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8 Oct 2007 : Column 104

To get to the gist of the Bill, all one has to do is turn to page 109 of the explanatory notes, which explains things very well. The Bill is not about getting tough on criminals; it is about letting more people out of jail. The financial effects are clear: it will free up 1,383 prison places. As a result of the Bill, nearly 1,500 fewer people will go to prison.

The Government will say that those people are non-dangerous offenders and that a smaller number of non-dangerous people will go to prison. I do not like the terms “non-dangerous” and “non-serious”. We hear them a lot. They apply to house burglars, car thieves, vandals and, of course, drug dealers. To my mind, such people should not be classified as “non-dangerous” or “non-serious”. They are a serious problem for all law-abiding citizens and they deserve the sentences they get. In fact, they deserve much longer ones.

As a result of the Bill, such people will be walking the streets or be given so-called community sentence orders, but those do not work either. I have here a document that relates the experiences of a prison doctor. I shall not quote from it at length, but he says that one of his jobs is to give out private sickness certificates to people who have been given community punishment or community rehabilitation so that they can avoid it.

Those who receive such sentences quite often find that they are reduced afterwards, because it is not only prisoners who are let out early; it now happens to people on community sentences as well. They are given a community sentence, but a few weeks later the probation service will quietly scurry off to the courts to ask for a reduction. People do not realise that that happens. Such sentences are thoroughly ineffectual, because they are not properly policed by people who know what they are doing.

I went to see such sentences being carried out in south Wales. A load of car thieves were being taken bike scrambling and shown videos for the day. I arrived at lunchtime and was told to go and talk to the clients, as I think they were called. I went up to one of them who turned round to his social worker and ordered her to go and get him his chips, which she duly did. She queued up and brought him his fish and chips back, because he could not be bothered to get in the queue himself. Yet she was the person who was supposed to be policing these people and trying to keep them in check. It is absolutely hopeless. The reality is that prison works, and it is high time that we all recognised that.

Martin Salter: I feel that the hon. Gentleman and the House need a breather. He contends that prison works. If that is the case, will he explain why 70 per cent. of young men leaving prison reoffend within two years?

David T.C. Davies: I am delighted to do so: it is because they are not put in prison for long enough. [Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics, he will find that, yes, the figure is about 70 per cent. for people who receive a sentence of 12 months or less, but the longer the sentence, the lower the reoffending rate.

Martin Salter rose—

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David T.C. Davies: I will give way in a moment; let me finish. People sentenced to 10 years or more have a much lower reoffending rate of about 30 per cent. The reason is that someone who receives a 12-month sentence will serve not six months, because they are usually let out on a tag before they even reach the halfway point, but often only three or four months. Before anything else can happen, they have to go to a prison where they can be assessed. Once they have been assessed, they might get moved to a training wing. By the time that happens, they have only a few months left on their sentence, which is nowhere near long enough to deal with the problems they have.

Most of those people have drug or alcohol problems and are very poorly educated. The first thing to do is clean them up and get them off drugs. Then they have to be given basic, rudimentary reading and writing skills. Finally, they need vocational qualifications. Yes, some of them might be a bit more intelligent, but by and large we are dealing with people who need basic vocational qualifications that will allow them to get a job when they come out of prison. Some prisons do that quite well, but most do not.

Mr. Hanson rose—

David T.C. Davies: I will give way again in a moment.

The reality is that most prison officers say that, to keep prisoners quiet, there is a sort of Faustian pact: if someone has only a few months left on their sentence, they are put in a cell and have their life made as comfortable as possible, but very little work is done with them. That is why such people come out and reoffend.

Mr. Hanson: Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how many prison places I, as a Minister, should plan for to implement his regime?

David T.C. Davies: I am afraid to say that I am unlikely to be a Minister under any Government, Conservative or Labour. That is the reality of the situation. I will tell the Minister what I think should happen, although this is purely my opinion.

About 100,000 people commit half the crime in this country, according to the Carter report, and only 15,000 of them are in prison at any one time. If we could put the other 85,000 in prison—not throw them into a hole, which is more or less what happens at the moment—we could train them properly, get them off drink and drugs, deal with their anger management problems, and give them vocational qualifications and skills. That might take time and it would cost money, but we spend £2 billion dealing with 80,000 prisoners. We could spend another £2 billion, or even another £4 billion, dealing with another 80,000, which would involve up to £6 billion. However, those prisoners cost £60 billion every year, according to the Home Office in 2000, so by removing from the streets the people who are responsible for half of all crime we could save £30 billion. That means that prison could pay for itself, quite apart from the fact that it takes off the streets those who make the lives of law-abiding people a misery. It would give those people an opportunity, because at the moment they have no opportunity at all.

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One of the most shocking statistics, incidentally, is not the number of people who commit suicide, but the number of prisoners who die after they come out of prison, quite often because they take heroin and do not realise how strong it is. There are people dying all the time because they come out of prison. Prison is a safe environment for many of the people who are inside. I do not believe in throwing people into a hole. I do believe in a good Prison Service that looks after people properly.

I am also interested in the parts of the Bill that deal with the NHS. I ask the Minister to consider something with an open mind. As he might know, I serve as a special constable with British Transport police, which is funded by the rail operators and has made most train stations, particularly in London, much safer. I will not bore him with the anecdote, but I once had to deal with a situation in a hospital. [Interruption.] I have only two and a half minutes left, but it is a good anecdote.

The security guards in the hospital were unwilling to deal with a violent patient. The nurse told us that they were sitting down having their cup of tea and were not willing to get involved. They were getting very low pay—minimum wage, I would guess, or slightly more—and simply were not interested. If NHS hospitals, particularly those in inner cities, had dedicated police officers who dealt only with those hospitals, they would have a body of people trained in the law and, more importantly, the equipment to deal with violent offenders, which, unfortunately, security guards do not have. That idea has worked well with train stations, and is basically what the Ministry of Defence police do on MOD sites and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary at nuclear establishments. I see no reason why we cannot do something similar with hospitals, particularly in built-up areas, where it is easy to get from one to the other.

When the Minister looks again at the legislation that allows homeowners to defend themselves, will he bear it in mind that, according to a survey released recently, one in four people keep a baseball bat or blunt instrument under their beds to deal with criminals? That creates a great deal of danger to both them and—although I must admit that I do not lose too much sleep over it—the criminal. There must be a better way, and a way of enabling people to undergo training and have access to proper equipment that would enable them to defend their families, rather than relying on a baseball bat, which may harm them or someone entering their home.

Parts of the Bill are to be commended, but the Minister cannot disguise the fact that, as a result of it, 1,300 extra people every year will walk the streets, most of whom will reoffend.

8.29 pm

Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. First, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) on his maiden speech. I know that there are many more excellent contributions to come from him in the future.

It is a great honour and privilege to be elected to the House, to represent the people of Ealing, Southall and to speak in this historic Chamber. Almost 115 years
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ago, Dadabhai Naoroji, Member of the House for Finsbury Central, delivered his maiden speech. Today, as one of his ardent admirers, I have the privilege of making my own. Times in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 21st century are very dissimilar, but it is nevertheless a great tribute to the great democratic tradition of this great country that both of us, having been born in India under totally different circumstances, were sent by all the electors of our respective constituencies to this House. He delivered a message of hope, justice and fair play for all, irrespective of colour, creed or station in life. In my own humble way, I intend to do the same on behalf of all my constituents.

Thirty-nine years ago, when I came to this country, I brought with me the secular and non-violent tradition acquired from my father’s involvement in the Indian freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. In this great country, my reception was mixed, and my aspirations marked by the limitations that I felt around in those yesteryears. Ealing, Southall is a constituency with a lot of people from the Indian subcontinent who had great ambition and drive to drop anchor here and contribute to the economic and social life of this great metropolis of ours.

Following the traditions of the House, I would also like to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, the late Mr. Piara Singh Khabra, whose sad death in June of this year caused the by-election that resulted in my being elected to this House. In 1992, I was pleased to see him elected as the first Asian MP for Ealing, Southall. I stand in his place, though not, out of humility, in his shoes, given his great service to my constituents. He was a tireless campaigner on behalf of his constituents, and he and his wife Beulah gave 15 years dedicated service to the people of Ealing, Southall. His was a lifetime of service to the community, fighting injustice and intolerance. He will be long remembered for his hard work in the constituency that helped many individuals and also unified the many different communities in harmonious and peaceful co-existence. He will be a hard act to follow.

My election in July was the first message that the British people gave to the Prime Minister of their resounding confidence in his ability and the courage of his convictions to lead our country in these difficult times to greater heights and to implement his vision for change. I identify fully with his efforts to connect to people’s aspirations, problems and concerns directly and raise once again the profile of Britain as a moral leader in a peaceful world.

In introducing my constituency to hon. Members, I am aware that many of them visited Ealing, Southall during the recent by-election campaign, so I recognise that some are already well acquainted with the unique place that is Ealing, Southall—the Leader of the Opposition seemed to like my constituency so much that he visited it no fewer than five times during the campaign. To all who visited Ealing, Southall, I say thank you, and to all those hon. Members who helped in my campaign I say a personal and special thank you.

For those who did not have the pleasure of visiting Ealing, Southall during the by-election, we are in west London, bounded in the east by Ealing common, the
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north circular road and the District and Piccadilly tube lines, and in the west by the Grand Union canal, almost reaching the Hayes bypass and close to the Heathrow airport. The southern part of the constituency, just north of the A4 and M4, includes south Ealing, Northfield and Norwood Green, where I have had the privilege of representing local people as a councillor for more than 25 years. To the north we are bounded by the Ruislip road and the pleasant environs of Greenford. Bisecting the constituency and linking Ealing, West Ealing, Hanwell and Southall from east to west is the Uxbridge road, the route of the 207 bus, on which I once plied my trade as a bus conductor.

The constituency has a proud history, with many historic buildings and institutions. They include Ealing and Southall town halls; Ealing studios, home to the Ealing comedies and today providing a state-of-the-art facility for film and media companies; Pitzhanger manor, home to the famous architect Sir John Soane and next to Walpole park, where the excellent Ealing jazz festival takes place each summer; and the Wharncliffe viaduct in Hanwell, built in 1844 by Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel and jealously referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) in his glorious maiden speech; as well as the three bridges and numerous magnificent churches, mosques, Sikh and Hindu temples, including the largest Sikh gurdwara in Europe, in Havelock road, Southall.

The constituency is also rich in culture, with Questors theatre providing west end-quality performances in the queen of the suburbs and the Dominion centre in Southall showcasing so many diverse cultural performances and exhibitions. Ealing, Southall is also a tourist destination, with film buffs visiting locations used for many classic films, and, as many hon. Members discovered in the by-election, culinary experts visiting Southall for its wonderful food, especially its world-famous curries.

What I am most proud of, however, is my constituency’s great tradition and history of welcoming new arrivals, as well as the community cohesion that exists, as numerous communities from all over the world live together in harmony and peace. The Government’s recent report on community cohesion, led by Darra Singh, the chief executive of Ealing council, was able to draw on many valuable lessons learned in my constituency. More than half the population is from an ethnic minority, the overwhelming majority coming from an Asian background, mostly Punjabi. There are significant Hindu and Muslim populations, but the Sikh community is the largest in the area, and in 2008 the third Sikh faith school in the UK will open in the constituency.

Being a Member of this House who was born in India and who represents a constituency with large numbers of constituents either of Indian birth or descent, I would like to conclude with my reflections on the positive partnership between Britain and India and on how it will benefit all my constituents, regardless of where they come from, and indeed all peoples of both countries. As in Ealing, Southall, the two countries are at ease with each other. For Britain, India is a natural partner for business and culture. Ealing, Southall is a gateway for much of that trade and culture to pass through, in either direction. Our countries also share the belief that education, especially higher education, is
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the most important factor in a successful life. Harnessing those forces and common beliefs will lead to prosperity for all.

Once again, I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to give my maiden speech and I thank the House for listening to me.

8.39 pm

Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): I am delighted to be the first Conservative Member to welcome the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma) to the House, and to congratulate him on a very thoughtful maiden speech. As he rightly anticipated, many Members who are in the Chamber this evening and many more outside had an opportunity to visit his constituency not long ago. I was one of them, and I must admit that—not being as familiar with it, and as used to driving around it, as he was as a result of his previous career—I did not always find it quite as easy to make my way around it as he no doubt did during his campaign.

The hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful comments about the relationship between this country and the Indian sub-continent were very welcome. I am sure that he will be able to bring that experience to bear in the House in the months, if not years, to come.

I approach this debate having had the privilege of serving on the police service parliamentary scheme, from which I graduated earlier this year. I served with the West Mercia police, which gave me an excellent opportunity to understand the challenges that face our police daily in the area served by the force that covers my constituency. A month after my graduation dinner, they were brought home vividly to me by the tragic, and ultimately fatal, shooting of a West Mercia police constable, Richard Gray. He was shot in the head with a rifle, and fatally wounded, in Shrewsbury. One would not have thought that Shrewsbury was a hotspot for violent gun crime, but I am afraid that that is symptomatic of the problems that have been developing in our society, with gun and knife crime doubling over the last 10 years. I want to put on record my condolences to Mr. Gray’s wife and two sons. He was a very brave officer who served with the armed response unit in Shrewsbury, in the Shropshire division.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) put the Bill in context. Given the plethora of criminal justice Bills that we have seen over the last 10 years, I regret that yet again we have missed an opportunity in failing to deal with some of the worst aspects of the growing violent crime in our society. The carrying of a gun or a knife should, in my view, be subject to more stringent sentencing. Where other countries have introduced stringent sentencing for the carrying of violent weapons, it has had a significant impact in acting as a deterrent to reduce the badge of honour for carrying guns or knives which is now so prevalent, particularly among the drug gangs that inhabit some of our inner-city areas.

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