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In addition to all those problems, just around the corner is a communications revolution: the move from normal telephone communications to voiceover internet service provision. That will offer more choice in the methods by which to communicate than ever before. Revealing the extent of our capability in order to secure one prosecution by virtue of using intercept evidence must not come at the cost of failing to disrupt or prosecute hundreds more. I continue to consider the issue, but the House will appreciate that I have to balance short-term gain against long-term pain for our operations. I also have to insist that while we await the outcome of my consideration we do not accept the myth that by accepting intercepts as evidence we would somehow preclude the need to use other robust methods, or take a huge step towards resolving the problems we have in countering terrorism.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): Will the Home Secretary give way?

John Reid: I will give way to a third Opposition Front Bencher.

Patrick Mercer: I hear what the Home Secretary says and no one with any experience of the issue would claim that intercept evidence is a silver bullet. But what does he have to say to the officers of the Greater Manchester police who have funded their own anti-terrorist unit specifically to deal with the huge problem that they have, and who have told me that they urgently need to be able to use intercept evidence to put terrorist suspects away?

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John Reid: As it happens, I was in the Greater Manchester area in the past week, and I spoke to people there, not only in the police, but in MI5. I weigh very carefully what people say to me, including those from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the three agencies most charged with countering terrorism, none of which supports the hon. Gentleman’s position, as far as I am aware. I am yet to be persuaded, but I could be persuaded. However, it is wrong to form in the minds of Members of Parliament or the public the insinuation that if we allowed the use of intercept evidence we would not need to bring in tagging, control orders or further detention. The issue should be judged on its own merits, but with the recognition that even if we were to allow intercept evidence we would not avoid the hard decisions on those other issues.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Will the Home Secretary give way?

John Reid: I wish to make a little more progress and say something about immigration, another issue on which we face tough choices and difficult questions. How do we take advantage of the benefits of a dynamic world without opening ourselves up to those seeking to exploit our country? We have made difficult choices to prioritise foreign national prisoners, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden pointed out. I make no apology for that. The foreign national prisoners problem was one that the nation felt should be addressed with greater priority. That had a knock-on effect on asylum removal figures for one quarter, but the decision showed a degree of leadership in making hard choices and prioritising resources. By definition, it is not possible to cope with everything to 100 per cent. of priority.

We want to go further and strengthen the system by allowing immigration officers to detain British and EU nationals pending arrest, and extending their ability to take biometrics from foreign nationals. Through the development funds we are addressing the poverty and poor governance that motivates people to leave their homelands. As hon. Members heard earlier, it now takes two months—not 20, as in 1997—to process an asylum claim. Today, there are 20 per cent. fewer asylum applications year on year and cases awaiting initial decision fell to 5,000 in June, 1,500 fewer than in the previous year.

I do not pretend that everything was a failure: it was not. On the other hand, I do not pretend that everything is perfect, which is why I have set out plans for tougher enforcement of our rules, more resources for managing immigration and a forward plan to improve effectiveness. But—and this is important—we cannot track people in and out of the country, count those who come in and those who go out and know who is here unless we make a commitment to identity management. One cannot on the one hand say that one wants to control immigration over the next decade or two in a world that has mass movement on a scale never known before, and on the other, set one’s face against ID cards and identification management. That is saying that one wants the ends, but opposes the means. In this case there is not even the plausible excuse of popularity. The whole country knows that
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identity management is the basic prerequisite for managing immigration and emigration and knowing who is here.

Mr. Bellingham: The Home Secretary mentioned the foreign prisoners saga and I support his plans to remove them, but is he aware of the case of Hidehiro Iga, who was convicted and sentenced for using a false passport? He does not speak any English and he is keen to go home, but he is waiting, at public expense, to be deported.

John Reid: If the hon. Gentleman is volunteering someone who wishes to go swiftly, he should give us his name and address and my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality will deal with it.

On immigration, the Opposition are again willing the ends but not the means. Similarly, when it comes to confronting organised crime, we have made the tough decisions and invested so that we have the Serious Organised Crime Agency to tackle the Mr. Bigs, and we have tightened the law to hinder money laundering. There is much more to do, and we will bring in simple, practical and effective measures to help us to tighten the net around crime gangs and tackle fraud crime.

The House will know the priority that we have given to antisocial behaviour. Crack house closures, ASBOs and dispersal orders were all proposals at which some commentators and Opposition Members sneered contemptuously as unworthy of consideration. I can tell them that they have changed people’s lives in local communities, tackling neighbours who make lives a misery and taking on the local yobs. We have given the police powers to act with swift summary justice on some of those issues and have transformed local neighbourhoods that were so impoverished—in social and crime terms, as well as by unemployment—under the last Conservative Government. We make no apology for that.

Providing security and opportunity in a changing world to the people whom we represent will be the dominant preoccupation for all of us in the immediate future. We believe that the measures we propose are comprehensive and holistic, but we accept that the challenge will take vision, strong leadership and a willingness to make decisions. This Government are prepared to take those decisions. If Opposition Members want a consensus, they must recognise that it has to be on the basis of preparedness to tackle those problems and reach and implement conclusions. I commend the motion to the House.

1.28 pm

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): For a relative newcomer to the House, it has been an education and entertainment to see such veteran bruisers as the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) slug it out. However, I am not sure that any of us is any the wiser about what is new in the Queen’s Speech. It seems to be characterised—some would say disfigured—by the two classic traits of this Government of headline-grabbing, populist, media-driven rhetoric and an addiction to legislation.

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By way of example, I shall read to the House some of the headlines in the newspapers before the Queen’s Speech. The headline in the Daily Mail on 15 November read, “I will evict yobs even if they own their home says Reid”. On 13 November, the Daily Mirror talked of “Crackdown with 25 tough Bills”. The Sunday Express had “Reid: the gloves come off”. On 15 November, the Daily Mirror again had “PM’s final swipe at criminals”. A clunking fist, indeed.

We are all familiar with that sort of media-driven agenda in the run up to the Queen’s Speech, as the Government of the day try to tear strips off the Opposition, but what has been new this time is that most of the headlines were driven by internal politics, as the Home Secretary tries to burnish his own credentials against his rivals at the very top—

John Reid indicated dissent.

Mr. Clegg: The Home Secretary shakes his head, but he used the word “leadership” in his speech more frequently than any other. He certainly appeared to be trying to burnish his leadership credentials.

We have the sixth immigration Bill, the eighth terrorism Bill and the 24th criminal justice Bill, all adding to the pile of 3,000 or more criminal offences that this Government have shoved on to the statute book. That is two new offences for every day that this Parliament has sat. We are entitled to ask: has it worked? Has the tub-thumping worked? Has the frenzied law-making worked? Has it made a difference in practice?

Stephen Pound: The hon. Gentleman is refreshing and erudite, but in the time available could he just run through the top 10 Bills that he would immediately repeal as we have such a surfeit of legislation?

Mr. Clegg: No, I do not have time because many Back Bench wish to speak. The hon. Gentleman is familiar with the list. We would restore the right to protest in Westminster, we would scrap ID cards and we would make sure that the money saved from ID cards goes towards making a difference to citizens. [Interruption.] If I may, I shall make a little progress.

I credit the Home Secretary with being right in saying that non-violent crime has gone down, roughly since the mid-1990s. Once again, he has claimed all the credit, or at least claimed it for this Government. I looked up the statistics for non-violent crime in other developed economies—comparable countries. Between 1997 and 2001, the last period for which statistics are available, domestic burglary went down by 10 per cent. on average across the European Union, by 27 per cent. in Germany, 17 per cent. in Sweden, 28 per cent. in Canada and 14 per cent. in the United States. In the same period, the theft of motor vehicles decreased on average by 7 per cent. across the European Union, a whopping 36 per cent. in Germany, 23 per cent. in Italy and 9 per cent. in the United States. I am not aware that those countries indulged in the same hysterical, media-driven agenda or the same tsunami wave of legislation. That suggests that there are wider reasons why non-violent crime is declining in all developed
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economies. Criminologists argue about this, but seem to identify two main reasons—first, the deployment of new security technologies, particularly against car theft and domestic burglary, and secondly, the relatively benign macro-economic environment in all those countries. To suggest, as the Home Secretary has, that that is purely the result of the Government’s rhetorical and legislative approach over the past 10 years is not sustained by the facts.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): At the beginning the hon. Gentleman mentioned the Daily Mail headline and was critical of the Home Secretary saying that he would evict yobs from private houses. I have encouraged the police in my constituency to take out a house closure order against a private home that is a hotbed of criminality. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he would oppose such legislation or stop that?

Mr. Clegg: We will look at that. [Laughter.] Let me draw from my own experience. In the two housing estates in my constituency in Sheffield I have spent a lot of time with residents who complain about antisocial behaviour and disruptive neighbours. What they want is a change in the lettings policy run by Sheffield city council. [Interruption.] The notion that we can go around the country shutting every home because neighbours have complained about it is nonsense. To be intelligent and effective about this, rather than to grab headlines, we need to deal with the complexity of it. One of the main reasons so many people, certainly in my constituency, are moving on to estates and being so disruptive is a recent change in local lettings policy.

John Reid: It would help us if the hon. Gentleman would clarify his answer to the question. When there is, for example, obvious criminality coming from a particular house and making the life of everyone in the area a misery, is he saying that he would oppose our measures to allow the house to be closed down quickly?

Mr. Clegg: The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that there is already legislation covering that. Liberal Democrat councils have deployed it effectively in closing down crack houses. I do not have the detail of the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals; he does. When he divulges it to me, I will look at it. We use the powers that are available already. The nonsense that is often repeated is that we somehow oppose ASBOs, yet we supported them in 1998. We argued then, as the Government agreed at the time, that ASBOs should be used selectively, as a last resort, and not disproportionately on young people. A few years later and the place is being carpeted with ASBOs, driving a lot of young people towards criminality. How can the Home Secretary ask me whether I am for or against the legislation when I have not yet seen it?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman spoke about powers to close crack houses. Will he now apologise for his party’s opposition to that legislation? It voted against it.

Mr. Clegg: We did not oppose the legislation, as the record shows.

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Beyond the issue of non-violent crime, what is the record? Let us take reoffending. I cannot think of a better gauge of whether a criminal justice system is working than whether it turns people away from crime once they have completed their prison sentence, or leads to repeat crime and, in its wake, more needless victims. Some 80 per cent. of all young male offenders repeat crime within two years of leaving prison. Overall levels of reoffending are up to 66 per cent. from 53 per cent. when Labour came to power. We have chronically overcrowded prisons, in which one in 10 prisoners is identified as being functionally psychotic and 50 per cent. have serious mental health conditions. Conviction rates for serious crime have gone down. For some serious crimes, such as rape, in some parts of the country the conviction rate is as low as 2 per cent. of all reported cases. ASBOs, the great catch-all, magic wand, silver bullet solution to everything under the sun, now have breach rates of about 50 per cent. In any other area, a public policy that is breached in practice 50 per cent. of the time would be condemned as a total failure.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the document that the Home Office dribbled out earlier this week about reoffending results from the 2003 cohort? It shows categorically that reoffending rates are lower among prisoners who were given a custodial sentence of more than a year than among those who are given a shorter custodial sentence. It produced a graph that shows that the longer someone spends in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. That seems to strike a blow to the liberal do-gooding agenda— [Interruption]—that prison does not work.

Mr. Clegg: It is wonderful to see the Home Secretary agree with one of the less liberal members of the Conservative party. That statistic suggests a number of things. First, very short prison sentences often do not have much effect. If we chuck someone in prison for a few weeks and they languish in a cell designed for one with five other prisoners, we encourage low-level offenders to learn the tricks of the trade and commit more serious crimes when they are outside. Not surprisingly, I do not derive the same conclusions as the hon. Gentleman.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that one of the key issues in preventing reoffending is having an effective probation service? Recently, I spoke to a probation officer in my constituency who told me that she has 65 offenders on her books and struggles to deal with them all. She fears that if contestability is introduced and the service is contracted out, she will have even more, if she remains in the service, because there will be a tendency to bid at a lower level and have even more offenders per probation officer.

Mr. Clegg: My hon. Friend makes an important point.

I am sure that we can all agree that we do not get the best out of the probation service or, indeed, any other public service, by vilifying it. Any probation officer will tell us that morale is so low, particularly in places such as London where one in five crimes takes place, because if anything goes wrong with the system, the
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finger of blame is pointed at them by one Home Secretary after another. Only recently the Home Secretary did so with regard to Wormwood Scrubs. It is not just the probation service—look at the judiciary. Every time a judge scrupulously follows guidelines set out in Government legislation, most recently the 2003 Act, and takes a decision that the Government do not like, what happens? He gets the finger of blame or the big clunking fist.

The Home Secretary, in an intervention, said that he wishes to create an environment where people feel less frightened, anxious and fearful. It beggars belief that any Home Secretary seriously thinks that day in, day out he can indulge in breathless, media-driven rhetoric talking up the fear of crime and then come to this House and have the cheek to claim that he wants to placate the fear of crime. This Government have over 10 years done more to provoke, and pander to, fear and anxiety among the public than any other Government in modern political history.

Will the measures contained in the Queen’s Speech help to deal with those matters? I am sure that some of them will. We welcome the Government’s change of heart in reversing the sentencing changes—the automatic deductions and so forth—that they introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We will, of course, wish to work with the Government and others to make sure that there is legislation on the statute book that is fit to deal with the threat of serious organised crime. We also accept, as we have done before, the premise of an Australian-style point system, which seems to be the departure point of the border and immigration Bill.

I repeat again, however, that the degeneration of the criminal justice system cannot be halted until Ministers have the courage to stop browbeating the public with cheap, tough rhetoric and tying themselves up in knots with new legislation instead of simply getting on with the job that the British public want their Government to do, which is governing well—governing fairly, effectively and consistently.

There is an alternative—one that would try to address, rather than provoke, public fear. It would seek to change the behaviour of offenders, rather than simply decant them into overcrowded prisons and do far too little of the unglamorous work such as rehabilitation, training, paid work in prison, the pre-release—

John Reid: The hugging.

Mr. Clegg: No, not the hugging. The Home Secretary flippantly says “hugging”. Maybe he is indifferent to the fact that there are people in this country who are the victims of crimes committed by repeat offenders. Maybe he thinks that that is a joking matter. I think that cutting repeat crime and reducing the number of victims is not a joking matter.

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