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13 Nov 2002 : Column 23—continued

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you recall ruling in the last Session that the Prime Minister should address his remarks to the subject under debate, not to Conservative policy?

Mr. Speaker: That is only at Prime Minister's Question Time.

The Prime Minister: I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman—I know that he does not want us to talk about the Conservative party—but it is important in this Queen's Speech debate to state the difference between the two parties.

The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is opposed to the investment and he, alone among Conservative leaders in Europe, is opposed to the Nice treaty on

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enlargement in Europe. He is opposed to the single currency on any terms, at any time. The Conservatives put a three-line whip on opposing adoption by unmarried couples. Where they should be moderate, they are extreme, but where they should be tough, they are soft. They will oppose, apparently, the Government's new law and order proposals. They have opposed many of the proposals on the seizure of assets of drug dealers. They are opposing the tightening of rules on evidence, previous convictions and cracking down on abuse in Crown court trials. They even opposed the fixed penalty notices for antisocial behaviour.

Where people need investment in public services, the Conservatives are opposed to it. Where business needs a sensible attitude in Europe, they would leave Britain marginalised. Where people want us to get tough on antisocial behaviour, they tell us it does not matter. That, with respect, is their problem. Out of touch and backward. Not so much nasty or nice. Just plainly and simply irrelevant.

The Queen's Speech focuses on economic stability, the invest and reform programme in public services, strong civic society based on rights and responsibilities and Britain engaged in the world. Now the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the previous crime Bills. Let me first point out that crime under this Government is down; under the Conservatives, it doubled. [Interruption.] Oh yes. If people look, for example today, at the latest figures issued by the Metropolitan police, in the last year in London, it has managed to cut street crime—not have street crime go up, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated.

The previous Bills were important. There was, for example, the Bill to introduce the crime and disorder partnerships in 1998, supported by the police and by local people. There were measures to do with licensing the private security industry. There were measures to do with terrorism—in particular, anti-terrorist legislation post-Omagh and post-11 September.

This criminal justice Bill sets out to rebalance the system in favour of the victim. It arises from the Auld review of two years ago and this year's White Paper. It will set up a strategy to modernise the entire criminal justice system from end to end—from better detection to effective sentencing, and right through to the rehabilitation of offenders. It will make fundamental changes to pre-trial processes, including reforms to police and criminal evidence, bail, charging and disclosure. It will change criminal trial processes by making changes to rules of evidence, double jeopardy, juries and appeals. It will put sense into sentencing through comprehensive reform of the sentencing framework, and will introduce provisions to address drug-related and juvenile offending. It will also improve the treatment of victims and witnesses.

I might have hoped that such a Bill would be supported by the Conservative party, because it will be supported by people in the country. It will be backed by the courts Bill, which, at long last, will unify court administration and modernise court practice. We will also deal with antisocial behaviour.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Throughout the House and in the country, many people

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will support effective measures to deal with crime and antisocial behaviour: that cannot be a matter of disagreement.

The Government rightly want to change sentencing policy, ensuring that time in custody is followed by supervision. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether that good idea has now received the support of his friend the Chancellor, so that when we have passed the Bill money will be available, in the current Parliament, to ensure that it is implemented immediately, rather than promised immediately but not delivered until much later?

The Prime Minister: We do indeed have money set aside to implement the provision. That is the purpose of the settlement given to the Home Office in the spending review.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman speaks for the Liberal Democrats when he says that most Members will support the measures on antisocial behaviour, but I hope that they will support those measures, because they are essential. After all, we are putting a huge investment into communities up and down the country, with the new deal for the unemployed, the new deal for the communities themselves, the working families tax credit, sure start, and record rises in child benefit. I think that, given the opportunities we are providing, we are entitled to demand responsibility in return. I think we are entitled to say that the things that make people's lives a misery—graffiti, vandalism, aggressive behaviour, fly tipping, abandoned cars, antisocial tenants, truancy and irresponsible use of airguns—should be dealt with comprehensively, and that a simple system of penalties should be introduced.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): My constituents and I will certainly welcome the list of measures to deal with antisocial behaviour, but my constituents are also concerned about another aspect of crime and antisocial behaviour. I heard nothing about domestic violence in the Queen's Speech, and I hope that it is not slipping off the Government's agenda.

The Prime Minister: A consultation paper on domestic violence will be published within the next few months. My hon. Friend is entirely right: domestic violence is a huge problem that affects many thousands of people in this country, causing them great misery.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I appreciate the commitment to dealing with antisocial behaviour, but will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that the laws will be extended to Northern Ireland? People there want them as well, particularly to deal with the so-called joy riding and the car thieving that have led to so many deaths. Would it not be easier to include such measures in the new legislation than again to trifle with police reforms that were never in the Belfast agreement?

The Prime Minister: We are considering how to ensure that the antisocial behaviour provisions are available in Northern Ireland as well. I think they will be very important to the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

As for some of the measures introduced so far, it is simply incorrect to say that antisocial behaviour orders have not worked; but it is true to say that cumbersome

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procedures are needed to secure them. That is the precise reason for streamlining. It is also the reason for introducing the fixed-penalty notices that we now want to increase. We want to extend them to a wider range of offences, and to give more people power to implement them.

What that will do is critical. If we talk to any police officer dealing with antisocial behaviour, we hear that the problem is the length of time it takes to go through the court procedures. The fixed-penalty notice gives the police a simple thing to do. It is then up to the person who is, effectively, the defendant to come to court and have the notice set aside.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said in relation to air weapons. Thousands of people up and down the country have been victims of air weapons, or have family who have been victims. Can he give an indication of when the legislation will come forward? Will it be a priority within the timetable?

The Prime Minister: It certainly will be a priority. We will bring it forward as soon as we possibly can.

As well as measures to change the criminal justice system and the courts system and to deal with antisocial behaviour, we will carry on with the programme of invest and reform. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green says, effectively, that all the changes and all the money that has been put into the health service and education have not worked, that nothing has happened, that nothing has changed. The Conservatives have to say that. They have to say that the national health service has failed because they do not want it to succeed. They have to say that our schools system cannot get better because they do not believe that improving our schools system is a priority for the Government.

Take any constituency and look at what changes have occurred, even the right hon. Gentleman's constituency. This year, his primary care trust has had an 8.9 per cent. increase in cash terms. He says that it has been wasted but let me tell him what it has bought: a 25 per cent. reduction in in-patient waiting lists from March 1997; a reduction in the total number of out-patient waiters of almost 50 per cent; the achievement of a maximum waiting time of 26 weeks for the first out-patient appointment; over #1 million to modernise accident and emergency. On education, there has been an increase of almost 20 per cent. in funding per pupil. The primary school results, GCSE results and A-level results are the best that his constituency has ever had. That is why the money is important for our public services. That is why it would be so wrong to take that money out.

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