I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add:
‘but humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no measures enabling the Government to fulfil its commitments to the people of the UK on their security, public services and the quality of their daily lives; further regret the absence of proposals to permit telephone intercepts and post-charge interviews to be introduced as evidence in order to strengthen the Government’s ability to prosecute those involved in terrorism, or to tackle rising violent crime, overcrowded prisons and the mismanagement of dangerous offenders; welcome those measures which will deliver additional public protection in practice but deplore proposals such as the removal of trial by jury and the circumvention of the criminal justice system which will be costly, counter-productive and which will undermine democracy and the rule of law; and further regret the absence from the Gracious Speech of plans to police the road network more effectively, to catch more drivers without insurance, road tax or appropriate licences, to encourage motorists to choose cars with lower carbon dioxide emissions, to tackle the competitive problems faced by British hauliers or to deal with the gridlock on the roads and the overcrowding on the railways and on public transport systems in cities.’.
For some time now, the Labour party has been trailing the fact that home affairs would be the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech. Newspapers have been littered with blood-curdling headlines emanating from the Home Secretary, his boss the Prime Minister, and his other boss the Chancellor. Why? I shall deal with the real reasons later in my speech, but one thing it is not. It is not a mark of success. It is a clear mark of failure.
If our streets were safe and our borders secure, the subject would not be the pre-eminent public concern of the day. If anyone believed the Home Secretary’s constantly repeated statement that crime is down 35 per cent.—a statement that he repeats with progressively more desperation—he would not have a problem, but nobody does believe it, not in the poorest inner-city estate or in the highest palace in the land. We have that on the very best authority. The Gracious Speech told us that legislation would be introduced
“to enhance confidence in Government statistics.”
This may be the first Government who have to legislate to make people believe their spurious figures.
To understand what we ought to have had in the Queen’s Speech, as opposed to what is there, we must understand what has gone wrong and what needs to be fixed. This has been the year from hell in the Home Office, possibly the worst year in its 224-year history. Prisons are full to bursting, dangerous prisoners have been absconding and there has been murder after murder by killers on parole or probation. Staggering numbers of foreign prisoners have been released on to our streets, and still fewer than 100 have been deported. There have been massive errors in immigration policy—20 times the expected number of people have arrived from eastern Europe—and we have an immigration department both demoralised and wracked with scandal.
As a result, the Government lost a Home Secretary and got a new one; that was the second Home Secretary lost in two years, and the Government also lost their third Minister in three years. It serves to remind us that this disaster is not a one-year wonder but a severe systemic and serial failure, which is still worsening under this Home Secretary.
Why has this serial disaster occurred? The overarching reason is three obsessions: a compulsive over-reliance on legislation; an obsession with central control and an avalanche of targets, guidelines and directives, which have buried what initiative was left in the Department; and an addiction to headlines, which compounded the situation and had the effect of reducing the Government’s attention span to something less than 24 hours.
Will the right hon. Gentleman add a fourth reason: the job is probably almost impossible for one individual to do? Is there not a strong case, given the history of Home Secretaries having to resign, for somehow breaking the post up into a more manageable process?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I do not agree with the assertion, because if it were true, the same story that we have seen in the past year, and indeed, according to my observation and his, in the past three years, would have been true for 200 years. It has not been, and there have been great Home Secretaries who have dominated this brief. I think of some Conservative ones, with which he would not agree, but, as a tentative sop, I shall mention Roy Jenkins, who was able to dominate the brief.
The job cannot be divided up between, for example, prisons and immigration, because there is a problem in that interface, or between prisons and police, because there is an issue in that interface. It cannot be broken up. It must be done properly, by focusing on what matters and not on the next day’s headline.
Home affairs is touted as a centrepiece of this Queen’s Speech, not because the measures in it will correct the failure of the past 10 years—they will not—but because the Home Secretary wants to look tough by comparison with his rivals, most notably the Chancellor, who has appointed himself the new overlord for home affairs. I think that the Home Secretary agrees with the use of the word “overlord”—he is the origin of it, which is why he agrees.
The real choice is not between tough and soft, but between smart and dumb. It is about whether we focus on the art of the possible or the art of the plausible. I shall not give the Home Secretary an offer on which of those he is and which of them the Chancellor is. The fact that propaganda took precedence over action in this most fundamental of Government responsibilities is at the core of their failures.
In response to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), I point out that it is uncanny that almost the same series of events has led to failures in each area of the Home Office—immigration, criminal justice and terrorism. First, came the serious failure of policy judgment, which might be called the Jack Straw stage—I am sorry that he is not present. As a result, there was a catastrophic explosion in the size of the problem, which might be called the Blunkett stage. As a result of that, the Home Office was overwhelmed and the problem began to look insoluble, which is the Clarke stage. Finally, the Government try to cover up the problem, fiddle the figures, and create an avalanche of initiatives that grab headlines and divert attention but do little to solve the fundamental problem. On the basis of this Queen’s Speech, that is the Reid stage.
Let us consider immigration. This Labour Government, in their first parliamentary term, replaced a number of restrictive Conservative laws on matters ranging from welfare to the so-called white list, as a direct result of which, immigration soared—by 2002, the rate of net immigration had trebled.
As a direct result of that, the immigration and nationality directorate was overwhelmed, and consequently, the Department—under ministerial direction—began to do ever more absurd things in a desperate attempt to get on top of its job. It let people in who were obviously not fit for their job—we all remember the one-legged roof tiler and so on; it turned a blind eye to what it knew was false documentation, a matter that emerged as a result of a whistleblower’s leak; and it ignored sham marriages and bogus colleges. Ministers started to cover up such things, and as a result one Minister lost her job. Today, we have 300,000 failed asylum seekers and more than 500,000 illegal immigrants, and there were 600,000 legal migrants last year alone.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest disgraces was the Government’s prediction that every year only 10,000 migrant workers would come from the accession countries? We know that the figure is now in excess of 500,000. Is he aware that 54,856 of those migrant workers are now claiming some form of state benefit?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We have raised the issue time and again with successive Home Secretaries and with other Ministers. It was one of the things that they got wrong in that first Parliament, and it reinforces my case.
What is the Home Secretary’s answer? The Department is still overwhelmed, and, of course, he famously blamed the civil service by describing it as “not fit for purpose”.
I shall in a moment. What is the Home Secretary’s answer in this Queen’s Speech? It is more powers for immigration officers, which is fine, as it is half a step in the right direction. The full step would be a properly constituted border police force, as we have recommended. The Government’s 800 increase in the number of immigration officers is also welcome—450 of them are serving police officers, so the real increase is only 350. To put that in context, it is one new immigration officer for every 1,300 illegal immigrants already here, so the officers will be quite busy.
We will support the Government’s tougher stance on the employers of illegal immigrants. The task would have been easier if they had bothered to enforce the existing law on illegal employers in the first six years of their Government, before the Morecambe sands tragedy. It would have been easier still if one of the illegal employers was not the Home Office itself. All the proposed measures will be only a pin-prick, and, on that note, I give way to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound).
I think that I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he gave way on the first syllable of that word rather than the second. Many in this House are delighted to see him moving away, in his robust style, from the cloying embrace of the Polly Toynbee school, but does he agree that reducing the IND staff by 2,000, as happened under the last Conservative Government in 1996, was hardly the best way to address this issue either?
I shall start by giving the hon. Gentleman credit. I stole his joke really. I got it from the fact that last week he received an award from The Spectator for being the parliamentarian of the year, which was given entirely for the way he intervened on someone else on the basis of old fags, or some such thing.
Returning to the hon. Gentleman’s point, of course Governments make judgments about things that go up and down. Labour Members often talk about the relaxation of embarkation controls. We get blamed for a change made on that in 1994, but the simple truth is that that decision was made when the problem was not as big as it is now, or as big as it was between 1997 and 2000. It is a fair point, but it does not relate to this.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Given that, in order to make cuts, the last Conservative Government reduced the number of immigration officers, will the right hon. Gentleman explain how, in the context of cuts of £21 billion, the Conservatives will increase the number of officers and have a border police force?
I shall in a moment. Let us consider what the Government are doing now. They are still refusing to put a limit on immigration. We would apply such a limit. They are still putting their faith in e-borders, which will not be properly in place for eight years—we are supposed to deal with immigration without e-borders for eight years—and in the hopeless white elephant of ID cards, which will not properly start for four years and which will never work as the Government claim.
In response to the excellent intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), the right hon. Gentleman said that the problem was not as big then as it is now. Will he confirm that when the Conservatives were in power it took 22 months to process an asylum claim, and anyone coming here to claim asylum knew that they would be able to stay for virtually two years before anything happened, which sent out the signal that people should carry on trying to come here?
This from the party that has 280,000 failed asylum seekers here, by the National Audit Office’s estimate, and has a Home Secretary who does not even know how many there are. He says that there are 450,000, but that there might be some duplicate files. It is not the length of time that matters but how many are here for their life that matters in this decision.
The sequence that we have recently seen—flawed policy judgments followed by a catastrophic failure of delivery, followed by an avalanche of problems that overwhelm the Department, followed by a flood of initiatives that will barely touch the problem—is repeated elsewhere, not least in crime. The Prime Minister famously said that he was going to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, no doubt with the best of intentions, but he has been neither. People often think that prison policy is just about being tough on crime, but half of all crime is committed by ex-cons, so the failure to rehabilitate criminals is, in itself, a cause of crime. The shortfall in prison places is in major part a consequence of the Chancellor seeing every successive Home Secretary as a rival—indeed, as his main rival—at the time that they were Home Secretary. [Interruption.] Indeed—some things never change. So, he starved them of cash, particularly for prisons. The Home Secretary brags about 16,000 extra places under Labour, a major part of which were commissioned under the previous Government, but either way there are nowhere near enough to deal with the burgeoning levels of violent crime.
The Labour party persuaded itself that prisons did not work and that community punishments did. Sadly, that is not true. The Government’s flagship intensive supervision and surveillance programme had a failure rate of 90 per cent. last year—in other words, 90 per cent. of the people who went through it reoffended. Their drug treatment and testing orders had a failure rate of 80 per cent. last year, and reoffending rates after prison have soared to record levels as a direct result of overcrowding, which means that the public face hundreds of thousands of extra crimes. That is a dire indictment of Government policy, and because of that policy failure the system as a whole has failed. [Interruption.] That is why—I say this directly to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs—there are too many murderers on parole. That is why 8,000 crimes a month are carried out by those on probation. That is why we have foreign prisoners on our streets.
This policy failure paralyses our police, cripples our courts and undermines our whole justice system. Of course we should use community sentences where appropriate, and of course we should use secure psychiatric placement where appropriate, but we should not be forced into the misuse of community sentences or any other short-cut alternatives to justice that the Government propose—I am thinking particularly about this morning’s announcement on the use of cautions for violent crimes—simply because there are not enough prison places available.
The gaff was blown last week on the real reasons for the policy failure in a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister. I used to be the Deputy Prime Minister’s shadow, which is an interesting concept in its own right, and I miss his leaked letters. This one was very pertinent. He described how the Treasury objected to the Home Secretary’s plan because it might lead not to the 8,000 extra prison places that the Home Secretary had promised but to an extra 450 prisoners. The Treasury was successful. When the Home Office was asked what the effect of the Home Secretary’s so-called tough sentencing reforms would be, it said, “Not more than 110 extra prisoners.” So much for being tough. The Home Secretary’s Offender Management Bill is supposed to reduce reoffending and protect the public, but without enough prison places it will not.
Incredibly, exactly the same problem occurred with the fight against terror. After 9/11, the security budget remained frozen and the agencies lost two years when they should have been expanding to meet the threat—two years that we cannot get back. In 2002, the Government launched their counter-terrorism strategy, Project Contest, designed to root out the source of terrorism in our society and to prevent radicalisation. That was described a year ago by the No. 10 delivery unit in shocking terms. It said: “The strategy is immature”—this was four years after 9/11—and went on:
“Forward planning is disjointed or has yet to occur. Accountability for delivery is weak. Real world impact is seldom measured”.
That from the Prime Minister’s delivery unit about our first line of defence against terrorism.
We should not be surprised. The Government’s attitude to dealing not with the general Muslim community, who are as law abiding and honourable as the rest of us, but with those who would splinter and fragment our society has been at best negligent. When the so-called cartoon protestors waved placards inciting violence and even murder, Ministers dithered for days before, at last, arrests were made. The Government must be honest and respectful with the moderate mainstream Muslim community, but unrelentingly tough with the preachers of hatred and sedition.
Well, arrests do matter—this is about home affairs. The authorities took seven years to prosecute Abu Hamza. We were told that there was not enough evidence; he was convicted on 11 counts. We were told that they needed new laws to convict him; most of his convictions were under public order legislation from 1861. [Interruption.] It was not Gladstone—it was probably Palmerston; as far as I am aware, it was not a new Labour Minister.
The problem is worse than it need be and I suspect that that is why we do not have a terrorism Bill before us today, although one is promised. The Home Secretary is struggling to pull together a strategy that works, and it is vital that he succeeds. The single most important action in stopping the growth of home-grown terrorism is preventing the radicalisation of young Muslims. That is one reason why this House was right to reject the Government’s call for 90 days’ detention without trial last year.
We believe that the Government will propose to extend the detention powers. May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if we are to have satisfactory evidence for that, it needs to be independent? I suggest, therefore, that we should call for a special committee to be set up by Mr. Speaker to receive evidence from the police and the intelligence services and then to report to this House on whether there is a ground for extending the detention period, and that we should postpone the conclusion until we receive the report of such a committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend has had a long and honourable record in defending liberties in this place, but I think that the defence of liberty is something that this House should hold to itself, and I am loth to agree to an abdication or even a delegation of that judgment. I am not saying out of hand that there is no mechanism that we can use to do that, because some of the evidence will by definition be secret. I will return to that in a moment, but my first instinct is not to say that we should subcontract the matter.
I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s argument with great interest. I do not find it entirely persuasive, but it is well made. Before he moves away from the arrest of the so-called cartoon protestors—I appreciate that he has on his Bench the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who pursued a criminal through the streets of London, and I am sure that he would do the same—is he seriously suggesting that there should be a caveat whereby police officers in the Metropolitan police do not arrest offenders without the approval of a Minister? If he is suggesting that that is either the reality or the desideratum, that would be an abdication of any liberty.
That is a ludicrous reading of my comments. After that weekend, there was a long delay in arresting anybody. At the time, no one was required to remove masks—that, too, was worth being raised by the Home Secretary with the police authorities. There was a sequence of three days when Ministers said that we must not touch the matter and dithered right, left and centre. There is a role for the Government not, of course, in initiating prosecution, but in showing leadership about our response to a clear incitement to violence.
There is a connection between my right hon. Friend’s responses to the previous two interventions: the Government’s attitude, especially that of the Prime Minister, who fails to secure our confidence in his statements. That is why we must look for the additional evidence to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred. The attitude conveys signals that pressurise the police to stay away from criminals whom they should arrest.
I shall not be drawn down that route. I simply say that it is interesting that a party that argued effectively for Executive detention for 90 days—a much more serious issue than the one that my hon. Friend raises—presents such a line of argument. The Attorney-General reminded us only a few days ago that there is no evidence for more than 28 days.
More important, locking up someone without cause for 90 days risks creating a recruiting sergeant for terrorism and a friendly sea in which terrorists can swim. Tough talk is not always smart action. When public safety is concerned, we will always examine the evidence, as the Attorney-General advised, but we will take a lot of persuading.
Last year, after the 7 July atrocity, the Conservative party—and, to be fair, the Liberal Democrats—sought a cross-party consensus with the Government about terror legislation. We made several proposals, some of which—most notably, the criminalisation of acts preparatory to terrorism—the Government took up. We released the Government from previous undertakings to Opposition parties in order to allow the legislation’s progress to be accelerated. Then the Prime Minister decided that he wanted a political battle about 90 days’ detention without trial. He politicised the debate about terror and suffered his first defeat in Parliament.
We hear regularly from the press that they have been briefed that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister want to outflank the Conservatives on the right on terror legislation, and that that is their new strategy for political recovery. Frankly, that is utterly disreputable. The decisions that Governments make on such subjects should be driven solely by sober consideration of long-term public safety, not short-term political advantage. Decisions should be made not between right and left but between right and wrong.
In the fine balance between protecting our lives and our way of life, two things should clearly be done. The first is to allow terrorist suspects to be interviewed after charge. We proposed that last year because it would enormously enhance the effectiveness of the police and lead to more terrorists being convicted with little impact on the rights of the innocent. If the Government had chosen to act quickly, that could be the law today. It could have been law, for example, before the alleged terrorist case in August.
Secondly, the ability to use intercept evidence in court is long overdue. It would lead to more terrorists being convicted and locked up. Almost every other major country in the world uses intercept evidence. I have received detailed briefings from the Government about why we do not. None has been remotely convincing. The best approach is that recommended by the Newton committee. It recommended appointing an investigating judge, who would be responsible for presenting to the trial a balanced extract of the evidence, which would not allow identification of sources or techniques. That would be fair to the accused and not allow the defence to go on a fishing expedition into the evidence. That is straightforward, workable and fair. Many people support it, not least Lord Lloyd, a Law Lord and past interception commissioner.
Last week, I watched the Home Secretary receiving the politician of the year award from The Spectator. I congratulate him—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We all congratulate him. He was especially pleased to receive it from the Leader of the Opposition. I enjoyed his speech, although it was not written by Lord Tebbit, as he claimed—it was far too right wing for that. I suspect that the award reflects not the past six months, which have not been comfortable for the right hon. Gentleman, but expectations of the next six months. I wish him well in the next six months, although I acknowledge that I am the last person to give advice on leadership contests.
However, the award that I would like the Home Secretary to get next year is that of statesman of the year. I should like him to win it by doing the exact opposite of what the papers expect him to do. I should like him to win it by putting public safety ahead of political advantage. That will not be easy. It will mean shouldering the responsibility for failures of political leadership and not simply blaming the immigration and nationality directorate, the probation officers, the judges, the courts, the public and so on. It will mean being straightforward with the public and Parliament and admitting systemic failures, whether they constitute illegal immigrants in the Home Office or terrorist suspects escaping control orders. It will mean less obsession with headlines and more focus on managing the Home Office.
The legislative programme before the House will not fix the serial catastrophe that is new Labour’s Home Office. The responsibility for doing that rests on the shoulders of the Home Secretary. If he takes the easy route—the avalanche of irrelevant initiatives, the headline-a-day—the public will pay the price through increasing crime, overflowing prisons and uncontrolled migration. There would be only one good result—the end of the Government. It would be richly deserved.
I understand that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but I should have received with gratitude an element of it in the speech of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). To begin by attacking me for admitting openly past systemic failures and end by commending that approach, which would apparently raise me to the stature of statesman, is an inconsistency of considerable proportions, even for the right hon. Gentleman.
With national security, it is better to believe facts rather than unspecified, anonymous and second-hand hearsay reports, apparently from journalists who brief the right hon. Gentleman confidentially. I prefer a national consensus on national security. I have said so not only privately but publicly. I have said so to my party—most recently in my conference speech. I seek national consensus on national security.
However, one cannot build a national consensus on national security on the irresolution and shifting sands of weak leadership that seeks to avoid every difficult choice on every conceivable occasion. I will refer to that in my speech, but not in order to suggest that we should not seek a consensus; I simply emphasise that it cannot be based on irresolute seeking of the lowest common denominator. It is not possible to get a consensus that embraces everyone, including Polly Toynbee, on every issue. It may be nice to be likeable but it is better to display qualities of leadership than likeability.
In the first half of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech he discussed other issues, such as crime, about which it is desirable to have a national consensus, but on which there is not the same imperative to seek one as on national security. I listened to him carefully about crime and the causes of crime. He spoke with all the authority of a member of a Government under whom crime doubled and convictions fell. He had the supreme evidential qualification of speaking with the authority of someone under whose Government the chance of being a victim of violent crime was multiplied by three. That Government saw police numbers fall in every year from 1993.
I was not calculating the crime figures at the time when they were going through the roof and police numbers were falling, but by any comparable standard, we have reduced crime by 35 per cent. under this Government, compared with an increase of 100 per cent. under the Conservative Government—[Interruption.] I will come to some of these elements in the course of my speech. However much Conservative Members want to pick on this or that item, the incontrovertible fact is that under the Tories crime doubled. Under this Government, crime has been reduced by 35 per cent. That is the authority with which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden makes his statements today.
Incidentally, the resolution that the right hon. Gentleman expressed in robust terms today resulted in his party voting against the banning of handguns. His party is against ID cards at the same time as claiming that it will track people going in and out of the country. He is a member of a would-be Government who voted against the entire Criminal Justice Bill in 2003, including the proposals for life sentences for serious and dangerous offenders, and for five-year minimum custodial sentences for those in unauthorised possession of a firearm. The Conservatives voted against all those measures, yet they have the cheek to come to the House today and lecture us.
I have not said for one moment that every single aspect of crime has been reduced. However, it is incontrovertible that crime has fallen by 35 per cent.—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shrugs his shoulders. Of course it has nothing to do with him; it is the Labour Government who brought it down. Under the Conservatives crime went up, not by 35 per cent. but by 100 per cent. So when the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden comes to the House and gives us a lecture on being tough or being soft, let us remember the authority with which he does so.
The right hon. Gentleman said that this was not about being tough or soft, but about being fairer and smarter. He said it with all the authority of someone who had just discovered that tremendous, profound truth—
Hold on a second.
Amazingly enough, I recall my speech to the House on 20 July—my first as Home Secretary—in which I said that our policy was not
“about being tougher or softer; it is about being fairer and smarter”.—[Official Report, 20 July 2006; Vol. 449, c. 473.]
It is nice to see that the right hon. Gentleman is well read, at least.
Conservative Members have clearly forgotten certain key measures that have been passed by this House. The result of those decisions on domestic violence, led by this Government, has been a reduction of 17 per cent. in recorded violent crime against women, where those measures are in place. Those are the kind of measures that we need—measures that are focused on the people who most need our help.
Absolutely. For the first time in our history, we have a reduction in recorded domestic violence, as my hon. Friend says. Nevertheless, I would not pretend that we have conquered every upward trend in crime.
Moreover, I would not pretend that there are no new developments in this world. This is the astonishing thing about the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. His thesis in his opening speech was, “Well, you’ve passed some laws. That should be the end of it. Why do you need to pass any more?” The Conservative party is grappling with the question of modernity. The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me advice on leadership contests. As a failed candidate, he is in a majority among his colleagues in the Conservative party, all of whom can claim a failure of some sort in contests for the leadership of their party or their country. Let me give him a bit of advice. If he aspires to lead this country in the modern world, there is a secret that I should tell him: the world keeps changing. I know that that will come as a profound revelation to the Conservative party.
The only constant is change. The funny thing about this world is that when we embark on a new day, things happen differently. Things change in the world. People invent new things, like mobile phones—they are transportable telephones, in case the right hon. Gentleman has not come across them—then other people want to steal them. So we get new crimes. When we have completed one set of challenges, the changes in the world bring another set to our doorstep.
Presumably the Conservatives’ hero is the Duke of Wellington, who, circa 1820, thought that the British constitution and our state and social affairs were so profoundly perfect that nothing needed to be changed. When we scratch the surface of the Conservative party, we find that that attitude is still there. I must remind the House that it was the Duke of Wellington who said of that great social invention, the train, that, while he did not have anything against it, he was worried that it might allow the lower orders the opportunity to wander aimlessly through the country. He was a model of modernising Conservative leadership if ever I saw one. The point is that we need to provide security in a fast-changing world, with the emphasis on the word “changing”.
Does the Home Secretary believe that the security of this nation will be helped if 450,000 Bulgarians and Romanians enter the country unchecked? Given his grasp of statistics, will he give the House a prediction? Does he believe that it will be 15,000 people who come from Bulgaria and Romania, or 450,000—the number that have come in from the recent EU accession countries?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have made my plans quite plain in that regard. I take it that he agrees with our proposal that we should place some form of cap on lower-skilled workers from Bulgaria and Romania. But of course, we will keep that under review as well.
Providing security in a fast-changing world is the challenge of the coming decade. When we came into government, the priorities of the vast majority of people were unemployment, poverty and deprivation. That showed in every opinion poll. In some countries, that is still the case. In France, for instance, unemployment is still near the top of the list of people’s concerns. So successful have this Government—and, yes, this Chancellor—been that unemployment is no longer the greatest matter of concern. But in a changing world, mass migration, counter-terrorism, the management of immigration, antisocial behaviour and law and order have come on to the agenda for the next decade. This is a result of global changes and changes in the local community, and because of the diminution of concerns about economic instability and unemployment. That is why the question of security is at the heart of the Queen’s Speech.
Embracing opportunities in a rapidly developing, expanding world, while providing security from its threats, is the key priority. It is a fallacy to pretend that we can achieve that without legislation; we cannot. I fully accept, however, that legislation on its own is not enough, and that legislation for its own sake must be avoided. Extra resources, more efficiency and new ways of delivery all play a part. Nor is it enough to tackle the problems, whether crime, antisocial behaviour or terrorism. We must tackle crime and the causes of crime: poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunities. All the underlying social and economic causes of friction that can assist in the development of crime must be tackled, as well as crime itself, and we have already introduced the minimum wage.
Similarly, we must tackle terrorism. Of course, domestically, that requires engagement with young Muslims in the community, but we must also tackle the international problems that fuel and provide the dynamic of terrorism. Similarly, we must tackle antisocial behaviour and the social changes that lead to and increase it, and that are breaking the traditional bonds that held local communities and society together, whether that means the extended family or relatively static social or geographic mobility. In all cases, we must tackle the phenomena and the underlying causes of the phenomena.
That is more difficult, because internationally we face rapidly developing technology, rapidly shifting demographic and political circumstances, and the mass movement of people on a scale hitherto unimaginable. Domestically, as I said, we face changes in family circumstances, social and geographic mobility and the growth of individualism alongside the shift away from mass production. So we do not need the radicalism of Churchill alone, or the social conscience of Polly Toynbee alone, but both. We need to approach these problems both ways. The Conservatives seem intent on persuading people that they are no longer the atavistic, brutal party that we have known in the past—whatever our suspicions that theirs are crocodile tears that hide crocodile teeth. We understand that they have an image makeover to pursue, but if they stop at half the task, like Macmillan sacking half his Cabinet when it was the wrong half, they will not achieve the balance needed to tackle the phenomena and the underlying problems.
A world that is more dynamic than ever before brings many opportunities, yet also many threats and dangers, from the global arena to people’s front rooms. It is the role of Government to help to provide answers to people’s concerns and to stand between people and their anxieties, reducing fear and increasing the feeling of safety, security and serenity—that old fashioned word—which those in the Conservative party may underestimate, but which is so important to individuals.
Of course we make every effort to do that. It is not easy, but we also try to ensure that, under 21 trigger offences, someone taken into custody for an offence that might be drug related receives treatment right at the beginning of the intervention rather than having to wait until they are in prison.
Security, whether personal or national, is a protective framework in which opportunities can flourish. Without security of life and property, businesses will not invest in the community or contribute to economic stability. That contributes to the feeling of personal insecurity as well as undermining the stability in society that makes it more difficult for crime to grow. Providing economic security and social opportunity helps to tackle the underlying causes of crime, as does legislation to reduce poverty and to create more employment, better wages and opportunities for everyone. None of those things, on their own, provides a solution. It is precisely because we want to be fairer and smarter, and to attack the causes as well as the phenomena, that we have been so successful over the past few years.
I have followed the last few whimsical moments with interest. If the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was such a flagship piece of legislation, why has so much of it been repealed before it came into force, why has so much been repealed having come into force, and why is so much of it yet to be implemented?
The vast bulk of it has been implemented. Some of it has not yet been implemented because not all legislation can be implemented immediately but in stages, which is sensible—[Interruption.] Not 17 bits but, I think, one bit has been repealed before being enacted. The hon. and learned Gentleman should know, given his profession, that that is precisely because the continuum and dynamic of case law in this country can sometimes render redundant a measure that has previously been passed before it is implemented—
It is not 67 sections. I will not go through all the factual inaccuracies in the statement in relation to the 67 sections and the 17, although it would give me great joy to do so. I merely say that the obsession with process that has marked the Conservative party’s responses indicates a great vacuum in terms of substance. The mere fact that it has little to say about any of our policy decisions is illustrated by its continual obsession with the way in which the decisions are made and implemented in the first place. It is a sign not of strength but of weakness on its part. We must apply our mind to the underlying causes, but also to directly attacking the crime itself. That is why, over the past few years, the Government have put more police in uniform than ever before—141,000—more police on the street than ever before, through the introduction of neighbourhood policing teams, and more prisoners in prison than ever before, with the dangerous ones serving longer sentences than ever before. We make no apology for that, because it is as important to tackle crime as it is to tackle the causes of crime.
I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend, but does he agree that local councils and registered social landlords have a key role in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, and that many of them are simply not using the powers that they have been given to protect the people in their area? In conjunction with the Department for Communities and Local Government, will he consider what can be done to make those who are not taking their responsibilities seriously take that on board and ensure that people in their communities feel safe?
My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. We are making powers available to be used at local level, in conjunction with providing extra police and neighbourhood policing teams and new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour and other areas. In some parts of the country some people, through ignorance, are not implementing those powers, and we have set up respect task groups to try to pass on best practice. Some local councils, which are mainly either Liberal or Liberal-Tory controlled, refuse to implement the powers made available to them. They will rue the day, because just as the Conservative party is increasingly out of touch with people facing such problems in local communities, streets, public places and around their homes, so will the local councils find themselves at odds with local people, who, ultimately, are not the servants but the masters.
It is no good the Conservative party trying to face in both directions at once on this issue—as it is already doing on tax, Iraq and public expenditure—and trying to say one thing to one audience and something else to another. Those who aspire to government must have the character and strength of leadership to say what they mean and then do what they say. If they find themselves ripped apart by Winston Spencer Churchill and Polly Toynbee, it is of their own making.
I was going to try to avoid the party-political.
The Home Secretary has said how important it is to deliver security to people in our country. Does he accept that the best way of doing that is normally to ensure that the police and the intelligence services are sufficient and do their job well, and that there are enough immigration officers? New laws do not deliver security. It is a question of administration, of people doing their jobs properly.
The Home Secretary started his job in May. When I wrote to his immigration directorate in June with a routine inquiry, I did not receive a reply until November. I was told, “I am sorry that we cannot answer your question. The file is missing, and we have no idea when we will be able to find it, let alone respond.” It is dealing with administration and getting government working properly that will deliver security, not reams and rafts of excessive legislation.
The hon. Gentleman is one third correct, but this is not just a question of efficient administration. It is a question of dealing with the problems themselves, if necessary through legislation, dealing with the causes of the problems, if necessary through other legislation, and then delivering efficiency. We need all three of those procedures.
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been since I became Home Secretary, but I have spent an enormous amount of time publicly identifying the shortcomings in our systems, structures, leaderships, competencies and delivery mechanisms. Indeed, when I did so honestly—the hon. Gentleman nods in agreement—I was attacked by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. Having attacked me at the beginning of his speech, he then commended that course of action to me.
This is why, within the first 85 days of my tenure in the Home Office, we have a plan to reform the immigration and nationality directorate, a plan to transform Home Office service delivery and a plan to rebalance the criminal justice system, all of which have now been put in the public domain and all of which I am trying to lead through with the chief civil servants.
What the hon. Gentleman tells me happened with the letter that took so long to reach him is unforgivable, and I make no apology for it. [Laughter.] I am sorry—I do make an apology for it. I make no excuses for it. In fact, the hon. Gentleman is pushing at an open door. I have already identified the problems, and we are applying our minds to them. They will not be solved overnight, but they will be solved over the next year or two. I cannot say fairer than that.
The key point is that if these things are to be done, it is no good just setting out the desirable objectives. The Liberals have always willed the ends without willing the means. Their philosophy seems to be that no one has a specific interest, and that if everyone is ranged around a table and a rational discussion takes place there will be agreement. I have never accepted that that is true in all circumstances. It is, however, a new development for the Conservative party to be continually willing the ends while refusing to will the means, whether through legislation or in other ways.
I say to the Conservatives that in the next few years the country will have the same choice that it had over the past 10 years: continue to make progress in tackling the underlying causes as well as the phenomenon itself, or revert to the situation of a decade ago when crime was going through the roof, there were no indeterminate life sentences and there was a lack of will on the Government’s part to deal with those issues. The tough choices that we have made will be there for the next few years, and then we will have to make them again.
Order. I remind the Home Secretary that we do not refer to hon. Members by name in the House.
I remind the House that we are debating a specific amendment, and that these are serious matters and should be treated as such. I also remind the House that a good many Back Benchers are anxious to speak, and that the clock is ticking. There is a time limit on Back-Bench speeches. Perhaps all Front-Bench speakers will bear that in mind.
I am sorry, but I will take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and deal with one of these serious matters in specific terms.
I want to lay a myth to rest. As the House will know, I am conducting a review of our counter-terrorism capabilities, structures, resources and powers. The myth that seems to be espoused by the Opposition is that there is a simple solution to all our problems—the use of intercept as evidence—which would somehow allow us to avoid the hard choices on control orders, detention, tagging and the like, and that intercepts are a sort of silver bullet. I am considering those matters at the moment, but I want to make plain that that is indeed a myth. Indeed, I fear that the Conservatives are using it as a camouflage for the avoidance of hard decisions on matters such as detention, control orders and so on.
I will not, because I want to deal in some detail with a very serious subject for the House and the nation.
Much of our information on terror suspects is obtained through methods other than intercepts. Some of those methods, such as technological surveillance, are already admissible as evidence in court, and much of the information comes from human contacts who cannot be exposed in court even if that would cause their information to become evidence. Let us be absolutely plain about this: intercepts are no magic wand, and no silver bullet. Above all, they are not an excuse for failing to stand up for the other robust measures that may be necessary to control terrorism.
Moreover, using intercepts could mean exposing, in some detail, methods or even human agents to unacceptable risks. The former MI6 officer Lady Park said in a recent BBC interview
“I recognise frustrations”.
—supporters’ frustrations, that is.
“But we’ve got to know that if they do it, it is going to be fatal to a whole series of possible future operations”.
That was said by someone speaking with an authority that very few Members on either Front Bench can muster.
There is also the problem of disproportionate consumption of the operational resources of MI5 and others at a time when the director general says that the current work load is “daunting” in the face of what is becoming an ever-increasing threat. It is a potentially vast use of resources, depending on whether any intercept that might be used would trigger the release of all intercepts in that particular case. On the same BBC programme as the one on which Lady Park was interviewed, Sir Swinton Thomas, the outgoing interception of communications commissioner, said
“you would greatly increase the workload on the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, taking them away from work which is much more important”.
In addition to all those problems, just around the corner is a communications revolution: the move from normal telephone communications to voiceover internet service provision. That will offer more choice in the methods by which to communicate than ever before. Revealing the extent of our capability in order to secure one prosecution by virtue of using intercept evidence must not come at the cost of failing to disrupt or prosecute hundreds more. I continue to consider the issue, but the House will appreciate that I have to balance short-term gain against long-term pain for our operations. I also have to insist that while we await the outcome of my consideration we do not accept the myth that by accepting intercepts as evidence we would somehow preclude the need to use other robust methods, or take a huge step towards resolving the problems we have in countering terrorism.
I hear what the Home Secretary says and no one with any experience of the issue would claim that intercept evidence is a silver bullet. But what does he have to say to the officers of the Greater Manchester police who have funded their own anti-terrorist unit specifically to deal with the huge problem that they have, and who have told me that they urgently need to be able to use intercept evidence to put terrorist suspects away?
As it happens, I was in the Greater Manchester area in the past week, and I spoke to people there, not only in the police, but in MI5. I weigh very carefully what people say to me, including those from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the three agencies most charged with countering terrorism, none of which supports the hon. Gentleman’s position, as far as I am aware. I am yet to be persuaded, but I could be persuaded. However, it is wrong to form in the minds of Members of Parliament or the public the insinuation that if we allowed the use of intercept evidence we would not need to bring in tagging, control orders or further detention. The issue should be judged on its own merits, but with the recognition that even if we were to allow intercept evidence we would not avoid the hard decisions on those other issues.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
I wish to make a little more progress and say something about immigration, another issue on which we face tough choices and difficult questions. How do we take advantage of the benefits of a dynamic world without opening ourselves up to those seeking to exploit our country? We have made difficult choices to prioritise foreign national prisoners, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden pointed out. I make no apology for that. The foreign national prisoners problem was one that the nation felt should be addressed with greater priority. That had a knock-on effect on asylum removal figures for one quarter, but the decision showed a degree of leadership in making hard choices and prioritising resources. By definition, it is not possible to cope with everything to 100 per cent. of priority.
We want to go further and strengthen the system by allowing immigration officers to detain British and EU nationals pending arrest, and extending their ability to take biometrics from foreign nationals. Through the development funds we are addressing the poverty and poor governance that motivates people to leave their homelands. As hon. Members heard earlier, it now takes two months—not 20, as in 1997—to process an asylum claim. Today, there are 20 per cent. fewer asylum applications year on year and cases awaiting initial decision fell to 5,000 in June, 1,500 fewer than in the previous year.
I do not pretend that everything was a failure: it was not. On the other hand, I do not pretend that everything is perfect, which is why I have set out plans for tougher enforcement of our rules, more resources for managing immigration and a forward plan to improve effectiveness. But—and this is important—we cannot track people in and out of the country, count those who come in and those who go out and know who is here unless we make a commitment to identity management. One cannot on the one hand say that one wants to control immigration over the next decade or two in a world that has mass movement on a scale never known before, and on the other, set one’s face against ID cards and identification management. That is saying that one wants the ends, but opposes the means. In this case there is not even the plausible excuse of popularity. The whole country knows that identity management is the basic prerequisite for managing immigration and emigration and knowing who is here.
The Home Secretary mentioned the foreign prisoners saga and I support his plans to remove them, but is he aware of the case of Hidehiro Iga, who was convicted and sentenced for using a false passport? He does not speak any English and he is keen to go home, but he is waiting, at public expense, to be deported.
If the hon. Gentleman is volunteering someone who wishes to go swiftly, he should give us his name and address and my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality will deal with it.
On immigration, the Opposition are again willing the ends but not the means. Similarly, when it comes to confronting organised crime, we have made the tough decisions and invested so that we have the Serious Organised Crime Agency to tackle the Mr. Bigs, and we have tightened the law to hinder money laundering. There is much more to do, and we will bring in simple, practical and effective measures to help us to tighten the net around crime gangs and tackle fraud crime.
The House will know the priority that we have given to antisocial behaviour. Crack house closures, ASBOs and dispersal orders were all proposals at which some commentators and Opposition Members sneered contemptuously as unworthy of consideration. I can tell them that they have changed people’s lives in local communities, tackling neighbours who make lives a misery and taking on the local yobs. We have given the police powers to act with swift summary justice on some of those issues and have transformed local neighbourhoods that were so impoverished—in social and crime terms, as well as by unemployment—under the last Conservative Government. We make no apology for that.
Providing security and opportunity in a changing world to the people whom we represent will be the dominant preoccupation for all of us in the immediate future. We believe that the measures we propose are comprehensive and holistic, but we accept that the challenge will take vision, strong leadership and a willingness to make decisions. This Government are prepared to take those decisions. If Opposition Members want a consensus, they must recognise that it has to be on the basis of preparedness to tackle those problems and reach and implement conclusions. I commend the motion to the House.
For a relative newcomer to the House, it has been an education and entertainment to see such veteran bruisers as the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) slug it out. However, I am not sure that any of us is any the wiser about what is new in the Queen’s Speech. It seems to be characterised—some would say disfigured—by the two classic traits of this Government of headline-grabbing, populist, media-driven rhetoric and an addiction to legislation.
By way of example, I shall read to the House some of the headlines in the newspapers before the Queen’s Speech. The headline in the Daily Mail on 15 November read, “I will evict yobs even if they own their home says Reid”. On 13 November, the Daily Mirror talked of “Crackdown with 25 tough Bills”. The Sunday Express had “Reid: the gloves come off”. On 15 November, the Daily Mirror again had “PM’s final swipe at criminals”. A clunking fist, indeed.
We are all familiar with that sort of media-driven agenda in the run up to the Queen’s Speech, as the Government of the day try to tear strips off the Opposition, but what has been new this time is that most of the headlines were driven by internal politics, as the Home Secretary tries to burnish his own credentials against his rivals at the very top—
The Home Secretary shakes his head, but he used the word “leadership” in his speech more frequently than any other. He certainly appeared to be trying to burnish his leadership credentials.
We have the sixth immigration Bill, the eighth terrorism Bill and the 24th criminal justice Bill, all adding to the pile of 3,000 or more criminal offences that this Government have shoved on to the statute book. That is two new offences for every day that this Parliament has sat. We are entitled to ask: has it worked? Has the tub-thumping worked? Has the frenzied law-making worked? Has it made a difference in practice?
No, I do not have time because many Back Bench wish to speak. The hon. Gentleman is familiar with the list. We would restore the right to protest in Westminster, we would scrap ID cards and we would make sure that the money saved from ID cards goes towards making a difference to citizens. [Interruption.] If I may, I shall make a little progress.
I credit the Home Secretary with being right in saying that non-violent crime has gone down, roughly since the mid-1990s. Once again, he has claimed all the credit, or at least claimed it for this Government. I looked up the statistics for non-violent crime in other developed economies—comparable countries. Between 1997 and 2001, the last period for which statistics are available, domestic burglary went down by 10 per cent. on average across the European Union, by 27 per cent. in Germany, 17 per cent. in Sweden, 28 per cent. in Canada and 14 per cent. in the United States. In the same period, the theft of motor vehicles decreased on average by 7 per cent. across the European Union, a whopping 36 per cent. in Germany, 23 per cent. in Italy and 9 per cent. in the United States. I am not aware that those countries indulged in the same hysterical, media-driven agenda or the same tsunami wave of legislation. That suggests that there are wider reasons why non-violent crime is declining in all developed economies. Criminologists argue about this, but seem to identify two main reasons—first, the deployment of new security technologies, particularly against car theft and domestic burglary, and secondly, the relatively benign macro-economic environment in all those countries. To suggest, as the Home Secretary has, that that is purely the result of the Government’s rhetorical and legislative approach over the past 10 years is not sustained by the facts.
At the beginning the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Daily Mail headline and was critical of the Home Secretary saying that he would evict yobs from private houses. I have encouraged the police in my constituency to take out a house closure order against a private home that is a hotbed of criminality. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he would oppose such legislation or stop that?
We will look at that. [Laughter.] Let me draw from my own experience. In the two housing estates in my constituency in Sheffield I have spent a lot of time with residents who complain about antisocial behaviour and disruptive neighbours. What they want is a change in the lettings policy run by Sheffield city council. [Interruption.] The notion that we can go around the country shutting every home because neighbours have complained about it is nonsense. To be intelligent and effective about this, rather than to grab headlines, we need to deal with the complexity of it. One of the main reasons so many people, certainly in my constituency, are moving on to estates and being so disruptive is a recent change in local lettings policy.
It would help us if the hon. Gentleman would clarify his answer to the question. When there is, for example, obvious criminality coming from a particular house and making the life of everyone in the area a misery, is he saying that he would oppose our measures to allow the house to be closed down quickly?
The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that there is already legislation covering that. Liberal Democrat councils have deployed it effectively in closing down crack houses. I do not have the detail of the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals; he does. When he divulges it to me, I will look at it. We use the powers that are available already. The nonsense that is often repeated is that we somehow oppose ASBOs, yet we supported them in 1998. We argued then, as the Government agreed at the time, that ASBOs should be used selectively, as a last resort, and not disproportionately on young people. A few years later and the place is being carpeted with ASBOs, driving a lot of young people towards criminality. How can the Home Secretary ask me whether I am for or against the legislation when I have not yet seen it?
We did not oppose the legislation, as the record shows.
Beyond the issue of non-violent crime, what is the record? Let us take reoffending. I cannot think of a better gauge of whether a criminal justice system is working than whether it turns people away from crime once they have completed their prison sentence, or leads to repeat crime and, in its wake, more needless victims. Some 80 per cent. of all young male offenders repeat crime within two years of leaving prison. Overall levels of reoffending are up to 66 per cent. from 53 per cent. when Labour came to power. We have chronically overcrowded prisons, in which one in 10 prisoners is identified as being functionally psychotic and 50 per cent. have serious mental health conditions. Conviction rates for serious crime have gone down. For some serious crimes, such as rape, in some parts of the country the conviction rate is as low as 2 per cent. of all reported cases. ASBOs, the great catch-all, magic wand, silver bullet solution to everything under the sun, now have breach rates of about 50 per cent. In any other area, a public policy that is breached in practice 50 per cent. of the time would be condemned as a total failure.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the document that the Home Office dribbled out earlier this week about reoffending results from the 2003 cohort? It shows categorically that reoffending rates are lower among prisoners who were given a custodial sentence of more than a year than among those who are given a shorter custodial sentence. It produced a graph that shows that the longer someone spends in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. That seems to strike a blow to the liberal do-gooding agenda—[Interruption]—that prison does not work.
It is wonderful to see the Home Secretary agree with one of the less liberal members of the Conservative party. That statistic suggests a number of things. First, very short prison sentences often do not have much effect. If we chuck someone in prison for a few weeks and they languish in a cell designed for one with five other prisoners, we encourage low-level offenders to learn the tricks of the trade and commit more serious crimes when they are outside. Not surprisingly, I do not derive the same conclusions as the hon. Gentleman.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that one of the key issues in preventing reoffending is having an effective probation service? Recently, I spoke to a probation officer in my constituency who told me that she has 65 offenders on her books and struggles to deal with them all. She fears that if contestability is introduced and the service is contracted out, she will have even more, if she remains in the service, because there will be a tendency to bid at a lower level and have even more offenders per probation officer.
My hon. Friend makes an important point.
I am sure that we can all agree that we do not get the best out of the probation service or, indeed, any other public service, by vilifying it. Any probation officer will tell us that morale is so low, particularly in places such as London where one in five crimes takes place, because if anything goes wrong with the system, the finger of blame is pointed at them by one Home Secretary after another. Only recently the Home Secretary did so with regard to Wormwood Scrubs. It is not just the probation service—look at the judiciary. Every time a judge scrupulously follows guidelines set out in Government legislation, most recently the 2003 Act, and takes a decision that the Government do not like, what happens? He gets the finger of blame or the big clunking fist.
The Home Secretary, in an intervention, said that he wishes to create an environment where people feel less frightened, anxious and fearful. It beggars belief that any Home Secretary seriously thinks that day in, day out he can indulge in breathless, media-driven rhetoric talking up the fear of crime and then come to this House and have the cheek to claim that he wants to placate the fear of crime. This Government have over 10 years done more to provoke, and pander to, fear and anxiety among the public than any other Government in modern political history.
Will the measures contained in the Queen’s Speech help to deal with those matters? I am sure that some of them will. We welcome the Government’s change of heart in reversing the sentencing changes—the automatic deductions and so forth—that they introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We will, of course, wish to work with the Government and others to make sure that there is legislation on the statute book that is fit to deal with the threat of serious organised crime. We also accept, as we have done before, the premise of an Australian-style point system, which seems to be the departure point of the border and immigration Bill.
I repeat again, however, that the degeneration of the criminal justice system cannot be halted until Ministers have the courage to stop browbeating the public with cheap, tough rhetoric and tying themselves up in knots with new legislation instead of simply getting on with the job that the British public want their Government to do, which is governing well—governing fairly, effectively and consistently.
There is an alternative—one that would try to address, rather than provoke, public fear. It would seek to change the behaviour of offenders, rather than simply decant them into overcrowded prisons and do far too little of the unglamorous work such as rehabilitation, training, paid work in prison, the pre-release—
No, not the hugging. The Home Secretary flippantly says “hugging”. Maybe he is indifferent to the fact that there are people in this country who are the victims of crimes committed by repeat offenders. Maybe he thinks that that is a joking matter. I think that cutting repeat crime and reducing the number of victims is not a joking matter.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I could not resist rising to respond to the Home Secretary’s shout of “hugging”. He clearly thinks that rehabilitation is a soft, liberal approach—I hope that I will be forgiven for using the word “liberal” in that way. The simple fact is that the biggest condemnation of this Government in the past decade is the massive increase in reoffending by those who have been in prison. It has risen from 56 per cent. to 67 per cent. Never before in history has there been such a great criminal justice failure as that under this Government.
I agree with that, but the right hon. Gentleman and I part company over the fact that I do not share the consensus across the Government and Conservative Front Benches that ever-growing prisons and the construction of ever more prison places is a badge of honour. That seems to me to be a sign of failure. The idea that pouring £1.5 million of public money into building 8,000 new prison places is a success is nonsense, especially as by the time that they are ready in 2011 and 2012 they will not even keep up with the increases that are due. We should be looking at using that money to build and renovate secure mental health treatment centres, for example, where we could relocate many of the people who are languishing in prison and not receiving the treatment that they need for their conditions. We could then put them in specialised institutions where they are incarcerated and kept out of harm’s way—this is not a soft touch—but where they also receive the specialised treatment that helps them to stop reoffending.
Another element of an alternative approach is to give communities a greater say in how the criminal justice system works in the first place. Partly because of the heavy-handed legislative and rhetorical approach from this Government for 10 years, many people I meet think that the criminal justice system is something that is handed down from above—that it is the subject of Whitehall edicts and press releases from the Home Office. People do not feel that they have a stake in it; they do not feel that they have any ownership of it. That is why I urge the Government to look at the pilot projects in Somerset, Liverpool and elsewhere—at community courts and community justice panels. Offenders are asked to appear before them to explain themselves to victims, and then the community has a role in setting sentences in the community, where the offender can make amends and pay reparations to the community where the offence was committed.
I commend my hon. Friend for being the first contributor to this debate to mention support for victims. I do not criticise the Home Secretary for not touching on it, as he cannot mention everything, but I hoped that he would have been able to say something about support for victims of crime.
It was brought to my attention yesterday that the funding arrangements for Victim Support given by the Home Office expressly exclude help for the families of those who have died in road traffic accidents. If someone’s house is burgled, they get a reference to Victim Support, but if someone’s entire family is wiped out by a drunk driver in a road traffic accident, they do not get that. Surely that should be addressed.
I am sure that it should be, as of course should the woeful delay in giving awards to victims once they are decided. Many Members will be familiar with that from our constituency correspondence.
Any coherent and effective approach must be as ferocious in defending traditional British liberties and rights as it is in protecting our collective security. That brings me on to the all-important issue of anti-terror legislation. I ask the Home Secretary to do just two things. First, it is fruitless to play politics with terror, either across the Floor of the House or, worse still, in the fin-de-regime power struggle that now seems to be taking place within the Government.
Secondly, we should not get hung up on 90 days. I welcome the Home Secretary’s emphasis on the need for evidence before any reopening of the debate about the period of detention without charge. However, I hope that if that evidence is ever forthcoming, it is overwhelming in terms of the need for it and, crucially, that that is not outweighed by the effect that it will have on increasing rather than decreasing radicalisation among those communities that we need to bring back onside.
I find that question hypothetical because I have neither seen nor heard anything, in public or in private, that suggests to me that there is such a need. Any reasonable politician of any party will listen, but so far I have not heard or seen any such evidence.
Not only has my hon. Friend not seen the evidence supporting the contention that the 28-day period needs to be extended, but neither has the Attorney-General, who surely must be in a position to judge. He has made it explicitly clear that the evidence has not been put before him, as head of the prosecution service, that there is any case for extending the period beyond 28 days. The Leader of the House tells us that the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General hold identical views. Does my hon. Friend believe that they are the same?
I thought that the Attorney-General’s intervention was extremely important, not least because he placed emphasis on a different area of policy, which my party supports, which is the need to look again at the possibility of setting out in clear terms the circumstances in which questioning after charge can take place. That was an important intervention in the debate, and I hope that the Home Secretary will take it up in his review of the anti-terror laws.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I voted against the extension of the 28-day period. However, the issue has now been raised again. If I am presented with evidence that shows me that I was wrong about the 28 days and there should be another time limit, I would have a serious look at that and decide whether I made the right initial decision. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if evidence is produced, backed by intelligence, that it is necessary to have more than 28 days, the Liberal Democrats will not support an extension?
That is nonsense. If there is overwhelming evidence, of course we will look at it and listen, and it would be deeply irresponsible to say anything else. But I repeat that at present this appears to be an entirely hypothetical debate, driven by politics rather than substance—by internal political posturing rather than evidence. When we get the evidence, let us look at it, and let us see whether it really is as overwhelming as it is purported to be.
The hon. Gentleman is dealing with serious subjects. I was very serious today when I spoke on terrorism; I did not even make a joke about it. I made several, in the spirit of the House in our debates, on other subjects. As the hon. Gentleman is so antipathetic to anything to do with headlines, will he please stop reducing the debate on this matter—by insinuation, inference or direct reference—to a result of alleged internal rivalries in the Labour party? That is not true. I take the suggestion that I would make such decisions on terrorism and the security of the nation on that basis as an insult. I have only mentioned this because it is the third time that the hon. Gentleman has raised it. As he is someone who hates to be a slave to newspaper headlines, I know that he will not wish to do so again.
The right hon. Gentleman may manufacture indignance now, but the weekend before last every Sunday newspaper was full of stories about unnamed sources close to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor burnishing their credentials on who was the greatest terrorist overlord. If the right hon. Gentleman now claims that that had nothing to do with anything that is going on in the Labour party, fine, but I was not born yesterday and nor were many Members.
Order. We are debating an amendment before the House. We have exhausted this topic and should move on.
The Home Secretary raised an important point. In his presentation of the case, he said several times something like, “Do not view intercept or other elements of anti-terrorism law as an alternative for the tough questions.” As always, he put it in a macho way. The very policy that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) has just been talking about—interview after charge—arose precisely because the evidence that was presented to me and, no doubt, to the hon. Gentleman and his predecessor was weak. One of the arguments was, “We cannot interview after charge.” In other words, the Government were not even thinking about the option that would do least damage to our liberties while achieving success against terrorism. So I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is right. Whatever the Home Secretary says about the internal politics, we should leave it to one side. There is no doubt that he is trying to present the policy as a tough, macho option when in fact smarter options are available, including the one that the hon. Gentleman raised.
I agree. If there is any disagreement about what anti-terror legislation should look like—we do not wish to exacerbate any disagreement—it seems to be between those who are frustrated that the criminal justice system does not work quickly enough to deal with the modern terror threat and have introduced innovations that have circumvented due process, most notably extending the period of detention without charge and control orders, and those of us on the Opposition Benches who feel that enough has not yet been done to strengthen, streamline and improve the criminal justice system to make it more, in a famous phrase, “fit for purpose” to deal with terror suspects and prosecute them.
I suggest four ways in which such improvements could be made. One is questioning after charge, about which we have already talked. The second is the threshold that the CPS uses in terror cases. There could be some review of the way in which evidence is marshalled. Not all evidence is marshalled when the CPS takes its decision to proceed with the charge because the evidential trail is often complicated. Thirdly, we could follow the United States and other jurisdictions, which are much more active, with the use of plea bargaining and other methods to get informants into the system to provide valuable information on terror suspects—to use supergrasses so that we can really go after the hardened terrorist criminals.
Fourthly, I hear what the Home Secretary says about intercept evidence; it is not a silver bullet and there are risks. We have always argued for the admissibility of intercept evidence. Beyond that, an enormous amount can be done by prosecutors, juries and judges to decide case by case whether intercept evidence should be admissible. I hope that the principle of admissibility does not cut across the Home Secretary’s legitimate concerns that the use of intercept evidence might reveal all sorts of other evidence that we do not want revealed in open court.
This Queen’s Speech at the tail end of the Prime Minister’s premiership, seems, at least on home affairs, to have gone off with a whimper rather than a bang. It appears to us to be very much more of the same—tough rhetoric, more legislation. What the British people simply want is sound, competent government in which Ministers stop harassing the innocent and get on with the vital job of pursuing the guilty.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), not least because it enables me to remind him that, in 2003, 41 Liberal Democrats voted against the Criminal Justice Bill, which contained proposals for closing crack houses. I know that we are told that they did not oppose it but just voted against it, but that takes us into a territory that I do not want to enter. I shall return to the question of antisocial behaviour and the Liberal Democrats in a few minutes.
The right hon. Gentleman has clearly researched this matter. Did he find a single speech made from the Liberal Democrat Benches against those specific proposals in that Bill? He knows perfectly well that, as usual, it was a portmanteau Bill with some wholly objectionable matters in it, but we did not vote or speak against the proposals on crack houses.
I just looked at the way the Liberals voted on the proposals on crack houses, and that was sufficient for me.
I welcome many of the measures in the Queen’s Speech, and I shall refer to a few of them. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I start with a note of regret that none of the Home Office Bills has been offered up for pre-legislative scrutiny by Select Committees. It may sound like a pettifogging point, but it is important. It has been suggested in this debate that the Home Office is getting a reputation for the quantity rather than the quality of its legislation. Whether or not that is the case, pre-legislative scrutiny helps to improve Bills. For example, the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Bill had its most important clause changed as a result of the scrutiny undertaken by my Committee with the Work and Pensions Committee. With so many Bills proposed, including on offender management and serious fraud, which have been in the pipeline for some time, the Government have missed an opportunity to ensure that the legislation is as good as it possibly can be. Pre-legislative scrutiny works for Government and the implementation of their programme, as well as for Parliament. It is particularly important, given that there is likely to be legislation on terrorism.
We have spent some time talking about last year’s debates on terrorism. There is no doubt that, if the debate on 90 days had taken place after the publication of the two reports by the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the nature of the debate in the House would have been much better and less divisive. It has been said, and my Committee said, that the case on 90 days was not well argued, well presented or well evidenced. If there is a possibility that the Government will seek again to extend the period of pre-charge detention or to introduce any other equally radical change, they would be well advised to put it to a Select Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny or to the independent committee of Privy Councillors that my Select Committee proposed in its report last summer. That would make it possible to scrutinise the evidence in great detail and avoid the divisions that we had last Session.
I hope, too, that the Government will look carefully at the proposal made by my Select Committee to recognise the fact that arrests under terrorism legislation have an element of pre-emptive detention that most crimes do not. It is often necessary to go in and arrest much earlier on the basis of the evidence because of the fear of getting it wrong. I personally believe that had operations such as those at Forest Gate and at the airport this summer been subject to judicial scrutiny, as would happen in some other European countries, it would have strengthened the position of the police and the Government. It is inevitable that some such operations will turn out to be ill founded and based on evidence that was not 100 per cent. reliable.
Inevitably, one jumps from one issue to another in this sort of debate: I turn to the subject of antisocial behaviour. The Government need to be careful, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was in his opening remarks, not to pretend that central Government, through legislation, are in a position to deal with all elements of the problem. Many of those elements depend crucially not only on the new legislation that we will pass this year—which, to be frank, is useful because it will fill some gaps, but it is not profoundly new in the field of antisocial behaviour—but particularly on its implementation locally. I shall illustrate that, for once, by reference to my constituency and my own Liberal Democrat-led city council. The reality is that we have a local authority that says it uses the available powers, but does so ineffectively. It is too slow to use antisocial behaviour orders, it takes far too long to apply housing injunctions, and it simply fails to respond adequately when problems are raised.
A very large part of my constituency—the Sholing area—is now covered by a section 30 dispersal order, because of serious antisocial behaviour problems. I raised the problems in that area with the local authority last May and was told that there were no problems that needed a response. I do not blame the officers involved; I blame the political leadership of the city council. The truth is that, by the time that the scale of the problem was recognised, drastic measures had to be taken, including a huge section 30 order, which, I fear, will have some effect on the lives of law-abiding young people, as well as those who are being targeted.
That example is relevant because when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduces his legislation on antisocial behaviour he needs to remind the House and everyone else that it is how that legislation is applied locally that will determine its effectiveness, not just how well we design that legislation in the House and how high our aspirations are.
I welcome the way in which my right hon. Friend put the legal measures that we take against antisocial behaviour in the wider context of tackling poverty, deprivation, dysfunctional families and so on. I would gently say that, sometimes in the communication of the Government’s message about antisocial behaviour, those different elements do not always come together as coherently as he put them this afternoon. It is essential that we get across to the public that our strategy for dealing with antisocial behaviour involves not only tough laws, but family breakdown issues, youth work and positive interventions.
I am afraid that I wish to make some progress, simply because of the lack of time for Back Benchers.
I should now like to turn to offender management, to which the Government’s general approach is right. I want to make two or three simple points. A really coherent system of offender management that can follow offenders through their prison careers, as well as their time after prison, will require greater flexibility and capacity in the prison system than we currently enjoy; otherwise, there is no sensible way to commission the right path for offenders. In turn, that involves taking measures to strengthen the public credibility of community sentences.
I hope that the Offender Management Bill and the associated commitments will deliver three things. First, there needs to be a guarantee that a portion of all community sentences will be carried out in high-visibility uniforms that clearly identify people as carrying out community sentences. Secondly, the Government need to make greater use of attendance centres, so that there is clearly an element of daytime deprivation of liberty in part of some community sentences. I do not believe that tagging is always an alternative to that. Thirdly, and perhaps most radically, there needs to be a recognition that the impact of, say, a 100-hours community sentence is far greater on someone who holds down a job and has family commitments than on someone who is not so gainfully employed. The courts should be given the flexibility to provide longer community sentences for those for whom the impact of a longer sentence is justified and to ensure that that includes job search and everything that goes with it.
The other element of the national offender management system to which I want to refer relates to the introduction of contestability. I am one of those who believes that probation services will benefit by the introduction of new, innovative approaches to delivering services locally. The key test will be the way in which the Government go about introducing contestability. I am sceptical about the idea that any of the commercial companies that might take part or, indeed, the not-for-profit organisations are capable of taking over from a standing start very substantial chunks of the probation service in a city, county or region. We need to be quite modest in our ambitions.
Most of the innovation is likely to come more locally, probably where people are already making links between traditional probation, training, resettlement and housing projects and so on for offenders. As the Bill proceeds, we will need to look very carefully at ensuring that the regional commissioning model does not try to deliver everything at county or regional level, so that much more local and innovative projects can be considered, as that is where the best ideas will come from.
I certainly hope that the Offender Management Bill will enable local authorities and other public sector bodies to bid to provide elements of what are currently probation services. Such things need not be linked solely to not-for-profit organisations or to the private sector. Certainly some local authorities—including Southampton city council, which I want to praise—are doing very good and very innovative work in getting offenders into employment. Some of those public sector organisations could be very useful indeed in providing new ways to resettle offenders and to get them into work. So I hope that local authorities will not be excluded under the Bill.
While that Bill is proceeding, we need to consider whether to take some more radical steps to ensure that the public sector can provide a higher proportion of employment opportunities for ex-offenders than currently. In many parts of the country, not least because of A8 migration—those from the eight accession countries—the job market is pretty competitive for people with limited employment skills and limited training who leave prison and are competing with young, able and articulate people from other European Union countries who, to be honest, can do the jobs better. We need to ensure that job opportunities are available to offenders, because getting people into work is probably the biggest single thing that we can do to reduce reoffending rates.
We will be considering sentencing under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We will need to consider the proposals carefully. Let us be careful not to undo too much of the settlement that was reached in the 2003 Act. There has been a lot of backwards and forwards movement between judges, who are regarded as having too much discretion, and Ministers, who have wanted to interfere too much. Parliament has not had a voice. The 2003 Act attempted to strike the right balance between a sentencing framework in which the judges were heavily involved but in which Ministers had a say, and one in which Select Committees on behalf of Parliament could have an input and people knew where they were. If we move back too far towards saying, “Let’s solve the problems by introducing a bit of judicial discretion here, because it seems to work”, we are in danger of undoing a very important change in the sentencing framework that was introduced under the 2003 Act.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I hope that he will excuse me if I do not follow every subject that he touched on, but I want to mention the probation service in Hampshire if I have a moment. I want to speak briefly on both transport and home affairs, and to deal with subjects that have not been touched on so far. I shall begin with transport, after a short detour to the section in the Gracious Speech on enhancing confidence in Government statistics.
If people speak to folk in the City, they are absolutely convinced that the Government stand behind the borrowings of Network Rail. If people speak to Ministers, they are absolutely confident that there is no such contingent liability. That misunderstanding is of enormous convenience to the Government because, of course, it displays Government to be more prudent than would otherwise be the case, but both sides cannot be right. The National Audit Office has classified the borrowing as public borrowing; the Office for National Statistics has not. If we are to have a Bill that enhances confidence in Government statistics, perhaps it can resolve that statistical conundrum once and for all.
I want to talk about the Bill on road pricing. If the Government want some political cover while they advance into dangerous territory, I am happy to provide some for them. As with congestion charging, it is an area in which the Government are following, rather than leading. They let Ken Livingstone take the flak on congestion charging, and then moved in behind him. Let me ask the Secretary of State for Transport a pub quiz question: who was reported to have said the following, and when?
“Britain’s 21m motorists can expect to pay for using the nation’s 2,000 miles of motorway network within four years”.
The answer is John MacGregor, on 25 April 1994. As one of the successors to his post in what is now the Department for Transport, I recall that when the Major Government fell, our policy was that motorway tolls would be introduced, subject to the satisfactory completion of technology testing then under way.
The 1996 White Paper, “Transport: the Way Forward” committed the Government to
“introducing good price signals, ensuring as far as possible that transport costs included environmental and other economic costs”.
After 1997, the trail went cold until July 2003, when the White Paper “Managing our Roads” was published. It included some elegant but essentially bland sentences, such as:
“A system of road pricing might allow motorists to make more informed choices about how and when they travel”,
“Nonetheless, it is increasingly realistic to consider the possibility of a road pricing regime in the UK as necessary.”
Sir Humphrey would have been proud of that last sentence. To be fair to the current Secretary of State, he has made the courageous statement that such a scheme will come into force by about 2015, depending on the results of a large trial scheme.
Of course, important questions about road pricing need to be answered, but political commitment to the issue has been lacking, and without it, we simply will not get a sustainable and balanced transport policy. We seem to have reversed from the position held in 1994, even though technology has moved on and made the proposal more practical. I believe that road pricing should be introduced with nil net cost to motorists; in other words, the revenue from tolling should be offset by reductions in petrol duty. Road space is a scarce resource, and there is neither the political appetite nor the financial resource to meet current and potential demand by expanding the road network. Indeed, our environmental commitments do not allow us to build our way out of congestion.
We must make more intelligent use of the road space that we have. When practical, we should nudge journeys on to public transport, and discourage journeys at peak times. Crucially, we need to price roads on the same basis as other modes of transport, which have different tariffs at busy times. At the moment, we pay for using the road through vehicle excise duty and petrol tax, but neither is sensitive to costs. Road pricing can reduce congestion and help road users, and it can benefit the national economy, too. The policy can be sold to motorists; indeed, the motoring organisations are not, in principle, opposed to it. I hope that when the Secretary of State for Transport gives his winding-up speech he can advance on what he said in May:
“I am clear that we need to explore the scope for developing a national system of road pricing. I want to set out the work we will be taking forward in the next few months to move the debate on.”
I believe that it is the Government, rather than the debate, who need to move on.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a model, or pilot scheme, of road pricing that the Government may wish to examine, which, uniquely, does not involve roads? In the stretch of water between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, the cost of crossing depends very much on the time of day and the place at which one chooses to cross. I am sure that it would help the Government enormously to examine that model. Perhaps they would then recognise the need to recompense my constituents for some of the costs of crossing that stretch of water.
My hon. Friend makes the point that there is water pricing, and if that is possible, so is road pricing. He also makes the point that travellers are accustomed to differential tariffs. I simply propose extending a well established principle to the only mode to which it does not already apply.
The price signals for travel are moving the wrong way. In 1997, the regime for controlled rail fares was the retail prices index minus 1. That gave a clear signal that, in real terms, the cost of rail travel would fall. Since then, that signal has been switched from green to red, as rail fares have increased in real terms. We are promised a White Paper on rail in the new year, and I hope that it will make it absolutely clear that capacity will be increased to meet demand, and that demand will not be choked off, using fares. I hope, too, that there will be something in the White Paper on a particular hobby-horse of mine: rail-cycle integration.
While I am on the subject of bicycles, I should like to address a transport issue closer to home. I hope that we can improve facilities for visitors who come to Parliament by bicycle. We have looked after ourselves, and there is now adequate provision on the parliamentary estate. Visitors, however, must use the underground car park in Abingdon street, or the racks on Millbank. Most meetings take place in Portcullis House, so we need racks on the Embankment outside that building, and I hope that discussions with Westminster city council on the subject will bear fruit.
I want to talk briefly about coroners. I confess that until recently I had not taken much interest, in my 30 years in this place, in the coroner service, but in February 2005 some constituents came to see me about their daughter-in-law, who died in hospital in Oxford in 2001. An inquest was necessary because of the circumstances of her death, which was possibly a suicide, but when they came to see me the Oxford coroner had not yet held the inquest, and that was causing some distress. I wrote to the coroner in February and received an answer in May, telling me that there would be an inquest in July. It did not take place, so I went on writing. Eventually, I had to write to the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, who replied in February this year, saying that the coroner
“acknowledges that he has not responded to your letters as he would have wished. He attributes this to pressure of casework”.
I was told that the case would be listed for a jury inquest in June or September this year, but the inquest has still not been held, even though the death took place more than five years ago. We need a better system. Again, the story is one of slow progress by the Government.
In 2000, Harold Shipman was convicted, on sample charges, of murdering 15 patients, although the real total of victims is likely to be nearer 250. The Government set up two reviews: a judicial inquiry by Dame Janet Smith, and a wider fundamental review of the death certification and coroner systems, led by Tom Luce. Both reviews reported in summer 2003, more than three years ago. They concluded that the death certification and coroner systems provided completely inadequate safeguards against homicide, and had a number of other serious defects, too. In particular, they mentioned the distress that could be caused to bereaved families.
In March 2004, the Government committed themselves to a serious reform of both systems. The coroner service was to become a national service, with new responsibilities for the oversight of all death certificates, but it was to keep its historical responsibilities for investigating deaths reported to it for special examination. The Government’s proposals would largely have remedied the defects identified in the two reports. The Government promised more details within a year, in a White Paper and a draft Bill that was to be published by March 2005. Sadly, that promise simply was not kept, and those proposals have not been followed through. Instead, in February this year, the Minister made a statement that retreated seriously from the Government’s original proposals, as did the draft Bill that we were promised would be included in last Session’s list of Government Bills. It was eventually published in June this year.
Instead of the radical but necessary reform of the coroner and death certification systems called for in both the reports, the Government retreated from the creation of a national coroner service and left virtually untouched the existing system. That will do little or nothing to prevent a new Shipman from killing patients and certifying their deaths as natural. The Government’s proposals totally failed to remedy a defect in the death certification and coroner systems that means that death certification by doctors is completely unsupervised. Ministers did not convince the Constitutional Affairs Committee that their approach was adequate, and Dame Janet Smith told the Committee that the proposals
“go no way at all towards remedying the defects that failed to detect or deter Shipman. If these reforms go through…there could still be a Shipman out there”.
Given the mauling that the Government took from the Select Committee, it is no surprise that there is no legislation on coroner and death certification reform in their programme. However, we need to make progress, and it is absolutely astonishing that, more than half a decade after the discovery of the Shipman catastrophe, the Government are still unable to come up with, and follow through on, reforms that would adequately respond to the situation.
I want to pick up on a point that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) made about probation services. The probation service in Hampshire is one of the most progressive and successful in the country. I saw the service in action when I sat at the back during an anger management course to which men who had beaten up their partners were sent as an alternative to custody. A young probation officer in her 20s was handling 12 fairly aggressive and at times very disagreeable men, and I was enormously impressed by the way she coped with them.
That underlines the point that I was making: the probation service in Hampshire is well recognised and progressive. I am concerned that the proposed reforms may destabilise it.
I am not against private sector involvement in the probation service but I hope that we can keep good probation officers; I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that there are good probation officers. I also very much hope that we can keep the links with the statutory agencies—the other bodies necessary for probation services to be successful—and that we can maintain some local connections. Local boards are being abolished but a local dimension is important.
In the remaining time, I want to touch on one more subject. The people in my constituency are fairly tolerant and easy-going, but their patience was tested by the recent news that prisoners were receiving compensation for being weaned off drugs. The matter was raised at business questions last week and the Leader of the House, a former Home Secretary, struggled to find an adequate reply. Such incidents bring human rights legislation into disrepute and funds are diverted from elsewhere.
We were led to believe that this was the Prime Minister’s last Queen’s Speech. The verdict on the Queen’s Speech, as on the Prime Minister, might be that it was a missed opportunity. On reform of the House of Lords, for example, the Gracious Speech says that the Government “will bring forward proposals”. It is a comment on the Prime Minister that with three decent majorities after three elections, at each of which we were promised House of Lords reform, in the 10th year all we have is
“on reform of the House of Lords”—
the Government “will bring forward proposals”. Perhaps that could be the Prime Minister’s epitaph: he brought forward proposals.
It is always a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) who, in a typically thoughtful speech, raised a large number of issues. On his final point, about House of Lords reform, I will say only that as a unicameralist I am pleased to note that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given the option of abolition as the first vote available to us.
I want to say a few words about transport before talking about home affairs. During the Crossrail debate on 31 October, at column 254, I made the point that per capita spending on transport in London for 2005-06 was £631 per head, compared with only £278 per head in the north-west of England, where my constituency is. It was argued that a capital city needs more transport investment than provincial conurbations, and there may be something in that, but I venture to suggest that more than twice as much does not reflect the reality of the situation. We were also told that Crossrail, if it ever happens, is projected to cost between £13 billion and £16 billion—some estimates put the cost as high as £20 billion. If the scheme goes ahead the spending differential that I described will be further exaggerated.
Last year, the Department for Transport—under different Ministers, I am pleased to note—pulled the plug on the Merseytram line 1, which would have cost a mere £310 million, a very small amount compared with schemes such as Crossrail. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), as the new Minister responsible for light rail, has agreed to meet a delegation, including me, to discuss the tram scheme at some time over the next two weeks. I hope that he will reconsider the scheme.
I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s announcement of measures for the better regulation of bus services. Twenty years ago, almost to the day, I made my maiden speech on the subject of bus deregulation. I re-read that debate recently—what a sad life I lead—and all the things we said would go wrong with deregulation have come to fruition; indeed, they did so almost immediately. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take the opportunity to put right the things that were done so wrongly 20 years ago.
I welcome the measures on home affairs in the Queen’s Speech, particularly the further measures to deal with antisocial behaviour. Another element needs to be addressed, and it is interesting that, other than tangentially, none of the Front-Bench speakers referred to it all: policing and the resources to fund it. I shall return to that point later. Time permitting, I hope, too, to speak about prisons and the criminal justice system.
The background for my concerns is that some areas in my constituency are, in effect, in the control of gangsters. I do not claim that we are unique in that; it is true of many areas of the country. Gangsters determine who can live where, what time people are allowed to walk the streets and what happens in shops. The police do not have the powers or resources to deal adequately with the problem. I shall give two brief examples.
A few weeks ago, under cover of mischief night—so-called—a family in my constituency were hounded out of their home, which was raided with a hail of bricks. The police came to rescue the family and they, too, were hailed with bricks thrown by about 50 young people. Those young people had not suddenly decided to pick on the family; they were not at the scene by accident. The family were known as police informants, or in local parlance, grasses, and the local gangsters had set the youths up to hound them.
Gangsters determine who can live in a particular house on a given estate and we shall have to get to grips with that issue quickly. Indeed, some gangsters buy up former council houses with the proceeds of drugs, but, when the registered social landlords evict them, they pop up the next day in a privately rented house in the next street, probably owned by a drug baron, and carry on their activities without restraint.
Another incident occurred in West Derby. I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) that I would raise it; he, too, has expressed concerns about the problem. After a local youth was killed in what was apparently an inter-gang incident, the gangsters in the area determined that on the day of his funeral all the shops and other businesses in the constituency would have to close down. That is what happened. They control whether a shop opens or closes, which is unacceptable.
I do not blame Merseyside police for either of those incidents. To be fair, they tried their best to deal with both of them. Although I welcome the increase in police numbers since 1997, we have to face the fact that we need to consider dramatic increases in their numbers if we are to get to grips with the problems. I am grateful to the Library for providing me with some European comparisons. The number of police per 100,000 population is 326 in Austria, 387 in France, 227 in the Netherlands and 264 in England and Wales. I realise that the comparisons cannot be exact because policing systems are different, but I suspect that we need to consider the same level as France rather than the Netherlands. I hope that Home Office Ministers will look at that. The issue of how many police officers we need to deal with the level of problem that I have described, up and down the country, is worthy of serious consideration.
Over recent years, there has been a lot of discussion about prisons and the criminal justice system. It seems that, on occasions, the number of prison places is either a good thing or a bad thing. I simply make the point that the courts should not decide how they sentence in the light of how many prison places are available. If the person found guilty as charged has committed an offence that is serious enough for a custodial sentence, the courts should sentence them, and then the problem is one for the Home Office and the Prison Service to address. I strongly believe that, in taking the matter into consideration, which they often do, the courts fail the public and fail to take up the responsibilities that they have as part of our judicial system.
I deplore the fact that, often, the magistrates courts simply do not take any notice of how serious an offence is. One young offender in my constituency—I will not name him—was in court on more than 30 occasions for serious breaches of antisocial behaviour orders or bail conditions before the magistrates gave him a custodial sentence. Frankly, in many cases magistrates are disgracefully out of touch with local communities in the way in which they sentence.
I think that it was the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), when he was Home Secretary, who was often condemned—even by me on occasions—for the mantra “prison works,” but in one real sense he was right. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and the shadow Home Secretary spoke glowingly about rehabilitation, but they never described in any detail what they meant by that. If we are perfectly honest, we have not got a clue what sort of rehabilitation works. We know that prisons work in at least one respect: they take the villains off the street for as long as they are in prison. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office will not be seduced by a siren voice saying that community sentences and other things work. They can work in certain circumstances, but, having spoken to a lot of young offenders over many years, I can tell the House that they are contemptuous of community sentences. They say, “Bring it on. I can do plenty of that.” Often they ought to be serving a custodial sentence.
Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to visit All Saints school in my constituency, where an organisation called Skill Force works. Skill Force is a spin off from the Ministry of Defence. Ex-soldiers, with a lot of experience, were working in the school. They know how to deal with difficult youngsters. Skill Force should be given a role in the criminal justice system. The sort of community sentences that it would use might well work.
The Gracious Speech promised us a border and immigration Bill, but on what we know of the Bill so far, it is difficult to see how it will meet the strong and legitimate concerns of members of the public on both legal and illegal immigration. Some of the measures in the Bill will apparently be linked to identity cards. Indeed, in his speech, the Home Secretary dealt with the issue mainly in terms of the case for identity cards, but it is difficult to see how much the introduction of identity cards would do to deal with legal migration, where the migrants follow legal routes and are who they say they are. Even in relation to illegal migration, it is hard to see how identity cards would make as much difference as the Home Secretary contends.
We need to see a more efficient and rigorous application of existing measures. I fear that there may not be enough emphasis on that. Judging the Home Secretary’s performance so far—I know that we have to draw a veil over everything that took place before he took office, when the Home Office was not fit for purpose, but I am talking about what has happened since the current Home Secretary took office—we can see that, between July and September, the number of removals of unfounded asylum claimants fell and is now significantly below the number of new arrivals seeking asylum. That was the one statistic that the Government sought to dramatise as the so-called tipping point. We did not hear much today about the tipping point. It is not entirely heartening to see that, even in the short time so far, we have not seen a particularly rigorous and efficient administration on that point.
More generally, the Home Secretary spoke about asylum and immigration in terms of global migration and migration as a global phenomenon. That carried the implication that, somehow, this matter was beyond the scope of any Government in any part of the world to control and that that explained the phenomenon of the recently high levels of migration that this country has seen. Of course it is true that there are many people across the world who want to migrate, largely for economic reasons, but it is not beyond the control of Government to do something about it. That is what we have Governments for: to have policies and to implement controls over our borders. As for the contention that global migration is an explanation of the significant net migration that this country has seen, the fact of the matter is that, according to the statistics, there has been a significant and sharp rise in inward net migration to this country since the present Government came to office, I believe as result of policies that they introduced.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. I have some scepticism about identity cards. On migration, does he agree that simply having effective biometric passports would solve many of the problems that he is talking about?
I will approach the subject with an open mind. However, in relation to legal migration, we are dealing with other issues. The figures that I am referring to—the new inward migration to this country that has so sharply increased over the last decade—relate to legal migration. Illegal migration is a wholly different subject. When I refer to illegal migration, I am not suggesting for a moment that the migrants themselves have done anything wrong or that they are in this country to do wrong. Most, if not all, of them, come here to work and better themselves economically. The illegality lies in the fact that they do not have the right to come to this country or to remain here once they enter.
It is not surprising that there has been an increase, because the Government’s policy, as I understand it from reading their policy documents, is broadly to welcome migration for economic reasons. That is certainly the case with the Government’s most recent policy document, but I would suggest that the Government need a rethink on that matter, as surely the consequences of migration are more far-reaching and wider in their impact even than the economic benefits that the Government contend. One has to add that whether or not migration brings about an economic benefit is itself very hotly contested on the basis of a great deal of evidence. Without judging purely on the criterion of economic benefit, it must be the case that many other factors should be taken into account in determining the amount of migration. The far-reaching consequences of migration cannot be encapsulated solely in terms of its contribution—net or otherwise—to economic benefit or disbenefit at any particular time.
In my view, the Government have never sought to integrate the non-economic consequences of migration into their policy to take sufficient account of the impact of the other factors that arise from it or to spell out what limit on migration they might wish to see. The Home Secretary’s predecessor said that as far as he was concerned there was no upper limit to migration. That has been the guiding principle behind the Government’s general approach to migration.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling speech. Does he agree that the problem with Government policy is the discrepancy between the creation of economic wealth and the utilisation of public services? For example, economic migrants are picking vegetables in south Lincolnshire, but they are utilising scarce resources under the auspices of local government in my Peterborough constituency. The Government simply have not thought that issue through.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. One of the Government’s problems is their failure to take account of the impact of migration in different parts of the country. The Government said that they would welcome migration to Scotland, for example, but most migrants have chosen to go to parts of the country with a greater concentration of migrants, such as London and the south-east. According to the latest labour force statistics, nearly half of all migrants are coming to London. The Government have not sufficiently taken into account other non-economic effects of migration, particularly in London, the south-east and constituencies such as mine in Hertfordshire.
On that policy point, I commend the recent policy document issued by the Conservative Front-Bench team, which specifically examined the other consequences of migration and highlighted the need to take them into account in policy making. The document spells out the consequences of the other impacts. It argues that policy should take into account not just economic needs at any one time, but
“the ability of the public services and infrastructure to cope with new arrivals at both national and local levels, the environmental impact of a rapidly rising population, and the potential effects on community cohesion.”
To focus on infrastructure and the environment, I would say that one of the most compelling aspects is the effect of migration on housing demand—a connection that the Government never seem to make. I have heard Ministers go out of their way to avoid the issue. On any view, however, migration must be a substantial component of housing demand. Migrants do not just disappear into thin air: like everybody else, they need roofs over their heads.
The statistics have been dug out by my Front Benchers, but the Government have not sought to highlight them in their policy making. According to statistics provided in February this year by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 31 per cent. of annual household growth between 2003 and 2026—that is 65,000 households a year out of a total of 209,000 households formed each year—is attributable to net migration. That statistic is particularly resonant for my constituents and other Hertfordshire residents who face the construction of tens of thousands of new houses, a significant proportion of which are the result of migration.
At some point, the two policies must come together and the Government must take account of the amount of migration and the number of houses required to meet those needs. I do not believe that the Government’s existing policy—or what was said in the Gracious Speech—sufficiently achieves that. We need joined-up policy making on migration to take account of its wider impact, given its current scale. We must take a measured tone, but it can reasonably be said that migration is now at a historically significant scale. We have not taken sufficient account of it and our constituents are worried about it. They see the effects that I have described on housing and the environment, and they want policies to have a greater connection between migration and its consequences. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, who have produced a very good policy document as a starting point for this debate, will listen carefully to the public’s concerns and seek to address them fully in time.
The House of Commons never ceases to delight and entertain. How else could I expect to sit quietly and listen to a member of the Liberal party inveighing against headline-dictated politics? Life is full of little joys.
The Gracious Speech offers the Government the opportunity to précis their policies, if nothing else. Above all, it allows them to explain to us what we can expect to do in the next 12 months. The beginning of a new Parliament is a good time to take stock of what has happened and consider what we need to do.
It is important to begin by saying that the Government have put transport at the top of their agenda for quite a long time and have committed large sums to it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) finds that amusing. However, if we look at the amount of money that has been poured into the railway industry in the past five years, we see that ratepayers and taxpayers now contribute five times more than they did to British Rail. Compare that with the amount being spent on roads and new constructions such as the channel tunnel rail link and other positive developments, and we begin to realise that, when the Government talk about the need to consider the bus industry carefully and to change bus travel, they do so because they are very much concerned with the interests of the ordinary person in this country.
I have no problem with the degree of the Government’s success on transport. Had we not spent the amount of money that has gone into it, we would not have an expanding railway industry that is constantly looking for more capacity. Neither would we have a railway freight industry that constantly competes for extra paths because it now carries more and more tonnage. Instead, we would find—with railways, and certainly with roads—that the constant spiral of dereliction was making it more difficult to move around.
The hon. Gentleman asks why I find it difficult to support the Government. The general public have a marvellous capacity, which I understand, to take from Government that which they need and enjoy, rarely to appreciate how much advance there has been, and frequently to complain bitterly about what is happening today.
It is time for the Government to consider transport in general and to examine brutally their commitment to involving private firms right across the transport industry at considerable cost to the taxpayer. They must accept that the only way that that can continue is with a movement of risk to those people who are taking the penny. That is happening on an increasing scale and the current situation with the railways is, sadly, a classic example.
Large sums have been committed to the railways, yet there is little innovation in the industry. I recently received a plaintive letter from the chief executive officer of a large company, which shall remain anonymous, saying that it has introduced various innovations and that he cannot think why we do not appreciate it. He went on to list two pages’ worth of changes that his company has made, all but one of which were improvements to management structure to allow him to run the company more efficiently. If railway companies under private control cannot run efficiently, I do not know what they are doing in the industry, yet that was presented as an imaginative and important change.
Such muddled thinking means that for many railway companies, simply entering into what is, in effect, a management relationship with the Government enables them to take the cash without dealing energetically with the need to expand their facilities and find different ways of providing better services. The Government must work out in their own mind what they want to do. If they do not want to control the basic forms of transport, they must make sure that they get value for money. That is not the case at present, and the railway industry needs to be examined closely, but the issue is not just the railway industry.
The Government are right to consider road pricing, but let us be clear that the roads lobby will not allow the debate to take place in a balanced and judicious manner. There will be a constant complaint that there is a deliberate attempt to punish the motorist even if, as the Government suggest, their road pricing policy is revenue neutral. The Transport Committee analysed the matter in great detail. We explained that the Government should, at the same time, address the problems of divergence, ensure that policy on the motorways was drawn up in relation to the convergence of congestion charging in towns and cities, and plan for a specific situation that will arise when it is suggested that nothing needs to be done and the present situation can be allowed to continue, even though there are more and more cars coming on to the roads and people are driving more and more millions of miles.
The Government must be ready to debate the environmental, economic and political effects of road pricing, and to make sure that the general public understand that the only alternative to moving goods and people is stagnation, not a continuation of the present situation. The country will begin to pay the real costs of congestion. We cannot allow the debate to become a football between the various parties.
We must look carefully at other aspects of the transport industry. The Transport Committee is investigating security in transport across the board. It is plain that there is still not a full acceptance of the different situation that we now face in relation to those who would destroy our peace and stability by violent means. We should encourage the development of new techniques of transport security, and clear and well developed policies in relation to a ports police. The Government have suggested that they might consider a border police force. In the British Transport police we have the core of an existing force that is properly trained and which understands the existing techniques of policing railways, ports and aviation. The force should be expanded and seen as a professional force with the ability to provide a high level of security for the country. It should be a force that we understand.
The Government should examine closely the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European institutions. We have handed over responsibility for aviation, we are increasingly subject to directives in relation to railways, and I have no doubt that in due course there will be some kind of discussion in the European institutions about how they can rationalise and harmonise the congestion charging and road tolling systems in operation.
That is all perfectly well, if we are having abstract and pleasant seminars on transport planning for the 22nd century. What will not do—this is becoming increasingly clear—is institutions taking over powers that they do not fully exercise from a position of informed consent. The Government must make a real effort to ensure that institutions such as the European Aviation Safety Agency, which will change how aviation operates, proceed on the basis of not only what is workable, but what is acceptable, which is not the current situation. Indeed, the changes in aviation safety introduced by EASA are likely to result in direct and dangerous consequences before very long.
I could cheerfully follow those hon. Members who have discussed aspects of immigration and other changes. There is a marvellous dichotomy among Opposition Members, who say that we must always have economic development, but not in their constituencies. I understand that point, but I do not support it.
The present Government, in their zeal to improve, occasionally confuse the word “modernise” with the word “change”. Human beings will respond to change—they respond to challenges—but they cannot be stampeded into enormous changes without very good evidence. The probation service has done a good job in the United Kingdom. I have great confidence in those of its staff who operate in my constituency, and I work closely with them. Constantly suggesting that the probation service will be privatised and that somebody else can do a better job for profit is not only not very bright; it is very damaging. I say to Ministers that we do not want a Prison Service that is as efficient as private industry is in the transport field, because we have enough problems without that.
I want to follow some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). Although I welcome the characteristically trenchant thoughts of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), I hope that she will forgive me if I do not take them up.
The Gracious Speech includes a Bill to provide the immigration service with more powers to control immigration. We know that the Government want to appear tough on controlling immigration, because that approach plays well with people who are hostile to immigration per se. That approach also gives the impression that the real policy concerns illegal immigration rather than lawful immigration, which is permitted and encouraged by the Government.
The Government have not given us a rationale for controlling immigration. The one lesson that I learned as a Minister is that it is absolutely crucial to have a rationale for any policy or Bill that one wants to introduce and see work effectively. It is clearly necessary to have a rationale for controlling immigration, if one is to determine which powers are needed. It is also important to have a rationale if one is to determine which categories of immigration one will allow and which categories one will deem to be illegal. Far more importantly, if Ministers do not spell out the rationale, the purpose, the reasons and the justification for what they are doing, such measures will never be enforced.
Officials can implement a policy only if they understand what it is for and if they can see the rationale and can put it into practice. If they do not see a rationale, they will not implement the policy, which may be one reason why the Home Office has not been implementing controls on immigration and has sought to turn a blind eye to large categories of illegal immigration, which led to ministerial resignations a year or two ago.
We know the Government’s policy on lawful immigration, as they have spelled it out. It was spelled out to this House on their behalf in a Home Office document by officials who were probably unduly free at the time because the Home Office Minister concerned was being upbraided in the press about his personal affairs and was unable to be concerned enough about what his officials were releasing. The document stated:
“The Government wants to encourage lawful migration to the country…sustaining and perhaps increasing current levels of lawful immigration”.
We know the rationale for that policy. The Government have made it clear that they believe that immigration is good for us—an unalloyed good—and that there are no negatives associated with it. The specific economic justifications that they have given all imply that the benefits are proportionate to the numbers that come here. They have never given any reason why any economic migrant should not be permitted to enter the country. They say that we should welcome lawful immigration—why should not we welcome all economic migration? [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) wants to tell me that that is her policy, she is free to intervene—but no, she has suddenly become glued to her seat.
We are left with a Government whose position seems to be that illegal immigration is not good for us because it is illegal. I prefer things to be illegal because they are not good for us rather than its being a purely circular thing. There may be reasons for the Government’s position, and I will suggest some. It could be that it is a question of numbers—that although all immigration is good for us, there should be a limit on numbers. That happens to be my view, but it is not the Government’s. They have said that there should be no upper limit on immigration and have vilified Conservative proposals to set an annual limit on the numbers. I was delighted that our Front-Bench spokesman reaffirmed that we believe in a numerical limit on economic migration into this country.
The Government have said that we must accept as many people into this country as our employers want to accept. That is a potentially unlimited amount, because the demand for labour at less than the going rate is always unlimited. There is a virtually unlimited supply of labour across the world from people who are willing—anxious—to work here for less than those already here are accustomed to accepting.
I am listening with interest to the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. He is making strong assertions. Why, in 2005, did his party abstain on two clauses in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill that would have tightened restrictions on appeals and improved our ability to strip citizenship from those who pose a risk to Britain?
If the hon. Lady paid more intention to my speech than to the Whip’s brief, she would know that I was talking about economic migration, not asylum, which is a different matter that I shall deal with on another day. When I have an opportunity to catch the Speaker’s eye and talk about asylum, I shall do so, but today I am talking about economic migration.
On economic migration, does my right hon. Friend accept that the latest figures show that the most economically competitive countries in Europe are Switzerland and Finland? Switzerland has some of the tightest controls; Finland does not, but nobody wants to go there.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, although I think that lots of people do want to go to Finland—it is just that it is quite difficult to get to from the places that immigrants tend to come from.
Could it be that the Government want to reject unskilled migrants? No. The Home Office issued a document that stated:
“There is clearly unsatisfied demand at all skill levels in the labour market…skill shortages and unfilled vacancies manifest themselves at all skill levels”.
So it is not simply a matter of allowing in a narrow group of skilled people—we are told that unskilled people are as necessary if not more necessary. Indeed, the Prime Minister specifically said that we need people to do jobs that British people will not do. We are allegedly too grand to do the dirty work and must therefore import a class of helots, who will presumably be required to do only that and never move on to anything else, such as the higher paid jobs that the domestic population finds preferable. Once one allows them to do that, the stream will be unlimited. People will come in initially to do the unpleasant jobs at artificially low wages and then move on to other jobs. The answer is that we should pay people a decent rate for the job. We would then have no difficulty in persuading members of the domestic population to be dustmen and so on. Indeed, there is no shortage of people.
The Government’s economic arguments all lead in the direction of unlimited immigration. If they are accepted—they tended to be accepted by a broad political and business consensus until recently—we reach two unacceptable conclusions. The first is that the number of economic migrants to this country should be unlimited and the second is that the only reason for opposing or restricting immigration is hostility to immigrants. Sadly, sections of the press and parties that are anxious to restrict immigration play to the caricature of immigrants as lazy criminal scroungers and so on.
Unlike most hon. Members, I have lived in largely immigrant areas. I have represented many immigrants in my constituency and worshipped in the same church as people from immigrant communities. I therefore know that the caricature is false. Most economic migrants who want to come to this country are hard working and law abiding and want to make a positive contribution. I would not be prepared to base a policy on a caricature founded on hostility to them.
However, it is important to examine the economic arguments to ascertain whether they lead ineluctably to unlimited access to this country. When we do that, we find that they do not. The Government’s first argument is that immigration is good for economic growth. It is true that immigration makes the labour force bigger but it does not necessarily make it richer per head. Indeed, the Government’s own figures are based on the assumption that, although the people coming to this country will add to the labour force, they do not add to output or income per head. That is not surprising.
Some people believed that there might be a dynamic effect and that a flow of immigrants would raise the rate of increase in output per head. However, since the Government have encouraged the process of increasing the flow of often unskilled labour into the country, there has been a decline in the growth of productivity. That applies not only to this country but to America, which is often held up as an economy booming because of immigration. It has grown bigger because of immigration, but, since immigration accelerated there, output per head has grown only at much the same rate as that in Europe and on this side of the Atlantic. Immigration does not, therefore, have that dynamic effect.
The Government’s second argument, which also, if true, means that we should have more and more immigration is that a fiscal benefit ensues; that the amount of tax paid by immigrants exceeds the cost of benefits. Of course, we all know that the initial sums were calculated in a year when there was an overall surplus, so everybody, not only those of immigrant origin, paid more tax than they received benefits. Even if one corrects for a different year, as the Institute for Public Policy Research did, there appears to be a small differential in favour of net taxes—payments to the Exchequer by immigrants. However, that is the case only on the assumption—the Government have refused to revise the figures or acknowledge the need to do that—that all children, one of whose parents is an immigrant and the other is of domestic birth, are counted as British citizens. Their total costs are attributed to Britain, rather than half of them—as one would expect—being attributed to the immigrant parent and the other to the domestic population. Once we take that into account, there is no net surplus fiscally. In any case, we know that rich people pay more in taxes than they receive in benefit, by and large, and that it is the other way round for less well-off people. That would lead purely to differentiation in the type of immigration by the likely income level of immigrants, if the Government really believed that it was the case, which they probably do not.
There is an argument that we should import a finite number of people to deal with a finite shortage. Some years ago, the Prime Minister referred to there being some 500,000 vacancies in this country, and said that we therefore needed to import the labour to fill them. Since then, we have let in the best part of a million workers—that is the net figure—yet there are still 500,000 vacancies. That is no accident, because every new worker not only assuages the demand for one unit of labour but is also a consumer. Through their consumption, they create the need for just as much labour as they provide. So there is no net filling of vacancies. Nor do those people undermine the jobs of existing workers here, as the British National party suggests, making the mistake known as the lump of labour fallacy. If there were a domestic labour shortage, we would experience wage inflation, yet we have never seen it at a lower level than now. Furthermore, the answer would not be to encourage unlimited immigration but to tighten monetary policy appropriately.
We need to look closely at the Government’s arguments for justifying virtually unlimited immigration and to recognise that some immigration is necessary to this country. However, it should be more a lubricant than a fuel. A limited amount is good for us, but an unlimited amount is unnecessary and would bring costs and problems in its train. We will need control of immigration, and it is sad that the Government have not given us a rationale for the powers that they propose to take.
One of the problems with the Queen’s Speech debate is that we have to cover two very important issues in one afternoon. It is tempting to allow oneself to be dragged into a debate on both issues, and I am certainly tempted to take up some of the points on migration raised by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), as I take a very different view from him. I believe that economic migration is generally good for the nation—I think that I could even argue a free market case for that—but perhaps I should discuss that with the right hon. Gentleman on another occasion.
I want to say a few words today about the relationship between climate change and our transport systems. I have no ideology about which form of transport is preferable to any other. If air transport is the best form of transport for a particular journey, we should use air. If rail is the best, we should use the railway, and if road transport is the best, we should use the roads. That applies to all the other forms of transport as well. So I start from a non-ideological position, but I believe that we need to have a very close look at the effect of climate change on our transport systems.
Transport produces about 14 per cent. of our carbon emissions on average, which is a significant part of the annual emissions not only of this country but throughout the world. If we are to tackle climate change and to reverse some of the developments of the recent past, we must address the issue of transport. We must ask ourselves what we can do, and in what time span, to effect the necessary changes in our transport systems.
I am not someone who loves to quote statistics in the Chamber, but two statistics have hit me right between the eyes. The first is that 85 per cent. of the public transport movements between Glasgow and London are by air. That is a phenomenal increase compared with when I first started travelling around the country about 35 years ago. In relation to the second significant statistic, I have comparable figures for Newcastle and Glasgow, but I would rather use the ones that apply to my own constituency. With regard to carbon emissions, travelling from Newcastle to London in an average petrol car will emit 73 kg of carbon per passenger journey, whereas by air 93 kg of carbon will be emitted, and by rail only 16 kg of carbon will be emitted. The message is clear. If we are to tackle the link between transport and climate change, we must move away from air—I say that as someone who enjoys flying and flies regularly—and away from road transport towards rail, in inter-city transport.
As for transport within a city, there are other solutions including cycling and walking. If I had said in the Chamber 20 years ago that the Labour party should have policies to encourage cycling and walking as a solution to our transport problems, people would have thought that I was a raving lunatic. Today, however, cycling and walking provide a real solution in the inner city. I applaud the action of the Mayor of London in linking up the various London squares. We need to find a way of making safe journeys either by bike or on foot throughout our cities.
A lot needs to be done on moving towards rail. Little can be done quickly, as real changes will involve massive investment. It cannot be done in one country alone. Just as attempts to address climate change, if they are to have any impact, must be bound by an international agreement, so must transport change. If we are to have a competitive airline industry, we cannot take measures in relation to this country’s airlines if similar measures are not being taken by those elsewhere in Europe and the United States.
I have always supported the idea of a fixed rail link from the north to the south of Britain. I first travelled on a fixed link in Japan, probably 20 years ago, and was very impressed. We have seen such development in France and some other European countries, and it now seems logical to have a fixed rail link for inter-city passenger transport throughout Europe. Just as we make the case for a co-ordinated system of public transport in Newcastle or Britain, we should make the case for such a system in Europe. One should be able to get on a train in Newcastle and get off where appropriate in Europe. Travelling from Newcastle to Majorca, it would be silly and inefficient to try to go by train and boat, unless one likes sailing and a long journey. If we are to tackle climate change, however, it should be possible to travel from Newcastle to Benidorm—which many people do regularly—and other mainland locations in Europe on a fixed rail link as speedily as possible, as within 750 miles, fixed-link railways are competitive.
When I was young, I travelled from Dundee to Alicante by rail on three occasions, which is a wonderful journey. One could go to a Transalpino office and buy all the tickets. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no longer a place to buy tickets for such trans-European travel?
As a student I worked as a railway booking clerk, so I do know about such things. The old joke was that if people were going to Dunfermline, they should change at Inverkeithing. We need a coherent system, including ticketing and so on, but it needs major investment.
Similarly, the east coast main line has no more capacity. We cannot put any more inter-city passenger trains on it. Therefore, if we take people off aeroplanes, where do we put them? That issue must be faced by Government, local government and Parliament. We need to look closely at what kind of investment is possible in what time scale. Things should be co-ordinated at European level if through trains are to carry people from one destination to another, but it must also be affordable. At present it is often much cheaper to fly from Newcastle to City airport on Eastern Airways than to travel on GNER—unless we book 12 years in advance.
We need a transport revolution as big as the industrial revolution. Can the market system deal with that? We all agree, in the House and elsewhere, that we want to protect the environment and to be safe from certain things. How do we move from that to changing our transport systems? The same might apply to electricity generation, incidentally, but that is another issue for another day. Can this be left to the market?
I have no particular ideological objection to market economics. I recognise many of its strengths. However, I do not think it can deal with this issue, just as it could not deal with the issue of pollution from factories or sending kids up chimneys in the 18th and 19th centuries. There had to be regulation at that time, which meant intervention in the market system. When it comes to the big issues that we are discussing today, I do not see a market solution. I think that considerable regulation will be needed. I say that with regret, because I do not want a lot of red tape, but I do not see how we can get that passenger train from Newcastle to Benidorm without a number of interventions by the state and the European Union in all the different issues involved: basic investment in the track, common rail systems, and links with bus systems and perhaps with air systems.
I was pleased to see the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of a proposed road traffic pricing Bill. That too is part of the story. I have only a couple of minutes left and no doubt others will enter that crucial debate, but I will say this. If the market could resolve the problem of cars and congestion it would have done so, and I do not think it can resolve the issue of inter-city travel either.
Let me end by listing some of the developments I want to see, as, I am sure, do other Members. We know that they will not happen overnight. The 10-year transport plan has already been mentioned. The Queen's Speech has moved in the right direction with the road pricing Bill and some of the new powers that will be given to local authorities, but we need to know the options for tackling climate change. I am not one for setting up White Papers when they are not necessary, but we need a White Paper on climate change and transport, climate change and energy, climate change and raw materials and the relationship between Brazilian forests and the furniture in our houses. Parliament needs to look at the options, recognise some of the dilemmas and choices faced by Government, and try to address what should be a cross-party issue. The environment does not discriminate among political parties or interest groups; it affects everyone, and I hope we shall all be able to address ourselves to it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). He and I both have the privilege of serving on the delegation to the Council of Europe, which gives us a chance to see a good many transport systems in other countries in Europe and further afield. I see massive investment in road infrastructure in other European countries, much of which we, as British taxpayers, are funding.
I was in Serbia recently, examining its constitutional referendum arrangements. Serbia is being flooded with European Union funds to improve its road infrastructure, yet we are being told in this debate, and by the Government generally, that we cannot afford to invest in our own roads with our own taxpayers’ money here at home. Before I develop my theme of transport, I wish to draw the House’s attention to one statement in the Gracious Speech:
“My Government will continue its investment in, and reforms of, the public services in order to improve further their effectiveness and to help the most vulnerable members of society.”
That is a load of baloney, because it is not what is actually happening on the ground. I illustrate that assertion with reference to the recently announced intention of Jobcentre Plus to close the jobcentre in Christchurch. That will force all the people who use it to travel to Bournemouth, and all the staff who live locally will have to move to Bournemouth. Up to 900 people who use the jobcentre every week will be inconvenienced and put to substantial additional expense. Those people are the most vulnerable people in society, and the Government will remove their access to their local jobcentre at a time when unemployment is rising. Instead, the Government will offer access to paid-for phone calls, which are expensive, and a system that does not work. The Government make great statements about helping vulnerable members of society, but before we fall hook, line and sinker for the contents of the Gracious Speech, we should examine what is happening on the ground. In my constituency, the Government are not acting in the way that they describe.
I wish to speak about transport because I think that there is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the transport proposals in the Gracious Speech. On the one hand, the Government are facilitating and reducing the cost of travel for pensioners and disabled people. I would be the first to support that. On the other hand, they seem to want to restrict and add to the expense for everybody else who wishes to travel, including businesses.
Let us consider free off-peak travel. Christchurch borough has 43,000 residents, 17,500 of whom are eligible pensioners or disabled people. Under the old half-fare scheme, some 5,600 registered for and used the scheme, but some 10,600 use the new scheme, introduced this year. That shows how popular the scheme is. Indeed, about a quarter of the borough of Christchurch use the concessionary fare scheme. However, when the Government come forward with new proposals to make the scheme national, what will they do about the money? This year they provided a grant of £237,000 in addition to the grant given last year to Christchurch borough council, and that was meant to meet the full cost of the additional burden. However, the cost is at least twice that. I suspect that if the cost of the national scheme is imposed on individual local authorities, it will be crippling. If we are to have a national concessionary fares scheme, it should be funded nationally by central Government.
For all the individuals and businesses who need to use our road network for their daily business—let us remember that they create the wealth that will enable us to pay for free transport for the elderly—the Gracious Speech offers only extra cost and regulation, and the prospect of ever more gridlock. The Gracious Speech makes no reference to investment in our road network as a means of increasing capacity and thereby reducing congestion. If demand exceeds supply, one can either ration provision or increase capacity.
Why are the Government rejecting the proposals that we should increase capacity? Whenever one goes abroad one sees the massive investment in new roads. Recently I was in Turkey, and Antalya airport now has more than 8 million passengers each year. Many of them may come from Newcastle airport or Bournemouth international airport. Our constituents go to Turkey because they enjoy the weather, the local people, the hospitality, the ease of transport there and the clear roads in that country. The same is true in Spain and Portugal. We can travel through France on its tolled motorways to good effect. Such new networks are on the continent. Why are we not prepared to use UK taxpayers’ money to build them here in England? In Scotland, English taxpayers’ money is being spent on Scottish roads.
The hon. Gentleman objects, so I will give him an example. The road from Dundee to Arbroath has recently been widened, but it will not take any more traffic than it did as a single carriageway road. [Interruption.] I am told that when traffic lights were erected on the single carriageway road to enable the dual carriageway to be built, there was no congestion, even with only one carriageway working. That is an example of our double standards. There is massive investment in roads in Scotland using English taxpayers’ money, but not enough for our own roads in England.
The A92 was fully funded by Angus council, not by any English taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman is wholly wrong about there being no congestion as a result of traffic lights. I invite him to come to my constituency. On the A92 at Claypots junction at rush hour he will see all the congestion that he would like.
I see enough congestion in my constituency without having to go up north, much as I am tempted to visit the area where I was privileged to attend university.
If the Government are concerned about CO2 emissions why do they not look at the impact of reducing CO2 emissions by allowing vehicles to travel in congestion-free conditions rather than congested conditions? Everybody knows that miles per gallon are lower in congested conditions than in free-flow conditions. We should spend money on dealing with congestion hotspots, rather than in other ways.
I know that we are saying that we must set a big example to the rest of the world on climate change, but let us remind ourselves that a lack of investment in transport infrastructure here is seriously damaging the health of our economy. Let us also look at what has happened since we started setting an example back in 1990. Between 1990 and 2003 CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption measured in million tonnes of carbon was reduced in the United Kingdom from 152.8 million to 147.3 million, down by 5.5 million. We have set an example. Has the rest of Europe followed us? In the same period CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption increased in Austria by 4.8 million tonnes, in Belgium by 3.1 million tonnes, in the Czech Republic by 10 million tonnes, in Denmark by 1.5 million tonnes, in Finland by 4.8 million tonnes, in France by 9.3 million tonnes, in Greece by 6.5 million tonnes, in Italy by 14.5 million tonnes, in Ireland by 3.1 million tonnes, in the Netherlands by 7.4 million tonnes, in Norway by 2 million tonnes, in Portugal by 5.3 million tonnes, in Spain by 29 million tonnes—and it even increased in Sweden. What good has it done us to set an example when none of those other countries in Europe has been following us? All that has happened is that we have made ourselves less economically competitive.
Let us look at what has been happening in the rest of the world. Has it been following us? In Australia the increase is 23.9 million tonnes, in Brazil 30 million tonnes, in Canada 33 million tonnes plus, in Chinese Taipei 35 million tonnes, in India 125 million tonnes, in Indonesia 46 million tonnes, in Japan 51 million tonnes, in Malaysia 20 million tonnes, in Mexico 20 million tonnes—
With the greatest respect Madam Deputy Speaker, the point that I am making is very pertinent to the issue covered by my party’s amendment—whether we will have more traffic congestion in this country or less. The amendment refers to “gridlock”. I shall quote one further figure: in China there has been an increase of 399 million tonnes in that 13-year period. In 15 countries, most of which I have mentioned, there has been an overall increase of 1,111.2 million tonnes of CO2 over 13 years.
The Government are very proud of having set up some highly complicated and bureaucratic carbon offset arrangements. I recently received an answer on that from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. What is the conclusion? As a result of all that, there will be a saving—or an offset, rather—of 300,000 tonnes of CO2 by the middle of 2009; that is less than one third of a million tonnes. I do not need to spell out that that is an irrelevant and pointless gesture in comparison with what is happening.
What is happening is that the people who are the enemies of freedom are using the environmental case as a means to try to suppress individual liberty and freedom in this country. I shall conclude my remarks by quoting Baroness Thatcher. She said:
“For me, the economic progress, scientific advance and public debate which occur in free societies themselves offered the means to overcome threats to individual and collective wellbeing. For the socialist, each new discovery revealed a ‘problem’ for which the repression of human activity by the state was the only ‘solution’ and state-planned production targets must always take precedence.”
I prefer the free-market solution.
I am strongly tempted to go down the transport route in my remarks because I disagree with just about everything that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) said. He said that he supported concessionary bus fares for the elderly, but then immediately opposed the Government extending them to anywhere outside Christchurch. He asserted that we need a massive new road-building programme to reduce congestion, apparently without knowing that in 1992 his own Government set up a committee that conclusively proved that more road building simply postpones the build-up of congestion. His statement at the conclusion of his speech that the enemies of freedom are using the environment to suppress liberties is just too silly to merit a respond.
I want to focus on the security issue and the other wider matters that bear on that. I take it that that issue forms the centrepiece of the Government’s legislative agenda for the coming year, but it goes far wider than anti-terrorism and a tighter law and order crackdown, which dominate the Queen’s Speech. Climate change is the overarching issue that threatens our security, our entire civilisation and our whole way of life.
Until we give absolute priority to combating climate change, there will be no long-term energy security, which is absolutely central to the secure future of everyone, and there will be no food security or water security in this country or anywhere else. That imperative should dominate every aspect of Government policy—not just energy, but transport, industry, construction, agriculture, taxation, fiscal policy, public expenditure and foreign policy. I must, regretfully, say that at present it dominates none of them.
We are nowhere near on track to achieve the 60 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2050 that the scientists say is necessary. That requires a huge shift to renewables, which at present provide just 4 per cent. of electricity generation in this country, compared with an average of 20 to 25 per cent. in the rest of the European Union. It requires a massive drive to ramp up energy conservation, which is in the doldrums. It requires car and aeroplane manufacturers to cut emissions radically. It requires all industries to report on and reduce their environmental impacts year by year, which unfortunately the Chancellor recently ditched. I believe that that was a mistake. It requires big incentives for local food production to cut air miles dramatically. It requires energy efficient building standards for all new build, as already exist in Europe and Scandinavia. It requires a carbon quota for every family according to their size, which should be gradually reduced over time in a way that rewards the conscientious and penalises the wasteful. At present, none of those policies is in place, and most are not even being contemplated.
Nor will reductions in emissions be achieved by a climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech—which, of course, I welcome—if it lacks annual targets. If the Government choose, as they seem to be doing, a five or 10-year period instead, all that will happen is that such a level of slippage will build up in the early years that too big a gap will be left to be surmounted in the later years, and the target will simply be missed, perhaps by a considerable margin. That is exactly what is happening now. In six out of the past eight years there has been an increase—sometimes a very small increase, I recognise—in greenhouse gas emissions.
What the Government should clearly do on climate change, which I regard as our ultimate security, is commit to the necessary target of a 3 per cent. annual reduction in overall UK emissions, then produce a report on the country’s performance in meeting the target and, where there is slippage—everyone understands that there will be slippage, there is nothing wrong with that—make it clear that the Government will introduce whatever changes are needed to keep Britain on track. If we were to do that, we would acquire the moral and political authority that the Government rightly seek to lead the way internationally in pressing other countries, especially the United States, China, India and the other big countries, to commit to an enhanced and extended climate change protocol, which is the absolute bottom line condition for global action to stabilise and ultimately arrest climate change.
Nor is the more conventional and narrower concept of security in the Queen’s Speech being handled as effectively as it might. Of course the physical security of the nation must be our absolute and immediate priority—no one will dispute that for a second—but endlessly ratcheting up the controls over every aspect of our national life will never deliver real security unless we deal with the underlying factors. I must give credit to the Home Secretary, because he spent some time supporting that point.
If we are tough on security, we equally need to be tough on the causes behind the current insecurity. There are several contributory factors; it is certainly not just one. Material circulated on the internet such as gory images of executions, martyrdom videos and portrayals of carnage, particularly where it involves women and children, can have a big impact, especially on small group dynamics where Islamic networks distance themselves from normal social contacts and create autonomous cells that generate intense fanaticism and dedication. It is among such groups that the rage prompted by the horrendous daily carnage in Iraq, the refusal to condemn the indiscriminate bombing of Lebanon and the widespread perception among Muslims of a grossly imbalanced US-UK policy in favour of Israel to the neglect of the Palestinians, feeds on itself and drives terrorist activity.
Of course, the Government have taken the line that there is no link between British foreign policy and Islamic militancy. Well, I frankly do not believe that—I think that very few people do—but equally, neither do I believe that anger at British foreign policy is the sole cause of extremism. I would certainly view it rather as a key contributing factor. That is one of the strongest reasons why a fundamental review of policy on Iraq is so desperately needed now.
If our forces in southern Iraq have now achieved all that they reasonably can and our continued presence there is exacerbating the security situation—that is, as we know, exactly what the military are now saying—it is imperative that we withdraw our forces on the shortest time scale, although not immediately. I readily concede that it is not practicable to do so immediately, but it should happen in the shortest time scale consistent with securing at least the minimum stability that is still salvageable. That should be our aim. In so far as it is compatible with that goal—I think that it probably is—I very much welcome my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary’s speech yesterday. It is the only way now to bring the disaster of the Iraq war to a close without humiliation. I seek to raise it in this debate because it would go a considerable way towards easing the domestic tensions in this country that arise from the almost daily reports of terrible civilian slaughter.
Setting out a revised Government strategy on Iraq is imperative, but it is certainly not the only essential thing to do. As the Prime Minister has rightly said, we must give the highest priority, through our influence with the EU and the US, to achieve a viable and sustainable Palestinian state. That is probably the best and the only likely way to stop al-Qaeda recruitment. We need a much more even-handed policy between the Arab states and Israel in the middle east. At home, we need to do much more positively to integrate Muslim citizens in the UK in employment, housing and education and to promote a culture that focuses much more on the positive values of both communities.
My last point is that there is also a further gain to be had if those changes of emphasis in foreign and domestic policy can bring about a reduction in the tensions of our society. There have been dozens of criminal justice and law enforcement Bills over the past decade—all in the name of protecting, very sincerely, the freedoms of our society. Those Bills have been so wide ranging, so unremitting in their clampdown on so many aspects of our society and so intrusive into the reality of some of our traditional liberties that we are seriously at risk of undermining the very freedoms that we profess to be preserving.
I refer—hon. Members know this very well—to the use of control orders, the introduction of identity cards, the reduction of jury trials, the limitations on the right to protest, the extension of stop-and-search powers, the anti-terrorism Acts that allow an 82-year-old man to be bundled out of a hall for heckling, a highly unequal US-UK extradition treaty and now, apparently, the attempt to reverse a clear decision of Parliament taken only a few months ago and to extend the 28-day limit on detention without charge to 90 days. I beg the Government to look again and to consider whether that is not the wrong way forward.
It is a privilege to follow the speech by the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher). I agreed with every word that he said, not only when he reminded us of the importance of climate change, but in his comments about the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He also reminded us that, however awful the terrorist atrocities that we have seen, with climate change this country faces an atrocity involving a loss of life that would take us way beyond the number of people who have been killed by terrorism.
I shall briefly speak on home affairs. I spoke on the subject for my party for two years, so I have followed the debate with great interest, particularly the contributions of the shadow Home Secretary and my party’s spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). One strong theme that emerged in those speeches was the wide range of issues involved in home affairs. As I said in an intervention on the shadow Home Secretary, perhaps one of the reasons there have been failings in home affairs over the past few years is that there are too many issues for a single individual with the title of Home Secretary to handle and manage. I shall say it again: the issues currently dealt with under the title of home affairs need to be broken down in a much more manageable way. Very able Home Secretaries have failed simply because the task has gone beyond them.
The shadow Home Secretary pointed out that some Home Secretaries have been able to cope with the issues in the past, and he rightly cited Conservative Home Secretaries and Roy Jenkins. The world has moved on, however, and the complexity and range of issues are very different from the problems that Home Secretaries faced in the 1970s and ’80s. There is a strong case for looking again at the Home Secretary’s job load.
The Home Office has been criticised for the number of Bills that it has introduced. I remember making those criticisms myself, but on reflection I agree to some extent with what the Home Secretary has said: there is no fundamental problem with introducing legislation, if it is introduced to allow us to respond to a change that has taken place. And there have been great changes—in the number of fraud cases, including computer fraud, in internet pornography, and in our problems with terrorism and drugs. It would be wrong to criticise the Government for responding by introducing Bills because, sadly, we need legislation to tackle today’s problems.
My criticism is that every time that the Government introduce a Bill, their press releases, and speeches made in the House of Commons, show that they imagine that it will tackle all the problems. There is a churn, with new legislation replacing previous legislation without the Government acknowledging that they got it wrong last time. In every press release, they imagine that nothing has happened before. When a new initiative is announced, it is to tackle every single problem. A little less arrogance from the Government when they introduce new Bills would be welcome.
On antisocial behaviour, in particular, the Government have been offenders on a number of occasions. Vast amounts of antisocial behaviour legislation has been introduced. Despite the myth, the Liberal Democrats supported the vast majority of that legislation. At first, I was sceptical about some antisocial behaviour orders, but when I was out and about as Front-Bench spokesman, visiting places across the country, I saw that on certain estates ASBOs were having a positive impact. Residents who were frustrated by antisocial behaviour at least felt that the council or Government were trying to do something. However, the jury is still out on the long-term effectiveness of those measures. This week, figures have shown just how many ASBOs are being breached. We know, too, that the various fines introduced under new legislation are, in many cases, just not being paid.
It seemed to me that ASBOs would always be a short-term quick fix and that the danger was that the long-term problem would not be tackled. At worst, the result would be that problems were moved around from one estate to another. The Government came in with a policy of being tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime. ASBOs have been effective in many ways in sounding—and being—tough, but where are the measures to tackle the underlying causes?
I welcomed the Government’s announcement this week that they will focus on very early intervention in the cases of young children, providing what they describe as supernannies. I am not a big fan of the nanny state, but the existence of such nannies is probably justified because we know that early intervention can make a big difference, and the measure will tackle causes. I praise the Government for some of their work on youth justice, as there has been some excellent work on early intervention in that regard. However, there is something missing in the market: we must consider what to do with 15, 16 and 17-year-olds when they leave school.
When I was spokesman for my party, if I had been brave enough I would have argued for some kind of compulsory national service, which would be tagged on to the end of the academic school year. It is controversial, but I believe that we need to do something to tackle the issue of what happens when individuals leave school. Recently, the leader of the Conservative party put forward similar proposals, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has also talked about using volunteering in a positive way for young people. There is merit in considering a scheme that would allow our youngsters to get involved in different projects across the country. They could move away from their peer group and mix with different peer groups, and take part in a national programme of volunteering. That may be a way of providing benefit to them and giving them a change of experience at the end of the academic year.
Such schemes would not work for everybody. Sadly, many youngsters start on a life of crime and end up in prison. It is on that aspect that I am most critical of what the Government have done over the past nine years. Their failure to tackle reoffending rates is a national scandal. We have too many run-down Victorian-style prisons, where suicide and self-harm rates are high and prisoners can get hold of drugs. That there are such high reoffending rates and such poor reading and writing ability among prisoners is a scandal and it costs each of us, as taxpayers, about £350 a night. That is why prison does not work. I can say that now even if I am criticised for it, because nobody cares what I say. Prison does not do what it should be doing; it does not make this country safer. It may work in the narrow context of locking somebody up for a period, but the fact that so many people come out of prison to commit further crimes is a scandal.
As politicians, we should be brave enough to talk about the abolition of prison as we know it. Of course, it would be a vote loser, but I can say such things now. Prison as a one-stop shop for all offenders does not work effectively. About half of all prisoners should be in some kind of secure unit—[Interruption.] I can see Conservative Members shaking their heads, thinking that this is all rubbish. Some individuals are clearly a danger to society and they should be held in secure units, but to do the same with others who should be trained and rehabilitated does not work. We should create new, modern education and training units, where the focus is on learning—reading and writing—and obtaining the skills to get a job. As other Members have said, we should also be tackling the high rate of mental health problems among prisoners.
My third topic—terrorism—has already been touched on. Last year, when I spoke for my party, I was involved, with the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and others, in negotiations on the controversial 90-day detention issue. In speeches, I probably made out that the issue was clearer cut in my mind than it actually was; in fact, I had a great struggle with it. It seemed to me that if there was a genuine case for holding somebody for 90 days because it could give this country great security from terrorism, it would be wholly irresponsible for a politician not to be prepared to look seriously at it. I struggled for hours, looking at the evidence, listening to briefings from the security forces and trying to balance questions about liberty, security and safety.
In the end, I am glad that I opposed the proposal because it was right to do so at the time. If the Government propose new measures, I plead with them not to base them on the rhetoric used by the Prime Minister last year, when he tried to imply that people who opposed the Government’s measures were in favour of terrorists and trying to help them. New proposals should be based on sound, hard evidence. It is an injustice to those who struggled with the issue to portray them as people who were careless of our country’s security.
Finally, I am absolutely convinced that one thing that will not help this country’s security is the introduction of ID cards. It is a disgrace that the Government keep changing the message about ID cards. How many different arguments have we heard? Benefit fraud, health fraud, internet fraud, terrorism— the list is long and it goes on and on. The really long list is the amount of cost involved in producing ID cards. Over the next 12 months, the Government should have the courage to back down from the scheme. It will cost billions and will not tackle the problems.
Tough and creative solutions for tackling crime exist, but they do not lie in quick-fix Bills and quick-fix headlines. They sometimes lie in taking brave and difficult decisions and I hope that, as the shadow Home Secretary suggested, the Government will take a more statesmanlike approach to the issues rather than being led by tabloid headlines.
I do not agree with all the remarks made by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), but I recognise the passion with which he spoke.
At the heart of the Government’s programme, outlined in the Gracious Speech, is action to create strong, stable and secure communities. I am pleased to speak in this debate on home affairs, because we all realise that stable communities with shared values, where there is economic opportunity and a strong sense of civic pride, create conditions in which extremists find it more difficult to operate. Extremists feed on communities where people feel powerless and isolated from each other.
I particularly want to welcome the White Paper “Strong and Prosperous Communities”, which proposes to give more power and freedom for local government and local people to work in partnerships. It talks about allowing communities to come together to make decisions about how money should be allocated in their area, depending on the community’s priorities. The experience of the single regeneration budget, under which communities and councils worked together to improve their areas, shows that those improvements were sustainable only when strong community associations emerged as a result.
Of course, in order to achieve the Government’s stated aim to strengthen communities, there have to be proper funding mechanisms to ensure that funds are targeted at those who need help most. There should also be funding from Departments to complement the ability of groups to raise money through funding streams such as the national lottery. Last week, I visited two primary schools in my constituency: Cale Green and Mersey Vale. I pay tribute to the head teachers, David Marshall and Jayne Mullane, staff and parents at those schools for creating such a strong sense of community. Cale Green has 33 per cent. black and ethnic minority pupils and at Mersey Vale the figure is 67 per cent., of whom 63 per cent. have English as an additional language.
The good thing is that the objectives of all the parents at the schools, regardless of race and religion, are the same. They all want a moral, safe and secure environment for their children to grow up in and flourish. They all want their school to be at the heart of the community and a place where people meet, socialise and support each other. That is the aim of the Government’s children centres and the extended schools programme. At Cale Green, white and Asian parents are trying to set up a friends of the school organisation and would like a community building, which could become a centrepiece of the school, for use by parents, children, local residents and different groups. Cale Green and Mersey Vale work hard to promote understanding, tolerance and knowledge of different races and religions. That is impacting on relationships outside the school gates. An increasing number of cross-cultural, cross-faith and cross-ethnic relationships are building up outside school between children and families. That is breaking down barriers and helping to create a truly inclusive community.
As a properly constituted association, the friends of Cale Green hopes to access funding for its community building. There are funding opportunities available for such organisations, such as lottery money. However, it is important that direct Government funding is also available. When the Childcare Act 2006 comes into force, local councils will have a duty to tackle inequalities and improve outcomes for children in the borough. It is through those kinds of initiatives that councils will achieve those objectives.
Given the opportunity, more and more residents will proactively help to make their neighbourhood a better place to live. We saw that in my constituency with the successful growth of friends of the parks groups. Indeed, they were so successful in Stockport and the rest of the country that funds from the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister ran out. There is certainly an appetite to get involved and I can see that friends of schools organisations could be equally successful.
If we are to go down the exciting path of making local services more responsive to local needs, it is important to get the funding mechanisms right and to make sure that investment is precisely targeted so that all those who are most disadvantaged do not miss out, wherever they live. Traditionally, Government funding streams have been allocated by measuring levels of deprivation on a borough-wide basis. Under that system, constituencies such as mine, although it has one of the most deprived wards in the United Kingdom, do not qualify for certain funds. The formula does not take into account areas of intense deprivation that are masked by better-off areas in the metropolitan borough of Stockport. Stockport is the seventh most polarised borough in England.
We now have a valuable tool for targeting funds more precisely: the index of multiple deprivation. It pinpoints deprivation to small areas of about 1,500 people. They are called super output areas. Under that system, Stockport borough has 11 super output areas that fall within the 10 per cent. that are most deprived nationally. Nine are within my constituency.
I was delighted to see that the safer and stronger communities fund neighbourhood element allocated money using the super output areas, instead of borough-wide criteria. The cash went to the worst 3 per cent. nationally, and my constituency received about £1.6 million over four years through that fund. I would like to see future programmes building on the more localised allocation formula.
Schools in my constituency do not qualify for money from the building schools for the future programme until 2015 or 2016—again, because borough-wide deprivation was a key factor. I hope that there will be a review of how that money will be allocated in future to take into account schools that admit pupils from the most deprived areas in my constituency whose educational outcomes need to be improved. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) also feels strongly about this issue, as Reddish Vale technology college is in one of the most deprived wards in his constituency, but does not have access to building schools for the future money because it is located in the metropolitan borough of Stockport.
I am pleased that the Government are making more use of funding formulae, including the index of multiple deprivation and the use of ward statistics, that target deprived areas more carefully. Allocation of funds for the very impressive Sure Start projects worked well because money was distributed on the basis of ward-level rather than borough-wide deprivation. Stockport was lucky enough to get one of the original Sure Start projects in Adswood and Bridgehall. It is doing some tremendous work and local people have been provided with volunteering opportunities, training and jobs through Sure Start. I have represented the area for 14 years and I have seen my constituents’ lives—their confidence, knowledge and opportunities—transformed because of Sure Start, which has led to real and sustainable regeneration of the area.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families is returning to Stockport to open the next centre in Brinnington, where she will be made very welcome. Such centres are an excellent example of how our finely targeted funding can be accurately aimed at all the most deprived areas that need it most, regardless of which local authority they happen to be located in.
Funding is a key issue for both the schools that I visited last week. Both Mersey Vale and Cale Green are encouraging social inclusion. They are working together to promote inter-faith and cultural understanding in a country where there has been much concern about the divisions between faiths. I am anxious to ensure that their efforts to draw down funds can be matched by cash from either the Government or the local council. For that to happen, I believe that some of the current funding arrangements will have to be changed and more emphasis placed on using super output areas and supporting community initiatives.
We are fortunate enough to live in times of increased social investment in communities, thanks to economic stability and the policies carried out by the Labour Government. We should not, however, be complacent because even more money is going into our communities; we should be ever more determined to see it targeted at those who need it most.
Sadly, the Queen’s Speech is a recipe for populist authoritarianism, for the grabbing of headlines and for the triumph of soundbites over substance. Nowhere is that critique more valid than in relation to legislation and policy emanating from the Home Office or in relation to legislation or policy which does not emanate formally from, but which bears the hallmark of, Home Office intervention and mindset. That, to me, is a matter of great regret and I believe that it is true across the domestic piece.
In a number of powerful speeches there has been considerable focus on the subject of anti-terrorist legislation. There has been no indication whatever that either the Prime Minister or his Government are resiling from the zealous, hasty and unfounded commitment to 90-day detention without charge, and there are considerable and ominous signs to the contrary. Ministers seem to be committed to it. The Prime Minister has already decided, does not appear to think that any evidence is required and wishes to proceed. The Home Secretary has at least had the decency and parliamentary consideration to tell us that he is sympathetic to such a policy, but that it would benefit from, in his own words, an “evidential base”. In essence, there is a clear commitment to it. I have to say that, having listened to the debates 12 months ago, I was unconvinced then and I am still more unconvinced now. There is now a recognition that some evidence is required to justify changing policy and law in that way. The Government have had 12 months since the defeat of their last proposal to come up with that evidence, present it to Parliament, proffer it to the public, debate its merits and reach an authoritative conclusion, and thus far they have manifestly failed to do so.
Having listened to and considered the arguments, I believe that we would be much better advised to pursue a different course. Let us go for the use of telephone intercept evidence, the objections to which have been successfully overcome in virtually every other civilised country in the world. Let us consider the merits of interviewing people after they have been charged in order to acquire additional evidence. Let us recognise the merit of investing in more staff who are better paid and more highly qualified, the better to encrypt, decipher and assess relevant evidence. That is a practical approach.
I warmly endorse the overall stance on this subject of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who was the beneficiary of serious briefings at the time of earlier legislation. With great respect to the Minister of State, Department for Transport, who is sitting on the Treasury Bench and who knows that I do not take a deliberately partisan approach, the Government simply have not made their case. That is the reality. Simply trying to browbeat people into submission will not work.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the greatest problems that the Government face in persuading Opposition Members, and perhaps some of their own Back Benchers, of the veracity of their evidence is the lack of veracity in the evidence presented by the Prime Minister in this place over our involvement in Iraq? The Prime Minister has lost trust, and that is why we find it hard to trust Government members?
Regrettably, that is true. I shall not get into the wider debate about the war. I supported it then and would do so again. I am one of the Opposition Members who has not been quick to attack the Prime Minister, because I still believe that although he distorted the evidence he was being fundamentally honest. I know that I am in a small minority of people in this country in continuing to subscribe to that view, but I do so.
Nevertheless, the burden of my hon. Friend’s intervention is absolutely right. It is because Ministers have lost public trust that they are unable to persuade us of their “evidence” case now. Moreover, they are even unable to persuade us that they are sincere in their motivation and intent. On a matter of such profound public importance to our national security, that is extremely regrettable, but it is nobody else’s fault. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is the Government’s fault; they must accept responsibility accordingly.
The second feature of the Government’s populist-authoritarian, headline-grabbing and essentially soundbite-over-substance approach is their stance on identity cards. Let us be clear about the basis on which Ministers first came forward with the idea. They said that ID cards, which were eventually but not initially to become compulsory, were necessary. That was argument by advocacy rather than by evidence. As long ago as 1783, William Pitt observed:
“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
As the hon. Member for Winchester noted in his powerful speech, it is particularly pertinent that the Government keep shifting tack on ID cards. One minute, the main raison d’être of proposed legislation is to counter terrorism, the next it is to tackle immigration, and then it is to reduce benefit fraud. To each of those rather weak cases, there is a cogent and unanswerable response. Whenever the Government are caught out on their flimsy or non-existent evidence base, they move to a different position.
We also know that the cards will be very expensive and that the Government’s estimate, even though it is now a little higher than it was, is vastly lower than that of virtually every other authoritative and reputable commentator in the field. The Government now say that the cards will cost a little over £5 billion, but others suggest that the cost will be nearer to £20 billion.
The Government are proposing to change fundamentally the historic relationship between the state and citizen on no serious evidence base at all. They want to introduce identity cards as a matter of public policy, at a cost that they do not accurately calculate, for a benefit that they cannot quantify, at a risk to the continuing liberty of the British citizen that they dare not admit. That is thoroughly unacceptable. If, with anti-terrorist legislation and identity cards, the Government abandon cherished liberties in pursuit of enhanced security on the very weak evidence base currently available to them, they will end up with this country enjoying neither liberty nor the enhanced security that they seek, and that would be a pitiful state of affairs.
There is a third topic on which the hon. Member for Winchester touched that is emblematic of the Government’s headline-grabbing but ultimately rather insubstantial approach to public policy: their attitude to the prison system. We spend a little under £2 billion a year on the prison estate. I invite Members in all parties at least to accept that when something is as expensive as that, it is incumbent on us to consider the fundamental question whether we are getting value for money. It is not a matter of saying that prison has no merit or that prison is perfect. It is a matter of looking at the issue dispassionately and seeing where we are doing well and where we could do a great deal better. In particular, it is up to us to ask whether we are justified in going ahead with vast new plans for an increased number of prisons and prison places on the strength of what the evidence so far tells us.
I know that there seems to be a broad Front-Bench consensus between those on the Treasury Bench and my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench that we need more prisons.
I do not agree. I know that my hon. Friend will always be in favour of more prisons, harsher sentences, tougher treatment and antiquated extreme populist authoritarianism. Of my hon. Friend’s position on the matter I am in no doubt whatever. I do not think that it is a good idea.
The evidence on recidivism is clear: 61 per cent. of adult offenders leaving prison are reconvicted of an offence within two years. Among youth offenders the figure is 73 per cent. and among male offenders of peak age, between 15 and 18, the figure is 82 per cent. The truth is that we are sending thousands and thousands of people through the revolving door of the criminal justice system—the same people over and over again. People are going into prison uneducated, untrained, unqualified, untreated and unreformed, and coming out of prison uneducated, untrained, unqualified, untreated and unreformed. If there are those who think that that is a thoroughly intelligent way to conduct public policy, I would politely suggest to them that that is a greater commentary on them than it is on the merits of the policy.
We need decent speech and language therapy in prisons, and we do not have it. We must accept that there is a vast problem of mental illness in prisons. We must acknowledge that about 60 per cent. of prisoners are functionally illiterate. If we are to give them the chance to convert, to reform and to make a constructive contribution to society, it is important that we provide resources for the purpose. We have to tackle drug addiction and do something about tackling the phenomenon of alcoholism in prison. Populist slogans and easy mantras might satisfy narrow partisan audiences, but they do not fulfil the responsibility of Government and of parties that wish to get into government properly to discharge their obligations and to try to tackle these issues.
The final subject on which I shall say a few words is that of the forthcoming mental health Bill. I said at the outset of my remarks that I thought that nowhere was populist authoritarianism more true than in relation to Home Office legislation and that which may not have come from but bore the hallmark of the Home Office. My concern is that with the proposed reform of mental health legislation there is an intended increased focus on locking up—potentially incarcerating for a substantial period—people with severe personality disorders who have not committed any offence whatsoever.
I know that there is much subtlety in this debate and that a good deal of line-by-line consideration is still to be undertaken, but I appeal to those on the Treasury Bench seriously to consider the detailed evidence and passionate representations of the Mental Health Alliance and others. Such people are genuinely concerned that the way in which the Government intend to reform the treatability clause will mean that a good many people with potentially untreatable conditions will, almost on the basis of the precautionary principle, be locked up.
The approach might be: if in doubt, put public safety first, satisfy the screaming headline writers of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Mirror, and put people in what is effectively a prison environment. I put it to right hon. and hon. Members in all parties that we have a fundamental obligation to the most vulnerable people in the community to do better. We must try to remove the stigma of mental illness and to improve the community services available to people with mental illness. We must not sign up to or reinforce the stereotypes of those who wish to do such people down.
I want this Government, in their remaining year or two, to get rid of their obsession with soundbites, reaction and media headlines and to try to grapple intelligently and constructively with the great public policy questions of the day. If they do not do so, my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and his team certainly will.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) and his sometimes insightful remarks.
I warmly welcome the two new transport Bills announced in the Gracious Speech. My constituents very much welcome free local concessionary travel for older and disabled people. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) and I worked with the seven district councils in County Durham to make the existing scheme a county-wide scheme. When the scheme was eventually introduced, it made it a great deal more effective and useful for my constituents. I am pleased that the concessionary bus travel Bill will take the scheme to a national level.
I want to concentrate my remarks on the road transport Bill, which I look forward to reading when it is published next year. Buses are important in my constituency and in many others. My constituency has a city centre at its core and about 25 surrounding villages, each of which has its own sense of community and spirit. Villages such as Kelloe, Bearpark, Esh Winning and Quarrington Hill would be lost without the bus services that connect them not only to the city centre, but to the surrounding villages.
In the past year, bus service after bus service has been cut, or at least has been threatened with being cut, by bus operators. In the past couple of weeks, a bus operator has announced that a popular bus service in Newton Hall in my constituency will be stopped just before Christmas. In other cases, bus services have been threatened with withdrawal unless the county council comes up with public money to subsidise them.
Every time a bus service in Durham is cut, I receive dozens of letters from constituents telling me how vital the service is to their lives. They use the services to go shopping, and they need them to visit doctors and dentists and to keep in touch with family and friends. Bus services are too important to the many people who use them for it to be left up to bus operators to make decisions about them.
In the current regulatory framework, bus operators outside London have far too much power—in fact, they have all the power. Local authorities are left pleading with operators not to withdraw services and must subsidise any routes that the operators deem not to be commercially viable. If local authorities wish such routes to continue, they must subsidise them. That has happened increasingly in my constituency, placing an enormous strain on the county transport budget, but it simply cannot continue.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and her Select Committee on Transport for its excellent and insightful report on bus services in the United Kingdom. The report paints quite a depressing picture for those of us outside London. Bus ridership is declining, and has been doing so for the past 20 years or more. Between 2000 and 2005, the north-east experienced the biggest decrease in bus passenger numbers of any region, although I would point out that the biggest decrease happened between 1986 and 1997 and that in some areas bus patronage is increasing.
It is important that we try to learn the lessons from the best performing areas to improve services for all. I am therefore grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Department for telling us that they are willing to consider new approaches to providing bus services. I hope that that leads to a number of pilot projects, whereby different approaches can be tested to ensure that we have bus services that relate to local issues and needs.
In Durham, we have started that process. A couple of weeks ago, I held a public meeting about buses with my hon. Friends the Members for North Durham and for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). We asked people to do two things: to analyse what they thought was wrong with current bus services and to consider any ideas that they had to improve services. We also employed a social enterprise company, Durham Integrated Transport, to help us to look for a positive way forward. The problems that were identified are not new and were well documented in the Select Committee report. There were lots of examples of bus services being unreliable, and in some cases that resulted from congestion in the city centre. There was a strong demand for real-time displays, and for reliable services to be at the top of the bus operators’ agenda. The Select Committee also picked up on that point and is pressing the Government, as I would, to consider the impact of congestion on the deliverability of bus services. Another problem identified was that of bunching, whereby a large number of buses arrive together and there are too many buses on popular routes. That appears to show a lack of planning and, perhaps, over-competition on some routes.
A huge problem, to which I alluded earlier, is the withdrawal of services, particularly from the more rural, outlying and isolated areas of the constituency. Declining bus services in areas such as mine impact directly on our social exclusion agenda. Without good bus services, lower-income people without a car can become socially excluded—they can certainly become isolated from the wider community. At the public meeting, we wanted to look forward and develop proposals that might improve the situation.
As the critical problem relates largely to feeder routes for mainline services, we concentrated on what might be achieved at community level to tackle the problem. Du-IT proposes a model where all public sector transport subsidies are pooled in a given area to support demand-led community transport options. Indeed, its model allows the community hub to give information on a whole range of public services and it wants the operators to be trained to build up extensive local knowledge. I hope that that is the sort of scheme that the Department will consider, as it would enable short journeys to the next village, the dentist or the doctor and could deliver people to the mainline routes, which could then remain viable for longer journeys.
A further problem that was identified in the public meeting and by the Select Committee was the lack of through ticketing and the lack of co-ordination of services. Powers to co-ordinate services must be given back to local authorities or passenger transport authorities, and through ticketing is clearly essential.
Let us be clear—the bus challenge is huge. Merely reversing short-term decline in bus services is not enough if we are going to meet our climate change challenge. We should not only make bus services work for those who need and rely on them—that is important—but make them work and appeal to people who do not need to use them but would do so given the right circumstances.
It is difficult to get people out of their cars, but there might be two ways of doing it. We need to incentivise bus use by making services reliable, cheap, quick, safe and convenient and we need to disincentivise car use. Hon. Members might not know that Durham introduced the first congestion charging in the country—before London did so. It reduced car journeys in the area by 90 per cent. Congestion charging in London has reduced car journeys and moved people on to public transport, especially buses.
As I said, getting people out of cars is not easy and requires a huge cultural change. I am pleased that Durham is to be a pilot area for road pricing. Provided that we get a system that does not penalise car users in rural areas and concentrates on congested areas, it may help bring home to people the true cost, which I do not believe they fully appreciate, of using their cars, not only in monetary terms but in damage to the environment.
Strong local leadership in driving through local transport schemes is important, but, as the Du-IT model recognises, so is empowering local people. I hope that the road transport Bill will give local authorities more power to improve bus services in their areas because that is missing at the moment. All they can currently do is react to bus operators’ desires and whims. They need a proactive role in directing services and producing a strategy that can be implemented with local community support.
Bus services are not important only in themselves. We need good bus services to achieve our climate change targets, deal with social exclusion and as a demonstration of localism and of local leadership. I hope that the Bill will move us towards revitalising our services and reversing the decline in bus journeys that began under the Tory Administration and that we must now reverse.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), and I shall begin by taking my cue from her. Bus use has increased in my constituency through provision by Isle of Wight council, which has recently come under Conservative control, of free bus travel for pensioners at all hours and a 50p flat fare across the island for all under-19s in full-time education.
I shall continue with the transport theme briefly—I am glad to see the Minister of State for Transport on the Treasury Bench. Earlier, I mentioned the road pricing without roads pilot scheme on the Solent. I should like the Minister to take to the Department a request that has been made previously. Cheap, concessionary bus fare schemes for pensioners should not be limited to areas that happen to have roads. Pensioners need to cross the Solent to get to hospital and education institutions, shop and for all sorts of other reasons. They are just as needy as pensioners on the mainland. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind when he introduces the measure on concessionary fares.
I should like to concentrate mainly on Iraq and its impact on domestic terrorism, although the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) have stolen some of my thunder. The Prime Minister’s position appears to be that the threat to this country from terrorism existed long before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and that his Government’s foreign policy is, therefore, in no way responsible for the terrorist threat that we face.
Although it is true that the terrorist threat predates our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is ludicrous to suggest that those actions have not made it worse, given that suicide bombers have stated that they are at least partly motivated by what they see in those countries. There are two options: either the suicide bombers are telling the truth about their motives and the Prime Minister’s assertions are wrong, or the bombers are lying in a deliberate, if posthumous attempt to undermine the Prime Minister. Which seems the more plausible?
In her speech on 9 November at Queen Mary college—I cannot bring myself to call an educational institution simply “Queen Mary”—the director general of MI5 said:
“We now know that the first Al-Qaida-related plot against the UK was the one we discovered and disrupted in November 2000 in Birmingham. A British citizen is currently serving a long prison sentence for plotting to detonate a large bomb in the UK. Let there be no doubt about this: the international terrorist threat to this country is not new. It began before Iraq, before Afghanistan, and before 9/11.”
So far, so good for the Government. However, she went on to say:
“There has been much speculation about what motivates young men and women to carry out acts of terrorism in the UK. My Service needs to understand the motivations behind terrorism to succeed in countering it, as far as that is possible. Al-Qaida has developed an ideology which claims that Islam is under attack, and needs to be defended. This is a powerful narrative that weaves together conflicts from across the globe, presenting the West’s response to varied and complex issues…as evidence of an across-the-board determination to undermine and humiliate Islam worldwide.”
This is exacerbated by—and is, perhaps, exacerbating—the use of terminology such as “the axis of evil”. Al-Qaeda is circulating the video stills of British suicide bombers, which
“make it clear that they are motivated by perceived worldwide and long-standing injustices against Muslims…and their interpretation as anti-Muslim of UK foreign policy”
seems to be encouraging people to kill themselves and others in response. These are not Dame Eliza’s exact words, but that is the sense of them. She went on to say that that was
“an attractive option for some citizens of this country and others around the world.”
The following day, at the Prime Minister’s press conference, he was asked:
“Prime Minister, should the British public be frightened by what the head of MI5 had to say about the state of the terrorist threat in this country?”
The Prime Minister replied:
“I have been saying, as you know, for several years that this terrorist threat is very real, it has been building up over a long period of time…this is a threat that has grown up over a generation. I think she is absolutely right in saying that it will last a generation and it can only be combated in the end, not just by proper measures on security…but in addition to that that we take on and combat the poisonous propaganda of those people that warp and pervert the minds, particularly of younger people…we have got to…take the fight to those who want to entice young people into what is in the end not just something that is wicked and violent, but something that is utterly futile in terms of the future.”
I am sure that we all agree with that, but the Prime Minister spectacularly fails to mention that much of the propaganda that he decries comes from groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, which have flourished in the chaos following the invasion. As Dame Eliza said:
“The propaganda machine is sophisticated and Al-Qaida itself says that 50 per cent. of its war is conducted through the media. In Iraq, attacks are regularly videoed and the footage downloaded onto the Internet within 30 minutes. Virtual media teams then edit the result, translate it into English and many other languages, and package it for a worldwide audience. And, chillingly, we see the results here. Young teenagers being groomed to be suicide bombers.”
So the Prime Minister’s own head of domestic security, who has been an intelligence officer for some 32 years, states clearly what she sees happening, but the Prime Minister continues to ignore the implications of his foreign policy in a “see no evil, hear no evil” fashion. Instead he chooses to concentrate on amending the law, but that will do little to stem the tide of brainwashing of young Britons, and nothing to alter Muslim perceptions of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I fear that it might also further alienate Muslims, because they are the most likely targets of the 90-day detention proposals.
Thankfully, the Home Secretary has recognised that there may be such a link. He takes the Dame Eliza line rather than the Prime Minister’s line. He says:
“I do believe that foreign policy is sometimes a motivating factor in radicalisation of young Muslims and the potential recruitment to terror. It is better to be frank about it.”
I welcome him saying that and congratulate him on going sufficiently off-message to do so.
The war in Iraq has been a disaster, as the Prime Minister has admitted, for community relations in this country. It has alienated a significant minority of the Muslim population, a sizeable minority of which believes that suicide bombing in this country is justified. Unfortunately, and sadly, that has put the majority Muslim population in the same bracket, as some of them are recognised as providing hospitality for the minority who believe in the suicide bomb.
It beggars belief that the Prime Minister can stand at his press conference like some latter-day St. George in shining armour ready to slay the dragon of terrorism, not recognising that he, primarily among all politicians in this country, has fed that dragon. It is of the gravest importance that the Prime Minister should recognise his responsibility for creating what we have already experienced as communal violence in this country.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner). We should congratulate his local authority, no matter what its political colour, on introducing full free travel for older people and 50p fares for younger people. Crawley’s Labour authority provided free off-peak travel for older people for decades when no money was coming from central Government, but that has now been underpinned by the excellent scheme proposed in the Queen’s Speech.
I want to oppose the Opposition amendment and support many of the excellent Bills proposed in the Gracious Speech. I shall do so quickly, however, as I am very much aware that many other Members want to make contributions.
It would be silly to assume that much of the Labour Government’s work does not need to be developed, continued and rolled out. Many contributions from the Opposition have asked why yet another Bill has been proposed for a particular subject. It is perfectly reasonable, however, to consider measures already taken and to decide what other action is needed. I therefore fully support many of the Government’s measures.
In particular, I support the measure to regulate estate agents, as well as the measure to expand free travel for older people throughout the United Kingdom, which is a tremendous advantage. Having just finished my Industry and Parliament Trust stint with a transport company, and living in a town whose transport system is expanding and numbers of travellers increasing day by day, I can see the impact of investment, particularly in Fastway in Crawley, on the environment, and the difference that it is already making in reducing car ownership.
I want to focus on Home Office Bills, because many of us have been troubled in our communities by people who do not respect others. The Government should be congratulated on measures that they have already introduced. The introduction of police community support officers, for instance, has been a boon to our communities, and their use in neighbourhood policing teams is now enshrined in legislation. We should also congratulate the Government on the innovation of antisocial behaviour orders. Nevertheless, a hard rump of people seem to think it perfectly all right to go on abusing their neighbours and ignoring any action that may be taken. It does not worry them that their neighbours are leading miserable lives, unable to focus on anything except having a difficult family living in their midst because it is borne in on them every time they step out of the door.
There must be a way of tackling such problems, and I firmly believe that people who behave badly, particularly young people, also need help and guidance. There are some tremendous schemes in Crawley to support those who would otherwise ride mini-motos in our parks and on pavements, and to guide them back on to the right track with proper supervision. Those young people, however, have a completely different view of the disruption that they are causing in their communities from the families who refuse point-blank to accept that they are causing terrible problems.
Home owners have always caused difficulties when it comes to legislation. My local authority is prepared— and I hope will continue to be prepared—to tell tenants “A lovely house in Crawley will be denied to you if you cannot live decently with your neighbours.” The problem is caused by the private home owner who ignores antisocial behaviour orders. Even the threat of a prison sentence—I am now looking at the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow)—does not deter such people from their awful behaviour. We must take action against offenders who think it is perfectly all right to make their community a miserable place in which to live.
The other side of the coin is the way in which we treat victims of crime. People involved in these awful disputes often feel that they are not being treated properly, and I hope we shall see a proper emphasis on victim support.
Some speakers have seemed to say—and it may well be true in their areas—that offender management schemes are entirely satisfactory and do not need to be addressed in any way, but I believe that the system needs to be improved considerably. I can give two examples. I am a trustee of a charity called Furni-aid, which I started some years ago. It provides good-quality second-hand furniture for people in need. We have benefited from two sizeable lottery bids, and we now have employees. We thought it a good idea for those undergoing community punishment to help us restore and deliver furniture, and we organised a partnership with the probation service. The partnership was extremely difficult. On some days six offenders would turn up, while on others none would arrive. We felt that, as an organisation that was attempting to help the whole process, we were being ignored and not being taken seriously.
The son of a good friend of mine sadly suffered from drug addiction and was on probation. She would drive him to the probation office so that he could have a proper weekly session with the probation officer, but he was often out of the room in 30 seconds. She was desperate, and he eventually ended up in prison.
Many issues need to be addressed, and the Queen’s Speech is doing that. It is moving forward, and taking our agenda forward. It is looking after people in our community, and is making it a better place in which to be.
I compliment the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) on allowing four more minutes for other hon. Members. We have had interesting contributions to the debate from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) on immigration. I shall try to address the same issue briefly.
During my frequent attempts to become a Member of Parliament, I found it hard to talk about immigration without exciting unwarranted accusations from some of my opponents. The cheapest hit was that I was in some way playing the race card, something that I would never do and never did. I raised the issue of immigration in an extremely moderate and responsible way, because it is of enormous interest to the electorate. I am glad that we have a new realism that accepts that if those of us on the moderate centre ground do not talk about that issue of real concern to the British public, the void will be filled by the likes of the British National party, which will talk about the issue for all the wrong reasons and in the wrong way.
I like to believe that the Home Affairs Committee, in a small way, contributed to that new realism. Every week in the early part of this year, the headlines were filled with yet another discovery by our inquiry into the immigration service. Those headlines were not always to the liking of the Government, but they encouraged a national debate on a range of issues, including the number of illegal immigrants; whether there should be an amnesty; what we should do with foreign prisoners; and, for the first time, a realistic assessment of the benefit of immigration and the effect that it has, both socially and economically.
The detailed report of the inquiry was, perhaps wrongly, entitled “Immigration Control”—it should have been “Immigration out of Control”—and it identified a system creaking at the seams. It identified an organisation in the immigration and nationality directorate that was structurally and culturally unfit for the job in hand. Many of the recommendations in the report showed that there was no need for primary legislation to address the problems. What was needed was complete structural change and good leadership.
I welcome any measures in the legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech or following the review being carried out by Ministers that address the fact that immigration cuts across all areas of government. The discovery that large numbers of national insurance numbers have been issued to illegal immigrants has to be sorted out by the Department for Work and Pensions. The appallingly administered register of educational establishments showed a two-way fraud. People who wanted to come to this country to study found that the college to which they had sent large amounts of money was an accommodation address above a chip shop in Rotherham. On the other hand, bogus educational establishments also existed so that people could come here to work illegally. Immigration also has wider implications for local government and health, and the Department for Constitutional Affairs has taken responsibility for the asylum and immigration tribunals—and that opens up the issue of removals. It is an issue, therefore, that stretches across government.
The issue that I wish to address relates to a report and subsequent allegations of corruption. Back in January The Sun printed a rather lurid story which came to be known as the sex for visas issue. Allegations were made by a former IND employee about the awarding of visas and corrupt practices within the IND. The IND made a thoughtful inquiry into the matter headed by Mr. Gbedemah, which on the face of it seemed to be a thorough report. I was at Lunar house in Croydon on the day the report came out. We were given briefings and told that this was a one-off, that various areas of concern had been identified and were being looked into, and that we had no real cause for worry. In the context of what the Home Affairs Committee then discovered and of what happened in May the report now seems breathtakingly complacent.
The Select Committee discovered, for example, that allegations of corruption or misconduct referred to the immigration service operational integrity unit numbered 169, of which 120 were pursued. For the same period cases referred to the IND security and anti-corruption unit numbered 703, of which 409 were investigated, 31 referred for prosecution and 79 for deliberate action. That is why some of us have great concern about the method by which the Home Office and the IND examine themselves when such cases occur.
In May came the case of a chief immigration officer who made appalling advances on a young asylum seeker from Zimbabwe, a rape victim in her own country. We have cause to be extremely grateful to The Observer for the sting operation and exposure of that individual and for his eventual dismissal.
I have no knowledge that the deeper issues that these cases raise have been addressed by the IND or Ministers. I have had to draw, like blood from a stone, information from Ministers to written questions and I am on the cusp of doing a freedom of information trawl for further information. The time has come for a new and more open approach.
The police have the Independent Police Complaints Commission, an authority in which we can have confidence, to look into cases of wrongdoing by police officers in an independent, open and trustworthy manner. The IND has no such body; it conducts investigations itself. I am convinced that now is the time to set up an independent body to investigate corrupt practices in the IND. In general, I want to see a bonfire of quangos and other regulatory bodies, but I believe passionately that we need better regulation in this area.
The abuse of power, for that is what this case and many of these cases are about, makes us no better than the countries from which some asylum seekers are trying to escape. It is vital that we root out corruption and that Ministers understand. It is good to have the Minister on whose watch this took place sitting on the Treasury Bench. Perception is reality and the perception is of a real problem in the IND. Only by openness, by independent, rigorous investigation and by determined leadership—earlier the Home Secretary used the word “leadership” a lot—will the cloud of corruption be lifted from our immigration service. Reform of the service is both culturally and administratively necessary. It is also a question of ministerial leadership.
I now know why I like the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) so well, since he spoke so much sense on the subject of prisons, although I cannot agree with him on some of the other subjects that he discussed this afternoon. I also agree with many of the points about prisons made by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), whose constituency I had the pleasure to visit a few months ago, although I spent most of the time in the prison there, because I am chair of the all-party prisoner health group. That is why I have an interest in prison issues.
This afternoon I want to look at two issues—first immigration, which was touched on by many right hon. and hon. Members. Do we have too much of it? Is it good for society? Does it benefit us economically and socially or is it too expensive and should we put a cap on the numbers allowed to come here? I say to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who knows the city of Leeds well, just look at what immigration has done for the city of Leeds; it has been entirely beneficial. My parliamentary colleagues who represent the other seven constituencies in Leeds would certainly agree with that.
In my constituency of Leeds, North-East we have very good racial integration and community relations. Indeed, that is so much the case that our first ever Muslim lord mayor of the city of Leeds recently attended a synagogue service to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the return of Jews to England, and he was roundly applauded for the contribution he has made. That is an example of good community relations.
Through good community relations, we can foster a sense of security and well-being among the whole community, and we can tackle the kind of extremism that bred the suicide bombers, and led to the outrages carried out on the London underground and other parts of the London transport system on 7 July last year, the perpetrators of which, sadly, came from our city. Through excellent community relations, we can try to ensure that that sort of thing does not occur again.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that I had in some way demurred from the notion that immigrants have made a positive contribution. On the contrary, I said that that was the objective of most who want to come here. The question that I posed to him, and to which I would welcome a reply, is: should there be any limit on the number of economic migrants coming here?
That limit should be determined by the demand for workers—by the number of jobs that are available. If we cannot find enough people—British citizens—to fill vacant posts in our economy, we should welcome as many from abroad as we need. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps disagreeing with that.
I want to move on because time is short. I shall give a couple of good examples of the integration and harmonious community relations that our schools have helped to foster. The hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) touched on that in her contribution when she talked about the good work done by schools in her constituency, and I want to draw attention to a couple of schools in my constituency.
At Carr Manor high school, the head teacher Simon Flowers has fostered a sense of integration and has encouraged communities to work together; the pupils who attend his school come from hugely diverse backgrounds. His school has, thankfully, just been rebuilt under the “building schools for the future” programme, and it is absolutely excellent. Another school in the constituency is Allerton Grange high school. Its head teacher, Jean Hertrich, often has to wrestle with community problems, but she fosters a sense of harmony and well-being among the children of many different groups of faiths and backgrounds who attend the school; some of them are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Our schools play a very important part in ensuring that communities are integrated and feel that they can live together in security.
In his introductory remarks, the Home Secretary said that this Labour Government had made the relief of poverty and deprivation their main targets since they were elected in 1997. One of their success stories has been in tackling homelessness. There have in the past been unacceptable levels of homelessness in many of our cities and inner-city areas; the Government have tackled that, and they have had huge successes. In one area, however, we have not had such success: the destitution of asylum seekers who have failed—who have exhausted their options in the judicial process— and who have not left the country, either because they are too frightened to do so or because they are unable to leave because the country that they would go back to is too insecure or will not have them back.
I want to draw that issue to the attention of Members, particularly Home Office Ministers. In my constituency, as in the rest of the city of Leeds, individuals who belong to Churches or other religious organisations are taking destitute asylum seekers into their own homes and looking after them at their own expense. They are doing that because they can see, as I can see in my advice surgeries each week and at my constituency office, that many people are either still waiting for a decision, and therefore get National Asylum Support Service support, or have exhausted the process and have no further avenue to explore to enable them to remain in Great Britain, and therefore receive no further support. Yet in my opinion, even though that opinion is not shared by the Home Office, they have every good reason to be very frightened of returning to their own country.
I refer to two cases. Karim Bahadori was tortured in his native Iran for being a dissident and speaking out against his Government. Sadly, his story was not believed by Home Office officials. Often stories are not believed because there is no documentary evidence. Yet if frightened dissidents flee from a regime that would kill them, as so many Zimbabweans have done, they do not bring the supporting paperwork. Indeed, Letitia Tarisayi, a Zimbabwean who was to stand for Parliament in Harare as a Movement for Democratic Change candidate, came to Great Britain temporarily, she thought and hoped, to escape the persecution that MDC members faced. She went back to Harare three years ago to find out what had happened to her home, only to discover that it had been bulldozed by Robert Mugabe’s Government and that she was on the wanted list. She had to flee back to Great Britain. Of course she did not have paperwork. I am sorry to say that her case, although it is still being considered, has initially been refused.
I am sorry that there is no Home Office Minister on the Bench at the moment. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Transport will relay my suggestion to the Home Secretary. A new immigration and asylum Bill is to be drafted and put to the House. It will include further penalties for employers who take on people illegally. We know that that goes on. Many destitute asylum seekers are absolutely desperate for work. They will take a job washing cars by hand for £2 a day. That is criminal, but if they did not get that job, I fear that they would turn to crime.
Why is it that asylum seekers cannot have the right to work? That would give the dignity that work brings. They would earn their own keep, not take state handouts. How many hon. Members have met asylum seekers whose applications have failed, but who say, “Even if I have some way to go before my decision is definite, I do not want handouts from the state”? To allow them to work would do an enormous amount to restore the dignity of people who leave their country in desperation. Let us understand that it takes an awful lot for people to leave their own country and seek asylum in a country such as Great Britain. It takes courage. It takes an awful lot to uproot themselves and sometimes their family to come here and face the hostility not just of the media but often of the authorities.
So my plea is that the Government allow asylum seekers to work from the moment they arrive in the United Kingdom. We could give them a national insurance number, and we would know where they were. They would pay tax and national insurance contributions. They would have to be paid the national minimum wage, which would give them dignity. It is better than being paid £2 a day for washing cars. It would also go some way to allaying public anxiety about asylum seekers and their cost to the taxpayer. I ask the Minister to consider my proposal, which would do an awful lot to give asylum seekers the dignity that they deserve.
I shall be as brief as I can. I thought that the Home Secretary’s remarks were instructive when he suggested that the use of intercept evidence was not a silver bullet. I am not aware that anyone who has called for the use of intercept evidence has suggested that it was. He went on to say that other robust decisions would have to be made, and he mentioned detention. I suspect that he meant an increase in pre-charge detention, and that that means that the 90-day pre-charge detention debate is back on the agenda.
What the Home Secretary did not mention, however, and what no Minister has mentioned since the last time we discussed the issue, is any legal justification, any legal documentation or any legal opinion that would suggest that a change to allow detention for more than 28 days would not breach the right not to be subject to arbitrary detention—or, indeed, that the evidence garnered after 28 days would be acceptable in a court of law. So I suggest that until there is such a legal opinion—a robust legal opinion that comes from a single source and has not been subject to pressure—it would be foolish of the Government to try to resurrect the 90-day pre-charge detention debate.
A large number of hon. Members have touched on immigration. Obviously, we must wait to see what the terms of the immigration Bill might be, but it is worth pointing out the last three announcements that have been made. We welcomed the announcement of the points-based migration system. We welcomed the creation of the shortage occupation list, including the separate Scottish shortage occupation list. Most recently, we welcomed the creation of the migration advisory committee. However, my position is rather different from that of other right hon. and hon. Members.
Scotland’s population has risen for the past three years, although it had been falling, Glasgow’s population has risen for two years and Dundee’s population rose last year, based solely on the net immigration of mainly young workers from central and eastern Europe. By and large, that has been a positive experience for them, for us, for the economy and for the population. So in whatever the Government choose to do about immigration, I hope that they can be sufficiently sensitive to recognise the competing difficulties in different parts of the country—the threats and the benefits—and I very much hope that the Home Secretary and his team will consider a separate Scottish migration advisory committee fully to inform the already announced separate Scottish shortage occupation list. That is a reasonable demand, and the Secretary of State for Scotland is a reasonable man, so I am sure that he will pass those very sensible suggestions on to the Home Secretary for inclusion in legislation later.
The key home affairs issue, however, will be identity cards. I will not rehearse all the arguments about the Government’s various failures to prove any of the stated justifications, but I want to speak briefly about the cost. Let us remember that the estimate of £5.4 billion is merely for the Home Office to issue the ID cards and passports. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) told me in response to a question:
“This does not include the cost falling to other organisations using ID cards to verify identities.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2006; Vol. 451, c. 1372W.]
Therefore, it does not include the cost to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, local authorities, the police or the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and it includes no cost whatsoever to the private sector. She claimed in the same answer that the private sector might save upwards of £320 million a year because of the introduction of ID cards, but I am certain that the costs will outweigh that saving.
There are now 1 million point-of-sale systems in the UK. According to the Government’s regulatory impact assessment, republished in the London School of Economics report on the identity project, there will be a cost of between £250 and £750 per scanner. Using a mid-point of £500, it would cost £500 million simply to have an ID card scanner at each point of sale. The LSE report went on to say that the cost of a reliable and robust system would be between £3,000 and £4,000 a unit, before the inclusion of the communications lines and the recurring costs of the proper software and licences. With the training, support, updates, maintenance and all the associated sundries, it is likely that the private sector cost, for an annual saving of £321 million, will be in excess of £3 billion or £4 billion over 10 years.
The Under-Secretary raised a variety of other issues. She suggested that the costs would be dependent on how any organisation did its checking. That is ludicrous, because the card must be checked against the central register. The person’s biometric details must be scanned and checked against the register and the person must be checked against the card. Any break in that chain makes the whole thing utterly meaningless. The impression was given that there was a cheap and cheerful checking solution. There is not: there is either the full cost and the full check, or the whole system is pointless.
I raise that issue because the costs need to be identified, and the Government need to bring forward detailed information at the earliest possible opportunity. As things stand, our estimate is that there would be no savings in either the private or the public sector. There would merely be costs, passed over to the taxpayer, the consumer and the customer. I urge the Government to think again about ID cards, but if they intend to introduce them, they should also provide some robust information, because right now, and in debates in the past year or so, none has been available.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Stewart Hosie), and I am pleased to hear that Scotland has halted and reversed its population decline. That is good news for the country where my father was born.
The Government promote this year’s Gracious Speech by saying that it offers the public security in a changing world, but the amendment that was moved today denies that it offers that security. The amendment provokes two thoughts. The first is that it is for reasons of history and tradition that we compartmentalise Parliaments into annual Sessions, but this year we break through the straitjacket a little as three Bills have been carried over from the previous Session. In truth, a Government’s programme is for a Parliament rather than for a year, and in the end the success or failure of the Government’s programme will be judged at election time, when people will look back over a number of years, and not just one.
As for the second thought provoked by the amendment, I hark back to the inauguration speech of a great American President, who said:
“ask not what your country can do for you”.
We should not just ask what the Government will do for the people, but what individual citizens will do for themselves, their communities and their country. With that in mind, I should like to discuss some of the insecurities felt by people today, and what the response to those insecurities should be.
First, on home affairs, terrorism is now a part of our daily lives. We are awaiting the result of a Home Office review that will tell us whether legislation on the subject will be proposed during this Session. One thing that we can all do in our daily lives is mind the language that we use to describe the dangers and threats to us. Today’s debate has been excellent for its moderation and constructiveness, and for the language that we used in confronting the threat from terrorism. The same goes for crime and antisocial behaviour—although legislation on the subject is proposed in the Gracious Speech, there are many things that we can do for ourselves.
In my community, many people volunteer as special constables, working alongside the regular police, and that is brilliant. Such people give up their spare time to help to uphold the law in our communities. Millions of people—I am just one of them—are members of neighbourhood watch schemes, which do their little bit to help the police in their work. We not only do a bit to protect our own properties against criminality, but do that little bit extra to build up community strength and public spirit. Those are things that we can do for ourselves.
On transport, too, there are insecurities that people feel in their daily lives. If they use trains, boats and planes, they may worry about their personal security—and not just when using one of those forms of transport, but on their journey to the place where they catch it, and on their way home at the end of their journey. It is important that we address that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) talked about the good work of the British Transport police, and I certainly endorse those comments. We ought to think of the technologies and the ways of ensuring personal security that we can offer people, so that they are confident in using public transport. We heard earlier about the contribution that using public transport, rather than private means of transport, can make in combating climate change.
People might feel insecurity about the risk of death or serious injury on roads, rail, air and sea. That is probably a good example of a case in which we should not judge the Government on just one year. This year, we are taking part in a 10-year programme to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads, for example. It is important for people to understand that measures are being taken, and successes are being achieved, in helping people over the insecurity that they feel when they travel.
As we are short of time I do not want to range much wider, but I ask the House to bear in mind the fact that people’s insecurities about their daily lives go beyond home affairs and transport. People worry about their jobs and homes—whether they can pay their mortgage, whether their job is secure and what will happen to them if their company is taken over. It is important that in our work we help people to cope with such insecurities. The Gracious Speech refers to the continuation of our stable economy, low inflation and high employment. It also mentions further education. People who are worried about their present job need to keep their skills up to date and I was impressed to hear last week about train to gain, the programme that tries to match the delivery of skills training to the needs of employers and employees.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) that people increasingly feel insecure about the environment. We are much more worried about the kind of world that we shall leave our children and the generations to come if we do not change our ways. That insecurity is becoming much more prevalent.
People feel insecure about public safety in terms of the policing of the streets and neighbourhoods where they live. They are concerned about whether the criminal justice system deals effectively with people brought before the courts, and about the possibility that migration may bring people to this country who may not behave legally. There is also concern about offender management in the prison and probation systems.
I want briefly to raise a constituency point to illustrate two points in the Gracious Speech. In 2005, a constituent of mine who was four months pregnant was raped by a man who proved to be a foreign national. He was caught, tried, convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. For understandable reasons, my constituent asked me to find out whether he would be deported at the end of his sentence. I put that question to the Home Office in letters and in written questions, only to be told that I am not allowed to have that information because the Home Office has to protect the prisoner’s confidentiality—the confidentiality of a man who is serving a prison sentence for raping my constituent.
That case gives rise to big issues about accountability in both the promise in the Gracious Speech that people will increasingly be deported at the end of their sentence and the repeat of the statement that victims will be put at the heart of the criminal justice system. Will the victims of foreign nationals in our prisons be allowed to know whether those prisoners are to be deported at the end of their sentence? Are the rest of us to know that if such prisoners do not return to the streets of Britain after their sentence it is because they have been deported? We all need to know about such important issues, but I am particularly concerned about my constituent. She was the victim of a serious crime and she wants that information for her personal security in future.
I wanted to say something about the legal services Bill, which, in draft form, went through a good process of pre-legislative scrutiny from a Joint Committee of both Houses. When we deal with that Bill, I shall certainly argue that it was much improved by that process. I hoped, too, to say a little bit about the Offender Management Bill, but I shall wait until we deal with the measure. With the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, I hope that we shall finally be able to make some progress on implementing a provision of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that has been waiting for implementation for a long time.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). I am glad that he was brief, as I, too, shall try to be.
We must judge the Government’s promises in the Gracious Speech about crime, policing, immigration and terrorism through the prism of their record in office. Unfortunately, we find a litany of failed policies, an addiction to gimmicks, attacks on civil liberties and phoney crackdowns enunciated solely for the benefit of some tabloid editors.
The No. 1 rule in politics is never to believe one’s own propaganda. If Labour Members really believe that my party—the true party of law and order, which supports victims, believes that rights come with responsibilities and has an actual record of reducing crime—will cede that territory to the Government, they are gravely mistaken. Perhaps the teenage spin doctors who have not already fled Downing street think that it is a cunning plan to present my party as out-of-touch effete toffs, but the second rule in politics is, do not take the electorate for fools.
This week, we saw another masterclass in gimmickry—supernannies—from the people who brought us marching yobs to cash points, child curfew schemes, night courts and antisocial behaviour orders, which have a breaching rate of 60 per cent., to name but a few highlights. The record does not get any better. Violent crime has doubled and robbery, youth crime and drug-related crime is increasing under the Labour Government. People are actually breaking into prisons to sell drugs to fellow criminals, while other criminals are strolling out of prison to commit more crime, stopping on the way to fill in their applications for working tax credit.
Let us not forget that, under the Government’s human rights legislation, our tough Home Secretary pays off drug-addicted prisoners while his Government deny decent people the right to life-saving medicines. That is the reality. The irony of the Government’s policy is that it impacts on those at the bottom of the heap—the poorest in society, who are least able to cope with being burgled. People who live in council properties are most likely to be burgled. The poorest suffer from vehicle crime. Under this Government, unemployed people are most likely to be the victims of violent crime.
Mrs. Peggy Stokes of the Walton action group in my constituency is sick of graffiti blighting her street, so she cleans it up herself. She says:
“This used to be a nice area, but it is being ruined. I was painting over graffiti at 8 am on Sunday and thought, ‘why should I be doing this?’ I’m so fed up with it.
“These people should not be doing it in the first place. I can’t understand their mentality. I want this to be a pleasant place to live again.”
That is the reality for many citizens in our constituencies under this Government, despite soundbites, glossy brochures, tsars, respect agendas, paradigm shifts, step changes and all the other new Labour gobbledegook. Under this Government, to paraphrase a former Member for Islwyn, “I warn you not to be old, I warn you not to be poor, I warn you not to live on a council estate and I warn you to keep your civic pride hidden for fear of retribution.”
I want to turn to three particular areas of concern in respect of the forthcoming legislation. One is the lack of any serious attempt at thorough reform of or extending democratic accountability to the police service across the United Kingdom. The answer is not the unpopular and wasteful merger of police forces, which, in the case of my constituency, cost the Cambridgeshire constabulary £140,000 of taxpayers’ money. We cannot continue with the bureaucratic, outdated, top-down approach, under which police authorities and chief constables appear to care little for the views of locally elected representatives, wedded as they are to a Pavlovian tick-box mentality imposed by the Home Office.
The second point relates to the proposal to push ahead with identity cards. They will be hugely expensive: they will cost £200 per person. They will involve the development of lifelong surveillance and the massive accumulation of personal data. They will not prevent illegal immigration or terrorism. They will also involve untested technologies on an unprecedented scale. I implore the Government to think again, at this late stage, about proceeding.
Thirdly, I will not vote for 90 days detention under any circumstances. It is wrong. No objective rationale or demonstrable evidence has been put forward—either last year or this year—for its imposition. That is the opinion of the Attorney-General and Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer.
I do not blame the Home Secretary, who is not in his place, for the whole of the mess that he inherited. Let us remember that the Prime Minister is complicit and guilty, too. I would have described him as Macavity the cat, except that Scotland Yard never caught up with Macavity. What an age since September 1993 and
“tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”.
Never have the decent, law-abiding silent majority in this country been so grievously betrayed.
We have had a broad-ranging and valuable debate and I have listened with interest to contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is not enough time for me to refer to all contributions, but we have certainly heard some valuable thoughts, some interesting constituency insights and useful reflections on the Gracious Speech.
The overwhelming message from what we have heard today and what draws the two subject areas together—we have heard it in complaints from the Opposition and in more subtle messages from the Government Benches—is that much has been promised, but far too little has actually happened or been delivered. The truth is that the Gracious Speech is rather like the film “Groundhog Day”: if we think that we have heard it all before, that is because we really have. This year’s Gracious Speech could have been transposed with virtually any one of its predecessors over the past five years and no one would have noticed that a switch had been made. There is a similar list of Bills, a similar list of promises and, at the end of it all, we know that yet again the delivery will not match the rhetoric.
Nowhere is that more true than with respect to the two subject areas that we have debated today. Year after year, the Government talk tough on law and order; year after year, they publish another long list of Bills to pass through the House in months ahead; yet year after year the problems just get worse. Violent crime goes up, antisocial behaviour gets worse, our police seem to have less and less time to catch criminals and our criminal justice system fails to deal out appropriate punishments to those who are caught, usually as a result of yet another piece of flawed guidance from Ministers.
The same is true of our transport system. A decade ago, the Government came to power promising an integrated transport strategy. The Deputy Prime Minister even pledged to put his job on the line if he failed to tackle congestion. We were promised nothing less than the transformation of our transport system. Unlike the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is no longer in her place, I do not believe—and nor do the travelling public—that transport has got better under this Government.
Actually, the opposite is true. Congestion has got worse and our trains are more overcrowded than ever. When toilets and seats are being ripped out of trains to create extra standing room, when the London underground is breaking down every single day of the week, when local authorities around the country are being coerced by the Government to accept road pricing schemes—set against the threat that, if they do not, they will lose funding for other transport schemes—and when promise after promise to improve things has been kicked into the long grass, it is hardly realistic to say that transport is getting better.
If we think back to the 10-year plan, we can see what we were promised by 2010—Crossrail, Thameslink, longer platforms on suburban stations, safer stations and faster road journeys—but none of it will happen by 2010. That is hardly surprising from a Government who have long since stopped trying to make a difference on transport.
If anyone does not believe me, they need only take a look at what has happened to transport in the Gracious Speech. We know that the Secretary of State wanted to bring forward a transport Bill, setting out the ground rules for road pricing and reforming our bus services this year. We know that because his letter to the Leader of the House was leaked back in August. The Transport Secretary asked for a slot in this year’s legislative programme, but it has not happened. His aim to introduce a Bill was clear, but what he has actually got is consultation and a draft Bill, which may or may not lead to a Bill next year.
All that is problematic for the Government’s transport strategy. It has been quite clear for the past couple of years that the Government’s transport strategy contains the introduction of road pricing—but not much beyond it. The Secretary of State seems to think so. He had been in his job only three days when he made a major speech, setting out the Government’s plans for road pricing. The Prime Minister’s letter of appointment made it a priority for the Secretary of State, but the road pricing strategy depends on getting things moving pretty quickly. It will take years to get a national road pricing scheme up and running. It will take years to set up meaningful pilots that can supply the basis for a national road pricing scheme. The Secretary of State is committed to setting up such a scheme by 2015—or so the Minister of State said a few weeks ago—but he has not got his Bill. Even the Government’s last remaining transport strategy does not seem to be a priority now.
What does the Gracious Speech say about transport? It contains a Bill on concessionary fares, and I think that all hon. Members would welcome a better deal for pensioners, but the proposed measure amounts to “Groundhog Day II”, as we have had it before. In the Budget presented two months before the last general election, one of the Chancellor’s flagship announcements was that free bus passes would be introduced for pensioners. They were supposed to be in place by April, and local authorities were promised a large amount of money to foot the bill for the new initiative. So why are we debating the matter all over again in this Parliament? Perhaps it is because the Government did not quite get things right last time.
The problem went beyond the lack of funding in many areas. In the north-east, for example, council tax had to go up because the Treasury got the grants wrong, while local schemes for the disabled in Cambridgeshire had to be scrapped to pay for the pensioners’ scheme. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) about the financial problems in his area, where pensioners will end up paying higher council tax to fund their bus passes.
The scheme had one other big flaw: it applied only within a pensioner’s council area. The Chancellor did not tell us that at the time. Pensioners whose trip to the shops involves crossing a council boundary might end up having to pay up or get off. As a result, this year’s Budget contained the Chancellor’s second take on the matter. This time, we would have a national scheme and the problems would be sorted out. However, reports are now coming in of yet more problems with the existing scheme. What are the chances that Ministers will get it right this time? We will back the Bill and work on it, but we will watch the Government every inch of the way to make sure that it is not another example of a high-sounding undertaking that does not turn out quite as promised when it is put into practice on the front line.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. One of the difficulties has been that the present scheme comes to a halt at London’s boundaries. We will watch with interest how the new scheme is put into practice, to ensure that the Government fulfil their promise to deliver a better deal for our pensioners—but I am not holding my breath.
What is missing from the Gracious Speech? First, there is the Government’s policy on policing our roads. Last year, we debated the Bill that became the Road Safety Act 2006, and said that it was a missed opportunity. Earlier, the Home Secretary talked about increases in the numbers of police officers, but the truth is that there are now fewer traffic police than when this Labour Government took office. There is a real concern that the Government’s system of enforcing the laws on our roads is designed simply to hit targets and generate revenue, and that it is too dependent on technology.
We know that safety cameras play an important role in many places, but too many forces depend on technology to police our roads. Cameras cannot tell when a person is driving erratically, or has no insurance. They do not know when a licence has been revoked. There has been a dramatic rise in the number of hit-and-run accidents, while the number of breath tests carried out is down.
All told, people are worried that our system of enforcement avoids tackling the real problem drivers on our roads—the ones who flout or ignore the law. The drivers who get caught are those who play within the rules: they register their cars, have driving licences and pay their insurance. The drivers who get away with offences are the ones who completely ignore the law.
Criminals tend not to take the time to call Swansea and change their address details. They tend not to pay their insurance premiums, or reply when they get a letter from the police telling them that they were speeding. They are getting away with all kinds of reckless behaviour because cameras cannot capture what they do. Without police out on the roads, the drivers who pose a real threat to public safety will simply carry on getting away with it.
I turn to road transport, transport generally and the environment. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) made a good speech highlighting some of the issues in relation to transport and the environment. This is a huge challenge for us. As he said, transport is a major contributor to global warming. Despite the climate change Bill that we are promised but which we have not yet seen, we see little practical evidence in the Gracious Speech of tangible Government ideas for tackling the problem, particularly to deal with the impact of road transport on the environment.
The Government’s response to the need to encourage people to buy and drive greener cars has been poor. There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to encourage people to buy greener cars. Britain offers fewer incentives to drivers of greener cars than any other western European country. This year the Government have reduced and in some cases removed incentives for green cars. Back in the Budget, the zero rate duty that they announced for the greenest cars did not apply to any car on sale in the UK at that time, so I question the Government’s strategy on greener cars. I look for some measure in the not too distant future, I hope, that will make a real contribution to encouraging people in Britain to drive greener cars.
Another issue that the Government have ducked is the competitive disadvantage that our hauliers face, compared with drivers coming into this country from the continent with cheap diesel in their tanks. Our hauliers are suffering significantly as a result of those duty differentials. The sad thing is that the Government recognised that years ago. Back when he was Secretary of State for Transport, the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling), took the time to come up with a policy which was included in one of his strategy documents. I quote from “The Future of Transport” published three years ago, which stated that the Government were
“pressing ahead to deliver lorry road user charging by 2007-08. A new distance-based charge which will apply to all lorries using UK roads. This will ensure that all hauliers”—
not just our own—
“make a fair contribution towards the costs of using the UK road network.”
The Government abandoned that pledge two years ago but they said that they would return to the issue and present new proposals. We wait. Another year and another Gracious Speech have gone by and still our hauliers wait. Still our hauliers go out of business because the Government do not seem to care.
The railways are a further example of how the Government fail to tackle difficult problems. We have known for years that demand for rail travel is increasing and that it will continue to grow strongly over the next decade. Anyone who uses the train network on a morning knows there is a problem. The Government keep talking about our transport challenges. We have had regional planning assessments, route utilisation strategies and new franchise agreements. We are waiting with bated breath for the publication of the Eddington report in a couple of weeks, though I fear that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North will be disappointed because it seems that, possibly at the instigation of the Treasury, the Eddington report will rule out high speed rail links.
Next summer there is to be a high level output statement on the railways—yet another document, 10 years and three months after the Government first came to power. But out there, on our roads and on our trains, things are getting worse and far too little is being done to tackle the transport problems that we face. People know what needs to be done, but nothing is happening. A team of civil servants in Whitehall is tinkering with train timetables. Ministers are micro-managing our rail network, but rail companies are ripping seats and toilets out of trains to create more standing room because the Government have no long-term strategy for our railways or our transport system.
In the past 10 years we have had three different incarnations of the Department for Transport, four Secretaries of State, numerous strategic planning documents and a plethora of studies and reports. In 1997 we started with the second most senior member of the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Transport. Today we have the newest appointment to the Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Transport. It is difficult not to see that as a reflection of the importance that the Prime Minister attaches to transport in the broad range of challenges facing the Government.
The only continuity in transport policy is the Government’s annual failure to keep the promises that they have made. While the Government sit in Whitehall devising headlines for tomorrow’s newspapers, the problems mount up: the roads get fuller; the trains get more crowded; the atmosphere gets more polluted; the streets become less safe; and antisocial behaviour gets worse. The Gracious Speech will do much too little to change that, which is why more and more people think that it is time for a change.
The debate has been useful and wide ranging, and I thank all hon. Members who have spoken. There have been a large number of powerful contributions from both sides of the House, and I hope that hon. Members will understand if I do not seek to address each contribution in the limited time available.
As a former Transport Minister, the Home Secretary revealed his detailed knowledge of contemporary transport policy in his opening contribution to today’s debate by discussing the Duke of Wellington’s views on the railway network. I hope to offer a rather more up-to-date view of our transport challenges in my concluding remarks. I can vouch for the fact that my friend and colleague, the Home Secretary, who has just joined me on the Front Bench, regularly uses our railway network. I know that because I recently went to Euston station to catch the night sleeper, where I met the Home Secretary, who, with characteristic modesty and understatement, was travelling with two sniffer dogs, three police officers and a couple of personal detectives.
Talking of modesty, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) spoke with evident pride and nostalgia about the Major Government’s advocacy of road pricing. With due respect to one of my predecessors, I have never regarded Lord MacGregor, who helped bequeath to the country both Railtrack and the Conservatives’ botched railway privatisation, as the exemplar of the balance to be struck between careful planning and executive decision making.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) offered the House trenchant views on both Crossrail and the Mersey tram, and I thank him for his words and his historical perspective on bus policy.
In a wide-ranging speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is not in her place this evening, brought her considerable experience and expertise to bear on subjects ranging from road pricing to rail franchising. In her absence, I will reflect on her points, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Transport Committee in the months and years ahead.
Both my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), whose contribution has already been remarked upon in the winding-up speeches, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) spoke with passion on the environment in wide-ranging speeches—I will leave it to the Foreign Secretary to address the foreign policy aspects of the latter speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) is a formidable campaigner for her constituents. She reminded the House of the importance that her constituents attach to their bus services. Her constituents’ experience is too common, and I welcome her interest in the draft road transport Bill.
At first glance, transport and home affairs might appear to be curious bedfellows for the debate on the Gracious Address, but the threat of terrorism, which has featured prominently in today’s debate, is serious and ongoing, and it affects us all. Nowhere is that more apparent than in relation to transport. The transport system has historically represented a strong target for people who want to threaten our way of life, and it seems likely that that will continue to be the case in the foreseeable future.
In transport and other sectors of our economy and society, just as the terrorist threat is evolving, so our response will need to evolve, too. In August, for example, we needed to respond immediately to what we judged to be a serious threat to the aviation industry and air passengers from liquid explosives. We were able to deal with that threat and, for the most part, the aviation industry was able to keep flying because of close co-operation between the Government, the police, the security services, the airlines and many others. The risk of attack on the transport system can never be fully eliminated, but it can be reduced, and we will continue to work in full co-operation with the police, the security services and the transport sector.
I will now address the measures that my Department will introduce to build on the objectives set out in the Gracious Address. The concessionary bus travel Bill will implement the announcement set out in the Budget that from April 2008 people aged 60 and over and people with disabilities will get free off-peak travel on all local buses in England. The Government will provide up to £250 million per annum to pay for the scheme, which is in addition to the £350 million already provided to local authorities. I am proud that, together with measures such as winter fuel payments and free eye tests, this Labour Government will introduce free local bus travel for every pensioner in the country.
The draft road transport Bill aims to underpin regional economic growth, tackle road congestion and improve public transport by giving local authorities greater flexibility to implement transport measures that meet real local needs. The Bill will update the powers that allow the development of road pricing pilot schemes, so that motorists and businesses benefit from reduced congestion and more predictable journey times in local areas. It will also provide local authorities that need them with real powers to improve the standards of their local bus services.
As has been mentioned, 20 years ago last month the Conservatives deregulated bus services and then watched bus patronage drop by about 20 per cent. in their remaining years in office. This Government recognise that despite growth at the national level in recent years, the quality of service is not good enough in too many of our communities. With two in every three public transport journeys made now taking place by bus, we recognise that buses are a lifeline to many in our communities. That is why I shall shortly make proposals to change the way in which bus services are run.
We will look carefully and constructively at the Secretary of State’s proposals on buses. However, I ask him to acknowledge that in reality the decline in bus passenger ridership began in the 1950s and was more rapid prior to deregulation than subsequently.
My recollection of history is that the Conservatives were in power in the 1950s. If they are now seeking to disown not only the 18 years that they were last in office but every previous Conservative Administration, it takes to new heights their desire for cross-dressing.
In addition, we have carried over the Crossrail Bill, which is being scrutinised by the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill. Since 1997, in contrast to the 18 years of Conservative government, the UK economy has been stronger and more stable than any other major economy, whereas the previous two decades saw two of the deepest recessions of the past century. It is that economic foundation, which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development was recently moved to refer to as “a paragon of stability”, that has enabled us to begin to address the decades of under-investment that previously afflicted our transport system. As a consequence of that economic growth, people have become richer and they seek to travel more. Consequently, the long-term solutions for transport lie in sustained investment, in the effective management of the transport infrastructure and in planning ahead to ensure that transport meets the needs of the future. As a number of speakers have made clear, those aims all need to be achieved in a way that recognises the impact of transport on the environment and meets our environmental obligations.
By next year, transport spending will have increased by more than 50 per cent. in real terms to above the level it was in the last year of the Conservative party’s last Administration. Indeed, planned transport spending over the next three years will grow from more than £12 billion to more than £15 billion by 2008. That investment is delivering real improvements for passengers.
I was genuinely sorry that the Conservative spokesman did not take the opportunity to explain the effect on the transport budget of the £21 billion of public spending cuts specified in recent weeks by the Conservative party’s tax commission, led by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. That proposal to put spending cuts before economic stability and before transport investment was, of course, endorsed by none other than the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, who said at the commission launch on 18 October that
“the framework for our tax policy is now set”.
I can understand why after years of under-investment, a botched rail privatisation, neglect of the bus network and cuts in the roads budget, the Conservative spokesman said so little about his party’s record in government. On reflection, perhaps the reason he said so little about his present transport policy is that he has so little money to spend. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at the outset of the debate, the Opposition cannot with credibility will the ends but not the means.
Our approach to roads is to provide targeted investment when it is warranted, with 39 major trunk roads and motorway schemes since 2001, and to improve the management of the road space while taking forward the debate on road pricing. More than 1,100 traffic officers are deployed across the motorway network, helping to assist traffic flow after accidents and incidents. The national traffic control centre provides real-time information for motorists for better journey planning. The seven regional control centres based around England monitor our motorways to keep traffic moving and congestion to a minimum.
With nearly 33 million vehicles on our roads, compared with 26 million in 1996 and the 60 per cent. increase in cars in the past 20 years, we cannot simply build our way out of the challenge of congestion. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South-West (Mr. Darling), the former Secretary of State for Transport, and I have tried to advance the debate on road pricing. The road transport Bill will make it easier for local authorities to introduce pilot schemes in their areas, alongside better public transport, to provide local solutions to local needs. The transport innovation fund will support that work.
I had hoped to gain a clearer view of the Conservatives’ position on road building during today’s debate but my hopes have been dashed once again. The Leader of the Opposition said on 8 November 2005:
“Britain now needs a concerted programme of road building”.
That position was flatly contradicted only two months later by the man that that same leader appointed to co-chair the Quality of Life Commission. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was quoted in the Daily Mail in January as saying,
“there is no doubt about it, there must be a presumption against road building.”
The only safe assumption is that, once again, the Conservatives are divided and trying to face two directions at once. That is not limited to transport policy.
We face three key challenges on our railways. First, we need to strengthen performance and reliability. Secondly, we must provide the extra capacity for a now growing railway. Thirdly, we need to ensure that rail meets the environmental obligations. Those challenges can be tackled only now that we have brought stability to the economy and the industry.
With Labour, we now have the fastest growing railway in Europe. More than 1 billion rail journeys are made every year. Indeed, people are now travelling further by rail than at any time since 1946. In the past year, almost 700 miles of track have been renewed, compared with fewer than 300 miles a year renewed at the time of privatisation. With around 40 per cent. of trains and carriages replaced since 1997, we have one of the youngest fleets of carriages in Europe. That has been achieved by sustained investment. The Government are currently spending £88 million a week, with significant sums being spent by the private sector.
We are planning for the long-term, sustainable future that the industry needs. In the next few weeks, we will receive the Eddington report, which examines the relationship between transport, investment and economic growth. Next year, we will publish costed proposals for rail for the next five years, set in the context of an even longer-term framework.
In contrast, we are now beginning to discover how little the Opposition have learned from their botched privatisation, notwithstanding the fact that they recently chose to apologise again for the privatisation that they visited upon the United Kingdom’s railways.
Transport is only one aspect of the Gracious Speech, which contains a set of proposals that will enhance economic stability and underpin growth, promote prosperity and opportunity, and create a fairer, more secure and more just society. For all the reasons that I have outlined, I ask hon. Members to oppose the amendment and commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
It being after Six o’clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.