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The country will understand perfectly well that the Government’s position in this respect is totally untenable. A donation from a trade unionist is an individual
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donation, but a block donation from a trade union is not. The affiliation fees amount to a closed shop. They should be brought within the ambit of overall spending controls. If they are, agreement between the parties will be possible, but until the Labour party is willing to give up its addiction to trade union funding, it will not be possible to reach such an agreement.

Peter Luff: Surely the position is even worse than that. Is it not the case that the Government are paying money to trade unions in the form of the modernisation fund, which is then recycled back to the Labour party? That is the real scandal.

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend.

We will relish the opportunity to talk about this issue every day until the Government realise that it is doing them a great deal more damage than good in the eyes of the country to have effectively prevented any agreement on the control of party funding. Such controls must apply equally. We have all seen the way in which a communications allowance voted through by the Government, allowing an extra £10,000 worth of public spending, has been used by Labour Members for party-political purposes, for which they have had to apologise. I have with me a leaflet that was distributed by the Secretary of State for Transport; a Cabinet member, she has had to apologise for what was said in it. Public funds have been used to distribute a leaflet to her constituents in which she talks about the Labour Government investing


Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has given notice to the Member concerned that he intended to quote from that leaflet. It is the practice, and a courtesy of this House, to do so.

Nick Herbert: I apologise to the Secretary of State for not having given notice, but that is as nothing compared with the offence committed by Labour party members in abusing the communications allowance in this way. They seek the continuance of trade union funding exempt from the controls that they believe should apply to individuals and companies, and the continuance of Government funding, which they have sought to abuse in distributing party political propaganda to their constituencies. We are happy to talk about this matter day after day, until the Government realise that they must approach such matters with the interests of the country at heart, rather than their own narrow partisan interests.

Shona McIsaac: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to persist in going on about the use of public funds without admitting that his party has received £35 million from the taxpayer?

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Nick Herbert: We do not believe that there should be a single extra penny of state funding for political parties until proper controls for all donors, including
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the trade unions, can be observed, because we have the interests of the taxpayer and the public at heart. We know what Members on the Government Benches have at heart: the interests of their party. That was made clear from a Press Association report of 14 December 2006 which contained the following quote:

That is no reason not to accept a cap. We should not be considering the interests of party in this matter; we should be considering the interests of the public.

Restrictions on campaign contributions of the kind proposed by the Government are internationally unique; in no other country would similar restrictions be introduced. Not even in staunchly social democratic Sweden are the unions given such exemptions. This is a blatant attempt to gerrymander campaign finance; it is done for electoral gain and it will not wash.

Finally, I turn to terrorism and the contributions on it in the debate. While we have been debating the matter—with Members in all parts of the House expressing reservations about aspects of the Government’s proposals—the London assembly has passed a motion of no confidence in the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The Home Secretary now has an opportunity to reconsider her view on the matter. The commissioner’s position has become wholly untenable. Although we can talk as much as we like about measures to deal with the terrorist threat facing the country, there will be no confidence among Londoners or his staff while he remains in place. The Home Secretary has made a grave misjudgment in continuing to back him. She should now have regard to what the London assembly has said, and review her position on the matter.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), among others, raised the issue of intercept evidence. I point out to the Home Secretary that I dealt with the Serious Crime Bill in Committee, and that a provision to allow the use of intercept evidence in trials—inserted in that Bill in the other place as a result of an amendment moved by Lord Lloyd—was removed by the Government on the basis that this matter could be considered by the Joint Committee. We argued at the time that a close and genuine look had to be taken at the use of intercept evidence, and we hope that that remains the case. It is clear, as my right hon. and learned Friend and others said, that intercept evidence is used in international practice in dealing not just with counter-terrorism, but with serious crime such as gangland crime. It remains extraordinary and anomalous that we in this country take a purist view and do not allow the use of such evidence.

However, the issue that really preoccupied the House today was detention without trial. We look forward to hearing the Home Secretary’s answer to the powerful case made by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary against the Government’s proposal. She will have a very hard job answering objections that were raised in all parts of the House to the Government’s apparent proposal to extend the period of detention. They must demonstrate that they are acting in the interests of the country in putting it forward, and they must set out far more convincingly than they have so
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far done the case for extension beyond 28 days. The absence of that case was exposed well today in all parts of the House.

Here, there is an irony. On the one hand, this Queen’s Speech sets out proposals that will considerably increase the time that people can spend in custody without being charged—effectively, a form of internment. Simultaneously, it sets out measures that seek to reduce the prison population. The Government are seeking to let people who have been convicted of serious crimes out of prison before the end of their sentence not just for ideological reasons, but because they have failed to provide sufficient prison capacity. That is indeed a rich irony, and I contend that this is an uncomfortable position for any Government to be in, but a particularly uncomfortable one for a Government led by a Prime Minister who lectured us just two weeks ago about the importance of liberty.

This Government have demonstrated in every other respect that they do not have the interests of the victims of crime at heart. We have seen the end of custody licence and the early release of criminals, 18 days before the end of their sentence. We have had automatic release after half a sentence has been served, and the restriction of the use of open-ended sentences. I understand that the Home Secretary objects to that, but that the Lord Chancellor has proposed that those sentences be restricted. Perhaps the Home Secretary could set out her position on indeterminate sentences for public protection. There was also the extension of summary justice—taking cases out of the courts and putting administrative justice in the hands of police officers. Moreover, more than 1,000 serious offences have been committed by tagged criminals. Cars have been given to prisoners in open conditions, including 33 murderers. Magistrates have been stripped of their sentencing powers.

The story of this new Government is that they are introducing measure after measure that is softening their stance on crime, and they are doing so for one reason: their incompetence in failing to provide adequate prison capacity. Recidivism rates have been driven up, and re-offending has increased by 10 per cent. The costs of crime have grown enormously and it is time for a fundamental change of approach. Regrettably, we will not get it from this Queen’s Speech or in the next two years.

5.39 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Today’s debate has been wide-ranging. Many valuable contributions have been made from both sides of the House, although I must address the comments made by the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert). First, I find it pretty shocking that he would feel it appropriate in a debate such as this to fling around accusations about the spending of fellow Members of Parliament with seemingly no willingness to back them up. Secondly, and even more shockingly, he used a debate such as this to call again, as has the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), for the removal of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. The Metropolitan police and its Commissioner lead this country’s fight
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against the terror threat. I think all accept that the threat is serious in scale and nature, and is growing. It is of course right that over the past two years the Metropolitan police and others have worked hard to learn the lessons of the tragic events of 22 July 2005, but responsible politicians should set that in context.

The context is that 15 days after the deaths of 52 people in London and the day after another potential attack on Londoners, the Metropolitan police was dealing with the largest manhunt that it had faced. Politicians in this House, and Opposition politicians in the House and in the Greater London authority who have called for the sacking of the Commissioner, will never have to face the split-second decisions in life-and-death policing operations that the police do. We should consider soberly and seriously the impact that our statements have on such people. I believe that responsible politicians should back those who are protecting us against the terrorist threat.

A range of good contributions were made today, and I want to mention some of them. In a wide-ranging contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) covered many of the elements of the Gracious Speech. I disagreed when he referred to those superb servants of Ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries, as a menace. None of those present today deserved those comments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) made, as she frequently does, a well-informed and important contribution. She touched on forced marriage and some of the requirements that we will need to consider carefully as we ensure that in this area no element of compulsion or pressure is being placed on people. She spoke wisely, as she always does on this issue.

I was not present when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) described me as the new, human and attractive face of the Home Office. That is probably a career-limiting comment, if ever there was one—[Hon. Members: “For whom?”] For myself. More seriously, he also agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in arguing the case for allowing intercept evidence. I would like to take this opportunity, particularly with regard to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), to deal with the allegation made by the shadow Home Secretary that somehow I had sought to pre-empt the decision of the Privy Council review. That is absolutely not the case and I should like to place on record my thanks to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and others who are undertaking that work with diligence.

What of course was actually reported in The Times was the Government’s view that one point that needs to be borne in mind when taking a decision about the use of intercept as evidence is the extent to which it is possible to do so given the risks to interception capabilities and techniques, including from exposure. That was not briefed to a newspaper, but was included in the terms of reference of the review. People should understand those terms of reference and that they were what was reported in The Times.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) made a thoughtful speech, especially about how victims are judged in sex offence cases. I agree with
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her that one of the areas that we need to look at very closely, as we redouble our focus on violent crime, is serious sexual violence, especially increasing the number of convictions in rape cases.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) rightly highlighted the benefits of neighbourhood policing in his constituency, where crime is 20 per cent. lower than the national average. Neighbourhood policing teams will be in every community by next spring. I remember the visit that I paid to my hon. Friend’s constituency just before he became a Member of Parliament, when I was pleased to view the work of the local neighbourhood policing team, backed up by Government investment in CCTV. That is very much part of what Government investment and policing developments will deliver everywhere.

In a wide-ranging speech, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) covered a variety of issues raised in the Gracious Speech and made important points about the role of youth work and schools in the prevention of crime and the creation of opportunities for young people.

The first responsibility of Government is to ensure the security of the country and its citizens—tackling crime in our communities, addressing the threat of terrorism, strengthening our borders and protecting people’s identity. We have made good progress in each of those areas but, as the measures in the Gracious Speech made clear, we must continue to anticipate, and respond to, the changes and the challenges that have the potential to weaken our security in the future, including the dangers of an increased terrorist threat; the challenges, as well as the opportunities, of global migration; and new and disturbing developments in criminal activity. Those are the focus of the provisions outlined in the Gracious Speech.

On crime, over the last decade, we have shown that we are not afraid to act to put in place the protections we need. Our policies are having a real and dramatic effect, and they are being felt in every community across the country. Compared with 10 years ago, crime has been cut by a third. Violent crime has been cut by 31 per cent. Burglary and car crime have been halved. The chances of being a victim of crime are at their lowest levels for 25 years. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice said, those are not the symptoms of a broken society. To suggest otherwise is just plain wrong, and I think that even Opposition Members know that.

We have not been afraid to take action, including investing in the police, building confidence in communities and introducing tough measures to fight crime and the scourge of antisocial behaviour. We have had to do that despite the obstacles that Opposition Members have put in our path. They voted against tougher sentences for murder and sexual and violent offences. They voted against the ban on handguns and against the five-year minimum sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm. They opposed powers to crack down on disorderly drinking. They told us that antisocial behaviour orders were a “gimmick”. They should tell that to the nine out of 10 local councils that have seen concerns about antisocial behaviour drop significantly in the last few years.
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We have also made good progress on our promise to increase police numbers, which are up more than 14,000 since 1997, with an additional 16,000 community support officers.

Nick Herbert: The Home Secretary mentioned the proposed 16,000 additional police community support officers. Can she explain why the Government’s manifesto promised to deliver 24,000 PCSOs? What has happened to the 8,000 who appear to have been lost? She now says that only 16,000 will be delivered.

Jacqui Smith: They are not the “proposed” 16,000 police community support officers, but the 16,000 police community support officers. In 1997, their number was zero. Alongside neighbourhood police officers, they are the people who in every neighbourhood are providing the visible, responsive policing that will make a difference.

On crime, policing and antisocial behaviour, on immigration and identity and on counter-terrorism, the Government have put protections in place for good reason. We will extend those protections through the measures announced in the Gracious Speech. Their ultimate aim is to support and amplify our liberties and freedom—the freedom for everybody to get on with their lives as they want in safety and within the law.

That way of life and those freedoms remain under threat. The threat from terrorism is serious and sustained, and is growing in complexity and extent. As the director general of the Security Service set out in his speech on Monday, we are currently contending with 30 plots and 200 groupings or networks comprising about 2,000 individuals. So far this year, thanks to the police and the intelligence services, 33 individuals have been convicted of terrorism offences in 10 separate cases with 15 guilty pleas. According to the director general,

and he does not think

In bringing forward the counter-terrorism Bill, I want to act with proportion and precaution to address the threats that we face as a country. Of course, legislation is not the only answer to the problem; that is why we are providing extra resources to work with local government and faith and community groups—to prevent young people from turning to terrorism in the first place. As part of the comprehensive spending review, we have made extra resources available to the police and the security services to enable them to investigate and counter terrorism.

Dr. Julian Lewis: One of the good things that the Government have done, although they have not said so explicitly, is that they have stopped using terminology such as “Muslim fundamentalism”, “Islamism” and “Islamic extremism”. That is a good move, because I am sure that the vast majority of the Muslim community could not help but feel defensive when those terms were used.

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