§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]10.30 pm
§ Mr. David Evans (Welwyn and Hatfield)
I regard it as a great honour that you, Madam Speaker, have decided to stay in the chair for this Adjournment debate.
Last October, I was present at the Conservative party conference in Blackpool to listen to a succession of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, make speeches based on the theme of "back to basics". Their speeches won rapturous applause and gained the widespread support of the public as this new, common sense approach instinctively appealed to the hearts and minds of all those present at the conference and the millions of people around the country who saw it on television, listened to it on the radio and read about it in the newspapers.
"Back to basics" rekindles the spirit of the nation and the desire for traditional values, standards, discipline and order—the foundations of a peaceful, successful and stable society. It promises a return to common sense—something that that lot over there do not have a clue about.
In the past few months, a number of embarrassments and tragedies have shaken our party. The press has had a field day and has had great satisfaction in linking these individual and personal cases of misconduct and tragedy to the broad approach of "back to basics". This has made some of my colleagues go wobbly. Some have even turned into spineless jellies, wittering on about dropping this new approach. What has happened to the traditional Conservative values of principle, loyalty and courage? We had the strength and determination to face up to the chaos of 1979 and of five years of socialism, so surely we have the backbone and grit to put recent events behind us and concentrate on the central theme—"back to basics".
The media, urged on by the wriggler from Monklands, East, cynically dismissed "back to basics" by saying that the public have no idea what it means. What a load of rubbish. The people of Welwyn Hatfield and of Britain know exactly what it means. There is a line in the sand separating right and wrong that my constituents understand—yes, all of them.
Let me share with the House the ten commandments of Welwyn Hatfield. The people of Welwyn Hatfield know when to say please and thank you, and when to raise their hats to a lady—an example not followed by one Opposition Member, who instead of raising his cap pulls it down over his ears. The people of Welwyn Hatfield also know that when a lady needs a seat, they get up and offer theirs.
Commandment Three: the people of Welwyn Hatfield know when to help an old lady or gentleman across the road. Four: they know how to wait their turn in the queue. Five: they know that drinking and driving is wrong. Six: they know that stealing is wrong. Seven: they know that rape is wrong. Eight: they know that murder is wrong. Nine: they know that adultery is wrong. Even you, Madam Speaker, told me to stick with Janice—and that is exactly what I intend to do.
My constituents want to know what has happened to the basic value of parental guidance and responsibility. In many of our cities some people have only to look out of their windows at night to see gangs of pint-sized Rambos thieving, raping or—even worse—murdering. Their parents have no idea, or simply do not care, where their 1048 children are and what they are up to. By adopting a negligent attitude towards the upbringing of their children, thousands of parents have walked away from all responsibility, leaving their children to face new experiences and challenges with no guidance, no assistance and no discipline.
Who do children have to look up to now? When I was a lad, I looked up to the village bobby, but today children no longer seem to have role models—or if they have the models are wholly inappropriate. An unsupervised child can quickly fall under the disturbing influence of the televisual media, and before we know it the child is trying to emulate the blood-curdling acts of robocop, the exterminator or some other pathological video nightmare bent on death and destruction.
Parental responsibility is such a basic value, but it is sadly lacking in many parents. So it is up to the Government to force parents to take an active role in the development of their children. I applaud the Home Secretary's recent announcement of £1,000 fines for parents whose children defy court orders. That might give them the incentive that they need to show a bit of responsibility and authority. I suggest that if that fails to work with the worst offenders, the Home Secretary should strengthen the law to place the parents of persistent offenders in gaol with their hooligan offspring. That would provide them with the perfect opportunity to spend a little quality time together, and it might just persuade those pathetic parents that bringing up a child is a privilege which involves parental duty and responsibility.
"Back to basics" applies not only to the home but to the school. In the 1960s, some trendy socialist intellectual with a breeze block for a brain came up with the idea that traditional teaching methods were out of date. Reading, writing and arithmetic were old hat, and discipline went out of the window, too. People said then—some people are still saying it now—that what kids need is to read about lesbians and homosexuals. They could not read Shakespeare because he was an heterosexual oppressor.
I am glad to see the Government going flat out to give parents more control of schools, so that slowly but surely they will return to the basics. The national curriculum will mean a return to sensible and practical subjects.
Discipline, however, is still a problem. Since the abolition of corporal punishment schools no longer have effective means of controlling unruly children. There is no deterrent. We constantly hear horrific reports of classroom riots, but measures over a long period have diminished the power and the authority of the teacher to the point where they are scared even to touch a child for fear of being suspended. There are even more reports of teachers being subject to violent physical and sexual abuse by their pupils. What is going wrong? Are we all going crackers?
When I was at school, the class would stand to attention when the teacher entered the room and lessons were conducted in silence. If a child got out of line, he got the cane. The problem is now that children do not know when they are out of line because in the classroom there is no line. Let us get "back to basics", as they are in Welwyn Hatfield.
The breakdown of values in the home and schools has spilled into the streets. What has happened to neighbourliness, decency and courtesy? We now live in a country where millions of people do not even acknowledge their next-door neighbour. Pensioners can lie dead in their homes for days before they are discovered. The words 1049 "please" and "thank you" are fast becoming extinct and the idea of giving up one's seat on the bus for a pensioner or a pregnant woman would not even register in many people's minds. What has happened to the concept of community pride? Why do not people get involved in local groups any more? Why have people stopped going to church? I hear that we have a new Bishop of Durham—one who believes in God, so that may help.
"Back to basics" means a return to the old community values where people looked out for each other and displayed a little care and attention to those around them. We in Welwyn Hatfield are doing just that. "Back to basics" means a crack down on crime and the Home Secretary needs to lead an all-out war on the growing army of street thieves, muggers, crack dealers, car-jackers, armed robbers, sex pests and joy riders. We have allowed that scum to run riot for too long because we have listened to silver-tongued softies who told us that crime was the fault of society, not of the individual. Lord Woolf tells us that if we are burgled, we should be punished. The message from that statement shows just how out of touch some judges are with the real world. I feel sorry for that particular Lord, because, clearly, he has caught—probably from that lot opposite—mad judge disease.
The softly, softly approach has not only failed but it has done more damage than anyone could imagine. By counselling and cosseting every criminal, we have failed to instil any understanding of right and wrong. There is no discipline, no order. The hooligans have no idea about the value of hard and honest work and of earning their way in society. Some social worker has told them that society has given them a bad deal of cards. Oh, yes, it is society's fault.
Now those little hoodlums arrogantly believe that they deserve the right to a nice house, a car, a TV, a video, expensive clothes and all the works, but without any of the hard work that brings those benefits. They prey on society like a pack of jackals. One only has to watch the video footage of cocky young criminals disguised in baseball caps and scarves, ram-raiding shops and then browsing round them as if they are on a Saturday afternoon shopping spree.
Talking about baseball caps and scarves, it reminds me of a silly old fool—no fool like an old fool—who dresses in disguise, lurks in bushes in Belgravia and helps cement that special relationship between Britain and the United States. When he gets the signal, he embraces all that is good in such a relationship. It is nice to know that the Prime Minister is not alone in wanting to improve our friendship with the Americans.
We punish little hooligans with community sentences. If that seems a little harsh, we give them a caution or possibly a holiday of a lifetime in Africa. Why not give Government cars to those convicted of joy riding?—[Interruption.] Some people say that we already do. Setting up secure units is the first step, but I should like to see a return to the birch—hang 'em, flog 'em. That might wipe the smug grin off the ugly faces of persistent offenders who have wreaked havoc on society and damaged prople's lives in the knowledge that they will not be punished.
"Back to basics" means a return to a law-abiding society, in which one can leave one's house during the day knowing that when one comes home it will be safe, arid in which people can walk safely at night without being terrified that they may be raped or mugged. Those who 1050 contemplate crossing the magic line should be fully aware that it takes only one false move and the law will fall down on them so hard that they will never do it again.
"Back to basics" means prosperity, low inflation, low costs, high productivity and a high-skill economy. If that lot over there had their way, it would mean a return to the bad old days of the 1960s and 1970s when the unions ruled the roost—beer and sandwiches at No. 10. They would sign us up to the social chapter, which would mean an inevitable return to the standard of living that we had in 1979 when we could not even bury our dead.
Building on Conservative values developed in the 1980s will create prosperity, enabling the work force to support those most in need: the old, the sick and the poor; not the lazy, the scroungers and the fiddlers who cream off billions of pounds in social security each year. "Back to basics" means new initiatives that will close off loopholes to the social security rat pack. I suggest here and now that we introduce identity cards.
"Back to basics" also applies to Ministers of the Crown, MPs, judges, headmasters, chief constables and other leading public servants who should set an example to the people they serve. As leading representatives of our nation, we are expected to keep certain standards. Nobody is perfect—that applies also to politicians. But when the line in the sand has been crossed and exposed to the public, it is time to go—goodbye and good riddance—not to hang on to office like some arrogant little schoolboy hanging on to a new toy. Standards in public life must be adhered to rigidly without exceptions or special circumstances. If we cannot keep up standards and set an example, why should we expect the public to do so? Any acceptance of double standards is an open invitation to moral anarchy.
It is high time that the Conservative party got the nation back to basics, which means a return to loyalty, integrity and decency. I am sick of certain individuals in my party sniping at our leadership from the shelter of television and radio stations. If they have not the guts to say what they have to say face to face, they should not say it at all.
In what is now all too often a pathetic attempt at political attack, the Opposition parties are attempting to associate "back to basics" with looking backwards. What a joke. We are not handcuffed to the unions; we do not bleat on about the social chapter; despite all their recent wriggling U-turns, we have no commitment to nationalisation in our party constitution. Labour Members have finally realised that, when they come up with an idea, it is consistently a vote loser, so they have stopped trying. They are bankrupt. However, I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has embraced the spirit of "back to basics" by scuttling off back to his roots in New Zealand. I wish that a few more would follow him. Perhaps the wriggler from Monklands, East might like to go back to Scotland where he lives and stay there.
The Labour party may still just about have some social policies, although it is hard to find them. The Lib Dems have none at all. They would do anything—and I mean anything—if they thought that they could get a vote out of it. Just wait for the European election campaign. It is Paddy the jock in Scotland; in Wales, it is Taffy through and through; and in England, it is all things to all men. They hit an all-time low in the Tower Hamlets local election when Paddy became Adolf and the Liberal Democrats projected themselves as the neo-Nazi party. They do not understand "back to basics" because they do not have a clue about real 1051 values, real standards, real decency and real politics. All they know about is crawling around in the politics of the sewer in their unscrupulous endeavour to get votes.
"Back to basics" means a return to our grassroots beliefs. The British people know what they are, and we know that they are right. We should not have let them slip away in the first place. We let the hippy has-beens and the trendies have their go and they funked it. Today, values and standards are constantly slipping to an all-time low. It is high time we reintroduced the traditional core values of this nation to shape the Great Britain of tomorrow. The Prime Minister has given us the opportunity. In Welwyn Hatfield, we have made a start, and with the "back to basics" theme, Conservatives nationwide should do the same.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
'Few hon. Members can command the sort of audience and attention that my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) commanded tonight. Never have I seen so many ministerial colleagues present who are eager to answer my hon. Friend. I am willing to take second place. Of course, this is not the first time that I have had to reply to a frank and powerful speech from my hon. Friend. He will recall his last Adjournment debate on law and order which took place in my first week in the Home Office. On that occasion, I got more credit for the draft speech that I did not make than the one I actually made: my thanks to whoever leaked it. I have prepared five singeing drafts for this weekend's press.
My hon. Friend is right to return to this subject because it affects us all. "Back to basics" is about ensuring that Government policies are based firmly on the commonsense values of the British people, not trendy sociological theories. It is about addressing the real issues of concern and not being diverted to side issues. It is about ensuring sound money, low inflation, good education and an efficient health service, and recognising that protecting the public is the first duty of Government.
My hon. Friend ranged widely in his speech and struck a chord on many issues, but I shall deal mainly with his remarks about law and order. That is my responsibility. None of us is in the business of preaching—that is a job for the clergy. In the Home Office, it is our job to deal with crime in society.
What we are seeking to do in crime and punishment is restore the common-sense principles shared by the vast majority of the British people. The first principle is that crime is wrong. There is no excuse for it and those who seek to explain it away or blame society are deluding themselves and endangering the public. We all know that. Some people are constantly searching for factors that may lead people into crime, but their enthusiasm to find direct causes or links often leads them to fail to denounce the crime itself as plain, downright wrong.
The second principle is to promote respect for the police and the law. There appears to be a pernicious growth industry of denigrating the police and undermining the rule of law. Those trendy programme makers who rarely show the police in a good light are working to their own biased, politically correct agenda. Despite that, the vast majority of the British people still have faith in our police force and 1052 judicial system. For all the humbug that we hear about faults with this country, why is it that when any of our citizens commit crimes overseas they immediately complain that the foreign police and legal system treated them more unfairly than the good old British one would?
The third principle is that British people want to see the innocent acquitted and the guilty convicted. Our constituents are sick and tired of lengthy legal games letting the guilty go free on technicalities.
Allowing the guilty to go free and convicting the innocent are both miscarriages of justice in my book. We are determined to have systems in place to reduce still further the chances of an innocent man being convicted, but, equally, we are determined to ensure that there are no unnecessary anachronistic barriers preventing the conviction of the guilty.
The fourth principle is that punishment should follow conviction. Of course we believe in cautioning in appropriate cases. We believe also in fines and discharges. They are all perfectly sensible sentences. We believe strongly in rehabilitation and deterrence, but we are not afraid to say that punishment is also right. Of course it is. All acts must have a consequence, for good or ill, and criminals must always see that, at the end of the road, there is a suitable punishment for their behaviour. To take that away or dilute it or dress it up in psychobabble is inviting criminals to believe that certain acts do not have unpleasant consequences for them. Those principles run right through our strategy to fight crime.
We are tilting the balance in the criminal justice system against the criminal and in favour of protecting the public. That is why we are legislating on the right of silence. If a suspect refuses to answer a relevant question from the police, a court should be able to take that into account.
I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to challenge loutish behaviour. The Evening Standard carried a good example at the end of last year. A young woman on the underground asked someone who was smoking illegally to stop doing so. The young woman then received a torrent of abuse and was punched. The other passengers just looked the other way. Yobbish behaviour leads to crime. Louts who have no respect for others often have no respect for the law. I believe strongly that there should be more citizens like that young woman—and fewer who look away.
As my hon. Friend knows, we are giving the courts the powers to lock up persistent juvenile offenders. These offenders—the most recent case was graphically detailed in The Sun last week—are a menace to their communities. Those communities are quite properly demanding to be protected. They want to see a tough response to those offenders who persist in breaking the law despite being given the chance to stop offending while under supervision in the community.
Going back to basics will inform all our law and order policies. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said that he wants conditions in our prisons to be "decent, but austere". Put simply, we want the public to have confidence that, for a criminal, being sent to prison is a proper punishment. We have already announced plans to introduce drug testing in our prisons to put a stop to the drug pushers and junkies who are making a mockery of our prison system. But there is more to do. Prison should mean demanding regimes with hard work and challenging programmes for prisoners. There should be a more stick and carrot approach with privileges given for good behaviour, and taken away for bad.
1053 Perhaps most of all, we need to get back to the basics of a proper relationship between the police and local people to fight crime. It is only by 'working together, hand in glove with the police, that local communities will crack crime. We are encouraging the idea of parish constables. We have raised the target for special constables to 30,000, and we will continue to give full support to neighbourhood watch schemes, which now cover more than 5 million households in this country.
More must be done to make the partnership between the police and local people really work and the Government will do all that we can to achieve that objective.
My hon. Friend made quite clear in his previous Adjournment debate the sort of action that he wanted to see from the Government. I know that we will never measure up to his demanding standards, but many of the things that he called for in that speech are now under way.
My hon. Friend said that there was too much cautioning of repeat offenders and too much cautioning for serious crimes. As he may know, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will shortly issue new tough guidance on cautioning.
Central to the Government's strategy to deal with law and order issues is the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which is currently being considered in a Standing Committee. It is a substantial piece of legislation. It takes forward 19 of the 27 announcements that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made on 6 October at the Conservative party conference. It includes, among others, curtailing the right of silence, allowing courts more powers to withhold bail and allowing the police to use DNA. For those colleagues who have only heard through the media about the Police and Magistrates Courts Bill currently being considered in another place, I say, look at the extra clauses that we are adding to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. They cover drug testing in prisons, computer pornography, cross-border policing, terrorism, secure remands, squatting and others. Those are all 1054 measures which will help to ensure that the police and the courts have all the powers they need to protect the public and to punish the guilty.
My hon. Friend referred to truancy and the lack of respect in schools. The Government are also committed to taking firm action against truancy. I know that my hon. Friend will welcome that.
I do not think that we can lecture or sermonise people into being good citizens or not committing crimes. I am happy to leave it to the clergy to sermonise about morality and what is good behaviour, but the criminal law must not give the impression that it rewards or ignores criminal behaviour.
The nonsense of safari holidays for young tearaways sent totally the wrong signals and I am glad that the Department of Health has issued a circular to local authorities on that. I want to encourage much more demanding and character-building outdoor training and we have plenty of mountains in this country to do it on. There is a world of difference between a demanding Blashford-Snell type trek and a Cooks package tour of the night spots of Cairo.
It comes down to common sense and what attitudes we adopt. Attitudes in this country towards crime—and towards criminals—are changing. There is a yearning to return to old-fashioned values, to a position where those who persist in offending behaviour will be afraid of being caught, and of being dealt with severely and effectively. More and more people see combating crime as one of the biggest challenges facing us, and increasingly they recognise that the prevention of crime is the responsibility not just of the Government and the police, but of us all. They also recognise that the Government are in the lead in combating crime in society. The people—
§ The motion having been made after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MADAM SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Eleven o'clock.