Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.36 pm

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): I hope that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) will forgive me if I do not follow him and discuss that aspect of the motion.

The background to the debate is clear. It started three years or so ago, when the Labour party, which was then in opposition, said that, if elected, it would be tough on

26 Oct 1999 : Column 843

crime and on the causes of crime. That was never believable with old Labour and events are rapidly proving that it is not believable with new Labour either.

The outcome of the argy-bargy over numbers between those on the Front Benches was clear. During our time in government, there were, on average, an extra 900 police officers a year. During the present Government's term in office, there has been a decrease of 500 a year.

I was amazed by the Home Secretary. On 2 May 1997, he and many others were saying, "We are in government now. It is all going to be better. We are going to change and to modernise the country." The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was right--that was what they said. They have been in government for two years and the Home Secretary stands there today and says, "It has nothing to do with me, guv. I was not even here." The Prime Minister knows that he is Home Secretary. The House knows that he is Home Secretary. I wonder when he will wake up to the fact that he is Home Secretary with powers to make changes for the common and national good, if he deems them necessary.

Through the comprehensive spending review, we are experiencing the tightest squeeze on police spending in the past 10 years. The record thus far can be easily summed up. Police numbers are going down, while prisoners are being let out earlier than the courts said that they should be and without any court sanction.

The Home Secretary's much vaunted anti-social behaviour orders are nowhere. Throughout the country, the orders were to be the answer and they are not even off the starting blocks. Labour-controlled Peterborough council tells me that it is worried about the European Court of Human Rights implications of the orders, so it may not take any action until the court has pronounced. The issue is being pushed into the long grass of the Parliament after the Parliament after the next one. Furthermore, I read that the Home Office is being told that crime will rise again next year.

What is the Government's reaction to all that? Is it to do something? No, it is to talk. That was the background to the Home Secretary's highly disputed speech at his party conference. He promised an extra 5,000 police; he has rolled back from that today. I am not as gentle as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). I think that that speech was deliberately designed to mislead. We happen to know that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury warned the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister that they should not go down that road. What was their reaction? They spent hours with special advisers to find a form of words that was technically correct, but designed to mislead. I do not charge the Home Secretary with deliberately using words that were a distortion of the truth. I accuse him of knowing what he was saying, and of working to create an impression. I believe that partly because, as we have learned in the past two years, the essence of new Labour is to say one thing, but to do another.

Nevertheless, the police understood the situation. I could quote many police officers on it, but I shall quote only one. The chairman of the Metropolitan branch of the Police Federation said that the Home Secretary's speech was

26 Oct 1999 : Column 844

As the Home Secretary will know, he was not alone in creating that impression, because the Prime Minister shared his view. However, that was a double-edged endorsement. It was given by a man who says that he loves the pound, but is preparing for a single currency; who says that he will fight Britain's corner in Europe, but hands over ever more control to Brussels; who said that he would not increase taxation if elected, but has so far added £50 billion to the tax bill; and who says that national health service waiting lists are decreasing when they are increasing. The support of that calibre of character simply underlines that the Government are happy to say anything that they need to say to persuade people, rather than to do what the people want them to do.

The Home Secretary's policy is having predictable consequences. Rural crime, for example, has increased. As the Home Secretary said today, he spent 18 years in opposition. I had the good fortune of spending the first 18 years of my parliamentary career on the Government Benches. In the past two years, one of the things that I have learned about not being a Minister is that one is more likely to turn from the airy-fairy national discussion and concentrate on what is happening to those whom we represent: our constituents. I should therefore like to speak briefly about Cambridgeshire.

Cambridgeshire has one of the smaller constabularies, which, for operational reasons, is divided into three divisions. I shall tell the Minister about only one of them. It has such a huge funding gap that 15 posts have been frozen. By the end of the financial year, 20 posts in that one division may be frozen. Even if the Home Secretary were telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Cambridgeshire's share of new officers would not right the wrong of 60 or 70 frozen posts.

Cambridgeshire police, in my safe constituency and county, face a bill of £900,000 for policing the millennium. Who will pay that bill, Minister? Will you pay it, or will more police posts have to be frozen, so that police officers cannot patrol the Ortons, Fletton and Peterborough, or Yaxley, Ramsey, Bluntisham and Sawtry in my constituency? Do you realise, Minister, that Government policy is adding--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The right hon. Gentleman is a long-standing hon. Member, and really should use the correct parliamentary language.

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Does the Minister realise that the Government are adding to the police service's load? Last weekend, for example, 32 asylum seekers--most of whom dropped off the back of lorries--entered the one police division that I have been describing. In one case, two officers spent seven hours with seven asylum seekers. That represented a loss of 14 hours policing. Cambridgeshire has no idea how much of officers' time is being spent dealing with such matters.

If the asylum seekers have identity cards or means of identification and a name and address to go to, the police take the information and let them go, and that is the end of the immigration process. If they do not, the police spend hours with them, trying to identify them and where they are supposed to go to. They then give the asylum seekers a travel pass and a map of the way to Croydon. That is the asylum system that Ministers have defended to this House today.

26 Oct 1999 : Column 845

Martin Slade of the Immigration Service Union has said:

Nick Hardwick of the Refugee Council has said:

    "The only crisis is in the Government's asylum system. They should concentrate on sorting out the shambles in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate."

I want the House to understand that my constituents are suffering because of the incompetence and ineptitude of this Government and of Ministers. It is time for them to stop saying one thing and doing another, and to start doing what they were elected to do. Otherwise, that phrase--which I suspect I coined three years ago--will return to haunt them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman's time is up.

5.46 pm

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): I shall confine my remarks to the immigration and asylum part of the motion.

The events in Kent throughout this summer will be familiar to many hon. Members from newspapers and from television, and the difficulties arising from thousands of people seeking asylum have caused considerable distress throughout the county.

Kent and the ports play host to every conceivable nationality--indeed, they are welcomed. However, towns such as Dover and Ramsgate are not used to receiving such large influxes of people from foreign lands--whatever their reason for asylum and however barbaric their torture or persecution. Few would disagree that these people deserve our sympathy, our help and our tolerance. However, if we are to retain that tolerance when people seek sanctuary on our shores, it is vital that a proper structure is in place--a structure that does not place unfair burdens on particular communities, as has happened in Kent, and that quickly rejects those applications that are false.

Parts of Dover and Thanet contain some of the poorest areas within Kent--its objective 2 status renewal is confirmation of that. It does not take a great deal of imagination to work out the consequences of large numbers of asylum seekers entering a community that is not familiar with them and that suffers also from high unemployment. It is an unhealthy blend, and requires careful handling.

There are two tasks for those in positions of responsibility--to put in place a different structure to resolve the difficulties and the burdens that the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 has put upon Kent and other port areas, and to reimburse the local authorities--and the Government are carrying out both of them. In the meantime, before we can resolve the matters before us with legislation, those concerned should tread carefully indeed and avoid anything that causes unrest.

Sadly, the temptation to gain publicity from this situation has proved too much for some of those in positions of responsibility. Instead of seeking solutions, they have sought the camera and fanned the flames of

26 Oct 1999 : Column 846

unrest. We have seen the consequences of that on the "dross"--a word used by local newspapers. The editor of the Folkestone Herald was warned by Kent police that his editorial in October last year could incite racial violence. It is important for hon. Members to know what local papers have been carrying within Kent at a time of such sensitivity. That editorial last October said:

    "We want to wash dross down the drain.

    Illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, bootleggers and the scum-of-the-earth drug smugglers have targeted our beloved coastline. We are left with the back-draft of a nation's human sewage and no cash to wash it down the drain."

Those are the views of the local newspaper editor. Hon. Members will understand the atmosphere that has been created in the towns of Dover, Folkestone and Thanet, and throughout Kent.

The most outrageous aspect of the situation is that some of those scoring points are from the party that brought us the dreadful Immigration and Asylum Act 1996, which forced people to stay in their port of entry and put the costs on the local council. I worked for Kent social services while the legislation was going through the House. The problems have been brewing for years. To deny that events in Europe and the rest of the world had an effect on the number of people coming into this country is to deny reality.

It is worth noting that, when Kent county council asked for help in 1996-97 because it was incurring a £2 million debt as a direct consequence of the legislation, it was told to stop whingeing and go away. No help was forthcoming from the Kent Conservative Members of Parliament. Why? Because Kent county council was run by a Labour-Liberal administration.

The world has changed now. We have a Conservative administration in Kent and a Labour Home Secretary. Suddenly, Tory Members of Parliament and the Tories on Kent county council have seen the consequences of the disastrous legislation. It is not quite so marvellous after all. I am pleased to say that, in contrast to the Conservative Government, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team have not ignored the difficulties. Unlike the Tories, they have not said "Go away, it's not a problem." They have met many of the costs. Instead of ignoring the issue, they have delivered a one-off payment of £670,000 to Kent police. The chairman of the Kent police authority described the granting of 42 extra police officers as generous.

We are also getting more immigration officers, and the £12 million costs of that were reimbursed to Kent county council. There is a continuing commitment to consider reimbursing the Ashford reception centre and the costs of unaccompanied minors, as well as bringing forward the dispersal programme early before the new legislation comes into force. The Kent Tory administration and Kent Members of Parliament have got what they wanted. The Tories have also got what they wanted: they have been able to play the issue in the media.

Next Section

IndexHome Page