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20 Nov 2002 : Column 678—continued

5.28 pm

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): In my eight minutes, I want to make two points. The second of them is a constructive policy suggestion for the Home Secretary, and the first is a constructive criticism of the Government's record.

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) referred, in his excellent opening speech, to the grandiose promises made by the Prime Minister when he was shadow Home Secretary. It has been a characteristic of the Government to make big promises and not to deliver on them.

The House has been discussing antisocial behaviour orders, and my mind went back to the Crime and Disorder Bill, which was given a Second Reading in this House on 8 April 1998. The then Home Secretary—the present Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)—said that the Bill would


He told us:


He told us:


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He told us:


That was an overblown puffing up of a Bill, particularly the antisocial behaviour orders that it contained. I had the privilege at the time to be the shadow Home Secretary. I gave the Bill our support—we did not divide on Second Reading—but I warned the Government that they were in danger of creating expectations that could not and would not be fulfilled and, as a consequence, there would be a degree of cynicism that people would not find attractive. Modesty forbids me from quoting what I said, but right hon. and hon. Members will find it in column 382 of Hansard.

The fact that we are coming back to antisocial behaviour orders—which I still support—is a reflection of the Government's failure to deliver over the past five years. The Home Secretary told us today that just over 600 ASBOs have been issued. The Government promised that there would be 5,000 a year, so to date there are 17,000 fewer than there should be. If we had 17,000 more of them, the proposed legislation would almost certainly not be necessary. I ask the Government to resist their inherent inclination to overblow their legislation and to have instead a degree of realism to which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and the public can relate.

My second point is a policy suggestion for the Minister's consideration. The Home Secretary hardly mentioned prisons. Given the Government's record, that is understandable. It is not clear whether the Government favour putting more and more people in prison—for we have the highest number in prison in our history—or getting them out of prison and back into the community. If I were the guardian of a policy that regularly released thousands of people early from prison for no other reasons than not having prison places and being unable to get any money from the Chancellor, I, too, would not wish to say much about my policy. However, part of the pressure on people to send their fellow citizens to prison is because the public have very little confidence in community punishment.

When I was shadow Home Secretary, I visited eight or 10 prisons. It reaffirmed my view, long held, that I do not belong to the minority of people who think that after people are put in prison, life should be made as miserable as possible to add to the punishment. That has never been my view. The punishment of prison is the adherence to a rigid regime and the deprivation of freedom. Yet community sentencing goes in exactly the opposite direction. It provides very little rigid regime and deprivation. I ask the Home Secretary to consider that he might do better to install a regime in the community that more effectively mirrored what prison does. If, instead of being free to roam around, people were restricted for longer periods—perhaps to their homes—so that their home or some specified environment became a substitute for prison and there was still an element of deprivation of freedom, my constituents and the general public might have more confidence in the policy.

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At the same time, the Minister might take a look at his prison-building programme. Five and a half years ago, he announced that the Government would build a prison in Peterborough, yet five and a half years later the old buildings are still standing and nothing has been done. One reason that nothing has been done is that, as some of us pointed out to the former Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he put Railtrack into administration, the costs of private finance initiatives would rise. The Minister should remember that if we are to have a prison in Peterborough. Given his statistics, we shall probably need one, so will he get on with it?

Finally, will the Minister look at the work of Prison Fellowship? It offers some of the most effective means of helping people to turn from their wicked ways.

5.36 pm

Denzil Davies (Llanelli): Sadly, at the heart of this year's Queen's Speech—its central theme—are crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour. There are to be four or five Bills. That shows the seriousness of the situation and how concerned the Government are about it.

I became a Member of the House in 1970 and, looking back over the past 30 years, my impression is that the situation as regards crime, disorder and antisocial behaviour has been getting worse and worse. From 1970 until the mid-1980s, crime and disorder were not a major problem in my constituency. Obviously, there was crime—there has never been a golden age—but there was little or no drugs problem in my constituency until the middle of the 1980s. Elderly people could live quietly on their estates, without fear that their doors would be kicked in, without fear of physical and verbal abuse or that bricks and stones would be thrown into their gardens. In Llanelli at that time, petrol was not thrown through letterboxes and ignited.

But something happened in the mid-1980s—or perhaps it was a manifestation of something that had happened previously. To test my impressions, I went to the Library—as, I assume, did the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—and checked the XIndex to the Statutes" for the period 1970 to 2000. I examined statutes dealing with substantive crime and with procedure. I excluded Scotland, as it has a different system, but I included statutes on domestic and international terrorism. I tried to exclude the administration of justice, although there is some overlap between that, procedure and substantive crime.

My first impressions were confirmed, although the figures were startling. In the first decade, 1970–1980, seven statutes were passed; in the second decade, 1980–1990, there were 13; and in the third decade, 1990–2000, there were 27. There was a doubling every 10 years. Turning to the present century, there were two measures in 2000; three in 2001; and we are about to consider another four or five.

It is not, therefore, unreasonable to draw the conclusion that the number of statutes shows, first, that there is a real and accumulating problem and, secondly, that passing legislation does not seem to do much good. Furthermore, it seems to me that little attempt is being made to discover the causes, not of crime—they have been with us since time immemorial—but of the

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acceleration or accumulation of problems over the past 20 to 25 years. The Government do not seem to do much about that. As far as I am aware, there is not much written about it in academia, and the newspaper pundits who write about the environment, foreign policy, economics, defence and so on say little about it. There is little questioning about what is wrong with society that makes us have to pass so much legislation. Perhaps I can briefly suggest a few questions that we may wish to ask, without perhaps knowing the answers.

Is one reason the effect of the economic revolution that occurred in the mid-1980s? Many people believe that the dominance of the market place and the cult of the consumer have brutalised much of our society and diluted obligations to the community. Could one cause be the decline of religion, especially Christianity? Christianity provided a moral framework and social cohesion, particularly in Wales.

Does the modern pursuit of inclusiveness—I have to be very careful now—make for an amoral society? If we are all living cheek by jowl in that big tent without core values, to label conduct as good or bad, or right or wrong is considered disruptive—indeed, the vogue word is Xjudgmental".

What contribution to drug and drug-related crimes has been made by the tolerance and, in some cases, acceptance of using drugs, both soft and hard, by some of the media establishment and the entertainment industry?

What contribution to sex and sex-related crimes has been made by the commercial and media exploitation of sex, especially by television, where sex provides an endless supply of programmes, boosting the earnings of presenters and producers?

What effect has a child-centred education system had on a sense of order, discipline and an awareness of right or wrong in our classrooms?

Again, I must be careful. What contribution to the behaviour of children has been made by the decline in the traditional family where both parents—or one parent in a single-parent family—are forced to go out to work, very often with wages subsidised by the state, and when the time to look after children, to listen to them while they grow up, to talk to them and read to them is obviously limited by the stress imposed by the duties on their parents or parent? No doubt other and better questions could be asked.

The Home Secretary spoke about vested interests. They are everywhere, but I suspect that the answers to some of those questions may be inconvenient to some vested interests in commerce, the media and perhaps even in sections of the bureaucracy. By all means let us be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but let us try to find out what the causes are before we go down this road and slide further into a morass of ever more legislation.


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