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13 Jan 2003 : Column 408continued
The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): There is no state retirement age, only a state pension agethe age from which people can receive their state pension, regardless of whether they have retired or are continuing to work. We have no plans to change that. However, under age legislation, which will be implemented by 2006, compulsory retirement ages are likely to be unlawful unless employers can show they are objectively justified.
Helen Jackson : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but may I suggest to him that men and women in their 60s may start to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis unless there is a little more clarification about the age at which they can start genuinely to feel that they ought to be real pensioners and therefore have access to the great variety of Government benefits that are accessible to pensioners?
Mr. McCartney: There are two issues. First, the Government have for the first time launched a pre-retirement guide to help older workers to plan their retirement. [Interruption.] I hope that, instead of boo-hooing, Opposition Members will read the damn thing. Secondly, the big problem in Britain has not been workers being able to work up to retirement age, but discrimination in stopping them doing that. Under the last Conservative Government, people with skills, knowledge and commitment were thrown on the scrap heap when they were as young as 45. This Government will end age discrimination and give people a choice to remain in work, and, if they want to work part-time when they retire, we will give them the choice to do that too.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many of our constituents are puzzledthat is somewhat of an understatement and a polite word for itas to why it was possible for the Ark Royal to set sail, for our troops to go to Kuwait, for the Prime Minister to hold his press conferences and for the press to discuss that endlessly, yet seemingly impossible for the House of Commons to address those very important issues. What does it take in terms of an emergency application to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the House of Commons ought to be able to pass judgment on these momentous events?
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been widely advertised that the Prime Minister held a press conference today where the sole topic of questioning was apparently the Government's approach to whether or not there will be a war in Iraq that this country would support. The House has not been afforded the opportunity to question the Prime Minister exclusively for an hour on that issue. Have you received any request from the Prime Minister to afford such an opportunity? If not, what can we do to ask the Prime Minister to attend the House?
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since this matter was discussed last week and had great publicity, I have been approached by many constituents, not a single one of whom believes that going to war is justified and that there is sufficient evidence to show that Saddam Hussein intends to use his weapons of mass destruction. If the possibility of going to war, putting at risk the lives of our constituents and possibly increasing the risk of terrorist attack are not fit subjects for an emergency debate, what on earth is?
Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), will you, Mr. Speaker, give the House some guidance about the circumstances in which war-creep became war without the House having the right, according to a democratic process and in line with the rights of the House, to vote on a substantive motion that endorsed or rejected that proposal?
David Winnick (Walsall, North): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a fact that, on the very first day that we came back from the recess, the Secretary of State for Defence made a statement and answered questions for quite a long time and that, on the following day, the Prime Minister had a number of questions on this subject? Is it not important that the House should be kept informed, as my hon. Friends have stated, but that it should also be borne in mind that not all of us take the same line and do not accept the Iraqi regime's propaganda about weapons of mass destruction?
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There may be a solution with which you may be able to help the House. The Prime Minister has just given an hour's press conference to the media, which was mainly dictated by the subject of Iraq. I understand from press reports that the Prime Minister is also due to meet something called the parliamentary Labour party this week, and perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you could organise for the television cameras in the relevant Committee Room to be turned on, so that we can all find out exactly what the parliamentary Labour party thinks on this subject. Obviously, that is one way in which the British people may be able to find out exactly what the PLP feels, as we know that the Prime Minister does not like coming to the House of Commons to answer questions too often.
Mr. Skinner: I agree with my hon. Friends who have raised this matter, as you probably know, Mr. Speaker, as I have already voted that way. If you allow cameras into Committee Room 14, however, I have news for you: we want the cameras in the 1922 committee, too, and we will cause mayhem.
Mr. Speaker: I am at a disadvantage as far as the parliamentary Labour party is concerned because for two years I have been debarred from attending meetings of the PLP, and that also applies to the 1922 committee. I understand hon. Members' concern. In response to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), the Prime Minister can be brought to question in the House of Commons at Prime Minister's Question Time. In addition, I understand that, next Wednesday, there will be a defence debate, which will be an opportunity for the House to examine these matters. I reiterate once again that I am guided by the rules of the House, which I have been given. All that I can say at this stage is that I would hope that Ministers would come to make statements at appropriate times, and that hon. Members who wish to catch my eye should make applications for the debate, which is not too far away.
The Home Office's own figures show that, in the last year, there were some 9,000 reported violent crimes. I am afraid that that is part of a set of statistics that makes dismal reading: we have all become accustomed to such statistics, and we saw them again last week. Robberyby the Home Office's own account and after its own adjustmentsrose by 13 per cent. in the last year. That is on page 10, in table A, of the Home Secretary's own productions. He demurs, but I think that he has some difficulty in refuting what his own office produces. The figure on domestic burglary in the same table, after the same adjustments, shows a 5 per cent. rise. Other kinds of burglaryprincipally, retail crimeare up 6 per cent., and, by the same token, drug offences are up 12.3 per cent. Furthermore, as the Home Office has spent a great deal of time saying in the last week, gun crime is upprobably by more than the Home Office started by admittingindeed, it is up dramatically.
If all that was happening was that we had a sad blip in the reported crime figures and if the underlying truth was that the Government had a well-worked-out strategy for dealing with what has been a long-running problem for this country, I do not suppose that I would have bored you, Mr. Speaker, and the House with this debate. However, the sad fact is that over the past five years the Government have shown no signs of having a coherent long-term strategy for addressing this problem.
On 16 July 2000, a newspaper produced a leaked and now famous report from Downing street in which the Prime Minister asked for what I believe he described as Xeye-catching initiatives". He has been well served by his Ministers in that regard. We celebrate todayif Xcelebrate" is the right worda centenary by our account. As far as we can make out, there have been
Twenty-four out of every 25 of the famous antisocial behaviour orders promised by the Prime Minister have not been implemented; instances of benefit docking for the breach of community sentences, which is critical to the Government's current policyif policy it berun at 78 a year; child safety orders, another initiative, run at three a year; mandatory seven-year sentences for third-time drug dealers run at one a year; and child curfew orders run at zero a year. Those are the lucky initiatives. Many others have not even started their lives. Benefit docking for truancy has been abandoned; on-the-spot fines at cash tills have been abandoned; and vouchers for good behaviour have been abandoned. I fear that the Government have given us initiative after initiative in response to headline after headline, but the initiatives have often failed and have often never been implemented. There is very little sign of a coherent strategy.
There are two critical elements to a proper long-term strategy for dealing with crime. The first is to get police on to the streets. I do not believe that there is a great difference of view on that between the Home Secretary and me. We shall soon hear from him, and I have never detected the slightest sign on his part of a reluctance to admit what is evidently the truth. The great difference between this country and the American cities that have cracked crime so well is the fact that they haveand that we do not havepolice visible, proactive and effective in numbers on the streets.
The problem is, therefore, not one of design but of effective delivery. The fact is that we do not have police on our streets. I do not know why the Home Secretary has not been able to get much help from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that, but I know that the Home Secretary has not helped the matter himself. He has been keeping the police off the streets, and he has been adding to the reasons why they are not on the streets. He has been adding targets, monitoring, standard units, bureaucracy and rules and he has been forcing the police to keep records and to make notes. That is not the way to have them on the streets. Making a report each time someone is stopped is not the way to increase the time spent catching crooks.