Mr. Stephen Byers (Tyneside, North) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), not just because it means that his speech has come to an end but because, as we all know, he speaks with passion about his constituents. I noted with interest that it was a mere 44 seconds before he mentioned them.
The programme of legislation in the Queen's Speech does not just address the challenges; it embraces the opportunities of the future. It should not be seen in isolation from the Government's other actions. We are seeing record investment in our public services, coupled with the necessary reforms. There are also the five-year plans coming from Departments. I think that on Thursday, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his pre-Budget report, we shall hear more that will demonstrate the key themes that underlie this Government's programmes and policies. Those themes are the combination of security with opportunity. Developing an opportunity society will enable us to address many of the issues raised in the debate, such as keeping communities together and respect in communities and in society. If we can begin to provide people with opportunities, many of the difficulties that require the Home Office measures that we are discussing will no longer exist and we shall be able to move forward in a positive spirit. A programme of opportunity will allow people to advance on the basis of their endeavour, hard work and talent, not because of wealth and privilege, which is all too often still the case in our country.
If we are to have an opportunity society, it needs to be built on firm foundations, which requires two things: a strong and stable economy and security in our streets and homes and at our borders. The Queen's Speech rightly commits the Government to continuing on the path of economic stability. Labour can be proud of its record on the economy. It is a Labour success story. In 1997, early in office, we took the difficult decisions to give independence to the Bank of England and to stick to the two-year spending limits that we inherited from the Conservative Governmentcriticised by many people at the timeand because we have economic stability, we have record levels of people in work and low interest rates, and inflation is under control. That is the first part of the foundations that we need for an opportunity society.
Secondly, we need security in our homes, in our streets and at our borders. Some people have criticised the Queen's Speech as creating a climate of fear, but those critics are wrong: in reality, the measures set out in it will address the genuine concerns of people in my Tyneside, North constituency and elsewhere in the country. As a Government, we are reflecting the issues that are the people's priorities. After being in office for seven and a half years, it is crucial that a Government do not lose touch with the concerns of the people they represent.
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Mr. Grieve: I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's contribution. Can he explain why the Government have failed over the past seven years to address people's concerns about crime? Has he any explanation that he wishes to advance to the House about why that failure has taken place?
Mr. Byers: I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's argument, as I do not feel that we have failed to address those concerns. When I look at my constituency of Tyneside, North, which I know better than his constituency, I know that, 10 years ago, when we had record youth unemployment, there were people who were prisoners in their homes. They would not leave during the day or in the evening because crime was out of control. I know the record in the Northumbria police areathe police are getting crime under control and they can do so because of the measures introduced by the Labour Government.
The Government are not complacent, however. We know that, as time moves on, the nature of crime changes, so many of the measures in the Queen's Speech deal with crimes that have developed over recent times: terrorism and the problems of the corrosive effect of drugs on our communitiessomething that all European countries have to face, not just the UK alone. I do not accept the argument that we have failed on crime, although I acknowledge that there is a good deal more to do to ensure that we reflect the concerns in the communities that both I and the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) represent.
The problem is that, if political parties do not deal with priorities, they become irrelevant. The Conservative party has failed to address that problem, but it is one of the lessons that we learned when we were in opposition for 18 years. We became separate from the people we wanted to represent and they saw us as a distant party, not in tune with their needs or aspirations. Labour is now in tune with what people want, but when I look at the modern Conservative party, I see that you are repeating all the mistakes we made in the 1980s and the 1990s. You are the political party
The Conservative party is now the body that is out of tune, and while it remains out of tune and out of touch, it will be seen as dogmatic and irrelevant by the people of this country. That is my message to Opposition Front-Bench Members: they are repeating all those mistakes.
I was interested to hear the views expressed by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats. He seemed to be saying that liberty and security were mutually exclusive. The important thing is to get the balance right. If we ensure
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that people are secure, they will be able to exercise the freedoms we want them to have. I congratulate the Home Secretary on getting the right balance in the measures that he is proposing to the House. He is being responsive, not reactionary; strong but fair; informed, but not intolerant. The measures are right for our time.
Mr. Grieve: Has it ever occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government's constant zeal for regulation and their imposition of solutions through legislation on crime may in fact be contributing to the problem?
Mr. Byers: I accept that over-regulation that leads to an increase in bureaucracy can stand in the way of tackling crime, but I do not accept that regulation per se is inappropriate or wrong. On many occasions when I was in office, I received representations from people who wanted the Government to act, and that is all too easy. When they were in government, some Opposition Members might have responded to such proposals, but sometimes the right thing is to say, "No, we will not introduce measures because there are other ways to tackle the issue."
If we are to have an opportunity society, built on the strong foundations of a good economy and security in our homes and streets and at our borders, we must as a Government tell people what that opportunity society will bring. The Prime Minister set out some of those things in his speech to the Labour party conference, but we still need to address two major issues. We need, first, to tackle child poverty and, secondly, to increase home ownership.
The Government have an excellent record on tackling child poverty. We have made a commitment to eradicate it by 2020 and, by next year, 1 million children will have been lifted out of poverty. Any centre-left Government could be proud of that record, but the next stage will be the real challenge so, in 2005, I hope that we shall have a clear commitment that, by 2010, we will lift a further million children out of poverty.
It takes political courage to be a Government of change and reform. I welcome the fact that the Government have rejected the easy, safety-first option. We are providing opportunity and security in a changing world. It is an ambitious goal that is reflected in the Queen's Speech, and I am confident that it will commend itself to the House.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con):
The right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) has just accused the Conservative party of being out of touch. I am proud to declare a non-pecuniary interest as a serving special constablesomething I do to enable me to keep in touch. I hold a warrant with the British Transport police, as does another hon. Member, and I believe that I am right in saying that one further parliamentary colleague holds a warrant with the Home
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Office force. I want to comment on some omissions from the White Paper and the Queen's Speech, in neither of which was the British Transport police mentioned at all.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safetysadly, she is not with us at the momentwould no doubt say, "Ah, that is a transport matter." Well, let us look at a few of the facts. The British Transport police are responsible for covering 10,000 miles of railway track. We deal with 3,000 depots and stations. There is a travelling population of 5.5 million people per day and a further travelling population of 130,000 rail staff on the trains, at the stations or travelling to or from work. Just as an aside, the railways carry 400,000 tonnes of freight a day, which is also policed.
The BTP deal with every Home Office crime except bigamy. That includes homicide, crimes of violence, sexual offences, robbery, theft, fraud, as well as railway offences, accidents, fatalities and suicidesthose delightful things that delay hon. Members on the tube known as "one-unders"and it is the British Transport coppers who go down under the train and get out the bodies. I noticed that the Home Secretary, when launching his White Paper two days after the Berkshire train crash, could not bring himself to mention the fact that BTP officers were under that train in the dark, pulling out the living and the dead. The BTP deal with anti-terrorist strategy, graffiti and major incident handling, such as the Berkshire crash. They also police travelling sports fans.
The BTP comprise 2,280 police officers. If that number is divided by the accepted figure of 5.8, to take account of sickness, training, shift patterns and holidays, we are left with 400 police officers to cover the entire railway network10,000 miles of track and 88 police stationsat any time. We work in pairs, so there are 200 pairs of police officers to deal with all that.
During a day, more people go through Oxford Circus tube station than live in Kent and, at any time, Oxford Circus tube station is policed by two police officers. That is a transport matter, of course, not a police matter, because the Government do not fund the railway police effectively. The railways operators are required to fundor underfundthe people who do that job. The inspector of constabulary and the Home Affairs Committee have both acknowledged the fact that the force is underfunded. That force, which deals with as much terrorismpossibly much moreas any other force in the country, has been given a year's funding by the Secretary of State for Transport to help it deal with terrorism.
A year ago this Christmas, I was out on patrol at Waterloo station, and there was considerable hostility coming towards the uniform from the public. A few weeks later, a bomb went off in Madrid, and I was on patrol at King's Cross station and people came up and said, "Thank God you are here." BTP officers will not be there if they do not have the money to deal with terrorism. When the criminal justice information technology system is replaced under the Government's programme, the BTP will not get the funding. There is no provision for that funding in the Bill.
Much more important than all that, those 200 pairs of coppers who are out on the beat at any time arrest people, as do my local coppers who police my
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constituencyNorth Thanetand Margate and Herne Bay. On a Saturday night, there might be half a dozen policemen on patrol in Margate and Herne Bayif we are luckyand if each of those pairs arrests one person, that pair of coppers is off the beat for five hours, dealing with the bureaucracy that the Government have placed on them. If there are three arreststhree drunks from three pubsthere is no police cover at all. Please do not tell me that the policing of this country is anything remotely resembling adequate because it is not.
At the start of the debate, I asked the Home Secretary how long he thought it would take to fill in form 5090the Metropolitan police stop and search form. He said, I think, that he could do it in 90 seconds. He said that it certainly would not take seven minutes, which rather gives the lie to the idea that he had not heard any complaint from anyone because that is the figure used by John Stevens, the commander of the Metropolitan Police. Anyone who filled in that form in 90 seconds could not possibly have done the job properly. Of course, the Home Secretary then said that, if the person that he was dictating to was slow, it might take a bit longer.
Do Home Office Ministers understand that the form that will be introduced, appropriately on All Fools day, is bigger and will take longer to fill in? When I am out on the beat interviewing someone, I do not need a pad in one hand and a pen in the other, leaving myself entirely vulnerable. I need to be able to do the job that the country requires its policemen and women to do. A Metropolitan police officialnot an officer, but a member of the boardsaid that the policy would help the public because it would give them the chance to stop and chat to policemen. The form is nonsense.
I have 33 seconds left. Let me say this to the Minister: whatever else she does, she must keep the promise and get rid of the bureaucracy. The Government have not got rid of 7,000 forms; they are piling the forms on to the police. We have not got time to fill them in, and we have not got time to do the job.