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Dr. Starkey: Some time ago the right hon. Lady asserted that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech to protect ordinary, law-abiding members of the public. Has she overlooked the private security industry Bill? Is she unaware of the many representations made by members of the public to various Members about their relatives who have been seriously injured by unlicensed door supervisors? Is she aware also of the enormous pressure from the public for the Bill? Does she appreciate the enormous help that it will provide to the public and the police? The regulation of door supervisors is known to cut street crime by up to 75 per cent., which allows the police to direct their efforts elsewhere.
Miss Widdecombe: If there were more police, there would be fewer door supervisor incidents. If there were more police, officers would be able to do their job properly. They would be able to police in a proper fashion. That is at the root of the Opposition's complaint. Many of the Government's measures are ill-conceived and they have not worked. Even those that have some merit will not be successful unless there are sufficient police to implement them.
The word "crisis" seems to follow the Home Secretary. It is surely not too big a word to be applied to the asylum system. Once more, the right hon. Gentleman talks tough, but we are still waiting for effective action to be taken. The National Audit Office report states:
Mr. Blizzard: Will the right hon. Lady clarify whether it is still her policy to build detention centres to house all asylum seekers who are waiting for their cases to be heard? What is the cost of that policy and from where will she get the money?
The asylum system even led a ministerial colleague at the Home Office to ask the head of the immigration service to draw up plans to use old Army barracks if there were a sudden influx of asylum seekers over the summer. There are still many more than 6,000 asylum applications being made every month, and there is still a backlog of more than 70,000 claims waiting to be processed. The vast majority--more than 80 per cent. of claims--are still being refused. It does not seem to matter much what the decision is, because few of those whose claim is refused are ever removed--thousands simply disappear into the community. What is the Home Secretary's latest estimate of the number of claimants who have disappeared? Does he even know?
I have proposed a system of reception centres to house claimants and provide them with the service that they need. By contrast, the Home Secretary has relied on a failed system of dispersal, placing burdens on under- prepared local councils and failing to tackle the root of the problem. Often, the greatest sufferer is the genuine asylum seeker. Despite that, the right hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrats--they are not excused from the charge--attack my policy for being too harsh. So, a policy that is designed to speed up claims and deal with decisions quickly is harsh, while a policy of failure is thought to be better.
Where is the legislation in this Session to deal with the asylum crisis? Is sorting out the asylum system not sufficiently eye-catching for the Prime Minister? Perhaps that is why there is no mention of it in the Queen's Speech. Does the Home Secretary welcome the decision taken by P&O Ferries to employ private officers to check vehicles travelling on its ferries? Is he embarrassed that the company is doing the Government's job for them? If not, that says quite a lot about the Government. The Home Secretary says that
Mr. Straw: Before the right hon. Lady turns to the impending crisis in prisons, will she answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) about the cost of all the detention centres needed to house approximately 30,000 asylum applicants and the speed with which she would deliver that policy?
Miss Widdecombe: Ah, so the key question is not getting the system straightened out; it is what the policy will cost. Now we know what has driven the Home Secretary's approach to the asylum system. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well what the policy would cost because he has done the costings for Oakington. He knows that the policy would not require new build in every case; he knows that the private finance initiative would spread the costs; and he knows that the early projections for Oakington showed a saving against social security costs.
Miss Widdecombe: If my hon. Friend is asking whether there are long-term savings to be found, the answer is yes, but that to me is a secondary consideration to getting the system jolly well sorted out and making it fair and effective.
As I was saying, there is nothing in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech to deal with the impending crisis in the prison system. The Home Secretary appeared to admit the crisis when he said that he wanted to intervene before I talked about it. In recent months, we have had the debacle of the raid on Blantyre house, a strike in Brixton, numerous reports from the chief inspector attacking conditions in prisons throughout the country, and the resignation of the governor of Feltham young offenders institution, amid allegations of Dickensian conditions. Yet since 1997, we have heard little from the right hon. Gentleman about the conditions in Britain's prisons. He was only too happy to highlight problems in the prison system before the election, but he has maintained a rather strange silence since.
Prisoners now spend less time each week on purposeful activity than they did under the previous Government. [Interruption.] Apparently, it is a matter for laughter that the number of suicides has increased. Last year, there were 91 self-inflicted deaths in Britain's prisons. By October this year there were already 72, yet there is no mention of any of that in the Government's new measures.
Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of the past week has been the chance for the Home Secretary to put an end to his disastrous special early release scheme. I have made no secret of my opposition to the scheme since it began, nor have my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench. When it was put through Parliament, we described it as wrong and we opposed the early release of prisoners under the scheme.
The Government went ahead, however, and, to date, some 27,000 criminals have been released from jail early. Most of those did not serve even half the sentence that they were given by the judge. They include 4,000 drug offenders whose average sentence was 20 months but who on average served eight months; 2,500 burglars whose average sentence was 19 months but who on average served seven-and-a-half months; and approaching 200 people convicted of assaulting police officers and who were given nearly five months but who served only one-and-a-half months. Of the 27,000 released, more than 850 have breached their curfew, with 50 remaining unlawfully at large, and between them they have committed 1,000 more offences, including two rapes.
The right hon. Gentleman constantly tells us that no sex offenders will be released on the scheme, yet three sex offenders have been released. I accept that that was the result of error rather than intention, but it means that the right hon. Gentleman's assurance was not met by action. That is why, however eye-catching the initiatives announced by the right hon. Gentleman, or however popular they appear to be at the time, no one believes any more in his ability to implement them effectively or to see them through properly.
We are delighted that the Government have finally accepted our recommendation to raise the age limit for curfews to 16, but how many crimes does the right hon. Gentleman think have been committed by 10 to 16-year-olds in the past two years? We are also concerned about the ability of an understaffed police force to implement those curfews properly. We are determined that however well the private security industry is regulated, we will not allow it to be used as a substitute for the police service.
It is now clearer than ever that the Government's pre-election promises were nothing more than spin. Since 1997, we have had nothing but fudge and failure. The Home Secretary spun, "I will tackle anti-social behaviour." Three years later, nothing has happened. He said, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", but he has been tough only on crime fighters and victims. The programme before us seeks to put right all the failure of the previous three years, but the people of this country now know that the only way to reverse the Government's failure is to reverse their position. That is why they will not be the Government after the next election.