On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Following that announcement about which amendment the Chair has selected, might one relay back to Mr. Speaker the fact that there is growing pressure in the House for a debate on a motion that is amendable on Afghanistan? Although it might not have been appropriate today, I hope that he will find ways of allowing the views of the House to be registered on that issue.
I beg to move an amendment, at the end of the Question to add:
“but humbly regret that the Gracious Speech fails to offer answers to the growing social challenges facing the United Kingdom, and proposes no new ideas about ending the culture of deprivation and welfare dependency in many parts of the country or on dealing with the growing level of economic inactivity; note that it offers no fresh solutions to the challenge of anti-social behaviour in communities around the country, nor does it reform the licensing system to tackle alcohol-fuelled disorder; and further regret that after 12 years in power the Government brings forward no new approaches to the challenges the country faces.”
Twelve years is a long time to be in government. It gives any Government as long as they should sensibly need to demonstrate that they can make a difference. By next May, when they will be returning to the country for the fourth time to ask for a mandate, the Government will have been in power for 13 years, so the question for every voter is do they really deserve one? This afternoon I want to look at the things that the Government promised all those years ago—things that they have continued to promise, year after year, in virtually every Queen’s Speech, including this one—and to ask a simple question: have they delivered the things that they promised?
Back in 1994, a new, young Labour leader set out his stall to the party conference, telling his delegates, in some of his most memorable phrases, what needed to be done:
“We can all get angry because crime hurts,”
he told us,
“and it hurts most the people who are least able to fight back. But it is not enough to get angry, to stamp your feet, and shout from the Tory conference platform. That is the soft option. We need a new approach. One that is tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime.”
In the intervening years, the Labour Government have had more than a fair chance to deal with the challenges that he talked about. They have had the money, with £350 billion spent on worklessness, at least £70 billion spent on policing and other crime fighting and more than £20 billion spent on early-years and child care services since 1997. They have also had the time, over these 12 long years, so now it seems entirely fair to look at what has happened in Britain and assess the degree to which our social challenges have begun to reduce.
Let us use that speech back in 1994 by the man who became Prime Minister as a benchmark against which to judge the success or failure of this Government. “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” became the bywords for this Government’s approach to law and order. In that speech, the then Leader of the Opposition and subsequently Prime Minister set out a range of detailed programmes that he said were essential to fighting crime. So how did they do?
Let us start, as Tony Blair did on that September day, with the bit in his speech about being tough on crime. First on the list were measures to tackle juvenile offending. They have been a feature of virtually every one of the 49 criminal justice Bills that we have had since then. We have had initiative after initiative and new idea after new idea. Surely that must have made a difference. The number of persistent young offenders sentenced by courts in England and Wales have increased by 92 per cent. since 1997. In 2007-08, more than 93,000 youngsters aged 10 to 17 entered the criminal justice system for the first time, up from only 78,000 five years previously, in 2002-03. Just a couple of weeks ago, Home Office research showed that 72 per cent. of 10 to 25-year-olds admitted to committing crime or antisocial behaviour within a four-year period.
The next bit in the speech was the plan to crack down on illegal firearms. Over the past decade, there has been a big jump in gun crime. The number of firearms offences, excluding air weapons, has increased from 5,209 a decade ago to a provisional figure of 8,184 in 2008-09, an increase of 57 per cent. The number of people injured or killed by a gun has more than doubled, increasing from 864 a decade ago to 1,760 in 2008-09. Behind those figures have been a series of high-profile tragedies, punishment shootings and a culture of weapons on our streets not seen previously.
Tony Blair then talked about the need to punish properly crimes of violence, including racial violence. Violent crime has increased from 615,000 offences in 1998-99 to just over 1 million in 2008-09, an increase of 68 per cent. In 1998, 23,500 people were cautioned for violence against the person. In 2007, that figure had doubled, to 52,300.
The hon. Gentleman’s right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in the Queen’s Speech debate last week that violent crime had risen by 70 per cent.—I notice that the figure has now come down to 68 per cent. I wrote to him—and have yet to receive a reply—pointing out that the British crime survey, which the Opposition introduced and which, as far as I know, everyone agrees is about impeccable as one can get, shows a 41 per cent. decrease in violent crime. The recorded crime figures do show an increase, but that is because the statistics changed in 2002 to include common assault, which was previously in a different category. I am glad to have this debate, but can we have it on the facts? Can the hon. Gentleman also confirm that, according to the British crime survey, violent crime is down by 41 per cent. and that the figures used by him and his right hon. Friend apply to a statistical change that took place in 2002?
The Home Secretary needs to understand one simple point about the shortcomings of the British crime survey. In its categorisation of violent crime the British crime survey does not include murder, which the last time I looked was a violent crime. There are a number of areas of violent crime that are not covered in the British crime survey, so by definition it cannot provide a true reflection of what is happening in this country.
There is, of course, a reason why the British crime survey does not include murder, which is that it is quite difficult for people to respond to a survey if they have been murdered. I wonder whether there has not been a substantial change in murder over time. I find it rather worrying that the hon. Gentleman is making that point about statistics when I thought that he agreed with us that we should have independent publication of the statistics and not resort to the sort of political shenanigans that he has just displayed, using reported crime statistics when he knows perfectly well—indeed, the previous Conservative Government said this repeatedly—that the British crime survey is a more reliable estimate.
I am sorry, but I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I agree that we should have independent figures. The figures have been changed a number of times over the years by the Government, as we know from 18 months ago under the previous Secretary of State when there were issues about the Government’s use of figures. Of course we should have independent statistics, but we can deal only with the tools that we have available. They show, for example, that racially and religiously aggravated harassment has also increased—more than doubled—over the past decade.
The fourth pledge given before the Government took office was to give the victims of crime the right to be consulted before charges were dropped or changed. What a hollow promise that turned out to be, particularly given the Home Secretary’s comments just last week that “in an ideal world” every victim would be “visited by the police”, though it was admitted at the time that doing so would be “rather challenging”. If we talk to the victims of crime, a very different picture emerges—one in which they receive very little information about what is going on and are not sure even when trials are happening. The Home Secretary has talked to victims of crime, so he knows that the promises made to the victims of crime back in the 1990s have not been fulfilled a decade later.
One of the most distressing cases of failed communications I have come across involved the owner of a post office in Worcestershire, who was brutally beaten by a gang of armed raiders and has still not made a full recovery. The assailants were caught and jailed. Their sentences were reduced substantially on appeal, but the victims of that crime were not even told that the appeal was happening. I know from having talked to the victims in that case that their sense of fear and misery about what happened to them was made much worse as a result.
My hon. Friend is making a crucial point about the lack of information for victims. Although several years ago the Government promised £11 million to the Crown Prosecution Service to track all cases online, is he concerned that we have still not reached that point and that we are to have yet another White Paper in which the same promises will be made but not delivered?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that has been the story of criminal justice under this Government—promise and pledge and initiative made again and again, but little delivery or action.
Tough on crime? Fifteen years after it was first made, that promise now looks pretty hollow. By the test that Mr. Blair set for a future Labour Government back in that first conference speech, in office they have failed again and again. All these years later, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) rightly says, they are still failing.
Did the Government do any better on the causes of crime? Mr. Blair picked three things that he was going to do, and a comprehensive crime prevention programme was at the top of his list. In Labour’s 1997 manifesto, this “comprehensive programme” had changed into placing
“a new responsibility on local authorities to develop statutory partnerships to help prevent crime”,
which the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced. That is rather different from a comprehensive crime prevention programme.
Of course—let us give the Government credit—there have been some successes in fighting crime over the years that have had a big impact on the overall figures. I have to say, however, that that has not always been down to the Government. We owe a big debt of gratitude to the motor manufacturers, for example, who have taken huge steps forward in automotive security, and as a result there is less automotive crime. More and more householders have taken things into their own hands, dramatically improving household security with better locks and alarms, not to mention the widespread use of double glazing, which makes it more difficult to break into a house. There have been some benefits and some successes under Labour, but many of them have come from way outside the impact of Government policy.
The next Blair pledge on the causes of crime was an anti-drugs initiative. Did that work? Recorded drugs offences have increased from 135,000 in 1998-99 to 243,000 last year—an increase of 79 per cent. Between 1998 and 2008-09, the proportion of adults using cocaine has more than doubled. A recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction that compared drug use in 28 countries in Europe revealed that we had the highest proportion of cocaine use among adults and 15 and 16-year-olds—not much of a success there.
Then there is pledge No. 3—the real area where change is needed if we are to break the cycle of poverty, deprivation, alienation and disorder in our society. The former Prime Minister said that we needed long-term measures to break the culture of drugs, family instability, high unemployment and urban squalor. There has been pretty broad agreement across the House in recent years that getting people off benefits and into work is an essential part of tackling a whole range of challenges from family breakdown to crime. I know that that view is shared by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who I see in his place; he has argued persistently over the years for tough action in this area.
The Labour party manifesto back in 1997 said:
“We will face up to the new issues that confront us. We will be the party of welfare reform. In consultation and partnership with the people, we will design a modern welfare state based on rights and duties going together, fit for the modern world.”
I know that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead tried hard to deliver that and I know that the current Prime Minister stopped him from doing so. In reality, how have the Government done? There are 2.5 million unemployed people today—20 per cent. higher than in 1997. We now have the highest rate of youth unemployment on record, with one in five young people unable to find a job.
We are in the middle of a financial crisis, so before Labour Members get too exercised about that, let us take a different benchmark to judge performance: incapacity benefit. When he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister said in his first Budget speech:
“No one in our society…should be excluded from the right to work either because of disability or incapacity, if they want to do some work.”
“we will also bring forward proposals to help those who are disabled or on incapacity benefit who want training or work… these comprehensive and ambitious initiatives mean that, from now on, no section of society should suffer permanent exclusion.”—[Official Report, 2 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 310.]
As he made that speech, there were 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit. Twelve years on, there are 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit.
So what went wrong? We have to remember all the Government’s boasts over the past 12 years about the number of new jobs that they have created. Even though we are now in difficult times for employment, they will still tell us that there are more people in work than there were in 1997. How is that possible? The answer is very simple—I pay tribute again to the work done by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, who has highlighted many of these issues over the months and years—because the vast majority of the new jobs created under this Government went to migrant workers entering this country from overseas.
As the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to cite me earlier, may I ask him a question about how he drew up the amendment that we are debating today? If we ask our voters, as we do by opinion poll, which issue most concerns them, we find that it is immigration. Why when tabling their amendment did the Opposition not want us to debate immigration as part of the Gracious Speech?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we may debate issues broadly within the remit of the Gracious Speech. I will talk about immigration in the course of my speech and I will be delighted to hear him do so too, if he seeks to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. The truth is—I think he would agree—that over the past 12 years, while people have come into this country from overseas and successfully found jobs, entire communities have been trapped in poverty and in a cycle of deprivation and failure, which continues to blight the lives of far too many of our citizens.
The frustrating thing is that we now know—I do not blame the current Home Secretary, as he was not in the job at the time—that Ministers did this deliberately. They took a conscious decision to open up our immigration to a large number of migrant workers; they took a conscious decision to lower the bar for investigations into whether people should or should not be allowed to stay in the UK; and they took a deliberate decision to try to cover up what they had done. It was a scandalous approach to public policy from a Government who have kept getting things wrong year after year and who have shown little understanding of the challenge that Britain faces.
That is why the Government’s approach to law and order has been so dominated by more and more legislation, and more and more erosion of the basic rights of our citizens. We see that in their latest attempt to deal with the controversial issue of the DNA database. The database is growing in size all the time, but the number of DNA-related detections is falling. The Government nevertheless persist in their desire to keep the DNA of innocent people on the database for six years, even when people have been suspected of the most minor of offences and have been charged with or found guilty of precisely nothing. Let me make it clear to the Home Secretary today that although there are things in the Policing and Crime Bill that we support, we will not allow it to go through in a rush before the election if it means leaving in place an unacceptable regime for our DNA database.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the database. I cannot understand why the DNA of innocent people is retained on it. Even if we accept the six-year limit, that is not what the European Court has ruled. Is he concerned about newspaper reports that people are being arrested merely because their DNA should be retained on a database that now has 750,000 innocent people’s names on it? If those reports are correct, it is a very serious issue.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that matter of concern. When the Bill is debated, it will be dealt with straightforwardly by our bringing forward again proposals to extend the Scottish system across the UK. As he knows, that system would allow DNA to be retained for up to five years in the most serious cases, but would not allow it to be retained in minor cases. Were that law in place, we would not have seen such issues highlighted this week. I would welcome his support if we sought to push the Government to deliver such a DNA system before the election. If the Home Secretary wants his Bill to get through, let us set aside the Government’s current proposals and work together on putting in place in the UK the Scottish system, which is supported by Members on both sides of the House, as soon as possible.
The Scottish system has an established definition, which I will not go through in detail as the hon. Gentleman can read it himself. Essentially, however, it treats investigations into serious crimes, such as a rape or murder, differently, allowing a dividing line to be drawn between serious cases in which retention of DNA for a period might be of benefit, and those minor cases, which are frequently highlighted in our media, where there is no requirement to retain the DNA of the individuals concerned.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that 56 non-police bodies in this country have access to the DNA database? Does he not see a common thread running between that and the access that local government now has to people’s individual liberties following the introduction, and misuse of, the anti-terrorism legislation?
My hon. Friend is right. The Gracious Speech should include measures to end the mission creep that has existed under this Government in the area of civil liberties, whereby powers introduced for necessary reasons of national security are used for purposes that have no relation to that whatever. The Government have allowed mission creep in far too many areas, and it must be reined back. I am disappointed that they are not taking such steps, and if we are elected next spring we will certainly do so.
I wish the Government would understand that more law does not mean more order. If one introduces hundreds of new offences in endless criminal justice Bills, one merely swamps police in yet more new bureaucracy. When will the Government realise that their constant belief that we need more top-down solutions is plain wrong? The country needs a fresh start and a fresh approach, particularly to the blight of antisocial behaviour that has characterised Labour’s years in government, and to which their response remains woefully inadequate. We need an instant response that does not let offenders get away with antisocial behaviour time and again, leaving them with a clear sense that the system has no teeth. It takes months to put in place an antisocial behaviour order: by the time the ASBO mechanism kicks in, they have offended multiple times. The system sends the message that if they do something wrong, nothing happens to them.
We need to put an end to the caution culture that allows people who commit serious acts of violence against strangers to get away with a legal slap on the wrist, and all because the bureaucracy that the Government have put in place makes that easier than spending days doing the paperwork necessary for a prosecution. It is time to stop the late-night drinking culture that the Government deliberately fostered, leaving town centres swamped by disorder at the weekends and the police stretched into an ever thinner blue line.
It is also time to accelerate the Government’s tentative steps to cut down bureaucracy. I applaud some of what has been done in recent months, and I applaud the stop-and-search measures in the Bill, especially as we proposed them in the first place. I am glad that the Government have come to agree with us.
The Government’s automatic early release scheme must also go. Letting prisoners out after serving a minority of their sentence, with no regard whatever to their standards of behaviour, just tells those offenders that they can get away with it. It is another example of the mismatch between the Labour party’s rhetoric in opposition and actions in government.
I looked earlier at one of the speeches made by the Justice Secretary in a debate on the Queen’s Speech a few months before the 1997 election. He said:
“We now have the bizarre situation where, according to figures that I gave in my paper, the sentence length for repeat house burglars remains the same—at 15 months— whether for a first, second or third conviction.” —[Official Report, 28 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 352.]
A burglar in Britain today is unlikely to get 15 months for a first conviction; he is likely to get off, be released and not go to jail at all. That is what has happened after 12 years of Labour Government. The system is not tough, as they promised, but more and more lax, sending all the wrong messages and saying to too many offenders that they can just get away with it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. [Interruption.] More to the point, does the Home Secretary not understand that the automatic early- release scheme—he was saying from a sedentary position that it is only 18 days—gives an offender a sense that they have bucked the system. If they get out early automatically, with no relation to how they have behaved in prison, it says to them that the system does not have the teeth they thought it might have, and they can just get away with it.
We also need thoughtful and real social reform finally to get to grips with the causes of crime—real welfare reform, not the failure of the new deal and the tentative approaches to change that have followed our radical blueprint for a new kind of welfare state. We will hear more about that later from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). We need the kind of innovative changes in our education system and in the health visitor profession that were set out in the debate last Thursday by my hon. Friends the Members for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). We need a much smarter approach to the rehabilitation of prisoners, which is part of our prison reform and welfare proposals.
We also need much more radical changes on DNA and identity cards than this Government have been willing to countenance. That means dealing with the DNA database issue, and scrapping the now voluntary ID cards scheme altogether. I am interested to know whether Ministers have their ID cards with them today—[Hon. Members: “Full house.”] Oh, very impressive. The Immigration Minister did not have his when we both appeared on “Question Time” last week.
We also need a Government who will finally get to grips with the job of controlling our borders. That involves imposing an annual cap on the number of people coming to live and work in the UK—that is part, but an important part, of the picture.
That is certainly the case, and the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the press investigation at the weekend into the scandalous situation of those institutions that provide certification on English language capabilities for those applying for nationality. The fact that that has been taking place under the nose of the Home Office is a big failing, and I hope that the Home Secretary will tell the House how he is dealing with the problem. Having people securing citizenship on a false prospectus is utterly unacceptable.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead is right that the issue is not just people coming to the country to live and work; it is also a matter of introducing tighter restrictions on spouse visas, and tightening up the student visa system. However, I have profound doubts about the Government’s current proposals, which would result in the closure not just of rogue colleges, which we all want to see disappear, but of legitimate businesses up and down the country, which we would not want to see closed. I urge the Government to take care to ensure that those proposals do not have unintended consequences.
We also need real action to tackle illegal immigration, with a proper, dedicated border police force to tackle the problem, and particularly to get to grips with the evil networks of people traffickers and smugglers.
The right hon. Gentleman has heard that commitment on many occasions. I strongly believe that we need to bring immigration down to the level that we saw in the first part of the 1990s—I would not pick an exact number, but he knows that we are talking in the region of tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. That is a substantial reduction, and is a necessary part of a wise and sensible immigration policy—not a closed-door policy, because we are an international trading nation and cannot afford to close the shutters altogether. However, we must have proper controls for the future that relate to the needs of our society, the pressure on our services and the nature of Britain today.
I welcomed my hon. Friend’s reference to people-trafficking. Does he agree that, although the Government have a good record in that regard and have done a great deal, we could do more? In particular, has he considered the idea of a rapporteur in the Home Office to provide a focus on the issue? Has he also considered giving people who come here to work Gastarbeiter status, which would mean their working for a contracted period and then returning home?
I think that the job of tackling human trafficking and improving the quality of our work in combating the traffickers would be done best by the proposed border police force. I think that that would enable the law enforcement world to focus on an issue that desperately needs to be dealt with even more effectively than it has been so far. No Government do everything badly, and I accept that some good work has been done over the years, but we all recognise that there is more to be done, and I think that a border police force could step up our work.
As for my hon. Friend’s second point, the big issue confronting us is the requirement for people who come and work here to leave when their time has expired. If they are granted a three-year visa, they must leave after three years. If I have one big criticism of what the Government have done over the past decade, it is that they have failed to ensure that that happens.
My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Does he agree that the issue of immigration needs to be addressed sensitively and carefully? Is it not highly regrettable that when Conservative Members have sought to engage in a proper debate we have been accused of racism, and has not that charge against us directly led to the growth of the far right? Should not the Government learn that engaging in a constructive debate might be more sensible, and to the greater good of the country, than levelling their usual charges against us?
I think it extremely important for any of us who debate these matters to do so with great sensitivity. It is always very unfortunate when, for example, the phrase “dog whistle” is used. The reality is that the debate is not about race or ethnic background, but about the country’s resources, the services that we have, and the pressures on housing and on school and hospital places. It has nothing to do with race in a multicultural society; it is all about the pressures on the infrastructure of the country, and that is where we should centre it.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, which I chair, produced a report about a year ago on precisely the subject that we are discussing: community cohesion and migration. I agree with him about the need to ensure that when there are pressures on public services, the financial benefit to the country of immigration should be reallocated to the areas that bear the pressure. Does he accept, however, that part of the problem is that constant harping on numbers, and numbers alone, tends to suggest that the presence of any extra people is detrimental, and prevents the subtle, measured debate in which—as was pointed out by the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara)—we ought to be involved?
The hon. Lady must have misheard what I said a moment ago. I said very clearly that we should not close our doors, that we are an international trading nation, and that there will be a need for people to come in and out of the country. The issue is not about an absolute number at any particular point in history. The issue is about ensuring that we protect the ability of our public services to deal with the demands made of them, and that we are able to meet housing infrastructure needs. Inevitably, immigration policy needs to be shaped by that as well as by the needs of business, and the need of our domestic British population to find jobs and obtain the right skills.
I commend the Government on the fact that, during difficult times for our labour market, we are not allowing any tier 3 people into the country. That is the right policy, and we have supported it from the start. However, what smart immigration policy should seek to achieve is a sensible balance between economic needs and pressures on public services.
This is, in a sense, a false debate. We cannot prevent people from the European Union from coming into this country, and there can be no limit to their number. The trouble with the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and others is that they contradict our obligations to the EU. Those people have an absolute right to come here, and we are talking about an uncontrolled number. They can come and work here just as British citizens can go to any other European country and work there.
I have two responses to that intervention. First, I think that it was a great mistake for the Government not to introduce transition controls when the countries of eastern Europe joined the EU five years ago—a great mistake that should not have been made. Secondly, we all hope that as those countries continue to bed into the European Union, living standards will rise across Europe and the migration flows that we have seen in recent years will balance themselves. I am confident that we are already seeing flows of people who have come to this country returning to the countries from which they came, and I am not convinced as others may be that this is still a long-term problem. Nevertheless, we should have had transition controls at the start.
The Gracious Speech offers us virtually none of the things that the country needs in order to deal with the challenges that we face, and the bits that it does offer have been lifted from Opposition policy documents. I must say that it is nice to know that when a Government are as weak as this Government, Opposition politicians can set the agenda; but what the country needs is not a Government who copy their opponents because they have no ideas left, but a fresh start, a fresh sense of direction, and a clear strategy for our country. This is a Government who have nothing left to offer.
Let me end by offering back to the Government some wise words from one of our most prominent public figures:
“The first duty of any Government is to secure the safety of their citizens and their communities. On that, the present Administration have failed. They have lost not only the plot on law and order, but the confidence of the British people. The Government are profoundly out of touch with people’s feelings and anxieties. They lack a proper understanding of the causes of crime, and they have no coherent strategy or vision for dealing with the epidemic of crime and disorder that now scars the nation.”—[Official Report, 28 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 359.]
Those words were spoken by the current Justice Secretary 13 years ago. Never have his words proved more correct than they have today.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the proposals in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. I apologise in advance for not being able to be present for the winding-up speeches.
The Crime and Security Bill includes measures to tackle youth crime and antisocial behaviour. It will give greater protection to victims of crime, particularly women and girls. It will prevent wheel-clamping businesses from imposing exorbitant fines, it will cut down police bureaucracy, and it will establish a new legal framework for the retention of DNA records.
Although the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) did not actually say the words, he returned again to the “broken Britain” theme that has been his mantra for some time. However, he now seems to have married that—“married” being the operative word, or so it will seem to those who have read The Sunday Times—to one of the Conservative Party’s greatest hits: “back to basics”. He wants to convince more couples that they should marry; that, he believes, is essential to solving the social problems to which he has referred. But how would he do that? How is a 21st-century population to be tempted, cajoled or enticed into abandoning their wicked cohabitation in order to get spliced? It is suggested that all official forms must state whether a couple are married or not. That is brilliant, and probably infallible. It will go with the other measures that the hon. Gentleman has announced, such as cutting police numbers this year, abandoning police authorities, and undermining the operational authority of chief constables. That, in the words of the Conservative amendment, is what he believes will
“offer answers to the growing social challenges facing the United Kingdom”.
I do not understand the Secretary of State’s confusion. Official forms nowadays seem to ask for all sorts of information. They ask whether people are gay, straight, transgender—whatever that is—black, Asian, Chinese or something else. Why should they not ask whether people are married? Surely that is about the only bit of information that the Government are missing nowadays.
We have heard the views of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell reiterated in the form of a major policy announcement from the Opposition Benches. We can see what this country would have to look forward to under a Conservative Administration: an age of austerity, with foxhunting reintroduced for our recreation, and with marriage—[Interruption.] Yes, foxhunting and marriage. I am beginning to think the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell might be an undercover agent planted on the Opposition Benches—perhaps by Lord Mandelson—to disrupt and undermine the Conservative party. We all admired his independence when he went straight on to live television and announced how wrong his party was to employ General Dannatt as a defence adviser, but what if that was not another gaffe? What if the hon. Gentleman simply broke cover by forgetting in the heat of the moment what he was supposed to be doing?
Let me remind the House of the response of the Conservative leader-in-waiting, my cousin Boris, to this broken Britain mantra. He said:
“Someone the other day”—
he was referring here to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell—
“compared London with Baltimore; absolute nonsense.”
He also said on a separate occasion:
“If you believe the politicians”—
he is referring here not to us on the Labour Benches, but to the Conservatives, and the hon. Gentleman in particular—
“we have a broken society, in which the courage and morals of young people have been sapped by welfarism and political correctness…you can see what piffle that is.”
That is what my cousin Boris Johnson says, and I agree.
Will the Home Secretary tell the House what he thinks about recent disturbing reports that we are now seeing an increasing number of inter-gang punishment shootings in London, with young people being shot in the legs in gang conflicts to make an inter-gang point? What is his reaction to that? What does he think has caused it, and what does he think we should do about it?
I shall come on to that, because specific measures in the Queen’s Speech are of relevance to this issue, but first let me mention what I am sure must have been another attempt by the hon. Gentleman to undermine his own side. He has talked about “The Wire” and suggested that Britain, and especially London and Manchester, were becoming like the society depicted in that show. The Baltimore Sun reporter, Justin Fenton, says, however, that British
“police stations could offer a view of the future of American policing.”
He also believes that the DNA sampling used in Britain is light years ahead of that in the USA, while saying that Britain’s closed circuit television system can track a homicide suspect in real time and protect civil liberties, as it can prove the police wrong if they lie or abuse a suspect. He also says that Baltimore’s drug problem could be reduced if the city adopted the British drug testing and counselling services used on all offenders on arrest. In relation to the broken Britain mantra, he says that he was warned about Brixton, but that he found it was being transformed into a nice area. He spoke to people who lived there, who said that it was nice and they liked living there, and he did not get the same sense that he got in Baltimore.
On the specific issue that the hon. Gentleman mentions, Justin Fenton went to see the brilliant Trident operation against gun crime that is run by the police in London. He said that they had 25 detectives on one case, whereas in Baltimore it is more like two per case. The resources are impressive, he said.
I therefore say to the hon. Gentleman that there is a very important debate—he has engaged in it—about knife and gun crime. It is a crucial debate for the House, but his making spurious comparisons with Baltimore adds nothing to it, and that is made even worse by his using the cheap “I’m au fait with popular culture” approach of attaching his argument to a popular television programme.
One development seen in North American cities in recent times is the involvement of children as young as 10 and 11 in running drugs. That is now becoming a feature of some estates in the UK. Why does the Home Secretary think that that is happening? What are the causes, and what does he think we can do about it?
The hon. Gentleman should not denigrate what is happening in Manchester and London and compare it in this way, exaggerate it and use that kind of hyperbole. Of course we have some issues in this country. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the murder rate, and the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) about the British crime survey was right, because someone cannot be surveyed if they are dead. The murder rate is 1.4 per 100,000. That puts us 46th in the world, below Finland, Portugal and Iceland. It is the lowest rate we have had for many years.
I believe that this broken Britain mantra is actually designed to help us, however, because it reminds the British public what life was like in the ’80s and ’90s—[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell began his speech by saying that we had been in power for 12 years—soon to be 13 years—and that that was the time to see what a Government had done. There was spiralling crime in the ’80s and ’90s, and more than 3 million unemployed. There were 24-hour trolley waits in accident and emergency, people waiting years for a simple cataract operation, single parents stigmatised, the gay and lesbian community offended by section 28, mortgage repossessions, poverty pay—when we introduced the minimum wage, we found that a quarter of a million people were on £1.50 an hour—and appalling educational issues. I ask any Conservative Member to tell me what was the level of attainment of five good GCSEs—at A* to C—in inner London, where we are now, in 1997, after 18 years of Tory rule? Does anyone wish to contribute a figure?
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way, but I suggest to him that my constituents are more interested in the future than the past. What is of particular interest to them is that, of the 52,000 prisoners who have been released early over the past few years, 10,000 have been violent offenders, and also that more than 1,000 offences have been committed by prisoners who have been released early. What message does the Home Secretary think that sends to the law-abiding majority, other than that our prisons are overcrowded?
I will do so when I have said something to give way on.
The message is that there are more criminals behind bars now, serving longer sentences. The issue regarding foreign national prisoners began earlier and has carried on. It has been an inherent problem over many years that needed to be tackled. Our record after 12 or 13 years is an extraordinary improvement on the 18 years of the previous Government.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way. May I remind Opposition Members of the great statement that Nye Bevan made many years ago: we do not need to look in the crystal ball when we read the book? That is all we need to remind the British people of in respect of the Tories.
I believe that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is trying to help us achieve that.
There were 2.9 million pensioners in abject poverty—that is £69 a week with income support—and in the previous 18 years they had one real-terms increase in pensions, and that was the year the Conservatives put VAT on fuel.
The Home Secretary has not mentioned one crucial factor about the 1980s: output began rising from the end of 1980, but the recovery was so slow that unemployment did not fall until 1986. Can he predict what the effect on crime would be if that were to happen again under a Conservative Government?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We are in recession at present, as we were in the 1980s and 1990s—although this is a global recession whereas the previous one was made in Britain—and we find from looking at the record of the ’80s and ’90s that there was a huge spiral in the crime rate because of precisely the reasons the hon. Gentleman mentions. In particular, there was a 60 per cent. increase in domestic violence at that time, and domestic violence is an important aspect of my remarks.
The amendment moved by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell mentions welfare dependency, and he spoke about his party’s determination to get people off incapacity benefit, but this country had about 700,000 people on incapacity benefit until the ’80s and ’90s when the Conservative Government deliberately and persistently shepherded working people out of the coal mines, the steel works and the shipyards, and on to a life of welfare dependency in order to suppress the unemployment statistics. By the time they left office, the number was 2.6 million, so if Britain was ever broken, it was in those years, when one in four British children were being raised in poverty—the worst record of any European country.
My right hon. Friend talks about the Government’s good record on getting people into work. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) recently provoked headlines such as “Benefits Britain” and “Shameless Labour” when she claimed that the number of households receiving more than £15,000 in benefits had doubled. That might be true, but when one examines the statistics on households with a member working, one finds that the numbers have not increased at all. The reason for the doubling is because the Labour Government have been far more generous to pensioners and it is they, particularly those who are in greater need, who have benefited from the increase in benefits, not those of working age.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which leads me to mention the fact that 1 million of those pensioners who were in abject poverty at the end of the 1990s have now been taken out of poverty. Thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and her predecessors, a combination of pension credit, the winter fuel allowance, good increases in the state pension, free travel and free TV licences has transformed the lives of those pensioners, many of whom were women in their 80s who did not qualify even for the basic state pension because they had not paid enough national insurance contributions.
Ten years ago, this Government made an historic commitment to eradicate child poverty. Was it ambitious? Yes. Was it foolhardy? No. It was a demonstration of how seriously our country took this issue and how determined we were to resolve it. Since 1997, more than 1.7 million children have been lifted out of absolute poverty.
As the Secretary of State has raised the issue of child poverty, perhaps he would like to tell the House whether this Government are going to reach their target of halving child poverty by 2010. If they were to stay in government, would they be eradicating child poverty by 2020?
We are still working towards halving child poverty by 2010. That will be difficult, because there has been a global recession—[Interruption.] We are still hopeful. The right hon. Lady’s second question was about reaching the 2020 target, and that is exactly what our Bill is designed to do. Everyone in this House might believe that this is one of the most important objectives that we can set. All the measures necessary will of course be put in place, but we need to send a signal out about how seriously we take the issue.
I was discussing the number of people who have been lifted out of poverty. As I said, since 1997, more than 1.7 million children have been lifted out of absolute poverty, and 500,000 have been lifted out of relative poverty—that is very difficult to do when the living standards of the whole country are rising. However, we need further, decisive action to meet our goal to eradicate child poverty altogether by 2020. That is not an ambition that we intend to abandon during the global downturn; indeed, the recession makes the objective more important, not less.
On abolishing child poverty by 2020, a lot of outside bodies, such as the Child Poverty Action Group, have said that we need to put in serious extra resources, which did not appear in last year’s Budget. Is the Secretary of State indicating that his Government will put in more resources specifically for this?
All the measures we are taking in difficult economic circumstances will be important, be they on child tax credit, working tax credit or continuing to increase the national minimum wage. I should point out that on a quiet Friday, eight Conservative Members—to be fair, they were not Front Benchers—tried to move a resolution to freeze the national minimum wage. The measures that we will introduce on housing benefit will also make an enormous contribution.
The Gracious Speech confirmed that we will introduce the Child Poverty Bill in the current Session. It has already been widely debated in this Chamber and there is support from both sides of this House for further action to reduce substantially relative, absolute and persistent child poverty, as well as material deprivation. The Bill will legally bind the Government to taking the sustained action necessary to meet the 2020 target, whether that is by increasing parental employment and skills, providing financial support or improving health, housing, education and social services. It also commits us to report annually to Parliament on progress on the 2020 target. The Bill will create a child poverty commission to advise the Government on policy development and will place a clear duty on local authorities both to reduce poverty locally and mitigate its effects.
Under the provisions of our Bill, our focus on supporting the poorest families in the country will not merely continue—it will intensify. We are already creating up to 95,000 new jobs from the £1 billion future jobs fund; the first jobs became available in October and there will be thousands more in the coming months. Additionally, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week further steps to tackle youth unemployment in order to avoid at all costs what happened in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of young people were left to drift into long-term unemployment.
Let me now turn to the Crime and Security Bill, which comes at a time when there are more police officers than ever before, with substantial support from police community support officers, which did not previously exist, and with more money than ever available to spend on tackling crime. This country’s police and support staff have presided over the first sustained reduction in crime in almost 100 years, with violent crime having decreased by 41 per cent. since 1997 and public confidence increasing. However, there remain communities across the country in which the fear of crime is endemic and antisocial behaviour is far too prevalent. We should not portray this issue as if it is some kind of battle between the generations, not least because 60 per cent. of antisocial behaviour orders are handed to adults and because, as we saw with the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington, teenagers are as likely to be the victims as the perpetrators. The vast majority of young people are law-abiding and hard working, and make a positive contribution to their communities. However, some of them drift into antisocial behaviour and gang-related crime.
Of course I agree with the Home Secretary that great progress has been made. As he knows, the Bill deals with the DNA database. Is he as concerned as I am about reports that a number of young people are being arrested just so they can be put on the DNA database, that the DNA profiles of about three quarters of all young black men are on the database, and that 750,000 innocent people are still on it? I know that the Government have said that these names should be cleared within six years, but is he prepared, during the passage of the Bill, to engage with Members on both sides of the House to try to ensure that that number is reduced?
I welcome the debate on this matter, which was why we agreed to pull these clauses from the Policing and Crime Bill and include them in the Crime and Security Bill. As I said in an article in this morning’s edition of The Guardian, this is a sensitive matter that needs to be carefully debated. I would be concerned about yesterday’s reports if I felt that they were accurate. I understand that they have come from one retired police officer who has said that he thought that the police were deliberately arresting people—we should not forget that people get on the DNA database by being arrested for a recordable crime, for which they can serve a prison sentence—merely to get them on the DNA database. I think more highly of our police service than that, and certainly the response from the Association of Chief Police Officers and others in the police service expressed the fact that they were extremely offended by that suggestion. My right hon. Friend will be conducting a review of the issue with the distinguished Committee that he chairs, but I do not believe that this report reflects common practice in the police.
Has the Secretary of State closed his mind altogether to the possibility of having everybody on a DNA database? The problem seems to be people getting off, and people complaining about those people getting off and not getting locked up. Has he closed his mind to that fact?
My hon. Friend might wish to table his proposal as an amendment as the Bill goes through the House. I understand that he makes a very serious point, which relates to the issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) raised about a disproportionate representation from the black and minority ethnic community. I believe that that is a problem for the criminal justice system as a whole, not just the DNA database, although the DNA database reflects it. The way round it would be to have a DNA database containing everyone’s DNA, but I am not proposing that. I have not even opened my mind to that, never mind closed it again.
May I take the Secretary of State back to the issue of young black men on the DNA database? I am sure that since yesterday’s reports he will have asked for information about the current situation, so will he share it with the House? Is it correct that the proportion of young black men who are on the database is as was stated? If so, what proportion of those on the database have actually been convicted of an offence?
The information that I have received is that last year the proportion of young black men on the DNA database was about 9 per cent. and the proportion of the Asian population on the database was 5 per cent. The figure for the Asian population is about proportionate to the population as a whole, but the 9 per cent. is not. The 9 per cent. figure for those on the database is much higher than the 2 per cent. represented in the population as a whole. That is an issue, but we knew that it was an issue before yesterday’s reports.
The Home Secretary has just referred to black and Asian DNA figures. Is there any way of determining which groups that means within the Asian community, such as Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and so on? In the black community, there is a huge difference between those from Africa and those from the Caribbean countries. Is it possible to be a bit more precise rather than being so generic? It is a bit like referring to the figures for Europeans in the same way.
It probably is possible to be more precise, but that is the information that I was given yesterday. There is a paucity of good research on this and perhaps we need to do substantially more to ensure that we have more accurate figures. I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in these issues, so I shall look to see whether there are any further figures on the breakdown and furnish him with that information.
I was talking about the groundbreaking powers in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which, for the first time, provided the police, local authorities and other agencies with civil powers to deal with behaviour that, although it was not yet criminal, was a major source of insecurity and unhappiness. Along with the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, that has provided police and local authorities with the powers that they need to tackle antisocial behaviour effectively, including acceptable behaviour contracts, antisocial behaviour orders and powers to close crack houses and evict irresponsible tenants.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has demonstrated yet again his profound misunderstanding of the powers that are now available to tackle such problems. In a newspaper interview last week, he said that there should be informal solutions that the police could use—there are. He said that ASBOs should be more of a last resort if nothing else is working—that is precisely what they are. He said that the police should be allowed to impose grounding orders and instant community penalties—they can. Indeed, some groundbreaking work is being done in the west midlands in that respect, although all police authorities have that power.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion—he did not mention this point in his speech, but it was yet again included in his Daily Mail interview—that the police should be able to confiscate mobile phones and iPods from 13-year-olds. He said that that would be a simple, non-criminalising intervention. So, a police officer could simply take a child’s property—presumably with no authority, no consultation and no reference to the parents, otherwise it will hardly be simple and quick, and with very little, if any, documentation—as an arbitrary punishment for a minor offence. That is the kind of simple, non-criminalising police intervention that is unlikely to bolster confidence in the police among the young. I suggest that it would also be unlikely to please parents, although I suppose that they could always fill in a form of complaint provided that there is something on there to say whether they were married or not.
Parenting orders have been of immense importance when parents of children who are persistent offenders are either incapable of stopping their child’s bad behaviour or remain stubbornly ignorant of it. The Bill will further address that by ensuring that courts consider a child’s parenting need before they place an ASBO on 10 to 15-year-olds. At that point, a voluntary parenting contract or a parenting order could be imposed. If that ASBO was subsequently breached, a parenting order would automatically be triggered, rather than being discretionary.
In some cases, the parents are asked, as part of the informal arrangements, to get their child to go and do something to restore what happened, which they would have to pay for. That is very much what is happening in the west midlands at the moment. In all cases, parenting orders are not a soft option. They are a contract between parents and the authorities—not just the police, but local authorities, housing authorities and social services—to end the kind of behaviour that sometimes leads to children being disruptive. Whether there is a financial or a physical obligation to change, that certainly requires the parents to do something and not simply to put up with their child’s behaviour.
Although it is interesting to suggest that parents should be made financially liable, is it not important to avoid what I might call the Bullingdon club syndrome, whereby rich students commit a lot of damage in a restaurant for fun, financially recompense the restaurateur as they leave and think that that just wipes out the problem?
Will the Home Secretary clarify? In the event of an informal solution being applied—for example, if a police officer agrees with a family and a young person that that young person should go and do some community work the following weekend—what is the legal consequence if that work is not completed?
As it is an informal civil order, it does not even get into the realms of bureaucracy and, as it is the kind of thing that the hon. Gentleman rightly said should be available and that is available, there would not be much of a consequence. That is the same with all informal measures. The problem is that taking an iPod away from someone goes beyond the idea of restorative justice and is much more serious and threatening.
The conditions that the courts impose on parents will vary in each case. They might require the parent to make sure that their child is at home and supervised during certain hours at night, or they might ban the child from associating with other known troublemakers. The parent might be instructed to seek treatment for drug or alcohol problems, or attend intensive parenting classes. More usually, there will be a combination of such conditions.
Let me turn to the subject of gang injunctions. Although the number of young people involved in gang violence is small, the impact that those young people have on the communities in which they live can be extreme—both in terms of crime and antisocial behaviour and in terms of generating a fear of crime. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 gives police and local authorities new powers to issue injunctions to prevent gang violence. The Crime and Security Bill will extend such injunctions to 14 to 17-year-olds. They can be used to prevent the young person from going to a particular place, from meeting other gang members or from using dogs as weapons to intimidate the community. In addition, they can be used to direct young people towards targeted support that will help to address any underlying issues that might be prevalent.
The good news about domestic violence is that the British crime survey shows a 65 per cent. reduction in it since 1995, and the conviction rate is rising. The bad news is that it still accounts for 14 per cent. of all violent crime and its impact continues to ruin the lives of women and children. One woman every week is murdered by a current or former partner. It used to be two or three, but the situation is still unacceptable.
Today, the violence against women and girls strategy was published. It sets out how we will intensify our efforts to prevent domestic and sexual violence, in particular by challenging attitudes that condone such behaviour and by providing greater support to victims. The strategy goes wider than domestic violence, but Chief Constable Brian Moore was asked to examine that specific issue from a policing perspective, and one of his recommendations relates to the introduction of domestic violence protection orders. They would give the police powers to ban the attacker from the home of their victim for up to 28 days to provide vital respite for victims to consider their options. Crucially, that means that it would not be the victim who would be forced to leave her home, as is too often the case at the moment, but the perpetrator.
We have included that proposal in the Crime and Security Bill, which will also make it an offence not to keep air weapons under lock and key and well out of the reach of children. Introducing a compulsory licensing scheme for wheel clampers will also allow us to set limits on the fines that they can impose, and we will outlaw rogue operators who extort vast sums from drivers and bring the entire sector into disrepute. Finally, this Bill proposes a new framework for the retention of DNA records.
I want to take the Home Secretary back to the earlier intervention by one his colleagues. The Government have created the largest DNA database in the world, with 1 million innocent people included on it. Is not the logic of that that the Government should go for a universal database that covers everybody? Surely that is the logic of their position.
No, it is not, as the database includes people who have committed a crime or been arrested but not charged. The European Court did not say that it was wrong to include on the database people who had been arrested but not charged, but that we should not keep that information for an indeterminate time. That was its decision, and I believe that the changes that we are proposing in the Bill will meet the points made by the European Court.
The Home Secretary has spoken about domestic violence, gang crime and antisocial behaviour, but there has been no reference to drugs and alcohol. The right hon. Gentleman has taken off his glasses, but will he take off his rose-tinted glasses and recognise that we top the European league for the problematic use of drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines by young people? A total of £1.5 billion has been paid into the pot for drug treatment, enforcement and prevention, but what are the results?
In many ways, parenting orders get to the problems caused by antisocial behaviour. All hon. Members will know from their constituency experience that there are constant problems with some families. They can be caused by children, parents or people visiting the home, but there is usually a drug or alcohol problem at the heart of the behaviour that needs to be addressed.
Drug use in this country is at the lowest level that it has ever been. Young people make up the most difficult group, but drug use among the young is down by 5 per cent. Progress has been made, although perhaps not enough, but the remarkable thing is the number of people—over a quarter of a million—who are receiving treatment for drug addiction. Making the drug intervention programme part of the criminal justice system has been the biggest and most important contributory factor in that.
I have not mentioned drugs before because I have only a certain amount of time to deliver this speech and the Bill contains nothing specifically about drug legislation, but it is a very important issue.
Yes. The British crime survey puts it at 10.1 per cent. of the population, which is the lowest level since records began. I wish the hon. Gentleman would look at the statistics in the British crime survey occasionally, as they might explain some of the problems that arise in these debates.
I am ever so grateful for the Home Secretary’s generosity, but does he disagree with the report from the European Monitoring Centre For Drugs and Drug Addiction? It compared drug use in 28 countries in Europe and revealed that the UK has the highest proportion of cocaine use among adults, and among 15 and 16-year olds. That finding is supported by the UK Drug Policy Commission report, which says that we have the highest problem of drug use.
No one knows what the level was before we started recording it. The hon. Gentleman intervenes from a sedentary position, but he has been in the House long enough to know that a statistical argument is based on when those statistics began to be compiled.
I was also asked about alcohol. The British crime survey was introduced under the previous Government and it is the most robust and accurate measure of crime. It shows that alcohol-fuelled crime is down by a third. The link with the Licensing Act 2003 is fictitious. There is, of course, a link between excessive drinking and violence, and I understand that it is a very important issue that we have still to address in full. One fifth of all violent crime takes place in or around pubs and clubs, and nearly half of that occurs between Friday evening and Monday morning.
However, the problems are not caused by the Licensing Act. Only around 4 per cent. of premises have a 24-hour licence, and more than 80 per cent. of those are shops and hotels. The average closing time is just 21 minutes later than it was before the Act, and 56 per cent. of all licensed premises still close at 11 pm, compared with 68 per cent. under the old regime.
The 2008 review of the Licensing Act 2003 found that, since the new legislation was introduced, serious violent crime at night was down by 5 per cent. and less serious wounding was down by 3 per cent. We can have a debate about alcohol, but we cannot say that the problems with alcohol-fuelled violence began with the 2003 Act.
The Home Secretary is right. The Home Affairs Committee report earlier this year did not lay the blame on the Licensing Act, but we did say that the cheap availability of alcohol in supermarkets results in people getting tanked up before they go out on a Saturday night and start buying alcohol in pubs and clubs. Will he therefore consider our recommendation for a floor price for supermarket alcohol sales?
Yes, we will consider that recommendation, and the report to which my right hon. Friend refers was a valuable contribution. That is why we asked Sheffield university to conduct the research into the problem. In my previous guise at the Department of Health, we commissioned further work to enable us to look at the issue. However, he knows that the Licensing Act 2003 has done many things to address alcohol abuse, including ending the voluntary code for industry and introducing a statutory code. I think that that will make an enormous contribution.
I am very grateful. The evidence shows that the cost to the NHS, let alone the criminal justice system, of excessive alcohol abuse is analogous to that of excessive tobacco consumption. What is the argument against introducing a ban on alcohol advertising, to follow the very successful ban on tobacco advertising?
We have looked at all the options and did consider that, but we live in a free society and the difference between alcohol and tobacco is that there is a level of alcohol consumption which, far from being detrimental to health, can be beneficial. It depends on where one draws the line.
If they used to say that about tobacco, they do not do so any more. All eminent researchers into the matter say that it would not be possible even to start to go down the route of instituting a prohibition system such as existed in America, because alcohol is in a different category from tobacco when it comes to health effects.
The Home Secretary said earlier that he was going to give way for “a” last time, so perhaps this is “the” last time. Before he completes his remarks, will he find time to report the good news about the progress that the Government are making in breaking the link between coming to this country to work and automatically gaining British citizenship? That issue very much concerns our core voters.
I will, and this is my only opportunity to do so. People are very welcome to come to this country to study or work and to contribute to our culture and economy, but it is crucial to break the link that means that they can become British citizens if they stay here long enough. That has to end, and a points-based citizenship system, along the lines of the points-based immigration system, can ensure that being a citizen of this country means more than simply being here for a certain amount of time. That is a very important change, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and those other colleagues who have been pushing it for some time.
The Bill proposes a new framework for the retention of DNA records. There can be no question, I hope, that the development of DNA fingerprinting by the British scientist Sir Alec Jeffreys has revolutionised the fight against crime. The retention of DNA records by the police has been critical in solving many high-profile and horrific crimes. It is unlikely that Mark Dixie, the murderer of Sally Anne Bowman, would ever have been found, had his DNA profile not been recorded following his arrest for involvement in a pub brawl from which he was released without charge. Take also the case of Abdul Azad. He was arrested for violent disorder at his Birmingham home in February 2005. He had a DNA sample taken and was released without charge. In July 2005, just five months later, a stranger rape occurred in Stafford, 25 miles away. There were no clues until the skin beneath the victim’s fingernails was profiled and found to match Abdul Azad’s DNA.
This is an argument about statistics, civil liberties and good policing, but fundamentally it is an argument about people and their requirement for justice and the enormous deterrent effect of DNA profiling, as well it being such a valuable tool in solving crime. It is unlikely that Sean Hodgson, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering and raping Teresa de Simone in 1982, would have been cleared, had not DNA analysis completed in 2008 shown that he was not the killer, or that Michael Shirley, who spent 16 years in prison for the rape and murder of Linda Cook, would have been released in 2003. This is about protecting the innocent, as well as finding the guilty.
Almost exactly a year ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that although holding the DNA records of those who were not convicted was justifiable under the European convention on human rights, it was unlawful to hold these records indefinitely. There followed an extensive period of consultation and deliberation. In determining what is proportionate, as the Bill seeks to do, we must be guided by the most recent scientific evidence, the professional opinion of the police, and the reasonable expectations of the public that they should be protected against crime, and that there should be justice for them and their families if that protection fails.
These elements must be balanced against the understandable concerns of those who have never been convicted of any crime about the retention of their DNA profile. Although not required to by the European Court judgment, we took the decision that all DNA samples should be destroyed after six months, once they have been converted—[Interruption.] Six months. I wish Members on the Opposition Front Bench would listen more closely. The DNA sample—the swab—must be destroyed within six months. That was not a mandate from the European Court, but is something that we decided to do.
That six months gives the chance to convert the sample into the 20 numbers that form the DNA profile. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) asks from a sedentary position, “So what?” Many people are concerned that some of their human tissue will be retained. All the arguments that we know in the House from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill raise very real concerns. It is important to stress that it is not the tissue, but the tissue converted into the 20 numbers that forms the DNA profile—and I say that once again, for the information of the Opposition Front-Bench team.
The evidence that we have, reinforced by the responses to the public consultation, shows that there is a strong case for the retention of the DNA profiles of those who are arrested but not convicted, and that there is a link between arrest for a previous offence and future offending. It also shows that after six years, the probability of re-arrest for this group is no higher than for the rest of the population. [Interruption.] Hon. Members ask what about Scotland. Scotland did not have the same information to hand when its decision to go for three years was taken, with the option of a further two years. I do not know what led to that decision. What I know is that a retention period of three years would leave a larger percentage of people with a higher hazard rate who would commit crime in the future than would a retention period of six years.
The difference between us is not about people being innocent until proven guilty. I heard the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell saying that on the “Today” programme. Two Opposition parties propose keeping on the database people who are innocent until proven guilty. They propose that as well. The difference is that they say it should just be for serious crimes that they have been arrested but not charged for, as in Scotland, and not for any other crimes. The research shows that there is no difference in the probability of reoffending, whether a serious or non-serious crime was previously committed. The evidence that we have, reinforced by the responses to the public consultation, suggests that six years is the right period.
Under the framework proposed by the Bill, the DNA profiles of all those convicted of crimes will be held indefinitely. That is not controversial. The Bill also gives the police the powers to take DNA samples from people who were convicted of a serious violent and sexual offence in the past, before DNA was routinely taken, and previous offenders who are returning from overseas. We believe that this will bring justice for victims and their families by solving more cold cases. Once again, I do not believe that that is controversial. It is supported on all sides of the House.
However, the records of adults arrested but not convicted will be retained for six years, not 12 years as originally proposed, regardless of the seriousness of the crimes for which they were arrested. The records of under-18s convicted of serious crimes will be held indefinitely, but for those convicted of minor offences, if it is a first conviction, the record will be kept for five years. Only if it is a second conviction will that record be held indefinitely. It would be disproportionate if a young person who commits a minor offence, which they deeply regret, were to have that crime held against them for the rest of their lives.
For under-18s who are arrested but not convicted, for both serious crimes and minor offences, their records will be retained for three years. For 16 and 17-year-olds entering the peak offending years, their records will be retained for six years.
There is one exception to the six-year rule for adults who are arrested but not convicted. The House will be aware that national security investigations, including counter-terrorism cases, can go on for many years. In some cases investigations have lasted for as long as 25 years. Setting a six-year time frame in such cases would be potentially damaging for national security. The Bill will therefore allow the retention of DNA profiles beyond the six-year point in these exceptional cases. Fewer than 1,000 such records exist, and under the Bill’s proposals, each case would be reviewed every two years.
Although under current legislation those who seek to have their DNA profile removed from the database may apply to the chief constable to have their personal data removed, chief constables are under no obligation to fulfil such a request. The measures proposed by the Crime and Security Bill will place a legal duty on the chief constable to remove the DNA records in circumstances where the arrest was unlawful, the taking of the biometric data was unlawful, the arrest was based on mistaken identity or if there were other circumstances relating to the arrest or the alleged offender that would make it appropriate to destroy the material.
I believe these proposals strike the right balance between the need to protect the public and the rights of the individual, while being informed by the best available evidence. The proposals in the Crime and Security Bill, along with action to tackle youth unemployment, and the legally binding commitment to eradicating child poverty, will help to make this country a safer and fairer place. I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.
Order. Although I do not wish to curtail the cut and thrust of debate in the Chamber by way of interventions, I remind hon. Members that the overall time for the debate is limited and there is a time limit on Back-Bench contributions. I am still optimistic that as many as possible will be able to make their contribution.
I welcome this opportunity to discuss the proposals put forward in this year’s Gracious Speech. My hon. Friends have already pointed out that the Loyal Address is little more than an opportunity for electioneering, and the Government have admitted as much themselves. Much of the legislation stands little, if any, chance of making it on to the statute book, and is heading inexorably towards the wash-up and a soapy consensus. That is not necessarily a bad thing at this stage of a Parliament, but we have seen it all before, too often.
There is to be yet another criminal justice Bill—the 28th, on our count, since 1997—which throws together an essentially random selection of measures as diverse as the DNA database, about which we have just heard in some detail from the Home Secretary, domestic violence, gang injunctions, antisocial behaviour, wheel-clamping, mobile phones in prisons, and air weapons. This is legislation by grapeshot. Never mind the quality, feel the width.
Astonishingly, the proposed Crime and Security Bill will amend an Act that received Royal Assent only 13 days ago. That is swift revision even by the Government’s prolix standards. I do not know what the Bill team at the Home Office have been up to, but they are clearly working overtime. In all this helter-skelter activity, and with the Home Office displaying all the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, where is the strategy? What are the Government trying to do? Are Ministers merely indulging in inane activity, like a hamster on a treadmill? I see in this frenetic energy no guiding purpose and no sense of direction. Our criminal justice system is crying out for an approach based on the evidence of what works, yet, once again, we have a Bill that proclaims populist objectives, regardless, in many cases, of the evidence and bereft of strategy.
The evidence suggests that prison should be for serious offenders and serial offences, not an everyday response to low-level thieving and other minor crime. Yet, looking at the big picture, we desperately need a shift from prison to other, more effective measures to stop reoffending. The reoffending rate for young men on their first prison sentence is 92 per cent. Prisons are just colleges of crime, where the young learn better the techniques that we would rather they did not learn at all.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept, however, that all the young men in prison have already been through all those community and non-custodial sentences that he is referring to, and that none of them has worked, which is why they end up back in front of the courts and in prison? At least they are off the streets.
I do not accept the hon. Member’s point. In fact, in many cases, there is not an adequately graded response to criminal or antisocial behaviour, particularly among young people. I intend to return to that point later.
Prisons are full of drug addicts, who should be treated elsewhere, and people with mental health problems whose circumstances are likely to be aggravated by their prison experience. Adopting a problem-centred approach to crime, in which we actually did what worked to cut crime, would do far more to prevent crime and to detect criminals so that they could be caught. That would provide a far greater deterrent than just being even tougher on the tiny minority of criminals whose case ends up in a court conviction. If we take into account the British crime survey figures and those for business crime, plus those for people under the age recorded by the BCS, probably only one in 100 cases ends up in a court conviction. People are therefore unlikely to be impressed by posturing on tougher punishments. In fact, so small is the probability of being caught that it would make precious little difference if we were to promise far tougher punishments.
That is why we need a new approach, with a much greater emphasis on detection. We also need more prevention, involving easy measures such as improving outside lighting, alarms and window locks. We need more detection, to ensure that criminals face justice. The prevention aspect of that agenda alone provides the main reason why crime has fallen further and faster in Liberal Democrat-controlled council areas than in either Labour or Tory-controlled areas—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary laughs, but, given that his own city of Hull and many other major cities outside London are now under outright Liberal Democrat control, we are no longer making our point based on a small sample.
I apologise for laughing, but it was funny. One of the reasons why crime and disorder in Hull is really coming down as a result of the terrific efforts of the chief constable is the extra police who were put into the city centre by the previous Labour administration before the Lib Dems took over. All that the Lib Dems have done is take away is our free school meals service, which we very much want back. They have contributed nothing to the reduction in crime.
I am astonished that the Home Secretary thinks that free school meals are relevant to crime figures. Let me give him a practical example of what I am saying. I have visited a number of Liberal Democrat councils—as no doubt he has; perhaps he should visit more—to see what work they are doing on the prevention agenda. Let us take Liverpool as an example. There, the Liberal Democrat council has installed alley gates, which have the enormous merit of preventing burglars from popping into backyards and stealing things from people’s homes. I am not saying that alley gating is the only factor, but that, along with policing, has had a dramatic effect.
Since its peak, crime in Liberal Democrat council areas has fallen by more than the national average, at 20 per cent. Before we get any chortling from Conservative Members, I should say that, on crime, Conservative areas have performed less well than the national average, with rates falling 16 per cent. since the peak. Let us look at violent crime: down 6 per cent. in Conservative areas, but down by more than twice as much—by 14 per cent.—in Liberal Democrat-council areas. We are talking not about small samples, but about quite substantial areas, and what matters is what works. We need a big, strategic shift from prison to policing and probation, because catching more people who commit crime is a greater deterrent than more harshly punishing the few whom we do catch.
My hon. Friend mentions policies that are based on the evidence of what works, and probation. Does he agree, therefore, that the Government’s embarkation on cuts in probation funding and staff is folly, when, for example, the intensive alternative to custody that Derbyshire probation service is piloting costs one fifth of a custodial sentence and is more successful at preventing reoffending?
I am grateful for that intervention, because my hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the pilot in Derbyshire, where the results are encouraging and, indeed, the reoffending rates are as he describes. However, I agree with the Home Secretary that it is important to have more police on the front line—if only the Government would take his apparent advice. We need a further 10,000 police officers on the front line. We are still under-policed when compared with other leading industrial democracies, but we need better policing, too.
One of the biggest disappointments of the Gracious Speech and the Crime and Security Bill is that they represent yet another missed opportunity by the Government to show some real commitment to police reform. The National Policing Improvement Agency should be given a wider remit so that it can commission research into any measures that cut crime, including not only better policing methods, but measures outside the police. Chief officers should have greater discretion to manage their force, decide key staff changes and reward specialism.
The police contract—lifetime employment, now for 35 years, a single point of entry and pay linked to seniority rather than to talent or effort—should be urgently reviewed, as successive reports from inspectors of constabulary have pointed out. It was right to make a bonfire of the central targets and controls that have been introduced since 2002, but it was surely wrong for the Home Office not to cut back on the data requirements and red tape that went with that central control regime. It was surely wrong, too, to fail to put in place stronger local governance arrangements to pick up where Whitehall’s meddling left off.
Chief officers must be responsible for operations, they must be independent and they must be operationally independent, but strategy and priorities must be determined by strong and representative police authorities that speak for their people throughout the force area. There should be better consultation at local, basic command unit or operational command unit levels, because that matters; but the real locus of accountability is where the money is decided, at police authority level, and only more powerful accountability will drive up policing standards towards the best.
Detection rates, even for violent crime, vary from 34 per cent. in the worst performing force, the Metropolitan police, to 67 per cent. in the best performing force in England and Wales. That is not an acceptable variation, and the public should not accept it. However, the Government have run away from the debate at the first whiff of gunshot from their own, Labour, councillors, and the official Opposition have proposed a system that makes strong men blench. One elected sheriff, in a multi-ethnic and diverse area such as Greater Manchester or the west midlands, would be a disaster, as the sheriff would be elected while ignoring the vast majority of his or her voters. That way lies insensitive policing, random stop-and-search and the Brixton riots. Without such reform, the measures heralded in the Gracious Speech are just tinkering around the edges. We need stronger local governance, but it has to be right and it has to be representative.
Even where the Government are faced inexorably with the need for reform because of court judgments, they manage to botch their response. Let us look at the DNA database. Of course, DNA should be used in criminal investigations. No one denies that; and it will go on being used. Forensics should be better supported than Ministers’ reorganisation of the service suggests. However, the Government’s proposal—a six-year period holding DNA even of innocent people—is still an extraordinary response to the European Court of Human Rights and to the age-old principle of British justice that we are innocent until proven guilty. Just under 1 million innocent people—I think that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, who is not in his place, said that the figure is 750,000, but my information from a parliamentary answer of 15 October is that it is 986,000—now have their DNA on the database, yet 2.3 million people who were convicted before DNA was routinely collected do not have their DNA on the database. No wonder the effectiveness of the database is steadily falling.
Liberal Democrats favour instead a simple rule: if someone is convicted, their DNA will remain on the database; if they are innocent, it will not. By contrast, the Government’s illiberal proposal is likely to be struck down again by the European Court, as it is not a proportionate response to a problem, and it still intrudes on the right to privacy guarded in the European convention on human rights.
The hon. Gentleman just said that if someone is guilty and convicted, they are on the database, but if someone is innocent, they are not on the database. I thought that he supported the Scottish system whereby if someone is arrested but not charged for a serious offence they remain on the database. Is this a change in his approach?
The Home Secretary will have noticed that at our party conference—I note that we are a party that determines these things democratically—we voted very firmly for the view that innocence and guilt should be the determining criterion for whether someone is on the database. That has the great merit of simplicity and of being understood in line with our traditions in this country.
It is important for the House to understand where the Liberal Democrats are positioned on this matter, which is clearly going to be a matter of debate in the next few weeks, so can the hon. Gentleman clarify his position? Is he saying that the Scottish system is not the right one? I would have anticipated his supporting it, as he has appeared to do so in the past. Has that position changed?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Scottish system was introduced while the Liberal Democrats were in government in Scotland, and we were very happy with it. In fact, there is very little difference between the system that I have suggested and the Scottish system. As a matter of clarity, it would make things much simpler if we applied the simple rule of innocence versus guilt.
The Labour Government’s inadequate proposals on the DNA database are entirely typical of their approach to crime and civil liberties. Ministers have ignored the evidence of what really works to cut crime, but they have still managed to trample civil liberties underfoot. It is shocking, for example, that only one in five hospitals is providing the anonymised data that allow police to target violent hotspots and cut woundings by 40 per cent. In the case of Cardiff, that is clearly shown not in anecdotal evidence of the sort that the Home Secretary gave us on the DNA database, but in peer-reviewed, solid academic evidence of the type that he unfortunately proved rather too dismissive of in respect of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
The reality is that Ministers repeatedly come here with proposals that scythe away at the right to protest, the right to know how people have died at the hands of the state, the right to jury trial, the right to express oneself in a public place, the right to know what one is charged with when detained for up to 28 days, and the right to leave one’s own home if a Minister decides otherwise in a control order. Rarely has so much that is so precious been sacrificed so enthusiastically on the altar of ineffectiveness.
That death of civil liberties by a thousand small cuts is precisely why Liberal Democrats have put forward a coherent and comprehensive Bill for repealing intrusions into hard-won freedoms. It is called the Freedom Bill. It proposes a reduction in the period of detention without charge from 28 days to 14 days. It advocates the abolition of the illiberal and discredited control orders regime—which, according to a recent front-page article in The Daily Telegraph, the Conservatives oppose. I was surprised to see that, given that whenever the measure has been up for annual renewal they have repeatedly refused to join us in the Lobby to show their opposition.
Our draft Bill also advocates renegotiating the unbalanced US-UK extradition treaty, with particular relevance to the current case of Gary McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome; scrapping the illiberal and expensive identity cards scheme; and rolling back the surveillance state by curbing the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, rather than removing the checks on police use of that Act, as the Conservatives propose. Only by putting together the cumulative losses of freedoms can we dramatise the effects of this Government since 1997, and indeed of the last Conservative Administration. The Freedom Bill is a key priority for us.
I turn to the stronger powers to tackle antisocial behaviour that have been suggested. It is a real and pressing problem across the country, as we all know from our constituencies. It can blight people’s lives to live near or next to a family from hell. We will examine in detail the measures that the Government have brought forward in the Crime and Security Bill, and we will deal with them on their merits. Again, however, the strategy is far from clear.
We would instead introduce new community justice panels and positive behaviour orders and increase the use of acceptable behaviour contracts, while reserving antisocial behaviour orders as a last resort. There is a real problem with ASBOs at present, because they are honoured mostly in the breach. They are not used as a last resort, and they are not enforced properly. In response to the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who mentioned custody, ASBOs should be part of a graduated response to a problem rather than something that we go to early in the process, which merely brings them into disrepute. We would also pilot a youth volunteer force, to make engagement with the community more attractive to young people and to bridge the divide between young and old people. Activities could include the restoration of sports facilities or environmental projects, providing people with skills for the future.
I turn to immigration, which was an important feature of the remarks of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) in particular. The Government have squandered opportunity upon opportunity to reform what is a broken system. The draft Immigration Bill is the ninth immigration Bill since 1997. If they were going to simplify the system all along, why have they used eight Acts to make it so complicated that the long-awaited and much lauded simplification Bill is now only ready to be published in draft? Their inability to tackle the issues involved simply beggars belief.
The debate on immigration should be based on the evidence of benefit to this country, not on scaremongering about British jobs for British workers or on whipping up yet more anti-immigration rhetoric. The abolition of exit checks by the Conservative Government, followed up by the Labour Government, means that we still have no idea how many people are in this country illegally. Nearly 2 million short-term visas are issued every year to students and others, but we still cannot check whether they have been respected by seeing whether the people who have been issued with them have left the country, as the UK Border Agency is still only able to check 60 per cent. of exits from this country. The Liberal Democrats would immediately reinstate exit checks, so that we could at least grasp the extent of the problem and ensure that short-term visas were respected. We would create a new national border force with police powers, so that our borders were properly controlled.
I did not hear anything from the Conservative Benches, or indeed the Labour Benches, about the benefits of legal migration. With a quarter of the doctors and half the nurses in London having been born overseas, the NHS would collapse without migrant workers. Migration must be able to respond to the diverse needs of different regions and industries, and a blunt cap on immigration of the sort proposed by the Conservatives—without any number attached to it, we note—would frankly be a Soviet-style response from a dynamic market economy such as that of the UK. Would we really refuse to allow Manchester City to sign Robinho at the transfer window because a cap had been reached, or refuse to allow some City of London firm to hire someone who could help create jobs for British people by bringing a skill that was not already available to us? That is just simple populism, not sensible policy.
North of the border in Scotland, even Conservatives want more migration and a larger population. In the south-east of England, by contrast, we are talking of desalination plants to provide fresh water, which clearly shows that we are reaching the environmental limits of population density, because such plants require fossil fuels to heat the water to evaporate the salt.
The Liberal Democrats would ensure that immigration works in the interests of the UK by creating a regional points-based immigration system, giving greater weight to skills and regions that need migrants and less to those that do not.
With respect, I do not think I have heard such a load of complete nonsense for a long time. Will the hon. Gentleman explain that? How can he have a regional points-based system? If there is a quota for the north-east and people are allowed to move there, what stops them emigrating there and then moving to London, which may be full up?
The hon. Gentleman really must stop displaying his ignorance of matters within his portfolio. If he had actually spent any time studying systems that are based on the points-based system that we apparently copied, he would know that they operate in Australia and Canada. What happens is that a visa is issued that applies to a particular geographical area.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that 192 million people come in and go out of this country every year and that the most effective way of controlling illegal immigration is through employers. The system is very simple. As they do in Australia and Canada, we ensure that an employer has the visa papers of an employee. If they do not entitle that employee to work in that region, that is illegal immigration just as much as not having a visa at all. The system is very simple and it works. He could tell me that people will live in Southampton and work in Edinburgh, but that is highly unlikely. The main point is that the visa applies to the workplace, which is—he can talk to the UK Border Agency about this—the most important way of enforcement.
May I give the hon. Gentleman a scenario? Suppose a company in Eastleigh that employs migrant workers has a branch office in Edinburgh, to which it would like to transfer two of those workers. How would he police a system which, effectively, is almost about internal house arrest in parts of the country? It is a bizarre suggestion.
It is not internal house arrest at all because it applies not to where people live, but to where they work. The key point is that it is a work visa. That is what happens in both Australia and Canada and, actually, the right hon. Lady should be aware that it happens in this country too. I agree that the Government whom she has supported do not enforce visas adequately and that they do not do enough checks of employers. There have been far too few prosecutions of employers—fewer than 200 since 1997 on the latest figures—but it is through those and checks on employers that we enforce the existing system. Exactly the same thing would apply under a regional points-based system.
The home affairs aspects of this Queen’s Speech are nothing new: yet more legislation, thrown together in a haphazard manner and designed only to attract headlines rather than tackle meaningful reform an any issue, from policing to civil liberties, immigration and the DNA database. This Government have created 3,600 new criminal offences since 1997 and we are still counting—such criminal offences as the creation of a nuclear explosion, as if murder and criminal damage were not enough to meet the contingency. We have seen sheaves upon sheaves of new Bills. If law was the answer to problems, we would have none. However, law is rarely the only answer, and sometimes not even a partial one. It is high time the Government concentrated on evidence and delivery rather than new Bills. If they did so, Britain would be a better place with a substantially lower crime rate.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the formal proclamation by the United Nations of 25 November as international day for the elimination of violence against women. Violence against women and girls takes many forms and affects all our communities. I acknowledge that the Government have done much to raise awareness and to protect victims of domestic violence, and much in the area of prevention, as the Home Secretary outlined earlier. I do not wish to delay the House by quoting more statistics, except for one that relates to the different way in which women and men may experience violence. Men are more likely to be victims of violent crime than women, but in domestic violence, in which the vast majority of victims are women, the victims have been assaulted on average 35 times before reporting those crimes to the police.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement of support for the white ribbon campaign, as worn by many right hon. and hon. Members today. I commend the campaign, especially on its efforts to involve men in tackling the issue of domestic violence. In a Parliament in which women are under-represented, it is vitally important that male parliamentarians get involved in this campaign.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on which I serve, is persevering with its commitment to promote the drafting of a future Council of Europe convention to prevent and combat violence against women, including domestic violence. In adopting a binding legal instrument, the Council of Europe would send out a strong political signal. I hope that the Government will support such a move in the Committee of Ministers. As the vice-chair of the sub-committee on trafficking in human beings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I welcome the Government’s decision, a year ago, to ratify the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Earlier this week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, together with the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who was in his place earlier, visited the human rights trafficking centre in Sheffield. I know that the future location and legal status of the centre is under discussion. Whatever happens in those discussions, the corporate identity and the collective wisdom in the Sheffield unit should be retained.
I recall that part of the Government’s initial reluctance to ratify the convention was the argument from immigration officials that a victim-based approach could undermine immigration controls—the so-called pull factor. At the time, the JCHR argued that it was not credible to suggest that a woman would voluntarily submit to indeterminate sexual slavery of the most brutal kind for the purpose of obtaining UK residency. Thankfully, that view prevailed and was accepted by the Government. But I fear that immigration officials have not substantially changed their views and for that reason if, come April, the human rights trafficking centre is not to be a free-standing agency, it would in my view be better and more appropriate for it to be located with the Serious Organised Crime Agency rather than with the UK Border Agency.
The convention on trafficking has been in effect since February, and the monitoring system is now up and running. I seek an assurance from the Government that they will continue to ensure that the monitoring mechanism—the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings or GRETA—is adequately resourced and that they will legislate or otherwise act on its findings on the UK’s implementation of the convention.
There are conflicting statistics on trafficking but we know that thousands are trafficked for sexual exploitation, the majority of whom are women. However, it is not only trafficked women who are forced or coerced into prostitution, which is another example of violence against women. Most prostituted women have been abused, and most of them are tricked into prostitution usually by men who groom them, get them addicted or use their power over them in other ways. That is why I welcome the historic vote in the other place on 3 November to back the Government and make it a crime for men to demand and pay for sex with trafficked women or those forced or coerced to work as prostitutes. In that historic vote, we have moved from the supply side to the demand side by insisting that men, not women, should bear responsibility for the abuse of prostituted women. But that vote will be effective only if the law is used. Passing the law is not the same as implementing it. It will be up to the Government to ensure that the police and magistrates make it work.
I do not want to comment substantially on the circumstances of the Dr. Magnanti and Belle de Jour saga, but I agree with Object’s campaigns co-ordinator, Anna van Heeswijk, writing in the Evening Standard, that the one voice that has been conspicuously absent is that of the silent and silenced majority of women in prostitution who do not experience the sex industry as harmless fun. I share her view that the glamorous way in which it has been presented in the media tends
“to normalise what for the majority constitutes abuse and exploitation”
“grooms women and girls into thinking that selling their bodies is an empowering career choice and tells men and boys that buying women for sexual use is acceptable”.
It is not. And we should state firmly that it is not.
Another gross form of violence against women is female genital mutilation. I congratulate the Government on having introduced the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, which is intended to help prevent that unacceptable and barbaric practice.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman anticipated my comments. There is substantial evidence to suggest that hundreds of girls and young women are taken from this country every year for such abuse to be carried out elsewhere. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Claire Ward) told the House that there have been no prosecutions or convictions for female genital mutilation. The Government have appointed a cross-Government co-ordinator to provide a single point of contact for work on that issue, and I hope that a Minister can come before the House, in the not-too-distant future, to report progress on the matter.
I wish to make one other reference to the Council of Europe. As the Parliamentary Assembly’s rapporteur on honour-based violence, I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the assistance that his officials gave to me in commenting on the draft text of my report before publication. The report’s recommendations have been adopted unanimously by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Most of the recommendations are already in place and have been implemented in the UK, but I would welcome Home Office support in the Committee of Ministers for the widest possible implementation of the recommendations on honour-based violence throughout the 47 member states.
On the issue of forced marriages, the Government are to be congratulated on the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which came into force last year. There is a fine line between forced marriage and so-called honour crime, as was shown in the brave testimony of Dr. Abedin, a woman doctor of Bangladeshi origin practising in London, who gave evidence to our committee. She had been held captive in Bangladesh and forced to marry. Thanks to the legislation passed by this Government and this Parliament, and with the co-operation between the UK and Bangladeshi authorities, she has been able to return to the UK, where she is trying to rebuild her life.
I would like to say a brief word on constitutional reform. Some 40 years ago, I chaired the British Youth Council and was involved in a successful campaign to reduce the voting age to 18. A few weeks ago, some hon. Members were in the Gallery of the Chamber when the UK Youth Parliament met and voted to take up as its campaign the right to vote at 16. I support it in that endeavour and shall quote a speech in the debate by a young man called James Evans:
“At 16, we can marry our MP, we can sleep with our MP and we can have children with our MP. We can sign up in preparation for fighting and potentially dying for our MP. And suddenly we are not mature enough to vote for them”.
I thought that those were wise words from a young, potential parliamentarian.
You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am the hon. Member who represents Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh. Although famed for being a maximum security prison, which it is, Belmarsh is also a local prison. I share the view of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that there are far too many people, and particularly young people, who are in prison inappropriately for less serious crimes and for whom it serves no positive purpose. When we discuss the new Crime and Security Bill, I hope that we will see more resources diverted into restorative justice schemes and non-custodial, community-based projects.
I share the concern of the Children’s Commissioner and the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe that too many of our young people are incarcerated or locked up in this country. Next door to Belmarsh, we are about to open the youth offenders institution Isis, which some people are calling “Son of Belmarsh”. Less than a mile away from that institution, there are two superb projects: the youth awareness project and the archway project, which have a commendable record in diverting young people away from a life of crime. However, such projects are struggling for resources, while we pour more and more money into locking up young people for no positive purpose. I hope that we will see a transfer of funding into some of those more positive ways of working with young people.
My final point relates to the tragedy that occurred a fortnight ago on Tavy bridge, which was the scene of the fatal stabbing of a young man called Moses Nteyoho. We have to tackle the problem of knife crime. Projects such as the youth awareness project in Thamesmead and the archway project are successfully doing just that and diverting young people away from gang culture. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler), who was recently appointed as the Cabinet Office Minister with responsibility for young citizens and youth engagement, recently visited those projects and was greatly impressed. I hope that she will report to other Ministers and Cabinet members on how such schemes can be supported and promoted.
Charlton Athletic community trust has involved the parents of Rob Knox, who was fatally stabbed in Old Bexley and Sidcup. Charlton Athletic won the community club of the year award because of its “Street Violence Ruins Lives” campaign, which has brought the club and the community together to engage with young people. I invite the Ministers to come down and see Charlton Athletic community trust’s action on fighting knife crime.
May I say what a pleasure it is to follow a thought-provoking speech by the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin)?
In 1997, the Government came into power on a huge wave of expectation—expectation that was based on huge promises. Given that the Gracious Speech makes even more promises, we should reflect a little on the promises made in the past. To that extent, I will continue the theme started by the shadow Home Secretary. The Government’s biggest promise was that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. However, although the Government claim that crime is down, the reality is that violent crime is up, gun crime is up, knife crime is up and drug offences are up—by nearly 80 per cent. As we heard earlier, Britain has now become the cocaine capital of Europe.
As for antisocial behaviour, all three Labour party manifestos—in 1997, 2001 and 2005—spoke of dealing with the problem. If ever there was an admission of failure, it was the reference in the Gracious Speech to introducing legislation to tackle antisocial behaviour. The tragedy is that, in the intervening years, so many people—often some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our community—have gone through so much suffering and misery. No one doubts that the 3.9 million incidences of antisocial behaviour recorded in England and Wales last year are a gross underestimate. People simply do not report these sorts of incidences because they are worried about the consequences for themselves and their families from the thugs who engage in such antisocial behaviour.
I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the first legislation on antisocial behaviour. As I recall it, the hon. Gentleman’s party would not accept that there was such a thing as antisocial behaviour or that it needed legislation. Will he therefore deal with his party’s road to Damascus conversion of accepting not just that antisocial behaviour exists, but that it is something that should be dealt with by law?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to remind her that after 12 and a half years in government, she and her colleagues should perhaps address the promises they have made to the British public, rather than conversations in Committee Rooms in this place. Had they honoured and fulfilled those promises, perhaps the tone of this debate might have been a little different.
At the Labour party conference in 2002, Tony Blair said:
“Those who assault teachers or nurses should go to jail.”
No doubt Mr. Blair received rapturous applause from all those in the hall when he said that, but we should go to our hospitals today and see how many hospital staff are prepared to applaud the Government. We should ask the staff about the 55,000 physical assaults on hospital staff last year alone, and we should ask them if the promises of jail for those perpetrators have been fulfilled by the Government.
The hon. Lady says, “Of course,” but I suggest that she does some homework before she makes such comments because the facts are anything but what she says.
What of those thugs who are caught? For them, antisocial behaviour orders are more a badge of honour than a measure of crime prevention. The 2001 Labour manifesto included a pledge that “persistent offending” should lead to “more severe punishment”, but that has turned out to be such a mockery that it is scarcely worth spending time on it, although I will dwell on it just a little. Penalty notices for disorder are dished out by police forces like confetti. Some individuals are given penalty notices even before they have paid for the previous one. Following a freedom of information request that I made to every police force in the country, I found that one individual had received eight notices in one year alone. Surely someone should have come to the conclusion at some point that the method of preventing crime by simply issuing another notice was not working.
Labour’s 1997 election pledge was to ensure that prison regimes would be constructive and that inmates faced up to their offending behaviour. There have been many subsequent promises to provide education and training, and treatment for drug addiction, but they have simply not been followed through. In fact, prison is now one of the best places in which to pick up a drug habit.
Let us consider what actually happens to prisoners when they go to prison. A new prisoner waits a few weeks to get on a training course. When he or she finally gets on that course, they are likely to be moved to another prison halfway through that course—without finishing it. Then, at the new prison, they start the whole process again, and wait a few weeks to get on a course and so on, so the cycle continues and the training is never completed. No wonder prisoners leave prison still unable to read or write, or to have a useful trade that could help them contribute to society, rather than being dependent on society or offending again. It was hardly surprising that when my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) tabled a written question on the amount of education received in prisons, he was told on 5 November, at column 1212W of Hansard, that prisoners at Reading prison receive less than an hour of education a day.
The drug rehabilitation programme has a similar pattern to that for training. A prisoner waits for several weeks to get on a course, and when he finally gets on it, he is moved to another prison. He waits for a few weeks again, gets on a drug rehabilitation course, and moves on to another prison yet again before the course is completed.
It is not only prisoners who are moved from one prison to another but, frequently, governors. It cannot be right that the average turnover time for a governor in a prison is a mere 18 months. We must have a system in which governors stay in a prison long enough to put in place initiatives that will be good for the inmates, and long enough to see those initiatives through. Given the present circumstances in prisons, it is hardly surprising that the incidence of self-harm in both prisons and youth offender institutions increased by more than 25 per cent. between 2004 and 2008.
There has been an absolute failure to manage the prison population. The Government have ignored all the warnings about an impending crisis in prison places. That is why prison capacity is now at 99 per cent., and it would have been a lot worse were it not for the Government’s early release programme, under which nearly 70,000 prisoners have been released early, including those who had been locked up for violent offences.
The Labour manifesto of 1997 said that police should be on the beat, not pushing paper, yet 12 and a half years on, our police are being stifled by bureaucracy. Men and women join the police force not to sit behind desks, but to be out there on the streets, dealing with crime. We have the absurd situation in which the personal details of an arrested person can sometimes be recorded up to 17 times, on as many different forms.
A different, but important, consideration that is often overlooked in such debates is the hidden cost of crime: the cost of pain and suffering endured by the victims; the cost to the national health service; the cost of social services; the cost of the stress and strain put on the family and friends of those who need to adjust to care for the victims of crime; the cost of lost wages; the cost of increased insurance premiums, and so on. Although those are the hidden costs of crime, they are nevertheless real. The Home Office has tried only once to cost the separate headings, and in 2003 the estimated figure for those hidden costs was a staggering £29 billion. I am not surprised that the Government are not keen on an annual assessment of the hidden cost of crime, because under them that figure would have increased on a regular basis.
To conclude, I refer to the original phrase uttered by Tony Blair: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Two weeks ago, in an article in The Sunday Times, Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, was asked to comment on whether he thought that Labour had delivered on that pledge, and his response was a diplomatic, “No comment.” The Government have shown themselves to be weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime. They have shown themselves to be rich in rhetoric and poor in substance, plentiful in promises and lacking in delivery.
After 12 years in government, six Home Secretaries, 39 junior Ministers, nearly 50 criminal justice Acts and more than 3,000 offences, the Government have still not delivered on law and order. They are past their sell-by date. More importantly, they are well past their use-by date. They need to acknowledge that it is time to go.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech during the debate on the Loyal Address. It is an honour for any right hon. or hon. Member to represent any constituency in this House, but it is an even more special privilege to be able to serve the community in which I was born, brought up and educated, and in which I have lived throughout my life.
One of the upsides of having just fought the longest by-election campaign in modern history is that I was able to meet almost one in six, or 10,000, of my constituents during its course. What renewed my faith in our democratic process was having the opportunity to share my vision for Glasgow, North-East, and to hear of my constituents’ hopes for their future, face to face. Despite the low turnout, the people of Glasgow, North-East care deeply about politics and about repairing the reputation of this House. They have sent me here to support the recommendations of the Kelly report, and to seek greater transparency in the way in which decisions are made by the House and our other democratic institutions.
It was gratifying that so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends—and, indeed, right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, particularly the right hon. Members for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)—were able to campaign in the constituency. Perhaps that contributed to the unexpected size of my majority, which was 8,111.
I should like to share with the House a conversation that I had with a voter on the eve of polling day. Many Members may sympathise with my predicament. When I canvassed this particular elector for the third time, he greeted me with the same response that he had given on the previous two occasions. “Are you still trying?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “I cannot support any of you,” he said. “None of the candidates has sufficient experience to be elected as my MP.” As I prepared to concede and to consider that my efforts might be fruitless, he leaned conspiratorially over his garden fence and said “Don’t worry, I will be supporting your party—not because of you, mind you; I will be voting for the Prime Minister.”
I represent a varied and interesting group of more than 20 communities in Glasgow, North-East, from Ruchill and Lambhill in the west to Hogganfield and Millerston in the east, and from Dennistoun in the south to Colston and Milton in the north. Each has its own history and character, but what they have in common is that they contain people of great humour, hard-working people, people of intelligence, talent and aspiration.
During the campaign, I met mothers in Royston who were determined to fight for better child care so that they could work more hours to support their families. I met young people in Ruchazie who were taking the first step towards an apprenticeship through a programme run by a local voluntary group. I met retired people in Possilpark who were running a lunch club three times a week for local disabled people because of their strong sense of social responsibility. While they do not believe that Government on their own have the answer to every ill in society, nor do they believe that Government are the problem—and nor do they believe that Government should be cut back, with all the social consequences that we saw in Glasgow in the 1980s and early 1990s.
My constituents are not, as some portrayed them in the election, passive recipients of the welfare state, but people who want to see their children do better than they have done and to possess the courage and ambition to strengthen their communities. They elected me because I will stand up for their values, and will support the policies on investment in jobs, child care, pensions, tax credits and the minimum wage that will bring about a great improvement in their living standards. They support an active state that can be a force for good and has greater equality as its aim, not an enabling state that would enfeeble communities because of its withdrawal of investment in jobs or decent public services.
The Glasgow, North-East constituency was created at the last general election from the previous seats of Glasgow, Springburn and Glasgow, Maryhill. Both areas have in the past had outstanding representatives, such as George and Agnes Hardie, John Forman, Richard Buchanan, James Craigen, Maria Fyfe—as doughty a fighter for social justice today as she was when a Member of this House—and, of course, my neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), whose commitment on issues such as international development I have respected for over a decade. There have even been two Conservative Members in the past: Frederick Macquiston, supporting a Liberal-Conservative coalition between 1918 and 1922, and Captain Charles Emmott of the National Government coalition between 1931 and 1935. Neither experiment has been repeated by my constituents since.
My immediate predecessor is Lord Martin of Springburn, and of Port Dundas. He is an exceptional person and parliamentarian. My family and many others in my constituency have known him for decades, and can attest that his career has been a tribute to the best traditions of public service. I know him to be a man of great fortitude under pressure—never more so than when Speaker of this House for nearly nine years—and of great kindness. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members will have their own memories of individual acts of encouragement or advice he gave, but no one will forget the compassion he showed to the late Patsy Calton on resuming her seat after the last general election in the midst of her brave battle with cancer.
Lord Martin was a member of Glasgow Corporation between 1973 and 1979, and a Member of this House for 30 years, being returned with prodigious majorities in seven consecutive general elections. Key to his politics was his passion for better housing. His own experiences growing up in Anderston, together with his vision to improve his community, led him to champion the development of new social housing. He was a founder-member of what is now North Glasgow Housing Association, and the more than £100 million of investment in homes in the constituency is an achievement of which Lord Martin and this Government can justly be proud.
As Speaker, Lord Martin was a resolute defender of the rights and privileges of the legislature from Executive encroachment. His wit, fairness and humour are missed from this House, but are now at the disposal of the other place. I wish him and his family well for the future, and it is a particular pleasure to work with his son, Paul, who is an outstanding Member of the Scottish Parliament for the area.
Every Member representing Glasgow is also a successor to the tradition of progressive politics championed by John Wheatley and James Maxton. Their commitment to equality finds new expression in our debate today. Most of my working life has been spent in education, and I was pleased to visit recently both colleges in my constituency: John Wheatley college in Haghill, and North Glasgow college in Springburn. They provide people with high-quality further and higher education and training, transforming the life chances of, and outcomes for, my constituents.
The most pressing issue in this debate, and for the country at large, is unemployment and how to move our economy into recovery. Although the increase in unemployment has slowed in recent months, the International Monetary Fund anticipates that it will continue to rise until 2010, and this particularly impacts upon young people. Our constituents will judge us harshly if we fail to act now. That is why we need not only a continuing fiscal stimulus, but a continuing jobs stimulus. I welcome the additional £5 billion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has to invest in jobs for 18 to 24-year-olds and the long-term unemployed. I welcome the impact the future jobs fund is having in Glasgow, where 470 jobs have been created so far, but there is an urgent need for many more. I will shortly bring together employers, the city council and voluntary groups in my area to develop bids to bring more of this investment to Glasgow, North-East. At present, there are 1,275 jobless young people in my constituency, but only 617 employment vacancies. Had it not been for the policies followed by this Government on the new deal, the flexible new deal and the future jobs fund in the past year, the number of unemployed would have been far higher.
We have faced the biggest shock to the global economy for more than 60 years and our European Union partners are struggling with high unemployment too. Tough economic times make the burden of child and family poverty even greater, which is why I support the Child Poverty Bill in setting targets and setting out a comprehensive strategy for the abolition of child poverty by 2020. We also need to commit across the House to the improvements in child benefit, tax credits and the minimum wage that will make it happen.
These will be vital months in securing our economic recovery, and the jobs and living standards of millions of people will be affected by the decisions we take. Whatever our differences on policy across this Chamber, the great strength of this House is that we can rise to national challenges together. Let us face these responsibilities together and remember that greater economic fairness and equality is the prerequisite of greater liberty for the British people. I look forward to debating these issues and others with hon. and right hon. Members across this House in the coming months and to supporting the Gracious Speech in the Division Lobby today and tomorrow.
I have now to announce the result of a Division deferred from a previous day. On the question relating to Adjournment (Christmas), the Ayes were 273 and the Noes were 198, so the question was agreed to.
[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain) on his speech. I cannot remember when I made my maiden speech or even what I made it about, but I should say that making a successful maiden speech, such as his, is an initiation through which we all have to go to be accepted by both sides of this House. I actually listened to his speech and the fact that so many other Members were present shows that they listened to it too. We all look forward to listening to more of what he has to say, but I must tell him that the Chamber will not be as silent in future as it was then.
I wish to discuss the absence in the Gracious Speech of the subject of human trafficking. We often hear about crimes, drugs, knife crimes and DNA, but we do not talk much in this Chamber about the problems caused by human trafficking, which exist in Scotland as much as they do in England. The fact that the United Nations put the searchlight on human trafficking shows that it is a serious international problem. In the 19th century, this horrific crime was recognised as a fundamental abuse of human rights worldwide; citizens of richer nations felt that they could, with impunity, abuse and control the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. It is not that slavery was anything new in the 19th century, as it had already existed for thousands of years, with Israelites in Egypt having been enslaved by Pharaohs. What Wilberforce did was to draw attention to it and highlight the fundamental injustice of one human being misusing and abusing another for their own personal gain. Wilberforce had amazing public relations skills, which resulted in the world banning slavery.
Sadly, however, passing Acts of Parliament does not stop slavery. What we have got now in this country and in the world is new slavery. The United Nations figures suggest that nearly 1 million people are enslaved each year, being trafficked and exploited. Men, women and children are victims, some of forced labour, some of sexual exploitation. Trafficking has leapfrogged over arms dealing and is now second only to drug trafficking when it comes to criminal activity and gain. Human trafficking is estimated to generate annual profits for the traffickers of £32 billion.
Wilberforce brought the slave trade to an end and the so-called developed countries moved on, but they moved on to create new slavery. Ten years ago, the subject was barely debated in the Chamber or recognised as an issue. Not much space was given to it in our debates, either here or anywhere else, because, to put it simply, there are few votes in human trafficking. It is not a matter that concerns the electorate.
We must give credit to the Government and, in particular, to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) in his former role as Minister of State in the Home Office for drawing attention to new slavery as it affects this country and for doing something about it. It is not about smuggling people, asylum seeking or illegal immigration. Human trafficking is something different—it deceives and misleads some of the most vulnerable people in the poorest countries into believing that there is a new and better tomorrow around the corner. It is about deception. It is about using other people’s lives to make money for the trafficker.
Yes, there are sex traffickers. There are illiterate girls with lover-boy syndrome. There are girls with little self-esteem and no education, who are often from rural backgrounds and who typically have unstable family histories. Trafficking does not just happen from poor countries to this country—it happens within this country, too. Trafficking is going on within England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and it is growing. Trafficking does not just take place from Thailand or Bulgaria—it takes place within the country as well as outside it.
As regards child trafficking, there are children from China and Vietnam involved in the cultivation of cannabis plants. The Metropolitan police have 300 factories identified in London alone and there must be more in other parts of the country. However, it is principally children from the EU who are trafficked to steal on the streets and who are involved in ATM thefts. There is no place for these children to go into care, because there are no people with the same language who are willing to foster them and there is no room in children’s homes. They are sent back to where they came from and re-trafficked. Some are under the age of 10 and an artful child can earn up to £100,000 a year for their traffickers. We have identified more than 1,000 such children already on the streets in this country, and they move between this country, Spain, Italy and back again, avoiding detection.
Globally, there is growing awareness of how extensive trafficking is and of the different types of exploitation into which people are trafficked, but it is not visible. Of course it is not—we do not see car thieves or burglars in the act, and we do not see traffickers in the act. It is worth noting that more than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as were ever in chains during the 350 years of the African slave trade.
I mentioned the Minister for Schools and Learners, the hon. Member for Gedling, and I should mention the action plan that brings together the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. All the Government Departments are now involved. We have wonderful non-governmental organisations in this country, such as ECPAT UK—which stands for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes—the POPPY project, the Helen Bamber Foundation and other anti-trafficking bodies. Endless groups of people are concerned about the problem, but it is still growing.
Against that background, I want to approach the question of why the Metropolitan police are planning to close their human trafficking department. I have been one of the people who are fortunate enough to have been on the police service parliamentary scheme for the last two years; I think that I am the oldest policeman on the streets of London. It has allowed me to see the splendid work of the human trafficking team. We have 31,000 officers in the Metropolitan police, and there are only nine in the human trafficking department. The plan is to close it, as they say that it should be merged. However, if they merge it, the department’s profile will be lost, as will the important work that it does.
The Olympics mean that more people will be trafficked, and I shall give the House an idea of the numbers involved. There will be 100,000 people working on the games, as well as 10,500 athletes and 20,000 press and media people, and a total of 9 million tickets will be held by spectators. Human trafficking will increase, and it will affect the men involved in debt bondage, the children trafficked on the streets and the women trafficked for sex. To close the Metropolitan police scheme, as is being considered at the moment, would be sheer folly.
I have the privilege to chair the all-party committee on human trafficking, and we are diametrically opposed to the human trafficking team being closed and absorbed by some other group.
That is a splendid idea and, if I may, I shall blame the hon. Gentleman for giving it to me. I shall approach the Mayor tomorrow and convey to him exactly that point.
I turn now to the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield, which the hon. Gentleman and I visited last Monday. I thank the Joint Committee on Human Rights for inviting me to attend, as it was an illuminating and interesting day, but I am also concerned that the Government are thinking of closing that centre too, on the basis that it could be absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency or put into the immigration service.
If either option came about, we would once again lose the important knowledge that the centre has provided over the years and which has been of such benefit. Incorporating it into a larger organisation may be good political thinking on the part of a Labour Government who like things to be bigger and bigger, but it will not help the human trafficking scene in this country.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the UK Government’s ratification of the convention on human trafficking was delayed in part by arguments from the UK Border Agency that there was a pull factor in adopting a victim-based approach to trafficking. Does he share my view that the Border Agency is not the place to locate the trafficking unit?
I agree entirely. The UK Border Agency, good though it is, has serious problems, one of which is that it does not distinguish a person who is trafficked from one who is not. The UK Human Trafficking Centre was established only two and a half years ago and there are problems with it, but it is tackling its task and its staff are very committed. The hon. Gentleman and I were both impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the people working there. Most of them are police officers, of course, but some staff are from the Border Agency and there are a few outside people as well. It would clearly be a very big mistake to close down the structure that has been set up.
I have a few more things to say. First, the Inter-Parliamentary Union is holding a conference at the end of February so that parliamentarians from other countries can learn about this country’s experience with trafficking. I think that our experience has been good and that we have done very well, but other Parliaments need to benefit from what we have done, just as we must benefit from what they are doing.
If I may say so, our all-party group on human trafficking will be doing a Billy Graham before the parliamentarians from other EU countries. We will be trying to excite their interest and involve them in the human trafficking debate. We want to learn from them, and we want them to learn from us.
New slavery is not a thing of the past. It is a thing of the present, and it is rampant across the world. We in the UK have a good story to tell and I hope that, by leading a campaign among IPU representatives and parliamentarians from every EU country, we will be able to make progress in tackling this appalling scourge. Wilberforce thought that he had solved it, but it exists now in a greater measure than it ever did in his day. I am going to speak to Spanish parliamentarians on Monday next, and I am going to Paris to speak to the French. It is a busy and important task, and I hope the Home Secretary and the Government will support the initiative.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on championing the cause for so many months and years. It is important that he has brought it to our attention. As well as raising its international profile, is it not important to bring it to the attention of local communities, such as in Enfield, where we set up our own commission to look at the information on whether human trafficking occurs in Enfield, as we know it does, and across our communities? As much as we need national and international co-operation, it is important to ground it in local information and action.
I am glad I had a minute to spare. That is a good point. There are initiatives throughout London and, I hope, in other parts of the country, where local people are going around trying to identify people who may have been trafficked. I have a confession to make. Croydon churches decided that they would do that. They went to the police, who said, “There are between six and eight brothels that we know about in Croydon, and we occasionally go and see whether there are any trafficked people there.” The group of churches discovered that there were 60 brothels in Croydon, not just the six that were known about. It is a major problem—not just prostitution, but girls who are trafficked from other parts of the country and other parts of the world. I am delighted to learn that the problem is not confined to Croydon, but occurs in Enfield and north London.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Loyal Address. The hon. Gentleman’s work on trafficking has been very important. My constituency has been heavily affected by trafficked women and trafficked children, so the work that he has undertaken has been valuable.
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain). It was a pleasure to hear him speak and, at a time when there is so much cynicism about politics, to hear such a straightforward, idealistic and optimistic speech. I am sure his career in the House will be long and distinguished, and I offer him many congratulations on his speech.
There was some suggestion from the Opposition that the Queen’s Speech was a waste of time and that we should be reforming Parliament or holding an election, but there is some important work to do. Some of the most important items relate to the home affairs brief and the Department for Work and Pensions portfolio, so I am particularly pleased to be able to speak in today’s debate.
One of the topics on which I wish to speak is the mandatory code on alcohol sales, which will be the subject of secondary legislation due at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. I take the opportunity to encourage my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to make sure that the code is as robust as it can be. They should not take the view that because there is an election coming along nothing should be done about alcohol. Apart from being necessary, the measures to combat binge drinking chime well with the public mood. In my constituency they have been supported at public meetings and debates and in online surveys.
There are three aspects that concern people: labelling, in-store and happy hour-type promotions, and price controls. The controls on happy hour-type promotions partly affect price, but do not go far enough, particularly because they tend to affect pubs and clubs, whereas part of the mischief of excess drinking arises from off-licence and supermarket sales. It is important that, if we are to deal with the problems of pricing, we have measures that go across both the on trade and the off trade.
People say that all the problems can be solved by making drink more expensive, but it is also about preventing drinking from becoming even cheaper. In Northampton, some of the pubs and clubs discount their prices so that they can become student bars, and once they have the clientele the prices drift back up. A couple of years ago, the price of a drink in the student promotion was £1.50. Now, it is two drinks—a drink and a shot—for £1. That is 50p a drink. The clubs say that if they went right down to the base price that they pay for the alcohol—without factoring in the cost of staff, maintaining the premises, and so on—the cost could be as low as 24p a unit. If alcohol started to get even close to that price, the impact on health and on law and order would be absolutely catastrophic. Minimum pricing, which I believe a mandatory code should bring in, would set a floor under that kind of discounting.
Exactly the same would apply in supermarkets. Everyone is familiar with the argument that supermarkets get people in to buy discounted alcohol, then cross-sell to other products. Effectively, the other products, and other drinkers, are having to subsidise the cost of very cheap alcohol. Sometimes, alcohol can be cheaper than water, which is complete nonsense.
A recent inquiry conducted by the Health Committee found that Tesco was not completely opposed to minimum pricing, and the World Health Organisation has stated:
“Increasing the price of alcoholic beverages is one of the most effective interventions to reduce harmful use of alcohol. Consumers, including heavy drinkers and young people, are sensitive to changes in the price of drinks.”
It is the excessive drinking and binge drinking of heavy drinkers and young people in particular that is causing the greatest public concern.
Some careful work has also been done by Sheffield university and others on the impact of pricing on alcohol consumption. Concrete results from the Sheffield studies show that a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol would prevent 1,400 deaths a year and produce an estimated reduction of 41,000 hospital admissions and 16,000 incidents of crime a year. According to Alcohol Concern, a minimum price of 50p a unit would result in 3,393 fewer deaths and 45,800 fewer crimes a year, and a total saving of £7.4 billion over 10 years.
I would also like to spell out some of the support for introducing minimum pricing or, at least, tighter controls on alcohol prices. Not just the police, the chief medical officer and others in the health world and the National Association of Head Teachers think that it would be helpful. There is also significant support in the entertainment and drinks industries themselves. Recently, the head of this country’s biggest chain of nightclubs, Luminar, accompanied me to see an hon. Friend in the Home Office. We talked about the importance of providing a floor for alcohol prices to secure a more realistic base for the entertainment industry and reach a position where people choose their nightclubs based on the quality of the venue, not because they are engaged in a “how low can you go” competition in the price of drinks on offer.
I hope that when the mandatory code is introduced towards the end of the year, it will not only deal in very strict order with information and education, but have real teeth on pricing and, in particular, look at introducing minimum pricing to combat what has been a social menace. The issue was first raised with me by constituents concerned about the impact of antisocial behaviour by young people drinking on the Moulton Leys estate.
The second measure that I am really pleased to be able to discuss is the Child Poverty Bill, which has been carried over so that it can complete its parliamentary stages. I hope that all parties will support it not just with warm, fluffy words, but by giving real teeth to the regulations and secondary legislation that will be introduced in the new year. They will set out how our local authorities implement those measures and ensure that they tackle child poverty in their areas. However, I shall table some amendments to the Bill to strengthen its safeguards for poor families in housing, because, although the legislation already contains such proposals, they are not strong enough.
I hope also that the legislation from the Department for Work and Pensions will include some real opportunities to provide more support for parents’ flexible working. I recently undertook some research in my constituency into the impact of the recession on families in Northampton, and, with information from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, it clearly shows that as a result of the recession more women are becoming the breadwinners. They say that they are the breadwinners and take primary responsibility for the financial well-being of the family, and that their partners are taking more responsibility for child care. In those circumstances, it is important that we extend flexible working arrangements to men, if appropriate, so that they can take even more responsibility for their children, and women can pursue their careers and increase their income for the benefit of their families.
One legacy of the recession will be changed family structures, roles and responsibilities, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will ensure that their proposals meet those challenges, so that families can build a more secure future.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who was quite right to focus on alcohol and the need for action on the problem. Indeed, there has not been such action in the past 12 years. The hon. Lady makes a good case for minimum pricing, and it must be looked at carefully.
We have a Scottish experiment on minimum pricing. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), whom I, too, commend on his maiden speech, referred to the Scottish experiment with Conservative Members of Parliament, and now we have an experiment with minimum pricing, so we will see whether it is a success. This is an important issue on which we must all reflect, but I commend to the Government the Conservative proposals for targeted tax increases on problem drinks such as alcopops and super-strength lagers. We need to take proper, targeted action in relation to the prevalence of alcohol and the menace that it causes in our communities. That reflects the fact that we have not achieved that yet, by any means.
As ever in our home affairs debates, I declare an interest as a just-about-practising criminal solicitor with a keen interest in yet another crime Bill. Reference has been made to whether there have been 28 or nearly 50 crime and justice Bills under this Government. It reminds me of childhood songs that my children now sing. They repeatedly sing the second verse of the same song a little bit louder and a little bit worse, and so it goes on. One feels that about the Government’s repeated Home Office and Ministry of Justice legislation. I worry that we are just getting more of the same and more that is worse. The latest Bill has similar characteristics to all those that have gone before. In the theme of the season, we have a Christmas tree Bill. I fear that the members of the Public Bill Committee that considers it will see ever more amendments hanging off it as desperate attempts are made to introduce measures to plug the gaps, whether in relation to antisocial behaviour, crime or security.
The other characteristic of such home affairs legislation is that the Government are dealing with a problem of their own making. In the case of the DNA database, for example, the Government are trying to catch up with court judgments and the values of our country. We have heard about mission creep and the over-involvement of innocent people, and the Government’s use of secondary legislation has meant that we have not had the opportunity to debate the issue during consideration of primary legislation. A welcome aspect of the Bill is that we will have the opportunity to debate the important principles that have been under attack from this Government and the need to ensure that we have a proper balance between security and liberty.
The Bill fails to deal with issues of repeal. In our desire to have new pieces of legislation to deal with issues of crime and justice, we must recognise the need to repeal elements of what has gone before. It is a shame that the Government do not recognise the extent of their mistakes. They would do well to look at previous legislation and to implement it—and enforce it—better. We need only look at the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a large proportion of which is not yet implemented. Parts of that Act, like many others that have gone before, are now largely discredited—for example its provisions on automatic release, particularly as they apply to people with short-term sentences. An example was recently reported in Essex of a person with a short sentence who was released automatically. Partly because of home detention curfews and their having been sentenced on a Friday, they were given the grant for their release and turned out. It is unacceptable that automatic release happens without any conditions in relation to the person’s behaviour while in prison.
I want to focus briefly on what is and is not in the Bill. It gives welcome attention to the whole area of domestic violence, particularly against women. That is a significant problem in all our communities. A particularly pernicious problem is that of repeat victimisation. That needs to be tackled in several ways, whether through enforcement—we must look carefully at those provisions in the Bill—or, as has been mooted today, through education and prevention. Many victims experience the problem of going to report an incident and facing up to seeking help. We need to recognise the role of the voluntary sector, not least in areas such as mine. There is a particular issue in relation to domestic violence in the Asian community. Organisations such as Naree Shakti—it means “women’s strength”—play a role in that. The point of that organisation is to provide women with the strength to come forward and receive the ongoing support that the voluntary sector is so good at giving. We need to consider in the round how we can best tackle the problem.
The Government wish to focus on education about domestic violence prevention, but wider matters have to be brought into sharp relief, such as the important part that drugs and alcohol sadly play in domestic violence. When one considers that, one sees the lack of funding and direction in our prevention programme. The Government and the Home Office pay all too little attention to the matter, and that needs to change. Perhaps in some ways we should not be surprised, because the Home Office’s drugs strategy has led us down that path. It is less about prevention, enforcement and recovery and more about harm reduction, which has meant that the Government’s focus has been on managing the problem rather than getting to the root causes of it and seeking to tackle it. We have seen the outcomes of that approach.
Today, the Home Secretary seemed remarkably complacent about the problem of drugs in this country. Drug deaths continue to rise—they are the highest in Europe—and the cost of drug abuse, through crime and health services, has been more than £100 billion since 1998. It is important that we deal with the situation, because it is not just a crime and justice problem, but a problem for health and the wider community.
We should not get away from the fact that the prevalence and usage of drugs has got worse. The age of initiation has come down, and we need to do more to tackle the fact that the UK is the worst in Europe for drug use. We need proper and effective treatment, but let us look at the outcome of the admittedly large amount that has gone into it. In the past year, of the 202,666 problematic drug users in treatment, how many had completed programmes to the point of becoming drug-free? Just 8,980. That is unacceptable, given the investment, and we must consider why it is the case. One problem is the Government’s focus on managing the problem rather than seriously tackling it, and another is the fact that between January 2008 and this October, 20 residential rehabilitation centres closed.
The situation is bleaker when we consider prisons. There has been a 64 per cent. increase in methadone prescribing, and few drug-free referrals are taking place. That is unacceptable and needs to change. The UK is becoming the easiest and cheapest place to get drugs, whether on the streets of Enfield in my constituency or on a wing of Pentonville or other prisons. We need to move away from simply providing treatment and towards management and recovery. We need to get away from the bureaucratic commissioning process that has led to just 3 per cent. of problematic drug users becoming drug-free. We also need to reform how we deal with criminal justice interventions, which are still leading to too much reoffending and too many damaged lives. We need to examine drug and alcohol problems and polydrug use in the round and realise that the evidence of the Home Office itself points to therapeutic communities as a way forward.
Another matter that the Government did not touch on in the Queen’s Speech was extradition, and particularly how it affects my constituent Gary McKinnon. It is welcome that the Home Secretary is considering the new medical evidence, which is compelling and significant. It deals not just with the risk of my constituent’s health being affected by extradition to the United States, trial and detention, but with the fact that he has significant mental health problems aligned with his Asperger’s syndrome. It is important that the Government and the Home Secretary take proper account of that evidence. I pay tribute to the Select Committee on Home Affairs for its work on the matter under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).
It is important that the Home Secretary does not hide behind the previous court judgment. He needs to realise that he cannot simply ignore the fact that a prosecution could take place in-country, and he cannot simply say that the bar is far too high for the case to attract his discretion because of human rights concerns. We all recognise that extradition arrangements need to be in place to fight global crime and ensure that we are not a safe haven for criminals, but Gary McKinnon does not fall into that bracket. He is a vulnerable man who hacked into computers and is now at significant risk. His life is at risk, and in a recent case in the High Court, Lord Justice Stanley Burnton recognised that if extradition did not take place, Gary McKinnon could be prosecuted here.
We also need to recognise the important principle of proportionality. That needs to be balanced to ensure that the mental health concerns that are now prevalent are taken properly into account. There is no assurance of bail and repatriation. Holland and Israel were able to reach an agreement on the matter, but this country has not, which has done a disservice to British citizens. We need to review the extradition treaty—and a new Government to do that—but with Gary McKinnon, who is a victim of an unbalanced process, we need to recognise that the medical reports give ample grounds to ensure that human rights can be played in his interests, as they need to be. He needs to stay in this country.
Finally, reference has been made to victims. Victims may get some new legislation, but fundamentally, we need criminal justice reform, which will have to wait for a new Government.
I welcome the measures in the Gracious Speech because they will be good for Britain, the north-east of England and Sedgefield. I believe that they build on the successes of the Government over the past 12 years. This Government’s record is built on proud achievements. When faced with an international crisis, they have stepped up to the plate and delivered.
When I survey my constituency and see how it is coping with the global challenges that I see around us, I see that unemployment has risen since 2008, but that is still half what it was in the mid-1980s. I ask myself why. Is it because the recession is being left to run its course, or because smart government, not dogma, is getting us through it? In Sedgefield, about 19,000 pensioners receive the winter fuel allowance and 9,500 people receive tax credits. Is that because of an act of charity, or is it because of smart government acting on behalf of our society to look after the most vulnerable in it? In 1997 in County Durham, one in four young people who left school did so without a qualification; today the figure is just over one in 10, and beneath the national average. Is that a result of a whip-round by parents to buy extra books and pencils, or is it because of investment in children, schools and teachers, because this Government know that our children need to be properly equipped for the 21st century? An international survey of 10,000 health practitioners says that the NHS provides the best primary health care in the world. Is that a result of charity, or is it because of public investment in thousands more doctors and nurses by a Government who created the NHS and who believe that health care should be free at the point of need—a principle that is deep in the DNA of the Labour party and the Labour Government?
The answer to all those questions is obviously smart government—this Government, who are guided by the principles of compassion, solidarity and an understanding that the wealth the economy creates is there for the many, not just the few.
When I hear accusations of a broken society, I think back to the 18 years immediately before 1997. When we look at unemployment, it is only right that we remind ourselves of those times. Today, there are more than 2.5 million more people in work than in 1997, and about 1.5 million people on jobseeker’s allowance. In the 1980s, more than 3 million people were claiming the equivalent benefit. Of those, 40 per cent. had been on the dole for 12 months and more.
Youth unemployment is a worry to us all, but of 943,000 unemployed, more than 250,000 are full-time students. If we take those out, the unemployment rate for under-25s is just over 9 per cent. In the 1980s, it was 13 per cent., and in the 1990s, it was 12 per cent. Today, because of smart government, 70 per cent. of JSA recipients are back in work within six months.
How can people say that we live in a broken society when the murder rate is at its lowest for the past 20 years, and when overall crime is down by 39 per cent. and violent crime by 41 per cent? How can we be in a broken society when more than 70 per cent. of adults volunteer at least once a year, and when three quarters of all 13 to 19-year-olds take part in sports or clubs or volunteer? A broken society is mentioned only by those who do not care about public services because they do not need to use them, and who say that charity is the answer because they know they will never need it.
Charities have a role, but they can never be a substitute for smart government. Smart government gives millions of British people a fair deal. That is the responsibility of an elected Government; they must speak up for the needs of society and not outsource them. I always find that people who want to get the Government off their backs are usually those who think they can afford to be without the Government. They want to see less government and less regulation. But they are the first to come to the taxpayer if their business is going under or their bank has failed and wring their hands because regulation was after all too lax. Smart government says that the public and private sectors should work together, and that the people should always come first.
There is of course an alternative. It is an alternative that says that instead of Building Schools for the Future, parents or a charity can rent an office block to set up a school. It is the alternative that says that 18 months for an operation is not too long to wait. It is the alternative that says it is the role of financial markets to make money out of other people’s misery. It is the alternative that puts Britain on the fringes of Europe because it ignores the fact that 60 per cent. of our trade is with Europe and 3 million jobs depend on it. It is the world of little Britain, not Great Britain. It is the alternative that breaks cast-iron guarantees while the party that represents that alternative is still in opposition, where long may it remain. It is an alternative of a party whose shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) bizarrely says that it would be on the side of the NHS, when actually it is the party of a past in which patients waited six months for an appointment and two years for an operation. It is an alternative that thinks that the NHS is a mistake 60 years in the making. It is an alternative that will use the means test in reverse by saying to pensioners that they can have social care as long as they can put £8,000 up front. It is the alternative of a party whose leader said in his conference speech that
“it falls to the modern Conservative Party to fight for the poorest”.
On hearing the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) say that on the television, I immediately changed over to the weather channel to see whether hell had indeed frozen over, because that will be the day that I will believe that statement.
The Opposition are no longer just the Conservatives apparently: they are now progressive Conservatives. But how can they be progressive and conservative at the same time? I checked the “Oxford English Dictionary” to get a definition for both words. It defined progressive as “favouring change and innovation”. For conservative, it said, “averse to change or innovation.” So there we have it—a political philosophy that is a contradiction in terms, schizophrenic, Jekyll and Hyde, pulling one way then another, pointing in two directions at the same time, and just plain wrong.
We know the Opposition: we met them on the street corner of the communities they closed down in the 1980s. We saw them turn their backs as child poverty soared under them. We heard them when they said that unemployment was a price worth paying. What they say and do are two different things—just look at their commitments and compare them with those of the Government. The first alternative policy they have to smart government is to reduce inheritance tax and give a £200,000 tax cut to each of the 3,000 richest estates. They will cut payments for people on incapacity benefit without investing in the measures needed to find them work. The Opposition put thousands of people on benefit when they were in power in the 1980s and 1990s, and a generation was lost. It was left to this Government to pick up the pieces, as we have been doing.
The hon. Member for Tatton keeps saying that we are all in this together, but he wants people on modest incomes to take a pay freeze and work longer. It is easy to say that we are all in this together when you are a millionaire, can retire when you want to and do not have to worry about paying the bills. The Government have introduced a 50 per cent. tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year, because we do believe that we are all in this together.
The right hon. Member for Witney blames “big government”. In my view, it is just as well that our Government were big enough and smart enough to take the decisions to save the economy from total collapse. It is just as well that our Government are big enough and smart enough to fund 100,000 jobs for young people; help 300,000 families with their mortgages; and sign 200,000 agreements with businesses allowing them more time to pay their tax bills and keep people in work.
The Opposition now claim that community is in their DNA. Well, it was not in their DNA when they were last in government, when real, long-term mass unemployment was evident on every street corner and plagued our communities. If community was not in their DNA then, it cannot be in their DNA now. Their DNA has done nothing but mutate into a split personality, saying one thing and doing another. But we know the truth. We are mending the broken society that they left behind. We know because we took the tough decisions that they opposed on the economy. We know the truth because Labour has built more than 100 new hospitals. There are hundreds of new or refurbished schools. In the north-east, deaths by heart disease have fallen by 58 per cent., and cancer deaths by 28 per cent. We still have much to do, but Labour’s intent is clear: we are on the side of the people. The truth is that we created the NHS, but the Tories voted against it; we introduced the minimum wage, but the Tories voted against it; we created Sure Start, but the Tories voted against it; we stand for the many, but the Tories will stand by the few; we stand for fairness, but they will stand by the privileged. That is the choice that we face.
I am optimistic about the future. We need a Government who are smart and big in character to face up to the future—and they are this Government. There are challenges ahead. If ever there was proof that we live in a globalised world, it was the turmoil in the global economy over the past year. People who live in the villages and towns in my constituency need to know that we will look after them in the future; that the benefits of a globalised economy will not pass them by; that the people who run the global economy and financial markets do not remain faceless gamblers and that what they get up to is transparent and accountable, and not socially useless; and that the major economies act in unison through the G20 and, if necessary, a Tobin tax is introduced to dampen down the casino economy and to provide a safe and stable world of savings and investment for ordinary people.
As I look at the register of donors to the Conservative party, I see bankers, hedge fund managers, tycoons such as Lord Ashcroft and people who believe in a casino economy and who got us into this mess in the first place. I guess that they will vote for the Conservative party, because it represents their interests. That is another reason why I know that the Labour party will win the next election.
I congratulate my neighbouring colleague, the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), on an excellent maiden speech. I hope that he will be available to his constituents and take on some of the casework that I have been covering in recent months—I had to survive only three weeks of a campaign, but he had four or five months, which is extraordinary. He mentioned several important issues on which I hope he will press the Government, because there might be slight differences between him and his Front-Bench colleagues. For example, perhaps it is time that we saw an increase in the minimum wage. He suggested that a fiscal stimulus would help unemployment, whereas, I believe, his Front-Bench colleagues are planning cuts.
I will concentrate on the proposal to abolish attendance allowance and disability living allowance for over-65s, which would affect 2.4 million vulnerable pensioners—1.6 million claiming attendance allowance and 800,000 living on DLA. We have received various reassurances from Ministers suggesting that people will receive similar services, rather than money. On Thursday, the Health Secretary said that
“people will be guaranteed an equivalent level of support”.—[Official Report, 19 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 241.]
“Equivalent level of support” could mean cash, home help or similar support in kind, and people are asking, “Which is it?” It is not good enough. That phrase is worrying a lot of people and I hope that we will receive some clarification. Clearly, the same money cannot be in two places at the same time, so increasing services in one area will mean cuts in payments in another area, and presumably the people who lose attendance allowance will not necessarily be the people who receive the new services.
Attendance allowance and DLA do a lot of good. I shall quote from a briefing that I received from the Scottish Association for Mental Health. It provides several examples of how DLA and attendance allowance can be used to good effect, but we are short of time, so I shall limit how much I quote. It states:
“Disability benefits and free personal care enable older people in Scotland to remain independent in the community, providing older people with a personal budget to help with their care and support needs. This could include covering the costs of a friend or family member coming to the home in the morning to help the person get out of bed, prepare meals or do shopping and cleaning. Any changes to disability benefits could affect the provision of this care and support and result in an older person needing more costly forms of social care in the home or lead to a person moving into residential care if they were not able to manage their household.”
SAMH gives similar examples:
“Changes could increase the pressures on informal carers which could limit the opportunities of carers being able to work and therefore lead to them not contributing through the income tax system.”
The fear is of a lose-lose situation.
The other concern is that I thought that we were aiming to support direct payments. In fact, the Welfare Reform Act 2009, which went through Committee only recently and which I was involved with, made some good statements in that direction. For example, clause 30 of the then Bill said:
“The purpose of this Part is to enable disabled people aged 18 or over to exercise greater choice in relation to, and greater control over, the way in which relevant services…are provided to or for them”.
The idea is to move to giving people more control over their services, but if we abolish attendance allowance, it appears that there will be less control.
What will happen to the money if DLA and attendance allowance are abolished for Scotland and Wales? Will it be handed over as a lump sum? If so, will the amount be based on need or on the Barnett formula of population? Will it be open to the devolved Governments to continue with attendance allowance in Scotland and Wales, even if they do not continue in England? Perhaps we could also have some clarification about whether only new claimants are affected, or will some of the current recipients lose benefits? There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about that, too. Can we have a clear statement from the Minister? I do not think that disabled pensioners and their carers should have to wait for clarification on that key issue.
There is also the potential for an impact on carer’s allowance, which is extremely low at the moment, at £53.10. However, what happens if carer’s allowance is paid to someone who looks after a person receiving attendance allowance and attendance allowance is abolished? It seems bizarre to me that the party planning to cut benefits is the Labour party. That is the kind of thing that I would have expected from the Tories, who seem to be the ones trying to protect those benefits, although I do not entirely trust their version of events. That is a reverse from my younger days, perhaps 30 years ago, when Labour was to the left of the Tories. Many of my constituents now tell me that they cannot tell the difference. I fear that parts of the electorate still think that Labour is the party that will protect the poor and downtrodden, but when I hear things such as what I have described, it makes me wonder.
Clearly there are overlaps between work and pensions and other aspects of the Queen’s Speech, such as health. Another example is the minimum wage. If the Government are strapped for cash, why are we subsidising profitable employers to pay below a living wage? Tax credits are a good thing, because they boost the income of low earners. I certainly welcome that, but the Government’s policies effectively mean that we are encouraging some employers to pay a wage that people cannot live on. I consider that to be immoral. If we are looking at benefits and encouraging people into work, part of the equation has to be increasing the minimum wage.
Let me briefly discuss one or two other areas of concern that have been mentioned today. We certainly welcome the Child Poverty Bill. There has been a lot of support for the Bill from across the House, but there is concern that we will not be even halfway there by 2010-11. The Home Secretary said in opening this debate that he hoped to be there, but I do not think that he was widely believed. There are apparently no resources coming in to support the intention to abolish child poverty by 2020. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that there would be “real teeth” in the Bill, but I have seen no sign of teeth whatever. Indeed, I would like to see what those “real teeth” might be, and that is without mentioning the fact that taking child poverty down to only 10 per cent. is hardly abolishing it.
I do not want to spend much time on immigration, but it has been mentioned once or twice. There are just a couple of points that I would like to make, the first of which is about bogus colleges. We need action on that issue, on which there is agreement across the House. The colleges in my area, including John Wheatley college, which covers an area that I share with the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East, are concerned about the issue, as I know Scottish colleges will be in future.
At the same time, while there is concern about people coming in in an uncontrolled manner, my experience is that the Border Agency can be extremely strict with a lot of people. As I have mentioned before, a pipe band from Pakistan was refused entry and I know that a number of people from north America who had been well funded to work with the homeless in Glasgow, for example, or who had come to speak at a Christian conference have been sent right back from the airport. Yes, we need border controls, but there also needs to be flexibility. I echo the point made previously that Scotland’s population is such that we would welcome more people coming in and boosting our economy.
The final area I want to touch on briefly is the Calman commission, which I believe is an omission from the Queen’s Speech. Whether it was there in the original version or not is a matter for debate, but the reality is that there is no firm commitment by the Government to take forward the Calman commission’s proposals, despite the fact that many of them could very easily be brought into being. Sir Kenneth Calman himself said of his report:
“I think there are a lot of bits, as I mentioned, which I think can be implemented quickly and easily without too much fuss, others will take a bit of time to think through.”
I appeal to the Government, where there is agreement across the board, not to leave matters until after the election, which will only cause delay. Let us act sooner rather than later.
The drink-driving limit is one example. Clearly, there is an alcohol problem in Glasgow and the west of Scotland and I know that it exists south of the border as well. Minimum pricing has been mentioned, which we certainly welcome and encourage for Scotland. I hope that the hon. Lady and others who have spoken in support of this measure will speak to their colleagues in Scotland and encourage them to support it, too. If Northern Ireland can have separate limits for drink-driving, surely it would be helpful if we moved quickly so that Scotland can take a lead, as I argued earlier that it has on other issues.
Order. The time limit on speeches will be reduced from now onwards to 10 minutes.
I congratulate my new hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), who has unfortunately had to leave, having been in the Chamber all afternoon waiting patiently for his turn, as we all have. He made an excellent maiden speech—one of the best I have ever heard. Many people were in their places to hear it and a great deal of interest was created, which bodes well for a great future.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), who was in the Chair at the time, was listening avidly, as I was, for mention of my hon. Friend’s sporting interests. Mr. Deputy Speaker was particularly interested in hearing about cricket, to see whether my hon. Friend would be attracted by the Commons cricket club, which the right hon. Gentleman runs, while I was waiting to hear whether he said anything about football so that I could involve him as a Glaswegian in the parliamentary football club.
I was reminded that next Tuesday the parliamentary football team, which has many distinguished Members from both sides of the House, is playing its annual fixture against the chefs of the House. The great Glaswegian player Kenny Dalglish is coming along. I had a word in my hon. Friend’s ear, but I was most disappointed when he turned around and said, “I don’t play football too well.” The Labour party had better sort out its selection practices if we are not getting decent sportsmen into the Commons to fill our teams to play against other teams for charity.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), who summed up why people should vote Labour at the next general election. He summed up what we have done over the years and exactly how this most gracious Queen’s Speech will build on that. I was most impressed with my hon. Friend’s speech. He went through so much that it made me wonder which constituency—not in the geographical sense, but in the sense of a group of people—would be voting for the Opposition at the next election. He mentioned pensioners and I wondered whether they would want to throw away the winter fuel allowance, the help with their TV licences and their bus passes. I do not think so. Pensioners are far too wise; they have been through the Tory period and seen what the Tories have done.
One Opposition Member said today that we keep going on about the past—we like to remind people once or twice—whereas the Opposition want to talk about the future. However, people cannot be told to look into the crystal ball when they have already read the book and know what the Opposition have been up to.
Among local government workers, who will vote for the Opposition? All the secondary schools in this country are being rebuilt. In contrast, let us look at the state of the schools before this Government came into office—the size of the classrooms, the state of the equipment. Now look at the excellent work going on. Which parent who remembers going to school during the 18 years of Tory Government will turn round and say, “Oh, no, I don’t like all these changes. It’s too extravagant for me. I want to go back to having a leaky roof. I don’t want a computer, I just want to go and write on a bit of paper.” They will never do that in a million years.
I admit that the Government have disappointed me in one area of social policy: antisocial behaviour. They have not gone as far as I would have liked. We all have antisocial behaviour in our communities, and we are trying hard to stop that blight. However, if we ask people in working-class communities such as Jarrow, Tyneside, Teesside, Durham and other parts of the country why we have that blight, they will say that it goes back to the past.
In the past, when those young kids who had a bit of cheek—we all remember the cheeky one in our classrooms—and the tough lads left school at 16, they went into the pits, shipyards and steelworks. They were not condemned to a lifetime on the dole, of nothing. They were not thrown out and told, “You’re not wanted, you’re nothing.” They were taken in. On their first day in the workplace, they were put under adult supervision—the supervision of people who were respected in their own communities and who looked after their communities. Yes, they policed their own communities. They were a great hand to the police, because when young kids knocked around the corner, somebody would tell their father in work, and he would speak to someone else in work. Those kids would not be around the next week; they would be out doing something better, or they would be in the house.
We have not done as much as we could have on antisocial behaviour, social problems and crime in this country, but people in communities such as mine still refer all those problems back to the dreadful 18 years when they were cast out to despair.
The Gracious Speech rightly says that the Government are committed to giving everyone a chance and giving everyone fairness, and that more measures will be brought forward to complement those in the Gracious Speech. I want to raise one issue that is immensely important to workers of today, pensioners of today, and pensioners of tomorrow: pleural plaques. As the Minister knows, many of us have campaigned for a substantial period of time to get the dreadful decision of the Law Lords overturned, to ensure that pleural plaques sufferers, both now and in the future, have the rightful compensation that they enjoyed for so long.
Members on both sides of the House know that justice takes persistence and time, and requires us to break down the opposition of vested interests and other objections. Battling bureaucracies, building alliances and lobbying Ministers is part of the job of MPs, no matter which side they sit on. We have all taken up causes on behalf of constituents or groups of people. Our job is about representing ordinary people whose voice would otherwise not be heard. That is why it is so important to raise the issue of pleural plaques sufferers in today’s debate. I make no apology for continuing to campaign, along with other Members, and continuing to try to overturn that disgraceful and unjust decision by the Law Lords to bar this terrible illness from classification as a designated illness for compensation purposes.
Pleural plaques are a scarring of the lung tissue. They are caused mainly by negligent exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Although it is mostly the worker himself who has developed the condition as a result of exposure to asbestos, his family may have developed it as well. When the worker took his work clothes home and hung them up, the baby in the cot or the older son who had come home from school and was doing his homework may have breathed in the bits of fibre on the overalls. It is well known that a substantial number of such people, who are now grown up, have pleural plaques merely because of exposure of that kind. Moreover, it is estimated that pleural plaques sufferers are 1,000 times more likely than any other section of society to develop a more serious form of asbestos-related cancer.
For over 20 years, the courts recognised that this was a compensatable illness. Everyone accepted that, and the insurers and the Government put money aside, until this dreadful decision by the Law Lords. One of the sorriest aspects of the case was that the Law Lords agreed with the lawyers who said that pleural plaques did not constitute a compensatable injury and did not cause any sort of depression or illness.
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has had his 10 minutes.
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) was making some very interesting points towards the end of his speech. It is a shame that they were overshadowed by the rather silly ones with which he began. He started off with a bit of a history lesson. “Take me back 18 years,” he said. I will take him back 18 years, to the winter of discontent—to the last time Labour had been in power for a number of years. Just like the current Labour Government, they left the country socially and economically on the brink of utter bankruptcy.
I should be happy to take the hon. Gentleman even further back, to when Harold Wilson devalued our pound by 15 or 20 per cent. but told people that “the pound in their pocket” was worth the same as before. Or we could go back 40 or 50 years, to Clement Attlee building his new Jerusalem on the back of American war loans. I can go back as far in history as the hon. Gentleman likes, but I will find that history always teaches us the same thing: that Labour Governments always end in financial disaster, and that a Conservative Government are required to put things right once again.
Earlier, we heard the Home Secretary talk of statistics and quote the British crime survey. The BCS is nothing more than an opinion poll, and a very inaccurate one at that. It does not include crimes committed by people under the age of 16, and it certainly does not include the hospital statistics—which, surprisingly, were referred to by a member of the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. Those statistics clearly show that a large number of very violent crimes—knife crimes—are going unreported because people are too scared or unwilling to go to the police.
We do not need to open our newspapers and see a former Home Secretary cavorting around the streets of London in a bullet-proof vest to know that crime is out of control. We do not need to observe, day after day, the toll of young people being knifed and gunned down on our streets to know that something is wrong. The British people have enough common sense.
If the hon. Member for Jarrow wants to know who will vote for the Conservative party at the next general election, I can tell him that it will be all those who are concerned about crime. It will be all those who think that we need less political correctness in the police force—fewer people telling police officers, as they have in one part of the country, that they should not say “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” because it might be construed as being racist. Yes, that is really happening, as can be seen from last week’s issue of Jane’s Police Review.
We need people to stand up and say, as Conservative Members have, that it is utterly wrong that people are released from prison halfway through their sentences, or, more usually, before they have even reached the halfway point—regardless of what crimes they may have committed, and regardless of whether they have shown any signs of wanting to behave better in prison than they did on the outside. I say to Liberal Democrat Members that prison is working, prison is effective and prison is cheap. I could show that using the Government’s own statistics. It is far cheaper to keep somebody in prison than have them running around on the streets committing one crime after another, and it is far better for the victims of crime, too.
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that before any young offender goes to prison, they are given numerous warnings and reprimands, and they are given one community sentence after another. They go to prison only because all those interventions have failed, and failed miserably. [Interruption.] Well, prison does not fail, in fact, because prison keeps them off the streets after they have been given a dozen chances, and means that the law-abiding public are kept safe.
I hope that the next Government—of whichever party—will consider getting rid of the Human Rights Act 1998 and replacing it with something that protects the law-abiding public of this country, because it is disgraceful that drug addicts going into prison can now sue the prison authorities because they have to go through cold turkey as they cannot get their heroin, and that other drug addicts who develop their habit in prison sue the prison authorities because they have become hooked inside. It is also disgraceful that Muslim schoolgirls who do not like the school uniform can take their school to court and get given hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, and that members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda—there are seven al-Qaeda members on the United Nations list living openly in this country on benefits—are told that they can stay here because otherwise their human rights would be breached. It is disgraceful, too, that a rapist from Sierra Leone was told he could not be deported back to Sierra Leone, despite the fact that he had committed numerous offences against women, because that might breach his rights to a family life. That is what the Human Rights Act, that this Government passed, has done for us. We should tear it up and replace it with something that will protect the general public.
I cannot be the only Member who finds it rather spooky that as soon as political correctness is mentioned, as if by magic the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) appears in the doorway and enters the Chamber.
I want, however, to ask the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) if he was saying he would abandon the concept of remission for prison sentences, and if so, how he would handle the bad behaviour that would result if there was no longer the incentive of remission.
I am more than happy to discuss that when time permits, as I have many views on prisons, but I want to mention immigration now, as so many among our political classes are afraid to do so.
Our failure to mention immigration has led to extremist parties—I do not call them far-right parties because they are, in fact, socialist parties—gaining seats in Parliaments in other places. That has happened because we have been scared to stand up and say what all our constituents are saying to us, which is, very simply, that people who come to this country should learn English and be expected to work and to fit in with our rules, culture and traditions.
We should not be changing the law to suit other people. It is absolutely wrong that we changed our benefits rules to recognise polygamy. It is wrong, too, that we turned a blind eye to forced marriage and female genital mutilation. A Member spoke about this earlier, and praised the Government for the law that was passed in 2003. I was not a Member then, but I can imagine the scene: 600 Members of Parliament, probably all wearing white ribbons, getting up and saying female genital mutilation is wrong and we must do something about it. Since then, however, absolutely nothing has been done about it. At great expense, the Metropolitan police set up some sort of taskforce. I asked two years ago how many people it had investigated and how many it had actually convicted. Answer came there none. Eventually, the matter had to go to the Information Commissioner, and I finally got back the weasel answer that just one person in five or six years had been investigated and no prosecutions had been brought.
The situation is the same in respect of forced marriage. We know from talking to local authorities that hundreds of girls under the age of 16 are disappearing from school rolls. We suspect they are being taken back to parts of south-east Asia and forced into marriage, but very little is done about it. A tiny work force based at the Foreign Office—the forced marriage unit—are looking into this: a handful of people trying to deal with thousands of cases. I believe that the real reason why so little is done is because the Government are afraid of upsetting the community leaders in certain minority groups. For all the Government’s talk about equal rights and standing up for women and minorities, they are not really interested in any of it; they are interested only in getting votes.
This is why we should be talking about immigration and about the bogus colleges. If the Home Secretary, who is no longer in his place, wants to find out where all the bogus colleges are, all he has to do—I have pointed this out to him before—is look at all the colleges that are offering courses other than in the English language and which have more than 50 per cent. of their make-up comprising foreign nationals. That is an almost certain indicator of a bogus college. I have pointed out other benefit scams to Ministers on previous occasions, but they have no interest in going in there to sort any of these matters out.
For 12 or 13 years now, we have put up with this Government of political correctness. In April, we will have another chance: the people—the law-abiding, tax-paying voters of this country—will have a chance to boot out the Government of politically correct policies and elect people who believe in common sense, fair play and delivering value for money. I look forward to that day coming soon.
I call Dr. Phyllis Starkey.
I think that you have a certain sense of humour, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in asking to me to follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies). Unsurprisingly, I am not sure that he and I share the same culture or values. I certainly do not share his astonishing assertions about the Human Rights Act 1998, which simply betray his lack of understanding of the way in which it incorporated within UK law a convention that was signed long ago and to which I hope every civilised Government throughout the world would adhere. However, I am grateful to him for demonstrating what the Conservative party is really like; had the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) been in the Chamber, I imagine that he would have been blushing even redder than he was at Prime Minister’s questions at the way in which his veneer of compassionate conservatism was being dragged aside so that we could see the real face of the Tory party. I hope and imagine that the voters will not be as deceived as the right hon. Gentleman perhaps wishes them to be.
The issue that I wish to discuss is addressed in the Crime and Security Bill and is of enormous concern to my constituents. I am talking about wheel-clamping and the proposals to get to grips, finally, with the cowboy wheel clampers who operate on private land. This issue—the control of the private security industry—was one of the first campaigns that I took up when I got elected to this place. I was trying to campaign for the licensing of door supervisors—more popularly known as “bouncers”. At the time, they were licensed separately by local authorities and there was no national scheme. I am pleased that this Government did eventually introduce the Security Industry Authority, which has licensed many aspects of the private security industry, including door supervisors. That has brought a degree of order to the industry, and has vastly improved protection for members of the public and standards across the industry. However, one aspect remains unregulated and that is wheel-clamping on private land.
Obviously, owners of private land have every right to stop people parking on their land—that is clearly unarguable—but there has been an upsurge of problems in my constituency, particularly in Bletchley, in the south of the constituency, on a number of sites in the centre where it is not at all obvious to people that they are on private land. In the case of one major site, nobody had asserted ownership rights for some years and it had, in effect, been used as a public car park, even though it was private land—the site is adjacent to an actual public car park.
The building that was in the car park was converted into residential flats and the private owner, thus, hired a wheel-clamping firm to assert his right to stop people parking on that land. Consequently, many of my constituents who had been in the habit of parking unmolested on the land were suddenly subject to wheel-clamping, and the way in which those wheel clampers operated is wholly outrageous. There was virtually no signage, and the signs that there were measured 12 inches by 15 inches and were written in black on red—the most unreadable combination. The car clampers used to loiter around the corner, waiting for people to park and leave their vehicle before leaping out and shoving on the car-clamping device.
The clampers behaved in an appalling way to drivers, and among the various people who have contacted me are innumerable pensioners who have had their cars clamped and had money demanded from them. One individual was with his wife, who suffers from type 1 diabetes. As a result of the stress, she started to have a hypoglycaemic episode. The car clampers insisted on their money while the man’s wife fell on to the floor and into a coma. He was phoning an ambulance on his mobile phone while trying to continue the altercation with the car clampers over the money and over the fact that they would not release the clamp so that he could at least take his wife to hospital. Another constituent, an elderly pensioner, had an asthma attack as a result of the stress caused by the actions of these individuals. One of the other car parks is connected to residential flats but is right next door to the job centre. A couple of people who were going to the job centre had their car clamped in the car park, too.
So, there is poor signage, the appalling way in which the wheel clampers have behaved and the fact that they have demanded payments in cash. They have allowed people to pay by another method in only a tiny number of cases, and that other method involves walking to the nearest cash machine with the car clampers to get the money out and give it to them. Some people who did not have enough money on them or who did not have their card have been forced to walk home to get the money and to come back to get their car released. The fine has been extortionate—they have been demanding £150 from people when, in some cases, cars have been parked for only about four minutes before they have been clamped.
It is understandable that my constituents have become increasingly outraged and that my local newspaper, the Milton Keynes Citizen, has taken up the campaign and has helped to co-ordinate the information that we have gathered from across the constituency. I have been feeding that information through to Ministers to strengthen their commitment to introducing regulation to control the private wheel clampers.
I want to reiterate the measures that are essential to the regulations. First, there must be clear signage of sufficient size and clarity, so that people know before they go on to the land that they are driving on to private land. Obviously, if drivers know that they are likely to get a penalty, on their own head be it. Secondly, there must be a cash limit on the level of fine that such individuals can apply. Thirdly, they must not be able to demand it in cash. There must be facilities for people to pay by card. Fourthly, a proper receipt must be given that records the place and time, the name of the operator and the address of the firm responsible so that individuals can check whether the firm is licensed with the Security Industry Authority. Finally, there must be a clear and independent appeals mechanism, as there is for parking fines when people park in council car parks, to ensure that the fines are operating reasonably. I hope that Ministers will be able to assure me that all that can be included.
I cannot give up the opportunity to make two or three other remarks on some of the issues that came up earlier in the debate that relate to various parts of the Home Office. First, I want to take this opportunity to say that my constituents have greatly valued many of the improvements that have been introduced in policing, in particular neighbourhood policing. Neighbourhood policing and community support officers have made a huge difference to the way in which low-level but extremely annoying crime is detected and dealt with in the neighbourhoods around Milton Keynes. It is still improving as it beds down, but it has been immensely valuable.
The second issue is CCTV. A while ago, there was a particularly nasty murder in my constituency. A group of youths were fighting and one of them was killed, and CCTV was invaluable not only in convicting the youths who were responsible but for absolving some of the other youths milling about in the fracas and who were not responsible for the fatal incident. It needs to be said that CCTV is a valuable adjunct to crime detection, both for convicting people and for absolving the innocent. I have certainly had evidence of that in my constituency.
Finally, I want to say a word about statistics, which have been very misused. I reiterate the need that MPs and others must have some mathematical education, as many people here seem to be completely innumerate. The initiative to improve the way we deal with domestic violence is bound to lead to an increase in the numbers of detected crimes of domestic violence. That will be a good thing. The initiative will not increase the rate of domestic violence but it will encourage people to report it, in the knowledge that incidents will be taken seriously. Exactly the same thing has happened with hate crime: because if people are assured that they will be taken seriously, they are more likely to report incidents of hate crime. The statistics suggest that the incidence of hate crime has gone up, but that is because we have recognised the problem, not because it is happening more often.
I am terrified to be following my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), as I want to speak about prison reform. I am aware that many people in prison fully deserve to be there because they have committed heinous crimes. I do not argue that prison does not work—it does, as people in prison are not on the street committing crimes—but too often we see the revolving door in action. We see people go to prison for a period of time, leave prison, and within a year 48 per cent. have reoffended and many of those people are back in prison. In the case of youngsters, as many as 75 per cent. reoffend within a year and end up back in prison.
That is not good value for the taxpayer. The prison population is a captive audience, and that means that we must do something with them. I know that some progress has been made in that direction, but a great deal more remains to be done. Some 50 per cent. of prisoners have literacy and numeracy rates that are lower than an 11-year-old’s, and they are simply incapable of functioning in the real world. A survey found that half of all prisoners were not qualified to do 96 per cent. of the jobs available outside prison, in the community. So we really must do something with the people who are in prison: we need to work on them to make them better people and to allow them to become fulfilled people able to turn their backs on crime.
When I came to Parliament, I was not a very moderate or relaxed person. I very much believed that people in prison fully deserved to be there, for as long and as often as possible, but 10 per cent. of our current prison population—a total of 8,000 people—formerly served in our armed forces. These are people who made significant sacrifices for this country, so why are they now in prison? How did we let them down so badly that they ended up there? Many more will follow unless we do something about the problem. We in this place know that many young men who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent history are now in prison. Somewhere, therefore, we are letting those brave young people down, and it is a scandal that 8,000 current prisoners used to be in our armed forces.
Furthermore, prisons have become warehouses for the mentally ill. We closed down the asylums 30 years ago and moved many of the people into prisons. Some 40 or 50 per cent. of prisoners have undiagnosed mental health problems. I am not saying that people with mental health problems cannot do bad things. Of course they can. However, I am saying that mental health problems can be a significant contributory factor to people making the wrong choices in life, and consistently making the wrong choices in life.
Prison will not be a deterrent to an undiagnosed or untreated schizophrenic, so when we have people in prison who are ill, let us do something to help them. Let us do something to make them better. Every year that they spend in prison costs taxpayers £40,000. As my hon. Friend pointed out, if we let prisoners out unreformed and untreated, they do a lot more damage in society for the period that they are out of prison, then they go back to prison time and again and cost us a further £40,000 each time. This is not good enough.
My hon. Friend also pointed out that many prisoners suffer from drug addiction problems, and we know that drug addiction leads people to commit serious criminal offences. The scandal is that more people come out of prison as drug addicts than go in, so we need treatment programmes in prison to ensure that we clean these people up and get them to a position where they can go back into society, hold down a responsible job and start giving back to the community, as opposed to taking away from the community. That is why it is so important that when people are in prison, we do something with them on the educational and training front. We must give them the skills that they require to go and compete in the jobs market.
I am all in favour of building more prisons in the short to medium term, because unless we relieve prison overcrowding, we will not be able to address the underlying causes of reoffending. When prisons are overcrowded, it becomes purely a management issue for prison officers and the governors, as opposed to a rehabilitation issue. So let us, in the short to medium term, build more prisons so that we can start to have the space in the criminal justice system to rehabilitate people back into society, instead of sending out better criminals. Indeed, it is debatable whether we are sending out better criminals. To get into prison in the first place, they have to be caught, so they are not learning their skills from particularly bright operators.
It is important, going ahead, that as we clean up our communities and make society a safer place, we start to address seriously the revolving door of prison. Let us be sure that when people go to prison for a significant period, we use that time to make that prisoner a better person. Certainly, punish them. Having their liberty removed is a punishment. For many of these people, going to drug treatment classes—
The hon. Gentleman will have heard the comments from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies). If prisoners are showing evidence that they are benefiting from rehabilitation and their behaviour is improving, does he believe that the concept of remission of sentence should be retained in the Prison Service? His colleague seemed to suggest that it should be abandoned.
I am not here to fall out with any colleague. Parole for good behaviour is positive. If people go to prison for five years and are then told that they will serve six years unless they demonstrate good behaviour, the switch is to a negative approach to managing prisoners. We need a rewards-based system, and good behaviour should result in early release—not obscenely early release, but certainly early release. I am not arguing for a softer approach to prisoners. I believe that we should be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Right now we are not being tough on the causes of crime because we are not addressing low educational attainment, addiction rates or mental health problems.
I know that time is short, so I shall conclude. We have to be brave in promoting prison reform. There are not a lot of votes in it for any of us, but it is the right thing to do, because we want to make the communities that we represent safer places. When we keep turning back out into these communities criminals who are unreformed, who remain violent, who remain ill, who remain addicted, they are just as dangerous or even more dangerous than before we sent them to prison. So I hope all Members will approach prison reform with open-mindedness and courage. If we get it right in the long term, there will be a consequential saving to taxpayers, and our communities will be safer places in which to live.
I am very glad to be following the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), as I am certainly more on his wavelength than that of the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies).
One thing that has always dismayed me during my time as a Member of this House is the misuse or ignoring of evidence in order to justify unjustifiable policies. One particularly bad example involves drugs policies, and both Front Benches are guilty in that regard. That is not what I intend to talk about today, however. I want to concentrate on a particularly bad example of the misuse of statistics.
On 13 November, articles about household benefits appeared in a number of the tabloids. The Daily Express carried the headline “Shameless Labour. Toll of families on £15,000 benefits doubles to 1.2 million since Labour came to power”. The article went on to say:
“Last night, critics described the massive handouts as a grim indictment of the flourishing welfare dependency culture fostered by Gordon Brown. The statistics sparked new anger about the growing burden on the working population, having to pay for claimants languishing in a lifetime of taxpayers-subsidised indolence.”
In the article, housing benefit, incapacity benefit and jobseeker’s allowance were all described as “handouts”. Only at the end of the article was it mentioned that the figures included pensioners, the disabled and people caring for the elderly and infirm.
Another tabloid, the Daily Mail, had the headline “Benefits Britain”. The article went on to say:
“The number of families raking in more than £12,000 a year in benefits has trebled since Labour came to power, figures showed yesterday. Britain’s culture of spiralling welfare dependency means 300,000 households now receive that figure or more in benefits—up from 100,000 in 1997. A worker would have to earn £27,000 a year to take home £20,000.”
The headline in The Sun was “300,000 coin £20k in benefit bonanza”, with the newspaper suggesting that that was more than many workers take home. Even the Daily Mirror agreed:
“The number of families on £20,000 a year in welfare handouts has risen threefold”.
The source of these stories was information obtained from a written parliamentary question from the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who was extensively quoted in the aforementioned articles as saying:
“These figures show the shocking growth of a dependency culture under Labour. The Government needs to get to grips with Britain’s benefit culture and radically reform our welfare system. It’s hardly surprising that so many people spend their lives on benefits when in some cases they can get as much on benefits as many people earn in work.”
But the figures do not show a shocking growth in dependency. They are taken from the family resources survey, and they are rounded to the nearest 100,000 of population. It is not therefore valid, for example, to describe a change from 100,000 to 200,000 as a doubling. Those figures could mask a change from 149,000 to 151,000, which is hardly a change at all. As the Library specialist told me, it is better to look at the percentage of households for which the change is less dramatic, if it exists at all.
Let us first look at the number of households that said that they receive more than £15,000. Based on rounded-up survey samples in 1997-98, there were about 600,000 such households, equating to 3 per cent. of all households, of which 500,000 had at least one member of working age. By 2007-08, the overall numbers had, indeed, doubled to 1.2 million, or 4 per cent. of households, but the figure for household members of working age had not increased significantly at all: it was still about 600,000, or 2 per cent. of households.
If there was any story from those figures, it was the large increase in the number of pensioner households that receive benefits of more than £15,000 per annum. The number had increased from 100,000 to 600,000 during the period in question. That is not a twofold or threefold increase, but a sixfold increase, so why did the right hon. Member for Maidenhead not congratulate the Government on helping the most vulnerable pensioners, those with disabilities and extensive care needs? The headline should have read “Labour pride”, not “Labour shame”.
On the numbers of households receiving more than £20,000, the figures are so low as to be meaningless. The table from the written answer on the number of households with persons of working age gives the following percentages: 1997-98, 1 per cent.; 1998-99, 1 per cent.; 1999-2000, 0 per cent.; 2000-01, 0 per cent.; 2001-02, 1 per cent.; 2003-04, 1 per cent.; 2004-05, 1 per cent.; 2005-06, 1 per cent.; 2006-07, 1 per cent.; and 2007-08, 1 per cent. Only if pensioner households are included does the percentage rise to 2 per cent. or 3 per cent.
There is a similar story on housing benefit. The Tories have put out scare stories about the increase in the housing benefit bill, but given that the number of social homes has decreased by 1 million since 1995, making more people dependent on the private sector, it is not surprising that the bill has gone up.
I think that I have established beyond doubt that the Opposition are not averse to misusing statistics. Their leader did so in his speech to their party conference, maligning the Labour Government on poverty while conveniently forgetting the huge rise in poverty under the Tories. Thank God they have not been in power through the recent recession.
It is particularly odious to misuse statistics in a way that pillories vulnerable people and panders to the lowest form of populism. We have seen the Tories recently put about completely unwarranted scare stories about the Government taking away disability living allowance and attendance allowance from pensioners. Then the next day, as I have shown, the same people—those pensioners—are portrayed as undeserving and a part of the dependency culture.
The Tories have tried to portray themselves as caring and honest, but in reality we see that they are still the nasty party, with the hon. Member for Monmouth being the exemplar par excellence.
The speeches that we have heard today have oscillated between both ends of the spectrum in terms of quality, and this evening I will attempt to make my own small contribution.
I was incredibly disappointed with the Home Office aspect of the Crime and Security Bill, because I should very much have liked it to cover two particular areas: the UK’s current drug problems, about which there should have been greater detail; and the lack of trust between the police and the community.
I begin by talking about the drug problems that we face in the UK. The charity Addaction estimates that drug-related crime costs this country £110 billion a year. Of course, it is almost impossible to calculate the actual cost because there is a huge personal cost in terms of families, lost lives, and children and teenagers who become addicted to drugs and then go on to have lives that are meaningless. The figure of £110 billion is incredibly large—although it may even be on the conservative side—given the economic crisis and the Government’s having to look at public spending in various Departments. One would therefore have thought the Bill might do something to deal with the problem.
Let us look at what the Government’s strategy has been over the past 12 years. Shortly after they came to power, they introduced a 10-year strategy to combat the misuse of drugs. Ten years later, they issued another strategy that was almost identical to the first one. It was about maintaining and containing the drugs problem. It was not about dealing with or reducing the problem, but managing it. That is borne out by the number of methadone prescriptions, which have gone up by 71 per cent. In 2007, there were 1 million prescriptions; in 2008, there were 1.8 million. That huge increase proves in itself that the whole strategy is about maintenance.
We know—because it has been proven by a rehabilitation centre in Stevenage that has a 70 per cent. success rate—that the only way to deal with a young person’s drug problem is abstinence. That means putting them into rehabilitation, removing their source of drugs, making them go through cold turkey, and giving them the support that they need. That has never been this Government’s policy; despite its being a proven treatment method that works, it has never been adopted. Yet they are also the Government who declassified cannabis and then reclassified it as a class A drug. Their message to young people has been one of total confusion. They say, “Cannabis is not as serious as we thought it was. Oh yes, whoops, sorry, it is—we’re going to reclassify it as class A. We’re not going to do anything about treatment for the addiction or about the people at the school gate, the drug pushers, peddlers and pimps—we’re just going to up the number of methadone prescriptions and give people an alternative to the drugs that they’ve been taking all this time.” That is not a solution, and it is part of what is breaking down our society.
When I recently visited Styal women’s prison, every single offender was in there for a drug-related crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) talked about the need to create more prisons. If we dealt with the drug problem properly—in a way that worked, using abstinence and rehabilitation on a day-care or residential basis—we would not need to build extra prisons because the drug-related crime numbers would fall and we would not need those extra spaces. The financial cost of crime would also be reduced considerably, and we would be a much better society as a result. It is not only about the young people whose lives are lost as a result of drugs, but about the people who are victims of the crimes committed in pursuit of the drugs needed to sustain a habit.
I absolutely agree. That is partly why it is so difficult to calculate the true extent of the problem. However, the figures that my hon. Friend quoted, and other figures, reveal the depth of the problem that we are dealing with.
It is a shame that in their final Gracious Speech, the Government have produced a Bill that deals with clamping and antisocial behaviour, but not with the worst antisocial behaviour that we face, which is a result of the drug problem. It is a huge shame that they have missed this golden opportunity to make a better society and deal with a problem that they have tried, and failed comprehensively, to deal with over the past 12 years. It was a golden opportunity to say to the people of the nation, “We understand the drug problem. We understand that there are many victims of crime as a result of drugs, so we are going to produce some really good treatment programmes, such as abstinence.”
I wish to touch on the erosion of the community’s trust in the police. That may be because of the de Menezes shooting or police storming into the offices of an MP without a search warrant or permission in a politically motivated manner. It may be because the police are arresting people to take DNA without their permission. No Home Office Bill can be implemented without the people having trust in the police. Without communities working with the police, there is almost no point in bringing forward a Home Office Bill, because it will be impossible to implement.
What can we do to improve trust in the police? We can make them more accountable to the people. When I write to my chief constable with a complaint from a constituent, somebody else writes back to me—an allocated department or another officer. Nobody in the police is accountable to the general public on a day-to-day, issue-by-issue basis.
The Crime and Security Bill would have been fantastic if it had somewhere in it the introduction of an elected police commissioner or some way of making the police accountable to the people. The argument that Labour Members frequently give is that that would mean politicisation of the police, and that if we bring politics into the police force at local level we will be doomed. However, the announcement by the Association of Chief Police Officers this weekend that it wanted to introduce a register of men who have been reported for committing two or more domestic violence attacks was politicisation. It shows the police acting in a political manner and considering something that will appease the Government of the day. It is not a policy that says, “Let’s introduce something that will get rid of all the drug pushers at the school gates at 4 o’clock every day.”
So why not use the Bill to bring in elected police commissioners, for whom people could go to the polls to vote at the same time as voting for us? Then when something went wrong in a particular area and the MP or the general public wanted to hold someone to account, they could go to that directly elected commissioner. He or she in turn could hold the local police board to account. We do not have that, and it is another golden opportunity missed in the Bill.
In my constituency, I suffer with the problem of clamping, which is covered in the Bill, on residential streets as well as in areas owned by the local authority. People come to my surgery on a weekly basis with stories of hardship about how they have been dealt with. As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, people who do not have the financial wherewithal to pay the £150 on-the-spot fine can suffer hardship as a result. Once they pay the fine, some cannot keep their car, and some may not be able to keep their job. They are people who are living on the edge and trying to keep together their home and livelihood, and they find themselves suddenly having to pay £150 to get their car back. If they have to borrow that money as they do not have it that day, the cost escalates and is ramped up. If the Bill is used to protect those people from that hardship, that will be a good move. However, that is the only thing in the Bill that I can see will be of any particular use to people who are looking for something to make their life a little more crime-free and a little easier.
I will therefore sit down and bemoan the fact that the Government have not even acknowledged that abstinence programmes work, and that they have not put anything in the Bill to point up that directly elected police commissioners would be a good idea and something to debate in the House. I hope they use the Bill to produce something to make people’s lives better which, ironically, would be on the issue of the clamping of cars.
The subjects of today’s debate on the Loyal Address affect the day-to-day lives of our constituents across the country: crime and disorder, antisocial behaviour, worklessness, benefit dependency and violence against women. Those issues blight too many lives, and the challenges must be addressed by the next Government, but that requires change. Above all, the Queen’s Speech and this debate have shown that this Government understand neither the need for change nor the depth of change needed, and they certainly do not have the vision or ideas to do what is necessary to tackle those issues.
The debate was marked, as expected in a debate on the Queen’s Speech, by the variety of issues that have been addressed by hon. Members. It was also notable for the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), who unfortunately is no longer in the Chamber. Making a maiden speech is daunting enough for new Members following a general election, but at least at that time there is some safety in numbers. Making a maiden speech is far more daunting and lonely for new Members who come in following a by-election, but I think he passed with flying colours. It was clear from his speech that he has immense pride in the fact that he is representing his home constituency. He spoke with wit and humour, and we look forward to hearing much more from him in future.
The debate was ably opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who forensically identified the ways in which the Government have failed to live up to their promises on crime, antisocial behaviour and welfare reform. When the Home Secretary stood up, I expected an equally analytical response, but far from that, it was a full 15 minutes before he even got to talking about the Queen’s Speech. He gave us what is coming to be the all-too-predictable Labour response, which is to say, “But it was all worse in the ’80s.” Never mind that the Government have not met their promises, or that there are serious social issues challenging this country. All the Government are interested in is wiping out the past 12 years and harking back to what many voters will see, frankly, as ancient history. This Government will be judged on their record and their plans for the future and, on any analysis, they will be found wanting.
Does my right hon. Friend think it a bit rich to be lectured by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) about raising the legitimate concerns of pensioners and disabled people? She represents a party that in 1997 launched its election campaign with a big lie: that Conservatives would abolish the state pension. It was a lie then and it is a lie now.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the tactics the Labour party used in that election, and I will come to the points that were made about disability benefits by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) and for Glasgow, East (John Mason).
The Labour party approach of harking back to the past was also followed by the hon. Members for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn), although the latter also spoke about the campaign—[Interruption.]
Order. We cannot have this sort of behaviour from those on the Front Bench.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was pointing out that the approach of harking back to the past was followed by the hon. Members for Sedgefield and for Jarrow, but the latter also referred to his long-standing campaign on pleural plaques.
There were a number of thoughtful contributions to the debate on the subject of violence against women and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin) made a very thoughtful speech. He rightly commended the white ribbon campaign and highlighted the importance of involving men in the work to end violence against women. He reminded us that violence against women takes many forms, a theme that was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), whom I commend on his valuable work as chairman of the all-party group on human trafficking, which is—as he said in his speech—the new slavery. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) also reminded us of the impact of violence in various forms against women in certain communities, including the Asian community, and the importance of working with local communities to combat that violence.
On the issue of crime, my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) reminded us of the need to get more police on the streets. As he pointed out, Labour promised, in its 1997 manifesto, that police would be on the beat, but the average police constable today spends only 14 per cent. of their time on the beat and 21 per cent. of their time on paperwork—another Government failure.
Several hon. Members spoke about issues of particular interest to them: the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) spoke about alcohol sales and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) addressed drugs and their impact on people’s lives. She referred to the failure of this Government in that area, and I have a very good drug rehabilitation centre in my constituency, Yeldall Manor, which is a long-term residential centre. It has an excellent record of getting people off drugs and turning their lives around, but because of the way in which the Government fund drug support, it is unable to fill all its beds. That is sad, because it could make a valuable contribution to people’s lives.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) spoke thoughtfully about prison reform. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East raised the important issue of the Government’s proposals to pay for their national care service by scrapping disability benefits for pensioners. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak dismissed that claim as unwarranted, and the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform has said that it was untrue. I can only assume that they, and any other Labour Member who says that it is untrue, have not read the Government’s Green Paper on social care, because every option, apart from the option of people paying for social care themselves, is underpinned by some use of disability benefits. Furthermore, the Under-Secretary for Work and Pensions in the other place, Lord McKenzie of Luton has said:
“My Lords, the Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care Together, proposed that one way to deal with the challenge of an ageing society may be to bring some disability benefits and the new care and support system together into a single system as a better way of providing support. At this stage, we do not want to rule out any options and so are considering all disability benefits.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 October 2009; Vol. 713, c. 112.]
The hon. Member for Glasgow, East raised the important point that disability benefits, such as attendance allowance and disability living allowance for the over-65s, give those who receive them the option of deciding how to use that money for the care that they want and that suits their needs. The Government are proposing to take that individual decision making away from pensioners and to say to them, “We won’t let you decide what care you should have; we will tell you what care you will have, and it’s going to be what the Government decide you should have.” That would be a retrograde step.
There were also some lighter moments in the debate. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), as well as appearing to do a complete U-turn on the Liberal Democrats’ policy on the DNA database, expounded the wonderful new policy of a regional points-based system for work permits. He said that that would work in the UK because it works in Australia. He needs to go and take some geography lessons if he thinks that that is a valid point.
We also had a characteristically forceful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who managed to cover crime, antisocial behaviour, prisons, immigration, political correctness and the Human Rights Act. I am not sure whether it was going from the sublime to the ridiculous or the other way round when he was followed by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), who proceeded to speak about wheel-clamping. I can tell her that I know about the problems of wheel-clamping from cases in my constituency.
At the core of this debate lies the Government’s failure to deliver on their promises over 12 years and their inability to develop the thinking needed to take the country forward. Nowhere is that more clear perhaps than in their failure to have a plan to tackle the debt crisis and a radical strategy to tackle the jobs crisis.
Let us consider the Government’s record on welfare reform. Having promised to be the party of welfare reform in 1997 and having asked the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) to “think the unthinkable”, they abandoned real welfare reform for more than a decade. Even when David Freud—now sitting on our Benches in the other place, as the noble Lord Freud—produced his report on welfare reform, the Government pushed it to one side and did nothing, and only produced their limited proposals for reform after my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell published our green paper with radical ideas for welfare reform. Once again, therefore, the Government followed our lead, but once again failed to take the necessary steps to make the radical changes needed.
Let us remind the House of the figures: unemployment is at nearly 2.5 million, and while the recession has had an impact, we must never forget that the country entered the recession with nearly 5 million on out-of-work benefits. Youth unemployment is at a record level; one in five young people is out of work; the cost of incapacity benefit is now higher than in 1997, when Labour came to power; in some communities in this country, more than half of working-age adults are out of work and dependent on benefits; and worklessness has cost about £350 billion in benefits over the past 12 years. That is the cost of the Government’s failure to reform welfare.
One of the saddest and most damning indictments of the Labour Government is their failure to do anything about the large number of long-term unemployed people on incapacity benefit. Of course, some on IB are unable to work, and they should be supported, but many who claim it can, and want to, work. They need the individualised support that will help them to overcome barriers to work and get them into jobs. Our work programme—
I hear the Minister’s remark from a sedentary position. However, under the Government’s flexible new deal, over-50s on IB and assessed as able to work will get one work-focused interview, and under-50s on IB will get three work-focused interviews. That is not the individualised support that those people need to overcome barriers and enter the workplace.
Under our work programme, and our “get Britain working” policy, we will ensure that people on IB who are judged fit and able to work will be referred straight away to the specialist help of welfare-to-work providers, who will deliver a programme of support that meets their needs and gets them into work. That sort of vision will make a real change to people’s lives. Are the Government giving that help? No. Only a Conservative Government would provide the support needed to help people on IB into work.
Let us briefly consider youth unemployment. In a speech last week, the Prime Minister announced a range of measures, such as offering internships and other opportunities to graduates who have been unemployed for six months, but we think that all young people should be given specialised help to get them into work after six months. Once again, we see the paucity of the Government’s ambitions. Whether it is rising levels of gun crime, increased numbers of persistent young offenders or rising IB claims, the Government have failed to meet their promises and abandoned too many of our fellow citizens. They have run out of ideas, have no answers to the challenges facing the country and have nothing left to offer. It is time for a fresh start and approach, and for the change that this country needs—change that can come only with a Conservative Government.
We have had a serious, thoughtful and wide-ranging debate today on the Queen’s Speech, covering subjects ranging from wheel clamps to prison reform, and from housing benefit to pleural plaques.
Let me start by welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), who made his maiden speech in the Chamber today. We congratulate him both on his election to the House and on the great pride with which he spoke about his constituency, the community that he grew up in, his ambitions for his community and his plans to keep campaigning on jobs for young people and improving his community and his area. I look forward to working with him on those issues.
It is also worth noting the warmth with which many hon. Members in today’s debate welcomed my hon. Friend and congratulated him on his speech. The first person to welcome him was the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who paid a warm tribute to our new Member and also raised the important issue of human trafficking. I congratulate him on the work that he has done over many years on the issue. He talked about the UK Human Trafficking Centre. As I understand it, the Home Office has no plans to close the centre or merge it with any other organisation, but I will raise his points with the Home Secretary, so that he knows what they are too.
I thank the Secretary of State for that statement. The 53 staff up in Sheffield are greatly concerned that they will be merged with either the UK Border Agency or the Serious Organised Crime Agency here in London. Both would be a mistake, so I am very glad that she will raise the matter with the Home Secretary.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. The advice that I have received from the Home Office is that that is not the plan, but he will be able to take the matter further.
I also welcome the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin), who referred to the issue of human trafficking as well as making important points about domestic violence and other issues raised by the Queen’s Speech.
Several hon. Members raised issues to do with alcohol, including my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes). I agree with my hon. Friend on the importance of supporting more family-friendly working. It is important that we make work more family friendly, rather than simply helping family members go into work. My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) talked about the importance of support for the economy.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, East (John Mason) talked about social care and disability benefits. It is important to be clear about that, because there has been a lot of scaremongering on the issue, which is not responsible. We want to expand social care and support for those who are vulnerable, but it is important to understand that the Personal Care at Home Bill, which forms part of the Queen’s Speech, will have no impact at all on any disability benefits and will be paid for by changes throughout the Department of Health. In addition, we have said that those who are on disability benefits will not lose out as we look for longer-term changes and that we support expanding individual budgets, which are extremely important. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to give people control over the kind of care that they need in future.
Going further than that, I understand that the Health Secretary has ruled out taking away disability living allowance for future cases, but the same guarantee has not been made for attendance allowance. Can the Secretary of State clarify whether that is deliberate? In other words, is attendance allowance safe for future new claimants?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has said that we do not think that working age disability living allowance should be connected with the care system, which is about looking at older people’s needs. We want to look at what the future links should be and how we expand care beyond the care and support currently provided by the benefits system and local councils, but in a way that increases the support available and protects people who receive it under the current system. That is the right thing to do, and the hon. Gentleman will know that the position has been set out in detail for debate and consultation as part of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) raised the slightly curious spectre of border controls at Watford Gap or halfway along the M62, between Lancashire and Yorkshire, which might have slightly more support from some quarters. He seemed to be suggesting a regional points-based system and border controls.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s recommitment to freedom of movement within the United Kingdom, because at a certain point in his remarks earlier he seemed to be committing himself to adding regional points for different regional skills shortages to the draft immigration Bill.
The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) made a thoughtful speech on prison reform, while my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) and the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) both raised issues around wheel-clamping, which I know we will have an opportunity to debate further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) pointed out many of the disingenuous ways in which Opposition Members have used statistics to support their image of a broken Britain, which their policies would, in fact, break further.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) shouted at us all with great enthusiasm. He said that he did not believe the British crime survey and he refused to accept it. He said that he preferred hospital statistics instead. If he wants to refer to hospital statistics, I should point out to him that they, too, show a 6 per cent. decrease between 2007 and 2008 in admissions for assault with a sharp object. I hope that he will accept that that shows crime is falling, even if he does not want to accept the British crime survey.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) gave us his account of the broken Britain that he sees all around him. What we did not see from him, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, was any more information on his new plans for official forms. In The Sunday Times he said:
“Marriage has almost disappeared from official documents. I think that should change.”
We would have liked to hear more from him on that, because it would be interesting to know whether, under a Conservative Government, people will not be able to get a driving licence unless they have told the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency whether they are married; or whether they will not be able to submit a planning application to extend their house, until they have told the council whether they have walked down the aisle; or whether people will not be able to get a library card until they have told the librarian whether their husband has gone off with someone else. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are saying, “How silly, how ridiculous,” and I agree, but it was their honourable Front-Bench spokesperson who proposed this and it was their honourable Front-Bench spokesperson who, coming from a party that pretends to care and to complain about big government, put forward instead proposals that sound rather more like Big Brother.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that there is a serious point here. If he is suggesting that children applying to schools should now have to put on their application forms information about whether or not their parents are married, I do not think that it is a good idea—and I do not think it is a good idea for the children, either. I am married, and I think it is great for people to be married, as strong relationships are important for children, but strong families come in all shapes and sizes. Unlike the Conservative party, I do not believe that a child should be told that his family is second-class because it does not have a married couple at the heart of it. In the end, that is at the core of the hon. Gentleman’s statements about marriage and the Conservative party’s proposals to put forward tax breaks for marriage and support for marriage in the benefit system at the expense of widows or at the expense of mums left literally holding the baby when their ex-husband walks off. I believe that it is children whom we should support. That is what our proposals in the Queen’s Speech and the Child Poverty Bill are all about.
The Queen’s Speech supports children, as the Child Poverty Bill sets in place the historic ambition to cut child poverty and end it by 2020. We have already lifted 500,000 out of relative poverty, with a further 500,000 due to be lifted out of it by the measures we have brought in this year and last year.
Helping people back to work is another important element. Families across Britain are being hit by the recession. The world financial crisis has caused the biggest shock to our economy for very many generations, but despite the recession and despite the big increase in the number of full-time students, the proportion of working-age households where no one works has, in fact, fallen since 1997. The proportion of households of working age with no one in work is, I repeat, still lower than it was in 1997 as a result of what the Conservatives had done before that year. That contrasts with what we have done to help people back into work, to help lone parents back into work even while unemployment is rising and to help people on long-term sickness benefits get the support and treatment they need.
We want to do more to help young people because we know that they are most heavily affected during a recession. That is why, last week, the Prime Minister set out additional support to help young people from the moment they enter the jobcentre, and from the moment they become unemployed.
The action that we have taken has already made a significant difference. Unemployment is currently about 400,000 lower than independent forecasters expected at the time of the Budget, saving us billions of pounds. That is partly the result of our extra support for the economy, and partly the result of the £5 billion extra help for the unemployed—£2.1 billion this year, and £2.9 billion next year—to get them back into work. That is £5 billion that Conservative Members have repeatedly refused to support.
I will give the Opposition another opportunity tonight to say whether they will support that additional investment in jobcentres, and in getting young people back into work. Time and again, we have asked them to support that £5 billion, and time and again they have refused. I first asked the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) in April last year, and she refused to support the extra investment to help people into work. I asked her again in May, June, July and September. I even tried asking the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) in October, and he also refused to support it.
Time and again, the Conservatives have refused to back the extra £5 billion that we need to help people to get back into work. That is discretionary spending—not automatic stabilisers, and not funded by cuts in departmental spending elsewhere. It is part of the temporary discretionary spending that the Conservative party has opposed. It is borrowing to support the economy, and it is bringing unemployment down. Unemployment is now 400,000 lower than forecast at the time of the Budget last year. As a result of our investment, unemployment is lower than expected, and lower than in previous recessions, but the Conservative party opposes it.
The former Monetary Policy Committee member, Professor Danny Blanchflower, has said that if we followed the Conservative party’s policies and cut investment in the middle of recession, we would potentially have unemployment of 4 million or 5 million now. That would be devastating for families and individuals across the country. The £5 billion investment is putting more staff into jobcentres to help people who are losing their jobs. In the 1980s, the Conservatives refused to put extra staff into jobcentres, and as a result made it voluntary to sign on and even to go into jobcentres to look for work. Little wonder that unemployment, and long-term unemployment, soared.
Once again the Conservatives refuse to support the extra investment that is turning things around and helping young people who would not otherwise have got into jobs. Most shockingly of all, the Conservatives want to abolish the future jobs fund. They do not want to help people across the country—100,000 young people, and 50,000 of the long-term unemployed—back into work. We know why: they oppose big government. That was the statement from the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) earlier this month:
“Human kindness, generosity and imagination are steadily being squeezed out by the work of the state.”
That is an astonishing statement. Is that what those on the Opposition Front Bench really think? Do they really think that help for mums in Sure Start is killing kindness? Do they think that faster treatment through the NHS is undermining generosity? Do they think that free entry to museums is somehow crippling kids’ imagination? [Interruption.] That is what he said—that human kindness, generosity and imagination are steadily being squeezed out by the work of the state.
The Conservatives want the state to withdraw, to force people to sink or swim, and to leave charities to pick up the pieces. The last time the Conservative party tried that was in the 1980s.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.
The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).
Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.