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Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Will my hon. Friend invite the former Home Secretary to explain how he justifies spending large sums of public money on a person whom he deemed to be either lacking in competence or bad in performance, when other people--people we represent--get nothing when they are

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dismissed for lack of competence or poor performance? But there is hush money to silence someone whom the former Home Secretary dismissed.

Mr. Michael: The former Home Secretary gave us no explanation of the inconsistency between the sacking and having to admit that it was wrongful dismissal, but I believe that there are many other issues for which he will still be called to account. Although we have heard his defence tonight--an opportunity that was denied Derek Lewis, as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald made clear--the former Home Secretary did not convince the House and he will not escape the consequences of his behaviour in office.

The shadow Home Secretary made a robust defence of a position that many people may have regarded as untenable. It is for others to judge whether he succeeded. For Members of Parliament, this unseemly spat between two former Ministers distracts attention from their failure to tackle crime and its causes, from the previous Government's activities while in power and from this Government's positive and constructive programme, which is in contrast to those activities.

We have heard the shadow Home Secretary deny responsibility for so many disasters in his time as Home Secretary that the tone of today's speech comes as no surprise. He defended even Conservative central office briefings, which is a sign of desperation. He has the cheek to stand on his record. It is undeniable that he is in denial as he refights the battles he lost during the last election and during the couple of years before, just as he is in denial as he refights the battles over the sacking of Derek Lewis.

The shadow Home Secretary says that we have adopted his measures on issues such as gun control. He had the cheek to claim that he was in the lead on issues to tackle crime. Has he forgotten that he introduced the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 with no element to deal with violence in any way? It contained nothing to do with drugs, drug-related crime or weapons until Labour moved amendments. Who was the Home Secretary who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to support legislation to deal with combat knives, stalkers, people who abuse children, and people who travel abroad to abuse children?

We will take no lessons from the former Home Secretary. Over recent years, it is we who have set the agenda on law and order and he who has had to follow us. It is on his failure to tackle crime that I criticise him. He seems to believe himself to be some sort of teflon-coated reincarnation of Houdini. It is his failure on crime for which he will be remembered.

The shadow Home Secretary criticised the announcements in the Queen's Speech on the banning of all handguns, but banning all handguns will set a clear line in law on those weapons, which are portable, easy to conceal and lethal to use. That is why there is such widespread public support for the Labour party's position on the issue. I believe that our proposals will succeed on a free vote.

The shadow Home Secretary was very keen on quoting Mr. Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation, when it favoured something that he said, but what did Mr. Fred Broughton say about our proposal on handguns?

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    Hungerford and Dunblane to take the strongest possible action to prevent a repetition of past tragedies. We believe the public will strongly support this decisive action."

The Government believe that taking such action is right. We believe that it will be decisive, that it will have public support and that it will be supported by the House.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will the Minister tell the House why he is so determined to pursue innocent people--who are participating in a sport that is endorsed by the Olympic Foundation--whereas he was so insistent on watering down the former Government's tough measures to deal with repeat burglars and repeat drug dealers?

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman obviously has not listened. He was also inaccurate in his description of Labour's record. The simple fact is that the public, the police and the Government believe that--so far as it is possible to do so in legislation--drawing a clear line, which involves banning all handguns, is the safest way in which to deal with the issue.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Will the Minister tell us whether, in dealing with the issue so decisively, he will also ban rifles, shotguns and other weapon types?

Mr. Michael: Will the hon. Gentleman recall, please, that the need to tackle those issues arose because of the death of 16 children by a man using handguns that were possessed legally? The Opposition will have to answer whether they really want to resist our proposals and obstruct legislation that the police, the public and the Government believe is necessary.

Mr. Bruce: Answer the question.

Mr. Michael: I have answered the question. It is for Opposition Members and their consciences to determine how they should reply.

The shadow Home Secretary said that he supports the European convention on human rights. Why is he therefore afraid to allow British courts to apply its provisions in British courts? Why is he afraid to repatriate the convention's provisions, as we propose to do? We propose to trust British courts, instead of saying that Britons must go abroad to benefit from the provisions offered under the convention.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald went beyond an attack on the former Home Secretary to make a devastating critique of lowered standards in public life. In some of her remarks, she called on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to end sleaze and to restore confidence in the House and in standards in public life. I assure her that neither my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nor my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be found wanting on that matter when action is required.

The simple answer to the question asked by the shadow Home Secretary is that the Government's reaction to allegations about a Labour Member was simple and straightforward--to ask the police to investigate the allegations.

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The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that he wished that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald had been in the Chamber during his speech, so that he could ask her whether she had expressed to the then Prime Minister her deep and serious concerns. That question hangs in the air.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed also showed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the respect of saying that my right hon. Friend believes what he says and that he is serious about being tough on crime. The right hon. Gentleman need not worry, because my right hon. Friend will be tough on crime, and he will be equally tough on the causes of crime. Above all, however, he will be effective. The issue will be one of what works, and the purpose will be to allow the public to be safe in their houses and on the streets. The previous Home Secretary consistently made similar statements, but my right hon. Friend means them, and he will deliver on them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) was absolutely right to highlight the terror inspired by crime in local communities. During the general election campaign, there was dissonance between the debates in the media and the comments that we heard on the doorsteps. I am sure that all my hon. Friends agree that, when we spoke to people--whether they were in Exeter, Cambridge, Birmingham, Cardiff, Colwyn Bay or the London boroughs--they were not reassured by the frenetic posturing of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). Their experience was different. Crime used to be something that happened to other people; now it happens to them, their families and their friends.

"Prison works" was the mantra repeated by the former Home Secretary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East said. Prison should work; it should hold securely the people sentenced by the courts, provide a regime that is firm but fair and return offenders to the community less likely to re-offend and more likely to be responsible citizens. The last Government failed to make prison work. Prison must be more effective. Being caught and punished must be more certain. However, prison cannot work on its own.

The increase in offending under the Conservatives was matched by a drop in the number of people being caught and punished. Let us examine the statistics: only one offence in 56 now ends in punishment by a court, and only one crime in 750 ends with a custodial sentence. Prisons cannot solve crime on their own any more than the police can fight crime on their own. That is why effective action is needed for young offenders so that crime is nipped in the bud and why a range of measures to tackle violence and intimidation is so important. It is also vital to have effective partnerships between the priests and local authorities. Together--[Laughter.] Well, it would be a good thing if priests worked with them, too. The police and local authorities must work with the local community, including residents, the business community and the voluntary sector to tackle crime and its causes. Indeed, young people have a great deal to offer.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border shared with me the privilege of judging the Prudential youth action awards. I am sure that he agrees that when judging those awards, it became clear that if young people are regarded as the hope of the future and as being able to contribute, they can help to tackle crime and its causes.

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This is a matter for the whole of the Government, just as it is a matter for the police and local authorities. It is a matter for the whole of society because the devil makes work for idle hands. In this context, we should be aware of the relevance of opportunities for young people aged 18 to 25 and, indeed, the relevance of nursery education to our long-term efforts to tackle crime and its causes.

Let us consider the false prospectus and the flurry of absurdities in the Opposition's amendment. First, the amendment begins with the words "But humbly regret"--the shadow Home Secretary has a great deal to be humble about, but anything less humble than the shadow Home Secretary is hard to imagine. Secondly, it tries to cast doubt on our commitment to giving second-time serious violent and sexual offenders automatic life sentences. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that we will do that later this year.

I remind the Opposition that it was my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who first identified the scandal of sentencing that is inconsistent and fails to be progressive. We shall tackle these issues as the previous Government did not.

The third absurdity is that the amendment calls for

the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997--

    "to give third time burglars and dealers in hard drugs mandatory minimum sentences of three and seven years respectively--save in exceptional circumstances".

That is what the Act says now. The former Home Secretary began by brooking no exceptions and then did a U-turn, but refused repeatedly to explain his exceptions. It was most frustrating trying to draw blood from a stone. We defined the exceptions as relating to the offence or the offender or likely to be unjust. In voting for the amendment, the Opposition will be voting to be unjust. That is the ludicrous situation in which they find themselves.

Fourthly, the amendment congratulates the previous Government

but that Government failed to tackle crime and protect the public. It ends with the ringing slogan that we should carefully examine the rights in the European convention.

The Government will offer the community hope and opportunity, punishment for those who offend, safer and healthier communities, a balance between rights and responsibilities and the chance of safety in the community for those who wish to live their lives safely. We shall be tough on crime and on the causes of crime and we shall build healthier communities because Britain deserves better.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 151, Noes 422.

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