Previous Section Home Page

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : Concern has been expressed over the past month about possible amnesties for terrorists, in connection with which I think that the Prime Minister has said that the law will take its course. Will the Home Secretary assure us that, in his view, the law taking its normal course will exclude any programme for rapid early release of people who have been convicted of terrorist offences?

Mr. Howard : There will be no amnesty for terrorists. We do not recognise terrorism as a specific crime--a political crime--under our law. Those who are in prison for such offences are not in prison for offences of a political nature. They are in prison for offences against the ordinary law of the land, which will take its course without any amnesties.

The Bill provides for very strict controls over how and when the new powers on terrorism can be used. Those new powers could help to save lives, and when lives can be saved Parliament has a duty to act.

Part VII seeks to strengthen the controls against pornography. First, the Bill provides a power of immediate arrest of those who trade in obscene material and child pornography. The police will also be given additional powers of search and seizure in those cases. The trade in child pornography is particularly abhorrent. The Bill will, for the first time, make it possible to send to prison those found guilty of possessing such material.

Changes in the law are also needed to keep up with new technology. Computer pornography poses a particular threat. The Bill will put it beyond doubt that, for the purposes of the law relating to child pornography, a photograph includes images of children stored on computer disks. It will also ensure that there is no legal loophole for paedophiles who create indecent images of children through the use of computers. Those are important steps that make the law against pornography more effective. The Labour party cannot decide what its attitude should be on them. It cannot decide whether to vote for or against them. The Labour party's attitude to them tonight will be one of chronic indecision.

Mr. Blair rose--

Mr. Howard : Sit down.

Column 31

Part VIII of the Bill takes forward the Government's commitment to involve the private sector in the provision of prisons, prisoner escorts and some prison services. It widens and improves my current powers-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When a Minister says, "Sit down", he is talking to you, Madam Speaker. Will you ask him to withdraw that command?

Madam Speaker : If that is the case, I must ask the Minister to withdraw the remark, and I am sure that he will do so.

Mr. Howard : I am sure that you appreciate, Madam Speaker, that the remark was not aimed at you. However, if anyone took it in that sense--I am sure that you did not, Madam Speaker--I would be happy to withdraw it. I had already made it perfectly plain to the hon. Member for Sedgefield, to whom I have given way four or five times, that he will have an opportunity to make his own speech. That is why I addressed the remark to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in line with the procedures of the House that hon. Members should not make sedentary speeches?

Madam Speaker : That is certainly the case. It is my desire that all 650 Members over whom I preside should follow that example.

Mr. Howard : I am not at all surprised at the sedentary muttering of the Opposition. They would not dare nor do they have the courage to get up and say what they have been muttering.

The part of the Bill relating to prisons widens and improves my current powers to contract out prisons and prison services in England and Wales. In particular, it will enable me to award contracts for the design, building, management and financing of the six new prisons that I announced last year.

The Bill increases my powers to provide additional accommodation to cope with increases in the prison population, and it takes forward our initiative to contract out prison escort services. Skilled prison officers should be free to do the job that they are trained to do instead of spending large parts of the day travelling to and from court with prisoners. Contracting out will make sure that that happens, and it is an excellent example of how market testing and contracting out can provide value for money and a much better service for those who are involved.

The Bill also allows contracting out of prisons and prisoner escorting in Scotland for the first time, and will enable the prisoner escort service in Northern Ireland to be contracted out. Part VIII also puts industrial relations in the prison service on a sounder footing. The recent threat by the Prison Officers Association to lock out prisoners was a totally unacceptable threat to the criminal justice system. In response, I sought and obtained an injunction from the courts restraining the POA from taking such action, but clarification of its position under employment protection law is required.

The Bill's provisions will extend to prison officers and governors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the

Column 32

employment rights that are currently enjoyed by their counterparts in Scotland and by other Crown employees. It will give their associations the status in law of trade unions. New pay determination procedures will be established for the staff that are involved. Consultations are about to begin with the relevant unions about the precise details of the new arrangements, but the Bill will put beyond doubt the fact that it is unlawful to incite prison officers to withhold their services or to commit a breach of discipline. That will be backed up by making explicit in the prison rules the implied contractual duty of prison officers to co-operate in the effective running of prisons.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Before the Secretary of State leaves the topic of new offences that the Bill seeks to introduce, will he explain why this comprehensive Bill contains nothing specific to deal with the rising tide of anti-semitic and racist violence? How can he explain his silence on that issue, which concerns people of all colours and creeds in this country?

Mr. Howard : I have made it plain that I am prepared to look at any sensible proposal to improve the law in relation to those matters. However, I am not yet satisfied that such proposals have been advanced. We are still examining some, and I am convinced that others would not add one jot or tittle to the effectiveness of the present law. I am prepared to consider all such suggestions strictly on their merits.

The Bill, taken together with the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, forms an important part of our strategy to beat crime. But even as those Bills are being discussed and debated in Parliament, we are taking every step that we can to ensure punishment for the guilty, justice for the victim and protection for the public.

We have taken action to cut police paperwork, which could over time release more than 2,000 officers for front-line duties. We are streamlining police middle management, which will allow chief officers to recruit up to 3,000 more constables. We are taking action to end the inappropriate use of cautions, and we are curtailing cautions for repeat offenders and serious offences. We have boosted funding for Victim Support to more than £10 million, which will enable witness support schemes to be provided in all Crown court centres in England and Wales by the end of 1995, and local schemes and branches to be developed.

We are taking wide-ranging measures to help to prevent crime. We have acted on the advice given by rural communities about ways in which their relationships with the police can be improved. Almost 40 parish constable schemes have now been agreed, and we shall continue to encourage local communities and police forces to develop a partnership against crime. Our safer cities projects further demonstrate the Government's support for local crime prevention partnerships. We intend to launch up to 40 new projects to replace the 20 that are coming to an end ; 10 of those new project areas have already been announced.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : I acknowledge that many of the developments in the Bill are important, but does the Home Secretary not realise that police forces need more resources if they are to carry out their work? Has there not been abundant evidence in recent weeks from

Column 33

police forces in Wales that they need real additional resources to avoid having to cut the manpower that enables them to do their work and to keep policemen on the beat?

Mr. Howard : I should be more impressed with the hon. Gentleman's intervention if every time the Government had increased the resources available to the police over the past 14 years he had congratulated us. There has been an increase of more than 80 per cent. in real terms in the resources available to the police. In this country we have 17,000 more police officers than we had in 1979, and 16,000 more civilians helping them. Now we must make the most effective use that we can of the hugely increased resources available. That is what the Government's measures are designed to achieve.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : My right hon. and learned Friend will know that, although the recent revenue support grant for Cambridgeshire allocated £1.5 million specifically to the police, the Lib-Lab coalition on the county council has applied only £105,000 of that money to that purpose. Does that not show the importance that the Lib-Lab coalition gives to the police?

Mr. Howard : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that is eloquent testimony to the derision with which the Opposition treat the police.

The measures in the Bills are our response to rising crime. What response have we had from the Opposition? When I announced my proposals in Blackpool last October, the hon. Member for Sedgefield denounced them. They were, he said,

"a series of gimmicks to get a headline".

But since then my proposals have won support from the police and the public, so the hon. Gentleman, weathervane politician that he is, has changed his tune. On television before Christmas he protested : "I did not say that all the measures the Home Secretary announced were gimmicks. I said that some of them were gimmicks".

I challenge the hon. Gentleman to name the gimmicks. I will happily give way to him here and now if he wishes to make good his preposterous claim.

Mr. Blair : Let me name one gimmick. The Home Secretary said that he would bring about a dramatic difference in the treatment of people who have already been convicted of murder or rape and who come up for bail on another charge of murder or rape. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was a great problem in the criminal justice system because people in those circumstances are given bail. Can he give us an example of such a person having been given bail?

Mr. Howard : There have certainly been instances of people being given bail in those circumstances. Nor did I ever say--and the hon. Gentleman is renowned for the extent to which he distorts, misrepresents and misquotes my remarks--that that measure in isolation would make a dramatic impact. It will make a useful impact ; it is a useful measure ; it will protect the public ; and it is not a gimmick.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the McGurk murder case, and that the man who killed Anna McGurk had been arrested for rape and let out on bail?

Column 34

Mr. Howard : I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that the Opposition will take due note of that example.

It will not be too long before the hon. Member for Sedgefield starts to pretend that our proposals are his own--indeed, he has already started. Not long ago, I made a speech about the victims of crime in which I said that victims should be kept informed about the progress and outcome of their cases and that the Crown Prosecution Service should seek victims' views before decisions are taken. Three months later, the hon. Member for Sedgefield wrote an article in The Sun repeating what I had said almost word for word and claiming it as an initiative of his own. The fate that awaits the hon. Gentleman is the fate that awaits all weathervane politicians : he will end up spinning round and round in ever decreasing circles until neither he nor anyone else has the faintest idea of the direction in which he is facing.

I have made my aims and objectives clear. I want every aspect of our criminal justice system to work at its best--to do all that it can to make life safer for the law abiding and more difficult for the criminal. The Bill represents an important stepping stone on the path to that objective.

We have had months of rhetoric about being tough on crime from the hon. Member for Sedgefield. The moment of truth will come tonight after his feeble amendment has been defeated. Our Bill is indisputably tough on crime : it increases sentences ; it protects the public from juvenile criminals ; it cracks down on bail ; and it has been praised by the police, who believe that it will

"help tremendously in the fight against crime."

When the hon. Member for Sedgefield sits on his hands tonight, the British people will see that his rhetoric is just hot air : he will have funked the first opportunity that he will have had to turn his words into action.

As I made clear at Blackpool, this is just the first instalment. I am looking hard at the national standards for community sentences to ensure that they are properly demanding punishments in which the courts and public can have confidence. I am reviewing many of the rules in our prisons, especially those governing testing for drugs and home leave.

I am determined to do all that I can to encourage a real partnership between the police and the public. On Sunday night I went out on patrol with town watch in Sandwich. [Interruption.] Listen, Madam Speaker, to the Opposition's response to active and concerned citizens who are playing their part in the fight for law and order. I accompanied a group of citizens who were acting as the eyes and ears of the police, helping to escort elderly people who are afraid to go out at night, and making a real contribution to the reduction of crime in their community. We must encourage our citizens to play their part in the war against crime and, if we are to do that, we must ensure that our criminal justice system gives their efforts full and effective support. The Bill will help to achieve that objective, and I commend it to the House.

4.27 pm

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) : I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof : "this House believes that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill is not an acceptable and effective measure to tackle crime unless it includes the following : a proper statutory framework for crime prevention and other measures to prevent crime ; the provision of a full and comprehensive range of treatment and

Column 35

punishment for young offenders including local authority secure accommodation ; measures to introduce cautioning and bail support and enforcement programmes in all areas of the country ; programme for drug education for young people available in all local authorities with funding ring-fenced ; measures to tackled the link between truancy and crime ; measures to strengthen the law on racial harassment and violence ; a legal right on the part of victims of crime to be consulted when the Crown Prosecution Service decides to change or drop the charges for the offence in respect of which they are the victims, together with a written statement of the reasons for the decision ; measures to tackle the provision of dangerous weapons particularly by mail-order supply ; the establishment of a proper independent Judicial Appointments Commission for the appointment of judges ; and the setting up of an Independent Review Authority for miscarriages of justice as recommended by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice."

The purpose of the amendment is to bring balance and strategy to a Government approach that at present lacks both. We do not oppose the strengthening of the criminal justice system--on the contrary, we support measures that actively strengthen that system. Although we can agree with some of the measures in the Bill, we fundamentally disagree with others, and we shall show that there are better and different ways of making the criminal justice system more effective. Above all--as the Home Secretary's total refusal to answer the question whether the Bill would cut crime shows --the Bill is based on the old Tory deceit. The Tories tell us that they are tough on law and order and they have introduced this Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. However, the measure is fundamentally flawed because it is one-track. It does not deal with prevention as well as punishment or causes as well as crime.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair : I will give way in a moment. I am delighted by the enthusiasm and eagerness which are being displayed on the Conservative Benches.

There is no doubt about the importance of crime. Nothing is a greater source of fear and anger in our communities. It is a scandal that Asian women and children cannot walk down the street in broad daylight. It is outrageous that elderly people are mugged and robbed in their own homes and that entirely law-abiding young people should be set upon and beaten up for sport.

Householders and car owners feel despair when their property is stolen and they know that there is little that will be done about that. Although the Home Secretary did not mention this in his speech, it is surely true that when drugs are commonly offered, even in school playgrounds, and as an everyday occurrence, society has a serious sickness at its heart.

We know all that and the Government accept and admit all that. However, after 14 years, people do not want another dose of Tory rhetoric. They want effective action that works.

Sir Ivan Lawrence : The hon. Gentleman asks whether the proposals will reduce crime. Is he aware that the stop-and-search procedures which the City of London police introduced over the past year have reduced crime in the City by 18 per cent.?

Column 36

Mr. Blair : If that were the case, one would expect the Home Secretary to tell us that the measure will cut crime. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) has provided a basis upon which the Home Secretary should leap to his feet to say that that is the judgment that we should make of the measure. However, the Home Secretary must agree that one cannot tell the British people at a party conference that the Bill comprises the most comprehensive and effective series of crime measures that have ever been put before the British people and then be unable to pledge that the judgment that will be made about its effectiveness is that it will cut crime.

Dr. Spink : Does the hon. Gentleman honestly believe that taking young thugs and habitual criminals off the streets and tackling bail bandits will not reduce crime? What measures would the hon. Gentleman propose to reduce such crime?

Mr. Blair : I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman should ask that question, because it was the Opposition who first raised the problem of persistent juvenile offending and who proposed measures to deal with that problem. When I deal with that part of the Bill, I will say exactly where we agree and disagree. At that point, perhaps the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) will judge which are the more effective measures.

It was the Opposition who helped to secure the passage of the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : The hon. Gentleman said that it was the Opposition who first raised the question of persistent juvenile offenders. I assure him that during the five years that I have been parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation I have raised that issue constantly in the House. Indeed, I did so long before the hon. Gentleman came to his present post. My predecessors also raised that matter.

Mr. Blair : I do not doubt that. However, it is patently obvious that the Government Front Bench did not listen to the hon. Gentleman. I remember that when we first raised the issue in the House we were told that juvenile offending was on the decline and that the problem was therefore not as great as people had said.

As I have said, people want a strategy to fight crime that works. They want one that will cut crime. They want a strategy that, above all, is geared not to catching headlines so that Ministers can give the illusion of activity but to stopping crime so that communities become safer.

The Government must start with a straightforward explanation. They now admit the scale of the problem. They must explain why, after 14 years of Tory government, things are as bad as they are. The Tories have been in power for 14 years. There have been 14 years of rising crime. For 14 years, the Tories have had the chance in government to put things right, but there have been 14 years of Tory failure. That is the record on which the Government stand. The significance of the Bill is that the Government now admit that there is no confidence in the system.

What is the Government's explanation? It is not as though the issue of crime has just surfaced. Crime has risen by more than 120 per cent. since 1979. It rose in the Government's first and second terms of office and it has carried on rising. The only time that it fell was between 1988 and 1990. The Government have had 14 years in

Column 37

which to deal with it, but they have not done so. One might think that, after 14 years, the great Conservative purveyors of collective responsibility would take responsibility for the situation. After all, they are the Government. Do they say that they are responsible? Not a bit of it. The one thing that we must never underestimate about the Tories is their brazen nerve and their brass neck.

I shall give the House the explanation that the Home Secretary now gives-- he gave it on the "Today" programme just a morning ago. He says that the real problem is that the Government have been hamstrung in their fight against crime because their civil servants forced them to accept the nostrums of the liberal establishment.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Blair : I shall give way from right to left this time.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) : The hon. Gentleman keeps referring to 14 years in which to tackle crime. Fourteen years ago, two of the Bill's provisions were not possible--those on DNA sampling and on the crime of computer pornography. Will the hon. Gentleman dismiss the modernisation of our criminal justice system by saying that we have had 14 years in which to do everything? We are doing it now.

Mr. Blair : As an explanation of why crime has risen over the past 14 years, that intervention is somewhat less than credible. It would have been a good deal more convincing had the Tories not taken office promising to cut crime and promising to do so at all subsequent elections.

Mr. John Sykes (Scarborough) : Many elements of the criminal justice system are well known, independent of government, for their softness on crime. For example, the probation service is known to refer to thugs and criminals in its charge as clients. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with such a description?

Mr. Blair : It is truly unbelievable. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what he should try to do, and that is not attack the probation service, which does its best in extremely difficult circumstances. The hon. Gentleman should try to join us in putting into place measures that will cut crime.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) : So far, all that we have heard from the hon. Gentleman is a lot of hot Blair. If his party is serious about tackling crime, why did his party's manifesto at the previous general election say more about sport and leisure than about tackling crime?

Mr. Blair : Actually, the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. We put crime at the very centre of our concerns, and we have always done that. The standard of Tory insults has declined in recent years.

Dame Jill Knight : The hon. Gentleman has been very concerned to blame the Government for rising crime. If his point is valid, who does he blame for rising crime in every comparable civilised country?

Mr. Blair : That is another explanation--I shall not deal with it in detail today--that the Prime Minister once gave, and it is not correct. Crime has risen to a much greater extent here than in many other countries. I do not say that everything is the fault of the Conservative Government, but, after 14 years, they should take responsibility for the situation that has arisen. That is what we wish them to do.

Column 38

Mr. Stephen : The hon. Gentleman focuses very conveniently on the past 14 years, but, if he is honest, he will accept that today we are reaping the consequences of the breakdown of respect which occurred in the 1960s. Is it not the problem that successive Governments have listened far too much to the left-wing social reformers?

Mr. Blair : I have to say that the hon. Gentleman is right about one point. I should not focus on 14 years because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has pointed out, the Conservatives have been in power for 15 years. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what it is that people object to in the present-day Tory party and what makes them angry. It is that he stands there after almost 15 years of Government, with crime rising in the way that it has, and will not take any blame or responsibility but puts it on the 1960s or the trendy liberal establishment --anywhere but on the Government who have been in power and have had a chance to do something about it. That is what people dislike about the Government. What people dislike about the Government more than anything else is that they will preach to everybody about taking personal responsibility, but they do not have the guts to take any responsibility themselves for the situation that they created. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman another thing. We are told after 15 years that it was all the problem of the 1960s. Have the Government just woken up? What was happening in the 1980s? When that great fan of the liberal establishment, the noble Baroness Thatcher, was presiding over the Government, why did they not try to take things on and deal with them? Of course, it is all just another piece of Tory deceit. The truth is that history cannot be rewritten in that way. The Home Secretary's prison works policy is not new. It is not the case that, for 15 years, the Government pursued exactly the same policy. In fact, throughout the 1980s, the very strategy that he pursues today was the strategy of the Tory party. Let me quote him the figures on the prison population. In the 1980s, the number rose to its highest level ever--almost 50,000 in 1988. The idea that, all through the 1980s, the Home Office was caught by the liberal establishment is rubbish. The truth is that the policy was changed because it did not work.

What we need to do now, therefore, is not repeat the mistakes of the past but learn from them. We face a choice. We can either go in the direction of the United States, where there are 1.25 million people in gaol--

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) rose --

Mr. Blair : No, I cannot give way at the moment.

There has been a trebling in 10 years of the prison population in the United States and violent crime has continued to rise. Alternatively, we can understand that it is important to combine programmes of reform and prevention with the strengthening of the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary's policy of prison works will not succeed.

I must say that there is one exception, which the Home Secretary has introduced to the prison works programme. The headline in the Daily Express today is "Howard Joins Battle to Free Ambridge One". The article says :

"Such is the national outrage at the jailing of the Archer, Susan Carter, that Home Secretary, Michael Howard, has joined the campaign to free her. Mr. Howard is upset, like many others, because Susan received six months jail for helping her robber brother to elude the law."

Column 39

It continues :

"Home Office officials seemed stunned at Mr. Howard's sudden involvement. After all, the Archers is fiction, isn't it, asked a spokesman? Speculation there now is that he might follow Princess Margaret, Terry Wogan, Dame Edna Everidge and Britt Ekland in a guest appearance on the show."

The Home Secretary would certainly do less damage in Ambridge than he does in Whitehall.

The prison works slogan--a return to the short sharp shock, and we have been there before--is to be put to work in relation to juvenile offenders. As I have been asked about it before, let me make quite clear the difference between the two sides. We do not disagree that those who are out of control and making life hell--there are juvenile offenders who are doing that--must be in secure accommodation. [Interruption.] It is said that that is very surprising. Let me state the Government's record on the issue.

Three years ago, the Government promised 65 extra secure accommodation places. To this day, the so-called party of law has not built a single one. The Government's explanation is given time and again. It was given by the Secretary of State for Education in the debate on the Queen's Speech--it is that Labour-controlled local authorities refuse to give planning permission or co-operate in their building. We have done some research into that. The local authorities' directors of social services have not refused to countenance more secure accommodation ; instead, they have been asking for it.

Lady Olga Maitland rose--

Mr. Blair : I shall give way in a moment.

Many local authorities, Labour and Tory, have been urgently requesting the promised resources. According to the national bed bureau, there have been hundreds more inquiries from those local authorities for secure accommodation. Leeds city council has been applying for 10 extra places of secure accommodation for two years and the promise has still not been honoured. The only example that has ever been given is Leicestershire. It has changed its decision and now wishes for secure accommodation places as well.

The truth is that this whole excuse has been got away about local authorities because the Government have not wanted to honour the sensible course and the promise that they gave three years ago.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blair : In a moment.

Mr. Howard : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Next Section

  Home Page