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Sir Michael Spicer: Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I say that I am very sorry to hear about his impending departure? Although I completely disagree with most of his speech, I admire him very much on many issues, including Europe. Will he give us his thoughts on the treaty of Nice?
Mr. Rowlands: There is no treaty yet, but if there were I would apply the same criteria that I applied to Maastricht and Amsterdam--a critical scepticism of the processes and the details. Sadly, I suspect that I shall not be here to do that. Despite all the changes that have been made, it has been a great joy and pleasure to be in the House for the past 33 years and I hope that my successor gets half the pleasure out of it that I have.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): It is indeed a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). Although I did not agree with everything he said, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) I agreed with many of the sentiments that he expressed at the conclusion of his speech. In any case, I recognise that he made a forceful speech on behalf of his constituents and I am sad that this is the last Queen's Speech on which we shall hear him speak. I also enjoyed the speeches of the right
I do not propose to follow the two previous speeches, which concentrated on Europe and the merits of supply-side capitalism. I should like to concentrate on the subject of law and order, which occupies a prominent part of the Queen's Speech.
Today has been splendid. I very much enjoyed the pageantry earlier, and there have been some thoughtful speeches in what has been a very good debate. However, given the extent of the advance briefings and early dissemination of information to newspapers, the debate has not focused on the Queen's Speech itself. The message from the Government--the spin, if I can use that word--was that they clearly wanted today's main theme to be a crackdown on threats to law and order. Government Front Benchers have made a co-ordinated effort in that regard, and even the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland today made his contribution about yob culture.
However, I heard the message from the Government with a sense of deja vu. I wondered where I had heard about anti-social behaviour and disorderly conduct before. One does not have to go far back into new Labour history to discover that, at election time, the subject of law and order is taken off the mantelpiece, dusted and given great prominence.
Two principal subjects--disorderly conduct and child curfews--seem to lie at the heart of the Queen's Speech, and I am sure that the newspapers, television, teletext services and so on have not got it wrong when they put those matters at the head of the Government's agenda. Taken together, they are said to represent the Government's attack on what has been called the yob culture.
Where have we heard such language before? I turned my mind back to the beginning of this Parliament, when the Bill that became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was debated. The Home Secretary gave a moving speech on Second Reading about how perception in his constituency had changed. In the early 1990s, the bulk of the Home Secretary's constituency casework had to do with housing complaints and social security. He told the House that, after the early 1990s, more and more people
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): The major innovation to arise out of the 1998 Act was the community partnership. Police all over the country say that those partnerships have had an impact on crime. In my constituency, and across Barnsley as a whole, community partnerships have helped to reduce crime significantly.
Mr. Clappison: It is easy to talk about community partnerships, but difficult to measure the results that they achieve. I do not doubt that what the hon. Gentleman says about his constituency is right, but the perception is that crime has increased. There is a debate about whether the statistics show that crime is on the increase for the first time in six years, but is not the fact that the Government complain about the yob culture problem the most powerful proof that the policies are not working and that there is a crime problem?
My constituency is, by and large, a quiet place. We have a lower crime rate than many other parts of the country, including--possibly--the constituency of the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). However, the fear of crime is uppermost in people's minds. My local authority in Hertsmere commissioned a survey of public opinion to determine what people were most worried about so that local service provision could be improved. To its surprise, crime came way before any other issue in people's minds. They were frightened of crime and worried about the absence of police on the streets.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned community partnerships, which have existed for two or three years. With all respect to him, the results of the Hertsmere survey show that it is difficult to measure whether they have been a success. He will recollect that the two flagship provisions of the 1998 Act--the measures announced today cover much the same ground--were the anti-social behaviour order and the child curfew order. As I recall, the former was contained in clause 2 and the latter appeared in a clause that came soon after.
How many anti-social behaviour orders have been made? We can measure their success in tackling crime as we know how many orders have been made. In the 18 months since they came into force, barely 100 such orders have been made in the whole country. The last time I asked, only one anti-social behaviour order had been approved in the whole of Hertfordshire. Perhaps the person involved was responsible for all the problems and incidents worrying my constituents, even though he did not belong to the constituency, but somehow I doubt it. Other people may have been anti-social as well, and I suspect that the problems that they caused were not addressed by the anti-social behaviour orders.
Why are so few orders being made? It is possible to speculate. It would have been better if the Government had listened to what the magistrates told them before they implemented anti-social behaviour orders. Magistrates said that they were unsure about the great deal of legal uncertainty surrounding the orders and that they were not given sufficient guidance on their use.
It would also have been better if the Government had stopped and considered the police force. Implementing anti-social behaviour orders requires a lot of time from the police, local councils and other agencies in the criminal justice system. The orders were designed to move the frontiers of policing, but the Government have presided over a decline in police numbers at a time when the police are hard pressed and often lack the resources to deal with crimes much more serious than those covered by anti-social behaviour orders.
That is a recipe for achieving very little, and very little is what has been achieved. Anti-social behaviour orders have not fulfilled the Government's high expectations. The Government's reaction has oscillated between trying to claim that the orders have been a success and, when that proved impossible, trying to find someone to blame for their lack of success. They have blamed local authorities for not following the guidance, they have implicitly blamed the police and they have even had a go at the Opposition by saying that we opposed the orders in the first place. We did not--we just said that they would not be much use, and that has turned out to be the case.
In his latest response, the Home Secretary seemed to combine the two approaches. He said that the orders had been a success, but he blamed others for the fact that they had not been as successful as he had wanted them to be. However, although I would not mind more anti-social behaviour orders being made to tackle anti-social behaviour, I doubt that they would match the scale of such behaviour in this country. That is what troubles so many constituents, and it lies behind the yob culture that the Government have described.
One thing to be said about anti-social behaviour orders is that compared with the child curfew orders in the Crime and Disorder Act--not the headline measure of the Queen's Speech--they have been a rip-roaring success. We can measure how much use child curfew orders have been--they have been no use because not one has been imposed.
Home Office Ministers tried to argue that the fact that the courts had powers to impose curfews was such a deterrent to young people and the under-10s that it was a beneficial result in itself. I do not think that that can be argued with credibility, not least because the existing curfew order depends on the assumption that the under-10s are causing all the problems. The 1998 Act allows local authorities to impose curfew orders on the under-10s in their areas. We warned the Government that this was likely to prove ineffective.
I hate people who say, "I told you so." In any case, this is not rocket science: it hardly requires great socio-economic knowledge to realise that most problems of disorder are caused not by under-10s but by older children and teenagers. During the passage of the 1998 Act, we proposed an amendment to allow precisely what the Government have now put in their legislative programme. We proposed that a curfew order should include older children and teenagers up to the age of 16. The Government told us that that was an odd suggestion for the Conservatives to make and that there was no need for it because the child curfew order had been carefully designed. The curfew order was not carefully designed; it was not well thought out. It would have been better if the Government had listened not just to the Opposition
What about the orders that are the headline item of the Queen's Speech, or certainly in many of the briefings? It is proposed that curfew orders will apply to young people up to the age of 16, which the Government specifically opposed two-and-a-half years ago.
There are two points to be made about the proposal. The first applies to the anti-social behaviour orders and was quite rightly made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). Enforcement of the orders will require a substantial increase in the number of police officers. Such orders will be a significant additional responsibility for the police. There simply are not enough officers to enforce such an order. They have a difficult enough task fulfilling other more serious responsibilities.
Having enough police officers is not simply a question of the Prime Minister admitting that police numbers have gone down but saying that they will go up in future. The state of the police force and its morale are such that it is proving difficult for police authorities to recruit additional police officers even if they have the resources to do so. The police have recently made the controversial suggestion of lowering the entry requirements for the police force. That illustrates the underlying problem--the difficulty of recruitment. It is not a question of the money that the Government claim to be spending, but of the effect on police morale during the Government's tenure.
The second point about curfew orders was raised by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy). Imposing curfew orders has significant implications for civil liberties. We should not impose curfew orders in the way the Government envisage, without a word of caution about civil liberties. Curfew orders mean a severe restriction on the liberty of perfectly innocent young people to go about their lawful business in areas where such orders are in place. I do not know why the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is smiling--perhaps he thinks that I will oppose curfew orders. I will not, but we must recognise that there are civil liberty implications which could have long-term consequences.