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The Governments open-door immigration policy has led to a fivefold increase in immigrationstraining public services, exacerbating community tensions and allowing drugs, guns and criminal gangs to flow with far too much ease into this country.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): The hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the doubling of crime. He is right that recorded violent crime has doubledhis figures are correct in that respectbut when the Conservatives were in government they repeatedly said, as this Government say, that the British crime survey figures were better. Does he accept that that is contradictory and that a rather different picture is shown? What is his view on whether the British crime survey or the recorded crime figures is the more accurate in this respect?
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. One problem at the moment is that there does not seem to be much confidence in either set of statistics. As a result, we have been calling repeatedly for independent statistical collation. That would be helpful.
Also, some maturity in the debate would be valuable. If we are considering crime rates merely on the basis of what has happened in the past six or 12 months, we might well be missing the point. We have to look at overall trends. I am the first to accept that on overall trends crime has been rising for a long time. That makes me suspicious when I hear the Government trumpeting that crime is going down. There are lots of mixed messages.
I am quite satisfied that the Governments own assessment is that violent crime is a growing problem. It was quite apparent from the internal briefing document for Ministerswe come back to these leaksthat the Home Office saw it as a priority issue, because it was a rising trend that showed no signs of diminishing. That undermines some of the assertions that have been made.
Beyond that, I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). It would be sensible to have some proper statistics and sensible in debate if all of usI put that as a self-denying ordinance to myself as welltried to take an overall view, rather than just jumping up and down about immediate statistics. That is for the Government to do as much as anyone else.
Mr. Straw: I would like to follow up, if I may, the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). The Conservative party was clear in government. I have here its campaign guide for 1994, which says [Interruption.] It is out of date to this extent: that was when the Conservatives were in government. That is the whole point. When the Conservatives were in government, they consistently said, and it is repeated here in the guide, that the BCS endeavours to build up an accurate picture of the number of crimes actually committed, and that the BCS showed that while recorded crime had doubled between 1981 and 1991, it also showed that the actual number of crimes committed rose by only 50 per cent. in that period. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not accept, as the BCS was established by the Conservative party, that it is independently verified by the independent statistics authority, which was set up by the House, and that that is the best measure of consistent trends over time?
Mr. Grieve: I am afraid that I do not share the right hon. Gentlemans view with the certainty that he puts forward. I am perfectly prepared to accept the BCS as a helpful indicator, but for the reasons that I have already given I take the view that all statistics should be approached with caution. We also need to review how all the statistical information is collated.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the acid test is what we hear as Members of Parliament, particularly in our weekly advice surgeries? Most residents seem to think that crime is going up, which rather confounds the statistics that are being bandied about. Is not that all the more remarkable given the fact that we live in an increasingly surveyed society, with more than 600 public bodies now able to intrude on e-mails, telephone calls and all the rest of it? If that was working, surely we would expect improved crime figures rather than the ones we see, which are being reported to us by our constituents.
Mr. Grieve: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Indeed, he will be aware that Louise Casey, who produced a report for the Government, indicated quite clearly that the public had no confidence in the statistics that were being produced. In fairness to the Government, they appear to be willing to consider that issue, and they jolly well should. My overall impressionI can give it only of my own constituencyis that violent crime and antisocial behaviour continue to get worse. Some categories of crime have gone down in recent years in my constituency, although they have shown some signs of going up againburglary, for example.
The picture is very mixed, but there are examples from the past, which I think the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor would accept, of proper targeting of crimesuch as was done in respect of burglary by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) when he was Home Secretaryachieving substantial reductions. However, sustaining that can be very difficult.
Mr. Grieve: The Secretary of State says that the Government have done that, but I come back to where I started: in the category of violent crime, I do not see the improvements that the Government have been talking about .
Mr. Straw: No, he was right. My hesitation was not entirely justified as it turned out on that occasion. It was a substantial target of a 30 per cent. reduction in burglary from about 1998 onwards. In fact, that has been far exceeded on any measure.
When it comes to defending our security, the Government have consistently opted for rhetoric over action and headlines over effectiveness. We have had, and we continue to face, proposals to extend detention without charge to 42 days, despite their being roundly rubbished as unjustified, unnecessary and unworkable by security experts and Members across the House and the other place. It still persists, however, as a sort of fig leaf for the Governments previous climbdown, which was forced on them because they entirely lost the arguments over the issue. The Home Secretary is introducing ID cardsat a cost that we believe, on an independent assessment, could rise as high as £19 billion at the worst of economic timesthat will be incapable of stopping terrorists, illegal immigration or benefit fraud.
We are developing a database state and hoarding an increasing volume of data on our citizens, but the Prime Minister readily admits that he cannot promise that every single item of information will always be safe, which, on the record of the past year, is a gross understatement. There are real fears that Britain is turning into a surveillance society, with local councils stretching powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 to monitor dustbins and dog fouling and to trail children home from school to check their catchment areas.
The thirst for headlines and the inflation of ineffective bureaucracy and legislative hyperactivity distract the Government and successive Home Secretaries from the real job at hand: getting more police on the street with the single imperative of cutting crime, and a dedicated border police force to reverse our current vulnerability, which has seen the street value of cocaine and heroin slashed by almost half, while estimates show that the numbers of young women and girls trafficked into prostitution have quadrupled.
I should say at this point that I entirely welcome the fact that the Government have signed the Council of Europe protocol on human trafficking. I am also delighted that they moved on this matter after we indicated to them very firmly that they should and that they would have our full support when they did so. I am slightly distressed by the fact that it has still taken quite a long time between that assurance being given to the Government and the piece of paper actually being signed.
We also believe that we need practical measures such as lifting the ban on using intercept evidence in court to prosecute terrorists to protect lives while protecting our way of life and preserving our liberty and our shared democracy. I am afraid that the consequences of the failures of the Government are plain at present. The Government are in fact very short of ideas, as is quite clear from a reading of the relevant sections of the Queens Speech. They are scrambling to find answers to problems that are of their making and papering over cracks from 11 years of failure.
The proposals presented by the Home Secretary in the policing and crime Bill are particularly disappointing given the serious problems that Britain now faces. I know that Home Office officials do not always feel it necessary to keep the Home Secretary updated on what is going on, as we have discovered today, but does she accept the advice of Sir David Normington? I put this to her rather than to the Secretary of State for Justice. She claims that violence has dropped by 40 per cent. since 1997, which is contrary to Sir Davids statement
that recorded crime statistics indicate that levels of the most serious violence are higher than they were 10 years ago. I hope that we can get a response later from the Secretary of State for Justice on that. Is Sir David wrong? He and the Home Secretary cannot both be right.
The Flanagan report on police bureaucracy set out a whole series of ministerial failures: perverse incentives given to the police in the way in which they handle crime reporting; a raft of targets; and officers straitjacketed by processthe entire product of Labours effort over the last 11 years to use the criminal justice legislation to achieve those targets. The consequences for the police have been dire, as the Home Secretary is now being obliged gradually to admit.
The Home Secretary has not listened, which is why the police, despite all her promises, spend more time filling in forms than out on patrol. She has become obsessed by making political noise and neglecting to take sound advice. As a result, a glaring omission from the policing and crime Bill is serious and concerted action to deliver on all those bold pledges to release officers from the burden of forms, targets and red tape.
It is left to the Conservatives to provide a serious alternative for police reform: cutting the stop and account and stop and search forms; removing the bureaucratic hoops to allow police officers to charge in less serious cases; saving 1 million police hours per year; slashing the targets, which as Sir David Normington noted, have distracted officers from dealing with the most serious crime; and consolidating the excess audit that led one police force to face 15 separate inspections in a year.
The only substantive proposal for police reform in this rag-bag of measures is the proposal for elected crime and policing representatives to sit on existing police authorities. That looks to me a half-baked ideaa pale imitation of our proposal for elected police commissioners who would be responsible for local policing, directly accountable to the communities they serve and taking over the functions of police authorities. As I speak to senior police officers, it becomes apparent that there are serious concerns that the elected representatives are far more likely to lead to politicisation [ Interruption. ]
I find the growing consensus on both sides of the House on the need for some directly elected police authorities to be very welcome. However, I am worried about the Conservative party proposal for a sheriff, particularly in areas such as the west midlands, London, Merseyside and Greater Manchester with complex and diverse communities and substantial ethnic minorities. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman confident that his proposal can be sensitive enough to the needs of those communities, or will we see a repeat of the sort of
policing that we had, and thought we had left behind at the beginning of the 1980s, which the last Conservative Government had to get out of?
Mr. Grieve: First, our proposals do not touch on London, precisely because an existing arrangement in respect of the Mayor is bedding in. Outside London, we believe that our proposals will be markedly better than what the Government are putting forward. The size of the police areas with which we are dealing would mean that it is most unlikely that a directly elected police commissioner would be hijacked by any single interest group. The problem I have with the Home Secretarys proposalsalthough we have yet to see the detailis that a system by which we have directly elected members of the police authority who are also, as I understand it, to be chairing the crime and disorder reduction partnerships in the areas that they represent strikes me as much more susceptible to the very politicisation that our proposals are designed to avoid.
I hope that we will have an opportunity for a reasoned debate on that issue, because I am always prepared to listen to the Home Secretary but its strikes me that the Governments system is much more likely to create the problems that the Home Secretary is raising her eyebrows about than our proposals. In due course I will seek to persuade the Home Secretary, and doubtless the hon. Member for Eastleigh, that the ideas that we are developingI accept that they are not fully finished in their detailwill offer a much better model than what the Home Secretary has in mind.
We share a common aspiration, which is to improve local accountability. My fear is that I do not think local accountability will be improved. I think that there is a much greater risk that single-issue politics may intrude, which the Home Secretary and I share a desire to avoid at all cost. Subject to that, I will listen carefully to the Home Secretary, but it would be wrong of me not to highlight my concerns about this aspect of the policy.
One cannot be in favour both of increasing centralised Government control and of handing back accountability to local communities; that is the other point I would make. The Government still think that they can direct policing better than the police and still think that they know local priorities better than local communities. Our policy will be to release forces from the iron grip of Whitehall and to vest real control over law and order at a local level.
May I turn to what has been said about trying to take action to seize the assets of the Mr. Bigs in the criminal underworld? It is a laudable aim, but one is bound to make the following point to the Government. They set up the Assets Recovery Agency in 2003, vowing to put the fear of God into criminal gangs living the high life from the proceeds of crime. It cost £65 million to set it up, but it managed to recoup a mere third of that in criminal assets. In fact, it failed abysmally. The Government swept it into the Serious Organised Crime Agency, but that agencys record is equally poor, missing by a wide margin each of the targets set by Ministers for forfeitures, confiscation and restraint orders. So now the Government are yet again proposing to create new law to try to address basic failures in law enforcement.
We have already touched on the issue of 24-hour licensing. We believe that a large part of the binge-drinking problem comes from the introduction of that reckless
policy. The Government announced a tough crackdown on retailers, pubs and clubs, and Ministers are right to be concerned. Last year there were 1 million victims of alcohol-related attacks. Alcohol-related admissions to accident and emergency wards are up by a quarter, and 24-hour drinking has resulted in a 25 per cent. increase in late-night violence. These are appalling statistics, and the Home Secretary would do well to take account of them.
We have for months been calling on the Government to reverse the 24-hour drinking policy and to replace it with local authority control over licensing. We have also called for a ban on loss-leader alcohol sales, and I am glad that there appears to be some movement on that. A rise in tax on high-strength lagers, beers, ciders and alcopops would enable us to lower tax on lower alcohol drinks associated with responsible drinking. We will look carefully at the Governments review of happy hours and promotions, but on its own that is an inadequate response to the social problems that antisocial and binge drinking are causing.
We will also take a constructive look at the Governments proposals to create new criminal offences relating to prostitution and to tighten controls around lap-dancing clubs. I share the Home Secretarys wish for decisive action to be taken against those profiting from prostitution and human trafficking. Why, however, has she cut the Metropolitan polices human trafficking unit, which was the most effective such unit in the country, and why have convictions for trafficking for sexual exploitation halved in the last year from what was an already low and declining rate? [Interruption.] Do Labour Front Benchers wish to intervene? A private conversation is taking place, but I am happy to give way. The current much-hyped proposals will do nothing to provide the unequivocal signal that we need to send to those engaged in human trafficking that they will not go unpunished.
We now have the seventh immigration Bill since the Government came into office. That is the surest admission that they keep getting it wrong, but we will look carefully at their new powers for the UK Border Agency, and I was very pleased to hear today the unequivocal commitment that they will not require individuals to prove at random and without cause their identity just because they have been out of the country for any period. We also think that further tinkering with the points system will be no substitute for an overall annual limit on economic migration. The immigration Minister has now made the position clear on several occasions. Will the Home Secretary join in the consensus?
My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) will address in further detail the Justice Secretarys proposals to reform coroners procedures, strengthen victim and witness protection and reform the law on homicide. I am sure that there is much in those issues on which we can engage constructively, but I will just make two points. First, any attempt to reintroduce the power of Ministers to remove coroners and juries from inquests will be firmly resisted. Secondly, we are pleased that the Government have dropped plans to reform the Sentencing Guidelines Council so that criminal punishments depend on the levels of prison capacitya proposal that would further weaken the justice system and undermine public confidence. We
cannot support attempts to weaken criminal justice just because the Government have failed to provide enough prison places.
We had at one stage expected the Government to introduce proposals for a new communications data Bill to provide wide new powers for the collection, retention and sharing across Government of even more personal data. It was reported last month that the Home Secretarys officials had advised that the original proposals were
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