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Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will let me know what steps have been taken to prevent the recurrence of that unacceptable failure. That is an issue on which firm and speedy action is needed, as the
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House will understand. I congratulate Christine Sexton of the Echo, who is the chief reporter for Castle Point, on her efforts on behalf of Castle Point people on that and other matters.

I turn to one of my traditional themes, the national health service. In the Christmas Adjournment debate, I argued that in many fields, such as hepatitis C and coronary heart disease, the NHS should make sensible preventive investments. If it were to do so, the pay-off would be enormous in terms not only of improved health and quality of life, but of cash returns for the Treasury. The Chancellor, who prides himself on prudence, should not miss such an obvious mechanism to maximise the output from the extra £8 billion that he plans to put into the NHS in 2007-08, which I welcome and on which I sincerely congratulate him. However, what matters to patients—our constituents—is output, not input. We need to ensure that we make best use of the extra money that we have been putting into the health service for some years now.

The 2006 Department of Health report, “The Musculoskeletal Services Framework”, is one of the Government’s better efforts. It acknowledges the scale of the problem, with 8 million to 10 million people in the UK suffering from arthritis and 206 million hours every year lost to the UK economy, at a cost of £18 billion. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West referred to rheumatoid arthritis in his excellent remarks. We are mirroring each other’s speeches fairly closely; I am afraid that that will continue. The report states:

It goes on to say, however, that

and that people with musculoskeletal conditions

It recommends structural change in the NHS to speed up progress for arthritis patients through “fragmented and incoherent services”. It also pays tribute to the

in recent years and concludes that

Yet we find that inconsistent postcode rationing or prescribing is a serious problem for people with this disease, of whom there are many.

It is, in many ways, an excellent report that proposes dramatic improvements in treatment, with Treasury revenues as the potential prize for that forethought. However, no one has charge of delivery. We still have patchy provision of the cost-effective drugs that would cut in-patient time and reduce human suffering. The Secretary of State for Health must stop shilly-shallying, get a grip of this, and implement the recommendations in the report as soon as possible, for economic and quality of life reasons.

I will not detain the House for much longer, but will return, if I may, to one of my old chestnuts—Europe. I sincerely apologise to hon. Members who must
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occasionally listen to my rants on the subject; this will not be the last time, I am afraid. The Berlin declaration—a Trojan horse for the EU constitution—has provoked widespread criticism, including from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), who is sitting next to me. One reason for that criticism is the unilateral procedure used by the German Chancellor. The declaration was discussed in secret with EU member states. The Czech Republic envoy explained that the consultation consisted only of a single bilateral phone conversation with the German authorities, followed up with an e-mail giving the declaration’s very scant content. Neither national Parliaments nor the European Parliament had sight of the wording.

That conspiratorial, smoke-filled-room approach is no way to run a chicken shed, let alone a group of countries. No people of any member state have been consulted, even though a new EU constitution has major constitutional implications. Where that is the case, it must be for the people, not the politicians, to decide such matters.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his traditionally robust approach to issues in Castle Point and beyond. Does he share my concern that we have not yet received an unequivocal commitment from the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe that the Government support a referendum on any major changes in respect of the constitution?

Bob Spink: My hon. Friend anticipates my next point. I share his deep concern about the matter. The Government have implied that they do not believe that the German Chancellor’s watered-down new proposal for a constitution should be put before the people of this country. I shall revert to that shortly.

The federal Government of Germany state that they will compel ratification of the lightly modified and previously rejected EU constitution. The Prime Minister will do as he is told by the Germans, just as he did as he was told by Bush—look where that got us. The Germans are trying to sleepwalk Britain into the new constitution without a referendum and without consulting the people.

The Germans perceive the EU constitution as creating an EU President and a Foreign Minister. It robs Britain of its voting rights on home affairs and justice matters. It will be signed off by the Germans, the Commission and the European Parliament, but not the other 26 member states. It will not be put to the people of those states, including the people of Britain. Hon. Members should listen carefully to the British people, whom they represent, show stronger leadership, and stick to clear principles on those matters.

EU membership is a massive burden to Britain. The Government want a constitution without troubling the people with a referendum, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough said. However, the facts are clear: Europe is incompetent, inefficient, corrupt and unwilling to tackle that corruption. It cannot even get its accounts signed off.

The common fisheries policy is a nightmare, which has devastated our fish stocks and virtually destroyed the UK fishing industry. It discriminates especially against local, small, seasonal inshore fleets such as
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those that operate from Essex and Kent, including Canvey Island and Leigh-on-Sea in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West. I shall not repeat his comments—he made the case more eloquently than I ever could. The relevant Minister has arranged this week to swap some of the quota to fill the gap, but that is not enough. We need another meeting with the Minister soon to discuss, for example, the massive Belgian and Dutch boats, which take in more than 2,000 tonnes of fish each year from Britain’s six-mile and 12-mile limits. My fishermen are worried about the legality of that—especially of where the fish are landed and eventually sold—and the control on the catches that are taken. That is destroying our fish stocks, as we have experienced in the past two decades.

The EU damages the developing world through the redundant common agricultural policy and its selfish, backward-looking, protectionist policies. Labour Members do not even challenge the EU’s failure to deliver international aid effectively. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for International Development said:

He is right. Multilateral aid through the EU is neither as effective as supporting the voluntary sector nor as giving bilateral aid, whereby this country can control the use to which the aid is put and monitor its effectiveness in helping the poorest people in the world.

I am rattling on for too long. I simply emphasise that if mainstream parties will not tackle those tough issues, the public will increasingly support fringe parties to do the job. None of us believes that that would be good for democracy. Britain should revert to a trading relationship and commonsense co-operation in Europe. Getting out of Europe would help UK jobs, our economy and our border controls and it would return our sovereignty. That is what the British people want.

I wish everyone a happy Easter and tell them not to get too sick on their Easter eggs.

3.19 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It often falls to me to be the tail-end Charlie of the recess Adjournment debates. I am a political book-end, a humble spear carrier in the drama of British politics. I want to pay tribute to the fantastic community and charity work that is undertaken in my constituency. In no particular order, I pay tribute to Energy for Paston, the Salvation Army in Bourges boulevard, the Greater Dogsthorpe Partnership, Werrington Neighbourhood Council, the Westwood and Ravensthorpe Trust and the wonderful Sue Ryder Care charity. This will be the fourth year that I have been on the fundraising committee for Sue Ryder Care, and we are hoping to exceed last year’s total of £36,000 raised for local people who are resident in the hospice.

I also wish all the luck in the world to the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus—ASBAH—which is based in my constituency. I hope that, by the time we hold our next Easter Adjournment debate, it will have achieved one of its key objectives: the fortification of foodstuffs with folic acid. That would reduce the incidence of spina bifida and the heartache that afflicts so many families as a result of that disability. It would also have an impact on the
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hundreds of thousands of elective terminations related to the condition. I pay tribute to everyone involved with ASBAH.

It would be remiss of me not to join hon. Members across the House in welcoming the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) to his new position. If he has just an ounce of the integrity, decency and commitment of his predecessor, he will be doing a superb job. We welcome him.

I would also like to pay tribute to my own local authority, Peterborough city council, which has managed to announce only a 1.4 per cent. increase in council tax this year, the lowest for any unitary authority in the United Kingdom. It has been able to combine excellent council services with value for money, and I pay tribute to Councillor John Peach and all his colleagues.

Parliament has been through a tumultuous period since Christmas, and sparks have been flying. It is an honour and a privilege to be a Member of Parliament and to represent our fellow citizens in this place. I felt that particularly when I read the transcript in Hansard of the wonderful debate that took place on 20 March on the abolition of slavery. The contributions were sparkling, informative, heartfelt and moving, especially those of the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler). I had the privilege of being the Conservative candidate for Brent, South in 1997. We must not forget the one and only contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who has a particular expertise and, I have to say, commercial interest in the subject of William Wilberforce and all the other people involved in that campaign, including Thomas Clarkson. He was a Wisbech man, and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) is obviously proud of Clarkson’s role in the abolition of slavery.

I want to talk about the criminal justice system, a subject that is only loosely related to a constituency interest. Suffice it to say, however, that Peterborough has one of the newest prisons in the country. The former Home Secretary once famously said that if no other prison were built in England, one would be built in Peterborough. It is a state-of-the-art prison, and its director general, Mike Conway, is doing an excellent job. It is a prison for male and female prisoners, with 840 beds on the same site. One might not think that it was doing such a good job, however. As a result of the Home Office’s mismanagement of the methodology and of the data management system at the prison, it is unable to tell us how well the prison is doing because the computer system cannot cope with having a male prison and a female prison on the same site. The system therefore defaults the performance indicators to place Peterborough prison almost at the bottom of the 130-odd prisons in England and Wales. That is a simple example of how the Home Office is not working.

Hon. Members will know that, in a named-day question on 29 April 2006, I asked how many foreign prisoners had been released from Peterborough prison in the 12 months to 31 March 2006. It took me eight months to get an answer. Even today, the Home Office has not been able to answer the question: what were those 55 foreign prisoners convicted of? That inquiry has taken a significant amount of my time, and the
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Minister responsible has been less than clear, but I am determined to get an answer on behalf of my constituents.

The crime and justice review launched by the Prime Minister earlier this week was described in The Guardian on 27 March under the headline “New gloss for old policy framework”. The Guardian went on to say:

We have also seen some reheated, rehashed policy initiatives, such as the concentration on prolific offenders, which was first announced by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), more than three years ago.

I want to focus on prisons in particular. There was some discussion last week of the Conservative party’s fox being shot. I must say that my fox has been shot slightly because my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) beat me to the crease in securing a Westminster Hall debate yesterday entitled, “Prisons (Crime Reduction)”. He will therefore have covered some of the points, so I will not labour them. However, there are some important points to be made about prisons, crime prevention and rehabilitation, which I hope that an incoming Conservative Government will consider carefully.

Conservative Members are thinking hard about the penal system and the criminal justice system. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is concerned about the problem of illicit drugs in prisons, and to my hon. Friends the Members for Buckingham (John Bercow) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) who are considering the issues of drugs, alcohol and rehabilitation in relation to prisoners.

The problem is that there is a liberal orthodoxy—a settled view—of prisons. According to a liberal, elitist view, driven by criminologists, civil servants and academics, prison does not work and is wrong. That view approaches a cultural disdain for the idea that we, as a civilised society, should send people to prison. I could not disagree with that view more strongly. Prisons are not necessarily bad. The entrenched consensus in the Home Office, and no doubt in its successor bodies, is wrong. Prisons can be made to work. I commend to the House the book, “A Land Fit for Criminals”, published last year, and written by David Fraser, who draws particular attention to what he calls the criminal justice elite.

At the moment, prisons are not working, but they can be made to work. Last year, 53 per cent. of prisons were overcrowded, and the figures were even higher at the beginning of this year. Prisoners have been kept in police cells—Operation Safeguard only concluded at the end of December—and prison numbers reached 79,627 by Christmas. I welcome the Government’s decision to build two more prisons—one in the Woolwich area near Belmarsh prison, and the other on Merseyside—and to bring on-stream a further 8,000 prison places over the next five years. That said, that is
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within the context of a short-sighted decision by the Treasury to cut or at least freeze real terms funding for the Home Office over the next few years, which I regret.

The criminal justice proposals, as articulated by the Prime Minister, are a swansong crime review. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has astutely put it, they are an admission of failure. He says:

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley comprehensively demolished the myths surrounding prison, crime reduction and recidivism. The most potent of those myths is that we “lock too many people up”, and that compared with other European countries too many people are in prison and we should focus on non-custodial sentences, which are better. I completely disagree with that because it is not good enough simply to look at prison numbers; we must also look at those compared with the rate of crime committed. That measurement, rather than just the prison population, compared with the level of recorded crime shows that the proportion of the number of people we put in prison is almost the lowest in the western world. The rate in the United States is high, at 166 prisoners per 1,000 crimes. We incarcerate just 13 prisoners per 1,000 crimes.

The other myth is that prison does not work in terms of recidivism rates. That is true: 75 per cent. of tagged young offenders are reconvicted within 12 months and a study in 2003 showed that 61 per cent. of prisoners jailed in 2001 had reoffended within a year of release. Surely, though, we should be looking at the likelihood of being incarcerated as a key determinant of whether someone commits a crime. Evidence in the United States shows a causal link between the fact that it has the highest per capita number of prisoners but the lowest crime rate.

A comparative study of crime rates between 1981 and 1996 by Professor David Farrington of Cambridge university demonstrated that as the risk of being imprisoned increased, crime fell. That was in the United States, but during the same period in England and Wales the crime rate increased as the likelihood of being incarcerated reduced. We currently have the highest rate of crime in burglary, assault, robbery, motor vehicle theft and rape than in the United States. Its rate is only higher in murder.

It is a matter of public record that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) reduced crime in the period after 1995 by taking a tough line and challenging the liberal orthodoxy then prevalent in the Home Office. I have to say that that reduction continued until 2003, and rose thereafter.

There is empirical evidence that if we put more police on the beat—if we recruit and train more police and put them on to the operational front line—we will also reduce crime. The number of police officers per capita in the United States, which is tracked by the FBI and reported annually, increased by 60,000 officers, or roughly 14 per cent., in the 1990s. Between 1991 and 2001, that accounted for a 10 to 20 per cent. decline in overall crime in that period.

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