In justice and home affairs, the coalition Government achieved a great deal in the first parliamentary Session. We legislated to bring in elected police and crime commissioners, giving proper public accountability to policing. We brought in reforms to reduce reoffending and started paying by results. We rolled back unwarranted state intrusion into private lives through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. We placed successful investigation and prosecution, once again, at the heart of our strategy for countering terrorism. We reduced the cost of legal aid, while protecting the vulnerable.
In the second Session, we are bringing forward further reforms to strengthen public protection; to better tackle serious crime and defend our borders; to make justice swifter, fairer and more comprehensive; to maintain and modernise our communications data capabilities; and to improve the oversight of the security intelligence agencies that keep us safe.
The Gracious Speech included the Crime and Courts Bill, which was introduced into another place earlier today. Current estimates suggest that serious, organised and complex crime costs our country between £20 billion and £40 billion a year. Law enforcement figures suggest that there are more than 7,000 organised crime groups that impact on the UK, involving about 30,000 individuals. Even those figures may underestimate the impact. Behind those statistics is the human misery that serious and organised crime inflicts on our communities. The drug dealing on street corners, the burglary and mugging by addicts, and the credit card fraud that robs so many are all fundamentally driven by serious, organised and complex crime.
As well as growing, that threat is changing. That means that our law enforcement response must also change. Visible neighbourhood policing is vital, but it will not deal with the cyber-criminal who is raiding bank accounts directly from overseas. Arresting drug dealers is important, but it will not stop the flow of drugs from abroad. Vetting and barring are important, but they cannot protect a child from the dangers that lurk online. To deal with those new threats, we need a new crime fighting force—a force that is capable of working across police boundaries and organisational divisions; a force that can defend our borders and deal with the economic consequences of complex crime; a force that protects children and vulnerable people and is active in cyberspace. That crime fighting force will be the National Crime Agency.
The Home Secretary has used the phrase “serious and organised crime” a number of times. Is she aware of the high reputation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency internationally in south America and many other places around the world that are involved in combating the people trafficking and drug trafficking to which she has referred? How will she ensure that, with the changes in organisation and the new name, we do not lose the brand and the reputation that have been built over many years?
I am well aware of the good name that SOCA has across the world. When I visit other countries, I try to speak to local SOCA liaison officers, where we have them, and I have met some of our liaison officers from south America when they have been in the UK.
I know the value that other law enforcement agencies across the world place on the work that SOCA does. That is why the National Crime Agency will build on the good work that SOCA has developed. SOCA will become the serious and organised crime command within the NCA, so we will develop the good work that has been done. I believe that being within the NCA will give SOCA a greater ability to deal with these issues. Linking SOCA with the border police command, the economic crime command and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will give us a greater ability to act across the various types of serious and organised crime. Criminals do not compartmentalise their crime. Serious and organised crime groups are often involved in many types of crime and we need to reflect that in our law enforcement capability.
There are a couple of areas of anxiety concerning the NCA. The first is that it has no clear line of accountability to the general public. Perhaps the Home Secretary can give some information on the mechanisms of accountability to local communities. Secondly, as I understand it the NCA will have fewer staff than SOCA. Which of SOCA’s responsibilities will therefore disappear? If I am wrong, perhaps she can clarify how the staffing and financing of the NCA will compare to those of SOCA. The ambiguity and confusion around those issues have not been cleared up.
I visited SOCA some weeks ago and spoke to its staff about the situation that will pertain when it comes into the National Crime Agency. Discussions are obviously taking place with staff about the arrangements for the transition. There is a limit to what can be done until we are in a position to introduce and take forward a Bill, but those discussions will take place. I recognise that at a time of transition there is always a degree of uncertainty for individuals. That happens because of the process of transition, but we will make every effort to continue discussions with staff about what will happen when SOCA comes into the NCA.
In terms of accountability and responsibility, the NCA director general will be responsible to the Home Secretary and through the Home Secretary to Parliament. I have every confidence that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, who has already shown a significant interest in the matter, will make every effort to ensure that his Committee has the opportunity to look into the workings of the NCA—
I missed the first two minutes of the Home Secretary’s speech, but I am keen to get into the debate because I have been outside talking about the dreadful case of criminals preying on children in Rochdale. My constituents do not really care what an agency is called; they want an effective mechanism. When I led a debate on child prostitution and the curse that we had across the northern region, I pointed out that one of the central problems is the not-joined-up relationship between different police forces in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.
Order. The hon. Gentleman will sit down when I say “Order”. Interventions should be brief, and it is customary to ask a Minister to give way before launching into an intervention, although the Home Secretary is perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I recognise that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) passionately believes in, and cares greatly about, the issue he raised—and, frankly, so should we all. Sadly, child sexual exploitation takes place across communities and across the country. It is a matter of growing concern, given the number of cases identified by the police.
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of police forces working together. One feature of the National Crime Agency will be its greater ability not only to bring the agencies within the commands of the NCA together, but to work with police forces up and down the country. One aim is to get a more joined-up approach towards crime fighting at this level. That is why I am pleased that CEOP will be within the NCA because CEOP has a hugely respected reputation for its work—but I think it can do more, and being located within the NCA will enable it to do more.
I appreciate the Secretary of State’s generosity and I welcome what she has said. On the issue of tackling these issues in a joined-up way, a Northern Ireland court recently convicted people for sex trafficking—the first case in that regard. However, the sentence was incredibly low, and I have raised the matter with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and with our Public Prosecution Service. Will the Secretary of State ensure that, when it comes to consistency in prosecutions, we also have consistency in outcomes, so that people convicted in Northern Ireland are put away for just as long as people here on the mainland?
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that is specific to Northern Ireland. The legal structures within Northern Ireland—the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland prosecutors—are the right place for the hon. Gentleman to pursue his concerns about sentencing in Northern Ireland. We have been in significant discussions with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and, indeed, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the working of the National Crime Agency and how it will interact with the devolved Administrations. We have also been having discussions on that matter with others, as appropriate.
The National Crime Agency will, first and foremost, be a crime-fighting organisation. I have appointed Keith Bristow, the former chief constable of Warwickshire police, as its first director general. He will be operationally independent, but, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd), accountable to the Home Secretary and through the Home Secretary to Parliament.
I see the NCA as having three important characteristics. I would like to set them out, as they reflect some of the exchanges we have just had. First, it must have a positive effect on the safety of local communities by joining up the law enforcement response from the local to the national to the international. That will enable us to do rather better than has been the case so far. Secondly, it must act as the controlling hand, owning the co-ordinated intelligence picture, but working with the police and others to decide on the highest priority criminal targets, agreeing on the action necessary to tackle them and having the power to ensure that action is taken. Thirdly, it must bring its own contribution to the fight against serious, organised and complex crime. That means having its own intelligence-gathering and investigative capability, sophisticated technical skills, and a presence internationally, at the border and in cyberspace. That is how I believe the NCA will help cut crime and lock up criminals.
Will the National Crime Agency have the authority and ability to go straight into a regional police force computer and, indeed, have the authority to go in and take over an investigation if the director general feels that it should do so?
The important point for the NCA is to be able to work with police forces at various levels to ensure that where it is necessary for it to be involved in investigations, that can be done. The Bill will provide for the NCA to have the ability to task police forces around the country. I expect it to work on the basis of co-operation and collaboration. That is the basis on which SOCA and CEOP have operated, and it has worked very well so far. I expect it to be possible to achieve what we want in respect of the effective joining up and collaboration of forces with the NCA and its commands. Any action will be based on the identification through intelligence of the greatest harms, which will allow us to identify the greatest priorities where action needs to be taken.
For justice to be effective, it must also be swift and efficient, and it must be seen to be done by a criminal justice system that properly reflects our society. The Crime and Courts Bill will further set out our reforms of the courts and tribunals system to make it faster, more transparent, more representative of the communities it serves and more efficient in its use of resources.
On the subject of efficiency and speed, the Home Secretary said in this morning’s written statement on Abu Qatada that she now has two options for the deportation of this man. One is to go through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission court and the other is to certify his further appeal as clearly unfounded. Can she say anything about whether she feels that certifying any further appeal as clearly unfounded would be effective?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Many would have wished to see a conclusion to the Abu Qatada case rather more swiftly than has been possible so far. I am confident, however, that we are closer to the deportation of Abu Qatada today than we were two days ago. We need to go through the proper processes in the UK courts. My hon. Friend rightly referred to the written ministerial statement and the two available processes.
If I can finish providing an explanation to my hon. Friend, the right hon. Lady might not need to ask a question.
Two processes are available. A very high bar is set for the Government to go down the route of adopting the certification process. Declaring a case against deportation as unfounded is effectively the same as saying that there is no legal argument against the deportation. As I said, a very high bar has been set in relation to that, but I am, of course, taking advice on both options. I shall make the Government’s position clear in due course.
Like the Home Secretary, I strongly welcomed yesterday’s decision by the European Court to refuse Abu Qatada’s appeal. I think that we all want him to be deported to Jordan as rapidly as possible. Of course we recognise that she will have to make complex and difficult decisions in order to ensure that she gets the next steps right, but will she now accept that she got it wrong when she told the House of Commons 12 times that the date of the deadline for Abu Qatada’s appeal was the Monday rather than the Tuesday night?
Obviously I welcome the fact that the European Court came out and refused Abu Qatada’s application for referral yesterday. As I told the Home Affairs Committee, I had been strongly advised that that was expected to happen because of the case that we had made.
Of course I accept that the Court has made its decision on the matter of the deadline. The Government still do not agree with that decision—[Interruption.] As I have said, we accept the Court’s decision. I made clear at every stage to the House and to the Home Affairs Committee that it was only ever going to be that panel of judges that finally decided whether the referral could be accepted. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote to the European Court today drawing attention to inconsistencies in the guidance that it had published on how to calculate the date, and asking it to clarify the position for future purposes and provide revised guidance.
I was talking about the Crime and Courts Bill, and the matters relating to the criminal justice system that it reflects. We will ensure that fines represent real justice by making defaulting offenders, not the taxpayer, pay the cost of collection. A single county court and a single family court will be established to increase the efficiency of the civil and family court systems, and the judicial appointments process will be reformed to introduce greater transparency, flexibility and diversity. Court broadcasting will be allowed, in limited circumstances, to help to demystify the justice system. We will improve the efficiency of our immigration system by removing full appeal rights for family visit visas and removing in-country appeal rights for excluded persons, and we will strengthen our borders by extending the powers of immigration officers to tackle serious and organised immigration-related crime.
I am glad that the Home Secretary acknowledges that the unequivocal advice about the deadline was wrong.
We were told yesterday that £3.5 million in bonuses had been paid to senior officials at the UK Border Agency, including a payment of £10,000 to one individual. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is wrong to give bonuses to officials of an organisation that has been so heavily criticised, not just by the Home Affairs Committee but by Members in all parts of the House and, indeed, by the Prime Minister? May we please see an end to this bonus culture unless the UKBA is fit for purpose?
The right hon. Gentleman has been vociferous in his reflections on the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force for some time. The arrangements for bonus payments in the civil service are agreed collectively. For the 2010-11 performance year, 24% of Home Office senior civil servants were awarded non-consolidated performance payments. The highest bonus award paid to a permanent staff member of the senior civil service and its agencies was £10,000, and no UKBA civil servant was awarded a bonus of £10,000 for the 2011 performance year. Bonus payments are kept under constant review. They are awarded when individual staff have performed to strict criteria, and the restraint exercised by the current Government will continue to be exercised.
Another element of the Crime and Courts Bill is relevant to an issue raised yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) during the Prime Minister’s speech. We will introduce a new offence of driving while under the influence of drugs. Dangerous drug drivers should not be on the roads. Too many innocent people, such as 14-year-old Lillian Groves, have been killed or injured by people who have been driving under the influence of illegal drugs. We will close that loophole, and we will ensure that justice is done.
It is proposed that cameras should be allowed in courtrooms to give the general public a better understanding of what goes on there. Will the Home Secretary allow television companies to use snippets from those films? I think the effect of that might be the reverse of what she seeks.
This will be done extremely carefully. There has been discussion for some time about whether cameras should be allowed in courtrooms. The ability to film will be limited, in terms of who and what can be filmed. The details of how that is arranged with television companies and the courts will be discussed during the Bill’s passage. I think we all recognise that the filming could be of significant benefit, but it needs to be done in the right way if that benefit is to be achieved.
The Home Secretary has been speaking for 20 minutes. She is rightly covering the detail of the Queen’s Speech, and we will want to examine those Bills in detail. However, I am stunned by the fact that not once in 20 minutes has she mentioned the fact that thousands of police officers are marching just a few hundred yards away, taking an unprecedented level of action. They are campaigning because they are very much against 20% cuts in police budgets. Does the Home Secretary agree that we should be given more detail, and perhaps a Bill on police numbers? For instance, 5,000 front-line officers have been removed since May 2010.
The hon. Gentleman knows very well why it has been necessary for the Government to cut police budgets: because of the deficit that we were left by the Labour Government. As he reflects on the decision to reduce those budgets, perhaps he will also reflect on the fact that reductions of the same order are supported by his party’s Front Benchers, as they have made clear.
Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our justice system means reviewing and reforming aspects that are not operating as they should. All Members will be aware that our current libel laws are having a detrimental effect on freedom of expression and on academic and scientific debate, and that our courts have become a magnet for libel tourists. That is why all three parties included a commitment to reform in their manifestos. We are introducing a Defamation Bill rebalancing our libel laws to offer more effective protection for freedom of speech and reasonable debate, while at the same time protecting those who have been genuinely and unjustly defamed.
The Bill has benefited from extremely detailed and helpful scrutiny in draft by a Joint Committee of both Houses, as well as having been the subject of public consultation. That has been a great advantage, enabling a wide range of views to be expressed and carefully considered in a thorough and open way. It has helped us to draw up proposals that we believe address core issues of concern where reform is needed and where legislation can make a real difference.
The Government's second Session programme contains measures to fight serious and novel crime and to strengthen justice, but we must also ensure that we keep pace with all the threats to our country. The internet revolution has benefited us all—we now communicate and interact in ways that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago—but the communications revolution also presents an opportunity for terrorists to plot attacks, for serious criminals to arrange drug deals, and for paedophiles to share illegal and abhorrent images.
For many years our police, law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies have used communications data from landline telephones and mobiles—that is, the context but not the content of communications—to catch criminals and to protect the public. Understanding whom suspects have contacted, when they did so and where they were at the time can be central to building a case, proving associations between criminals or terrorists and showing that a suspect was at the scene of a crime. Over the past decade, communications data have been used in every major Security Service counter-terrorism investigation and in 95% of all serious crime cases.
As the Home Secretary will know, I practically cheered on the Conservative Government as they began to roll back the rotten anti-civil libertarian state that Labour had left them. Why is it now business as usual? Why does what the Home Secretary is saying suggest the worst excesses of new Labour, and why is she embarking on a snoopers’ charter?
Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman listens further to my explanation of the Bill, he will recognise that it is not a snoopers’ charter. Why am I standing here saying that we are introducing a communications data Bill? Because over the past decade, communications data have been used in every major Security Service counter-terrorism investigation and in 95% of all serious crime cases. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said,
“it is an essential and irreplaceable tool for protecting the public.”
If we allow our capabilities in this area to be degraded, criminals will go free who otherwise would not. The ability to use that tool is disappearing. As more and more criminal communication moves online, the ability of the police and agencies to access those communications is being degraded.
In the past, phone companies needed, for billing purposes, to log who a person had called, who called them, when, and for how long the conversation lasted. We can see that they keep such information just by looking at our itemised phone bills. Internet service providers have a different business model. Nobody charges per e-mail, and there are no itemised bills of Facebook posts. That means that modern communications companies do not store all of the communications data the police need. The police and agencies estimate that about 25% of requests for communications data can no longer be met because the data have not been stored, compared with just 10% six years ago.
In a recent case, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre received intelligence of unique internet addresses from the UK that had accessed child abuse material. Because some of the communications data were not available, nine out of 41 members of an international paedophile ring could not be traced. This Government are not prepared to allow more paedophiles to go free, more serious criminals to go on committing crimes, and more terrorist plots to go undetected, so we will bring forward legislation to ensure that communications data are available in the future, just as they have been in the past.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands what will be done. There will not be accessing of information in real time. There are currently some limited occasions when real-time data are used, such as in kidnapping cases, where whether the individual is discovered could be a matter of life and death. These measures are not about accessing in real time, however, and I shall describe in a little more detail what our proposal is about and what it is not about, because some myths have been going around about the Government’s plans.
Does my right hon. Friend remember that one of the options that was considered when the previous Government were in power was the creation of a warehouse of information, because, as certain information was not needed by the service providers, the Government would have had to collect it? That would be a particularly undesirable and unattractive course of action, especially when compared with simply requiring providers to hold information for a little longer.
My right hon. Friend is right, and we opposed that proposal, as did our Liberal Democrat colleagues. We are not in the business of creating what my right hon. Friend described as a warehouse; this proposal is not about creating some giant new Government database, with every single piece of telephone information and e-mail. It is important to bust that myth.
What the legislation will do is provide an updated framework for the collection, retention and acquisition of communications data. It will place new obligations on internet and communication service providers to retain certain data securely for up to 12 months. After 12 months, the data will be destroyed. Just as now, the communications industry will be reimbursed by Government for providing this service. The costs incurred are a fraction of those we would face for any alternative method; indeed, there is no like-for-like alternative. As now, data would be available only to designated officers on a case-by-case basis, authorised under legislation approved by Parliament, and overseen by the independent Interception of Communications Commissioner, who is a former Court of Appeal judge.
There will be no extension of the number of people who can access that data. Indeed, we have already legislated, through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, to limit local authority access to communications data. Each acquisition of data must be authorised by a senior officer at a rank stipulated by Parliament. Access will be granted only if it is necessary and proportionate for a criminal or terrorist investigation, or to protect the public. Fishing expeditions would neither be necessary nor proportionate, and so would not be allowed.
The role of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal—a panel of senior judicial figures—will be extended to ensure that individuals have a proper avenue of complaint and independent investigation if they think the powers have been used unlawfully.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this measure. Does she agree that, far from being a snoopers’ charter, these provisions will modernise and bring into line procedures that are already in place in respect of more traditional forms of communication, and allow the Crown Prosecution Service to continue, and to improve, its evidence-gathering techniques in prosecuting people involved in organised crime and other serious criminality?
The Home Secretary is, indeed, being very generous, but these are very important points.
I accept that the intention is as the right hon. Lady says, but there is a great danger that measures will be introduced that do not keep pace with technological change and that are not future-proofed. There is also a danger that the industry will not be engaged with properly, and that we therefore fail to address fully the ways in which modern technology functions. Will the right hon. Lady undertake to use the skills, abilities and experience of people in this House and in the industry, in order to ensure that the legislation that is designed is absolutely right?
The right hon. Gentleman makes the valid point—which, if I recall correctly, was similar to a point he made when I appeared before the Home Affairs Committee—that there is expertise in this House. We will look for ways to engage with those who have an interest in these matters. We do, of course, engage with industry, because, in respect of this Bill, it is important for us to be able to understand where the technology is going and the prospects for its future development.
The police and other agencies will have no new powers or capabilities to intercept and read e-mails or telephone calls. All such requests will always require a warrant signed by a Secretary of State. There will be no changes in these arrangements, and we envisage no increase in interception. Finally, to reiterate the point I made in response to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), let me make it clear that there will be no giant new Government database containing the data behind all e-mails and phone calls, which was what was proposed by the last Government.
The Home Secretary rightly said that communication service providers are required to keep data for commercial purposes such as billing, and that these new proposed measures will extend that to information for criminal cases. However, many companies will retain data for commercial purposes for up to seven years, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that they will not be required to dispose of that data within 12 months?
It is not the Government’s intention to require any change in the commercial model currently operated by communication service providers. The data that will be covered by the legislation—data that might not otherwise have been kept—will be required to be kept for only 12 months, however, after which time those data will have to be destroyed.
We are entering a new and highly complex technological world. In order to deal with it, we will need a highly motivated, well-paid police force. What am I going to say to the people who have been on today’s march, and who will come to see me later on, in order to assure them that the right hon. Lady believes they should be looked after?
The hon. Gentleman can tell the policemen he will meet later today that this Government are ensuring, through their changes, that the police will continue to be well remunerated and have access to a very good pension, and that police forces up and down this country will be able to continue to keep people safe and fight crime as they always have done. He can also assure them that, through the measures we are taking to introduce a new police professional body and to enhance the status and professionalism of policing, we are ensuring individual police officers will have access to the training and development they will need in order to acquire the skills that we want them to have. I see an exciting future for policing as a result of the reforms this Government are putting through, and that is the message I hope everybody will be taking out to police officers on the streets.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that leadership from the top is vital, and that the recent allegations of poor procurement practices and the payment of large consulting fees to ex-coppers at the Association of Chief Police Officers have to be investigated fully before we look at the best structure for police leadership going forward?
The coalition has done a great deal to defend civil liberties. We have abolished ID cards, cut back Government databases and limited pre-charge detention. We have shown that we are not going to throw away hard-won British freedoms, even when we have to take important decisions about national security, and our proposals on communications data are consistent with those values. However, I recognise that Members will want the chance properly to scrutinise our proposals, so the draft clauses will be put forward for careful pre-legislative scrutiny. Following that, proposals will be introduced at the earliest opportunity, and I hope I can count on the support of the Opposition when they are introduced.
The strengthened safeguards we will put in place for access to communications data show that at the same time as we protect national security, we can also defend civil liberties. There is no contradiction between those two aims, so our justice and security Bill will enhance national security and justice by ensuring that all relevant material can be considered in court cases, at the same time as modernising and enhancing parliamentary oversight of our security and intelligence agencies. The statutory framework for oversight of the agencies has not changed since before 9/11. During that time, the public profile and budgets of, and the operational demands on, the agencies have all increased significantly.
The Government believe the time is now right to modernise the oversight regime to ensure that it is both effective and credible, so we will modernise the Intelligence and Security Committee and extend its remit. For the first time, the Committee will be given responsibility for the wider intelligence community. It will also be given broader powers to access information, it will have additional resources to carry out its tasks, and its status will be changed to bring it closer to Parliament. We will also broaden the remit of the intelligence services commissioner. These proposals represent a considerable increase in the powers of the bodies responsible for overseeing the intelligence community.
The justice and security Bill will also introduce proposals to deal with the limitations of the current court rules which do not allow sensitive intelligence evidence to be heard in civil proceedings, even where it is of central relevance to the case. In future, any challenges brought against the Government will be able to be heard fully, with all relevant facts and information available to the court. No important information will have to be withheld for fear of jeopardising important intelligence-sharing relationships or endangering lives. Under these plans, closed material procedures will be available in the tiny number of civil cases where national security-sensitive material is centrally relevant, just as they currently are in some immigration, employment and family hearings. The final decision on whether a closed material procedure is needed will rest with the judge. As much of the case as possible will always be held in open court. This is a step forward for justice. It will mean that civil cases that are currently not heard will be heard, and that serious allegations made against the Government will be fully and independently investigated and scrutinised by the courts. It will also mean that cases the Government believe have no merit will no longer be settled for significant sums, but will be heard and judged by our courts.
The Bill also seeks to protect our vital intelligence-sharing relationships by reforming the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction, which allows someone fighting a case outside the UK to apply to a British court for access to intelligence information held by us, and in some cases supplied by our allies. The Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction has been used no fewer than nine times in the last three years to seek the disclosure of secret intelligence that either belongs to the UK Government, or which our allies have shared with us. In such cases, the Government do not have the option of withdrawing from or settling these proceedings. Our inability to reassure our allies that we will uphold the confidential terms on which they share intelligence material with us has obvious and damaging consequences, so we will address the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction in the justice and security Bill.
The Government’s justice and home affairs proposals will ensure that serious, organised and complex crime is tackled; punishments are strengthened; justice is swifter and more efficient; freedom of speech is protected; national security is maintained; and the oversight of those who keep us safe is modernised. It is a comprehensive reform package that will enhance public safety, improve justice and cut crime. While today is only the start of the debate, these are aims with which I hope the whole House will agree.
Yesterday, it was clear that this Queen’s Speech will do nothing to tackle jobs and growth, nothing to get Britain out of a double-dip recession, and nothing to help family finances. Now, sadly, it is clear that there is not much to help tackle crime or improve policing, border security and justice, either.
As we gather to debate the Queen’s Speech, 16,000 police officers from across the country—officers in black hats, and many more thousands beside them—are gathering and marching through London. Constables, sergeants, inspectors, superintendents, even chief constables, are protesting against the 20% criminal cuts the Home Secretary is making. There are many more whom they represent who could not make it today because they are at work or out on the beat. There are officers such as Tony MacDonald, whom I met last month, who used to be a beat officer in Retford. He loved his job. He has been forced to retire years early, and police support for the town has been cut back. There are the officers in the midlands who told me that their response units have been cut back, so when a 999 call came in about a hit-and-run involving a child, it took the nearest officer 45 minutes to get to the scene of the crime.
This morning, I spoke to officers from Yorkshire who told me that they are spending more time on bureaucracy, not less, because the back office has been so heavily cut—officers such as Chief Constable Tony Melville, who warned that his force was at a cliff edge because of the cuts, and who has tendered his resignation because of his opposition to Government reforms.
The officers who risk life and limb to keep us safe are deeply angry at the cuts and the chaos they face. They are worried about whether, in the light of the Winsor review, they will be able to keep up with their mortgage payments. Morale is at rock bottom and they are overstretched, especially with the Olympics coming up. They are angry at a Home Secretary and a Prime Minister who do not recognise or sufficiently value the work they do.
We have said many times that we think the police could sustain cuts to their budgets of some £1 billion over the course of a Parliament, but instead, the Government have gone for £2 billion—going far further and too fast. That is why 16,000 officers are being lost, including thousands from the hon. Lady’s region. These are deeply destructive decisions that, in the end, are putting communities at risk. Of course, 16,000 officers is the number we needed on the streets of London to take back control after rioters burned Tottenham and Croydon, and looters ransacked Clapham, Hackney and Ealing; and 16,000 is the number of police officers that this Home Secretary has decided to cut.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have said many times that, overall, this Government are cutting too far and too fast. Their deficit reduction plan is going so far and so fast that it is hitting jobs and hitting growth, and it is not working. His Government and his Chancellor are borrowing over £150 billion more in order to pay for the bills of failure. The economy is not growing, jobs are being cut, businesses are not paying tax because they are not growing, and unemployment benefit has to be paid to all those people stuck on the dole.
My hon. Friend makes an important point: the economy was growing at the time of the general election, but we now have a double-dip recession instead. The Government have shoved the economy into reverse. As a result, businesses are not growing and paying their taxes, and more and more people are needing unemployment benefit. We are spending billions more on unemployment benefit and social security benefits. The Government are paying the bills of failure, rather than supporting growth and success.
The right hon. Lady can certainly argue about the pace at which the cuts have to be made, but may I take her back to the question my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) asked about whether the Government were going too far? The Chancellor is seeking to remove the structural deficit and, as I understand it, the Labour party is committed to exactly the same objective, and so the argument is only about pace, rather than about the overall scale. If that is so, can she answer the question: where will she find the extra £1 billion?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that this is also about the “how”, because we want the economy to grow and his party has given up on growth, as even The Daily Telegraph has admitted. The economy has gone into a double-dip recession and, as a result, businesses are not paying the taxes that we need and more people are needing unemployment benefit. The economy is therefore suffering and the Chancellor is having to borrow an extra £150 billion more. He is failing on every single count; the approach is hurting but it is not working.
The right hon. Lady has conceded that the Labour party would be cutting £1 billion a year from the police budget—I doubt she told police officers that when she saw them earlier. Will she also concede that she has said that there should be a two-year pay freeze, which saves another half a billion, and that her right hon. Friend the shadow Policing Minister has said that there should be changes to overtime and shift patterns that would save another £600 million—those were his words—which means that they are committed to exactly the same savings as the Government? Does she therefore understand that police officers will not believe her when she makes the claims that she does?
The Policing Minister can try this as often as he likes; it does not matter how many times he says it, he knows that it is not true. We have made it very clear that we think that this figure of £1 billion would be sustainable and, yes, it would include pay measures, changes and other ways of making efficiency savings. His figures may not include that, but we have made it very clear that to deliver the number of police officers—[Interruption.]
Government Members need to recognise that their decisions are cutting 16,000 police officers. Our approach is to say that we do not believe that 16,000 police officers should be cut. We believe that the police should have enough money to support those 16,000 officers. We should not have had to cut 5,000 police officers already from 999 units, from neighbourhood response units and from the urgent response units that we need to keep us safe and to arrive in an emergency.
The right hon. Lady just said that the 12% cut in police budgets that she has told us in this Chamber the Opposition would support includes the pay freeze, but it does not. She has said that she would support the 12% efficiency savings outlined by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, but those did not include either the pay freeze—£500 million—or the overtime cuts of a further £600 million announced by the shadow Policing Minister. What Opposition Members need to understand is that what she has said about cuts to police budgets would lead to cuts in police officer numbers and that they should not say anything other than that when they talk to the police.
We heard nothing then to defend the 5,000 officers being cut from 999 response units, from neighbourhood policing units and from emergency response units across the country. The Home Secretary is dealing in fantasy figures. She needs to think about what she has just said. If the figures she has just used were correct, no police officers would be going—no front-line staff would be being cut—everything would be hunky-dory and she would be able to do it all through the pay freeze and through the back-office cuts that she has proposed. But that is not what is happening. Instead, 16,000 police officers are going, from every corner of the country. They are being taken from the very front-line services we need. Time and again the Government told us that the front line would be protected and would not be hit, but that is not happening. She is out of touch. The Prime Minister told us:
“We won’t do anything that will reduce the amount of visible policing on our streets.”
But 5,000 police officers have gone already, and many thousands more are to go.
This is not just about the number; it is also about the considerable experience of many of those police officers. That is especially the case in respect of the grotesque picture in the west midlands, where, under rule A19, which the Home Secretary has blithely ignored and dismissed, very experienced police officers are being dismissed. They are going on to the pension scheme—this does not fall on the west midlands account, but it sure adds on to the public finances because of the pensions. When we talk about dodgy figures, that is exactly the sort of dodgy accounting we are discussing. This is a real loss to policing in the west midlands.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we are losing some of our most experienced officers. I have spoken to officers from other places around the country who wanted to carry on working, and who had great skills and experience to contribute to the police force, but are being forced into early retirement. The evidence and research from the House of Commons Library shows that that will actually cost the taxpayer more. This approach is absolutely crazy. It is bad for communities and bad for the taxpayer.
We know now what the Prime Minister’s response to this situation is. He does not think it is a problem; cutting 999 response teams is not about emergencies or about visibility—it is not even austerity. He said that it is just “efficiency”. He calls it “efficiency” but communities across the country call it, “Out of touch, irresponsible and unfair”, because they know it is communities that are paying the price.
How can the right hon. Lady reconcile her current rhetoric on numbers with the fact that under the Labour Government only 11% of the police were available to the general public at any one time? Was that not because mismanagement and bureaucracy ran riot under Labour?
The hon. Gentleman knows that that figure does not actually reflect what happens in police forces across the country. Barely an hour ago, I spoke to police officers who told me that they are now having to deal with more bureaucracy, not less. They have to do all their own recording of crime and all their own collecting of statements, which used to be done by civilian support staff. Those police officers told me categorically that they are now spending less time out on the beat and having to deal with more bureaucracy than they were before. The police are becoming less visible, not more visible, as a result of this Government’s decisions.
What then does the Queen’s Speech have to offer to cut crime or to improve public safety? The answer is: not much. The previous Queen’s Speech was bad enough: 17,000 suspected rapists were taken off the DNA database; 20% cuts were made in policing at the same time as £100 million could be found for elected police commissioners; counter-terrorism powers were watered down; and getting CCTV was made tougher. So what do the Government have to offer this time to make good the damage? The answer is: cameras in courts. I guess they had to put them somewhere, now that they are taking them away from the town centres and the housing estates.
The Home Secretary did promise stronger oversight of the intelligence and security agencies. We will support that, and I hope that she goes far enough. She also said that she wants more closed material procedures—the devil will be in the detail on that. There is a problem with foreign intelligence, and I agree with her that there is a problem with the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction. The proposals that she set out in the Green Paper were not justified and went too far. I recognise from her remarks today that she has made some changes to those positions, but we will need to see the detail, reflect and give the matter consideration. She also talked about extending communication surveillance. Again, we will await the detail. Everyone wants the police to be able to keep up with new technology in the fight against terrorism, but no one wants the police or security agencies browsing personal e-mails or Facebook pages at will. I hope that we can have cross-party discussions on this. The Home Secretary will know that the practice of previous Home Secretaries has been to provide extensive briefing for the Opposition and for Select Committees, so we will wait to see what detail she is able to provide.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way again. May I please press her in particular on the point about closed material proceedings? When the Green Paper proposals were announced in this House, the Opposition made it clear that they supported closed material proceedings and recognised the need to protect certain material. Is she now suggesting that the Opposition’s position has changed?
As the Home Secretary will know, we have said that the scope of the Green Paper was too wide. We recognise that there is a problem for the security agencies with regard to how civil claims are made and how material needs to be considered. However, proper safeguards need to be in place, as we have said. She also knows, as I have said this to her, that I am very willing to have further cross-party discussions with her about the detail. We have not yet seen what amendments she may have made to the Green Paper proposals and we will wait to see them and scrutinise them in detail. It is important that she should do that. On communications surveillance—I do not know whether she heard my points earlier, as she was conferring with her Front-Bench colleagues—it has been normal practice in the past for Home Secretaries to provide extensive briefing for the Opposition and the Select Committees. We will wait for that briefing and consider and scrutinise the detail as it is proposed.
The Home Secretary has also proposed stronger community sentences. That sounds good, although we gather that the Bill will be published and debated in the House of Lords without any clauses on community sentences. We should also consider what is missing. There is nothing on equal marriage—not even a draft Bill—even though, as Minister for Women and Equalities, she made it clear that she was consulting not on whether but on how to introduce the changes. There is nothing on violence against women and nothing on antisocial behaviour, even though she promised more than two years ago that new action would be taken. There is nothing on gangs, even though after the riots the Government told us that that was their big priority and even though we know that gang injunctions need to be improved. There is nothing on problem families, even though the Government told us in the autumn that they were the priority, and there is nothing to protect core public policing or to stop neighbourhood patrols being contracted out to private companies such as G4S or KBR as the cuts bite.
Is my right hon. Friend also surprised that there is no legislation on the criminalisation of forced marriage, something that was recommended by the Select Committee in the last Parliament and that was supported by the Prime Minister as Leader of the Opposition?
My right hon. Friend is certainly right that the newspapers have been briefed on that subject, but as it is not in the Queen’s Speech we do not know the Government’s position. It is obviously a complex issue; nevertheless it would be useful to know the Government’s view.
There is nothing on knife crime, crime prevention or counter-terrorism. This was the Queen’s Speech that the Government briefed as being tough on crime and tough on antisocial behaviour, but it is hardly the stuff to have criminals quaking in their boots.
To be fair to the Home Secretary, she did tell us about the National Crime Agency. We support it; it is sensible enough, it is right and there are serious national crime issues that need to be addressed, but let us be honest that this is not radical reform but mainly a rearrangement. It is a cross between the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, with the police national computer and a new command structure thrown in. It is sensible enough, it will be an improvement, but it will not compensate for the lack of 16,000 police.
As for Britain’s borders, the Home Secretary says the new National Crime Agency will include a border policing command. Will that deliver extra staff to deal with queues, extra technology to improve security checks, better management to sort out the chaos, and help for families queuing for hours with tired kids? No. Instead we will have a border command in a separate organisation from the border force, which is itself in a separate organisation from the border agency, and there will still be no clear direction from the Government about what any of the three of them is supposed to do. The Home Secretary is adding to the chaos, not solving it.
I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for giving way a second time. Has she had the opportunity to read the report by John Vine that was published this morning, in which he specifically points out his concern about constant reorganisation not helping the protection of our borders?
My right hon. Friend, who is the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, makes an extremely important point. I wanted to come on to that report, because, overall, we can see the queues getting longer while Ministers do not seem to have a clue what is going on.
Last Monday, the Minister for Immigration claimed the maximum queues were an hour and a half and accused the media of making “wild suggestions”. By Tuesday he was admitting the wild suggestions were nearer the truth; by Wednesday we were told the Prime Minister was getting a grip; by Thursday and Friday the queues were getting worse and worse. There were two-hour waits at Stansted and three-hour waits at Heathrow, reports of trains delayed by queues at Paris, Customs checks stopped at Heathrow and reports that staff from Manchester were being put on a plane, told to work for a few hours at Heathrow and put on another plane back again.
Finally, this week, we got the truth from the borders and immigration inspectorate. Passport staff at terminal 3 have been cut by 15%, shortages mean that they cannot cope with the queues, and management changes brought in under this Government are making things much worse. The Minister for Immigration charmingly told us that the report was out of date because action had been taken since September to sort it out, but since September things have got worse, not better. The report says the staff are all on at the wrong times—more when the airport is quiet and fewer when all the planes are coming in.
It is just baffling to everyone that the UK Border Force and the Minister for Immigration do not seem to be able to work out what time of day it is, but at least they are doing better than the Home Secretary, who is still rather challenged by the day of the week. I know that the Home Secretary is not on Twitter and she might have missed the attempts to cheer her up through the difficult time that she is having. They have started to suggest songs, such as “ Sunday, Wednesday, happy days,” “I don’t know why I don’t like Tuesdays,” “Eight days a week” and—clearly—nothing by The Police. How about Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Not leaving on a jet plane and I don’t know when I’ll be back again”?
Getting the date wrong in a case such as Abu Qatada’s, however, could have been very serious. Everyone is very relieved that the European Court decided to reject Abu Qatada’s appeal not because of the date, but because of the merits of the case. We should all welcome that decision. We all want him deported as soon as possible and the case has been repeatedly and thoroughly considered at every level in the courts, but lessons also have to be learned at the Home Office too. Three weeks ago the Home Secretary came to the House and was adamant that she had got the date right. Twelve times she told the House the deadline was Monday. In scathing tones she said to me:
“We are talking about a simple mathematical question.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 509.]
Sadly, it was a mathematical question that neither the Home Secretary nor her Ministers seemed able to answer.
The Court was very clear in its judgment that the deadline was Tuesday and Court officials said so at the time. It is no good the Home Secretary’s saying that the Foreign Office is now complaining that the Court’s guidance was not clear enough. If it was not clear enough, why not ask questions at the time? Why did they not ring up the Court and ask the question? Why did they not listen to the media and to the others who were raising with her the point that the Court was saying very clearly that the date was Tuesday, instead? Why take the risk?
It is all irrelevant now.
The Justice Secretary likes to chunter from a sedentary position that that is all irrelevant now, but the trouble is that it is not. The Home Office makes these serious decisions every day of the week. If it cannot even get what day of the week it is right, how can we have confidence in its decisions about the future? How can we have confidence when the Home Secretary next comes to the House and tells us categorically that she is right and that the Home Office advice is right when we still do not know why they got it so catastrophically wrong this time around? Surely she should now come to the House and explain why the Home Office got this so wrong, why it could not ask the right questions and why it did not take advice, listen to it and avoid taking the risk—a risk that could have added further considerable delays to this process.
The right hon. Lady is making good knockabout political points, but is it not the case that, given that Abu Qatada’s deportation process started in 2001, the real question she should be answering is why her party made so little progress in all that time whereas this Home Secretary has made so much progress in such a short time?
We still have a problem in that we all want Abu Qatada deported but he has not yet been deported. I agree that the process has taken far too long in the British courts and in the European Courts. I even agree with the Justice Secretary that reforms need to be made to the European courts to try to speed things up although there are considerable questions about the progress he has been able to make. I do not think, however, that we should have self-inflicted problems with the Home Office creating additional delays by getting something so basic wrong. This is about the serious decisions the Home Office takes and if it is unable to learn the lessons of the past or to recognise the errors it has made there will be serious problems in the future.
Do I gather that the right hon. Lady welcomes the fact that we got 47 countries to agree to get rid of these arrears so that there are not years and years of delay before things can get on? Does she welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just won her appeal, which has not been delayed, and that we are now able to resume the ordinary deportation process? Why is she getting bogged down in procedural niceties that are now quite irrelevant and why did not her Government do anything about this for eight years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) has just asked?
It is indeed gallant of the Justice Secretary to leap to the Home Secretary’s defence. They are huge friends—this is obviously a change of relationship between them. We are delighted to see their rapprochement.
I agree with the Justice Secretary that it is important to get rid of the arrears and try to deal with the backlogs at the European Court. That is a problem and I hope that some progress can be made. We are all very pleased that the Court rejected Abu Qatada’s appeal, but I must say that the Home Secretary made that more difficult, not easier. Abu Qatada should not have been able to appeal and she could have delayed her decision by a single day. The procedures matter because we do not want the Home Office to screw up important procedures. Whether it be in situations such as that when Raed Salah walked into this country because the Home Secretary did not get the procedures right to enable his being stopped at the border when she wanted him to be stopped, or whether it is about getting the date right, it does matter because this is not just any other omnishambles for this Government. It is not like a pasty tax or queues at the petrol pumps—this affects our national security. Whether about counter-terrorism or police on our streets, these decisions affect public safety. Whether on our borders or in our courts, these decisions affect our national security.
When we have 16,000 fewer police, a 10% increase in personal crime, 1,000 fewer foreign criminals being deported and this latest report showing 100 more illegal immigrants absconding according to the most recent figures, people are anxious. They are already worried about their jobs and their financial security and they do not want to have to worry about crime and public safety as well. This Queen’s Speech is failing the people of Britain just as the Home Office is failing on policing, border security and public confidence. It is a Queen’s Speech that offers no change, no hope and no direction from a Government who are not listening or learning. They should change course before it is too late.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate. Such is the nature of these debates that most of my remarks will be much more localised and parochial than those that fall within the ambit of the justice and home affairs issues being debated today.
First, let me say to the shadow Home Secretary that in the golden age of my period as a party leader I had to go, with great regularity, to meet a succession of Labour Home Secretaries. At that time, one never quite knew what was most likely to have changed since the previous meeting. On issues such as detention orders, people were scratching their heads and trying to find their way around the problems to which she referred. One week, Tony Blair would tell us that it was absolutely essential to have this number of days or it would be the end of civilisation as we knew it, and then poor Charles Clarke would have to go off and try to make sense of it. At the next meeting, when that issue had been shelved, we would be told that something else was absolutely critical and had to be dealt with or the earth would collapse around our ears. Given all the criticisms in the concluding part of the right hon. Lady’s speech, I have to say to her that any cursory examination of the way in which the Home Office and No. 10 handled these matters under Prime Minister Blair would reveal it to be rather chaotic. If I were her I would tread carefully and not be too critical about the progress that has been achieved recently under the coalition.
The second point I want to make about justice and home affairs involves casting my mind back even further to when I first became a Member in 1983. At that time, I was part of a new intake and the youngest Member of the House, and much to Mrs Thatcher’s disapproval, as Prime Minister, the House had voted by a significant majority to conduct an experiment into the televising of our proceedings. It is interesting to look back at the Hansard reports of those debates. As a party representative and the youngest Member of the House, I was appointed to the Select Committee that, under Sir Geoffrey Howe, oversaw the conduct of the experiment with cameras. At that time, people were predicting that all sorts of things would happen to the character of the Chamber if the cameras were allowed in. They said that everything would be a disaster, that nobody would understand what was going on and that the quality of our democracy would be demeaned—it went on and on. In due course, the cameras came in and, rather like what happened following the debates about votes for women, if anyone had stood up in the House of Commons a year or two later and suggested that the cameras should be taken out, they would have been laughed out of court.
“Court” is the operative word here because there has recently been an example in the Scottish courts, which has been well publicised south of the border, of the televising of a judicial sentencing. When the broadcasters came into the House of Commons, they were subject to very strict criteria, and they conducted themselves very responsibly, as they had to. I know that some people have genuine apprehensions about cameras coming into the courts in England, but I think the broadcasters will conduct themselves in exactly the same way. I do not think that televising proceedings will undermine the quality or integrity of the justice being dispensed. Instead, as with our proceedings, it will open them up to a wider audience in a way that is more illuminating, although perhaps not always more encouraging.
I want to touch on four of the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech and focus on how they will affect my part of the country—the highlands of Scotland. I will also make a further general point about House of Lords reform. First, we have already had the very welcome decision that the Green investment bank will be sited in Edinburgh. As a Scot representing a Scottish constituency, I am highly pleased by that, as one might expect. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) played a very important role in that campaign. The highlands of Scotland could contribute to the Green investment bank’s potential and also benefit greatly from it. I am thinking particularly of areas such as the Kishorn site in my constituency, which is on the brink of being brought back into being and at the cutting edge of offshore technology. I am also thinking about the tidal stream campaign at Kylerhea, which has attracted a great deal of attention and has great potential.
Secondly, I welcome the measures on banking. The anger that we all know remains out there among our constituents across the country and across parties about the inability of so many small businesses to secure decent levels of funding from the banks is genuine and further reform is essential. In my area and others, we need only look at the continuing rate of shop closures on the high street. In an area such as the Scottish highlands, to which tourism is so important, there is a stranglehold on local bed-and-breakfast businesses when it comes to getting funding out of the local banks, although it is not the local banks that are preventing that from happening because they are at the bottom of the food chain. Those decisions are being taken way up the food chain. That is why the measures on banking announced in the Queen’s Speech are so welcome and necessary.
Thirdly, let me address an issue on which the Liberal Democrats, including many colleagues of mine, some of whom are still in the House, some of whom are in the European Parliament and some of whom have moved on to become Members of the other place or to elsewhere, have campaigned for the best part of 20 years—the regulation of the supermarkets in relation to local agricultural producers. For example, producers have to sell milk to supermarkets at below the cost of production. Coupled with the phasing out of milk quotas under the common agricultural policy, that has caused a huge contraction in the number of producers, which is unhealthy in a liberal economy. It has also put them at a severe commercial disadvantage in relation to the supermarkets. The proposed reforms are a welcome development, and the thumbprints of Liberal Democrats are right across them.
My fourth point is about reform of the electricity market to ensure fair prices. Our position in the highlands is thanks to the late, great Tom Johnston, a pioneering Labour Secretary of State after the second world war—“Power to the Glens” was the slogan at the time. The most marvellous and visually dramatic hydroelectric system was built, and it remains tremendously vital for power production to this day. It is safe, secure and sustainable energy. We make as much from it as we can commercially, and climatically we are now well placed—perhaps not for all the right reasons—to take advantage of wind generation, both on and offshore, but the highlands pay more per unit for electricity than any region of Scotland. The House can imagine the incomprehension, if not irritation and downright anger, locally, not least when we have no gas alternative. The past winter has not been the easiest, and my postbag is still full of letters from pensioners who are unable to heat their homes adequately. All around us is the magnificent contribution that we make to the UK national grid, yet in return we do not seem to get a reasonable and fair rate in our area. If the legislation can help with that, it will be welcome indeed.
My final point is on House of Lords reform. I mentioned votes for women and the televising of the House of Commons. Nobody in their right mind would want to reverse those decisions. When we have a properly democratically accountable and elected House of Lords, nobody in their right mind will want to reverse that either. They could not argue for such a case with any credibility.
The very fact that the debate is still going on more than a century after it was predominant in British politics is in itself unbelievable. As the legislation goes forward, I do not doubt that we shall have arguments and disagreements in both Houses and within and across parties, but surely to God, in this day and age, we must find a basis for a mature, bicameral, properly democratically elected and functioning Parliament, fit for the modern age. The House of Lords does a lot of its work very well—I do not criticise it on that—but globally it is an unjustifiable and incomprehensible anachronism in this day and age, as history will judge when it is ultimately reformed. People will look at their history books and ask why it took generations of parliamentarians more than a century to get together and do it. I hope that my Labour friends across the Floor will not succumb to playing party politics and making mischief to try to cause problems for the coalition and miss the bigger historic opportunity before us.
There is much to commend in the Queen’s Speech, and I am delighted to speak in its support.
It would have been possible to discuss many aspects of the failure of the Queen’s Speech to address the needs of the country. The fact that 1 million young people are out of work ought to have been one of the priorities addressed by the Prime Minister in the Gracious Speech, but it was not there. That is relevant to our debate on home affairs, because we know that as unemployment rises among young people, some are drawn into criminality and some feel abandoned by society. That affects how some young people—not all—relate to the rest of society. There is a direct impact when we fail to look at growth and creating an employment base for our young people.
We could have looked at the failure of the Queen’s Speech to address funding of the national health service. Every time there are cuts in the health service, there are cutbacks in mental health services and there is a direct impact on the criminal justice system. Crime rates go up when we do not deal properly with mental illness in our society. Discussion of both those issues would have been relevant today, but as the Home Secretary is with us, I shall devote the bulk of my remarks to her responsibilities in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
First, however, I cannot resist responding to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy). He hopes that his friends on the Labour Benches, where many of us regard him highly, do not make mischief simply to cause confusion in the coalition. I have to tell him that the confusion is already embedded deep in the coalition parties; it is nothing to do with us. Of course, it is impossible to defend the House of Lords as is, but he and his colleagues must address the fact that before we get to the important question of how we move people into a second Chamber, reform must be defined by the function and nature of the relationship between the two Houses.
I believe we should have either no second Chamber or an elected one, but we should also make sure that there is a proper relationship between the two Houses. It is not a trivial question. If it is not addressed, the Bill we think is coming before us will not be adequate for the modern constitution our nation needs.
I turn to the Home Secretary’s direct responsibilities. She was asked on a number of occasions why she did not address the fact that more than 16,000 people are demonstrating outside this building. They include police officers, many from the conurbation of Greater Manchester —my area—who are very concerned about three issues that affect policing. Of course, there are some matters of self-interest. Police officers are concerned about their pensions. I talked to one officer who has served for 12 years. He signed on in the belief that he would get his pension after 30 years’ service. He was perfectly entitled to believe that his contract would be maintained, but now he fears that instead of serving 18 years, he will be asked to serve 28 years before he can take his pension. Those are the legitimate grievances of people we should respect for the work they do.
The police feel that the Winsor report was adopted mechanically with no proper consideration of what the reform agenda could and should have been. The Home Secretary had the opportunity to lead a debate about modern policing, but instead she simply delegated the responsibility to Tom Winsor. His report could have formed the basis for the debate, but it was not fit for implementation lock, stock and barrel, and the police are right to be concerned about that.
The police are also concerned about what is happening to policing in our communities, despite what the Home Secretary tells us consistently. When I have pointed out to her that even though Greater Manchester is not a low crime area, police cutbacks pro rata are greater than in any force in England and Wales, she dismisses it by saying that the chief constable does not agree with my view that the cuts will have an impact on policing. She might have heard the chief constable of Greater Manchester police on the radio this morning talking about the difficult challenges in policing. He talked about the increased demands on the police—in relation to mental health, for example, which we know is increasingly an issue in conurbations such as mine. We know that these issues are piling extra pressures on the police while these cuts are taking place—1,500 police officers and 1,500 civilian staff are to go from the Greater Manchester police force. Despite Government rhetoric, that simply cannot be done without a direct impact on front-line policing.
I could say dramatically, had these cuts already been fully functioning at the time of the riots last August, it would have been massively more difficult to assemble the concentration of police officers that we were able to in Greater Manchester—police officers who literally put their lives on the line, out of an enormous sense of duty to our society. They were not asking questions about pensions, they were not asking questions about reform, but were prepared to stand up to rioters because they knew that that was what society expected of them. If we cut those police officer numbers, we cut the capacity to deal with such emergencies.
It is those extraordinary events that take so much of the police resources. My hon. Friend and I were present at the memorial service for Anuj Bidvi, the student who was murdered on Boxing day. It took a huge amount of Greater Manchester police’s time to catch his killer, and that was not written into any budget. Those were circumstances of the sort that occur outside budgets.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has enormous experience and is enormously well respected throughout the world of criminal justice. He is absolutely right. That brings me to a point that I want to make. The Home Secretary and her colleagues have wanted to peddle the myth that it is easy to define what is front-line policing and what is not. Further to the case to which my right hon. Friend refers, of course an enormous number of back-room staff are involved in solving a murder. It is reckoned that, in Greater Manchester, a shooting costs somewhere in the order of £1 million to solve. That is not £1 million of blue-uniformed police officers plodding the streets, picking up bullets and rescuing people; it is £1 million spent on a resource base that is necessary to solve that type of most serious crime.
Fortunately, in Greater Manchester the number of shootings has gone down significantly in recent years because of the good partnership work that the police have been able to do; but that partnership work is challenged by the cuts. There is, I must say to the Home Secretary, too much denial among Government Members of the real impact of the policing cuts, too much denial of the fact that those cuts are reducing policing capacity, too much denial of the fact that there is an impact on the morale of the police officers who serve our communities, and who are now at the point where they feel they are being taken for granted and treated very badly in this process.
It is easy for any politician to stand up and defend the police, especially when we are in opposition, and I understand the dangers of that. The police do need reform. The police themselves accept that there is a great need for reform. But that reform must be consistent with the challenges they face, and with ensuring that the process of change is not so rapid that we prevent the process of embedding the necessary changes. I think there is now a need for a pause in the pace of change, although I do not expect one. I hope the Home Secretary will listen to those who are advising her away from that direction of travel, because we do need to look at what modern policing demands. We do need to look at partnership working of the type that modern policing has so successfully cultivated in recent years, which has allowed policing to operate within our neighbourhoods and to become part of the community, but which has also allowed it to operate at the most sophisticated level of modern technology, to solve the type of gun crime that I mentioned, or to be involved in the combating of terrorism and all the things that require a very different type of sophistication. But all that requires a more secure resource base.
When the Home Secretary was talking about the National Crime Agency, she did not answer my specific question about its resourcing and the number of people working there. The concern has been raised with me that there would be fewer people transferring across to the NCA than there are at present in the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency combined, but with an expectation that more duties would be placed on the NCA. If that is right, we need to know how those extra efficiencies will be generated, or in any case we need some indication. I may well be wrong, and if the Home Secretary wants to tell the House now or later that I am wrong, I will hold up my hands and accept that. But it really is important that we get this right, because the NCA’s task will be of such fundamental importance that we must have the proper resource base. We must know that that resource base is sufficient to enable the continuation of the work that has in the past been done by SOCA and the NPIA, to enable the NCA to play a significant part in the future of policing.
I conclude as I began. There are many things we could have discussed in the Queen’s Speech that will impact directly on the levels of crime and security in our communities. It could have been mental health or issues around unemployment, especially among our young people. There is enough lacking in what the Home Secretary said today about the future of policing to cause concern, in communities such as mine and up and down this country of ours. I hope she will go back and fight a stronger case with the Chancellor—a stronger case that says, “Of all the things that you can cut back on, people’s security should be amongst the last.”
It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to the debate, and I start by mentioning some comments that the Home Secretary made. I particularly welcome the Crime and Courts Bill, with its potential impact on border security, and especially serious organised crime. I have campaigned in the House for a couple of years to ban the drug khat and, as it now looks as if the sale and importation of khat has been linked to serious organised crime, I hope that the Bill will have a direct impact on that. Equally, I welcome the establishment of the National Crime Agency, which must be a step in the right direction. However, I am sure that the key there will be a strong working relationship between the NCA and other agencies.
It is perfectly reasonable for the shadow Home Secretary to stand and oppose many of the Government’s cuts; that is her choice. But I do worry that there now seems to be a pattern whereby the Opposition will go to each of the pressure groups opposing the proposals for cuts, without any explanation of how the funding deficit will be managed. We saw that today, when we seem to have established at least a £1 billion difference between the funding arrangements, with no proper explanation of whether that will equate to a rise in taxes, should the Labour Opposition become a Government again, or where perhaps cuts will come in other areas. Until that gap is bridged, it is very hard to take seriously what is being said. My constituents are not stupid, and I think over time they will realise that, as the Labour party seems to oppose everything and propose very little in return, there is something of a credibility gap.
I will not keep the House long. I apologise for focusing on the families and children Bill. I appreciate that with six days to debate the Queen’s Speech, it is for the Opposition to choose the subjects debated, and time will always be a constraint, but today seems the most opportune time to talk about the Bill. I want to focus my comments on an area that, I hope, is not contentious across the House—the changes to the adoption system. I am pleased that the Government have been to date very clear in their aims. They have said that they would like to reduce the number of adoptions that are delayed in order to achieve a “perfect”, or near, ethnic match between adoptive parents and the adoptive child; to see swifter use of a national adoption register in order to find the right adopters for a child wherever they might live; to encourage all local authorities to seek to place children with their potential adopters in anticipation of the court’s placement order; and radically to speed up the adopter assessment process, so that two months are spent in training and information gathering—a pre-qualification phase—followed by four months of full assessment; to introduce a fast-track process for those who have adopted before or who are foster carers wanting to adopt a child in their care; and finally, to develop the concept of a national gateway to adoption as a consistent source of advice and information for those thinking about adoption.
I, and I sense the whole House, will support all those aspirations. I am confident that the families and children Bill will give hope to the 4,000-plus children in care who are waiting to be adopted by a loving family. It proves that we are not just paying lip service, but acting with due urgency and care to overhaul what is at times a lengthy and damaging process.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening. As one who turns 42 on Tuesday, I do not consider myself especially old, but perhaps I am considered too old in the present system. I think the point of the proposals is to broaden the range of potential adopters.
In supporting the Government’s aims, I would, however, underline the need for post-adoption support and services for birth parents. It is clear why we have acted to rebuild the exhausting road to adoption. On average, two and a half years elapse between a child entering the care system and being matched for adoption—an unacceptably long period. The assessment process for potential parents can be incredibly intrusive: adopters in my constituency have conveyed to me the prejudiced attitude that they have faced for trivial matters, such as earning a good salary or even owning a dog. Some families have faced difficulties in adopting the sibling of their adopted child: that even resulted in one couple being unable to adopt the brother of one of their children, thus depriving that child of the chance to grow up with his sibling. Black children wait in care about six months longer than white children in the hope of finding the “perfect” ethnic match. All the while, those children’s chances of making secure attachments with a new, loving family are lessened.
Thankfully though, measures are finally being taken by this Government to curb the damage that can be done. The plans include an increased profile for concurrency and swifter use of the national adoption register, throwing the net wider for potential adopters. Research shows that the well-being of a child who has successfully settled in a foster placement is equal to that of a child in a good adoption placement. Concurrent planning makes it easier for potential parents to adopt the child they are fostering, which means that the initial strong bonds made in foster care need not be disrupted. Referral to the national adoption register will ensure that delayed placements motivated by financial savings will no longer be possible, which will encourage ties with independent adoption agencies.
I am encouraged by the zeal with which the Government are embracing the challenge. I recently visited an independent adoption agency in my Milton Keynes constituency. Despite the positive feedback on the proposed changes, St Francis’ Children’s Society discussed the additional challenges it faces in its work. It is clear to me that two specific areas should not be ignored during this period of change: increased support for post-adoption services and better awareness of the needs of birth parents.
The work for adopted children does not simply stop the day that the child steps into their new home. Many independent adoption agencies across the country, such as St Francis’, pledge lifetime support. The needs of adopted children are highly specific. They are very likely to have experienced some sort of abuse or neglect, the effects of which can cause problems later in the child’s life. They may have development delay, with some children unable to walk or talk at the age of three or four. A lack of understanding persists in families and classrooms about attachment disorders and how they affect a child’s ability to form relationships and express emotion. Ignoring those problems, which are faced by all adopted children, will greatly affect their chance of living a stable and prosperous life.
Despite the requirement that all adopters should receive an assessment of their child’s needs, they have no statutory entitlement to the recommended support. Often, if their child requires therapeutic intervention, adopters have to seek funds for private help or do battle with their local authority. If a child can receive such intervention while in care, why can we not extend the support to when the child is adopted? Post-adoption support is where the work really takes place in shaping that young person and their family. Making post-adoption support statutory would reassure potential adopters that they can change the life of a child, with the full backing of this Government.
Positive work with birth families is taking place in my constituency. Birth parents who have lost their children to adoption are the often ignored third element of the adoption triangle. If we want to cut the number of children entering the care system, birth parents also require proper support and intervention to turn their lives around. In a written response detailing the support available to families of at-risk children, the Children’s Minister assured me that the Government are committed to reducing the number of children entering the care system. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), is right to focus on early preventive measures, breaking cycles before they envelop new generations and giving hope to those who are most in need.
St Francis’ Children’s Society birth connections service empowers individuals to make better decisions for the lives of their children, as well as for their own lives. Individuals counselled through the service have gained a better understanding of why their children were taken into care; they have also made healthier choices regarding the children who remain with them, or on whether to continue to have children. Most important, however, children whose birth families are properly supported during the adoption process are shown to have a better and more positive experience of adoption. Such direct work, which focuses on breaking habits and providing understanding, is much more valuable and effective in encouraging individuals to consider positive life paths.
Adoption is no longer the taboo subject it once was, but having a child taken away remains so. Demonising such parents has proved to be ineffectual. Let us consider new ways to help birth parents to re-engage with society, and continue to work to create more preventive services for the most disadvantaged.
The Government have begun to make it easier for people to adopt. The proof that the changes are working will surely be an increase in the number of children adopted in the coming years, but how can we get the message out to individuals and couples across Britain that adopting is a wonderful way to build a family, and is not simply for those who cannot conceive? Crucially, we need to think about how to change the mentality that, “Adoption isn’t for me,” when of course the truth is that adoption can and should be for anyone. That is perhaps the greater task that lies ahead of us. This Government have taken bold steps where previous Governments have failed to do so. By improving post-adoption support and addressing the needs of birth parents, we will truly create better outcomes for children.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), who in this home affairs debate has rightly raised the important subject of children, families and adoption. Before I was elected to this place, I was a child care solicitor in local government, so I recognise the importance of a number of the points he made about the bureaucracy surrounding adoption and the need to make sure that children are placed for adoption. I hope that those points will be considered during the Bill’s passage through this House, and that its journey will be a speedy one.
I welcome the proposed legislation on drug driving to put it on a par with drink driving. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and the Croydon Advertiser, who have led the campaign for a number of months. Having looked at the legislation and learnt about the campaign that the hon. Gentleman has prosecuted since becoming a Member of this House, I think the proposal seems so sensible that one wonders why we did not act before now. The only problem, I think, was that the equipment was not sufficient to allow the police to test drivers who may have taken drugs. I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will say more about the proposed legislation.
I also welcome the Government’s commitment to changing the landscape of policing and the creation of the National Crime Agency. As the shadow Home Secretary said, it is a good concept to put organisations together and focus their efforts. The Prime Minister went further in his speech yesterday when he spoke about creating an FBI for the United Kingdom. I am not sure whether the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice see the NCA in the same light, or whether the right hon. Gentleman will become the new J Edgar Hoover, but the fact is that we need to unclutter the landscape of policing and make sure that it does the job we want it to do.
I am not sure that, at the end of the reorganisation, we will have fewer organisations than when the process started, but it is sensible to place the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre within the National Crime Agency. I was concerned when that was suggested, and in the light of the recent controversies about the grooming of young girls, CEOP’s importance has come to the fore, but I was convinced by other members of the Home Affairs Committee and we agreed unanimously that it is sensible to put CEOP in the NCA, as long as it retains its identity and focus and is not submerged in some great bureaucracy.
The problem that I have with the National Crime Agency is that we have so few details. I remember the appearance of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice before the Select Committee. He asked me in advance whether he could bring his director of finance to the Committee sitting, so the director of finance came along and sat with him. I asked the director of finance what the NCA’s budget was, and he could not give the Committee an answer. It was at that stage that we became very worried about how the details of the NCA would be arrived at, so every month—I do not know whether the Minister knows this—the Committee sends to the only employee, as far as I know, of the National Crime Agency, Keith Bristow. He must be a very lonely man in this huge organisation, which the Prime Minister likened to the FBI, and which is to have many organisations going into it. It has only one full-time employee, as I understand it. We sent him a questionnaire, so that he can fill in the gaps, and so that the jigsaw or new landscape can hopefully be completed by vesting day—the crucial day, of course, on which the NCA will get all its powers.
We will watch the NCA very carefully. We will watch the way in which the Serious Organised Crime Agency is merged with it, and will monitor the number of people leaving SOCA. We will follow the deliberations of the Public Accounts Committee, which had a very good sitting in which it discovered that hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money were being paid to former employees of SOCA who decided to take early retirement rather than stay in the police service. We will monitor those former employees to see whether they come back as consultants. If they decide to advise the Sultan of Brunei or the King of Bahrain, as some of our senior officers have done, that is a matter for them, but if they come back as consultants, having been paid off by the taxpayer, the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee will have something to say about it.
I share the Government’s ambition for a new landscape, but it is important to have people in that landscape. The crucial people to have, when dealing with policing, are police officers. Like the shadow Home Secretary, I went to talk to some police officers—mostly those who had come from Leicestershire, but also a few others including Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation—about their march in Westminster today. I am sorry that the commissioner did not allow them to march past the Palace of Westminster, and I am sorry that certain chief constables did not allow officers leave to join the march—I understand that police leave was cancelled in some, if not all, areas—because it is really important that we hear what the police have to say about the Winsor review.
If the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and others have followed the proceedings of the Home Affairs Committee, they will know that we were not that impressed by Mr Winsor, partly because he decided to criticise the Select Committee, which obviously does not go down well with its members, and also because we felt that his data and the claims that he made were not really backed up with facts.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Does he acknowledge that at one point Mr Winsor said he had given a definition of front-line policing in his earlier report, although there is not, in fact, anything like an adequate definition there of what he means by front-line policing, never mind a definition that could practically be used, if we are to use that term?
My right hon. Friend is right: Mr Winsor did not give a definition, and it would have been useful to receive one. I know that the Minister has written to the Committee with his definition of what front-line policing should be.
We have to carry police officers with us. I cannot really understand why a Government committed to law and order with the kind of vision and ambition that Ministers have should want to take on the very people who are to administer that vision. The last time I was on a demonstration with the police was under the previous Government, who made the terrible error of not paying police officers what the arbitration committee said they should. In the only robust conversation—I was going to say “row”—that I had with the previous Prime Minister on the subject, I pointed out that a Labour Government ought to honour an agreement that they had made, and should pay police officers what we said we would. I think 100,000 officers turned up to that demonstration. There are slightly fewer this time—28,000—but, as I have said, their leave has been cancelled.
The Government should not take on the very people who are to administer a crucial part of their agenda, because if anything goes wrong, and there is an emergency, the first people praised by the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box are the police.
I am listening carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, as he knows. May I point out that the Government honoured the third year of that pay deal? That is one of the first things we did when we came to office. Will he reflect on the fact that the recommendations of the independent Winsor review, which was advised by a former senior chief constable, have been broadly supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which represents the 43 forces of England and Wales? The recommendations are now the subject of negotiation. It is not right to dismiss a considered, independent report that is broadly supported by the chief constables of this country.
It depends which chief constable we are talking about; I do not think that the chief constable of Gloucestershire, who recently announced that he is going, is the best person to call in the Minister’s defence. This is about ordinary police officers, not those who sit at the top of the tree. Very soon, ACPO will no longer be there, because the Minister is getting rid of it. He may pray it in aid, but we are talking about the effect on ordinary police officers. I do not want ordinary police officers to have to take second jobs to make ends meet. I do not want them to spend some of their time as private investigators, as some of them do. I do not want them to have to leave the police force to become private investigators; 60% of private investigators are former police officers. I want police officers to have a career, be well paid, and be compensated.
I endorse the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) about the way in which SOCA operates internationally. What it does internationally is different from what it does in this country. Ever since I have chaired the Select Committee, I have felt that if the public give an organisation £500 million, we expect it to be able to deliver as far as seizures and disrupting organised crime are concerned. I never thought SOCA quite made it, in terms of giving the public value for money. However, on our recent visit to Colombia, I was deeply impressed by what SOCA does abroad. I know that it is to go into the NCA, but given that the President of Colombia, in a meeting with the Select Committee, spent the entire time praising the work of SOCA and what it is doing to stop drugs coming out of Colombia, we should consider branding for one moment, and whether we actually want to change SOCA’s name abroad, or keep it, just for these purposes. Many countries rate what SOCA is doing, and to give it a new name and branding may be a step too far.
I will not deal with surveillance issues because I know that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice will speak on the subject, but I will talk about two more issues. One is immigration. The Government will deeply regret their decision to take away the right of appeal for family visits. I am looking round the Chamber. The hon. Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), for Croydon Central and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—I am sure that there are others, but I pick those because I know a bit about their constituencies —will have huge immigration case loads in their surgeries, as many Labour Members have. The fact is that taking away the right of appeal will hugely increase Members’ case loads. We are happy to do more work, but the fact is that we will send those people back to make further applications. The Minister for Immigration is not in the Chamber at the moment and other Ministers do not deal with immigration work, but the facts are very clear: 50% of the appeals against decisions to refuse family visits are won in the immigration tribunal, which means that decision making is not as good as it should be. If we take away the right of appeal, we will take away people’s only option to have their relatives come here to attend family occasions, funerals and weddings.
That will be a big mistake by the Government. The previous Government were about to make the same mistake. I think that the proposal comes not from Ministers but from officials. I can recall talking with Charles Clarke about it—he happened to be watching a Norwich match at the time—when colleagues and I went to see him, and he took our point. I said, “Take away the right of appeal, and you will deny our citizens, people who live in this country, the chance to get their relatives here for their family occasions.”
The Government will regret what they are doing. The Prime Minister addressed 1,000 people at the launch of Conservative Friends of India 10 days ago. I am glad that he did so—he made a very good speech—but he did not tell them about this proposal. Every single person attending that event will have a relative who wishes to come here to visit them and so will be inconvenienced by and feel distressed about what is proposed. We are putting pressure on the entry clearance officers, who themselves are having their numbers cut because of Government decisions. I ask Ministers please to look at this again. It is extremely important that they do so.
The shadow Home Secretary spoke about Abu Qatada. The Home Secretary came out and said that a mistake was made—not in so many words, but she said that the date was wrong. She came to the House and was asked 12 times about it, and she came to the Home Affairs Committee and was asked by me six times about it. She said that she accepted unequivocal legal advice, so she should change her legal advisers. She has spent £1 million on external legal advisers on the Abu Qatada case. It is not as though there is an absence of Queen’s counsel; they are not all at the Leveson inquiry. My advice is to find someone else who knows about immigration law and pay them what they ask to be paid, but for goodness sake get some good legal advice. I do not blame Ministers for the mistake, and I do not expect the Home Secretary to pick up a phone and find out when a deadline is, but I do expect her to get that legal advice, and if someone says they think it is wrong, even if it happens to be a BBC journalist, she should call her officials together and ask them to look at it again.
My final point is not about home affairs but about an issue I have raised in nearly every Queen’s Speech debate in the 25 years I have been a Member of the House. It is something that happened 21 years ago—the closure of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. In every Gracious Speech debate I have talked about the need to end the liquidation of BCCI. On 5 July 1991 the sixth-biggest bank in the world was closed down. Many of my constituents lost money in that bank, and I can remember going to see the then Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England with people such as the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Mr Alex Salmond and many others to see what money there was for the people who had lost their money in BCCI. We were told that there would be no money left for them because the bank was empty and bankrupt. The Sheikh of Abu Dhabi was told, “Please don’t give us the money, because the bank is broke.”
After 21 years, those people have now received 90% of their money back, thanks to the work of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. He was the first and only Secretary of State in 21 years to write directly to the liquidators to ask when the liquidation would be completed. I am pleased to say that shortly afterwards the liquidators fixed the final meeting, and on 17 May, after 21 years and £1 billion of liquidators’ fees for a £6 billion bank, BCCI will finally close and the creditors will have got 90% of their money back. This is the last time I shall mention BCCI in this House, certainly in a home affairs debate. I wish all those who have been involved in the campaign well and hope that we will learn the lessons from it: when a bank is in trouble and people are prepared to support it, as we have done subsequently with a number of other banks, we should stop and pause before closing it down and causing misery for so many thousands of people.
It is a pleasure to follow my colleague, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He made an interesting point about family visas, and he and I sat behind entry clearance officers in Mumbai and New Delhi, trying to work out why they generated so many appeals and discovering that, for example, people’s tendency to tell untruths that were irrelevant to their case caused some of the problems. Subsequent to that, when the Select Committee on Justice looked at appeals, we came to the view that Departments should be penalised if their decision-making processes were so bad that they generated a large number of appeals. It was not that we had in mind abolishing appeals; it was much more that Departments should have a financial incentive to get their decisions right in the first place.
I shall refer to other justice issues, of which there are quite a lot in the Gracious Speech, but first I welcome its general approach and the priority that it gives to the economy. My constituents are primarily interested not in how many Bills the House passes, but in whether we get the country out of this crisis, treat people fairly and build for the future. There are things that they would like to see, such as investment in the A1 and an announcement—long delayed—about school capital programmes so that we can have a new high school in Alnwick, but my farmer constituents will be pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech a long-standing Liberal Democrat commitment: the Bill to create an independent regulator for the supermarket supply chain, which has seen so many market distortions at the expense of small farmers.
On the issues that are of special interest to the Justice Committee, I start with the Crime and Courts Bill. It includes a lot of detail, which we still need to find out about, but we share a number of its general objectives: the reform of county courts offers opportunities for greater efficiency; the measure on driving under the influence of drugs will be welcomed throughout the House; and the facilities for broadcasting from courts, if carefully managed, provide real opportunities to achieve a better understanding of the courts.
There is tremendous scope for greater efficiency in fine enforcement, as it is a scandal that so many fines remain unpaid; there is scope within the transfer of documents, because the courts are able only gradually to secure good technology; and there are areas in which attempts to achieve greater efficiency have initially misfired, such as in the provision of interpreters in court proceedings, as the new contract, at least initially, has thrown up serious deficiencies that need to be dealt with and which the Committee has raised with the head of Her Majesty’s Courts Service.
I was intrigued to see the reference to judicial appointments and diversity, and it is not quite clear how the Government intend to achieve what they have in mind. The irony, to which the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has sometimes pointed, is that the old system had started to generate greater diversity, albeit in a non-transparent way, because the Lord Chancellor was able to use rather informal powers to achieve greater diversity.
The new system does not seem to have taken us much further forward, so it will be interesting to hear what the Government have to say on that, but some of the problems lie in the professions from which judges are drawn and in the fact that Crown Prosecution Service-employed advocates have a limited ability to gain the judicial experience that would make them candidates for judicial offices. Those problems need to be addressed.
We will be particularly interested in the family courts provisions, some of which are in the children and families Bill, and in Westminster Hall on 24 May we will have a debate about family courts, when some of the issues that I am going to mention will be raised. One issue that is almost certain to come up is the problem of expert witnesses, including the cost, the duplication and the uncertainty surrounding qualifications, which we need to deal with.
One issue that the Committee has looked at closely and reported on, however, is one on which the Government appear to be moving in a direction that worries us, and that is the law relating to the interests of the child in family law proceedings. I reiterate what the Committee concluded in its report on the operation of the family courts. We stated:
“In our view it is obvious to the court that a child deserves a loving, caring relationship with both his or her mother and father. A statement which might be taken to qualify the principle that the best interests of the child must prevail could give the impression of a change in the law and could cause confusion. We heard evidence from Australia that the effect of the ‘shared parenting’ approach had not only confused parties about how the ‘best interests of the child’ test should operate, but can encourage a more litigious approach by parents in private law cases,”
which runs directly contrary to the Government’s desire to promote mediation and out-of-court settlements. I hope that the Government will move very carefully on that issue. The consultation process is not yet over.
The issue of mediation brings me to the fact that changes to legal aid will lead to more litigants in person in the family courts. Most members of the Committee start from the proposition that the courts are not a good place in which to resolve many of the family difficulties placed in front of them. There are few things more absurd than trying to use the formal process of a court to rule on whether a child can go to the scouts or guides on a Friday night or is required to be wherever their other parent lives. That is an unsatisfactory way to deal with such matters, so we are strongly behind the Government’s desire to see such issues dealt with much more through mediation. But when we find litigants in person in the family courts, the family courts will have to adapt to be able to deal fairly with those litigants in person.
Another feature of the Crime and Courts Bill is community sentencing. It is obvious that prison is essential for many very dangerous people; the recent case in Rochdale involving the abuse of young girls is ample evidence of when people have to be put in prison for the protection of society. But prison becomes a gross misuse of resources if we use it for those who would be more likely to give up crime if we dealt with them in other ways.
We have a responsibility to use taxpayers’ money to prevent taxpayers from suffering from crime and to keep them safe. We should therefore have a rational approach to a justice policy that achieves that objective. For many criminals, prison is relatively easy. If a person’s life outside prison is fairly disordered and disorganised, prison is not as great a hardship as it would be for some Members, for whom it would be a dramatic change in the life that they are able to enjoy.
While we were looking at the great success that Norway has in rehabilitation through its prison system, a Norwegian prison governor told us that one of the main problems with people coming to prison is that they do not take responsibility for their actions. What does the prison system do? It teaches them no responsibility at all; it takes away all responsibility and says, “We’ll tell you what time to get up, what you have to do and provide you with meals.” That is the end of responsibility. We need to change how we look at people who need to be made to take responsibility for their actions. That is why we welcome measures such as restorative justice and why the development of community sentences is so important. However, as the Government recognise, we have to win public confidence for community sentences.
We have to get to a place where the public do not regard the length of a prison sentence as the only measure of how seriously society takes a crime. Naturally, people want to express very strongly that they are not going to put up with certain crimes and that society will not stand for them, but if our only way of doing that is to add a few more years on to a prison sentence, we will often spend money in ways that do not prevent people from suffering from those crimes in the future. It is important that we develop the effectiveness of community sentences and the public understanding of them.
I hope that the Government’s approach to crime will also take account of the principles of justice reinvestment, which we set out in a report at the end of the last Parliament. They demonstrate that if we invest money soon enough, we can stop young people getting involved in crime in the first place. For that reason, I particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to early years education, which is one of many ways in which we need to be getting to children and young people at the stage when the likelihood that they might become involved in crime is increasing dramatically. Society seems so unaware of that.
I need to mention other justice issues. One is defamation. I am not going to get into the argument about that, because it has been so well explored elsewhere, including by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill. However, I do want to look at issues to do with the justice and security Bill, starting with the closed proceedings in civil cases. It is important to remember these proposals are not about criminal cases in which somebody might be imprisoned on the basis of evidence in closed proceedings, but about civil cases. The question is whether we can devise an acceptable procedure to stop Governments potentially having to pay damages to known terrorists and advocates of terrorism because the court cannot see all the information that is relevant to the case. I am not sure that we can do that, because it is very difficult and involves a very high threshold, but the stakes are high.
We should not confuse this with some wholly unacceptable procedure relating to criminal cases. It is about civil cases in which the Government are, in effect, the defendant in circumstances in which there is information that they cannot bring before the court. Public interest immunity does not solve that problem. The House will have to look at this very carefully. It must be clear from the start—I get the impression from the Home Secretary’s comments that it is now clear—that the judge, not the Executive, would decide whether such a procedure could be used. That must be a judicial and not an Executive decision. An Executive can trigger the process, but it must be a judicial decision as to whether the process can be used at all, even if this House has decided to go ahead with it.
The same proposed piece of legislation sets out to reform the Intelligence and Security Committee. I was a member of that Committee for 11 years, from its beginnings, so I have quite strong views about what needs to happen. There are certain key things about the Intelligence and Security Committee. It needs to retain confidence in the trustworthiness of its members; otherwise it cannot work in this field at all. It needs to retain the ability to report to the Prime Minister on things about which it cannot report to the House; otherwise it cannot draw attention to what might be serious problems, because to do so would be to give information to those who wish this country no good.
The most difficult issue for the Committee is the removal of the ability of the agencies to invoke a statutory bar on its examining operational matters. It is impossible to oversee intelligence without looking at operations; one would not understand what was going on. In practice, the agencies engage regularly and fairly extensively with the Committee on operational matters, but the statutory bar can be used as a refuge if an agency does not want to create a precedent by allowing the Committee to get involved in a particular area. Issues that are now coming to light demonstrate that if the Committee had had greater access earlier, it could have achieved a great deal more, to the benefit of proper democratic oversight and the long-term good of the agencies themselves. I have a lot of respect for the way in which the agencies developed their understanding of what the Committee was doing and were increasingly willing to engage with it fully, but at some points the statutory limitation on operational matters was used as a barrier. We must give the Committee the ability to send in an investigator such as an auditor who can look at any of the papers and files and then go back to it and say, “You don’t need to see much of this, but you ought to look at this particular file because it reveals a problem.”
We also have the draft communications Bill, which the House will have to look at carefully. It will come with draft clauses, which is a helpful approach. Its provisions are about who called whom, when, and from where, not about the content of the communications. Of course, the law enforcement agencies need some of this information to deal with matters such as those that the Home Secretary mentioned earlier, including paedophile cases and various kinds of organised crime, and they need to have access to whatever forms of communication people, particularly criminals, turn to if they think that there is a category to which such procedures cannot be applied. We do not want the Government to be able to gather all communications into some vast Government database, because we can be pretty confident that the scale of that organisation will mean that it gets mismanaged and will be open to abuse, just as in the past there has been abuse of the police national computer, for example. I am very glad that the Government are no longer taking that approach and are instead moving towards merely requiring communications providers to hold communications data for longer.
In that case and in others that I have mentioned, we should consider whether more use could be made of prior judicial authorisation. The system that we use not only for communications data, but for the interception of communications has an element of subsequent judicial review, but we do not use judicial authorisation. Of course, we do use that for a search warrant. If the police want to search somebody’s house, they go to a magistrate and ask for a warrant. That seems to be a perfectly good precedent that might be applied more strongly in the area of communications. I think that people would have more confidence if, rather than it being the Executive or the law enforcement body that gave permission, there was prior approval from the judiciary at the appropriate level, whether it be a magistrate or a High Court judge. That would depend on what was being considered—communications data or interception.
I want to make one last point about a Bill that was not in the Queen’s Speech. I did not expect it to be, although the Justice Committee encouraged the Government to include it. I hope that the Government will encourage and assist a private Member in taking up the matter. I am talking about a Bill to implement the Justice Committee’s recommendations on the presumption of death. Those recommendations would extend the scope of the private Member’s Bill introduced by our colleague, Tim Boswell, in the previous Parliament to help those who have had a missing family member for many years. Such people are unable to get any closure and cannot temporarily resolve the financial issues that arise when there is a missing person. Bank accounts may be drained by subscriptions and payments that the family cannot cancel because they have no authority to do so.
Legal provisions to deal with that problem could be put into a private Member’s Bill. There is widespread agreement around the House that that is desirable and it has been vigorously campaigned for by organisations that represent people in this appallingly difficult position. I therefore hope that the Government will assist a private Member to take the matter forward because it would be a welcome addition to the legislative programme. In my experience, few things are improved by passing a law, but the problems of people in that situation could well be improved by such a piece of legislation.
I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) is in his place, because I want to follow on from where he ended his speech. He referred to the discussions on the House of Lords. He knows that I have a high regard for him, but I was greatly surprised by his peroration, in which he appeared to chastise the Labour party, ignoring all the evidence, which I will come to in a minute or two, from the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, the alternative report and the public debates that we have had. Although it pains me to say it, if he and his Lib Dem colleagues are worried, they ought to keep an eye on their leader, because the Joint Committee got the impression from his evidence to us that this was the most vital thing that was going on throughout the earth, and yet in the last few days his tone has changed considerably.
I pay tribute to my colleagues on the Joint Committee, including the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) who is in his place. Many people worked extremely hard on that Committee and in preparing the alternative report. When we are told that difficulties are likely to be presented, I ask frankly—my views are not necessarily shared by others on the Joint Committee—why should they be? We had about 15 divisions in the course of our sittings. The talk about manifestos is not that relevant. The Conservatives said in their manifesto that they wanted a consensus. They certainly did not get it on the Joint Committee. When we took vote after vote, and when we listened to people giving evidence, what did we find? We found that the Government’s enthusiasm for the new Chamber—whatever it might be called—being elected is distinct from the views of other Conservatives in another place and here. The Government seem to fear the fact that a lot of their Members simply are not in favour of election, and that they might not carry even the very small Bill that they are putting before this House and another place.
We were required to consider a draft Bill. When we look at that Bill and compare it with what was said in the Queen’s Speech, which talks about “the composition” of the House of Lords, I find a considerable dilution of the task the Joint Committee was asked to undertake. Reference is made to composition, but there is nothing about elections, nothing about a referendum, nothing about funding or spending, to which I shall return in a minute or two, nothing about the extremely important role of this House—but merely composition. It was almost as if the Joint Committee had never met at all.
Let me put on the record where I am coming from on this issue. Lord Hunt, speaking for the Opposition in the other place said:
“The Official Opposition support an elected House. However, that must not be at the expense of primacy of the Commons, nor must it threaten gridlock or detract from our role as an effective revising Chamber. Further, these changes should take place only with the…consent of the British people.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 May 2012; Vol. 736, c. 2100.]
I entirely agree with that. If I mention more Members of the other place than I do Members here, let it be said that I have been incredibly surprised by the fact that, although the other place is rightly considered not to be democratic in its present form, it spent two days debating this issue. The issue that ended up being in the Queen’s Speech, however, is but a little mouse in its reference to “composition”, so I think it fair to take the views of the other place into account as well as those of right hon. and hon. Members here.
To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they stuck to their manifesto commitment to a 100% elected Second Chamber with no referendum—I did not agree with it, but that is where they stood—but we must accept that there are many views on this crucial issue, particularly when we have an unwritten constitution.
The Joint Committee tried with great courage to obtain from the Government their estimate of what the costs would be, but we achieved no results at all. I tried to put it to the Prime Minister yesterday in the context of his support for the Queen’s Speech. Incidentally, I noted that his script made no reference whatever to the House of Lords; it came up only when he responded to interventions. This is the question I put to the Prime Minister yesterday:
“Can he tell us today what costing has taken place on the proposal in the Queen’s Speech and will he share that with the House?”
The Prime Minister replied:
“Certainly. The cost of a stand-alone referendum would be significant and it is worth taking that into account.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 24.]
If ever someone were to answer a question that was not put, that was it. Where are we as members of the Joint Committee and as those who supported the alternative report? The report was supported by Members of all parties—except, to be fair to them, as I want to be, the Lib Dems. Whatever our views—I have made mine clear—we cannot assess an issue as big as this one without looking at the likely costs. I highly commend the alternative report to right hon. and hon. Members. Those who prepared it were advised by Lord Lipsey that the changes in the draft Bill would amount to £177 million in the first year and £433 million by 2020.
I do not remember a single person raising the issue of the House of Lords when I was canvassing before the recent local elections and, indeed, before the general election two years ago. People are far more worried about issues such as unemployment, the economy, energy charges and the attack on the health service. It is right for the House to regard those matters as having greater priority as we take our time to decide what will happen if there is indeed to be another Chamber.
I referred earlier to the relationship between the two Houses as time goes on, and to the important question of primacy. I believe that, in a modern Britain, democratic representative government ought to mean that the House of Commons, elected as it is, retains its primacy. The Joint Committee decided that there was an unbridgeable gap, and I agreed with it. The more we listened to the evidence that we were given, the more I formed the opinion that this was as much a review of the House of Commons as a review of the House of Lords. I do not think that the issue should be dealt with in such a mean-minded way, through a mere reference to composition in the Queen’s Speech.
Of course our Committee sought advice from the Government. We sought legal advice. In response to two of our requests, the Attorney-General refused to give any advice at all. I ask Members to answer a question honestly. Is this the way to go about introducing a major change?
The Government, incidentally, had set up a Committee on the draft Bill, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, promising that we would have a report by December 2010. What did we find? At the very mention of referendums and power, the Committee stopped meeting, so we did not even have the benefit of that. We are told that we should have confidence in the coalition and that it will deliver, but I have seen precious little evidence that that is the case.
Because we did not have any advice from the Attorney-General, we relied on advice from people such as Lord Pannick and Lord Goldsmith, which clearly indicated that there was a strong contradiction between those who support election to the House of Lords, as I do, and the existing Parliament Act 1911. I believe that it was the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber who reminded us that that Act is 101 years old. Even then, however, Erskine May was warning us that this Parliament—this House of Commons—would not retain its primacy if there were an element of election elsewhere. We really cannot proceed with these issues without clarifying that vital matter. It is at the core of all the differences that may exist. Others may be settled, but that one cannot be.
Clause 2 of the draft Bill was criticised again and again, and was defended by only two people. The House will not be surprised to learn that they were the Deputy Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is responsible for constitutional affairs. No one else supported clause 2, which was as big a shambles as the other elements of the Bill that the Government had presented to us for examination before coming up with the reference to composition in the Queen’s Speech.
The Clegg Committee clearly failed, but that did not mean that we should neglect our duties, and we did not do so. We could not agree on a number of issues, but that is no surprise. I hope that if a referendum is held and the British people have their say, we shall have a genuine, open debate that involves the people. I think that it ought to involve a body like the convention that we set up a number of years ago in preparation for the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. It was not just a small committee of politicians from both Houses, end of story; rather, it was a convention that consulted the entire population. There were elected people—local citizens, as well as representatives from community councils, business, the trade union movement and many other bodies and sectors. As a result, it came up with far better and more clearly worked out proposals for the Scottish Parliament than we have produced for what might be our new second Chamber.
The issue of a mechanism for deadlock—what happens if neither House agrees once there is an element of election in the other House—must be addressed. Also, the report, which I signed, recommends that there should be 12 bishops from the Anglican Church, and I respect the standing of that Church and its link with Parliament. However, in our modern society we must also consider people of other faiths, and if we have the convention that the alternative report recommended—and which I support—that will emerge.
I might have been a bit harder on the Liberal Democrats than I normally am, but I have to say to them—[Interruption.] Wait for what’s coming next. I have to say to them that if they truly believe that this Prime Minister is going to deliver the policies they had in their election manifesto, they have another thought coming. To put it more mildly, the Deputy Prime Minister said that his party was punching above its weight, but I have to say to the Liberal Democrats, “Be careful. You were invited to a rose garden; along the way lies the garden path.”
Yesterday was a great day for our Parliament. I am a big fan of such enormously traditional and historic ceremonies. They are a little like getting married, in that they give us the opportunity to make all sorts of new resolutions to do things better than ever before. Yesterday I was attending my second state opening, and this time I actually half-understood what was going on. It renewed my enthusiasm for the job I do. I hope it also enthused the coalition to keep going—to make the economy better and to improve our country for the sake of all of us—and I am sure that it did so. However, on some issues I want to urge the Government to go even further than was proposed in the Gracious Speech.
On the issue of sorting out our banking system, I have spoken to a number of members of the Monetary Policy Committee and to people at the top of small banks in Britain who share my grave concern about the lack of competition in banking. There is a groundswell of support among smaller banks for full account portability, so people can transfer their bank account number with them, rather than having to change all their accounts and all their online banking transactions—including, perhaps, their iTunes and Tesco online shopping accounts —every time they want to move banks. That is a huge disincentive both to people to switch and to businesses, which have enough on their plates at present. Especially now, when we are implementing the Vickers proposals, I urge the Government to look again at introducing full account portability. Instead of having a seven-day redirection service, it would be very easy to introduce a shared payments infrastructure. That would, at last, give us real competitiveness in our banking sector.
I also urge the Government to go further with regard to the European Union. I am sure everyone in this country agrees with them that we need to defend Britain against the British taxpayer having to bail out eurozone members, but I think the Government should be going further. We should now be proposing a new and better relationship for Britain within the EU. It is simply not possible for the EU to remain as it has been ever since it was started, with the same relationships for all 27 member states, while it continues to expand, with different member states having different needs, different economic situations and different interests. It is going to have to change, and I urge the Government to ensure that we are completely ready to determine what would work better for Britain.
The third issue on which I urge the Government to go further is regulation and red tape for businesses. The absolute, top priority, as Her Majesty said, is to get our economy going again, and nowhere more so than in the very small business sector. We must give young people and others who cannot find a job a direct and clear incentive to create one for themselves by starting a business. I urge the Government to look carefully at scrapping the entire burden of regulation on micro-businesses with, say, three employees or fewer. I envisage there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever—no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights—for the smallest companies that are trying to get off the ground, in order to give them a chance. That would all change, however, as soon as the number of employees increased.
We could also get Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to provide a simple one-page online form for micro-businesses such as market stall traders, domestic cleaners, gardeners and carpenters. Such businesses, although they may employ people, are often outside the real economy, and when the owners retire or move to another area, they lose that entire asset and have nothing to on-sell. If we could wipe out such regulation for the very smallest businesses, set a flat-rate personal allowance and 20% flat-rate tax, including capital gains—with a turnover restriction, of course—that would get our economy going again and provide a direct incentive for those who are looking for work, particularly young people, to do something for themselves.
I urge the Government to go further in those three areas, but I am conscious that today’s debate is about justice and home affairs, and I want to focus on a massive revolution that would make the job of both Government and Opposition Front Benchers far less onerous. We need to do something for the very youngest in our society. I know that we plan during this Parliament to make it far easier for people to adopt, but we need to turn the situation on its head and to look at life from the perspective—with your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker—of the baby. This issue is entirely relevant to the justice and home affairs agenda. What we saw during last August’s riots was surely the result of a generation of children not being taught the difference between right and wrong, and not being brought up to empathise with other people and to respect their property. In many cases, they simply have not had the benefit of the loving upbringing that would enable them to develop the mental and emotional capacity to obey the law, fulfil their role in society and be decent human beings.
Of course, it all starts with the moment of conception. When a baby is born, it is effectively two years premature. Humans are unique in the animal kingdom. A new-born foal or calf can instantly feed and walk and do many things that babies simply cannot do, whereas humans have to be two years old before they can really do much at all for themselves. Interestingly, physical underdevelopment is only a tiny part of the story: the key is the mental underdevelopment. When a newborn baby is hot, cold, tired, bored or hungry, he does not know that that is the problem. He just knows that something is wrong, so he will cry, and he will look to the adult carer who loves him to sort him out and figure out what is wrong. So we, as loving parents or grandparents, or even as nannies or foster parents, will change him, feed him, burp him, jog him up and down or walk him down the garden. We will do anything to try to soothe his feelings, get him back to sleep and put him back into a state of rest and calm—that is what babies try to draw their parents into doing for them. Most of us are able to do that, and it is extremely successful for the baby.
Interestingly, when a baby is born he only really has the amygdala—the brain stem—that gives him the flight or fight self-preservation instinct. It is only between six and 18 months that a baby puts on a growth spurt of the frontal cortex, which is the empathy part of the brain; it is the part of the brain that turns someone into a human being. It makes the difference between an animal with a flight-or-fight instinct and a human being with the capacity to empathise, to feel someone else’s pain, to make relationships, and to form friendships and long-term commitments.
That growth spurt occurs as a result of loving attention—the peek-a-boo games, people saying, “Aren’t you gorgeous, I love you” and so on. I am not talking about you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am merely giving you an example. I am quite sure that you were very securely bonded to your parents. Those peek-a-boo games and the love that a parent has for an infant stimulate that brain development and build the capacity in that infant to deal with the things that life will later throw at them.
This is not a niche issue that affects only the most troubled in our society, as research shows that 40% of British children are not securely attached by the age of five; they have not formed a secure and loving bond with their parents. When a baby does not form that loving and secure attachment, the frontal cortex does not develop properly. The brain scan of a three-year-old child who did form that bond shows a lovely “cauliflower-looking” brain, whereas the scan of a three-year-old who was neglected or abused as a baby shows something that looks more like a shrivelled prune. The earliest relationship between a loving parent and their baby, or an uncaring parent and their baby, determines the capacity of that human being throughout the rest of their life. As I say, 40% of children in Britain are not securely attached by the age of five.
There are no longitudinal studies tracking precisely the impact for those people, but, as with anything, the impact is on a spectrum. If someone’s capacity to hold down a job, to make friends at school or to not be bullied or become a victim is all set out by the age of two, the consequences can be very difficult for people who are not securely bonded. Such consequences can range from simply struggling, having bouts of depression throughout life, not being able to keep a relationship going or not having very good friends to those at the very desperate end, where people have literally been neglected or abused by the person upon whom they came to rely.
Let us consider what happened to baby Peter, who was so badly abused. What mother could allow some idiot to stub a cigarette out on her baby unless she really did not love him, did not care about him and was putting her relationship needs above those of her own relationship with her baby? Where babies are severely neglected and abused, it harms their whole lifelong capacity. Those who are neglected and abused now will, as adults, be the neglecters and the abusers. It is entirely natural to us, as human beings, to be the kind of parent to our children that our parents were to us. So sociopaths are not born; they are made by the earliest experiences in their life. Most of those occur when a baby is less than two years old.
So when we talk about adoption and fostering, and when we all express disgust at the fact that 6,000 babies under a year old are in the care system, it is not just that it is terribly tough on those parents who are the would-be adopters or terribly tough on those babies not having loving parents; the situation is fundamental to the entire life prospects for those babies. If they do not form a loving bond, their capacity throughout their life will be damaged irreversibly.
There is another impact on a baby who does not receive loving attention. When babies are left to scream and scream for hours and days on end—I am not talking about parents who, in desperation when they have had enough and tried everything, leave the baby to cry for an hour or two, but about parents who go out and leave the baby to fend for his or herself, which does happen—they continue to cry and eventually take refuge in sleep. When the baby is screaming his or her level of cortisol—the stress hormone in their bloodstream—rises and if it stays high, that has consequences for the baby’s immune system. When an infant is very neglected, bad health and poor health consequences go with that. People with mental health problems and other problems stemming from early neglect and child abuse also have very poor health outcomes, which are fundamental to their quality of their life later on.
If someone constantly has high stress levels, they develop a tolerance to them. Although some of us might find an exciting episode of “Z-Cars” incredibly thrilling, somebody with a high tolerance to their own stress levels would need to indulge in much higher risks to get the same level of stress. So, for example, going out fighting, getting into drugs, going out and stabbing someone or committing other violent crimes could be the only way for that person to get the same level of stress and excitement. People who have been badly neglected at an early age often have a predisposition to high-risk behaviour.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the campaign run by Action for Children on reforming the law on child neglect? As I understand it, at the moment the law on child neglect is simply about whether a child has a roof over their head and does not cover emotional support, which is exactly what she is talking about.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am aware of that campaign and many others, too. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has an excellent programme called “All babies count”, which is concerned about the mental health of babies. After all, that is a slightly obscure topic until one gets into it. Adult mental health has always been something of a Cinderella service for our NHS and when infant mental health is mentioned, it usually merely prompts the question, “What’s all that about?”
Our society has taken great care to develop an NHS that every man, woman and child in this country values and wishes to preserve, yet it is all about health and focuses on mental health far too little and too late. At the moment, when someone conceives, they are allocated a midwifery team and introduced to the health visiting team. If they get so far with problems, they might be introduced to the social work team. Unfortunately, there is great fear among parents of being introduced to the social work team because they fear that their baby might be taken away. They are therefore concerned about seeking help. Parents have a midwife and health visitor, who often do a fabulous job for the physical health of mum and baby while the mum is pregnant and when the baby is very young. When mum is not bonding well with her baby—she might be terribly post-natally depressed, as one in 10 women suffer from post-natal depression, but she might not know that she is suffering from it—the midwife and/or the health visitor might spot it but, at the moment, there is not much they can do. The bar is set so high for referrals to child and adolescent mental health services that someone almost needs to be at a crisis level before they can be referred for psychotherapeutic support for that earliest relationship. That is quite simply wrong.
When we talk about children being school-ready, we mean in the sense of their responding to their own name, understanding danger and understanding the word no, but those should not even be the questions that are asked. When parents are firmly bonded to their baby, they will take the trouble to teach their child about danger and to give their child breakfast. We are always firefighting. We should accept that everything we do for a baby from the moment of conception until they reach the age of two is developmental and that pretty much everything we do for them after they are two is about trying to put right damage that has already been done.
I am very interested in what the hon. Lady is saying. Is she familiar with the family nurse partnership programme that was introduced in this country a few years ago? The programme was about trying to avoid some of the dangers and consequences that she is talking about. The idea was not to have the social services involved in trying to clear up and deal with problems after they had developed, but to give support to young, first-time mothers—helping them with parenting skills, the bonding that is needed, feeding, playing and all the nurturing that goes into preventing some of the problems the hon. Lady has mentioned from developing. Does she agree that such programmes have an important role to play?
Yes. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and I am very aware of the programme he mentions. There are many other programmes, and they all have a valid role to play. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed, I want to talk about a charity that I have been involved with for 12 years now—the Oxford Parent Infant Project, which has seven satellites around Oxfordshire. It works with families and their babies to improve the quality of attachment. OXPIP has had astonishing results over those 12 years. In 2009, I gave up my role as the chairman of OXPIP to fight my general election campaign, but I always intended that if I was fortunate enough to be elected to Parliament, I would work to build a Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership, which I have now done. That partnership was launched six months ago and we are trying to build a service that, like OXPIP, provides psychotherapeutic support for families who are struggling to bond with their babies.
What I really want is for this approach to be established through children’s centres. We do not need more overheads or more buildings. I am a co-chair of the all-party group on Sure Start children’s centres and it has become apparent from our recent inquiry into the impact of the un-ring-fencing of the early intervention grant that it is not the case that children’s centres are closing—far from it. Directors of children’s services are very committed to support for the youngest. What I have found astonishing from that inquiry is the fact that there is no common shared understanding of best practice in children’s centres. To say that they are about getting children school-ready is to miss the point completely. School-readiness should be a result of the earliest relationship if it is sound and solid. That is where we need to focus our efforts.
I would like to see parent-infant partnerships working in every local authority in conjunction with the children’s centres and as part of those teams—working with health visitors, midwives and social workers as a point of referral. Midwives and social workers have a very full role and enormous lists of clients or patients to see. Some midwives look after up to 600 families and it is ridiculous to assume that they can see mum and sort out whether she has a safe and secure relationship with her baby as well as treat those mothers and babies who do not have such a relationship. That simply is not going to happen. Even the Government’s excellent efforts to produce far more health visitors will not provide a complete solution to this problem. Health visitors need somewhere to refer cases—a specialist team such as a parent-infant partnership that can provide the psychotherapeutic support for that mother and baby, or father and baby or adoptive parents and baby to help them to form that early bond.
A week tomorrow, the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Project is having a one-day conference in my constituency to talk about the incredible work that can be done through early-years intervention to change our society for the better. This is not just about human happiness, although that is what drives me—the potential for all those babies to be so much better—but about the potential financial savings for our society. If we had one generation in which the vast majority of babies were securely attached by the age of five, instead of 40% not being securely attached by that age, we would radically reduce the cost to our mental health services, our prison services, our police and our social services, which are currently trying to pick up the pieces of failed early attachment.
At the conference, we will be making the case that early-years intervention and spending money in the very earliest years when babies are under two is a really good way to save money much further down the line. Research from the States suggests that a dollar spent when a baby is under two saves $19 further down the line. There is a huge argument for looking seriously at that type of service, from both a financial and a moral point of view.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). If I may summarise what she has just said, it is that if we do not address child development, education and mental health, a heavy price will be paid in the criminal justice system and by victims. She is right: prevention is better than cure.
I have declared my intention to stand for selection as the Labour candidate in the election for police and crime commissioner for south Wales. I am not sure whether a formal declaration of interest is required. One friend said that in Sir Humphrey’s terms, it was courageous to stand for an experimental role at a time of draconian cuts in police cash and numbers. I do so in the belief that the role will be difficult and challenging, and that it cannot be left to chance. The commissioner will have a contribution to make on the issues that I want to raise.
The Government are taking big risks with police finances and numbers. There is real anger among police officers, who are represented outside the Houses of Parliament today, and among many others who have already left the police force although they did not wish to do so. That is why the shadow Home Secretary was able to wipe the floor with the Home Secretary earlier.
The problem goes beyond statistics on cash and police numbers. The Government are making major changes in the policing landscape. It is a muddle. Against the background of cuts that are being made too far and too fast, we have the loss of senior and experienced police officers. Last year, there were riots in a number of English cities and we still do not know enough about why they happened. We did not have a report of the sort Lord Scarman produced after the riots in the 1980s, and although the Home Affairs Committee has issued a good report it does not enable us to predict what might trigger similar events in the future. What is certainly true is that the loss of police officers, especially those who are senior and experienced, will make it difficult to deploy police in the numbers and at the speed they were needed last August should such events happen again.
It is unhelpful to have so much talk about the front line—a term that ignores the important roles played by people in the background who undertake work on terrorism, child protection and internet-related offending. I am disappointed that, as my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said, it is far from clear what Mr Winsor means by the front line in his report, or what the chief inspector of constabulary or Ministers mean by that term.
My right hon. Friend referred to the reputation that the Serious Organised Crime Agency has earned in such places as Turkey, Colombia and the USA, as I have been able to hear for myself. I reinforce his request that the Home Secretary try to find some way of retaining that branding. Why not call that division of the agency the serious and organised crime arm? That would allow the branding to be retained, if not in this country at least in our relationships with forces abroad.
A more problematic issue is that we are unclear where the many responsibilities that lie with the National Policing Improvement Agency will end up. The Home Affairs Committee has asked many questions about that, but the answer we receive is “We’ll let you know in the fullness of time.” That is not good enough.
Much has been said about the intention to create a new professional body for policing. It sounds fine and dandy. Why should there not be a body for policing just as there is for workers in a variety of other professions, including medicine? The problem is that there is no clarity about what that professional body will be. It cannot be a body that is “owned” by chief police officers—a successor to the current arrangements for representing chief police officers. It needs to be able to focus on professionalism and training. We have seen very little so far about the resources, the structure and the arrangements that would be necessary for creating that body. It is an aspiration, but we have seen no details of what would deliver professionalism and help to reinforce the need for professional police officers to feel professional and respected and to be respectable in the work that they do.
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) on the need for opportunities and a clear future for our young people. In that connection, the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire made some pertinent comments. If that need is not addressed, we will build up problems for the future.
My decision to stand for Parliament resulted from deep frustration at working with unemployed young people and young offenders in the 1980s, during the time of the Thatcher Government, which to my mind was a complete and utter disaster. I felt that something had to be done to take a grip on the failures that that Government were creating, both in terms of building a strong economy and addressing the needs of young people. I am afraid that, under the current Government, we seem to be going at an accelerated pace down the road the Thatcher Government took us, and which the years of Labour government, thank goodness, managed to reverse to a considerable extent.
I want to say a word or two about antisocial behaviour, because that is the issue that affects many individuals, families and whole communities. In tackling antisocial behaviour, the antisocial behaviour order is a very important instrument. It was deeply disappointing when, in July 2010, the Home Secretary, in the words of the headlines, declared a death knell for the antisocial behaviour order. Little has been done since then either to deliver on that “promise”—if it was a promise; I would see it as more of a threat—or to deal with antisocial behaviour. Doing away with antisocial behaviour orders would not be a sensible contribution to tackling antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour orders have been effective when used properly and intelligently, and I am pleased to say that in my area, the South Wales police and the local authorities that they work with have developed ways of using them that have been effective in protecting local communities.
The antisocial behaviour order is a simple and effective measure and it is regrettable that instead of improving its use and effectiveness—there is certainly potential for doing that—the Government are allowing it to be strangled in bureaucracy and red tape and undermining its effectiveness. I remind the House that the purpose of the order is to prevent and stop a series of events that damage the lives of local people.
It is a matter of fact that many people’s lives are ruined by a series of low-level nuisance activities—very often ones that do not quite reach the point where a prosecution or a serious police investigation is justified, but which nevertheless are ruining the lives of neighbours and individuals in the community. It is not a question of one serious incident; it is more like a movie film of minor irritation and low-level nuisance. It is a fact that antisocial behaviour orders have worked well in nipping that sort of activity in the bud.
The National Audit Office and the Audit Commission said in their report that our approach to antisocial behaviour worked, with 65% of the NAO’s review sample desisting after the first intervention and 93% after the third. That is an outcome to be desired because it stops the activity, and it is a fact that criminal records create an obstacle to employment and rehabilitation. By allowing things to continue, by not nipping things in the bud, one makes it more likely that offending will continue and an individual life will be ruined. The answer is not to ignore or condone that activity but to stop it. That is why the antisocial behaviour order is a civil order, based on evidence of nuisance activity to the civil burden of proof. Making such an order does not lead to a criminal conviction; if the individual ceases that activity, nothing follows. There is not a conviction. It is not something that stands in the way of their resuming a useful life. A breach of the order leads to prosecution on the basis of the criminal test of evidence and to a criminal conviction, but is not the aim of the order. The aim is to stop bad behaviour, and properly used the order has been enormously beneficial. I say to the Home Secretary: stop messing about with the antisocial behaviour order. Tidy up the system—increase its efficiency and by all means simplify it—but do not throw out the baby with the bath water by getting rid of the antisocial behaviour order.
Another gap in the Queen’s Speech is anything to deal with violence against women and domestic violence generally. We have been promised legislation in Wales, but there is nothing on that subject in the Queen’s Speech. That is another example of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales tackling an issue that is not of itself part of the criminal justice system, but where effective legislation would prevent people from coming into the criminal justice system through their offending. Many incidents of domestic violence, often against women but also directly and indirectly damaging to children, go unreported, perhaps until a wife or partner has been through seven, eight or more violent incidents. Prosecution and conviction are important, but that simple fact demonstrates the urgent need for systems of early support and intervention to be in place. Such systems require specialist support services, which may cost money in the short term, but save money in terms of police time, court and legal costs and NHS costs—repeated injuries can incur significant costs. Early intervention can help to avoid the family break-up that becomes inevitable following repeated and escalating violence.
Yes, indeed I do, because the provision of legal aid can help to resolve the direct problem. That measure, combined with the cuts in local government services, particularly in England, which have led in some places to the ending of support and early intervention services, mean that serious problems are likely to arise and to escalate, as my hon. Friend says.
I must put the record right on this point. The Government are not taking away legal aid for victims of domestic violence. Indeed, we are keeping it for the victims of domestic violence.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says and have no reason to argue with him, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will be looking very carefully at the small print of the proposals and the way in which the Government take them forward.
Violence generally is not only the top priority in crime prevention, but is very expensive to society. Without going into detail, I point out again that a project led by John Shepherd of University College hospital, Cardiff, in which a clinical approach—almost an engineering approach—is used to analyse where violence happens, the context in which it happens and its causes, has led to a 20% greater reduction in levels of violence in Cardiff in the past decade than has been achieved in equivalent cities. Given our scarce resources, we must target prevention and early intervention measures and work to understand the causes and nature of criminal activity. In that way, we can reduce the number of violent incidents, which has the benefits of reducing both the number of victims and the level of violence against victims, and of making savings to the public purse in the police and criminal justice system and in the health service.
I am pleased to see the Chairman of the Justice Committee, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), in his place. I remind Ministers of the commitments they made to pick up a copy of that Committee’s report on justice reinvestment. I was a member of the Select Committee at the time that report was prepared. Essentially, it asks: are we spending money in the right ways, or are there are better ways to use our resources? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that although some lessons may have been learnt from that report, many more lessons can be drawn from it, and that in many ways, when it comes to the criminal justice system, we are not spending money in the most effective way.
The report pointed out that most of the things that really affect levels of offending are outside the criminal justice system. That signals more strongly than anything else the need for strong partnerships and joint working by the police, other organisations in the criminal justice system, and those outside. We need to use the benefits of restorative justice, making offenders face up to the impact of what they have done. There are also lessons to be learned from relational justice. Some of the issues covered by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire, to do with the way that babies and young people are treated, are often about failures of relationship, as well as moral failures.
We need to refresh the partnerships involving the police, local authorities and other agencies to cut crime. As Sir Robert Peel said when he established the first police service here in London, the purpose of policing is to prevent and reduce offending. He also said:
“The police are the public and the public are the police”,
which is a bit delphic, but I think it means that unless the police and the public are in tune—unless there is a good relationship between the police and the public—policing will not be fair and will not succeed in the basic aim of creating a safer society in which offending is not taken for granted.
The Home Secretary referred to internet-related crime. I applaud the emphasis that she placed on this modern scourge, but great care is needed. We need to be sure that we do not get things out of proportion. Given the vast growth in online retailing, I am not sure that the number of offences is that out of proportion to the numbers for retail crime in our shops. We need to be sure that the big figures do not just reflect the big increase in the size of internet trading. Care is needed because legislation should be the last refuge of any Home Secretary, not the first. We should not repeat the mistakes made over decades in the offline world, as laws rarely prevent what they forbid. I therefore encourage the Home Secretary to work this out with the industry and parliamentarians. It is not good enough to have the Government and industry deal with the issue alone; Parliament has a role.
The Home Secretary has in her team the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who, in opposition, took on an important role in this House, working on internet-related issues. I suggest that she listen to him, and to the members of the Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum or PICTFOR, which succeeded PICTCOM, the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee. PICTFOR seeks to engage Members of this House in understanding internet-related issues. As the chair of that group, I offer our engagement in response to her welcome for that comment.
I am disappointed not to see something in the Queen’s Speech about sprinklers to prevent preventable fires in houses, especially those in multiple occupation. I encourage the Home Secretary and the Ministers on the Front Bench to get a grip on their colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I had a meeting with a Minister in that Department who seems completely oblivious to the fact that the Department’s approach, and its refusal to accept such a change, means that it is putting its head in the sand and putting lives at risk. Ann Jones, an Assembly Member from north Wales, introduced a Measure on the subject in the Welsh Assembly, so Wales is benefiting from taking steps forward on this matter. I spent time with the police service in Vancouver and saw how it has been able to reduce not only the risk to life but the amount of damage to property through the installation of sprinklers in new properties. I encourage the Government to stop ignoring a measure that is supported by the insurance industry and the fire service, and to follow the Welsh Government and Assembly in implementing such a measure.
On Lords reform, we ought to look not only at the composition of a new House of Lords, but at better methods of scrutiny and constructive debate. Perhaps we ought to be more imaginative and think more laterally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central said—perhaps we should have a single Chamber but with different mechanisms—rather than just allowing the debate to grind on as it has for decades, which seems to take us nowhere.
My final point on home affairs relates to the Home Secretary’s reference to the item in the Queen’s Speech on enhancing border security. Frankly, the Home Affairs Committee has seen little indication of improvement in the work of the UK Border Agency and a great deal to be worried about. One of the problems is that it is not an agency at all. It is not a separate agency with its own directorate and a board to which it is accountable, but an integral part of the Home Office and, therefore, the direct responsibility of the permanent secretary, the Home Secretary and Ministers. They really need to get a grip on it, rather than thinking that a bit of cosmetics, such as dividing the Border Force from the Border Agency, will make the difference that is needed. Introducing responsibilities into the new National Crime Agency might help to make that difference, but it is confusing that that agency will have some responsibilities and that the Border Force is being taken out of the Border Agency.
To sum up, while Labour was in government crime fell by 40%, and that was not by accident. It was possible only through strong partnerships and effective policing by motivated officers. That was supported by sensible reforms, the provision of new powers, such as antisocial behaviour orders, new preventive work, especially partnership working through the youth offending teams and the creation of the Youth Justice Board, which I am glad the Government are now allowing to continue its good work, and halving the time it took to get young offenders before the courts. More could be done on that, because we still take too long to deal with young offenders. A society that fails to nip things in the bud when young offenders start offending, or even before they have been absorbed into the criminal justice system as a result of being caught and prosecuted, is condemned to live with the disastrous impact of a life of crime on victims, the community, the families of offenders and victims and, essentially, the offenders themselves. We cannot afford that and the Government should put more emphasis on the need to prevent crime in the first place.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael). I am an avowed monarchist and bow to no one in my support for Her Majesty the Queen, who yesterday gave an excellent Gracious Speech to both Houses and demonstrated once again the wondrous duty she has done for this country over 60 years as monarch. Over the course of this year we will be able to celebrate those 60 years, and not only in this country, but across the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. Later this year, when London hosts the Olympics and Paralympics, millions of visitors to this country will be able to see our pomp and pageantry at first hand. It is one of those things that keeps the traditions of this country fresh and refreshed in everyone’s mind, so it was a matter of great pride to be able to get into the other place this time to witness the Gracious Speech at first hand.
When I campaign on the doorsteps, and not just for the local elections over the past few weeks, but solidly, week in, week out, over many years, the last thing people talk about is reform of the other place. That comes across loud and clear. They worry about their jobs, the economy, feeding their children, their children’s education, care of the elderly and care of vulnerable young people. The key issue that I think was spelt out in the Gracious Speech was that we are putting the economy at the heart of government and putting right what went wrong.
The other thing that comes across loud and clear on the doorsteps is that the people of this country recognise who put the economy into this state and who are getting us out of it. I am sure that the fear on the Opposition Benches is that we are on the right course and that by 2015 the public will have realised that, and that the people who put us in this mess in the first place will not be trusted to run this country again.
The clear issue then, as others have mentioned, is the centrality of the legislation on reform of the other place. I am one of those—I am quite open about this —who, on becoming a Member, believed in a completely elected second Chamber. I thought that appointed or hereditary peers making judgments was an anachronism, but in my two years in this place I have changed my view, because in the other place there are many people who would never be elected or, in fact, selected, but who are absolutely critical to the functioning of government and to scrutinising the minutiae of legislation. We will have an interesting debate about House of Lords reform, but I do not believe that it should clog up the business of this House for any length of time whatever. There are much more important issues on which to centre our attention.
Another issue that comes across loud and clear on the doorsteps is people’s fear of crime and the importance of punishing criminals, and we should review what happened in the previous Session. We passed legislation that introduces much stricter punishments on offenders and, for the first time properly, makes brandishing a knife in public an offence that will be punishable by a period of incarceration. We should remember, however, that the legislation is still being enacted, followed through and will be gradually introduced over this Session for the courts to utilise.
The most important thing is that criminals are caught, processed quickly through our courts and suffer harsh sentences, so that they act as a deterrent to those who might follow them and, equally, so that the public can feel confident that those who would cause them damage are being taken off the streets. That is the other key issue. The legislation has been enacted, so it is now for the courts to ensure that it is implemented.
One thing that has been brought home to me about our courts system, and in particular our magistrates courts, is the failure to provide proper interpreters for either victims or those accused of crimes. Cases often have to be adjourned or dealt with on a different day because courts do not have the right interpreter. That is a huge waste of court time and money—although it is all public money in the first place. Ministers have to get to grips with that issue, but it does not need legislation; it just needs proper organisation and facilities.
I have undertaken the police parliamentary scheme, and I commend it to all hon. Members in order to see at first hand the job that the police do in keeping us safe on a day-to-day basis, and to see the specialist units that combat specific types of crime. I have a concern, however. I promote the increased use of no-strike agreements in the public sector, and I want to see more of them in our emergency services and specialist services on which we depend, but if we have a no-strike agreement, as we do with the police, which makes it illegal for them to go on strike, we must ensure not only that they are on-side and understand their duties and responsibilities, but that we listen to them.
Having met the police on many occasions, I am concerned that we in Parliament are not listening to them properly, so I recommend to Ministers, in particular, that they hold face-to-face talks with the Police Federation, which has come up with plans that would cut the cost of policing throughout the UK, to ensure that we establish a demonstrable and fair position for all police officers, thereby saving in the public sector the money that we all want to see saved. At the moment there is a view among the police that they are not being listened to, and as a natural Conservative I fear that that is not the right place for us to be, so I caution our Ministers to hold proper discussions.
Having seen at first hand many of the specialist units that operate in the Metropolitan police, in particular, I have become much more informed about the risks that we run in this country today. That is why I welcome many of the Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech.
I firmly believe that the protection of vulnerable children is vital, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on her interesting speech on early years development, which is crucial. Another issue is that the police can tell whether a young person aged eight will be a criminal in their teens and 20s. The reality is that such young people have been failed by our system; many have been in care all their lives and have never had parental direction or loving, caring parents. It is vital that we change that—that we speed up the process of adoption and make sure that those vulnerable young people are protected and brought up to understand the differences between right and wrong and what a loving family is all about.
Before I came to this place, I was a councillor for 24 years, during which time I examined the problems of young people and the failure of the local authority to permit any adoptions whatever for an extended period. Early adoption, so that loving parents can take over looking after a baby, is crucial. Adoption used to take place very much quicker if, unfortunately, children were not wanted or their parents were not able to look after them. Now, of course, many thousands of children across the country are left in care for far too long and never get adopted. It is far better for there to be adopted babies rather than adopted young children. That is important.
I am delighted that we will be enshrining in law what the Labour party talked about when in power and we talked about in opposition—making sure that race will not be the single issue determining whether someone can adopt a child.
On the draft communications Bill, having spent 19 years working for British Telecom and having gone around the specialist units of the Metropolitan police, I have seen at first hand the huge increase in the use of mobile phones, texting and electronic data in general. The internet has transformed the whole of society. One issue for those who understand the technicalities is that it is one thing to detect when someone with a fixed internet protocol address joins the internet, but it is quite another when a dynamic IP address is used. If someone is a criminal or terrorist, they are likely to know about those technical aspects and avoid detection. We have to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of changing the law and putting an unnecessary burden on the vast majority of people in the country, while not catching any terrorist at all. That is my immediate concern.
I believe in the fundamental civil liberties of the individual—the right for people to go about their lawful business as they choose, with minimum interference from the state. We recognise, of course, that some liberties have to be given up so that general liberty is preserved. However, I am pleased with the clarification on the Bill—that we will not have a Government database of a huge amount of e-mail traffic. Goodness knows what the size of that database would be if it included the vast growth in e-mail and text messages. At the moment, there is software that will easily do searches of key words and strings of particular words to search all e-mail traffic across the UK. However, I suspect that that would not be helpful, as criminals and would-be terrorists would quickly develop a code that excluded all the tracked words.
I have discussed with the Met police paedophile unit the vast growth in the number of paedophiles who use the internet to groom young people for their horrible purposes. Without going into the details of what the Met police do operationally, they say that they are just capturing the tip of a very large iceberg. We must all be concerned that there are vulnerable young people who are being groomed by those evil people. Let us be clear: they are evil people who need to be caught and punished to ensure that vulnerable people are protected. It is therefore vital that the law is changed to enable the police to do more to trap those people and to make sure that they are suitably punished. That must trump everything else.
On processes for dealing with crime and the courts, I fear that with 43 police forces across the country acting independently, criminals, particularly organised criminals who carry out their crimes across the UK, have the opportunity of not being detected. A national crime agency that will deal with this right across the UK, ensuring co-operation between police forces and taking over responsibility, must be the right way forward.
I am equally of the view that our borders must be protected. A national border force that will ensure that people who lawfully come to this country can enter, but those who try to enter illegally cannot, must, likewise, be the right way forward. Interestingly, the Queen’s Speech suggests no changes to immigration law, and that is right. Instead, we need to ensure that the existing rules are operated properly and thoroughly so as to be fair to everyone concerned. I noted the comments by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee about people entering the UK for family parties, weddings, other celebrations, and funerals, and I share his view that there are serious problems in that regard. However, many of those problems would be solved if the applicants were properly advised to put their application in correctly with all the relevant details to prevent their being not allowed to enter the country and then having to appeal, which is a costly and totally unnecessary process.
As somebody who gets a good number of immigration cases, I have noticed that there are more and more refusals. I think that is linked to the artificial limits that the Government are putting on to non-EU immigration rather than necessarily the eligibility of people to travel to this country for events such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I would be interested to hear the Home Secretary’s comments on that.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. One of the key concerns of people who have chosen to live in this country, be they of whatever origin, is that far too many people are entering the country. It is right that people who have relatives in other parts of the world should be allowed, if they wish, to have them here to visit—that is the key word—for a short period and then return. However, those visits can tend to be rather extended, with people overstaying their visas and then no action being taken, over many years, to make sure that they return. These serious concerns are shared by many people right across the various different communities that make up our great British nation. The Government must look into the matter, because the people of this country clearly expect the sheer numbers of people choosing to come to join us and live here to be reduced drastically.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way again. I agree totally with his analysis, but the Government’s measures to do away with appeals will not solve the problem. All that will happen is that people will put in a fresh application, which will create even more administration.
The issue of appeals is interesting. My caseload is similar to that of many other Members. When people are forced to lodge an appeal, it is almost always the case that they have failed to put the relevant information on the application in the first place. If people got their applications right, they would not need to appeal because they would be admitted rather than refused. The clear solution is to have proper advice and a proper process. People gaining permission to come to the UK before they get anywhere near booking flights is the way forward.
I, too, have a large immigration caseload. One of the biggest problems that my constituents face is getting good quality, affordable legal advice so that they can progress their claims. However, the Government have taken away funding for legal advice for those who are seeking to remain in this country, some of whom have been here for more than 10 years and whose children are established in schools. Families are being ripped away from the places that they know. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to have a firm immigration policy, it needs to be fair? Fairness means that there is access to proper legal advice.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I agree that it was disgraceful of the Labour Government to leave people for 10 years or more not knowing whether they had a legal right to stay in this country. I have inherited such cases in my constituency. The backlog of cases that had to be dealt with by the incoming Government was immense. There are sharp lawyers—actually, they are not sharp lawyers, but lawyers who are sharp at taking people’s money off them—who, when they have no case whatsoever, will charge people enormous sums of money to write short letters on their behalf. The lawyers who really annoy me are the ones who take money off my constituents and then write to me as their client’s MP asking me to do their job for them. I take the view that immigration rules need to be firm, fair and understood. The previous Government left people waiting, without solving their problems. [Interruption.] I am conscious of time, so I will not take any further interventions on that subject.
I am pleased that we will reform the position on defamation. Many of us who have been involved in public life for a long time know that going through the High Court when one has been defamed is not a cheap option. Anything that reforms that process has to be good.
I think that opening up the courts for television, if it is used in the right way, will quickly lose its novelty. I also think that it will help to get rid of the fear that people have of going to court, either as a witness or because of some other involvement in a civil case. We will get to a position quickly where people understand what really goes on in the British courts before they experience it. That is to be welcomed.
Overall, this is a strong Queen’s Speech, particularly in the area of home affairs. It has started a process that we want to see, and it will deliver a safer and more prosperous Britain for everyone who lives here.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I point out that the last three speeches have lasted 24 minutes, 22 minutes and 21 minutes. If we carry on at that rate, nobody else will get in. People ought to be a little more restrained. We have eight more speakers to get in and I understand that the Front-Bench spokesmen want half an hour between them. Can we please try to ensure that everybody gets in, because people have been sat in the Chamber for a heck of a long time?
I shall do my best to follow your wise counsel, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I confess that I did not agree with everything that he said, but I did agree with some of it. Especially interesting was his point about specialist police units. Many of those units do not qualify as front-line policing. That must be borne in mind when we debate police resourcing in this country. I will say a bit more on that later.
In debates such as this, it is easy to cover a whole kaleidoscope of issues, as many hon. Members have done today. I do not propose to do that in my speech, in the hope that if I speak primarily on one issue, Ministers might be more likely to listen to what I have to say. I hope so. The issue I have chosen to focus on is driving offences. I believe it correct to prosecute drink-driving vigorously. There is nothing clever, macho or in any way sophisticated in being over the limit for drink-driving. I greatly welcome the change in social attitudes that has taken place on this issue in recent years.
I believe that it is right, too, to have a proper punishment for people who drive while under the influence of drugs. I very much welcome the fact that this will be made a specific offence under the Crime and Courts Bill. I do not believe that there are any currently reliable statistics on how many people have been killed by drug-drivers, but there is one thing that we all know too well—that being drugged at the wheel and putting other people’s lives at risk is totally unacceptable and demands the toughest penalties possible. I hope that the introduction of this specialist offence will not only make our roads safer, but will bring home the message that people who are high on substances on our roads are not just a nuisance—they are criminals.
In the spirit of welcoming this change, I call on the Government to be bolder in this area. One way of doing so is by tightening up on other driving offences that also cause enormous suffering and harm. Chief among these, I think, is the menace of driving without a licence or without insurance.
Last year, I spoke in another debate in this place about the case of nine-year-old Robert James Gaunt. Robert was tragically killed in March 2009 while crossing the road in the village of Overton in my constituency. I do not know whether Members know where Overton is, but it is a beautiful rural village fairly near the English border. This young boy was killed by a driver who had no licence or insurance, who failed to stop and who did not report the incident. In fact, what is even worse, this driver even tried to cover up the crime by having his car re-sprayed.
In this Chamber, we do not play guessing games, so I will not break that convention by playing one today and I will not ask hon. Members to guess the length of that driver’s sentence. The answer will, I think, shock many people—it was a pathetic 22 months, which was at the very top end of the scale of what was possible. If that driver could have been charged with death by dangerous driving, the maximum sentence would have been 14 years. However, under the law as it stands, being uninsured and unlicensed is not enough to qualify as dangerous. I repeat: if someone takes to the roads with no licence and no insurance, kills a child and flees the scene, that does not qualify as dangerous driving. That is quite simply preposterous and it must change. [Interruption.]
The “Justice for Robert” petition to back longer sentences for that crime was signed by 1,300 people. [Interruption.] I agree with them totally, and it is on their behalf and on behalf of other people affected by this appalling crime that I call on the Government to go further in this area and change the law. [Interruption.]
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the two Ministers on the Government Front Bench to be chatting, laughing and joking between them while one of my hon. Friends is discussing serious cases where people have been killed on our roads?
That is not a point of order, but I am sure that the Ministers were listening. Who knows, they might even have been discussing the case. We should not make judgments about others; otherwise we would end up with such points going around the Chamber. I am sure that everyone takes seriously the views of Members of all parties when they are speaking.
I would like to deal now with the issue of what is legally defined as “dangerous driving”—that is, where a court of law can prove that the driving was extremely negligent, not just bad or careless. Sentences here, too, can also be very short in cases where victims are seriously injured, even to the extent of being paralysed, but not actually killed. The maximum sentence for that crime is also two years, and of course most people are given much shorter sentences. I believe that the current average is about 11 months. Eleven months for wrecking someone’s life through reckless criminal actions? There seems to be to be very little justice in that. Sentences for assault are longer, even when the act is not premeditated. Why should a sentence be so short when the injury was caused by a car rather than a weapon? I sincerely urge the Government to consider tightening the law in that regard. I commend their introduction of new drug-driving laws, but I believe that they must be followed by proper laws to deal with other serious driving crimes. That is what my constituents want, and I hope that the Government will include such measures in their Bill.
I have done all that I can in my speech to be positive about a change in the law that I greatly welcome, for, as we know, it matters precious little whether someone is Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat or a non-voter if that person is mown down by a vehicle steered by someone who is high on drugs. In welcoming that change, however, I must raise a question about the implementation of the policy, and especially about how it will affect areas such as mine in north Wales which are geographically spread out. Laws on paper mean nothing if there are unmanageable cuts involving the people who are needed to enforce them. Our north Wales police force faces 20% budget cuts, which means that by 2015 it will have to lose 179 front-line officers—the very people who will be needed to carry out roadside drug tests.
The cuts will also affect so-called “back-room” officers and other staff. They are not people who are drafted in to make cups of coffee or count paper clips; they are people working in forensics and labs, the very people who will be needed to analyse and process the “drugalyser” results which will be vital to gaining convictions. Without those people, the Government’s own excellent new law is likely to fail in its day-to-day implementation.
Whatever the differences between Members’ ideological and political viewpoints, I believe that Ministers are sincere when they tell us that they believe in localism. I offer a challenge to the Government. If they are prepared to offer referendums to people on whether they want mayors, why on earth are police and crime commissioners being foisted on us whether we want them or not? There have been various estimates of the cost of introducing them, including an estimate of £136 million over 10 years, and it is likely that elected officials overseeing forces in England and Wales outside London will be paid hefty salaries. Given that police forces face cuts of between 14% and 20%, how in heaven’s name does that policy make sense? No wonder Mr Rob Garnham, chairman of the Association of Police Authorities and himself a Conservative councillor, described it as the
“wrong policy at the wrong time”.
I have no doubt that the Government’s new and welcome policy on drug-driving will not be helped one jot by cuts in the number of trained police officers while police commissioners are foisted on us whether we want them or not.
Let me end by making three points. First, let me praise the Government for rightly introducing a new law on drug-driving; secondly, let me request them to consider introducing tougher laws on other driving offences; and thirdly, let me ask them to remember the words of one previous Conservative Prime Minister—I am sure that I need not remind them who it was—who famously said:
“Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
Today, as we have seen outside and heard in the House, our policemen and policewomen also need the tools and the resources, so that they can get on with their unique and essential task of tackling crime.
Because another of the Home Secretary’s roles is as Minister for Women and Equalities and because the Minister for Equalities, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), is sitting on the Front Bench now, I want to focus my few words about the Gracious Speech on the contribution that women can make to our economy. The first line of the speech states:
“My Government’s legislative programme will focus on economic growth, justice and constitutional reform.”
I shall raise some points about the important role women can play in helping us to achieve economic growth.
Yesterday’s speech was, of course, delivered by a woman who has been an outstanding role model in this country and across the world, and it is wonderful to be celebrating her diamond jubilee this year. As I sat in the House of Lords Gallery listening to Her Majesty, I thought of another great female: Baroness Ritchie of Brompton, who passed away on 24 April. She did so much for women—especially in respect of Conservative candidates and helping more women achieve their potential in the House of Commons. As only 22% of current MPs are women, we clearly still need to do more.
Female entrepreneurs can certainly help to create economic growth. In the UK, 150,000 more start-ups would be created every year if women were to start businesses at the same rate as men do. If women here in the UK were to set up businesses at the same rate as women in the US, there would be approximately 600,000 more businesses, contributing about £42 billion extra to the economy. This is an important issue, therefore.
Some steps have already been taken. A women’s business council has been established, which advises the Government on how to boost the role women play in the economy. Funding has been announced for 5,000 female business mentors. The mentoring portal, mentorsme.co.uk, has been launched, providing a single point of contact for both those seeking mentoring and those who want to be mentors—and I would encourage anyone with business skills to become a mentor. There is also a £2 million fund supporting female entrepreneurs to set up in rural areas, under the rural growth networks scheme.
More can be done, however. My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) spoke powerfully about the early development of children, and she also made a plea for us to scrap regulation on micro-businesses employing between one and three people. We must encourage new businesses and help them develop. The Federation of Small Businesses in my area recently talked about the national insurance holiday, a great initiative that gives a national insurance holiday of up to £5,000 in respect of a firm’s first 10 employees. It does not apply in London at present, but if it were to do so, that would greatly help my constituents. Also, it only covers the first year, and extending it to a second year would make a great difference to small businesses.
We must also further encourage enterprise education in schools and universities, so that many more young people, especially young women, consider the option of starting up a business. We must consider the child care options available to self-employed women, too, so they can run their business while also bringing up their children. Some women who sit on boards in the City told me recently that they would very much like to be female business angels, helping companies set up by women and also helping women create new enterprises.
Much more can be done for enterprise and to encourage women to become entrepreneurs. This month in my constituency we are having an enterprise event. All the women in the Hounslow area of the constituency have been invited to come along and talk with female entrepreneurs. We have some fabulous female-entrepreneur role models, and we must ensure that they can help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs. Organisations including banks, StartUp Britain and chambers of commerce also have a role to play in this regard.
The second issue I would like to touch on is how women in the boardroom can make a difference to economic growth. We still have a lot of work to do here, but some progress has been made. This is an important issue, given the huge potential in having women at senior levels in business; we do not want to waste that talent, which could be contributing at such levels. Studies by McKinsey and others show the business benefits of having a more gender-balanced board. Companies with greater gender diversity significantly outperform their sector in return on equity, operating profits and stock price growth, not to mention increased quality of decision making and corporate governance. That is especially true where a board has more than three women members.
The work of Lord Davies and his committee has given this issue much more visibility in the City and elsewhere. Now, 15.6% of FTSE 100 companies and 9.6% of FTSE 250 companies have women board members. As we can see, there is still some way to go. We have set the FTSE 100 companies a target to increase that figure to 25% by 2015; changed the UK corporate governance code, requiring companies to be more transparent and to report on their policy for boardroom diversity; and encouraged head-hunters to adhere to a voluntary code of conduct.
We need to get more women into the boardroom, and more work needs to be done to develop the business case and to persuade the FTSE 350 companies of the benefits of gender diversity in the boardroom. We need to encourage chief executives and chairmen to act as ambassadors for change, and to meet “board-level” women who are ready to take up such positions. We need to identify priority companies on which to focus in increasing the number of women on boards, and to consider how best to increase the number of women in executive as well as non-executive board positions. There has been an increase in the latter, but not so much in the former. We need to look at every single level of the organisation in question to see what it is doing to encourage and promote women at all levels. We also have a role to play in monitoring and promoting examples of best practice. Careers advice is really important throughout women’s lives—not just when they are at school or leaving college or university—so that they have the confidence and ability to take up those critical positions.
There are other initiatives in the Queen’s Speech to help women. Flexible leave will help people to fulfil their potential and will provide support for families. Both parents can share the parenting responsibility and balance work and family commitments. Flexible leave will be really important in the long term and will help to make a real difference in getting women into senior positions in organisations.
The Queen’s Speech also refers to the modernising of adult social care. A lot of work is being done on the role of carers, who do an incredible job and do not get thanked enough for what they do. Often, they are elderly people. Given that we have an ageing population, this issue is becoming increasingly important, and I am very pleased that the Queen’s Speech addresses it.
Finally, the Queen’s Speech refers to the Government’s plan to spend 0.7% of gross national income as official development assistance from 2013. I congratulate the Government on the work that has been done on international development, but I want to encourage them to go further on micro-financing. The MicroLoan Foundation, a Chiswick-based charity that supports African women through micro-financing, has had 99% of such loans repaid. This is a great way to look at the longer-term economic sustainability and development of these countries, by supporting women and others, and helping them to get a great start in life.
I began by talking about the Queen and I will also end by discussing Her Majesty, because in the Queen’s Speech we also talked about reform of the rules governing succession to the Crown. I was pleased about that, because it is long overdue and we have wonderful examples among our monarchs. Queen Victoria was on the throne for 63 years and our current Queen is about to celebrate her diamond jubilee.
Elizabeth I too. We have so many examples of fabulous role models who have given years and decades of service to this country. Allowing female heirs to succeed to the throne when they are the first born is absolutely a step in the right direction.
These measures will all help to make Britain become even greater. We have never been a country that does not rise to the challenges that we face—indeed, we have faced and conquered them in so many different ways. This year of the diamond jubilee, and of the Olympics and Paralympics, is a year to celebrate who we are, what we have achieved and the potential of this country, and women are essential to this.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I welcome you back to the Chair. It is great to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod). I listened to her interesting contribution, and although I may disagree on a few issues, I did agree on others. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important debate about the home affairs and justice elements of the Gracious Speech.
Before I come to some specifics, I wish to put on the record my general thoughts about the impact on my constituents of the Government’s proposals in the Gracious Speech. Given the country’s woeful economic position—thanks to the double-dip recession made in Downing street—my constituents will see little hope in these proposals. We face record levels of unemployment, with 1 million young people looking for work. They will see little assistance from a Government who are out of touch and fixated on giving help to millionaires but offering little to hard-pressed families.
Nothing is being proposed to get the economy back into growth, to create jobs or to tackle runaway energy bills and train fares. The picture is bleak for my constituents and other hard-working families in Britain. The Government, with such a thin programme of legislation, are effectively walking by on the other side of the road as ordinary people suffer; they are helping only their millionaire friends.
Let me first make some remarks about the Crime and Courts Bill and the proposal to set up the National Crime Agency to take on serious, organised and complex crime, enhance border security, tackle the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, and tackle cybercrime. That agency will be continuing the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which was launched by Labour in 2006, and we wish it well. However, Labour Members are concerned that the Government have taken reform in this area backwards by scrapping the National Policing Improvement Agency. Chief constables are very concerned that scrapping bodies such as the NPIA will mean losing focus on crime-fighting and having to worry about the delivery of training, IT and other services instead. The Home Secretary has refused here, in this Chamber, to answer questions to confirm the budget for the NCA. With the loss of 16,000 officers, further cuts to the NCA will only undermine it even further. The loss of 16,000 police officers from the front line will have a serious impact on efforts to tackle serious and lesser crimes as well as antisocial behaviour.
That figure of 16,000 was the number of police officers deployed on the streets of London after the riots last summer. In my constituency, the community came together powerfully in partnership with the police to protect our religious places and businesses from the wanton criminality of the riots, but I fear the consequences if there was a repeat of those events with police resources so diminished. The 12% cut proposed by the Opposition could have been made without the need to cut front-line resources and officers, and the fight against crime could have continued successfully as it did over the lifetime of the Labour Government.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and I shall answer it later in my speech.
The Government talk about enhancing border security, but the complete shambles over which the Home Secretary is currently presiding gives little confidence that that can be done. Reports from Heathrow at the weekend that, in order to clear the queues at passport control, UK Border Agency staff were taken off security checks and Customs work are very worrying. My constituency, like many others throughout the UK, has a problem with drug-related crime and at the moment the Home Secretary is giving the drug barons and terrorists a clear run through Customs and our borders as she fails to get a grip on this crisis.
One other area of concern, particularly to many of my constituents, is the Government’s proposal to remove the full right of appeal for a refused family visit visa. Like many other MPs, I deal with hundreds of visa cases on behalf of my constituents who often want family to join them for important family events such as weddings and funerals. Mistakes are and will continue to be made and natural justice demands a full right of appeal. Why is that element of justice and fairness being stripped away?
Another disappointment is the absence of a forced marriage Bill in this Queen’s Speech. Again, this is an issue in my constituency, and given the Prime Ministers’ words in January, when he stated that the Government were looking to make forced marriage a criminal offence, and following the conclusion of the Home Office consultation in March, why is no Bill proposed in this next Session of Parliament?
Before I finish, let me highlight a positive aspect of the Government’s proposals. The judicial appointments reform that will increase diversity in the judiciary is very welcome and long overdue. That said, there is very little positive to focus on in the Queen’s speech. As the Leader of the Opposition said, it is a message of “no hope” and “no change” and the Government
“just do not get it.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 14.]
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), although I have to say that I must have listened to a different Queen’s Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) did an excellent job of setting out exactly what is in the Queen’s Speech for business. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that it contains provisions on reform of the banks, which we need to ensure stability, on cutting red tape, on the Green investment bank, and on allowing renewable development to continue. I should also point out that the Government have already introduced measures on youth unemployment through the youth contract and apprenticeships, so they are not sitting on their hands doing nothing as he was suggesting.
I want to focus on the proposals relating to home affairs and justice issues. First, however, let me say a couple of things about House of Lords reform, to which all parties made a commitment in their manifestos. I assume that all of them are unhappy with a scenario in which we have 92 hereditary peers and peers who are appointed by party leaders making decisions about our legislation. I hope, therefore, that all Members will want to facilitate a process that enables us to come to a rapid conclusion on this and that these proceedings will not be delayed as a result of actions by Liberal Democrat Members.
I shall not because there is little time for other Members to speak.
Let me focus on the National Crime Agency, which I welcome. I have had discussions with Keith Bristow, who will be heading up the NCA. The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said that Keith Bristow was currently the only employee of the NCA so I am very pleased to have met 100% of its employees. Mr Bristow confirmed that for the first time we will have national tasking for the police, which I welcome. I am sure that most Members will be surprised to learn that there has previously been no capacity for national tasking. The real challenge for the NCA will be how the relationship between the chief constable, the NCA and the elected police and crime commissioners will work. How will they work together? Clearly, they will to some extent be pulling in different directions and might have different priorities. How that is managed will be key to the NCA’s effectiveness.
I understand that there will be some issues with funding in that transfers of money will sometimes have to take place if NCA resources are called on, so that issue requires some investigation. Also, at some point the issue of where responsibility for counter-terrorism should lie will have to be addressed, but I accept that it would have been inappropriate for that to happen before the Olympics. I regret that it has not been possible to identify ways in which some parts of the NCA could be subject to freedom of information considerations. It will have to work very hard to demonstrate through the annual reports it will produce and the information it is going to make available that it is completely transparent.
I strongly welcome the measures on freedom of speech and defamation, and I hope that the use of the word “insulting” will be addressed in relation to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. An interesting alliance of groups will support such changes if they come forward. The changes on defamation are very welcome. I do not think that any Member of the House is comfortable with a situation in which the United Nations Committee on Human Rights describes our laws as discouraging
“critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work”.
There is a need to take action and I welcome the fact that the Government are doing that.
On justice and security, I understand that the proposals on closed material proceedings will no longer apply to inquests. I hope that is true because the original Green Paper was far too wide in what it proposed. That approach will be restricted to national security issues only and there will be a requirement for a judicial approval process to be gone through before CMP can be invoked. I also welcome the plans to strengthen oversight of our security and intelligence agencies because there are concerns that our services have been involved in some activities that might make us all uncomfortable.
There has been a degree of confusion about the communications data proposals; even on Radio 4 this morning, we were told that e-mails would now be covered, whereas most Members will be aware that e-mails are already covered by existing communications data measures. However, we need to look at safeguards. We have a strange scenario in the UK, where there are about 500,000 comms data requests every year. I hope the Government will look at a sample to work out how many of them actually lead to something concrete in terms of helpful evidence or prosecution. If we can cut down significantly the number of requests, it will be much easier to involve a third party or a judicial process when issuing permissions. Currently, the volume of requests would seem to make that impossible. I hope that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 will be looked at as part of that process. I welcome the extra safeguards the Government are considering to extend the roles or powers of the interception of communications commissioner and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
I welcome the reform of laws affecting children. I have already referred to the campaign that Action for Children is running on the reform of laws on child neglect, to make sure that it is not just about children having a roof over their head, but about getting emotional support, which, as we heard earlier, is key to a child’s development.
When discussing the shared parenting proposals, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Chair of the Justice Committee, highlighted the fact that we shall have to be careful not to encroach on the rights of the child. Children should be at the centre of the process, even though we want to support both parents in having access to their children.
I regret that there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech about equal marriage. I understand that it was not possible to include proposals while consultation is still under way, but there is a firm commitment.
The Queen’s Speech demonstrates for a second time that the coalition Government are committed to effective reforms of policing, the security services and the courts. We will be relying more heavily on policy that is based on evidence of what works and that achieves the right balance between civil liberties and safety and security.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). I agreed with his point about support for fostering, but not with much else.
This is only my second Queen’s Speech debate, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak. My disappointment is that this is a thin Gracious Speech, made up of bits and bobs and failing to address a double-dip recession in this Olympic and diamond jubilee year.
As we know, the Queen is visiting all parts of the UK this year. Despite the showers, she was warmly welcomed in Blaenau Gwent two weeks ago.
I am a supporter of constitutional reform and I hope that it will progress “quietly and quickly”—to quote the Business Secretary—but it is not a key issue for my constituents in Abertillery, Brynmawr, Ebbw Vale or Tredegar. Their concerns are, rightly, far more prosaic. They are concerned about unemployment, high energy prices and cuts in public expenditure that go too far, too fast. That is why they gave Labour councillors a resounding victory in Blaenau Gwent at the local elections last week.
In addition to home affairs issues, I will look at wider matters affecting Blaenau Gwent. Last month in the Financial Times, my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) explained that the private sector is unconvinced by the Government’s austerity strategy. It wants a plan for growth, if it is to create new private sector jobs on the scale required. Investment in assets such as roads and transport infrastructure is needed in Blaenau Gwent. Our unemployment there is 12.2%, and youth unemployment is 19.4%. We need jobs and we need them now.
Electrification of our Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line, with other valley lines, is hugely important to us. Evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee showed that Lille, a poor, former mining area in northern France, had benefited from high speed rail lines—not just construction jobs but sustainable, long-term jobs. There is a lesson there.
The Government say they will continue to work with the devolved Administrations. We have an enterprise zone in Ebbw vale and the opportunity to invest in infrastructure for a new motor sport complex, which would be a real game changer for us. The Welsh Government and Welsh Ministers are on side, but we need the Treasury to be imaginative and to support enhanced capital allowances there.
As we know, the Government have started shedding public sector jobs, but the private sector is nowhere near filling the employment gap. That is why Labour says, “You don’t bring the deficit down by putting people on the dole.”
Police officers are lobbying us today, including officers from Gwent. I am very concerned about the closing of police stations in my constituency and the loss of up to 167 police officers. No one wants to see fewer police officers working to solve serious crimes.
I turn now to public health. Welsh Government research shows that men in my constituency of Blaenau Gwent have the lowest disability-free life expectancy at birth in Wales, at just 54.3 years. Sadly, the Government have failed to take the decisive action needed to help tackle significant contributors to poor health, such as alcohol misuse. While the Prime Minister has belatedly backed a minimum price for alcohol at 40p a unit, which I welcome, it is still below the 50p recommended by the doctors, Alcohol Concern and many others. Action on advertising and sponsorship is needed. Alcohol Concern Cymru recently surveyed primary schools and found that children as young as 10 are more familiar with some leading alcohol brands and adverts than those for popular foods. That cannot be right. Sixty-two per cent. recognised Magners, a brand which until recently sponsored rugby’s Celtic league. Recognition was significantly higher among boys than girls, and among those who lived in south and west Wales. So we need more effective controls on advertising and sports sponsorship. It is essential to protect our children’s health.
As a former NSPCC campaign manager, I of course welcome proposals to improve protection of children in care and to speed up adoption. That is a key proposal for children, who will always need our laser-like focus to make their early years as safe as possible.
We await a draft Bill on adult care. Measures to regulate providers and ensure that residents get a fair funding deal are vital. Last week we heard that private equity company Terra Firma had taken over Four Seasons, which took over Southern Cross, which runs two care homes in my constituency. Residents and their families are dismayed by that pass-the-parcel approach. They want safeguards to ensure sound business plans, which the Government have so far failed to deliver.
In conclusion, we have heard much from the Cameron/Clegg double act about not landing our children with debt. Yet youth unemployment is nearly 20% in Blaenau Gwent. It is unfair that teenagers leaving school should find the heavy burden of this Government’s economic failure falling on their young shoulders. We want a fair deal on jobs, with money from a bankers bonus tax to help 100,000 out-of-work young people aged between 18 and 24. That is what people in the south Wales valleys think makes good sense and good government. They believe, as this rainy, wet April has shown, that this Queen’s Speech has been a damp squib. It deserves, then, to be given a very large thumbs down.
As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz)—I thank him for his kind words—predicted, I will focus my remarks today on one particular measure in one particular Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech. I have been lobbying for the measure for some months, and I hope the House will forgive me for focusing on a single issue.
On 26 June 2010, my constituent Lillian Groves, a 14-year-old girl, was killed outside her home by a driver under the influence of drugs. Subsequently, it transpired that he was driving a car that was not licensed in his name, uninsured, at 43 mph in a 30 mph zone. A half-smoked joint of cannabis was found on the dashboard, but sadly the police did not swiftly perform a drug test; only after Lillian passed away in hospital, some nine hours later, was the driver’s blood tested. Cannabis was found in his blood and he subsequently admitted to having taken cannabis, but the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that the level was not high enough—the family was never told what the level was—to warrant the more serious charge of causing death while driving under the influence of drugs. The man was charged with causing death by careless driving and causing death while driving uninsured. On 7 July, he was sentenced to just eight months in prison, and was released after serving four months.
I think the issues here are the offence committed and changing the law. I will explain how the Queen’s Speech is doing just that, but first I will complete the narrative. The driver who killed Lillian lives locally, so the family have to confront the fact that, now that he has been released from prison, they will from time to time meet this man—who has never apologised to them for causing the death of their daughter—as they go about their business in their local community.
Lillian’s parents, Gary and Natasha, and her aunt and uncle came to see me at one of my surgeries in the autumn after the sentence had been handed down and shortly before the individual was due to be released from prison. A parent myself, I cannot say how high is the regard in which I hold the family. To suffer the tragedy of losing a child and not to be consumed by bitterness, but instead to focus on how to ensure that positive change can come out of such a terrible event, has to be commended by everyone. I also commend the Croydon Advertiser and in particular journalist Gareth Davies, who has worked with the family and designed a campaign for what they call Lillian’s law.
Lillian’s law is a package of measures. It has four elements, the first of which is a change in the law. At present, it is an offence to drive under the influence of drugs, but the law is not the same as in relation to drink-driving. There is no set level of drug in a person’s system above which they are held to be incapable of driving, so the prosecution has to prove that the person’s driving was affected by the drugs in their system, which is not easy. The second element is the licensing of equipment similar to the breathalyser alcohol test that can be used either at the roadside or in police stations. The third is a policy of tougher sentencing for those who commit such crimes, and the fourth is a series of random tests, similar to those carried out in the 1980s for drink-driving, to get across the messages, first, that it is unacceptable to drive under the influence of drugs and, secondly, that people who do so are liable to be caught.
After the family came to speak to me, I did a lot of research. To be fair, the previous Government were aware of the problem and had looked for ways to tackle it, but the work had become bogged down and a number of different Government Departments were involved. I therefore decided to go straight to the top and raised the subject in this Chamber during Prime Minister’s questions. The Prime Minister met the Groves family, took up their case and has worked with the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Department for Transport to ensure that the first key element of the package—a change in the law—is included in the Crime and Courts Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech.
At this point, I wish to pay tribute to a couple of other people. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has previously pursued the issue via a private Member’s Bill. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) and for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), who have among their constituents members of the extended Groves family and have supported the campaign.
In yesterday’s debate on the Queen’s Speech, the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps understandably, quoted remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries), who said that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were
“two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to understand the lives of others.”
I am very disappointed that my hon. Friend said those words. I can understand why the Leader of the Opposition quoted them, but I hope that he and other Opposition Members do not personally believe them. My experience is that Members on both sides of the House have a passion for understanding the lives of others and changing our country for the better. When we try to pretend that the motives of people who disagree with us about the means of doing so are malign, we do politics as a whole a disservice.
The experience of the Groves family, when they met the Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing street, was not of someone who did not have a passion to understand the lives of others, or of someone who, as the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, was standing up “for the wrong people.” They met one of the very few Members of this House who can personally understand the experience that they have been through in losing their child—someone who took a great deal of time to listen to what they had to say and to understand the issue, and who then took up their cause. On a personal level, on their behalf, I thank the Prime Minister for what he has done. I would like to ask my hon. Friends on the Front Bench detailed questions about where we go from here.
I understand that drugs-testing devices for police stations are already being tested. Perhaps Ministers could give an update on how that testing is going. Will they indicate when they might be in a position to begin testing devices for use at the roadside? I understand that an expert panel is looking at what levels should be set for each drug. That applies to illegal drugs and some prescription drugs that, if taken in significant quantities, make it unsafe to drive a car. I wonder if we could have an update on the progress that that panel is making. I would also be interested to hear what the proposed sentencing policy is for the new offence that will be set out in the Bill.
I have about two and a half minutes left, so I should like to end by making a few comments on what the shadow Home Secretary had to say about police cuts, and on some of the questions that she fielded from Government Members. She tried to contend that Government Members do not know or understand the pressures that the police forces are under. In relation to my local borough operational command unit, I spent three days during this House’s ludicrously long holidays shadowing police officers in Croydon. I spent a day with a safer neighbourhoods team, a day with a response team, and a day with the robbery squad in Croydon. I saw for myself the enormous pressures that they are under, and I heard officers’ concerns about the combined effect of a pay freeze, pension reform and the Winsor review recommendations.
Government Members are certainly not unsympathetic to the case that police officers make, or ungrateful for the huge amount of work that they have done. I am particularly grateful for the work they did in my constituency in the wake of the riots. However, we find it very difficult when Opposition Members seek to avoid any responsibility for the financial mess in which the country finds itself. The level of deficit that this Government inherited is not solely the fault of the Labour Government —they had to intervene in a recession, and we understand that—but the Labour Government did make a contribution to the scale of that deficit.
The shadow Home Secretary was asked to say in detail where, if the Opposition’s proposal is for a cut of £1 billion in police funding, she would find the other £1 billion that is needed. She tried two arguments. First, she said that the scale of the cuts that the coalition proposes goes beyond what Labour would do, but that is not actually Labour’s policy. Labour’s policy is that the structural deficit should be dealt with over two Parliaments, rather than just one. That implies the same cuts over a longer period.
The second point that the shadow Home Secretary made was that growth was the answer; the problem was that the Government’s policies on growth were failing. We all want growth, but growth does not deal with the structural deficit. By definition, a structural deficit is one that remains, however much economic growth there is. The challenge to those on the Opposition Front Bench is still there. There is a structural deficit to be dealt with. The amount is agreed by both parties. If the Opposition do not support a particular cut that the Government propose, where will they find the money that is needed as an alternative? Until they come up with an answer to that question, they will have no credibility.
This Queen’s Speech is a joke, but not a very funny one. Thankfully, we all know that the Queen did not write it, although she had the unpleasant task of having to read it out yesterday in the House of Lords.
I will say a little about policing in Lancashire. As many people will know, Lancashire has the best police force in the country—it has been independently assessed as the best of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) is no longer in his place but has been replaced by one of his Lib Dem ministerial colleagues, now the only Lib Dem Member in the Chamber, which shows what respect the Lib Dems have for the coalition speech that the Queen delivered. If we look at the police force in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, we will see that it will lose 1,486 police officers, or 1,907 police staff overall, including front-line officers, so I was quite surprised that the first thing he talked about in his speech was House of Lords reform. Given the fact that his constituents are losing so many police officers, I am sure that they will be horrified that their parliamentary spokesperson is putting House of Lords reform at the top of his agenda. That just shows how out of touch the Liberal Democrats are. When I go into my local pub or club, my steward and my constituents do not come up to me and say, “What we really need, Mark, is House of Lords reform.” They are talking about crime on the streets, antisocial behaviour and the day-to-day problems they have to deal with.
In talking of day-to-day problems that people have to deal with, and why we need the police to deal with them, I should point out that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), is losing only 65 front-line officers in his constituency. I am sure that in leafy Cambridgeshire the public will not miss 65 police officers, but they will miss 550 police officers in my constituency, and they will miss almost 1,500 police officers in Carshalton and Wallington. I know that the Minister’s constituency has a bit of trouble now and then when Huntingdon Life Sciences is attacked and a few extra police officers have to be drafted in, but the seriousness of these cuts is lost on some Government Members.
The hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) says that Opposition Members accuse the Government of not being sympathetic to the lives that people face or to the victims of crime. I am sure that they are sympathetic, but we are talking about crime on a far bigger scale in many of our inner cities and in many parts of the country. That needs far bigger and more effective police forces that have to be able to deal with it.
We know that things are getting bad when the police themselves take to the streets to go on marches. There is a demonstration today in which thousands and thousands of police officers have descended on London, including officers from my constabulary in Lancashire, to protest about the 20% cuts in policing. Members of this House, as well as families and communities up and down the country, will be supporting them.
Fairly recently I met representatives of the Lancashire Police Federation, and they reminded me of a meeting I had with them four or five years ago, when Jacqui Smith was Home Secretary and they complained about changes to their working arrangements and pensions that took place under the previous Labour Government. When I met them a couple of months ago over a very nice lunch in Preston, they said, “Bring back Jacqui Smith”, but I am afraid that they do not have that option at the moment. What they are left with is a Home Secretary who basically does not give a toss—[Interruption.]
I withdraw the comment, Mr Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I should use a more appropriate expression and say that the Home Secretary does not care as much as she should do.
As I have said, Lancashire constabulary is the best of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. Let us look at the sort of money that is being withdrawn by central Government. In real terms—cumulative cash terms—in 2011-12 there was a 6% cut, in 2012-13 there will be a 13% cut, in 2013-14 there will be a 17% cut, and in 2014-15 there will be the magic 20% cut that police forces up and down the country are facing.
The Government base their predictions on those of the Office for Budget Responsibility and predict that council tax will increase by 3.4% per annum. The OBR might be giving a figure of 3.4% per annum, but the Government are telling local authorities to freeze council tax, as many Tory authorities throughout the country are, so, when authorities look at the money available to them, particularly through the police precept, they find that, if everybody sticks to the Conservative line on freezing council tax, they will not have that 3.4% to include in the budget and, therefore, will have to cut even more from the police budget.
We know that, if councils want an increase of more than 3.5%, they will also have to hold a referendum to get that budget measure through, costing them not only in a referendum, but through the likelihood of losing it. Constituents will not want to pay more for a service that is not as good. The Government have therefore been cynical to say the least in putting forward this estimate of a 3.4% increase in council tax.
If we look at central funding for the Lancashire police force, we find that its income will fall from £220.21 million in 2011-12 to £195.53 million in 2014-15, and that we are going to see funding gaps in the first year of £13.82 million and in the final year of £8.32 million. That is from a very lean starting point for Lancashire constabulary: 28.6% of its back-office budget has gone; 20% of its middle-office budget has gone; and now almost 10% of its front-line budget has gone, despite the Prime Minister indicating that there was no need at all to cut any front-line police.
On the impact, 5,000 police nationally have already gone, and some 550 police officers will go in Lancashire, along with 250 police staff. Lancashire’s record is, however, fantastic. Crime has gone down year on year since 2004; all crime is down by 34%; acquisitive crime is down by 45%; burglary is down by 36%; violent crime is down by 31%; and antisocial behaviour has fallen since April 2009, from 155,000 incidents to 100,000.
The situation is ridiculous. When Labour left office there were record numbers of police officers on the streets, with over 16,500 more than when we took office in 1997. The Government should urgently rethink the scale of police cuts and set out a proper plan to cut crime instead. The Queen’s Speech included nothing about crime, and the Government will rue the day they did nothing about it, because, although their constituents will not feel the cuts in the way that ours do, they will still pay the price.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make some observations about three matters raised in yesterday’s Gracious Speech: one proposal that should be straightforward, one that can be made so and one that I fear cannot. I should also declare an interest, as registered, not least because it includes prosecuting in the criminal courts, on which I shall touch.
The proposed offence of drug-driving does, as other Members have already said, actually exist. It is in section (4) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and has been around since then. It involves
“driving…unfit…through drink or drugs.”
The difficulty is with measuring “unfit”, which according to the Act occurs at the point when
“ability to drive properly is…impaired.”
The test is designed with alcohol in mind, and drugs require a much simpler approach, recognising that possession of alcohol is legal but possession of real problem drugs is not.
Consumption of alcohol is legal, so Parliament sets a level beyond which the assumption is that driving is impaired. Prohibited drugs, which by definition are not legal, need no such tolerance. The possession of such drugs is an offence, so it would be bizarre to have a threshold for driving which was based on impairment. All that is required is a simple law stating that a person in charge of a motor vehicle while in possession of a prohibited substance commits an offence and that possession shall include that which is within the person. The difference between drugs in the pocket and drugs in the bloodstream would be reflected in sentencing and evidence would be obtained using the same technology as is used in compulsory drugs tests carried out for the armed forces and many other organisations. The same defences available to those charged with drink-driving, such as inadvertent consumption, would be available. I hope that the opportunity to deal with the matter simply and effectively will not be missed.
The second area is the proposal to extend powers to access communications. It is worth pausing to consider the current position, in which telephone traffic, the location of telephones, and the record and content of text messages are all used and provide valuable evidence, along with entries from Facebook, e-mail and the like. If the police recover an accused’s computer or telephone, web searching and web content will all feature at trial.
The proposals simply make the matter more straightforward in the context of the developing use of instant communication. It is difficult, if not impossible, to draw any real distinction between the fact of a text message and the fact of an instant message. It would be ridiculous if the difference between the text icon and messaging icon was the difference between the availability of evidence or otherwise. However, the role of messaging and the growth in its use has been huge. If it had been suggested in 2000 that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act would compel people to lodge all their private post with the Royal Mail for 12 months, there would have been uproar, but the suggestion for electronic messaging is the 2012 equivalent. It may be necessary, but as the powers change so much so, too, must the safeguards.
Legislation of that type, sold on the back of the fight against paedophiles and terrorists, ends up in the hands of a wide variety of public bodies for which its use is totally disproportionate. If the Government want that significant extension of the scope of the data that they can see, there must be real safeguards such as the identification of specific offences to which the legislation will apply; disclosure to police and security services only; and access via a High Court judge’s order to named officers only. The legislation can be made to work, but there has to be a recognition that although it is a progression, it is a significant progression and safeguards are necessary.
The third area is somewhat different. I am afraid that if it is read carefully, the consultation document on the increased use of closed courts sets out a policy that appears to have at its heart a desire to protect Governments from direct or indirect embarrassment. For decades, there have been examples of Government Departments appearing to regard the public interest as meaning, at least in part, that errors are hidden and omissions denied. Public interest does not mean that.
The proposals are at odds with our principles of open justice, and the justifications for the departure in the consultation document are few and unconvincing. If the British state ensures that it never again colludes with those who kidnap and torture in the name of justice, we will not need to worry about Norwich Pharmacal applications on behalf of the victims.
The measures are not proposed for the criminal courts, of course, but it is to the civil courts that the citizen comes seeking remedy against the state. To cloak those courts in secrecy is good news for those who fear accountability, but not for those who wish to shine light on the extent of their mistreatment by the state. I hope that the recognition that the proposal cannot be extended into the criminal courts, and the realisation that a Minister should not decide whether it should apply in the civil courts, is, in fact, the beginning of an acceptance that the proposal is simply wrong.
This debate has taken place against the backdrop of a huge march by the country’s police officers. An estimated 30,000 police officers have been on the streets in London, not a stone’s throw away from here. They have been marching in their thousands against swingeing cuts to the police front line and the Government’s decision to cut 20% from police budgets. Today’s consideration of the broad aspects of the Queen’s Speech and its specific home affairs and justice aspects has to be seen in this context.
A few years ago, I took part in the police service parliamentary scheme, which was an ideal opportunity to see at first hand and to experience what policing meant at the sharp end. I was seconded to the city of Newport and spent a number of weeks witnessing what policing actually meant. It was an extremely valuable experience, particularly because I saw the multiplicity of problems that the police had to face in the conduct of their duties. As a result, my estimation of the police rose enormously. All Members should participate in the scheme if they have the opportunity to do so, because I have absolutely no doubt that their view of the police will be heightened enormously. One police officer told me that although they might have had some reservations about what the Labour Government were doing at the time, the investment in policing meant that it was transformed, particularly in our poorest communities. The current deep and rapid police cuts mean that the people who live in our poorest communities, and who need police support more than anybody else, will suffer most of all.
This afternoon’s debate has been good and wide-ranging. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) spoke lucidly about the children and families Bill. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) referred to the banking proposals in the Queen’s Speech, the European Union and measures for small businesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) welcomed the introduction of an offence for drug driving, and in doing so made a very powerful statement to this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) made a very strong speech covering children’s issues and alluding to his own personal experience. He also referred graphically to the situation in his constituency, which is one of the least well off in the country.
Some Members have been entirely supportive of the Government’s proposals, but others have expressed a variety of concerns and reservations. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) spoke about the future of policing, and his concerns were shared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and repeated by many other Members. My hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent and for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) made strong statements of concern about what is happening in their own, very different, constituencies.
In a multiplicity of ways, many of today’s speeches have highlighted the fact that the Government’s programme is woefully inadequate. At a time when most people’s standard of living is falling, when unemployment is high and may well get higher, and when insecurity is widespread and the prospects for our young people are worse now than they have been in living memory, it is almost unbelievable that the Government should make constitutional reform one of their priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mark Hendrick) was absolutely spot on when he said that when he went down to his local public house, nobody—I repeat, nobody—mentioned to him the need for Lords reform. I am sure that every single Member on both sides of the House would agree with him and say that that is exactly their own experience. Although nobody in the Government says that reform of the House of Lords should be a priority—they have changed their tune over the past few weeks—it has been given pride of place in Her Majesty’s Most Gracious Speech.
Let me be clear—I say this in particular to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) —that Labour supports a reformed House of Lords, with a wholly elected second Chamber. However, we want the relationship between the Chambers to be properly codified, with the primacy of this Chamber upheld. We believe that this issue should be put to the people of the country in a referendum because it is a change of major constitutional significance.
The prominence given to this issue demonstrates better than anything else how out of touch the Government are. As the Labour party demonstrated in the local elections last week, the Government have no idea—
It takes a lot for the hon. Gentleman, whom I like and admire very much from our European days, to provoke me, but he is accusing the Government of putting forward something that was in the coalition agreement, in our respective party manifestos and in the manifesto on which he stood when he was elected to the House last time around. He asks, “Why now?” It is not as if this debate has suddenly popped up in the last six weeks or six months, or in the couple of years since the coalition was formed; it has been going on for more than a century. Is the position of the Labour party not just complete emergent opportunism—“Make us virtuous, oh Lord, but not yet”?
I have a soft spot for the right hon. Gentleman, but it is a bit rich of the Liberal Democrats to accuse the Labour party of opportunism. When the country is faced with an unprecedentedly difficult situation—now, of all times—coming forward with a piece of constitutional reform is a step too far, as far as most people are concerned. As Aneurin Bevan said, politics is all about priorities—that is the religion of politics. For the House at this time to spend what will inevitably be a long time debating this issue will send out a negative message. There is no doubt in my mind that the people of this country will take a dim view of the political priorities of the Government.
Is it not a fact that those who like fish eat fish when the fish they are presented with is properly cooked and is attractive? Nobody in their right mind would say, “I like fish. Therefore, I am going to eat this piece of rotten fish.” Nothing could be more rotten and ill-thought-through than the legislation that the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill had to address.
It is difficult to follow that. There is plenty of food for thought in what my right hon. Friend said. I am sure that there will be ample opportunity for those wise words to be considered in detail.
The Opposition will have to wait to see the detailed proposals on a number of the promised Bills in the Government’s programme before establishing our position. For example, on the draft communications data Bill, although we believe that the police and the crime agencies need to keep up with new technology to disrupt terror plots, we also believe that the privacy of individuals needs to be protected. There is also an issue with the Government’s approach. The justification for the legislation is based on secret information. Although we accept that this is a difficult area, we are uncomfortable that the justification for change is based solely on ministerial testimony.
As for other pieces of proposed legislation, let me make specific reference to the justice and security Bill, which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) among others. Clearly, this Bill will deal with an important and sensitive area, and it is too important for anyone in this House to engage in party political games. We are willing to work with the Government—I hope they will respond positively—to increase both judicial and other independent scrutiny without undermining the protection of the public. This needs to be done in a way that maintains robust safeguards for individual citizens.
We also accept that action is needed with regard to foreign intelligence sharing, but we are concerned that the Government are apparently rushing ahead at full speed, despite the very real concerns expressed about their Green Paper proposals. Concern has been expressed by the Royal British Legion as well as civil liberties groups. To date, in our opinion, the Government have failed to make a strong enough case for closed proceedings in our civil courts, and before the Government bring any Bill forward, it is crucial that they produce more evidence to support their proposals.
A number of Members have referred to the Crime and Courts Bill. The National Crime Agency is essentially a reorganisation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which was established by Labour. We are concerned especially about the scrapping of the National Policing Improvement Agency, and we are very concerned about the NCA’s budget.
Earlier today, we had First Reading of the Defamation Bill, and I am glad to see that all the indications are that the Government are following through on the good work of the last Labour Government. The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill also received its First Reading today. This Bill has had a long gestation. We have not had time to study it in detail, but we acknowledge that the Government have moved on significantly from their earlier, rather extreme position and we certainly welcome that. We are in favour in principle, as we always have been, of individual electoral registration, but we are likely to want further movement so that as many people as possible have the opportunity to vote thanks to their inclusion on the electoral register. Democracy demands nothing less.
Unfortunately, on a number of home affairs and justice issues in respect of which we honestly expected legislation, none has been forthcoming. One omission relates to forced marriages. A Home Office consultation ended in March this year, but there is nothing about forced marriages in the Queen’s Speech. Another omission relates to the recall of MPs. I find that surprising because the coalition agreement stated:
“We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall”.
Well, the opportunity for it is now and we were expecting it, so where is it? Why have the Government not maintained the commitment given in the coalition agreement, and why have they not brought this legislation forward? It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to that specific question.