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20 Nov 2002 : Column 737—continued

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is the first Queen's Speech in my experience, going back to 1970, that has not been wound up by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House. Can you explain why Parliament has been so sidelined on this, the most important debate of the year?

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not a matter for the Chair, but I think that under the circumstances I should say

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that the Leader of the House has a relative who is very ill and he has to be in Scotland. I think that the House will understand.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

9.31 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I am pleased to reply to what has been a good and serious debate. I have been privileged to be in the House for 15 years and have witnessed, as others will have done, a huge change in attitude when debating crime and law and order. When I first came to the House it was quite fashionable for Labour Members to claim that the criminal was the victim and needed help and counselling rather than punishment. So I welcome the conversion that we have seen this evening and the unanimity across the House on many issues, especially on antisocial behaviour and drugs. Some Labour Members seem to think that antisocial behaviour is limited to what someone referred to as the Labour heartlands but that is not the case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) said, the problems of drugs and antisocial behaviour exist in all sorts of areas, including small market towns. I share the town of Newmarket with my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring). It has very serious drugs problems which my hon. Friend has worked tirelessly to address.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice: No, I shall not give way.

It is indicative that so many Labour Members have spoken tonight of problems in their constituencies and have welcomed the measures in the Gracious Speech. However, those speeches sounded as though they were being made in the first Queen's Speech of Labour Government rather than in year six. The background, of course, is that crime is rising.

Mr. Tom Harris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice: No, I have already said that I will not.

The Government will claim that the British crime survey shows that crime is falling. However, the survey is not as reliable or as complete as the Government wish us to believe. It does not include retail crime, crimes in homes of multiple occupation or, indeed, murder. Most importantly, it does not include crimes against people under the age of 16. The equivalent survey in the United States, which includes crimes committed against children over 12, shows that 4.8 per cent. of crimes were against 12 to 15-year-olds. If that figure were extrapolated to the United Kingdom, it would mean another 600,000 crimes being recorded. It is hardly surprising that many people—including Labour Members, from what they have said tonight—do not believe that crime is going down. Others will point to the Prime Minister's initiative and his promise to reduce street crime. It is perfectly true that, using selective

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figures in selected areas, he has succeeded in reducing street crime in those areas, but in a wholly artificial and temporary way, by removing large numbers of police officers from other areas and other duties to flood the streets. That cannot last. In the modern idiom, it is not sustainable.

Let us be clear: when we left office in 1997, police numbers were rising. The new Labour Government reversed that and numbers fell catastrophically, so we welcome the recent increase in numbers, but for the Home Secretary to claim credit for getting police numbers back to 1997 levels by early 2002 really is bare-faced cheek.

My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), in his introduction to the debate, and the Home Secretary in his reply, referred to terrorism. We support the Home Secretary's call to the British media not to cause unnecessary alarm and also his tribute to the role played by the security services to protect us, but I repeat my right hon. Friend's hope that there will be a statement to clarify various aspects of preparedness. That obviously could not be included during this debate.

I want to refer to legislation on sex offences, especially in respect of paedophiles. The House will be aware that I represent Soham, the scene of August's awful tragedy. I live nearby and we have close family links with one of the schools involved. Obviously, I cannot comment on the crime as the case is sub judice, but the experience of those weeks gives me a special perspective on that sort of crime, as does an even more recent constituency case in which a man is awaiting trial for the rape of two 13-year-old girls and other offences. All were the result of internet grooming. I have met some of the people involved, so I wholly welcome the measures in the proposed Bill.

I cannot support Sarah's law, which was espoused by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), because I am convinced that it would result in vigilantism. I hope that the Home Secretary will have noted the concerns expressed about anonymity and that he will also consider other issues relating to paedophilia, for example, the failure of some people to provide the key to encrypted child pornography. When the problems of the Criminal Records Bureau have been resolved, will he consider whether psychometric testing could be incorporated in the checks on those seeking employment in residential homes and boarding schools? Will he examine the feasibility of the remote tracking of paedophiles, using satellite technology?

We wholly agree that a criminal justice Bill is necessary. The legislation needs dramatic reform. If the Bill largely follows the White Paper, we shall be able to support much, indeed most, of it. However, the public, like the Home Secretary, do not believe that the criminal justice system is effective in bringing offenders to justice. As was pointed out, it is hardly surprising that 38 per cent. of under-18-year-olds commit at least one further offence while they are on bail and that 12 per cent. of those bailed fail to appear.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) referred to prisons. The Government appealed to the courts to stop sending people to prison and created the presumption

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that people serving less than a year can be released 60 days earlier on a curfew—now increased to 90 days. That is not a considered policy of reform; it is a panic reaction from a Government who see prison populations soaring.

When the former Home Secretary, now the Foreign Secretary, spoke on the Labour Government's Queen's Speech in 1997, he said:

If that was true then—I assume that Labour Members believe that it was—what do they say now that the prison population is 72,000 and still rising?

My hon. Friends the Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Henley (Mr. Johnson) referred to the Crime (International Co-operation) Bill and the Extradition Bill. I am interested in the fact that no one—not even the Home Secretary—has attempted to justify the proposal that someone could be arrested in this country by another country for something that is not a crime in the United Kingdom.

I will not rehearse all our civil liberties concerns about those issues, and I welcome the Home Secretary's emollient remarks about listening to our arguments, but a number of hon. Members have slightly scorned the civil liberties issue. Everyone whom I have ever come across is usually in favour of restricting other people's civil liberties; the problem arises when someone's own civil liberties are restricted. That is why the job of the House is to find the right balance between creating crimes and dealing with the problems of criminality and protecting the civil liberties of people in our country.

Many hon. Members have mentioned antisocial behaviour by young people. Again, as I suggested a few moments ago, it sounded as though we were about to embark on a new Government, rather than their having been here for so long. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire modestly pointed out, the Government were told at the outset that antisocial behaviour orders and child curfew orders, which seem to have died a death, would not work in the way in which they were first devised.

We do not know what will be in the new antisocial behaviour Bill. I fear that it smacks of a panic reaction and the Xsomething must be done" syndrome. Very real issues have to be addressed, but the Government are addressing the symptoms, not the causes. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) made a pertinent remark: the issue is much more about values, standards and what is seen in the media than necessarily about creating more crimes.

What is really missing from this panoply of legislation is any sense of cohesion or strategy. The conveyor belt of crime exists, yet no real strategy to identify those who might get on it or to help those who are on it to get off is shown in the Queen's Speech. Some 90 per cent. of persistent teenage offenders were highly disruptive children, so we need to pay far more attention to providing residential treatment for young heroin and cocaine addicts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) said.

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We need radical reform of sentencing for young people, so that they are not only punished, but as many as possible are rehabilitated. We believe that that involves combining punishment and custody with proper training, followed by a long period of supervision, not because we are soft or sympathetic to those people as individuals, but because trying to rehabilitate them makes economic and social sense. We need help for parents who cannot cope—real provision to enable them to steer their children away from that conveyor belt.

Most of all, we need to establish true neighbourhood and community policing, not as some sort of afterthought or simply for reassurance because it is thought that the public want to see a uniform, but as an integral part of policing and information gathering. A police officer who is always on his or her patch, not constantly being pulled away, will know where the problem spots are and who is spraying graffiti, causing vandalism or joyriding. If properly equipped with the right facilities and powers, those neighbourhood police officers will use other agencies to help them to do their job to keep order in the community. Most of all, that approach to policing will do much to stop young people becoming permanent features on that conveyor belt.

It is perverse for the Home Secretary to hide behind our opposition to central direction as an excuse for not having it. As my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said, local arrangements, removing barriers and creating structures, including career structures, are all responsibilities that the Home Secretary could take up.

This Government and the Prime Minister came to power promising to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Ten years ago, the Prime Minister identified the problem. Since then, we have had more repeats than we would get from a plateful of kippers. When the current Foreign Secretary took office as Home Secretary in 1997, he pledged that our towns, cities and villages would be reclaimed so that everyone would be free to go about their neighbourhood in safety and security. We would all applaud that. He put through 12 criminal justice Acts before being shunted aside by the present Home Secretary, who has consistently dismantled everything that his predecessor did. We are now in the sixth year of the Labour Government, and we will finish undoing or correcting what they did in their first five years. Police numbers are finally above the figure at which they started, but crime is up. Detection rates are down. Recidivism is up. Almost every indicator has gone the wrong way, yet they plead for more time. How much longer do we have to wait for the Foreign Secretary's words to come true?

Two years ago, the Government promised in their targets that levels of fear of crime in the key categories of violent crime, burglary and car crime reported in the British crime survey would be lower. Have they missed that target? No, the target itself has gone missing. It has been dropped, forgotten, and is no longer mentioned. One does not necessarily reduce crime by making more things criminal activities. Instead of more initiatives, we need more police officers in our communities. Instead of more promises, we need action to address the causes of crime. Instead of excuses, we need results. I commend the amendment to the House.

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