are about anything else.
The proposed criminal justice Bill will do much to correct the balance between victim and defendant. It will end the so-called right to silence. It will allow courts to send persistent offenders between the ages of 12 and 14 to secure centres. It will give the police additional powers to tackle the so-called bail bandits—those who persistently re-offend while on bail and who are responsible for 50,000 crimes a year. In particular, I welcome the proposed measure to take DNA samples from anyone detained or convicted in connection with a recordable offence. That will safeguard the innocent, while helping to secure the conviction of the guilty.
All that makes sense. Indeed, much of it is common sense. However, it is also common sense to recognise that those measures alone will not solve all the problems overnight. They represent an important move in the right direction; they sensibly attack specific problems in specific ways; and they are focused and necessary. They may riot stem the rising tide of crime at a stroke, but they will tackle real problems realistically. An essential part of a policy that puts the victim before the criminal is that even the most tolerant society cannot tolerate crime and must be intolerant of the persistent criminal. 399 Notwithstanding the views of the Labour party, there is no simplistic diagnosis of the cancer of crime in our society —would that there were. Yet there are still Labour Members who claim that it is somehow due to unemployment and deprivation. That is insulting to those from areas of far greater deprivation and unemployment than our own, yet who never turn to crime. It is facile when we consider that much of the growth in crime has coincided with the growth in prosperity. In my constituency, unemployment today is 27 per cent. lower than it was five years ago, yet recorded crime is almost 27 per cent. higher.
Just as there is no easy diagnosis of the problem, so there is no quick-fix remedy. As well as the sensible proposals that will feature in the criminal justice Bill and the other measures announced during recent weeks by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, we need to speed up the process of justice. Many offenders are what is known as present dwellers; the connection between the offence and the punishment, which may come many months later, is too remote. We need to do everything we can to accelerate the operation of the criminal justice system.
We also need to do everything that we can in crime prevention. As a society, we cannot have it both ways. We cannot deplore, as people rightly do, anti-social behaviour among the young, hooliganism, vandalism, theft, under-age drinking and drug abuse, while denying those same young people the opportunities, leadership, sense of direction and sense of discipline that they need to help them to grow in the way in which we want them to grow.
No one becomes a criminal by chance; he becomes a criminal by choice. All of us at home, at school, in the media, through the Churches and with the police can influence that choice. Many positive things can be done and I shall give hon. Members just a taste of what is being achieved in my part of the world.
This summer, on a particularly difficult estate, the Cheshire constabulary introduced a community leaders award course. It trained young members of the community to organise voluntary sports activities for the youth of their own community. The effect was a fall of 22 per cent. in recorded crime on the estate compared with the level in the summer of 1992. Even more important, there has been a sustained reduction in the amount of crime on the estate since then. That is not some do-gooder's daydream; it is cheap and effective and is happening now.
That is what the Central Council of Physical Recreation's community sports leaders award scheme is all about. It is a reminder that we do not need to throw up our hands in despair.
My constituents regularly say to me, "Something must be done." Something is being done. Sadly, we do not know what the Opposition would do because they will not tell us. They had the opportunity to do so today, but they did not take it. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) was long on adumbration—
§ Mr. Brandreth
Indeed. The word was well chosen by the hon. Member for Sedgefield, who may be aware that the first definition of "adumbration" in the "Oxford English Dictionary" is "to indicate faintly". He chose his 400 words precisely. He was woefully short on detail and offered only faint-hearted waffle—unspecific, uncosted and consequently unconvincing.
§ Mr. Brandreth
The hon. Gentleman has a fine way with words. "Rubbish" is how he sums up his hon. Friend's contribution.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, by contrast—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I merely intervened to say that sedentary interruptions can lead to confusion.
§ Mr. Brandreth
The one thing about which there can be no confusion is that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is anything but faint-hearted. He knows what needs to be done. He knows that he is the man to do it and that he will have the support of the country as well as Conservative Members in all his endeavours.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)
I declare a potential financial interest in that I am currently discussing matters with a group of police officers and acting as their adviser. Although there has been no finalisation of an agreement yet, I feel that I ought to declare that.
I shall also take this opportunity to congratulate the Warwickshire constabulary on the effectiveness of its Operation Claw. It has begun an operation to deal with burglary in particular and with other types of crime that are escalating in our county. On the first day it arrested 71 people. A number of those people have been charged, and that operation will carry on throughout the year. I very much hope that it will be successful in reducing the escalating crime problem in our area.
It is my belief that, if every one of the Home Secretary's 27 proposals to the Conservative party conference was implemented tomorrow, they would barely dent the increase in crime over which the Conservative party has presided since it come to office in 1979.
In Warwickshire, the annual crime statistics have shown that crime has tripled in our county since the Government came to office. The figures for burglary and car theft have in fact quadrupled since they came to office. It is true that there are considerable crime problems in the inner cities. It is also fair to say that, historically, crime in some of the rural areas has been at a lower level than in some of the inner cities. But crime is now rising in rural areas such as mine at a far greater rate than it is in the inner cities. That must be addressed. I feel that it has not yet been addressed seriously by the Government. I do not believe that we will see any significant and serious fall in crime—certainly not down to 1979 levels—until the long-term causes of crime increase are addressed.
The all-party Home Affairs Select Committee considered the causes of crime in its report on juvenile crime this year. It concluded that there is an unquestionable link between unemployment, hopelessness and crime; indeed there is. There is also a link with deprivation and homelessness., I shall return to that issue in a moment. If we are to address crime seriously, we must address it as a whole. Unless we do that, the crime statistics will continue their inexorable rise.
It is right to say that there is no excuse for crime. Unemployment is not an excuse for committing a crime, 401 nor is deprivation or homelessness. It should not be said that they are excuses. They are causes. When that has been recognised, the Government must examine both ends of the line. They must look at the short term. They must look at punishment and enforcement and ensure that we have sufficient police officers on the beat to enforce the law. That means looking now at the short term—the criminal —and ensuring that we reduce the number of offences that are now being committed.
We must examine also the other end of the line. We must examine the reasons why those crime statistics are rising in the first place, and the causes of that offending. At the moment, the Government are interested only in looking at one side of the problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has described, the Government have a one-club policy. They do not look at the issue in the round or as a whole. We must not deal only with crime that is being committed now. We must look to a long-term reduction in the number of people committing crime.
The Labour party wants to look at both ends of the line. We want to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime. The Government's failure to recognise what that means shows that they will not succeed in reducing crime, even to the level at which they inherited it in 1979.
People are looking not only for punishment but for effective justice and long-term delivery of policies to reduce crime. That is why the Government are losing the argument on law and order. Because of their record, they are seen to be ineffective and short-term. They are going back over policies that failed during the past 14 years. If the Government are ever to succeed, why could they not have implemented those policies before? Why have they failed to deal with crime over the past 14 years?
The Government say that they are supporting the police. We have heard many promises of support for the police over many years. Where is the beef? Where are the policies? Police morale is now at the lowest level ever. Alan Eastwood, the former president of the Police Federation, said at its last conference that police morale was plummeting. That morale was dealt an even more serious blow by the Sheehy report.
Although the Government backed off from confrontation on some of its proposals, the Police Federation well knows that many of the proposals were shelved. Some of them have been put back to the police negotiations board for discussion over the next year. No doubt some of them will be resurrected at various stages while the Government remain in office.
The police, and the Police Federation in particular, have always regarded as far more dangerous to their morale, not the Sheehy report and its consequences, but the White Paper. They regard it as far more dangerous and insidious than they ever did the Sheehy report. They have rightly taken the view that the proposals in the White Paper could result in a sharp reduction in the number of police officers on the beat.
The general secretary of the Police Federation spoke to the all-party police group in the House only a few weeks ago. He argued that the Home Secretary's demand that the core role of the police is identified in the White Paper. The policy of having a fixed budget imposed on a chief constable with a lot of discretion as to how that budget is spent will involve a political appointee—the chairman of the police authority—standing over the chief constable throughout the period of his fixed-term contract to ensure that the policies of the Home Office are carried out.
402 That chief constable will be under increased financial pressure to reduce expenditure. The core role of the police officer is being identified and the concern, particularly of the Police Federation, is that when those core roles are identified, the non-core roles will be ripe for some kind of privatisation. That is why the general secretary of the Police Federation told the all-party police group that, by the end of the decade, he envisages that, if the proposals in the White Paper are implemented, the number of police constables will be reduced from 128,000 today to about 80,000 by the end of the decade.
The Government propose the political appointment of a chairman in every police authority. The Russian communist party had a way of ensuring that it kept control of its police. It appointed not a chief constable but a commissar who worked with the chief constable. We now have a Conservative Government appointing a Conservative commissar in every police authority in Britain in order to ensure that the cuts in police force expenditure desired by the Government will be carried out. That will result not in any reduction in crime but in a reduction in the number of police officers employed, a reduction in the number of police officers on the beat and an increase in crime in Britain.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
The proposals put before the Conservative party conference by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary mark a sea change in attitudes which it would be difficult to over-estimate. That is particularly clear with regard to penal policy. For far too long there has been an unholy, unwritten alliance, one might almost say a liberal agenda, between the Home Office and the Treasury. The Treasury does not like the idea of building prisons because it costs money and the ruling ethos of the Home Office was that it was not the done thing to want to lock people up anyway. For far too long Conservative Home Secretaries were able to take the rhetoric to the Conservative party conference, but when they tried to put that rhetoric into action the answer was, "Oh no, Minister, that couldn't possibly work."
There are many examples of that, but I shall name just one which illustrates not only the point but the difference between the parties on the point. The proposition that it should be possible to challenge in a higher court an over-lenient sentence makes self-evident common sense. Opposition Members now call for that in particular cases. But when the matter was first raised in the Home Office it was smartly squashed and it took considerable time for that policy to come through. It is a tribute to Home Secretaries since 1979 that, faced with such insidious insider opposition, they were able to do as much as they did.
It is all too easy for a liberal agenda to deride prison, saying that it does not cure or reform anyone and costs a great deal of money. It is obvious that when dealing with young offenders there must be an emphasis on reform and, on the basis that hope can sometimes triumph over experience, one can hope that the young people will emerge from whatever custodial sentence they have served in a better position not to reoffend than when they went in.
But in this day and age, if a convicted adult goes to prison he does so because he is a bad person. If such a person manages to reform, if he sees the light, that is fine, 403 but for the time being he goes there as a punishment and to be contained. The public can be sure and certain in the knowledge that while he is contained in prison he is not out on the streets offending again. For far too long such arguments put to us by our constituents were derided. It is a good thing that such beliefs are now informing penal policy.
The idea that sending a person to prison represents a failure for society is complete bunkum. When an individual commits an offence so serious that he has to be sent to prison, the blame and responsibility lie fairly and squarely with the individual, not with society.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made it clear when he announced his 27 propositions that they were only the first instalment. He was straightforward about that. It is important to realise that there are more instalments to come. In the short time available to me I shall suggest two particular areas for consideration.
The first is a natural extension of the abolition of the right of silence. It is remarkable that in this debate we should hear the Opposition deride the principle that the right to silence should be abolished. Any barrister or solicitor such as me, who practised criminal law for the best part of 20 years, knows that that rule was abused time and again. I abused it. I was asked by a defendant to advise him of his rights and, knowing his criminal record and the circumstances in which he had been apprehended, of course I told him to exercise his right to silence.
That was an abuse being perpetrated on society. It was not my fault; I was doing my duty as a solicitor advising that defendant on the laws of the kingdom. But it would be an abuse of society if, ultimately, the House did not abolish such a law. The abolition of the right to silence is long overdue and I welcome it.
There is a natural extension of that which I hope Ministers will consider in due course. It is this. How often have banisters or solicitors appearing in a criminal court seen a defendant acquitted by a jury who, before they are released, hear the judge say, "I understand that there are other matters now to come before me," and then find that, having acquitted someone on the one offence before them, that person has a criminal record as long as one's arm? On more occasions than I can now recall I have heard the gasp of disbelief from a jury when they hear the real background and circumstances of the character appearing in the dock before them.
Traditionally, lawyers told the humble populace that they could not possibly be given information about a criminal's previous convictions because there was no guarantee that the man was guilty on this occasion and they were far too unsophisticated to be able to make the necessary judgment and not jump to conclusions.
§ Mr. Nicholls
Not only, as my right hon. Friend so rightly says, is that patronising, but it is completely out of date. The mere fact that a person may have 20, 30 or 40 previous convictions for dishonesty does not mean that on another occasion he was dishonest as well, but surely that is information that a jury should have. I do not accept that, in this day and age, a British jury, properly directed by a competent judge, could not give that information the weight that it deserves. Except in the most exceptional 404 circumstances, to deny a jury knowledge of previous convictions should be considered in the second instalment of measures.
My next point concerns minimum sentences. I do not go along with the call for statutory fixed immovable minimum sentences for particular offences. That, for a range of reasons, cannot work. But, and it is an important but, surely it should be the House, comprising elected representatives of the people out there, which establishes the tariff for particular offences.
In particular circumstances, that tariff will have to be adjusted by the judge in charge of the trial, both increased and decreased, but what is so wrong in this day and age with the public, through speeches made by their Members of Parliament in the House, having a direct say in what a minimum sentence might be? Why should not the House say that, for instance, the tariff for a serious assault should be five years' imprisonment?
According to the circumstances of a particular case, the sentence might need to be more or less. It would be a good idea to allow the people who send us here to have a direct, but ultimately not all-deciding, say in the tariffs imposed. The judicial bench would benefit from knowing what our constituents think the minimum sentences should be in particular cases.
All that can be derided on the basis that we should be thinking not about that but about the causes of crime. Of course there are circumstances in which crime will thrive, but the truth about crime is that people are born with free will and some will opt for a wrong, not a right, course of action. However deprived people's social circumstances might be, some will choose a righteous option and others a wicked option. We can talk about the causes of crime until the cows come home, but that proposition will not be affected.
It is bizarre to hear Opposition Members claim to be tough on crime but at the same time talk as though the circumstances which might be a natural breeding ground for crime automatically justify people turning to crime. Perhaps the most pathetic illustration of that this evening was the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). If one were to ask the hon. Gentleman what he thought about any one of the suggestions that have been made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, the hon. Gentleman would have no idea. Either he could not think about the suggestions, or no one had told him about them. The House was none the wiser.
I asked the hon. Gentleman straighforwardly and slowly —I have debated with him before—what he thought was an appropriate way to deal with joyriders. He mumbled about some sort of community project, so that the joyriders could channel their energies into other things. That came from an hon. Member, the leader of whose party, when asked how he felt about the legislation of cannabis said that he was relaxed about it. That is certainly no sort of a lead to give. All that can be said about that speech was that it was consistent with every other one which the hon. Gentleman has made during the past 10 years.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) was doing well in the Department of Employment, and I am sorry that he is not still there. He seems to have gone astray in his beliefs.
405 On the question of law and order, the biggest lawbreakers during the past 10 years have been Tesco and the other large stores which have abused the Shops Act 1950 blatantly by trading illegally on Sundays. If any Home Secretary since 1986 had had any concern about law and order in this country, the first thing that he or she would have done would have been to ensure that the Act was enforced. Many requests have been made in the House, not only to the Home Secretary but to the Prime Minister and many others, in the hope that the Act would be enforced. When we talk about crime, we must remember that a lot of crime is committed in those shops which are illegally open. Since 1986, the Opposition have advocated, either by private Members' Bills or by pressure on the Government, that something be done to change the Act.
I had the luck to be drawn in the ballot immediately after the previous general election to introduce a Bill on Sunday trading on behalf of Keep Sunday Special. Unfortunately, the Bill did not have a response from the House on Report on May 14 and it collapsed. Therefore, I welcome today's statement from the Home Secretary. When the subject is debated on Second Reading, I will support the Bill so that we can examine the three options to replace the Act which will now be available to hon. Members.
It has taken the Government since 1986 to realise that options must be made available to the House. Hon. Members will recall that when the matter was debated previously in 1986, the Government were defeated on a proposal for total deregulation by 14 votes, despite having a majority of over 100. The Government are misguided if they think that hon. Members will have changed their minds since 1986 to the extent that they would agree to total deregulation.
There are no longer four options, as were included initially in the Bill, but three. That has resulted from negotiations involving Keep Sunday Special, the organisation that I support. That organisation is set up by a trust and it expects hon. Members who support it to go around the country advocating policies on their behalf. That is done without champagne breakfasts or lunches and without entertaining hon. Members at their party conferences. The hon. Members do it because of their conviction that there are millions of people who want to keep Sunday, as far as possible, a special day.
Those people have given their opinions to hon. Members. That was reflected by the fact that, on a Friday afternoon, 214 hon. Members came to the House to support my Bill on Sunday trading. I am sure that those hon. Members will be in the House again to support the measures suggested by the Keep Sunday Special campaign and RSAR, a group that is associated with the Marks and Spencer group.
The three options include total deregulation. Although the measure will be decided on a free vote, I am given to understand that the Prime Minister has declared publicly that he is in favour of total deregulation. There can be no doubt that Keep Sunday Special and the RSAR group will succeed with their option, because the Home Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and most of the Cabinet have already declared that they support total deregulation. I assume that, with all that support, the House will vote for the proposal from Keep Sunday Special.
I am concerned when reading the Bill about the offer from the Government of employment protection. I have 406 read and reread the Bill and it is being examined by a number of people regarding the implementation of the Government's proposals for employment protection. The Government must look again at the proposals. I realise that they have had since 1986 to consider what they could have offered on employment protection. The Opposition have asked continually and constantly for employment protection, and did so even in 1985–86 when the House debated the last attempt to provide total deregulation.
It is quite a change of heart for the Government now to be talking about protecting employees, when they have done away with wages councils and with the protection offered by trade unions since 1979. However, when it is a Government Bill about changing the laws on Sunday trading, they concede that they must provide some type of employment protection.
Something should have been done a long time ago about the lawbreakers who are spending millions of pounds to bribe hon. Members to acquiesce to their demands. They are not only bribing hon. Members, but they are blackmailing unions to change their allegiance to the option that they have given to Keep Sunday Special. The lawbreakers are threatening to tear up a properly negotiated agreement for 50,000 trade unionists if those union members were not prepared to acquiesce and agree to support the Shopping Hours Reform Council. That is nothing but blackmail, but, because of the pressure to retain their membership, the trade unions reluctantly conceded.
The Keep Sunday Special campaign and RSAR have agreed jointly that all shops should be able to open for the four Sundays before Christmas. The Keep Sunday Special campaign agreed reluctantly, but in the hope that the House would acknowledge the concessions that it has made since my Bill was presented. The first concession involved DIY stores being allowed to open, the second concerned garden centres being allowed to open with very little restriction and the third involved the extension of the size of shops in question from 1,500 sq ft to 3,000 sq ft. That is the size of the Chamber and should be sufficiently large for a convenience store. We have offered those concessions in the hope that the House will accept that we are trying to ensure that the demand from the public—if there is a demand—is met in what replaces the 1950 Act.
We believe that protection for shopworkers should extend not only to England and Wales but to Scotland and that double time should be paid to anyone who is expected to work on a Sunday.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate because it enables me to welcome warmly the priority that the Government have placed on law and order in the Gracious Speech and to welcome the individual proposals that embody that priority. In saying that, I am sure that I endorse and echo the views of my constituents who will also warmly welcome that priority. I look forward to the legislation that will undoubtedly follow and I hope that, when we consider that legislation, we shall do so in a constructive and realistic spirit.
I have been in this place only a short time, but it seems to me that we sometimes fall into two traps. The first is the use of slogans instead of arguments and the second is the creation of unnecessary and artificial divisions where there 407 should be none. Having listened to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), I believe that he fell into both traps. He is fond of the slogan, "Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime", but having listened to his analysis of those causes I am less than convinced. The longer he spoke about the causes of crime, the more I believed that he was engaging in a diversionary tactic in order to talk about anything but crime.
The hon. Gentleman betrayed the unsoundness of his knowledge of the subject when he said that crime began in the 1970s. He would do well to study the history of crime in this century. Crime was at a stable and low level, with only modest increases, until the middle of the 1950s. Since then, sadly, crime has increased unremittingly under Governments of every complexion. It is very hard to make a connection between the long-term increase in crime and social or economic factors such as unemployment, housing or education, all of which have improved considerably since then.
I also have misgivings about what the hon. Member for Sedgefield said about subcultures creating crime. He is misguided if he is trying to parcel together everyone who lives in inner-city conditions and in the least favoured areas. It needs to be said over and over again that the vast majority of people who live in such circumstances are decent, honest and law-abiding, and that crime is the activity of a minority.
If there is one statistic that is perhaps under-used in the debate on crime, it is that the vast majority of offences are committed by a very small proportion of offenders. Statistics from a recent Home Office study of offenders of a given age group revealed that 7 per cent. of them were responsible for nearly two thirds of crimes. I conclude that living in an inner city or in less advantaged circumstances does not inevitably mean that one turns to crime, but there is a greater likelihood in those conditions of being a victim of crime. Victims of crime are calling for tough action, and I believe that tough action is embodied in the Government's legislative programme.
People are not interested in an artificial debate about whether or not prison works. It is an artificial debate and a diversionary tactic which shows little familiarity with the way in which the sentencing system works. The public want measures to aid the police in detecting crime and in ensuring that criminals are then convicted and properly punished.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield wishes the public to take seriously his claim to be tough on crime. He will be judged on the extent to which he constructively supports the Government's proposals, on whether he supports the wider powers that the Government propose to give to the police and whether he supports DNA testing, all of which will help in the detection of crime. He will be judged on whether or not he supports the Government's proposals for dealing with offenders on bail. The Labour party has called for action. Will Labour Members support the measures or put forward their own constructive ideas? They will be judged on that, but they have said little about it today.
On punishment, I believe that the public will welcome the proposed measures to give the courts greater powers to deal with serious and persistent offenders, particularly young offenders. I warmly welcome the proposal for the secure training order which will improve the existing 408 sentencing powers of the courts. In the case of serious and persistent offenders under 15, the present powers are inadequate to protect the public, being limited to a supervision order with a condition. That is not sufficient for a minority of persistent young offenders.
I also welcome the proposal to increase the maximum sentence to young offender institutions for 15, 16 and 17-year-olds from 12 months to two years. That is a necessary step and will enable the courts to deal properly and satisfactorily with a number of serious offences, particularly those involving youngsters and motor cars.
The Opposition will be judged on the extent to which they support the measures. The measures stand on their own merit and together they constitute a package which shows our determination to tackle crime.
I mentioned that the current approach of the Labour party is limited to a slogan, but even that is more than the Liberal Democrats have produced. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) became agitated earlier in the debate and disputed the suggestion that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) had said that criminal justice was irrelevant.
I do not know what was in the Liberal Democrat press release, but I heard the right hon. Member for Yeovil responding to the Gracious Speech on Thursday, and he devoted far more time and priority to Bosnia then he did to the criminal justice system. Although the situation in Bosnia is serious and tragic, ordinary people in Britain are more concerned about law and order than they are about Bosnia. The right hon. Member for Yeovil said that he had been travelling up and down the country meeting ordinary people. If he is meeting ordinary people who are more concerned about Bosnia than they are about law and order, he has been meeting some pretty strange ordinary people. He is totally out of touch.
I hope that the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party will show a little more humility and constructive understanding of the problems of ordinary people. I challenge both Opposition parties on one particular issue. They have had to eat humble pie on the measure to increase the sentencing powers of the courts by giving the prosecution the right of appeal against over-lenient sentences. When it was first proposed, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) derided it as one of the 64 measures that he said were no good.
When the measure came before the House, the Labour party huffed and puffed. Although his predecessor opposed it tooth and nail, the hon. Member for Sedgefield has had to eat humble pie on that issue, so perhaps he will show a little humility on the Government's proposal to extend the right of the prosecution to appeal against over-lenient sentences for other serious offences. I hope that he does not have to eat humble pie again.
The criminal justice system is important. I endorse entirely the views of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). The public are interested in seeing that crime is detected, that criminals are brought to justice and convicted and that the sentences they receive deter them and others from committing further acts of crime. Ordinary people are crying out for tough action. We can use whatever phrases we like, but people are crying out for leadership and for a sign that those who make laws and decide policy are responding to their concerns.
This package and this priority for law and order respond full measure to that concern. If the hon. Member for 409 Sedgefield engages in a sterile, unproductive and unconstructive debate on the issue, the Labour party will suffer in the long run because Conservative Members are in tune with what ordinary people want. Ordinary people take the issue seriously, and so do we.
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
We have had an interesting debate in terms of what has been said inside and outside the House about the Government's policies on education and home affairs.
I was surprised during this evening's debate by the speech of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth). I can remember no hon. Member on either side of the House whose contribution has made the Secretary of State for Education appear to have a modest style, but the Secretary of State was outdone by the hon. Member.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The Secretary of State says that I must wait. He may not have heard that the hon. Member for City of Chester was promising to be with us for generations. I am not sure what that says about his education.
I welcome the fact that we are achieving a debate on education, although I do not welcome the contributions to education contained in the Queen's Speech. It has been appropriate to debate both home affairs and education, and I am glad that some of my hon. Friends have combined both areas of policy, because much interaction takes place, and much can be learned from the Government's mistakes in each area.
The Government's approach to crime and education shows great failure in their policies. Both issues highlight significant and growing public concern. The interests of individuals and the community should coincide on both issues, although the Government rarely adopt that approach. Hon. Members have shown that the Government's approach is equally inept and incompetent, whether they are trying to fight crime or improve educational standards. Indeed, they are no nearer to tackling the causes of crime than the causes of young people's under-achievement.
The Government still do not realise that the market cannot solve those problems. Nor has anything that I have heard today suggested that Ministers or Conservative Back Benchers consider spending on education as an investment that could reduce crime in the future. They do not seem to have made the basic link between investment in nursery education, in particular, and levels of crime later.
Most worrying is the fact that nothing in the Queen's Speech or the Prime Minister's remarks will improve our children's quality of education or standards of achievement. Last week, when the Queen's Speech should have provided positive proposals to improve education, what did Ministers do? They were too busy to do anything constructive about education, and instead were busy publishing league tables on truancy. Yet again, Ministers were showing that they would rather count a problem than try to tackle it. They proved that they could not even count properly.
Truancy is just one of the many problems to increase in recent years. Ministers sometimes express concern about the problem—quite rightly, because it is a serious issue —but seem to forget that they have been in office for 14 410 years. Whether we are discussing truancy, underachievement or discipline in schools, every child in school in Britain today has received all his or her education under a Conservative Government. The fact that the problems are growing and are so severe and so worrying demonstrates the complete failure of 14 years of Conservative government.
I want to consider some of the specific proposals in the Queen's Speech. The proposal on student unions is so irrelevant that the Conservative party could not even manage to mention it in its manifesto at the last election. It may have got the Secretary of State for Education a weak round of applause at the Conservative party conference, but it is irrelevant to any real problems that we face in education.
Student unions are worried that many of their activities —debating, drama and cultural societies, community action, student newspapers and even briefings to hon. Members—could be prohibited, and are definitely under threat from the proposals. Their fears are shared not only by Opposition Members, students and vice-chancellors, but by Conservative Members. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) mentioned, there is widespread agreement among vice-chancellors and students throughout higher education that the proposals will cause difficulties and are irrelevant.
Several Conservative Members are on record as saying that they are worried about the proposals. The hon. Members for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), and for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) who was in the Chamber earlier, have all expressed reservations. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) who has experience as a Minister, told the Secretary of State earlier that it was—I think I remember his words correctly—a small and distracting measure, and he warned of the law of unintended consequences. So I think that we can look forward to difficulties on that score if his predictions come true.
In one of the earlier debates on the Queen's Speech, the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Sir D. Knox) said:I may suggest for a start that the Bill to reform student unions be dropped. I do not think that it would be any great loss. That Bill would be like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Given the recent action taken by the National Union of Students, it is now unnecessary in any event."—[Official Report, 18 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 59.]Those are the views of Conservative Members. I trust that, if the Bill ever reaches this House—I understand that it is to start in another place—they will put their votes where their words are when it comes to a debate or vote. I only wish that the Government and Ministers had spent as much time concentrating on the real issues of student poverty and underfunding in higher education.
§ Mr. Forman
I believe that I am the only Conservative Member to whom the hon. Lady referred who is present in the Chamber. In case she did not have the benefit of listening closely to my speech, I should like to clarify that I made it clear that I am in favour of the voluntary principle. I have said that from the Dispatch Box and from the Back Benches. However, I want to see proposals that are as simple and workable as possible, because some of the long-term measures that our higher education system has to do in the next five or 10 years are vastly more important than this measure, although I support it.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman confirms that the measure is irrelevant and should be kicked into touch, and that Ministers should be concentrating on the real problems in education.
Far more important than the proposals for reform of student unions are the Government's half-baked, but thoroughly dangerous, proposals on teacher education. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington also referred to those proposals, with reservations.
An interesting announcement was made by Ministers this afternoon. Perhaps the fact that the Secretary of State did not choose to make that important announcement was even more interesting. The noble Baroness Blatch again stepped in, and determined or announced Government policy. We were told by the noble Baroness that the Department is to issue a new circular about funding courses for classroom assistants. That means, in coded terms, that the Government are dropping the idea of a "mums' army". That is an enormous U-turn, which ought to be welcomed by everyone who has the interests of our children at heart.
§ Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
I have some difficulty in understanding how one can do a U-turn on what was a consultation document and nothing more. All that my right hon. Friend has done is listen and consult. He is a listening Secretary of State, who has taken on board the representations made to him.
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman always had a sense of humour, and we appreciate his attempts, yet again, to rescue the Secretary of State. Time and again, when Ministers have not wanted to appear on television programmes or debate the issues, whom did they send but the valiant hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth? Time and time again, he tries to rescue them. On this occasion, rescuing the Secretary of State is too much even for the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, not least because no one—but no one—supported the barmy idea in the first place.
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend suggested one person who might have supported the idea, but perhaps the less said about that barmy idea and its supporters the better.
I hope that the Secretary of State will use the debate this evening to confirm that that climb-down is the end—not the postponement—of any such crackpot proposals. I hope that he will learn some lessons from the whole sorry exercise, because it is not just a question of consulting and of being willing to listen: that idea should not have seen the light of day in the first place. I think that the first signs of retreat, which were seen in the summer months when the Secretary of State was away because he was unwell, were made by the noble Baroness. I am glad that she won, but where does it leave the Secretary of State?
I welcome the reconversion of Ministers to the principle that teaching should be a graduate profession. I hold out some hope that perhaps, if the Bill comes before us, we shall be able to explore another idea that the noble Baroness has said she might be willing to consider—the need for a general teaching council. There are, however, still proposals for change before us, and legislation before us about teacher education.
412 My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) pointed out that the Queen's Speech mentions the Government making new arrangements for teacher training. I agree with him that it is indicative that they are not using the words "teacher education", but I shall point out another problem with the wording in that section of the Queen's Speech, which shows the priorities of Ministers. The speech says:My Government will introduce legislation to establish new arrangements for funding teacher training in England and Wales".There is no mention of improving quality, but only the word "funding". If we were trying to introduce measures to improve quality, we might all be able to make some progress.
Ministers want more school-based teacher training, and obviously, as several of my hon. Friends, and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, have said, there has to be a balance between elements of higher education and elements of practical experience. However, what worries us especially is the Secretary of State's keenness to talk about a trendy establishment that he seems to think holds such sway in schools throughout the land. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) says, that is drivel, but the Secretary of State continues to repeat those allegations.
The right hon. Gentleman is clearly wrong. He frequently says that he often goes into schools, although I suspect that he cannot do so as often as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West. If the Secretary of State spends so much time in schools, I do not know where he finds all those trendy 1960s people—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield suggests that the Secretary of State looks like a trendy 1960s person, but, although the right hon. Gentleman would like to have been one, he probably never quite made it.
Even if the Secretary of State is right, and our schools are staffed by people educated and trained by the "trendy education establishment", what is the Government's solution to that problem? Ministers want to let the teachers they criticise—those supposed incompetents—to teach not only our children but the next generation of teachers as well. If today's teachers are so bad, why put them in charge of tomorrow's teachers? If there were really a problem, that would only reinforce it.
Last week, I attended a reception at which the Secretary of State spoke. I believe that he surprised everybody there by making the announcement, unusually for him, that change in education could come about only slowly. Coming from a Government who have introduced so many pieces of legislation, and have changed one lot of regulations before the previous lot have been implemented, that was a surprising statement. But the Secretary of State made it, so I do not understand why he is now introducing panic measures.
A pilot scheme was announced in March, then a White Paper was published on 7 September, to which responses had to be submitted by 1 November. Today we are hearing the details of a Bill to be published tomorrow. Presumably that is the Secretary of State's idea of slow, proper preparation. Ministers have still not learned the basic problems caused by such hasty decisions.
There is a great deal wrong with what the Government are trying to do. Several of my hon. Friends have pointed out the difficulties of getting the balance right, not only because trainee teachers need experience of higher 413 education, but because of the burdens that would be placed on schools if they tried to take on all the training of our teachers.
I welcome the Government's retreat on the "mums' army", but Ministers have a long way to go before they can convince any of us that they have learnt from the blunders of the past year. The Government, and especially the Secretary of State, have a bad record of hasty experiments, and of gambling with our children's future.
One of my main complaints about the Queen's Speech concerns not only what it says but what if fails to say. Some omissions are tragic, because so much needs to be done in education today. Much of that was recently highlighted by the National Commission on Education, whose establishment was welcomed by the Prime Minister.
Therefore, it is surprising that the Secretary of State for Education was so quick to condemn and describe as "rubbish" the commission's recommendations. The commission said that there was a need to move away from confrontation and towards consensus. There is consensus on many education issues, but unfortunately the Secretary of State isolates himself from all the parents, governors and teachers who know which way we should go.
I thought that we were beginning to make some progress, because yesterday we seemed to have scored a famous victory by winning over the Prime Minister to one of our most prized policies. The Daily Express headline stated:Nursery place for every three and four-year-old.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Secretary of State was raised by hand by the Jesuits, one of whose maxims is, "Give me a child until the age of seven and I will give you the man." Does my hon. Friend agree that the Jesuits got it right but that their illustrious pupil, the Secretary of State, has got it wrong?
§ Mrs. Taylor
All the evidence is that the early years are the most critical for any child. I hope that the Secretary of State will announce another U-turn on Government policy by telling us that he accepts this approach and will give a new, direct commitment. However, I am not sure about that, because, while the Prime Minister has stated his position, we also have the views of the Chancellor when he was Secretary of State for Education. He said:Enthusiasm for nurseries is very middle class.I did not realise that Ministers were so against the middle class, but that was how the Chancellor dismissed nurseries. He went on to describe as rubbish the commitment by the previous Prime Minister that was made more than 20 years ago.
Why has the Secretary of State been so quiet on this issue? At Question Time, it is always the junior Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Schools, who answers on his behalf. The junior Minister refused to acknowledge that nursery education for three and four-year-olds was the best start we could give our children. He said that I was obsessed with nursery education. I am happy to plead guilty to that.
The item in the Daily Express refers to the Prime Minister's plan, not speculation, for creating 1 million places and calls it the biggest schools revolution this century. It states that the Prime Minister is very keen to provide nursery education for all three-year-olds and above. It says that he is mad keen on it all. I did not realise that my obsession with nursery education was shared by the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Don Foster
After that article appeared, I wrote to the Prime Minister. I congratulated him, and said that I entirely supported the views that were expressed in the article. Just half an hour ago, I received a letter from 10 Downing street in which the Prime Minister's private secretary informs me that he has passed the letter to the Secretary of State for him to reply.
§ Mrs. Taylor
In that case, in a few minutes the Secretary of State will be able to reply to that letter as well as to my questions. I hope that he will give us some clear answers, because there is not just a link between educational achievement and nursery education but a serious and important link between nursery education and crime, which was pointed out by the chief constable of Thames Valley police recently. He said:We really have got to start looking at this. It is really important hard evidence of something that works. Pre-school education is very important. It is at that stage that children learn habits. They learn right and wrong and life skills, so that when they get into school they can grasp what the school is teaching them and grow up as mature adults. If they don't, when they get to school, they are lost and just become completely alienated from society and that is where crime starts.All of us, in the Chamber and in the country, have a vested interest in putting money into nursery education so that we can provide the best for our children and expect the best from them. If we neglect early education, as the Government have done, we shall all pay a significant price for that failure.
§ The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)
We have had an excellent and wide-ranging debate, and I shall do my best to reply to as many points as I can in the 25 minutes that I have.
I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) on an exceptionally important speech on the future of the Province. My right hon. and learned Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland were on the Bench to listen to his speech, which was important to those of us who were lucky enough to hear it, and will deepen with significance as people read it.
I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind personal words in my direction. He knows that, like many others on the Government Benches, I am deeply devoted to the Province and all its people. We wish to do all we can to help that part of the kingdom, which we want to see as peaceful, happy and contented as the rest. Speaking as Secretary of State for Education, I feel that we in England can learn some things from Northern Ireland.
We had a first eleven of speeches from my hon. Friends, kicked off by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). I shall return to answer two of his questions specifically. He was followed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale), for Beverley (Mr. Cran)—he made all too short a speech—and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), who made a characteristic speech. She was right to highlight the connection between drugs and crime, which I know is high on the agenda of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
I was extremely interested to hear the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby). 415 I shall be glad to relay to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary my hon. Friend's welcome for his important announcement about side-handled batons.
We also had excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who was in characteristic forthright style. We also had a tip-top performance from that genuinely subfuse character, my hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Brandreth).
Almost last but not least, we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls). What he had to say about individuals' responsibilities and making, at quite a young age, the choice about growing straight or crooked was worth repeating. Last but not least, we had my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who spoke with vim and verve for 10 minutes without a note. I wish that he could have spoken for longer.
Today's debate has ranged from home affairs to education, and we have touched on Sunday trading, which will be an interesting episode when we have a vote or two on it. First, I will concentrate on education issues, and I will then move on to home affairs—in particular to the points made by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). I had not heard him speak before; I will explain my reaction to his speech a bit nearer 10 pm.
Our Education Bill has been introduced in another place today, and will be published tomorrow. I have written to hon. Members in England about its main provisions and the very important announcement I made today about primary teaching. The Bill is modest in size, much more so than the important monster that was taken through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools.
The letter from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has been passed to me. I will pass it on to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools to answer, because he is the expert on these issues.
Although the Bill is modest in size, it tackles areas of great importance, and takes forward the key principles that have informed all our education reforms: quality, diversity, choice and accountability. Those are the four themes that have underlined our education reforms since 1988.
Teacher training is an important issue. If I could wind the clock back 14 years to 1979, I wish we had started with the reform of teacher training. That would have given us a firm foundation for many of the changes that we have made in education. We may have left that for a little while, but we will put it right in the next few months. The Bill will start shortly in another place and then come to the House.
As for teacher training, the new agency will bring together the work of funding all types of courses. It will provide full and up-to-date information about routes into teaching, and accrediting those offering courses. It will be required to put the quality of teacher training at the heart of its funding decisions. In future, we will link the quality of teacher training to the funding of teacher training, and quite rightly so.
The Teacher Training Agency will encourage diversity by supporting courses run by schools as well as by higher education. In a moment, I will turn to the point about higher education that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington.
416 Those courses will be supported as long as they meet the standards set by the Secretary of State, and will be monitored by the independent education inspectorate Ofsted, which is an entirely independent department of state, free from the direct control of any Secretary of State.
There will be an increasing choice of courses of differing lengths and design, as well as courses provided by different bodies. All those conducting such courses will be held accountable for the quality of what they provide, with the accreditation given by the agency, and will be subject to review in the light of inspection evidence.
I see that the Official Ulster Unionist Benches are now filling up. I am afraid that the hon. Gentlemen are too late to hear the compliments that I have paid to their leader, and they will be able to read them in Hansard tomorrow, but they can obtain videos, which are freely available.
§ Mr. Patten
I will not give way. The hon. Lady made a frivolous speech, and I will not give her the opportunity to make a frivolous intervention.
Speaking of frivolous speeches, where is the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who made a totally ludicrous speech? He does not have the courtesy to turn up and represent the Liberal party, which shows the contempt that the Liberal party have for the parliamentary process.
§ Mr. Patten
The hon. Gentleman should sit down; he had his moment in the sun earlier. He should go and find his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland.
The reform of teacher training courses is already in hand. The new agency, with its statutory objectives of higher standards of teaching, the promotion of teaching as a career—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I have the feeling that it is a point of frustration, but I must listen to it.
§ Mr. Foster
Would it not have been more appropriate for the Secretary of State for Education to give way in order to enable me to explain that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland has left the Chamber in order to go to bed because he is ill?
§ Mr. Patten
In that case, I wish the hon. Gentleman a return to full health. [Interruption.] In any event, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has just observed, the hon. Gentleman is normally allowed out only for the afternoon.
Higher-quality and more efficient training, and school involvement in that training, will give added impetus to the reforms. Let me tell my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington that we certainly support high-quality higher education institutions; provided that they meet the quality objectives, such institutions need not fear that they will have no role to play in the future.
The progress of reform was taken a step further today by my announcement of new standards for primary teacher training courses. We now have robust criteria for all primary and secondary courses, requiring more time in schools and allowing schools to play an active part in designing and running courses. I think that that will spread: 417 our schools contain many excellent teachers who—as can be seen by anyone who visits one of the consortia now carrying out teacher training under the experimental scheme—are full of enthusiasm for the new method of training in the schools themselves, as are their students. Serving teachers will be able to bring a practical and professional perspective to bear on training.
As I announced today, for primary teachers we have greatly increased the amount of time to be spent on the core subjects of the national curriculum. Within that framework, we want teacher training colleges to place special emphasis on the basic skills of reading and arithmetic. After all, it was Ofsted—the independent inspectorate—that found, according to a report that it published recently, that only about 50 per cent. of all new entrants to primary teaching felt that they were adequately prepared to teach reading at all. In many instances, that was after four years in a teacher training college.
We need to put that right, as a matter of urgency. [Interruption.] Opposition Members cannot even do decent joined-up shouting; the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) cannot even tell a joined-up joke about the Jesuits. I will tell him a few more behind the Chair after 10 pm
If children do not master the basic skills at an early age, they will never reach their full potential. New primary teachers really must have the best possible training, so that they can help to raise standards at this crucial stage of a child's education. The new circular builds on teacher training reforms that have already been introduced. Extensive consultation—to which I am very partial—has revealed strong support for a great emphasis on the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics. It has also revealed a great demand from mature, experienced people to embark on teaching and helping in our schools. 1 think we should welcome that.
The development of a new specialist teacher assistant certificate, which I have announced today, will ensure that mature people who are already making a valuable contribution as teacher assistants can extend their role by receiving specialist training—and, of course, gaining qualifications that can then be accredited towards the later gaining of qualified teacher status if they want. Such people play a very important role.
I represent quite a few students in Oxford. Over the years, I have become used to them and their doings. I have thought and consulted long and hard about our legislation on student unions, which was introduced today. Choice and acountability are the key aims of our student union reforms. We should remember that about half those entering universities this autumn are aged 24 and over: they are mature people, not people who have just left school.
We should also remember, with some pride, that this autumn about 70,000 extra students can be seen on our university campuses. We have created six or seven brand new universities this autumn. We should remember the Robbins principle, and the idea of open access for all. Over a 10 or I5-year period, a few universities were created, each containing 2,000 or 3,000 people. This autumn—thanks to Conservative Government policy—we have seen a massive expansion in university education. It is important that those entering universities—students of all ages—have the basic right to choose which all of us support.
We recognise that campus unions can provide some valuable services which should be accessible to all, with 418 public funding where necessary. However, we also want activities on a voluntary and opt-in basis. We wish to protect core services, while at the same time treating students—many of whom are adults—as adults, allowing them to choose whether to join a student union.
The proposals will also promote democratic and financial accountability in student unions by requiring universities and colleges to establish codes of practice governing their conduct. An important feature of those codes will be an appeals mechanism for students who feel that they are being unfairly treated by their student union. None of that is a threat to ordinary student activities. Of course, where public money is not available, individual students of all ages can make the choice to pay for the service or activity in which they wish to participate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington raised two important points in relation to the submission by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals—a body that he and I know well and respect —and asked me to tell the House why I am not able and not minded to accept its recommendations. I shall write to him at greater length and place a copy of my reply in the library so that all right hon. and hon. Members can see it.
§ Mr. Patten
It is a pleasure. It is all part of the service.
The CVCP has proposed building in charity law by developing existing guidelines on what constitutes inappropriate activity for a charitable organisation such as a student union. I am grateful to the CVCP for recognising that there is a need for reform. It is clear that we are at one on reforming student unions, but the CVCP approach would fail to satisfy two important Government policy objectives.
First, its proposals do not include the voluntary principle that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington and I share. Secondly, its approach would relieve universities and colleges of their responsibility for ensuring that student unions are fully accountable and operate according to a clear code of practice. Again, accountability would be lifted. For those two reasons, I have rejected the CVCP proposals, having considered them carefully.
It is moving to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Education to find such a high volume of correspondence from students who support our proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) received a letter on 18 November from the Wales area collegiate forum. It begins:Dear Mr. Boswell,I am writing to congratulate the Government on its commitment to the reforming of student unions as outlined in t he Queen's Speech on Thursday. May I also take this opportunity to thank both your staff and yourself for all the hard work that has been done in order for the proposals to be one step closer to the Statute Books.The chairman of the forum, Mr. Justin Powell-Tuck, from Lampeter, continues:I know I speak on behalf of all my members and for the silent majority of students who will welcome more freedom on their campus as well as the choice to join their student union or the NUS. Even some executive members of my student union at Lampeter secretly support the proposed changes which should end the dictatorial power, corruption, lack of competition and political representation within theirs and the parent organisations.
§ Mr. Patten
I am not giving way, Madam Speaker. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Dewsbury on many occasions in the past, but this afternoon I was given the chance to listen to the hon. Member for Sedgefield. I had never heard him speak before, and have been kept from him. I thought his mode of delivery rather charming. However, when I began to listen rather carefully, it became quite clear that he was spending all his time trying to reconcile his principles with left-wing policies with which he does not agree.
We listened to a very uncomfortable shadow Home Secretary. He sat demurely on the Bench and was a little camera shy during the opportunities provided by my right hon. and learned Friend to intervene in his speech. Indeed, he maintained his right to silence throughout almost the whole of my right hon. and learned Friend's speech.
There was thorough cross-questioning, and every time that the hon. Gentleman did get to his feet, we searched vainly for the substance of his comments. I could not work out where I had heard his answers before. Then I suddenly realised that we were looking at one of the creations of the hon. Member for Hartlepool when he was simply Mr. Mandelson, the Svengali of the Labour party. He was extremely fond of creating for the Labour party a number of public relations persons rather than a number of politicians.
When looking at and listening to the hon. Member for Sedgefield, I was also reminded of Senator Gary Hart. [Interruption.] Hon. Members must remember the question about Senator Hart—"Where's the beef?" It is quite clear—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Patten
It was quite clear—[Interruption.] Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) must desist.
§ Mr. Patten
There was no substance to the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield. There was no description of any Labour party policy on crime. It is clear that Sedgefield is a policy-free zone; it is a beef-free zone. I was puzzled why he should behave like that, when he is clearly not a stupid person—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are questioning the Secretary of State on the important policy issue of nursery education.
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is not questioning the Secretary of State on anything. The right hon. Gentleman is replying to the debate.
§ Mr. Patten
Indeed, Madam Speaker, you are not responsible for my answers.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield clearly is not a stupid person. Because he does not believe in anything he says, he does not say anything of substance about Labour's policy on law and order. Indeed, I do not think that he actually believes in Labour party policy any more. This afternoon we have seen the beginnings of an early middle-age political crisis—someone who has realised that he is in the wrong party. I have the authority of the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood), to say that we would happily consider an application from the hon. Member for Sedgefield to join us on this side of the House.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is really a Tory—and by the look on the face of the Labour party Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), he thinks so too. The hon. Member for Sedgefield should have seen the faces of those behind him when he was speaking this afternoon. They could see the words "Tory, Tory" coming out in bubbles around his head.
The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind. Either he throws himself behind left-wing policies and votes against my right hon. and learned Friend's important Bill, or he will have to do what he did on the 1991 Act, when he voted against longer prison sentences for violent and sex offenders, against an increase in the minimum time to be served by all prisoners, against tougher and extended supervision on release for violent and sex offenders and against parents being made more responsible for their children. The hon. Member for Sedgefield was against all those things. After his performance this afternoon, come back the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), all is forgiven.
We have had no serious response to the Gracious Speech from the Labour party this afternoon. We have had nothing of any substance at all. We have heard this afternoon the authentic voice of Britain's permanent party of opposition, able only to shout and squawk, unable at all to make any serious policy pronouncements. What a difference from the run-up to the first Attlee Government, when there was something on which to bite. What a difference from the noble Lord Wilson when he was leading the Labour party. At least they stood for something. At least they had some ideas.
We have seen both in the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield and certainly in the speech—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.