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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab):
On Trident, can the Leader of the House give us any information on the
nature of the question to be put to the House? What weight does he give to the views of General Sir Patrick Cordingley, who was on the Today programme this morning, and the views of the Catholic bishops of England and Wales?
Mr. Straw: I listened to Patrick Cordingley and found him less convincing than he usually is. His argument did not add up to much. As regards the question, there is no great surprise about that. If there is a Government recommendation in favour of a replacement for Trident, the motion will be, roughly speaking, in those terms. It is then for right hon. and hon. Members on either side of the House to table amendments to the motion if they wish, and it is a matter for Mr. Speaker whether those amendments are called for a vote.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Although reasonable progress is being made on the miners compensation scheme, two classes of workers remain without compensation and without the likelihood of compensation. Yesterday the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) raised with the Prime Minister the case of surface workers and he was offered a meeting with the Prime Minister. I am concerned also about those who worked in small privately run mines for at least a part of their time. That seems a very difficult matter. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House, or whether a responsible Minister can set up a meeting with hon. Members who have an interest in the matter to see whether progress can be made?
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have made substantial progress, with over £3 billion in compensation paid to over half a million disabled miners or their widows. I accept, however, that there are some who have so far missed out. I will pass on the hon. Gentlemans concerns and see whether a meeting can be set up with the relevant Minister.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The current public consultation on the draft code of school admissions policies comes to an end next week. My right hon. Friend will recall that during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill earlier this year, school admissions policies became an extremely important part of the debate. At that stage the Government, to their credit, decided to withdraw the former draft code, pending further debate and consideration. In view of the importance of the matter, is it possible, once the Department for Education and Skills, has assessed the responses to the public debate, to find time for a debate in the House? Would that not give us an opportunity
Mr. Straw: I shall certainly give consideration to a debate. There will be plenty of opportunities on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall, and I will also draw to the attention of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills the concerns of my hon. Friend.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majestys most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament. [Alun Michael.]
but humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no measures enabling the Government to fulfil its commitments to the people of the UK on their security, public services and the quality of their daily lives; further regret the absence of proposals to permit telephone intercepts and post-charge interviews to be introduced as evidence in order to strengthen the Governments ability to prosecute those involved in terrorism, or to tackle rising violent crime, overcrowded prisons and the mismanagement of dangerous offenders; welcome those measures which will deliver additional public protection in practice but deplore proposals such as the removal of trial by jury and the circumvention of the criminal justice system which will be costly, counter-productive and which will undermine democracy and the rule of law; and further regret the absence from the Gracious Speech of plans to police the road network more effectively, to catch more drivers without insurance, road tax or appropriate licences, to encourage motorists to choose cars with lower carbon dioxide emissions, to tackle the competitive problems faced by British hauliers or to deal with the gridlock on the roads and the overcrowding on the railways and on public transport systems in cities..
For some time now, the Labour party has been trailing the fact that home affairs would be the centrepiece of the Queens Speech. Newspapers have been littered with blood-curdling headlines emanating from the Home Secretary, his boss the Prime Minister, and his other boss the Chancellor. Why? I shall deal with the real reasons later in my speech, but one thing it is not. It is not a mark of success. It is a clear mark of failure.
If our streets were safe and our borders secure, the subject would not be the pre-eminent public concern of the day. If anyone believed the Home Secretarys constantly repeated statement that crime is down 35 per cent.a statement that he repeats with progressively more desperationhe would not have a problem, but nobody does believe it, not in the poorest
inner-city estate or in the highest palace in the land. We have that on the very best authority. The Gracious Speech told us that legislation would be introduced
to enhance confidence in Government statistics.
To understand what we ought to have had in the Queens Speech, as opposed to what is there, we must understand what has gone wrong and what needs to be fixed. This has been the year from hell in the Home Office, possibly the worst year in its 224-year history. Prisons are full to bursting, dangerous prisoners have been absconding and there has been murder after murder by killers on parole or probation. Staggering numbers of foreign prisoners have been released on to our streets, and still fewer than 100 have been deported. There have been massive errors in immigration policy20 times the expected number of people have arrived from eastern Europeand we have an immigration department both demoralised and wracked with scandal.
As a result, the Government lost a Home Secretary and got a new one; that was the second Home Secretary lost in two years, and the Government also lost their third Minister in three years. It serves to remind us that this disaster is not a one-year wonder but a severe systemic and serial failure, which is still worsening under this Home Secretary.
Why has this serial disaster occurred? The overarching reason is three obsessions: a compulsive over-reliance on legislation; an obsession with central control and an avalanche of targets, guidelines and directives, which have buried what initiative was left in the Department; and an addiction to headlines, which compounded the situation and had the effect of reducing the Governments attention span to something less than 24 hours.
Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): Will the right hon. Gentleman add a fourth reason: the job is probably almost impossible for one individual to do? Is there not a strong case, given the history of Home Secretaries having to resign, for somehow breaking the post up into a more manageable process?
David Davis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I do not agree with the assertion, because if it were true, the same story that we have seen in the past year, and indeed, according to my observation and his, in the past three years, would have been true for 200 years. It has not been, and there have been great Home Secretaries who have dominated this brief. I think of some Conservative ones, with which he would not agree, but, as a tentative sop, I shall mention Roy Jenkins, who was able to dominate the brief.
The job cannot be divided up between, for example, prisons and immigration, because there is a problem in that interface, or between prisons and police, because there is an issue in that interface. It cannot be broken up. It must be done properly, by focusing on what matters and not on the next days headline.
Home affairs is touted as a centrepiece of this Queens Speech, not because the measures in it will correct the failure of the past 10 yearsthey will notbut because the Home Secretary wants to look
tough by comparison with his rivals, most notably the Chancellor, who has appointed himself the new overlord for home affairs. I think that the Home Secretary agrees with the use of the word overlordhe is the origin of it, which is why he agrees.
The real choice is not between tough and soft, but between smart and dumb. It is about whether we focus on the art of the possible or the art of the plausible. I shall not give the Home Secretary an offer on which of those he is and which of them the Chancellor is. The fact that propaganda took precedence over action in this most fundamental of Government responsibilities is at the core of their failures.
In response to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), I point out that it is uncanny that almost the same series of events has led to failures in each area of the Home Officeimmigration, criminal justice and terrorism. First, came the serious failure of policy judgment, which might be called the Jack Straw stageI am sorry that he is not present. As a result, there was a catastrophic explosion in the size of the problem, which might be called the Blunkett stage. As a result of that, the Home Office was overwhelmed and the problem began to look insoluble, which is the Clarke stage. Finally, the Government try to cover up the problem, fiddle the figures, and create an avalanche of initiatives that grab headlines and divert attention but do little to solve the fundamental problem. On the basis of this Queens Speech, that is the Reid stage.
Let us consider immigration. This Labour Government, in their first parliamentary term, replaced a number of restrictive Conservative laws on matters ranging from welfare to the so-called white list, as a direct result of which, immigration soaredby 2002, the rate of net immigration had trebled.
As a direct result of that, the immigration and nationality directorate was overwhelmed, and consequently, the Departmentunder ministerial directionbegan to do ever more absurd things in a desperate attempt to get on top of its job. It let people in who were obviously not fit for their jobwe all remember the one-legged roof tiler and so on; it turned a blind eye to what it knew was false documentation, a matter that emerged as a result of a whistleblowers leak; and it ignored sham marriages and bogus colleges. Ministers started to cover up such things, and as a result one Minister lost her job. Today, we have 300,000 failed asylum seekers and more than 500,000 illegal immigrants, and there were 600,000 legal migrants last year alone.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest disgraces was the Governments prediction that every year only 10,000 migrant workers would come from the accession countries? We know that the figure is now in excess of 500,000. Is he aware that 54,856 of those migrant workers are now claiming some form of state benefit?
David Davis: My hon. Friend is entirely right. We have raised the issue time and again with successive Home Secretaries and with other Ministers. It was one of the things that they got wrong in that first Parliament, and it reinforces my case.
David Davis: I shall in a moment. What is the Home Secretarys answer in this Queens Speech? It is more powers for immigration officers, which is fine, as it is half a step in the right direction. The full step would be a properly constituted border police force, as we have recommended. The Governments 800 increase in the number of immigration officers is also welcome450 of them are serving police officers, so the real increase is only 350. To put that in context, it is one new immigration officer for every 1,300 illegal immigrants already here, so the officers will be quite busy.
We will support the Governments tougher stance on the employers of illegal immigrants. The task would have been easier if they had bothered to enforce the existing law on illegal employers in the first six years of their Government, before the Morecambe sands tragedy. It would have been easier still if one of the illegal employers was not the Home Office itself. All the proposed measures will be only a pin-prick, and, on that note, I give way to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound).
Stephen Pound: I think that I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he gave way on the first syllable of that word rather than the second. Many in this House are delighted to see him moving away, in his robust style, from the cloying embrace of the Polly Toynbee school, but does he agree that reducing the IND staff by 2,000, as happened under the last Conservative Government in 1996, was hardly the best way to address this issue either?
David Davis: I shall start by giving the hon. Gentleman credit. I stole his joke really. I got it from the fact that last week he received an award from The Spectator for being the parliamentarian of the year, which was given entirely for the way he intervened on someone else on the basis of old fags, or some such thing.
Returning to the hon. Gentlemans point, of course Governments make judgments about things that go up and down. Labour Members often talk about the relaxation of embarkation controls. We get blamed for a change made on that in 1994, but the simple truth is that that decision was made when the problem was not as big as it is now, or as big as it was between 1997 and 2000. It is a fair point, but it does not relate to this.
Given that, in order to make cuts, the last Conservative Government reduced the number of immigration officers, will the right hon. Gentleman
explain how, in the context of cuts of £21 billion, the Conservatives will increase the number of officers and have a border police force?
David Davis: I shall in a moment. Let us consider what the Government are doing now. They are still refusing to put a limit on immigration. We would apply such a limit. They are still putting their faith in e-borders, which will not be properly in place for eight yearswe are supposed to deal with immigration without e-borders for eight yearsand in the hopeless white elephant of ID cards, which will not properly start for four years and which will never work as the Government claim.
Mr. Denham: In response to the excellent intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), the right hon. Gentleman said that the problem was not as big then as it is now. Will he confirm that when the Conservatives were in power it took 22 months to process an asylum claim, and anyone coming here to claim asylum knew that they would be able to stay for virtually two years before anything happened, which sent out the signal that people should carry on trying to come here?
David Davis: This from the party that has 280,000 failed asylum seekers here, by the National Audit Offices estimate, and has a Home Secretary who does not even know how many there are. He says that there are 450,000, but that there might be some duplicate files. It is not the length of time that matters but how many are here for their life that matters in this decision.
The sequence that we have recently seenflawed policy judgments followed by a catastrophic failure of delivery, followed by an avalanche of problems that overwhelm the Department, followed by a flood of initiatives that will barely touch the problemis repeated elsewhere, not least in crime. The Prime Minister famously said that he was going to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, no doubt with the best of intentions, but he has been neither. People often think that prison policy is just about being tough on crime, but half of all crime is committed by ex-cons, so the failure to rehabilitate criminals is, in itself, a cause of crime. The shortfall in prison places is in major part a consequence of the Chancellor seeing every successive Home Secretary as a rivalindeed, as his main rivalat the time that they were Home Secretary. [Interruption.] Indeedsome things never change. So, he starved them of cash, particularly for prisons. The Home Secretary brags about 16,000 extra places under Labour, a major part of which were commissioned under the previous Government, but either way there are nowhere near enough to deal with the burgeoning levels of violent crime.
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