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20 Nov 2002 : Column 648—continued

David Winnick (Walsall, North): I appreciate from studying the Conservative amendment that the right hon. Gentleman has not rejected the change to double jeopardy out of hand, but would not such a change require compelling evidence to persuade the Court of Appeal? It could not simply be decided to prosecute again a person who had been acquitted of a major offence for that same offence. The Court of Appeal will have to be persuaded that compelling evidence exists. In practice, it is unlikely that there would be more than half a dozen cases in four or five years.

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that we spotted that. However, how will the jury engaged in the retrial be prevented from presuming guilt if its members discover that the Court of Appeal has already ruled that compelling evidence exists to

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suggest guilt? The Government will have to answer that question in drafting the Bill, and we shall investigate the matter.

David Winnick: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, we shall have plenty of time to deal with the matter in detail when we examine the Bill.

We shall not acquiesce in any measures in a European arrest warrant that lead to the arrest of people in this country for actions that are not crimes in this country. We shall vigorously oppose a European arrest warrant that compromises the principle of the presumption of innocence. Let us be clear about what such a warrant means. If a British citizen publishes in Spain a statement that is construed by the Spanish courts to constitute xenophobia, he could be tried in absentia. Without having broken a law in this country, he could be removed to prove his innocence before a Spanish court that presumes him guilty. We cannot accept that.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I am sorry to intervene at this stage of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but we must be accurate about the European arrest warrant. The proposals in that element of the Bill would ensure that no country could try someone in absentia on the ground that they are presumed guilty. Under the European convention on human rights, which the right hon. Gentleman has often attacked, there must be a presumption of innocence. The Bill will make it clear that no country will have the right to extradite under the European arrest warrant without agreeing to the presumption of innocence.

Mr. Letwin: I fear that, having examined the detail of the measure so far, I am not convinced that that is the effect of the drafting. If we become so convinced, that will be a great help. However, I have a dark foreboding that we are heading towards a major parliamentary battle about the European arrest warrant.

I fear that we may also have a battle about the international co-operation Bill. We thought that it would be an uncontroversial measure, and we warmly support the strengthening of international co-operation in the war against terrorism. Without adequate safeguards, however, we cannot countenance police officers from another jurisdiction mounting a surveillance operation in this country without the permission of a British judge.

About 10 days ago, the Prime Minister wrote a most illuminating article in The Observer. In it, he rightly said:

He went on to say that

I have recently been reading another remarkably similar speech, in which the speaker also referred to

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A press release from the same source on the same date called for

and the same speaker went on to echo the Prime Minister's recent article in The Observer by pointing out that

[Interruption.] That second speaker was not, as has just been suggested, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo); nor was it the Home Secretary. It was none other than our current Prime Minister, when he held my post of shadow Home Secretary in 1993.

I wonder whether I am alone in finding this process a trifle surreal. It is almost as though someone else had been governing the country for the past five years. It is almost as though each year sees a new relaunch of the same ambition, a new start to history, and as though time past disappears in a constantly reinvented present. There is a reason why listening to the Prime Minister is such a surreal experience, and a reason for the constant reinvention of the present. Alas, the record of delivery—or, rather, of non-delivery—requires the progressive elimination of history. The single biggest test of a criminal justice system is its ability to catch and convict criminals. This Government have failed that test. When the Prime Minister first called for a new national strategy for crime prevention in 1993, he pointed out that only about one in 25 crimes resulted in a conviction. He regarded that as a damning indictment of the previous Government. Today, after five years of a Labour Government, only one in 40 crimes result in a conviction.

Let me give another example of the year zero principle in action: the example of asylum. We have recently seen the completion of the passage of an asylum Bill. Its main purpose was to redress the damage done by the extraordinarily inept measures taken by the current Foreign Secretary when he was Home Secretary. Those ineptitudes are to be addressed by introducing—alas, in a somewhat cack-handed fashion—a panoply of Conservative measures once derided by the present Prime Minister and the present Foreign Secretary: the white lists, the denial of social security payments to those who do not claim asylum at the port of entry, and the accommodation centres. We hope that the new measures will bring about improvements, but, whatever the future may hold, the record of the last five years on asylum has been utterly dismal.

I fear that the record on reoffending is no better. The Lord Chief Justice recently said:

He was right. When young people are convicted, they re-offend with appalling frequency: 75 per cent. of young offenders are reconvicted within two years of leaving our young offender institutions.

Mr. Blunkett: Since the introduction of the Youth Justice Board and our new measures, has there not been a 14.6 per cent. drop in juvenile reoffending? Is that not a success by anyone's standards?

Mr. Letwin: A 14.6 per cent. drop sounds like a lot, until we realise that the figure for reconviction within

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two years is still about 70 per cent. I fear that there is no sign in the Queen's Speech of serious and radical proposals for long-term reform of the sentencing of young offenders. We have made proposals that could lead to the effective rehabilitation of such offenders, but I see no sign of that from the Government.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin: I shall in a moment.

We will not seriously cure reoffending unless we seriously address the dreadful and growing problem of heroin and cocaine addiction among our young people. Conservatives have made proposals to multiply tenfold the availability of intensive residential rehabilitation for young heroin and cocaine addicts and to compel them to take up such treatment and rehabilitation. I see no sign of such measures from the Government. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who is in his place, has provided me with a written answer that makes it clear that treatment places means individuals Xreported as in contact" with treatment agencies.

The Government claim to have 118,000 treatment places, or, rather, 118,000 people in contact with treatment agencies. A different picture emerges when one realises that there are, in fact, only some 2,000 to 3,000 intensive residential treatment places in this country. The Government do not even know precisely how many there are. They content themselves instead with determining the number of people in contact, much as they content themselves with determining the number of waiting patients who are in contact with the national health service. Contact, as Nurse Edith Cavell would have said, is not enough.

John Mann (Bassetlaw): What evidence base has the right hon. Gentleman used to determine that residential rehabilitation works in treating drug offenders?

Mr. Letwin: The evidence base is enormous, and the most compelling case is that of the Netherlands, where the average age of heroin and cocaine addicts is increasing by about 360 days each year. In other words, almost no young people are joining the queue. The reasons for that achievement are twofold: the intensive and coercive use of intensive residential rehabilitation and, as a result of those measures and the splitting of the market, the young people of the Netherlands coming to regard heroin and crack as unfashionable.

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