Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.34 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): We did not vote against Second Reading; nor do we intend to vote against Third Reading, so I shall not detain from the Scotland match those who would prefer to watch it. Given what is happening in the match, however, they may prefer to be in the Chamber.

We have taken that attitude to the Bill because it includes a number of measures that we want to work. We are at one with the Government in the aims that lie behind the anti-social behaviour orders, the sex offender orders, and the youth care and youth treatment measures. We welcome the policy changes introduced by the Bill. It was refreshing and interesting, although in contrast with what he said in opposition, to hear the Minister of State, Home Office, talk in such admiring terms about tagging and the processes that go with it. My recollection is that that was not quite the attitude that the Labour party took a few months ago.

No one should be in any doubt about the difficulties that stand in the way. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), whom I congratulate on the way in which he handled Committee proceedings, was entirely correct to scrutinise, for example, the anti-social behaviour orders. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who was a member of the Committee. Someone who scrutinises a measure to discover whether it will work does not have to be against it in principle. I think that the Prime Minister's point on that was completely barmy, and, on reflection, so will he. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is making a remark from a sedentary position, but I cannot hear it. Perhaps he wants to make a speech.

Mr. Straw: I was paraphrasing Shakespeare in relation to the comments of the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) in The Sunday Telegraph on 12 April. I said, "Methinks that he protests too much." He described the anti-social behaviour orders as dangerously unworkable. I am grateful to my hon. Friends, the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State, for educating the hon. Gentleman about the workability of the orders.

Sir Norman Fowler: If that is the only point that the Home Secretary wants to make, we are grateful that he did not make a speech, which we had been looking forward to. He will remember that my hon. Friend

23 Jun 1998 : Column 943

the Member for Hertsmere dealt with that point comprehensively yesterday, to the entire satisfaction of this side of the House.

Mr. Allan: Of the whole House.

Sir Norman Fowler: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Even at this moment, the Lib-Lab alliance is breaking apart.

Another area of obvious difficulty which hon. Members must take seriously is youth crime and youth offenders. I recently met the Association of Directors of Social Services. It is in favour of the Bill in principle and wants it to succeed, but it pointed to the difficulties of the client group--if I may put it that way--with which it deals. It has provided me with some figures: 50 per cent. of young people under 18 in prison custody have a care background; 60 per cent. of young people in prison custody admit to misusing drugs; 17 per cent. of male young offenders admit to having suffered physical or sexual abuse; 39 per cent. of young offenders in prison custody have a long-standing illness or disability; and 60 per cent. of remanded male youths and 30 per cent. of sentenced male youths have a diagnosable mental disorder.

The Bill creates new ways of dealing with those offenders. However, it also creates new duties for a number of services concerned with law and order. The Association of Directors of Social Services is aware of that and has pointed to the crucial importance of resourcing the new orders and the new approaches that are to be set up. A similar point was put by the Central Probation Council, which said:

That is the position now. In no way are those bodies against the Bill, but if new duties are to be created, they are saying that, above all, they will need new people.

What applies to them applies equally--if not more so--to the police. In trying to get information on police strength, I was less than impressed by the Home Office's ability and willingness to give that information. I was particularly unimpressed by the Minister of State, who began the debate. Following an exchange in The Times between the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the Home Secretary, I sought to ask what I thought were some fairly standard questions. Two weeks ago, I asked the Home Office


    "what is the current police officer strength of the police service in England and Wales."

On Thursday 11 June, after four days, I received the reply:

    "I will reply as soon as possible."

It is slightly amazing that the Home Office was unable to answer basic questions of that kind. That was in stark contrast to the other Minister of State, who answered similar statistical questions on immigration.

Evidently, the Home Office was able to provide the statistics in the end, but only after Home Office questions the following Monday. I was not unbelievably impressed

23 Jun 1998 : Column 944

by that either. I do not intend to go into the details of those replies suffice it to say that, at the very best, police strength is levelling out, with a tendency to fall back. That is the fairest way in which I can state the position. Against that background, we are being presented with a Bill which will place new duties upon the police.

Mr. Allan: I was talking to my local chief constable in South Yorkshire the other day, and he informed me that he has decided to place a senior officer--I think of superintendent rank--in each local authority area to deal with the new provisions of the Bill. It is right that he should take it so seriously, but clearly that has resourcing implications for the entire force.

Sir Norman Fowler: That is the point. It is one thing to propose and pass legislation, but that legislation clearly has resource consequences. The Bill obviously has resource consequences for the police. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has pointed out, the police are stretched, and police numbers are not increasing.

I also asked the Minister of State to tell me

He gave me not the real-terms increase, but the revenue budgets of police authorities. He said that they would rise by £255 million in 1998-99,

    "an increase of 3.7 per cent."--[Official Report, 11 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 646.]

We can take it that the real-terms increase in the police budget is not 3.7 per cent., but that was the question I asked. I assume that either the Minister or his officials are trying to hide the fact that the real-terms increase is much smaller.

Inflation stands at 4.2 per cent. I suspect that Treasury-measured inflation--which is slightly different and does not include mortgage interest--is more than 3 per cent. At the very best, we are looking at an increase in real-terms spending of less than 1 per cent. I hope that inflation will level out and reduce, but if it continues to increase, it will be fascinating to see what the real-terms increase will be as the year goes on.

It is difficult to see how all the measures in the Bill can successfully be implemented without a stronger police service. In our period of office, the number of police in post increased by more than 15,000 or 14 per cent. We responded to the new demands, and we want to ensure that the current Government do precisely the same.

We are giving the Bill its Third Reading, but passing this legislation will not, by itself, reduce crime and tackle disorder. That will be done only if the resources for the new duties, responsibilities and tasks being placed onthe law and order services match the Government's objectives. Over the next months, we shall monitor the effectiveness of the Bill. We are not interested in gesture legislation, but in legislation that works.

9.46 pm

Mr. McWalter: I realise that there is little time left, but I should like to place on record a few remarks about the Bill. I am a friend of the Bill, but I am a little confused. I hope that, either in my hon. Friend's reply or in the other place, some of my concerns will be addressed.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 945

The Bill is about crime and disorder. It creates a new category of person: those who need to be ordered. There is much to be said for making people the subject of parenting orders, sex offender orders, drug treatment and testing orders and other such orders. However, I am confused about the clause dealing with orders that deem people to be anti-social. I do not know whether it is easy or hard to be deemed anti-social; I do not know whether it is easy or difficult to become someone who needs to be ordered.

Perhaps this is the vengeance of someone who was not a member of the Standing Committee. I gather that there is a draft elucidation of how the concept of needing to be ordered may be implemented, but I cannot find it anywhere because I was not on the Committee. It is not in the Library and it is not on the internet. I am left with the thought that perhaps it is easy to be a person who needs to be ordered. After all, under clause 1(1)(a) people who behave in a manner that causes distress have potentially behaved in an anti-social manner.

Next Section

IndexHome Page