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23 Nov 2006 : Column 710

John Reid: Absolutely. For the first time in our history, we have a reduction in recorded domestic violence, as my hon. Friend says. Nevertheless, I would not pretend that we have conquered every upward trend in crime.

Moreover, I would not pretend that there are no new developments in this world. This is the astonishing thing about the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. His thesis in his opening speech was, “Well, you’ve passed some laws. That should be the end of it. Why do you need to pass any more?” The Conservative party is grappling with the question of modernity. The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me advice on leadership contests. As a failed candidate, he is in a majority among his colleagues in the Conservative party, all of whom can claim a failure of some sort in contests for the leadership of their party or their country. Let me give him a bit of advice. If he aspires to lead this country in the modern world, there is a secret that I should tell him: the world keeps changing. I know that that will come as a profound revelation to the Conservative party.

The only constant is change. The funny thing about this world is that when we embark on a new day, things happen differently. Things change in the world. People invent new things, like mobile phones—they are transportable telephones, in case the right hon. Gentleman has not come across them—then other people want to steal them. So we get new crimes. When we have completed one set of challenges, the changes in the world bring another set to our doorstep.

Presumably the Conservatives’ hero is the Duke of Wellington, who, circa 1820, thought that the British constitution and our state and social affairs were so profoundly perfect that nothing needed to be changed. When we scratch the surface of the Conservative party, we find that that attitude is still there. I must remind the House that it was the Duke of Wellington who said of that great social invention, the train, that, while he did not have anything against it, he was worried that it might allow the lower orders the opportunity to wander aimlessly through the country. He was a model of modernising Conservative leadership if ever I saw one. The point is that we need to provide security in a fast-changing world, with the emphasis on the word “changing”.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con) rose—

John Reid: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, then perhaps I should start my speech.

Mark Pritchard: Does the Home Secretary believe that the security of this nation will be helped if 450,000 Bulgarians and Romanians enter the country unchecked? Given his grasp of statistics, will he give the House a prediction? Does he believe that it will be 15,000 people who come from Bulgaria and Romania, or 450,000—the number that have come in from the recent EU accession countries?

John Reid: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have made my plans quite plain in that regard. I take it that he agrees with our proposal that we should place some form of cap on lower-skilled workers from Bulgaria and Romania. But of course, we will keep that under review as well.

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Providing security in a fast-changing world is the challenge of the coming decade. When we came into government, the priorities of the vast majority of people were unemployment, poverty and deprivation. That showed in every opinion poll. In some countries, that is still the case. In France, for instance, unemployment is still near the top of the list of people’s concerns. So successful have this Government—and, yes, this Chancellor—been that unemployment is no longer the greatest matter of concern. But in a changing world, mass migration, counter-terrorism, the management of immigration, antisocial behaviour and law and order have come on to the agenda for the next decade. This is a result of global changes and changes in the local community, and because of the diminution of concerns about economic instability and unemployment. That is why the question of security is at the heart of the Queen’s Speech.

Embracing opportunities in a rapidly developing, expanding world, while providing security from its threats, is the key priority. It is a fallacy to pretend that we can achieve that without legislation; we cannot. I fully accept, however, that legislation on its own is not enough, and that legislation for its own sake must be avoided. Extra resources, more efficiency and new ways of delivery all play a part. Nor is it enough to tackle the problems, whether crime, antisocial behaviour or terrorism. We must tackle crime and the causes of crime: poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunities. All the underlying social and economic causes of friction that can assist in the development of crime must be tackled, as well as crime itself, and we have already introduced the minimum wage.

Similarly, we must tackle terrorism. Of course, domestically, that requires engagement with young Muslims in the community, but we must also tackle the international problems that fuel and provide the dynamic of terrorism. Similarly, we must tackle antisocial behaviour and the social changes that lead to and increase it, and that are breaking the traditional bonds that held local communities and society together, whether that means the extended family or relatively static social or geographic mobility. In all cases, we must tackle the phenomena and the underlying causes of the phenomena.

That is more difficult, because internationally we face rapidly developing technology, rapidly shifting demographic and political circumstances, and the mass movement of people on a scale hitherto unimaginable. Domestically, as I said, we face changes in family circumstances, social and geographic mobility and the growth of individualism alongside the shift away from mass production. So we do not need the radicalism of Churchill alone, or the social conscience of Polly Toynbee alone, but both. We need to approach these problems both ways. The Conservatives seem intent on persuading people that they are no longer the atavistic, brutal party that we have known in the past—whatever our suspicions that theirs are crocodile tears that hide crocodile teeth. We understand that they have an image makeover to pursue, but if they stop at half the task, like Macmillan sacking half his Cabinet when it was
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the wrong half, they will not achieve the balance needed to tackle the phenomena and the underlying problems.

A world that is more dynamic than ever before brings many opportunities, yet also many threats and dangers, from the global arena to people’s front rooms. It is the role of Government to help to provide answers to people’s concerns and to stand between people and their anxieties, reducing fear and increasing the feeling of safety, security and serenity—that old fashioned word—which those in the Conservative party may underestimate, but which is so important to individuals.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Home Secretary has not mentioned drugs. Given that so much crime is drug-related, will he make it a priority to ensure that our prisons are free of illegal drugs?

John Reid: Of course we make every effort to do that. It is not easy, but we also try to ensure that, under 21 trigger offences, someone taken into custody for an offence that might be drug related receives treatment right at the beginning of the intervention rather than having to wait until they are in prison.

Security, whether personal or national, is a protective framework in which opportunities can flourish. Without security of life and property, businesses will not invest in the community or contribute to economic stability. That contributes to the feeling of personal insecurity as well as undermining the stability in society that makes it more difficult for crime to grow. Providing economic security and social opportunity helps to tackle the underlying causes of crime, as does legislation to reduce poverty and to create more employment, better wages and opportunities for everyone. None of those things, on their own, provides a solution. It is precisely because we want to be fairer and smarter, and to attack the causes as well as the phenomena, that we have been so successful over the past few years.

Mr. Garnier: I have followed the last few whimsical moments with interest. If the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was such a flagship piece of legislation, why has so much of it been repealed before it came into force, why has so much been repealed having come into force, and why is so much of it yet to be implemented?

John Reid: The vast bulk of it has been implemented. Some of it has not yet been implemented because not all legislation can be implemented immediately but in stages, which is sensible— [Interruption.] Not 17 bits but, I think, one bit has been repealed before being enacted. The hon. and learned Gentleman should know, given his profession, that that is precisely because the continuum and dynamic of case law in this country can sometimes render redundant a measure that has previously been passed before it is implemented—

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Sixty-seven sections.

John Reid: It is not 67 sections. I will not go through all the factual inaccuracies in the statement in relation
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to the 67 sections and the 17, although it would give me great joy to do so. I merely say that the obsession with process that has marked the Conservative party’s responses indicates a great vacuum in terms of substance. The mere fact that it has little to say about any of our policy decisions is illustrated by its continual obsession with the way in which the decisions are made and implemented in the first place. It is a sign not of strength but of weakness on its part. We must apply our mind to the underlying causes, but also to directly attacking the crime itself. That is why, over the past few years, the Government have put more police in uniform than ever before—141,000—more police on the street than ever before, through the introduction of neighbourhood policing teams, and more prisoners in prison than ever before, with the dangerous ones serving longer sentences than ever before. We make no apology for that, because it is as important to tackle crime as it is to tackle the causes of crime.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): I have listened carefully to my right hon. Friend, but does he agree that local councils and registered social landlords have a key role in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, and that many of them are simply not using the powers that they have been given to protect the people in their area? In conjunction with the Department for Communities and Local Government, will he consider what can be done to make those who are not taking their responsibilities seriously take that on board and ensure that people in their communities feel safe?

John Reid: My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. We are making powers available to be used at local level, in conjunction with providing extra police and neighbourhood policing teams and new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour and other areas. In some parts of the country some people, through ignorance, are not implementing those powers, and we have set up respect task groups to try to pass on best practice. Some local councils, which are mainly either Liberal or Liberal-Tory controlled, refuse to implement the powers made available to them. They will rue the day, because just as the Conservative party is increasingly out of touch with people facing such problems in local communities, streets, public places and around their homes, so will the local councils find themselves at odds with local people, who, ultimately, are not the servants but the masters.

It is no good the Conservative party trying to face in both directions at once on this issue—as it is already doing on tax, Iraq and public expenditure—and trying to say one thing to one audience and something else to another. Those who aspire to government must have the character and strength of leadership to say what they mean and then do what they say. If they find themselves ripped apart by Winston Spencer Churchill and Polly Toynbee, it is of their own making.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD) rose—

John Reid: I give way to one of those who classically rip themselves apart.

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Simon Hughes: I was going to try to avoid the party-political.

The Home Secretary has said how important it is to deliver security to people in our country. Does he accept that the best way of doing that is normally to ensure that the police and the intelligence services are sufficient and do their job well, and that there are enough immigration officers? New laws do not deliver security. It is a question of administration, of people doing their jobs properly.

The Home Secretary started his job in May. When I wrote to his immigration directorate in June with a routine inquiry, I did not receive a reply until November. I was told, “I am sorry that we cannot answer your question. The file is missing, and we have no idea when we will be able to find it, let alone respond.” It is dealing with administration and getting government working properly that will deliver security, not reams and rafts of excessive legislation.

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman is one third correct, but this is not just a question of efficient administration. It is a question of dealing with the problems themselves, if necessary through legislation, dealing with the causes of the problems, if necessary through other legislation, and then delivering efficiency. We need all three of those procedures.

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been since I became Home Secretary, but I have spent an enormous amount of time publicly identifying the shortcomings in our systems, structures, leaderships, competencies and delivery mechanisms. Indeed, when I did so honestly—the hon. Gentleman nods in agreement—I was attacked by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden. Having attacked me at the beginning of his speech, he then commended that course of action to me.

This is why, within the first 85 days of my tenure in the Home Office, we have a plan to reform the immigration and nationality directorate, a plan to transform Home Office service delivery and a plan to rebalance the criminal justice system, all of which have now been put in the public domain and all of which I am trying to lead through with the chief civil servants.

What the hon. Gentleman tells me happened with the letter that took so long to reach him is unforgivable, and I make no apology for it. [Laughter.] I am sorry—I do make an apology for it. I make no excuses for it. In fact, the hon. Gentleman is pushing at an open door. I have already identified the problems, and we are applying our minds to them. They will not be solved overnight, but they will be solved over the next year or two. I cannot say fairer than that.

The key point is that if these things are to be done, it is no good just setting out the desirable objectives. The Liberals have always willed the ends without willing the means. Their philosophy seems to be that no one has a specific interest, and that if everyone is ranged around a table and a rational discussion takes place there will be agreement. I have never accepted that that is true in all circumstances. It is, however, a new development for the Conservative party to be continually willing the ends while refusing to will the means, whether through legislation or in other ways.

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I say to the Conservatives that in the next few years the country will have the same choice that it had over the past 10 years: continue to make progress in tackling the underlying causes as well as the phenomenon itself, or revert to the situation of a decade ago when crime was going through the roof, there were no indeterminate life sentences and there was a lack of will on the Government’s part to deal with those issues. The tough choices that we have made will be there for the next few years, and then we will have to make them again.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): The Home Secretary has painted an appalling picture of his inheritance when he took over his job. Which of his three predecessors does he hold primarily responsible for that state of affairs?

John Reid: If we are talking about the handing over of a huge but unknown number of illegal immigrants, Michael Howard was the person—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I remind the Home Secretary that we do not refer to hon. Members by name in the House.

I remind the House that we are debating a specific amendment, and that these are serious matters and should be treated as such. I also remind the House that a good many Back Benchers are anxious to speak, and that the clock is ticking. There is a time limit on Back-Bench speeches. Perhaps all Front-Bench speakers will bear that in mind.

Several hon. Members rose—

John Reid: I am sorry, but I will take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and deal with one of these serious matters in specific terms.

I want to lay a myth to rest. As the House will know, I am conducting a review of our counter-terrorism capabilities, structures, resources and powers. The myth that seems to be espoused by the Opposition is that there is a simple solution to all our problems—the use of intercept as evidence—which would somehow allow us to avoid the hard choices on control orders, detention, tagging and the like, and that intercepts are a sort of silver bullet. I am considering those matters at the moment, but I want to make plain that that is indeed a myth. Indeed, I fear that the Conservatives are using it as a camouflage for the avoidance of hard decisions on matters such as detention, control orders and so on.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give way?

John Reid: I will not, because I want to deal in some detail with a very serious subject for the House and the nation.

Much of our information on terror suspects is obtained through methods other than intercepts. Some of those methods, such as technological surveillance, are already admissible as evidence in court, and much of the information comes from human contacts who
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cannot be exposed in court even if that would cause their information to become evidence. Let us be absolutely plain about this: intercepts are no magic wand, and no silver bullet. Above all, they are not an excuse for failing to stand up for the other robust measures that may be necessary to control terrorism.

Moreover, using intercepts could mean exposing, in some detail, methods or even human agents to unacceptable risks. The former MI6 officer Lady Park said in a recent BBC interview

—supporters’ frustrations, that is.

That was said by someone speaking with an authority that very few Members on either Front Bench can muster.

There is also the problem of disproportionate consumption of the operational resources of MI5 and others at a time when the director general says that the current work load is “daunting” in the face of what is becoming an ever-increasing threat. It is a potentially vast use of resources, depending on whether any intercept that might be used would trigger the release of all intercepts in that particular case. On the same BBC programme as the one on which Lady Park was interviewed, Sir Swinton Thomas, the outgoing interception of communications commissioner, said

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