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23 Nov 2006 : Column 704

The Labour party persuaded itself that prisons did not work and that community punishments did. Sadly, that is not true. The Government’s flagship intensive supervision and surveillance programme had a failure rate of 90 per cent. last year—in other words, 90 per cent. of the people who went through it reoffended. Their drug treatment and testing orders had a failure rate of 80 per cent. last year, and reoffending rates after prison have soared to record levels as a direct result of overcrowding, which means that the public face hundreds of thousands of extra crimes. That is a dire indictment of Government policy, and because of that policy failure the system as a whole has failed. [ Interruption. ] That is why—I say this directly to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs—there are too many murderers on parole. That is why 8,000 crimes a month are carried out by those on probation. That is why we have foreign prisoners on our streets.

This policy failure paralyses our police, cripples our courts and undermines our whole justice system. Of course we should use community sentences where appropriate, and of course we should use secure psychiatric placement where appropriate, but we should not be forced into the misuse of community sentences or any other short-cut alternatives to justice that the Government propose—I am thinking particularly about this morning’s announcement on the use of cautions for violent crimes—simply because there are not enough prison places available.

The gaff was blown last week on the real reasons for the policy failure in a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister. I used to be the Deputy Prime Minister’s shadow, which is an interesting concept in its own right, and I miss his leaked letters. This one was very pertinent. He described how the Treasury objected to the Home Secretary’s plan because it might lead not to the 8,000 extra prison places that the Home Secretary had promised but to an extra 450 prisoners. The Treasury was successful. When the Home Office was asked what the effect of the Home Secretary’s so-called tough sentencing reforms would be, it said, “Not more than 110 extra prisoners.” So much for being tough. The Home Secretary’s Offender Management Bill is supposed to reduce reoffending and protect the public, but without enough prison places it will not.

Incredibly, exactly the same problem occurred with the fight against terror. After 9/11, the security budget remained frozen and the agencies lost two years when they should have been expanding to meet the threat—two years that we cannot get back. In 2002, the Government launched their counter-terrorism strategy, Project Contest, designed to root out the source of terrorism in our society and to prevent radicalisation. That was described a year ago by the No. 10 delivery unit in shocking terms. It said: “The strategy is immature”—this was four years after 9/11—and went on:

That from the Prime Minister’s delivery unit about our first line of defence against terrorism.

We should not be surprised. The Government’s attitude to dealing not with the general Muslim community, who are as law abiding and honourable as
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the rest of us, but with those who would splinter and fragment our society has been at best negligent. When the so-called cartoon protestors waved placards inciting violence and even murder, Ministers dithered for days before, at last, arrests were made. The Government must be honest and respectful with the moderate mainstream Muslim community, but unrelentingly tough with the preachers of hatred and sedition.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): What do you want, political arrests?

David Davis: Well, arrests do matter—this is about home affairs. The authorities took seven years to prosecute Abu Hamza. We were told that there was not enough evidence; he was convicted on 11 counts. We were told that they needed new laws to convict him; most of his convictions were under public order legislation from 1861. [Interruption.] It was not Gladstone—it was probably Palmerston; as far as I am aware, it was not a new Labour Minister.

The problem is worse than it need be and I suspect that that is why we do not have a terrorism Bill before us today, although one is promised. The Home Secretary is struggling to pull together a strategy that works, and it is vital that he succeeds. The single most important action in stopping the growth of home-grown terrorism is preventing the radicalisation of young Muslims. That is one reason why this House was right to reject the Government’s call for 90 days’ detention without trial last year.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): We believe that the Government will propose to extend the detention powers. May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if we are to have satisfactory evidence for that, it needs to be independent? I suggest, therefore, that we should call for a special committee to be set up by Mr. Speaker to receive evidence from the police and the intelligence services and then to report to this House on whether there is a ground for extending the detention period, and that we should postpone the conclusion until we receive the report of such a committee.

David Davis: My right hon. and learned Friend has had a long and honourable record in defending liberties in this place, but I think that the defence of liberty is something that this House should hold to itself, and I am loth to agree to an abdication or even a delegation of that judgment. I am not saying out of hand that there is no mechanism that we can use to do that, because some of the evidence will by definition be secret. I will return to that in a moment, but my first instinct is not to say that we should subcontract the matter.

Stephen Pound: I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s argument with great interest. I do not find it entirely persuasive, but it is well made. Before he moves away from the arrest of the so-called cartoon protestors—I appreciate that he has on his Bench the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who pursued a criminal through the streets of London, and I am sure that he would do the same—is he seriously suggesting that there should be a caveat whereby police
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officers in the Metropolitan police do not arrest offenders without the approval of a Minister? If he is suggesting that that is either the reality or the desideratum, that would be an abdication of any liberty.

David Davis: That is a ludicrous reading of my comments. After that weekend, there was a long delay in arresting anybody. At the time, no one was required to remove masks—that, too, was worth being raised by the Home Secretary with the police authorities. There was a sequence of three days when Ministers said that we must not touch the matter and dithered right, left and centre. There is a role for the Government not, of course, in initiating prosecution, but in showing leadership about our response to a clear incitement to violence.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): There is a connection between my right hon. Friend’s responses to the previous two interventions: the Government’s attitude, especially that of the Prime Minister, who fails to secure our confidence in his statements. That is why we must look for the additional evidence to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) referred. The attitude conveys signals that pressurise the police to stay away from criminals whom they should arrest.

David Davis: I shall not be drawn down that route. I simply say that it is interesting that a party that argued effectively for Executive detention for 90 days—a much more serious issue than the one that my hon. Friend raises—presents such a line of argument. The Attorney-General reminded us only a few days ago that there is no evidence for more than 28 days.

More important, locking up someone without cause for 90 days risks creating a recruiting sergeant for terrorism and a friendly sea in which terrorists can swim. Tough talk is not always smart action. When public safety is concerned, we will always examine the evidence, as the Attorney-General advised, but we will take a lot of persuading.

Last year, after the 7 July atrocity, the Conservative party—and, to be fair, the Liberal Democrats—sought a cross-party consensus with the Government about terror legislation. We made several proposals, some of which—most notably, the criminalisation of acts preparatory to terrorism—the Government took up. We released the Government from previous undertakings to Opposition parties in order to allow the legislation’s progress to be accelerated. Then the Prime Minister decided that he wanted a political battle about 90 days’ detention without trial. He politicised the debate about terror and suffered his first defeat in Parliament.

We hear regularly from the press that they have been briefed that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister want to outflank the Conservatives on the right on terror legislation, and that that is their new strategy for political recovery. Frankly, that is utterly disreputable. The decisions that Governments make on such subjects should be driven solely by sober consideration of long-term public safety, not short-term political advantage. Decisions should be made not between right and left but between right and wrong.

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In the fine balance between protecting our lives and our way of life, two things should clearly be done. The first is to allow terrorist suspects to be interviewed after charge. We proposed that last year because it would enormously enhance the effectiveness of the police and lead to more terrorists being convicted with little impact on the rights of the innocent. If the Government had chosen to act quickly, that could be the law today. It could have been law, for example, before the alleged terrorist case in August.

Secondly, the ability to use intercept evidence in court is long overdue. It would lead to more terrorists being convicted and locked up. Almost every other major country in the world uses intercept evidence. I have received detailed briefings from the Government about why we do not. None has been remotely convincing. The best approach is that recommended by the Newton committee. It recommended appointing an investigating judge, who would be responsible for presenting to the trial a balanced extract of the evidence, which would not allow identification of sources or techniques. That would be fair to the accused and not allow the defence to go on a fishing expedition into the evidence. That is straightforward, workable and fair. Many people support it, not least Lord Lloyd, a Law Lord and past interception commissioner.

Last week, I watched the Home Secretary receiving the politician of the year award from The Spectator. I congratulate him—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] We all congratulate him. He was especially pleased to receive it from the Leader of the Opposition. I enjoyed his speech, although it was not written by Lord Tebbit, as he claimed—it was far too right wing for that. I suspect that the award reflects not the past six months, which have not been comfortable for the right hon. Gentleman, but expectations of the next six months. I wish him well in the next six months, although I acknowledge that I am the last person to give advice on leadership contests.

However, the award that I would like the Home Secretary to get next year is that of statesman of the year. I should like him to win it by doing the exact opposite of what the papers expect him to do. I should like him to win it by putting public safety ahead of political advantage. That will not be easy. It will mean shouldering the responsibility for failures of political leadership and not simply blaming the immigration and nationality directorate, the probation officers, the judges, the courts, the public and so on. It will mean being straightforward with the public and Parliament and admitting systemic failures, whether they constitute illegal immigrants in the Home Office or terrorist suspects escaping control orders. It will mean less obsession with headlines and more focus on managing the Home Office.

The legislative programme before the House will not fix the serial catastrophe that is new Labour’s Home Office. The responsibility for doing that rests on the shoulders of the Home Secretary. If he takes the easy route—the avalanche of irrelevant initiatives, the headline-a-day—the public will pay the price through increasing crime, overflowing prisons and uncontrolled migration. There would be only one good result—the end of the Government. It would be richly deserved.

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12.46 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): I understand that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, but I should have received with gratitude an element of it in the speech of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). To begin by attacking me for admitting openly past systemic failures and end by commending that approach, which would apparently raise me to the stature of statesman, is an inconsistency of considerable proportions, even for the right hon. Gentleman.

With national security, it is better to believe facts rather than unspecified, anonymous and second-hand hearsay reports, apparently from journalists who brief the right hon. Gentleman confidentially. I prefer a national consensus on national security. I have said so not only privately but publicly. I have said so to my party—most recently in my conference speech. I seek national consensus on national security.

However, one cannot build a national consensus on national security on the irresolution and shifting sands of weak leadership that seeks to avoid every difficult choice on every conceivable occasion. I will refer to that in my speech, but not in order to suggest that we should not seek a consensus; I simply emphasise that it cannot be based on irresolute seeking of the lowest common denominator. It is not possible to get a consensus that embraces everyone, including Polly Toynbee, on every issue. It may be nice to be likeable but it is better to display qualities of leadership than likeability.

In the first half of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech he discussed other issues, such as crime, about which it is desirable to have a national consensus, but on which there is not the same imperative to seek one as on national security. I listened to him carefully about crime and the causes of crime. He spoke with all the authority of a member of a Government under whom crime doubled and convictions fell. He had the supreme evidential qualification of speaking with the authority of someone under whose Government the chance of being a victim of violent crime was multiplied by three. That Government saw police numbers fall in every year from 1993.

David Davis: What has happened to the chance of being a victim of violent crime since this Government came to power, on the recorded crime basis?

John Reid: I was not calculating the crime figures at the time when they were going through the roof and police numbers were falling, but by any comparable standard, we have reduced crime by 35 per cent. under this Government, compared with an increase of 100 per cent. under the Conservative Government— [ Interruption.] I will come to some of these elements in the course of my speech. However much Conservative Members want to pick on this or that item, the incontrovertible fact is that under the Tories crime doubled. Under this Government, crime has been reduced by 35 per cent. That is the authority with which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden makes his statements today.

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Incidentally, the resolution that the right hon. Gentleman expressed in robust terms today resulted in his party voting against the banning of handguns. His party is against ID cards at the same time as claiming that it will track people going in and out of the country. He is a member of a would-be Government who voted against the entire Criminal Justice Bill in 2003, including the proposals for life sentences for serious and dangerous offenders, and for five-year minimum custodial sentences for those in unauthorised possession of a firearm. The Conservatives voted against all those measures, yet they have the cheek to come to the House today and lecture us.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Will the Home Secretary tell the House how many more people have been killed by unlawfully held firearms under his Government than under the previous one?

John Reid: A damned sight fewer than would have been killed if we had failed to ban handguns, which is what the hon. Gentleman voted against.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Perhaps the Home Secretary’s selective amnesia prevents him from mentioning that violent crime has risen from 600,000 cases in 1998 to more than 1.2 million under his Government.

John Reid: I have not said for one moment that every single aspect of crime has been reduced. However, it is incontrovertible that crime has fallen by 35 per cent.— [ Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shrugs his shoulders. Of course it has nothing to do with him; it is the Labour Government who brought it down. Under the Conservatives crime went up, not by 35 per cent. but by 100 per cent. So when the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden comes to the House and gives us a lecture on being tough or being soft, let us remember the authority with which he does so.

The right hon. Gentleman said that this was not about being tough or soft, but about being fairer and smarter. He said it with all the authority of someone who had just discovered that tremendous, profound truth—

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con) rose—

John Reid: Hold on a second.

Amazingly enough, I recall my speech to the House on 20 July—my first as Home Secretary—in which I said that our policy was not

It is nice to see that the right hon. Gentleman is well read, at least.

Kali Mountford: Conservative Members have clearly forgotten certain key measures that have been passed by this House. The result of those decisions on domestic violence, led by this Government, has been a reduction of 17 per cent. in recorded violent crime against women, where those measures are in place. Those are the kind of measures that we need—measures that are focused on the people who most need our help.

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