Previous SectionIndexHome Page

1.26 pm

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): May I start by sympathising with the Home Secretary about his black eye? I have had one or two myself, so I know how he feels.

This year's Queen's Speech has yielded yet another bumper crop of Bills which, at the very least, confirms the Government's reputation for activism. During the course of the year, I intend to address the substance of Bills on home and constitutional affairs in the constructive manner characteristic of my predecessor as shadow Home Secretary.

Elements of the Bills will certainly find support on this side of the House. Conservative Members have, for example, long supported measures to tackle domestic violence. I understand only too clearly what the Home Secretary said about several of the issues being extremely difficult, so we shall help him to wrestle with them. We are pleased that the Government have found time to introduce a Bill on charities, and we welcome the Bill on civil partnerships. Both will allow the House to address and correct long-standing legal anomalies and unfairness. I also look forward to discussing with the Home Secretary, as he promised that we would at the end of the past Session and reconfirmed today, how we may deal effectively with serious fraud without losing the twin pillars of British justice—the presumption of innocence and trial by jury.

2 Dec 2003 : Column 388

We are also pleased by the announcement of a civil contingencies Bill in the Queen's Speech. Despite what the Home Secretary said, action on that front should surely have been taken four weeks after 11 September rather than 104 weeks afterwards. Despite the Bill's excessively lengthy gestation period, it is still flawed and was criticised by the Committee of hon. Members and peers that was set up to review. We shall examine all those criticisms carefully when the Bill comes before the House, but I share the Home Secretary's hope that we can adopt a reasonably bipartisan approach.

There are some worthwhile Bills in the Government's programme but we have been here before in previous years. Indeed, the Government have introduced at least 30 Home Office Bills, but their effect on crime has been far too small. Despite the Home Secretary's frenetic activism, the programme will do little to tackle the appalling levels to which crime has risen during the Government's tenure.

The Home Secretary obviously has a selective memory when it comes to statistics, so let me restate the facts. During the past century, recorded crime rose throughout the industrialised world, and Britain was no exception. However, between 1992 and 1997 the number of crimes committed in Britain dropped by almost 1 million. That was better than what happened in any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which is a tribute to the energy, talent and commitment of the then Home Secretary, who is now, of course, the Leader of the Opposition.

This Government have achieved quite the opposite. Between 1998 and 2003, crimes recorded in Britain rose by almost 800,000. Violent crime alone has risen by nearly two thirds in just five years. Burglaries have almost doubled, and gun crime has doubled. Drug crime is up; theft is up; sexual offences are up. Some 60,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour—the insidious, corrosive behaviour that is tearing at the fabric of our communities—are reported every day. The only figure that has fallen is the level of crimes detected. Indeed, the Home Secretary's own figures report that the number of crimes detected in England and Wales has fallen to fewer than one in four. The Government have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They have turned their back on an open goal and scored an own goal instead.

Let us be perfectly fair, however. The failure to stem the appalling rise in crime under the Government's stewardship has not been for want of activity on their part. In addition to the 30 Bills proposed since 1997, initiatives have been announced and re-announced weekly, if not daily. There have been cash-point fines, child curfews and night courts, all uniformly unsuccessful. To implement that initiative frenzy, the Home Office has recruited 20,000 more administrators. Those have, in turn, multiplied and divided into five groups, six directorates, 10 teams and 63 units. By 2005, the cost of simply running the Home Office will have gone up by 46 per cent. That is well over £1 billion, which could have paid for countless thousands of police.

Mr. Blunkett: I have listened quietly to most of the right hon. Gentleman's distortions, but I need to put the record straight on the last one before it gets legs. Much of what he describes is theoretically true but only

2 Dec 2003 : Column 389

because the national probation service, which was decentralised to a localised system, was brought back together in 2000. All the staff working for it and the resources applied to it were brought into the Department at the same time.

David Davis: How many of the extra 20,000 administrators does that account for? Not that many. I note that the Secretary of State did not challenge the idea that we might have got more policemen for that £1 billion, because he cannot.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): Is it still the right hon. Gentleman's party's policy to have an additional 40,000 police funded from putting asylum seekers on an island?

David Davis: It is certainly my party's policy to have an extra 40,000 police funded from savings made on the Government's disastrous asylum policy.

What is the result of the prodigious explosion of energy and public spending? It is declining confidence and rising crime. The people of this country are losing confidence in the ability of the police to protect them and to deliver criminals to our courts for justice. A recent ICM poll shows that in two thirds of crimes reported to the police, officers tell the victims that little or nothing can be done to apprehend the perpetrators. That may be why one victim in seven does not bother reporting crime to the police even when it is a serious offence. Half of them decide not to report it because they believe that the police would not catch the person responsible.

Nothing in the Queen's Speech will seriously remedy that situation. There is a Bill that is designed to provide increased support to victims of crime and witnesses of crime. If it provides victims with more help than they currently receive, we will support it and try to amend it to ensure that it is more effective than previous legislation from this Home Secretary.

Mr. Bellingham: There is also nothing in the Queen's Speech to reduce the appalling amount of paperwork that ties policemen into sub-beat offices and police stations. Surely more can be done about that.

David Davis: The first thing to do would be to cut the 20,000 extra bureaucrats that the Home Secretary has taken on.

I can tell the Home Secretary what the victims of crime really want: criminals to be caught and punished. At the moment, 97 per cent. of crimes go unpunished. No wonder public confidence in the criminal justice system is at an all-time low. What the public want, in short, is more police—40,000 more police in case the Liberals are interested. What the Home Secretary offers instead is more and more draconian legislation that impinges on the liberties of ordinary citizens but does little to catch real criminals. Those measures were corrected in the last Session only by the House of Lords, which brings me to the next subject: constitutional change.

Again, I am afraid that there is no evidence in the Queen's Speech that the Government have managed to produce any meaningful or coherent policy. Earlier this

2 Dec 2003 : Column 390

year, the Prime Minister embarked on a programme of fundamental change to our constitution as a spin-off from a botched and mismanaged Cabinet reshuffle. Proper consideration of the judiciary and the Executive, and the role and position of the Lord Chancellor, was thrown out of the window in favour of a blatant exercise in cronyism and power politics.

Let me remind the House how the Government dealt with our constitution. The Home Secretary made it clear that he did not have even a little conversation on the subject. On 12 June, as part of a reshuffle, No. 10 issued a hastily drafted press release announcing that the centuries-old office of Lord Chancellor was being abolished, to be replaced by a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs in the form of Lord Falconer. No. 10 made it plain that the Lord Chancellor would no longer fulfil the function of the Speaker of the House of Lords. On Friday morning, however, the Government discovered that they could not abolish the office of Lord Chancellor without an Act of Parliament. They also discovered that the Lord Chancellor's attendance in the House of Lords was required by a Standing Order that goes back to 1660. So their grand plan went off the rails within 12 hours of being announced. That is hardly evidence of a well planned programme of constitutional change; it is more a case study in incompetence.

The Prime Minister has treated our constitution with an arrogant disdain that is shocking even by the standards of new Labour. Let me emphasise that it is our constitution. The Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that it belongs not to him, his Government or, indeed, any Government, but to the people of the United Kingdom. It is, of course, quite in character that he should deliver his proposals with no consultation, no debate and no thought for the consequences.

The Government now claim that their proposals are all about modernising the constitution. I wonder whether Labour Members remember their manifesto commitment to make the House of Lords "more democratic and representative". Perhaps they remember the pledge:

In case they have forgotten, those were the words of the Prime Minister.

What happened to those promises? Are the Government planning to make the upper House democratic? Did I miss that aspect of the Queen's Speech, or have the Government redefined, in some Orwellian fashion, what democracy means? If the Prime Minister does not stand by his commitments, the House and the people of Britain will be left with no other conclusion than that the Government's reforms are simply a sham. They will be seen as nothing more than an attempt to bring to heel an upper House with principles and powers that have proved inconvenient to the Government, and nothing more than an attempt by the Prime Minister to stuff the upper Chamber with yes men who will do his bidding.

Next Section

IndexHome Page