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4 Dec 2002 : Column 1000—continued

9.29 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): First, I have to declare an interest as a barrister. However, speaking for myself, this has been the most interesting Second Reading debate that I have ever attended in the Chamber because of the sheer diversity of views. I am sure that one of the reasons for that was the way in which the Home Secretary set the tone for the debate in presenting the Bill. The contributions that I heard were all illuminating and suggest that a great deal will be able to be done in Committee, a point that I will return to later.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) set a tone that was slightly different from that of other contributors, as he admitted himself. His speech provides a good starting point. He said, rightly, that he hoped for great things from the Bill but accepted that many connected provisions, which would ensure its success, had not been included.

The hon. Gentleman is right. We are legislating on only one aspect of the criminal justice system. Many of the concerns that he raised, which I have no difficulty in sharing—especially as regards the anxieties of his constituents—cannot be solved by the Bill because it relates only to that percentage of those who commit offences who are arrested and brought before the courts. The vast majority are not.

A point that the hon. Gentleman may want to bear in mind is that as all human systems are fallible, we have to accept that, however well-intentioned we are, many of the sentences or ideas that we come up with often do not work. Only a few days ago, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), in answer to a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), explained how drug treatment and testing orders were working.

We discover that between October 2000 and 30 September 2002, 9,042 orders were made, but it is accepted that in just one six-month period during that time, 2,175 breach proceedings were instigated, and that only 902 cases resulted in termination of the order for failure to comply. If that is extrapolated over the two-

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year period, it suggests that those extremely well-intentioned provisions are not working. We need to bear that in mind when considering how to reassure the public.

I hope that I shall be able to do justice to some of the many contributions to the debate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his assessment of the nature of addiction and of how it can be dealt with under DTTOs needs a little more analysis?

Mr. Grieve: I did not cite those figures as a criticism; I know that the Government were well intentioned when they introduced the orders. However, the letter gives cause for concern as to whether the system, which was designed to ensure that offenders were kept off drugs by regular treatment and testing, is working. It rather suggests—[Interruption.] I do not want to get into a dispute with the Minister. We cannot get away from the fact that the figures suggest the contrary—that a good idea has not worked.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) expressed serious concerns, especially on previous convictions. I hope that the Government will bear those points in mind. I shall try to return to them later.

The hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) made an interesting speech, one of the few that was broadly supportive of the entirety of the Government's position. Two points arose from what he said in what was a civil lawyer's speech. What shone through it was the belief that criminal cases can be solved on the balance of probabilities by throwing everything into the pot and expecting that elusive commodity called the truth to emerge. A similar belief underpinned comments made to me by Lord Falconer. However, I do not think that the court system can ever be like that.

On the contrary, we all seek the truth. Doubtless we shall find it on the great day of judgment, but until then we should be very wary of running around in search of the truth and, in the process, blinding ourselves to the fact that it may be more sensible not to do that but to ensure—as our criminal justice system does—that in any given case we are sure of a person's guilt before we convict him. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made that point with great force.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made a most powerful speech. I hope that her comments, taken with those of my hon. Friends the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) and for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), will highlight the fact that it is possible to believe that one should be tough on crime while not wishing to see injustice perpetrated in trying to arrive at that position. That underpins our philosophy. I dare say that it underpins the philosophy of many hon. Members who have contributed this evening, but we cannot get away from that point because a totalitarian system will never deliver justice. It may fill the prisons, but there will be many innocent people in them.

That point was also well made by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). I was interested in his comments about prejudicial

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hearsay—a very complicated issue on which the Bill will require extremely close scrutiny, although I accept that there may be circumstances in which it is proper to relax the current rules on hearsay.

I wish to refer to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). I very much enjoyed his defence of the jury system, not just because it delivers proper results—it produces as good an assessment of guilt or innocence as we can get—but because it involves the participation of the community in the criminal justice system and underpins our liberties in doing so. It ensures that our system of justice does not pitch the state against the person, but in fact involves a condemnation that comes from those in the community who have heard and assessed the evidence.

The jury system is an immense advantage in our system of justice, but the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North seemed to like the French inquisitorial system. Well, I am half French; I know France well. The French newspapers cannot be opened without reading about one scandal after another involving miscarriages of justice brought about by the over-zealousness of inquisitorial magistrates, backed by their extensive powers and, in fact, by the lack of an adequate jury system to safeguard defendants. I would not wish this country to follow that example.

The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made some very important comments on restorative justice. Of course much of that is outside the scope of the Bill, which highlights our great need to address the issues that go to the root of crime, rather than simply being obsessed with procedure or easy fixes.

I was also pleased with the comments on jury trial made by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), but I was not persuaded by his views on jury tampering. Where are the cases? Where is the evidence of the cases that relate to jury tampering? I have not yet come across them to determine the extent of the problem.

The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) made a speech calling for caution, which I welcome in relation to the Government's proposals. I was interested in the robust speech made by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), and I fully accept that crime has become a major problem for our constituents irrespective of whether they live in middle-class areas or inner cities. I assure him that when I open a speech on crime to my constituents or any new audience, I simply highlight the fact that the view that crime has risen exponentially and is a real problem is not some derangement. [Interruption.] The Home Secretary has just arrived back in the Chamber, so perhaps he will finish hearing what I have to say.

In the 1940s, there were 600 robberies per annum; there are now 95,000. There were 55,000 burglaries per annum; there are now more than 800,000. At one stage, the figure peaked at 1.3 million. That is an exponential rise, especially as the population of this country has risen only by about 14 million in that period. Those comments have as much relevance and application to Conservative Governments as to Labour Governments, but they should remind us to be very wary of quick fixes.

I should mention my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who called for local justice. I did not have a chance to intervene in

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the speech made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), but he will find that I will have a chance to deal with at least one point that he made in the remarks that follow.

Let me turn to the main issues in the Bill. First, there are some good things. I am delighted with part 6 and the speeding up of procedure. I agree that there are vested interests that stand in the way of that, and I have no truck with them whatever. At least one of those vested interests, however, in my experience as a barrister, is the judiciary. We cannot avoid the fact that some of the delays in the criminal justice system are due to professional judges. I have had direct experience of that, and we must tackle that as well as the activities of lawyers.

I am also pleased about the sentencing provisions, although I would hope for some reassurance from the Minister. Sentencing plus and sentencing minus are key reforms. I had always understood that they would accompany the raising of the magistrates' sentencing powers. If it is suggested that magistrates' sentencing powers are to be raised without sentencing plus and sentencing minus being introduced at the same time, however, I fear that we will see a massive increase in the prison population, and that the system will not be in place to deal with it in the manner that was envisaged in the Halliday report.

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