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David Davis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I could not resist rising to respond to the Home Secretary’s shout of “hugging”. He clearly thinks that rehabilitation is a soft, liberal approach—I hope that I will be forgiven for using the word “liberal” in that way. The simple fact is that the biggest condemnation of this Government in the past decade is the massive increase in reoffending by those who have been in prison. It has
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risen from 56 per cent. to 67 per cent. Never before in history has there been such a great criminal justice failure as that under this Government.

Mr. Clegg: I agree with that, but the right hon. Gentleman and I part company over the fact that I do not share the consensus across the Government and Conservative Front Benches that ever-growing prisons and the construction of ever more prison places is a badge of honour. That seems to me to be a sign of failure. The idea that pouring £1.5 million of public money into building 8,000 new prison places is a success is nonsense, especially as by the time that they are ready in 2011 and 2012 they will not even keep up with the increases that are due. We should be looking at using that money to build and renovate secure mental health treatment centres, for example, where we could relocate many of the people who are languishing in prison and not receiving the treatment that they need for their conditions. We could then put them in specialised institutions where they are incarcerated and kept out of harm’s way—this is not a soft touch—but where they also receive the specialised treatment that helps them to stop reoffending.

Another element of an alternative approach is to give communities a greater say in how the criminal justice system works in the first place. Partly because of the heavy-handed legislative and rhetorical approach from this Government for 10 years, many people I meet think that the criminal justice system is something that is handed down from above—that it is the subject of Whitehall edicts and press releases from the Home Office. People do not feel that they have a stake in it; they do not feel that they have any ownership of it. That is why I urge the Government to look at the pilot projects in Somerset, Liverpool and elsewhere—at community courts and community justice panels. Offenders are asked to appear before them to explain themselves to victims, and then the community has a role in setting sentences in the community, where the offender can make amends and pay reparations to the community where the offence was committed.

Mr. Carmichael: I commend my hon. Friend for being the first contributor to this debate to mention support for victims. I do not criticise the Home Secretary for not touching on it, as he cannot mention everything, but I hoped that he would have been able to say something about support for victims of crime.

It was brought to my attention yesterday that the funding arrangements for Victim Support given by the Home Office expressly exclude help for the families of those who have died in road traffic accidents. If someone’s house is burgled, they get a reference to Victim Support, but if someone’s entire family is wiped out by a drunk driver in a road traffic accident, they do not get that. Surely that should be addressed.

Mr. Clegg: I am sure that it should be, as of course should the woeful delay in giving awards to victims once they are decided. Many Members will be familiar with that from our constituency correspondence.

Any coherent and effective approach must be as ferocious in defending traditional British liberties and
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rights as it is in protecting our collective security. That brings me on to the all-important issue of anti-terror legislation. I ask the Home Secretary to do just two things. First, it is fruitless to play politics with terror, either across the Floor of the House or, worse still, in the fin-de-regime power struggle that now seems to be taking place within the Government.

Secondly, we should not get hung up on 90 days. I welcome the Home Secretary’s emphasis on the need for evidence before any reopening of the debate about the period of detention without charge. However, I hope that if that evidence is ever forthcoming, it is overwhelming in terms of the need for it and, crucially, that that is not outweighed by the effect that it will have on increasing rather than decreasing radicalisation among those communities that we need to bring back onside.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): The hon. Gentleman states that the criterion should be overwhelming need. If such overwhelming need is proved and sustained by the security services, will he support an extension beyond 28 days?

Mr. Clegg: I find that question hypothetical because I have neither seen nor heard anything, in public or in private, that suggests to me that there is such a need. Any reasonable politician of any party will listen, but so far I have not heard or seen any such evidence.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Not only has my hon. Friend not seen the evidence supporting the contention that the 28-day period needs to be extended, but neither has the Attorney-General, who surely must be in a position to judge. He has made it explicitly clear that the evidence has not been put before him, as head of the prosecution service, that there is any case for extending the period beyond 28 days. The Leader of the House tells us that the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General hold identical views. Does my hon. Friend believe that they are the same?

Mr. Clegg: I thought that the Attorney-General’s intervention was extremely important, not least because he placed emphasis on a different area of policy, which my party supports, which is the need to look again at the possibility of setting out in clear terms the circumstances in which questioning after charge can take place. That was an important intervention in the debate, and I hope that the Home Secretary will take it up in his review of the anti-terror laws.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): Like the hon. Gentleman, I voted against the extension of the 28-day period. However, the issue has now been raised again. If I am presented with evidence that shows me that I was wrong about the 28 days and there should be another time limit, I would have a serious look at that and decide whether I made the right initial decision. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if evidence is produced, backed by intelligence, that it is necessary to have more than 28 days, the Liberal Democrats will not support an extension?

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Mr. Clegg: That is nonsense. If there is overwhelming evidence, of course we will look at it and listen, and it would be deeply irresponsible to say anything else. But I repeat that at present this appears to be an entirely hypothetical debate, driven by politics rather than substance—by internal political posturing rather than evidence. When we get the evidence, let us look at it, and let us see whether it really is as overwhelming as it is purported to be.

John Reid: The hon. Gentleman is dealing with serious subjects. I was very serious today when I spoke on terrorism; I did not even make a joke about it. I made several, in the spirit of the House in our debates, on other subjects. As the hon. Gentleman is so antipathetic to anything to do with headlines, will he please stop reducing the debate on this matter—by insinuation, inference or direct reference—to a result of alleged internal rivalries in the Labour party? That is not true. I take the suggestion that I would make such decisions on terrorism and the security of the nation on that basis as an insult. I have only mentioned this because it is the third time that the hon. Gentleman has raised it. As he is someone who hates to be a slave to newspaper headlines, I know that he will not wish to do so again.

Mr. Clegg: The right hon. Gentleman may manufacture indignance now, but the weekend before last every Sunday newspaper was full of stories about unnamed sources close to the Home Secretary and the Chancellor burnishing their credentials on who was the greatest terrorist overlord. If the right hon. Gentleman now claims that that had nothing to do with anything that is going on in the Labour party, fine, but I was not born yesterday and nor were many Members.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are debating an amendment before the House. We have exhausted this topic and should move on.

Mr. Clegg: I shall proceed then with my final points on this serious issue.

David Davis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clegg: For the last time.

David Davis: The Home Secretary raised an important point. In his presentation of the case, he said several times something like, “Do not view intercept or other elements of anti-terrorism law as an alternative for the tough questions.” As always, he put it in a macho way. The very policy that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) has just been talking about—interview after charge—arose precisely because the evidence that was presented to me and, no doubt, to the hon. Gentleman and his predecessor was weak. One of the arguments was, “We cannot interview after charge.” In other words, the Government were not even thinking about the option that would do least damage to our liberties while achieving success against terrorism. So I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is right. Whatever the Home Secretary says about the internal politics, we should leave it to one side. There is no doubt that he is trying to present the policy as a
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tough, macho option when in fact smarter options are available, including the one that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Mr. Clegg: I agree. If there is any disagreement about what anti-terror legislation should look like—we do not wish to exacerbate any disagreement—it seems to be between those who are frustrated that the criminal justice system does not work quickly enough to deal with the modern terror threat and have introduced innovations that have circumvented due process, most notably extending the period of detention without charge and control orders, and those of us on the Opposition Benches who feel that enough has not yet been done to strengthen, streamline and improve the criminal justice system to make it more, in a famous phrase, “fit for purpose” to deal with terror suspects and prosecute them.

I suggest four ways in which such improvements could be made. One is questioning after charge, about which we have already talked. The second is the threshold that the CPS uses in terror cases. There could be some review of the way in which evidence is marshalled. Not all evidence is marshalled when the CPS takes its decision to proceed with the charge because the evidential trail is often complicated. Thirdly, we could follow the United States and other jurisdictions, which are much more active, with the use of plea bargaining and other methods to get informants into the system to provide valuable information on terror suspects—to use supergrasses so that we can really go after the hardened terrorist criminals.

Fourthly, I hear what the Home Secretary says about intercept evidence; it is not a silver bullet and there are risks. We have always argued for the admissibility of intercept evidence. Beyond that, an enormous amount can be done by prosecutors, juries and judges to decide case by case whether intercept evidence should be admissible. I hope that the principle of admissibility does not cut across the Home Secretary’s legitimate concerns that the use of intercept evidence might reveal all sorts of other evidence that we do not want revealed in open court.

This Queen’s Speech at the tail end of the Prime Minister’s premiership, seems, at least on home affairs, to have gone off with a whimper rather than a bang. It appears to us to be very much more of the same—tough rhetoric, more legislation. What the British people simply want is sound, competent government in which Ministers stop harassing the innocent and get on with the vital job of pursuing the guilty.

1.54 pm

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), not least because it enables me to remind him that, in 2003, 41 Liberal Democrats voted against the Criminal Justice Bill, which contained proposals for closing crack houses. I know that we are told that they did not oppose it but just voted against it, but that takes us into a territory that I do not want to enter. I shall return to the question of antisocial behaviour and the Liberal Democrats in a few minutes.

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Mr. Heath: The right hon. Gentleman has clearly researched this matter. Did he find a single speech made from the Liberal Democrat Benches against those specific proposals in that Bill? He knows perfectly well that, as usual, it was a portmanteau Bill with some wholly objectionable matters in it, but we did not vote or speak against the proposals on crack houses.

Mr. Denham: I just looked at the way the Liberals voted on the proposals on crack houses, and that was sufficient for me.

I welcome many of the measures in the Queen’s Speech, and I shall refer to a few of them. As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I start with a note of regret that none of the Home Office Bills has been offered up for pre-legislative scrutiny by Select Committees. It may sound like a pettifogging point, but it is important. It has been suggested in this debate that the Home Office is getting a reputation for the quantity rather than the quality of its legislation. Whether or not that is the case, pre-legislative scrutiny helps to improve Bills. For example, the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Bill had its most important clause changed as a result of the scrutiny undertaken by my Committee with the Work and Pensions Committee. With so many Bills proposed, including on offender management and serious fraud, which have been in the pipeline for some time, the Government have missed an opportunity to ensure that the legislation is as good as it possibly can be. Pre-legislative scrutiny works for Government and the implementation of their programme, as well as for Parliament. It is particularly important, given that there is likely to be legislation on terrorism.

We have spent some time talking about last year’s debates on terrorism. There is no doubt that, if the debate on 90 days had taken place after the publication of the two reports by the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the nature of the debate in the House would have been much better and less divisive. It has been said, and my Committee said, that the case on 90 days was not well argued, well presented or well evidenced. If there is a possibility that the Government will seek again to extend the period of pre-charge detention or to introduce any other equally radical change, they would be well advised to put it to a Select Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny or to the independent committee of Privy Councillors that my Select Committee proposed in its report last summer. That would make it possible to scrutinise the evidence in great detail and avoid the divisions that we had last Session.

I hope, too, that the Government will look carefully at the proposal made by my Select Committee to recognise the fact that arrests under terrorism legislation have an element of pre-emptive detention that most crimes do not. It is often necessary to go in and arrest much earlier on the basis of the evidence because of the fear of getting it wrong. I personally believe that had operations such as those at Forest Gate and at the airport this summer been subject to judicial scrutiny, as would happen in some other European countries, it would have strengthened the position of
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the police and the Government. It is inevitable that some such operations will turn out to be ill founded and based on evidence that was not 100 per cent. reliable.

Inevitably, one jumps from one issue to another in this sort of debate: I turn to the subject of antisocial behaviour. The Government need to be careful, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was in his opening remarks, not to pretend that central Government, through legislation, are in a position to deal with all elements of the problem. Many of those elements depend crucially not only on the new legislation that we will pass this year—which, to be frank, is useful because it will fill some gaps, but it is not profoundly new in the field of antisocial behaviour—but particularly on its implementation locally. I shall illustrate that, for once, by reference to my constituency and my own Liberal Democrat-led city council. The reality is that we have a local authority that says it uses the available powers, but does so ineffectively. It is too slow to use antisocial behaviour orders, it takes far too long to apply housing injunctions, and it simply fails to respond adequately when problems are raised.

A very large part of my constituency—the Sholing area—is now covered by a section 30 dispersal order, because of serious antisocial behaviour problems. I raised the problems in that area with the local authority last May and was told that there were no problems that needed a response. I do not blame the officers involved; I blame the political leadership of the city council. The truth is that, by the time that the scale of the problem was recognised, drastic measures had to be taken, including a huge section 30 order, which, I fear, will have some effect on the lives of law-abiding young people, as well as those who are being targeted.

That example is relevant because when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduces his legislation on antisocial behaviour he needs to remind the House and everyone else that it is how that legislation is applied locally that will determine its effectiveness, not just how well we design that legislation in the House and how high our aspirations are.

I welcome the way in which my right hon. Friend put the legal measures that we take against antisocial behaviour in the wider context of tackling poverty, deprivation, dysfunctional families and so on. I would gently say that, sometimes in the communication of the Government’s message about antisocial behaviour, those different elements do not always come together as coherently as he put them this afternoon. It is essential that we get across to the public that our strategy for dealing with antisocial behaviour involves not only tough laws, but family breakdown issues, youth work and positive interventions.

Simon Hughes: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Denham: I am afraid that I wish to make some progress, simply because of the lack of time for Back Benchers.

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