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Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : The Home Secretary made this claim in a debate on this subject and he challenged me to substantiate my assertion that Budget information was covered by the criminal law through other legislation. I gave him quotations and the laws. To use his own phrase, is he going to hoist this in or will he go on repeating what is not true?
Mr. Hurd : The disclosure by an official of information out of the Treasury that does not fall within the scope of the White Paper and the Bill that we are about to publish will be outside the scope of the criminal law.
Thirdly, where the protection of the criminal law is to be retained, the possibilities of prosecution will be circumscribed. In the majority of cases there will be a test of harm and in all cases it will be a jury that decides. Compare that with the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman's Government in 1978. Of course they proposed no defence based on public interest. Of course they proposed no defence based on prior publication. Of course they did not go nearly as far as we do in providing a test of harm. Most striking of all, they provided for the binding use of ministerial certificates so that at the end of the day it was the Minister, and not the jury, who decided.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : Does not the substantial criticism of that contention arise where there are absolute offences? In other words, where a loyal public servant reveals crime, fraud or iniquity, he has no defence and could possibly be sent to prison for two years. Is there not something deeply offensive about that?
We shall soon be publishing our Official Secrets Bill. We have been turning the language of the White Paper into statute--
Mr. Hurd : I shall continue, as I should like to get on. We have been turning the White Paper into the language of statute, taking into account points that have been made in the House and elsewhere. The House will
Column 125then be able to judge our proposals and compare them with other proposals that have been before the House, particularly the proposals that we inherited 10 years ago. I relish the thought of those detailed discussions that will follow, because I have no fears about those comparisons.
Mr. Maclennan : The right hon. Gentleman told the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that there is no change because the section 2 procedure and the provisions of law are simply repeated. Does he not recognise that there are common law rebuttals, which were cited by Lord Goff in particular in the "Spycatcher" case, which enable public servants to pray in aid the general defence of public interest?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is confusing the civil and the criminal law. Under the criminal law--the civil law is an entirely different matter--the kind of offence that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) cites is covered by section 2, although I agree that the term "offence" is begging the question. Such offences will continue to be covered for the reasons that I have explained and will certainly explain again when we publish our Bill. The occasion cited by my hon. Friend would be covered because we believe in the absolute extent of confidentiality. There is nothing new about that.
Mr. Richard Shepherd rose --
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) rose --
I am listing the facts that have not yet been fully hoisted in by our critics on the extent to which we are moving the law and practice in these matters in an open direction.
Fourthly, we have provided the staff counsellor for the Security Service that I have mentioned.
Fifthly, we are doing something that not even the most imaginative commentator predicted ; we are putting the Security Service on a statutory basis on the lines that I have described.
Of course, there is plenty of scope for detailed discussion of all those proposals. I do not believe that the sun and moon revolve around such particulars or that they are passionately discussed night by night in pubs and clubs.
The discussion about particulars on which we shall pursue three major Home Office Bills will get off to a good start if it is recognised that we are talking about the particulars of an essay in openness that has no parallel in the history of our Government since the war. If, against the facts, the Opposition persist in harping on the caricature that they have created, they will make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the electorate--
Mr. Rooker rose--
Mr. Benn rose--
Mr. Hurd : --particularly ridiculous as some right hon. Gentlemen had to strike in their time in high office the balance between individual freedom and public safety that I have mentioned. What was the record on this issue when one right hon. Gentleman was Foreign Secretary, one was Home Secretary and the other was Minister of State? The record in each case was negative, negative, negative. I am sure that that comparison should temper their comments today, although not those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker).
Mr. Rooker : The Secretary of State said that we would have ample opportunity for discussion of these issues. Will he make it clear that the two Bills to which he is referring, in respect of the Security Service and the Official Secrets Act, will be dealt with as the Official Secrets Act was originally dealt with--on the Floor of the House, without any threat of a guillotine--and that the Government will not seek advantage in that respect? The Government have an overwhelming majority and can do what they wish, but if there is to be free and open discussion, we need to know the ground rules before we start.
Mr. Hurd : There will be a great deal of free and open discussion. I got into serious trouble once for saying that there would be no guillotine on a piece of legislation, and I shall not repeat that mistake today. The arrangements for the discussion and the procedures are not a matter for me. The Opposition have a wholly negative record on these matters.
It is natural that commentators in the press and on radio and television should be jealous of their freedoms and quick to spot even imagined threats to those freedoms. No one should have any complaint about such vigilance. We are not making the changes that I have listed out of any desire to please the commentators and I do not ask for any compliments from them, but we can ask for a professional and fair-minded assessment. Whatever the argument about particulars, such an assessment would have to start from the acknowledgement that we are making a substantial and unprecedented thrust in the direction of greater openness throughout the areas covered by the points that I have described today.
As the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, we shall be spending many hours discussing these matters in the next few months.
Mr. Hurd : It applies to members and former members of the security and intelligence services and to those notified or designated--we are drafting--because of the nature of the work most closely connected with the services. I am paraphrasing the White Paper. When we publish the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman will see exactly how we propose to define the category.
As I have said, we shall be spending many hours discussing these matters. I relish that prospect because I think that, taken together, our proposals constitute a
Column 127major thrust towards openness, the scope of which is still genuinely not absorbed by many of those who comment on these matters.
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is confusing two Bills. Surprisingly, the Security Service Bill is about the Security Service. He will see that the White Paper on official secrets contains a different definition.
I am anxious that our necessary concentrations of effort should not divert the Home Office from what I regard to be the heart of its activities, which is action against crime. Increasing freedom from crime and from the fear of it is a good which we would all wish for the British people.
During the summer recess we published the latest statistics for the 12 months to the end of June. Recorded crime across the nation was shown to have declined slightly. It is far too soon to draw anything but fleeting comfort from this interruption in the 30-year upward trend. We know that such variations can be treacherous until it has been shown clearly that they are more than temporary. We can claim realistically, however, that crime prevention is beginning to affect the figures for good. It is fair to credit my successor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan)
It is fair to credit my predecessor with giving prevention of crime its proper standing alongside detection and punishment. I have done my best to develop and reinforce what he emphasised. The crime being prevented is overwhelmingly crime against property, which makes up 95 per cent. of the whole. There were 60,000 fewer burglaries in England and Wales in the 12 months ending June this year than in the parallel period a year before. This is a 6 per cent. drop. The figures in some of the cities where crime against property is traditionally worst have been particularly encouraging and better than average. The mass of crime against property is easier to prevent than to detect. The improvements which we are beginning to see owe much to the extraordinary growth of neighbourhood watch schemes. There are now almost 60,000 schemes in England and Wales, with nearly 9,500 in London alone. That is 16,000 more schemes than a year ago. Some schemes are bound to be more active than others, but I am clear that the best are now making a substantial contribution to preventing crime.
Column 128The longer I study the problem the more convinced I am that the best crime prevention is local and specific. That is the basis of our safer cities programme. Each of our safer city projects needs sustained and concentrated attention and co-ordinated effort by local people.
Over the next three years the safer city projects will be established in 20 areas, selected from among the 57 urban programme areas. This is the Home Office's contribution to the inner-city policy. We have announced nine areas so far : Wolverhampton, Bradford, Nottingham, Coventry, Birmingham, Hartlepool, Rochdale, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets. I am glad that local authorities, regardless of party, are keen to take part and staff are being recruited in several of those places. We are aiming at a measurable reduction in targeted crime in each project area.
One in 20 crimes is violent, and it is the continuing rise in recorded violent crime which rightly causes the most alarm. Some of this rise is certainly the result of a higher proportion of crime getting onto the books. For example, as the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) would acknowledge, many more women are reporting incidents of domestic violence, and the police are dealing with them more sympathetically. Similarly, the police are recording more rapes where the offender was not a stranger but someone who knew the victim quite well--a friend, a former husband or lover. I think that the House will welcome this greater willingness of women to report such crimes and the arrangements that the police have made to encourage this.
There is that point about increased reporting, but I would not wish to sound in any way complacent about the undoubted actual rise in violent crime. I should like 1989 to be the year in which the police, the courts, the public and the Government concentrate more effectively on violent crime, while sustaining the improvement as regards crimes against property, which we can already see. More police than ever before, swifter justice, the new law against carrying a knife without good reason, the tighter control of the private ownership of firearms, the stiffer laws against illegal and disorderly drinking, the heavier sentences being imposed by the courts on serious and violent crime and the remedy which Parliament has now provided in the Criminal Justice Act against the wayward lenient sentence-- I regard all these as essential elements in this concentration against violent crime.
Prisons, which have often been neglected in the past--in the House, too-- represent the denial of freedom to certain individuals for the punishment of crime and the protection of society. But, if it is to be fair, that denial of freedom must take place in decent, although austere, circumstances. No one can be satisfied with the present state of our prisons, where just over 50,000 inmates have been committed to prison, and we have accommodation designed for under 46, 000.
We have made and are making strenuous efforts to remedy the years of neglect. Since 1979 spending on the prison service has risen in real terms by 43 per cent. In the Autumn Statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced further substantial increases amounting to an additional £922 million over the next three years. That will allow for an expansion of the prison building and modernisation programme to provide a further 3,000 or so prison places by 1992.
Column 129evidence given to the Select Committee about the work of the Property Services Agency, is he satisfied that those extra sums will meet the current programme, let alone any expansion, because of the gross miscalculations in budgeting?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on a problem, but I am increasingly confident that we are dealing with it. Even though there have been changes made in our arrangements with the PSA, he will know that we have set up a prisons building board half the members of which are from the private sector. He will know what we are doing about a contract design, and I am increasingly confident that we can deliver the prison building programme, as I have described it, within the resources that have been made available. It is an enormous commitment. It will greatly help the prison service in carrying out its tasks within a humane environment, to the benefit of both staff and inmates.
The prison population is still growing, though slightly less fast than had been expected. If the latest projections of the prison population are borne out, we should before long be able to make significant progress towards our aim of eliminating overcrowding. We expect that next year there will still be a gap of about 5,000 between the number of people in prison and the recognised number of prison places. We hope to reduce that gap to just over 3,000 by 1991-92, with a further fall in the following years.
Over the past year, we have made painful but important strides in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the prison service through the fresh start reform. Containment--keeping people locked up and secure--is of course the prison service's first task. Recently, under the sheer pressure of numbers, containment has tended to be the be-all and end-all, and the prison service has concentrated just on keeping the system going while other objectives have fallen behind. No one in the prison service to whom I have spoken would welcome a return to the days of illusion, when it was supposed that, with enough money and skill, every prisoner could be reformed. Equally, no prison officer worth his salt is content with a system in which prisoners sometimes have to be locked in their cells for all except one or two hours out of 24, with no proper opportunities for education or work. That is no way to create or foster a sense of responsibility or to prepare a man for returning to life outside prison.
For the less serious and non-violent offender, we favour disposals outside prison altogether, and that is the purpose of our Green Paper on punishment in the community, to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Home Department has devoted so much work. The serious and violent should continue to end up in prison. The prison service has now received a clear restatement of purpose from the Prisons Board that I wholeheartedly endorse. I do not believe that the House has yet been informed of the statement, which says : "Her Majesty's Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and to help them lead law abiding and useful lives in custody and after release."
We should all use our energies and all available resources to turn that statement of purpose increasingly into reality.
In a thoughtful passage in the Leader of the Opposition's speech yesterday, he told the House that
Column 130freedom is not an absolute, but a question of balance between desirable objectives. I entirely agree. In the Home Office, we have to strike that balance week by week, subject by subject-- whether on security or penal policy ; whether in the struggle against terrorism, where we are putting together the new prevention of terrorism Bill described in the Queen's Speech ; whether we are dealing with drug traffickers and their assets, or with even more prosaic matters such as Sunday trading.
I do not suppose that there is any other Department of State where those issues and the balance of which the right hon. Gentleman rightly spoke come to the fore quite so often or quite so vividly. I could give many other examples than those I have chosen today. With the help of the House, I hope that we can continue, subject by subject, to strike that necessary balance, firmly and with common sense.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : Yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister entertained the House with more examples of her belief that words mean whatever she wishes them to mean. Water is to be privatised, sold abroad and increased in price to protect the environment. Electricity is to be handed over to a private duopoly to increase competition. As to the Queen's visit to Moscow, it is not being addressed in any way. The Prime Minister's actual words were "We do not discuss this matter."--[ Official Report, 22 November 1988 ; Vol. 142. c. 28.]
Lest there be any doubts about the implications of that sentence, I make it clear that the Prime Minister was speaking of herself in the royal plural-- a form of language that other Prime Ministers felt was best left to the Queen herself.
Of course we believe the Prime Minister. We believe her in the same way that we believed the Chancellor of the Exchequer two weeks ago. But the fascination of Fridays remains. Two Fridays ago, the Chancellor said nothing about means-testing pensions. Last Friday, Mr. Bernard Ingham said nothing about the Queen visiting Moscow. We look forward to reading what was not said this Friday.
The one occasion when the Prime Minister's speech almost came to life was when she proclaimed the Government's commitment to the free society. I can only judge from that impromptu passage that the Prime Minister is temperamentally incapable of understanding how Governments in genuinely free societes behave. In a free society, the Government do not bully and browbeat broadcasters. In a free society, the Government do not buy off newspapers with knighthoods and peerages. In a free society, the Government do not suppress local government's right to exercise local options on behalf of the people that it represents. In a free society, the Government do not ignore and dismiss the interests of minorities ; nor, in a truly free society, do the Government emasculate and sometimes positively destroy the institutions that protect the weak from exploitation by the powerful.
It is not, for instance, acceptable in a truly free society for the police to raid television studios, confiscate material and give no explanation or apology for actions that they could not justify in court.
Above all, it is the commitment to govern on behalf of all the people that makes Governments genuinely representative and truly democratic. It is because of this Government's determination to stifle their critics and to
Column 131crush dissent that their legitimacy is in doubt. It is because of their passion to retain power by any means that they choose to govern not on behalf of all the people but in the interests of those groups of voters whom they hope will improve their prospects of re -election. A Government who cynically represent only some of the people cannot claim to be truly democratic or the true champions of freedom. There is no area in which the Government confuse the real nature of freedom more blatantly than in their fraudulent promise to introduce what they wrongly describe as top-up loans for students. According to the Prime Minister, substituting loans for half the grant will increase freedom on one of the criteria that she offered yesterday--reducing taxation. According to more honest judges, the substitution of loans for grants will reduce freedom by preventing thousands of students from low-income families from taking their proper places in universities and polytechnics--
Mr. Hattersley : I shall talk about Tory Britain. [Interruption.] I remind the hon. Gentleman who, I suspect, like me, was one of the students who went to university on a 100 per cent. grant because he came from a low-income family of which the parents could not make a contribution of any size, that 26.5 per cent. of students now come from families who cannot afford, according to the state's criteria, to make a parental contribution. In future, those students will enter higher education only in the knowledge that they will start their working lives in debt.
Many students will not have the confidence to take this risk, and as a result, young working-class people will not take up the higher education places for which they are qualified and to which they are entitled. That is an extraordinary definition of the word freedom. Mr. Holt rose --
The broadcasting White Paper will extend the freedom of multinational communications conglomerates to monopolise independent broadcasting in this country and to reduce the standards of television broadcasting. That extension of freedom is certainly the Government's intention. It is a subject to which we shall return, as we must, when the House is given the opportunity to debate the White Paper. I hope we shall be told that that opportunity will be provided during what is loosely called the consultation period, rather than when the Government have finally set their views in concrete. Nevertheless, we say now that there is a great and growing groundswell of opposition to the tawdry commercialism that the Home Secretary calls extended choice. The great test of the courage, as well as the
Column 132integrity, of the broadcasters will be the way in which they fight against what they now openly say is wrong. Today, I merely use the broadcasting White Paper to illustrate the Government's misuse of the idea of choice.
To make a genuine choice, the consumer must be given a number of real alternatives from which to make choices which are within his power to make in practice, not in theory. Extra buttons on the television set that provide no more than the same tired old films, quiz shows and American soap operas give no extra choice at all. There is one aspect of the Gracious Speech to which we give wholehearted support--the passage that deals with the protection of children. Naturally, we need to examine the proposals in detail. We shall support any measure that provides proper protection for children in need or danger and which establishes the rights of the family and the child's proper place within it. Measures to achieve those ends will be welcomed by the Opposition, although we should be more confident about the Government's genuine concern had they not frozen child benefit in two successive years, so lowering the real value of the greatest help that lower-income families with children receive from the community.
In nine years of office, the Prime Minister has talked in the language of positive freedom in only one area of policy--the area of crime. The Prime Minister talked glibly about the Government's duty to provide the citizen with the freedom to walk the streets without fear of assault and attack. The Government have failed abysmally to provide that protection. Since 1979 the number of notifiable offences has increased by 53.4 per cent.--that is half as many again as when this law and order Government came to power.
The Home Secretary said feebly today that one of the causes of the increase in violent crime is that more is being reported. He then boasted about the stabilisation of crime in general. He did not remember to tell the House that one reason why the figure has not expanded is that fewer burglaries and break-ins are reported because, since the Government have been in office, burglaries and break-ins are taken for granted in vast areas of the country.
Mr. Hurd indicated dissent.
Mr. Hattersley : I see that the Home Secretary is shaking his head. I shall ask him a question in his capacity as police authority for London. He supports the police idea that some crimes, including burglaries and break-ins, are so unimportant that they are bottom of the priority list and are not attended to that day or week, so why does he expect people to report such crimes? He knows that in large areas of the country, particularly in big cities, such crimes are regarded as normal, so people do not report them.
The Home Secretary showed pathetic pleasure in the fact that the overall crime figures have stabilised--although he did not concede the indisputable fact that I have just described--at an intolerably high rate. There are half as many crimes again as when the Government came to power. Violent crime continues to increase remorselessly. Violent crime in 1987 was 17 per cent. above the 1986 level and 15 per cent. up in the first quarter of 1988. The
Column 133responsibility for that terrifying increase lies in part with the society that the Government have helped to create. At one extreme there is poverty, unemployment and deprivation and at the other there is easy money and the encouragement of greed and selfishness. The chairman of the Tory party and the Minister of State--who is probably flattered to be included in such exalted company--continually ask us to choose. Do we blame crime on the philosophy of "devil take the hindmost", in which the Prime Minister glories, or inner-city poverty, which the Prime Minister has caused? After all that expensive education, they should be able to carry two parallel ideas in their heads at the same time. Violence in home county market towns has one cause and violence in inner cities has another. In both cases, the Government have wholly failed to deal with those causes and adequately to attack the symptoms.
I concede that the Home Secretary is handicapped in his work by a liability that has weighted down all his Tory
predecessors--bone-headed Back Benchers who believe that crime can be overcome only by increasingly severe penalties. Different Home Secretaries have reacted to that liability in different ways. Lord Whitelaw abandoned a plan for supervised early release from prison when his party conference told him to do so. If that plan had been operated, the prison population would be smaller than it is today by between 6,000 and 8,000.
The present Home Secretary is to be presented with exactly the same dilemma, although he could not bring himself to mention it. I understand that the Carlisle committee is about to recommend virtually the same early release scheme. We can only hope that the Home Secretary will behave with greater independence than his predecessor because in their present state our prisons breed crime rather than deter it. The Home Secretary knows that, and from time to time he stands up bravely to his backwoodsmen and tells them so. More often, however, he seeks to deflect their attacks by creating the illusion of activity.
The Home Secretary must hold the all-time record for conducting experiments and pilot schemes. His scheme to impose a time limit on the length of remand--stipulating a date by which the trial must begin--could easily have been put into operation all over England and Wales. Instead of reducing the number of remand prisoners, however, the Government have actually increased it, by extending the initial remand period from seven to 28 days. The Home Secretary has chosen to increase the number rather than reduce it.
The current illusion of activity, and the most blatant gimmick of all, is electronic tagging. I again compliment the Home Secretary on his fastidiousness ; he can never bring himself to utter that phrase, in the House or outside it. The theoretical intention of tagging is to reduce the prison population. That will come about only if offenders who would otherwise have received custodial sentences are tagged instead. I do not believe that that will happen, not least because, on the evidence of the United States, the tag is risibly unreliable. Offenders who would not in any event be sent to prison will have tagging added to their community service and their probation order. The result will be their humiliation, and resentment will replace
Column 134reform and rehabilitation, resulting in more crime rather than less. The only achievement will be the illusion of activity, and that only briefly.
In response to the increase in crime, which the Home Secretary does not deny, he claims that he and his party have made vast strides in increasing police manpower. The claims are made so often and so stridently that we must all ask why, with so many extra police officers, there is so much more crime. It is becoming increasingly easy to answer that question. The increase in effective police manpower is nothing like as large as the Home Secretary hopes that we will believe it to be. The Government find it convenient to claim that the Labour party is the enemy of the police. That is nonsense. What is now beyond doubt is that, because of the Government's double-talk, the police are becoming bitter critics of the Tory party.
This morning, I talked to Alan Eastwood, the new chairman of the Police Federation, who made strong complaints about the way in which the Government, in his words, have misled the public with the passages on police manpower in the public expenditure White Paper. He bases that charge on the figure of 1,150--the number of additional officers promised in the document and represented as a new initiative. Eight hundred and fifty of those additional officers were promised two years ago, so the new increase is 300 rather than 1,150, and the net increase is even smaller. Thanks to the pressure on police budgets, overtime has been eliminated in almost every police area. As a result, the true increase in police man hours--the number of officers on the beat deterring and fighting crime--is even less than that suggested by the honest figure, the real increase, of 300 officers.
My information is that every police authority in the country is now supporting every chief constable in the country in applications for more officers. The Police Federation estimates the shortfall to be 10,000. West Yorkshire needed 800 additional officers but was given 20. North Yorkshire needed 250 officers, modestly asked for 50 and got none. The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is so concerned about the state of policing that it is calling for a Royal Commission to examine the chronic shortage and its consequences.
The president of ACPO is terrifyingly explicit about law and order under this Government. He says :
"Regrettably, the presence of the police is dwindling. We are losing control of the streets."