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It is my strongly held belief that immigration, properly managed, has been a great benefit to this country. Migrant workers have been of great importance in sustaining the longest period of continuous growth this
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country has witnessed. From the old Commonwealth and now from eastern Europe, workers such as Ms Pniewska are providing the backbone of our health and public services. Without them, Britain would be a less dynamic, less efficient place. That is why I am concerned whenever we see headlines, based on anecdotes, that claim that immigrants have brought crime and violence to our country. Such sensationalism creates real, although largely unwarranted, public anxiety.

If such headlines are combined with reports that because of our obligations under the European convention on human rights—fanned only this evening by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who is no longer in his place—our Government are powerless to remove foreign criminals, there appears to be a real crisis in the system. The Bill, in clauses 115 to 122, seeks to address those concerns by the creation of a special immigration status. That status would permit the offender to lawfully remain in the UK, but would not grant leave to enter or remain. Once people were designated with the new status, the Government could impose conditions on their residence or employment. I do not object to the purpose of these clauses, but I urge the Government to consider seriously whether the proposals are necessary given the strong concerns that many groups have expressed, with some of which I am in sympathy.

In managing convicted foreign criminals, I am not sure that it is in the interest of the Home Office to add yet another immigration status for it to manage and cost. I am aware of reports from Justice that the new status would cost another £1.1 million to administer over the next three years. The Bill’s criteria for designating individuals with special immigration status are also remarkably broad. The intention of the new status is to target “terrorists and serious criminals”, but I am concerned that under the current criteria foreign individuals who pose absolutely no threat to this country would be encompassed by this legislation. That would unnecessarily dilute the Government’s rightful concentration on the more serious criminals.

I also ask the Government to look closely at the Bill’s power to impose restrictive conditions on those with special immigration status. I would welcome the Minister’s providing more detail on what types of condition could be imposed.

At the top of the public’s agenda is the issue of sentencing and sentencing guidelines. Based on what the Lord Chancellor has said this evening, I very much hope that when he gives evidence tomorrow to the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs he will outline the further steps he intends to take on the issue of intermediate sentences.

Finally, I want to address the provisions on compensation for individuals who have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. On 24 March 1986, my constituent, Malde Modwadia, was wrongfully convicted of obtaining property by deception. When that conviction was quashed under section 133(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, he applied for an assessment in respect of loss of income and the compensation due to him for false arrest and conviction. Under the Bill’s proposals, there will be a cap on the amount of compensation granted to people who have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice. It is extremely important that we look carefully at those provisions, because when a person has been in prison
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for as long as my constituent, who actually lost his status as a doctor as a result of wrongful conviction, they should be properly compensated.

In conclusion, I warmly welcome the Bill as a step towards a safer society. The Government have achieved much in the fight against crime and although there is disagreement between the Library, which says that 60 criminal justice Bills have been passed, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, who says that the number is 35, and the Lord Chancellor who says that 30 Bills altering our criminal justice system have been passed, the fact remains that there have been a lot of Bills dealing with the issue over the past 10 years. It is not enough to legislate, however; we have to carry people with us. Every citizen is a stakeholder in ensuring a nation, a community and a street without crime. Opposition spokesmen in particular use the words “zero tolerance” about dealing with crime, but zero tolerance should not be a statement or philosophy imposed on individuals; it should be a personal commitment from each citizen that they will not tolerate crime locally.

I support the Bill and with the caveats that I have just expressed I hope very much that it will receive a Second Reading.

7.12 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) in his first outing in the Chamber as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. He made some sensible comments about the Bill, especially about special immigration status, which is a matter we shall want to look at carefully in Committee.

The one point where I disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman was over the strange business of the counting of criminal justice Bills. I certainly heard the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) say that the number was 35 and I thought I heard the Lord Chancellor entering a plea of guilty and asking for another four to be taken into account. There is an almost annual procession of criminal justice and/or immigration Bills, so I suppose we must be grateful that in this instance we have a portmanteau Bill that covers both headings.

I have to enter an objection to the process. It is extraordinary that a Bill of such complexity and importance is being introduced at this stage of the parliamentary timetable—a few weeks before the end of the Session—with the expectation of the Government that it will receive carry-over, which is not the purpose for which the carry-over procedure was introduced, and with a heavily truncated Committee stage. The programme motion on which we shall vote later requires us to complete our Committee proceedings by 30 October. For a Bill of 129 clauses and 235 pages, that is an extraordinary reduction in the amount of scrutiny the House will be afforded and I do not accept that it is an appropriate way of dealing with a Bill of such importance.

As has been said, the Bill is one of those extraordinary measures that emanate so often from the Home Office—and now from the Ministry of Justice—that appear to be a convenient piece of legislation on which any and every item can be hung with no common threads between what is proposed. The significant problem I have with
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so much of what the Government propose in the sphere of home affairs and justice is that they mistake legislative action as a substitute for executive action in actually getting our systems to work properly.

Mr. Hanson: I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the date of 30 October mentioned in the programme motion relates solely to the nature of the likely date of the forthcoming Gracious Speech. The carry-over motion will apply to the Committee, too.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the Minister for that assurance but that is not actually what the motion says. If that is what is intended, it would have been helpful if it had been said. However, we must take the right hon. Gentleman at his word.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that oddity on the Order Paper. Paragraph 2 of the motion states:

That is perfectly clear English. The carry-over motion, No. 3 on the Order Paper, deals with incomplete business that can be resumed in the next Session, but if the Committee stage has been completed all that is left in the House is Report and Third Reading, so the hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. Perhaps the drafters of Government motions need to apply their minds to what motions mean as opposed to what they think they mean.

Mr. Heath: I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right; that was my reading of the motions. I can assume only that the Government intend to propose a motion at the start of the next Session of Parliament for recommittal. If that is the case and they can give that assurance—

Mr. Hanson indicated assent.

Mr. Heath: I think I heard the Minister give such an assurance, so I invite him not to press motions 2 and 3 tonight and to return to the House tomorrow with motions that are in order and make clear the Government’s intention. However, that is enough about process. Let us deal with the substance of the Bill.

Part 2 deals with sentencing. We heard an interesting exposition from the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs of what he understands by the term “honesty in sentencing”. I agree that it is an essential missing ingredient of the Bill. The Liberal Democrats have argued for a long time that when a sentence is handed down in court it should say what is going to happen, for the benefit of victims, witnesses, the public and, indeed, defendants. That means that we need a change in the way that sentences are described in court so that there is a statement of the term that is to be served and the additional term that will be served if the prisoner does not accept the disciplines of the penal system. That seems an entirely appropriate way of dealing with matters.

Our judicial and criminal justice systems are put constantly into disrepute by people realising that a sentence of a particular length of time means a much
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shorter time in practice. We argued against automatic release schemes, as did the Conservatives, and our suggestion would not require more or fewer people to be in prison, but simply clarity in the courts, which is in the interests of the criminal justice system. We certainly intend to table amendments in Committee to make that a reality and I hope that we shall have the support of the Committee in doing so.

Secondly, I welcome the provision for judicial discretion in the discount procedure, if we have to accept the present system. The Lord Chancellor was careful in the words he used to support the judicial decision in the Sweeney case. I wish that the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) had been equally discreet when the sentence was given. When Home Secretaries vilify the bench because of a system introduced by the Government, it does nothing to further the interests either of justice or judicial independence. I hope that future occupants of the position of Home Secretary will understand that point and perhaps be guided by the Lord Chancellor in so doing.

Thirdly, we must recognise the crisis in our prisons—again, something that was alluded to by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs. We have an ongoing disaster in our prisons, but I do not accept the simplistic thesis that we can deal with it simply by building more and more prisons and putting the same categories of prisoner into them. That does not work. We need to ensure that those who should not be in our prison system are taken out, to leave room for the proper rehabilitation of prisoners who must be in prison for the protection of the public, quite rightly. That involves moving those with mental illness into secure mental institutions, taking those with drug and alcohol problems into places where they will have treatment and taking out those who are serving very short custodial sentences, which do not work. Sentences of three months or less have an almost 100 per cent. recidivism rate. Therefore, what on earth is the point of using valuable prison space to impose a sentence that will have nil effect on the offender reoffending? There are better and tougher ways to deal with those offenders in the community.

I should like to deal next with perhaps a rather crucial issue. Some right hon. and hon. Members may have read the story in The Times of 28 September 2007, saying that the brand-new National Offender Management Service, in which the Government have invested so much money and attention, is to be scrapped. I have heard no official rebuttal of that most extraordinary story.

Mr. Hanson rose—

Mr. Heath: We are going to hear it now, I hope.

Mr. Hanson: I will give the hon. Gentleman an official rebuttal of that story. We are examining internal structures, but the principle of offender management and the National Offender Management Service remains intact.

Mr. Heath: I am glad about that, and while the Minister is pondering these very difficult things, he can explain why £155 million has been spent on a computer
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system that still does not work and an extra £33 million is required—something that perhaps one of our very excellent Committees that examine departmental expenditure might like to consider, to discover why the new system, in which the Government have invested a large amount of money and attention, is not meeting any of its targets at the moment. That is a concern because, when we do not have a particularly effective probation service, we put members of the public at risk. We see that frequently in the limitations of early release that involves insufficient examination and assessment, and people therefore commit offences having been released from prison too early. We ought to avoid that.

The Lord Chancellor—I keep wanting to say Home Secretary and I have to remind myself that he is the Lord Chancellor—is interesting in what he has to say on his “Have-a-go hero” strand. That is not to sneer at him for what he said about his own role or, indeed, at anyone who tries to prevent crime, but it is very hard for us to reconcile what he said at conference and in his press releases and public statements with what has been consistently said from the Treasury Bench in response to that question when it has been raised in private Members’ Bills.

I am not fully convinced by the argument that a change of law is necessary. Indeed, I accept many of the assurances that were previously given by Ministers that there is no defect in the current law. However, there is an enormous defect in the policies that are understood by the police and other investigating officers. Frankly, they occasionally pursue absurd investigations and arrests, and that occasionally gets through to the prosecution service as well. It is absolutely essential that we get a bit of common sense into the policing of the issue, so that people understand that reasonable force is perfectly acceptable and, indeed, commendable and that only where grossly disproportionate force is used should the investigating authorities look at the householder rather than their assailant, the burglar or whatever.

The Bill has some useful parts. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is revisited, as is the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I largely welcome what has been suggested in that respect. I welcome clause 53, which will remove the automaticity of the reprimand and final warning legal proceedings. I welcome clause 10 on the abolition of suspended sentences for summary crimes. I understand that I differ from Conservative Front Benchers in that respect, but it seems quite wrong that suspended sentences are used in the magistrates courts as a substitute for immediate sentences of a different kind, which was certainly not the Government’s intention. Although the Lord Chancellor went into one of his more Gilbert and Sullivan moments in referring to the punishment fitting the crime, I support condign punishment. It is absolutely right that we should seek to find appropriate remedies for breaches in the law.

I worry that the Bill presents a wider range of disposals, without the resourcing that is necessary for the probation service and others to support those disposals in the community. I am concerned about clause 18, which deals with the change in the requirements for reference from the Parole Board for recall. Again, that is putting effectively a judicial
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decision in the hands of the Executive, and I wonder whether the lawfulness of that change, like others, will be challenged eventually.

On compensation for miscarriages of justice, the Government have got things completely the wrong way around. They are trying to make the limit on compensation for miscarriages of justice the same as the limit on compensation for the victims of crime, but the problem is the limit of £500,000 that they introduced under the criminal injuries compensation scheme, not the fact that people who have had the worst thing inflicted on them that a state can inflict—imprisonment for a crime that they did not commit—should be compensated properly. Rather than limiting that liability, the Government should be extending the capacity for criminal compensation.

The Lord Chancellor has been referred to as a grey beard on occasion over the past few days. I heard him suggest this morning that that was perhaps an inappropriate description, but he has shown a degree of wisdom befitting his rank and status in agreeing to look again at clause 26 and the rewrite of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) questioned the application of what is proposed in the Bill to the Mullen case. If we in this country are to accept circumstances in which extraordinary rendition is whitewashed by legal procedure, we are on a very slippery slope indeed. I think that the Lord Chancellor now recognises that that is the purpose of the amended wording that will be introduced, and I welcome that and am grateful to him for it.

On violent offender orders, we now have a huge panoply of civil remedies for the avoidance of criminal offences and, indeed, in substitution for criminal proceedings. Some of them work; some do not. We have always argued that ASBOs have a place, but only if they are accompanied by much closer supervision and support for the offender to prevent reoffending. It is very hard to understand exactly what category of offender is likely to be caught by violent offender orders. Why is there not a simple read-across from the sex offenders register, so that we are aware of the whereabouts of violent offenders and they have a reporting system, but with no further sanction? I will consider that very carefully in Committee with my hon. Friends, and we shall assess how effective violent offender orders are likely to be.

In dealing with the clauses on nuisance or disturbance on hospital premises, I wish to say that nothing excuses violence or disorder in a hospital or GP premises—a point made by a Labour Member—that gets in the way of proper treatment. Indeed, I was a co-sponsor of the Bill, now an Act, introduced by the Father of the House to deal with difficulties in the emergency services. However, it is hard to understand the precise wording of the clauses. It is difficult to understand why it specifies hospitals and not other NHS premises and why it does not refer to patients, who are often the principal offenders. I am afraid that those involved are often not just people who walk in off the streets; if we go to any accident and emergency ward, we will often see people admitted as patients, seeking treatment, who nevertheless display violence against medical officers. Lastly, it is hard to see why the issue is not covered by existing law.

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I refer the Lord Chancellor in all seriousness to the 1999 case of Porter v. Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis. It appears to deal with an exactly analogous position: a breach of the peace, civil trespass, a person refusing to leave premises after being asked to leave, the attendance of the police and an arrest for breach of the peace. The precise circumstances covered by the offence in the Bill are covered by that case.

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) for interrupting him just as he comes to the end of his speech. However, at the beginning of his remarks, he introduced some concerns about the procedure. We need to get those sorted out now before we go too far. I want to raise this point of order before he has sat down, so that he has an opportunity to deal with it from his party’s point of view.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you will see in the Order Paper the Government’s motion in relation to the Bill’s Second Reading. It is clear from that that the programme motion, which is to be considered after the Second Reading debate, is to limit the extent of the Public Bill Committee, which must conclude by Tuesday 30 October 2007. Report and Third Reading consideration are not given a date; nor are other proceedings. However, if the House agrees to the motion, the carry-over permits the Bill to be dealt with again in the next Session. I think that the Queen’s Speech is on 6 November—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised the kind of issue that will be best dealt with in the winding-up speeches, when there will be time for clarification. I am sure that he is aware of the time pressure in this debate. It would be appropriate for the Minister to deal with the issue in the wind-up.

Mr. Garnier: I am most grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] I understand from the Secretary of State that the Minister will deal with the issue—after the close of this debate, I assume, but before we start on the next business.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have just made a recommendation that the Minister should deal with the issue in his winding-up speech. I am sure that he will do just that.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful for that response to the point of order raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has confirmed that my immediate concerns were right. I look to the Minister in his winding-up speech either to accept that the motions should not be put this evening or to make a clear statement that a further procedural motion will be tabled to put right the obvious anomaly.

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