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Mr. Clarke: No, not at the moment.
23 May 2005 : Column 421

I hope the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden will use the occasion of today's debate to tell the House that he has turned over a new leaf and that he will debate these matters in a proper and effective way, rather than in the manner that was used in the general election campaign.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Clarke: There are real issues and genuine concerns across the country on the matters that we are discussing, which need to be addressed. I identify particularly antisocial behaviour and violent crime. I also identify particularly some aspects of the operation of the criminal justice system, including sentencing. I further identify particularly some aspects of the immigration and asylum system.

My determination is that through this Parliament, on the basis of the policies that the Labour party set out in its manifesto and the pledges put forward in the Queen's Speech, the Government will eliminate those genuine grounds for concern and build a society confident in itself, so that never again will any mainstream democratic political party be able to conduct such a dishonourable and disgraceful campaign. What is needed, I argue, is proper, effective policies to deal with each of those concerns, and that is what this Queen's Speech offers.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman used the word "dishonourable". Can he give me an example of one dishonourable incident in the election campaign that applies to me?

Mr. Clarke: Let me give one or two examples. The first example is posters in every community in the country, which were based on entirely false statistics on violent crime, which were condemned by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and which gave rise to demoralisation in communities throughout the country. The second example is a direct mail letter that went out to households throughout the country, based on totally dishonest arithmetic about local government spending on immigration and asylum. "Dishonourable" is the word I use for those things, and indeed they were. Such a situation is not acceptable in a democratic society.

David Davis: Can the Home Secretary answer the question that he could not answer on "Newsnight" about four weeks ago, when I said to him that the asylum system has cost £3 billion? Wherever it came from, it was the taxpayer who paid it.

Mr. Clarke: First, the figure is not right. Secondly, that is not what the letter said—which was, in terms, that local authorities were being required to reduce their spending on council tax services as a result of this expenditure. That is completely false.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): Can there be anything more dishonourable than going
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around calling for respect and calling the Prime Minister of the country a liar? Is there anything more dishonourable than that?

Mr. Clarke: I agree. My hon. Friend makes a fair charge.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend's grandfather had been an illegal immigrant, and if my right hon. Friend's father had forged his naturalisation application, would he not have been a little sensitive about approaching the issue of immigration?

Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend, with his usual accuracy, puts his finger on the issue. As the Conservative party said, it is not wrong to discuss immigration and asylum. It is not racist to discuss immigration and asylum. What is wrong is to put forward policies that simply do not stack up in any circumstance whatever, and to have no sensitivity whatever either to the history, in the way that my right hon. Friend describes, or to the current reality of many of these communities.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Home Secretary has said that it was wholly false for my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) to suggest that councils were owed money and as a result were having to curb other spending. As he knows, Kent was pursuing his Department for £14 million right up to the election and it had to impose an increase in its council tax as a result. Now, finally, after the election, the Government have just written to me this morning to say that £10 million of that sum will be paid. That was a legitimate subject for debate.

Mr. Clarke: Not in a direct mail letter in the way that it was done. Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, the leader of Kent county council, the hon. Gentleman's county, will, I think, confirm to him directly if he asks the question that he knew the position contained in that letter right at the beginning of the election campaign, because we sought to deal with it because there were real issues. The direct mail letter sought to mislead, and that was an absolutely key point.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): The Home Secretary is right to complain about some of the language used on asylum and immigration, but is he not also in part to blame, because this Labour Government have upped the ante on these issues by taking away the right to appeal for failed asylum seekers, by taking away the benefits of asylum seekers, and by not allowing asylum seekers to work? They have also used language that created the climate that the Conservatives used during the election campaign.

Mr. Clarke: I totally reject that charge. We had this debate during the election campaign. I do agree, as I was at pains to point out, that there are issues, which the measures in the Queen's Speech address and to which I shall come in one second, but I do not accept, as some
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argued, that there was some kind of bidding war between the Labour party and others on these questions. I do not accept that.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will agree that there is nothing wrong in debating immigration and asylum in the context of a general election campaign, but he will be aware, as I am, that there are constituencies in this country where the British National party came close to knocking the Opposition into third place, and it must be a very serious matter when ordinary working people feel that there is something legitimate about a fascist party agenda. Do we not all have a responsibility to take good care of our language and not to give legitimacy to the political platform of a fascist party?

Mr. Clarke: Well, surprisingly perhaps, I agree with every word that my hon. Friend has just said. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) wrote an excellent piece this week, which I saw in the papers, on just that question. The way to undermine the appeal of the people whom my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) describes is to put in motion policies that ensure that the underlying concerns about antisocial behaviour, immigration and asylum, and sentencing in criminal justice, are accepted by the British people in a positive way. With that, I want to deal with what the Queen's Speech has to offer in precisely those particular regards.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): There was a fourth issue that people were very concerned about and which the right hon. Gentleman has not referred to, and that was the question of gerrymandering the postal voting system. Could the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Lord Chancellor and his right hon. Friends have not accepted the recommendations of the Electoral Commission on prevention of gerrymandering the postal voting system?

Mr. Clarke: On consideration, the hon. Gentleman might want to withdraw the word "gerrymandering", which did not happen. The Electoral Commission issued serious proposals on how postal voting should best be conducted, and all the main parties agreed on their implementation. We are currently examining a set of issues that arose subsequently and we will decide the best kind of legislation to introduce, but none of the issues concerns gerrymandering.

My Department and I want to address three main pillars of activity through legislation in this House—first, police, counter-terrorism and active communities; secondly, offender management and the reform of the criminal justice system; and thirdly, immigration and asylum and identity cards. The first pillar—police, counter-terrorism and active communities—involves four proposed pieces of legislation dealing with charities, racial and religious hatred, counter-terrorism and violent crime.

On charities, we are reintroducing the Bill that fell when the House was dissolved. It will modernise and reform charity law and enable charities to administer themselves more efficiently and to be more effective. I do not know whether the Bill will receive all-party support,
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but I know that the charity world is delighted by the legislation and that it found it difficult to understand why some parties blocked the legislation in the previous Parliament.

During the wash-up at the end of the previous Parliament, we could not obtain agreement to the second piece of legislation, which is an attempt to outlaw incitement to religious hatred by amending the current offence of incitement to racial hatred. The legislation will close the loophole whereby Jews and Sikhs are covered by the racial hatred offence, but other faith groups are not. It will curb the activities of extremist groups, which could incite hatred against members of minority faiths, and it will protect those who are subject to incited hatred on the basis of religion. I know that the measure is controversial—hon. Members on both sides of the House are worried about some aspects of the legislation, so it will be fully debated—but I strongly believe that it is important to put all faith groups on a similar footing and to deal with the incitement of hatred. The Bill is about stopping incitement to hatred, which is what we shall do, and I hope that all parties give it full consideration.

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