Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): In the time available to me, I wish to look at the proposals on home affairs in the Queen's Speech. First, however, I want to deal with the issues of fear and the climate of fear that the Home Secretary addressed.
Since taking on my home affairs responsibilities, I have accepted that there is almost always a Dutch auction on crime in which people compete to talk the toughest. Indeed, I have found myself doing so the temptation is particularly strong when I am on the streets talking to victims of crime, as their experiences make me angry. I therefore understand why there is tough rhetoric on crime, but I feel strongly that a bidding war or a Dutch auction in which people out-tough each other on terror is a very dangerous step. I regretted the comments by the Leader of the House last
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week, and found them offensive. I had assumed that there was a general understanding that, while there may be differences in our method, as the Home Secretary acknowledged, the parties in the House stand shoulder to shoulder in our approach to terrorism.
I have two abiding beliefs on this issue. First, I do not for one minute underestimate the seriousness of the situation that we are in, and entirely accept the fact that we face a threat. I entirely accept, too, the very good work that our security forces are doingfrankly, it is a miracle and a tribute to their work that we have been able to enjoy security since 9/11. Secondly, I do not doubt the Home Secretary's personal commitment to doing everything that he can to make sure that our shores are safe. He has strong integrity on this issue, and when he goes to sleep at night, he must be sure that he is doing everything he can to ensure that this country is safe. I am prepared to make those two acknowledgements and all that I ask in return from the Leader of the House and others is that they accept the need for Opposition parties sometimes to question those policies and stand up where we can for the principles of justice and liberty. When we do so, it is wrong for us to be attacked for being weak on terrorism. It is a difficult issue that requires a balancing act. The problem was touched on by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). Security and liberty do not rest easy together. We recognise the dilemma and there must be some give on all sides. However, as the Prime Minister recognised in interventions on the leader of my party in the debate last week, tough love and tough liberalism are possible, and the two principles can be married together.
We have made it clear that we support the resources that the Home Secretary has put into the intelligence services. We support the greater use of intelligence gathering and the interception of communications, and we should like that to be admissible in court. We are prepared to look at the idea of special security-vetted judges and the measures being used in other parts of Europe to see whether we could have proper trials in those cases.
I am uneasy about two matters. First, there is the move towards trial without jury. There must be a way round that. A number of sensitive trials taking place involve juries, and I welcome that. The retention of a jury element in trials is a principle worth defending.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con):
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Home Secretary's reaction to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) on the subject was surprising? It is not we or the hon. Gentleman's party who suggested that terrorist trials should take place without a jury. The suggestion came from the Government in the past two weeks, yet today there seems to be a resiling from that position and a lack of clarity about what the Government intend. Why do they keep raising the issue if, as the hon. Gentleman may agree, juries are perfectly competent to deal with such cases?
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Mr. Oaten: I am grateful for the intervention. In my darker moments, I would say the Home Secretary has a habit of floating ideas in the press that are never delivered. If I were being charitable, I would say that he is probably genuinely struggling to produce legislation in this area without undermining civil liberties. Perhaps he will clarify the matter now.
Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, bearing in mind the time available to us. If he examines what he said in Hansard, that he was prepared to consider security-vetted judges to undertake, I presume, trials that would otherwise be difficult in terms of the evidence, and if he examines what I said on the issue on the Dimbleby programme, which was precisely that there would be cases in which security-vetted judges were necessary, will he accept that with security-vetted judges, one cannot have security-vetted juries? In the very limited number of trials involving security-vetted judges, as he suggested this afternoon, it is inevitable that the judges would sit without a jury.
Mr. Oaten: I do not agree with the Home Secretary, but we can engage in debate on the matter. A model could be put in place in which the judge, who is security-vetted, is given information about how the evidence was gained so that he can be reassured about the sources, and the information can be given to the jury without their knowing where it came from. That is a sensible split that would allow the information to come through and the trial to take place with a jury.
Mr. Blunkett: This is crucial. In a normal trial, the defence is given all the detail of the accusations and the material. That is why we invented public interest immunity. In the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in the superior court of record, the defence is grumbling that under the rules that we have to apply to protect the sources, we cannot give that information to the defence.
Mr. Oaten: The Home Secretary is due to have a draft consultation on the issue. I suggest that we start from the principle of trying to retain the jury. I want to look at all the systems, at what happens in mainland Europe, and at the idea of a security-vetted judge who deals with aspects of the case, with the jury remaining at the heart of the process. We will engage in that consultation, be sensible about it and try to find a way forward.
The Liberal Democrats are profoundly uncomfortable about holding individuals in Belmarsh without charging them. Seeking a way in which they can be charged should be a priority. The Home Secretary will have noted the UN's remarks on the subject over the weekend. We will consider effective measures on terrorism, but I hope that he will allow us, without too much criticism, to keep talking about the principles of liberty and justice in that debate.
I shall move on to other measures in the Queen's Speech on which there will be wide agreement. There is agreement on the Liberal Democrat Benches about the establishment of SOCAthe Serious Organised Crime
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Agency. I hate the name, which does not sound macho enough, but the idea is a good one. The world has moved on. It has become much more complex than ever before. Criminals operate globally and have techniques and tactics that require a different response. SOCA is a sensible way forward. It is no longer good enough to require forces throughout the country to have the skills and knowledge base to deal with that type of crime. Attached to the Bill, however, as ever in the Home Office, are other measures. When we get to that debate, which I believe is next week, we will want to understand more about the powers for fingerprint before arrest. Those could be measures that are helpful, save police time and enable them to deal speedily with identification, but we will want reassurances that measures put in place to protect individuals who are fingerprinted after arrest will also be applicable to the powers to fingerprint prior to arrest.
We welcome the measure to introduce a civilian custody officer. That could allow the police to get out of the station and on to the street, which we have long argued for. As long as proper training is available, that is a sensible measure. I have some concerns about the additional powers proposed in the Bill for community support officers. It has long been our view that they are valuable but they are not the same as fully trained police officers. The more powers are tagged on to them, the closer CSOs get to becoming police officers, but without all the advantages and protection of proper training. We will want to examine that proposal.
Sensible measures are proposed with regard to protests outside Parliament, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of banning a protest outside Parliament because of its visual impact. Arguing that visual impact is a ground for removing a protester is disappointing. After all, where else in a democracy should one be able to hold a banner and register a protest?
The contracting-out of antisocial behaviour orders, which is dealt with in SOCA, causes some concern. I would not want that to end up as the sort of money-making scheme that resulted from individuals having the power to issue parking tickets, for example. We unreservedly welcome the power to get rid of uninsured vehicles more quickly. That is a matter with which all Members of Parliament have had to deal in their constituencies.
Finally on SOCA, we have concerns about the lines of accountability. Both the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, the agencies that will merge to form SOCA, reported to the service authority and there was a line of accountability there. SOCA will report to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is accountable not to Parliament, but to the Prime Minister. On Second Reading and in Committee, perhaps we can examine the lines of accountability. I should have thought that it would make sense for the agency to have some accountability to Parliament and perhaps for the Home Affairs Committee to have a role in looking at its work.
I am conscious that other colleagues want to speak, but there are other Bills that I want to touch on. On the management of offenders, I welcome the wording in the Gracious Speech on the importance of tackling reoffending, which concerns me greatly. If there is one measure we can take to tackle crime, it is to stop more than half of those who leave prison committing another
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crime. The prison population is a captive audience and a great deal can be done with them. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was right when he spoke about the need to tackle education issues. He mentioned joining up education so that individuals who move from prison to prison can continue their courses. I draw attention to the inability of prisoners to finish a course when they leave prison. I remember meeting a hairdresser training in a prison, who said to me, "I'm being released in three weeks' time." I said, "That's wonderful news, isn't it?", and she said, "No, it's not. I want to finish my course. I'd like to stay here for another two months because I can't finish my course anywhere else." That is nonsense. We need to examine such issues if we are to tackle reoffending.
The National Offender Management Service, as it is known, has been controversial largely because of the way that it was launched. We want reassurances from the Government that the proper resources are being provided so that, as powers are required for probation to do more, there is the resource and back-up to enable the service to do that effectively. We welcome the Home Secretary's useful phrase of prison without bars. I believe that tagging has a role to play. In this context, I disagree with the shadow Home Secretary. Keeping people out of prison who have committed non-serious crimes is more effective than putting them into a situation where more than half of those who have been incarcerated come out and commit more crimes.
The Home Secretary did not refer to antisocial behaviour orders, but there is another ASBO measure in the Queen's Speech. Thankfully, it has nothing to do with the Home Office this time. Another Department will have responsibility for it. ASBOs will have our support, as they always have, if they are matched with sensible measures that deal not only with issuing punishment but with enabling us to tackle why the individuals concerned got into difficulties in the first place. Punishment should be matched with sensible measures to stop people reoffending.
We will support many of the sensible measures to which the Home Secretary referred that deal with drugs, but I have concerns about the ability to access proper treatment. The Home Secretary referred to the matter on several occasions, and we have no disagreement with him, but the evidence is that there is still difficulty in accessing treatment and getting individuals who are prepared to take part in that process. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the disappointing figures from the Prison Service only last week that showed that about 51 per cent. of treatment programmes in prison had collapsed. If we cannot manage a treatment programme in a situation where the individuals concerned cannot go anywhere else, it does not bode well for programmes that are to be run in the community. It is important that resources are made available.
The Home Secretary did not mention his proposals on juvenile services. We welcome them. It is one of the areas in which the Government have done excellent work. I have seen the projects and there are many lessons that can be learned from the way in which they are being handled in terms of early prevention that could be transferred elsewhere.
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The Home Secretary will not be surprised to hear that the one area of difference relates to the Bill on identification cards. The Bill was published early this afternoon. As indicated earlier, there will be an opportunity before Christmas to consider it on Second Reading. I shall reserve my main comments until then. We shall want to talk about costs. I am still unclear where the costs are heading. At one level, I am pretty convinced that the figure is about £3 billion, but press and academic reports tell me that the figure is heading for about £10 billion.
The Home Secretary promised the Home Affairs Committee on 2 November that he would publish a regulatory impact statement. I am not sure whether that has been published this afternoon. We will obviously want to study it with interest to ascertain the Government's assessment of the costs. It is not clear to me whether the Government are including in their figures the potential costs of the readers, which could be used throughout public services.