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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): In a long, thoughtful, thorough and wide-ranging speech, the hon. Gentleman has yet to mention punishment. Given the righteous indignation and anger that he says victims feel, should not the criminal justice be retributive, at least in part? Not every criminal is a sick person in need of treatment or, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, anger management. Does he agree that some criminals are people who have made selfish, greedy and violent choices, and that they should be punished?

Simon Hughes: Of course I agree that people must be punished. Retribution is not normally the reason for the measures taken by the criminal justice system.

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Occasionally, courts pass sentences that are meant to set an example, and rightly so. People should be punished when they do wrong, and I understand why some people might reasonably think that the sentences in the Bulger case may not have been punishment enough. My point is that when punishment ends, rehabilitation must continue, and we must then seek always to wipe the slate clean.

I want to pay tribute to the police. They are extremely important and, by and large, they do a good job. The country wants more of them, and tomorrow the Home Secretary may even announce that the numbers are beginning to pick up again. That is not before time. In the previous Parliament, the Labour party did badly by the police and the country on this matter: there were fewer, rather than more, police on the beat; morale went down rather than up, and more officers left the force than ever before. Although there was continual talk about reforming police pensions, nothing happened. The police often told me, as they will have told the Home Secretary's predecessor, that they felt that the Government were being tougher on them than on the criminals. There is a summary view about what we need to do for the police. The Government and the country need to do better.

The need is not only one of having more police. I hope that the Home Secretary will be positive about our idea of having part-time, paid police, so that we can employ those who cannot do a full-time job or who are coming up to retirement. I hope that he will consider introducing community safety forces, employed by local councils as a supplement to, and support for, the police. I hope also that the Government will be positive about the idea, endorsed by chief police officers and others, of having a standing conference on the police. There could then be regular public debate between police officers of all ranks, the Government, politicians, police authority members and others, and a regular assessment of what is needed for better recruitment and retention, including factors such as pay.

We welcome the proposal for an independent Police Complaints Authority, which is long overdue. I hope that the Home Secretary will revisit his predecessor's refusal to hold an inquiry into deaths in custody. I also share the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes and others that as long as we have independent police authorities and forces in England, the authorities, rather than the Home Secretary, however strong his feelings, should choose their chief constable and decide when he should leave.

I welcome the Home Secretary's moderate tone on asylum and immigration. I look forward to the removal of the voucher system, which is not only discriminatory and extremely offensive but more expensive than putting people on benefits.

There was another omission in the Queen's Speech. The Home Secretary's predecessor promised equality legislation to deal particularly with the fact that we do not have religious equality in this country. Members of several faith groups, especially the Muslim community, are urgently waiting for that. Liberal Democrats believe that as soon as we get equality legislation, to deal not only with that but with civil partnerships and the repeal of section 28, among other things, we will have a fairer society.

Two Bills will focus on constitutional reform: one of them will increase the number of women in the House, and the other will reform the House of Lords to make it a

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more representative second Chamber. Liberal Democrats support both Bills, as far as they go, but we strongly believe that we must seize this opportunity to look at what both Houses do and how they relate to each other. We must also look at how people get to Parliament. Unless we do that, the danger is that reform will not go far enough, and that the public will not be engaged in the democratic process nearly enough.

Increasingly, people find what we do a turn-off. The statistics are sad and disappointing. The House has become unrepresentative, and that is sad too. It is not just that there are too few female, black or Asian Members but that there are only a few young people in the House and very few older people. Parliament does not look or sound like Britain.

Turnout at the election was very low. In Liverpool, Riverside, which was regarded as a safe seat, turnout was as low as one third of the electorate, although in the much less safe seats of Winchester or North Norfolk it was higher than 70 per cent. Those figures hint at the direction that must be taken.

There will soon be a new leader of the Conservative party, and the new Labour Government are already in office. I hope that, in the interests of democracy, all parties in the House will look seriously--and soon--at the need to reform political representation in this country. The Tories won no seats in west Yorkshire, south Yorkshire and Wales, even though they received 30 per cent. of the vote or similar in those areas: something is badly wrong.

People are being deprived of their say. In Surrey, 20 per cent. of the electorate voted Labour but they have no representatives. In Kent, 20 per cent. of the electorate voted Liberal Democrat but they have no representatives.

Mr. Banks: How did we all get here then?

Simon Hughes: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we all got here by the strange and funny system that we inherited a long time ago.

We need a system in which the balance of background and gender is correct but which allows people to get what they vote for as well. The constituency of Tatton was represented by Martin Bell in the previous Parliament, and he was respected because he said, "A plague on all your houses. The system is not up to the job." The hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) was elected because people are increasingly moving away from the political parties rather than towards us.

Parliament must be more representative. The power of Back Benchers must grow, rather than diminish. The power of the Whips must diminish, not grow. All hon. Members must have increased power to hold the Government to account. Unless such fundamental change is introduced, the danger is that democracy will become a minority activity. In such circumstances, discussion about the contents of programmes outlined in Gracious Speeches to come will matter less and less to more and more of our fellow citizens.

If the Government are to be remembered for significant progress and reform, they will have to be much braver and more effective about the Home Office agenda and constitutional reform. The country is waiting for that

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radical approach. Liberal Democrats will support the Government if they are willing to be brave, but we will be extremely critical if they become as conservative as they have been for the past four years.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

5.24 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his appointment. He has a hard task before him in following the work done by his predecessor, our joint right hon. Friend the new Foreign Secretary. However, I am sure that the new incumbent is up to the job.

I know that a lot of new hon. Members will make speeches about their constituencies, so I shall confine my remarks to what is happening in my area now.

Twenty-two years ago, when I made my maiden speech, I did not mention the problems of crime, drugs and outlandish, loutish behaviour because they were not particularly significant in my inner-city seat. They certainly are today, however, and the situation is, quite frankly, out of hand. The drugs problem used to be confined principally to the Kings Cross part of my constituency. It is still in Kings Cross, despite everyone's efforts, but it has spread right across the constituency and, indeed, across central London as a whole.

Parts of the area that I try to represent sometimes feel like an outdoor supermarket, dominated by street drug traders. They make my constituents feel threatened and alienated on the very streets where they live. People talk about civil liberties, but I am willing to take away a lot of drug pushers' and drug possessors' civil liberties if they are going to take away the civil liberties of my constituents, who are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their homes and streets. Old people and toddlers are faced with used needles on doorsteps, needles thrown down in children's playgrounds, put in window boxes or in flower beds. People are no longer threatened at the point of a gun but at the point of a used syringe. Recently, a woman was robbed at the point of a used syringe and, one of my local doctors tells me, then stabbed with it. Now she is awaiting the results of a blood test to see whether she has HIV. That sort of behaviour is going on within about half a mile of where I am standing. It is wrong, and we must take stronger measures to deal with it.

All sorts of security measures have been introduced. People are turning their homes, blocks and flats into fortresses. In one block in my area, a notice went up only a couple of days ago saying that used heroin syringes had been found on the fire escape of the stairwell on the second floor and that, as they can be dangerous, the estate manager or caretaker should be contacted to dispose of them immediately. Gangs of lads are using heroin and cannabis inside the block of flats.

People are entitled not to live in those conditions, and we are letting them down. I do not blame the local police, who put in a huge effort. Special operations include Operation Welwyn, which has been going on in Kings

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Cross for a long time, and Operation Regis, which has been carried out in the Kings Cross area recently with special funding from the Government.

There is an element of displacement: when short-term attacks are made on drug takers in a particular area, they get displaced to other areas. However, it is not just a question of displacement; it is going on all over my area. A new operation covering part of Soho, Covent Garden and the Bloomsbury part of my constituency--Operation Lilac--is working fairly well. It involves the health service. People are faced with prosecution or with being helped to overcome their habit. That is a good special effort, but there is displacement. The trouble with all these special efforts is that they are short term: when they come to an end, the problem arises again.

The police tell me--the figures bear this out--that they are attempting to concentrate their action on the dealers rather than the people in possession. They are finding it difficult because some of the dealers and those with whom they deal are now so familiar with one another that the dealers will sell only to people they know to be their usual customers. Even police in plain clothes are finding it difficult to get the dealers.

I am, admittedly, extremely reactionary on the subject of drugs. I think that we should contemplate introducing a concept of aggravated possession. If people are in an area where drug dealing is known to go on but do not live or work there, if they are in possession of drugs but are not registered addicts and are not trying to get treatment, I think that they move into a different category and should be treated as such. We must stop both the dealers and the people with whom they deal.

We certainly need more police and, at last, recruitment is going up, but the Metropolitan police force is wasting a huge amount of time. I shall give two or three examples. Half of the 999 calls made to the Metropolitan police are not serious. To the best of my knowledge, no one has been prosecuted for making any of the 1.2 million hoax calls that were made in the past year.

In the last year for which figures are available, 80 per cent. of burglar alarms--I refer not to those that go off and keep people awake at night, but to the ones that ring in police stations and to which the police have to and do respond--to which the Metropolitan police responded were false alarms. If some batty old lady kept ringing them up and it was a false alarm, the police would prosecute her for wasting police time. Those alarms are a systematic waste of police time and the management of the Metropolitan police should pay more attention to the problem.

We need more money and recruits. The Metropolitan police certainly need to speed up their recruitment process and to shorten the period between someone's application to join and when they become a working policeman or woman.

We also need other measures that do not relate directly to the police. Known drug dealers operate out of individual flats in blocks. Under the present law, it takes months to get them out. The system is so slow that it makes a two-toed sloth seem hyperactive. It is useless. The council and the police do not have the necessary powers. Dealers are making people's lives a misery for months on end. More rapid attention must be paid to them and to getting them out.

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The other major problem in my area is the significant increase in the amount of plain loutish behaviour. It is also a characteristic over the boundary in Westminster, as my former right hon. colleague, who is shortly to become Lord Brooke, would agree. The west end on a Friday and Saturday night is full of a lot of drunken people being particularly obnoxious.

The police have not told me this, but I am fearful that, with about 150,000 half-drunk people roaming the streets at 11 pm or midnight, some minor incident will turn into a huge riot with a lot of drunks beating each other up and having a right old go throughout the area. We must pay attention to that loutish behaviour--it is a powder keg.

I welcome the postponement of the Bill to introduce 24-hour boozing and the 24-hour city. It may be possible to allow that, but we must have nuisance laws in place in parallel, so that when places become sources of disorder and nuisance the police can close them down there and then and people do not have to resort to the courts and face months of delay to end the ruination to their lives.

I am sorry to have to make this speech; I am sorry that the situation exists. People in my area have never been so sickened by the amount of crime and the loutish behaviour and drug taking. I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will want to do something about it and will do something.

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