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5.58 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I begin by thanking the Home Secretary for her kind words; I look forward to debating with her extensively in the months ahead. For all her attempts, however, to sound enthusiastic, the Policing and Crime Bill before us smacks of a Government who are tired and exhausted. It is a rag-tag collection of measures, scrambled together by a Home Secretary and ministerial team bereft of ideas.

After a whip-round across the Cabinet table, the main sensible proposals have, in reality, been generously contributed by the Opposition. We were, of course, promised tough new measures by a Government desperate to create the illusion of action—and the result is this “Do something—do anything!” Bill. Before this Government can expect to be taken seriously on law enforcement, they must be honest about the problems they face. We will not get anywhere in tackling the scourge of knives, guns and drugs on our streets as long as Ministers persist in fiddling the figures, the most recent example being the Home Secretary’s release of skewed knife crime statistics in December—slammed as “premature, irregular and selective” by the head of the Statistics Authority.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman has spoken of the need for the Government—and, indeed, the Opposition—to be frank, honest and accurate in their projections. Does he accept my own figures? Being a sad accountant, I was dabbling with a spreadsheet yesterday evening. When I fed in the Conservatives’ planned restriction of real growth in the Home Office budget to 1 per cent., it produced a £160 million reduction in the policing budget, which is the equivalent of 3,555 police officers, with 56 in Leicestershire and five in my constituency. Is that—

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, interventions must be brief.

Chris Grayling: I am not sure that I would want to employ the hon. Gentleman as my accountant. Let me point out to him that he is part of an Administration who managed to spend £150 million on management consultants in the Home Office two years ago, and whose Chancellor of the Exchequer stood at the Dispatch Box about three weeks ago and said he did not believe that there were not efficiencies to be made in government. I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman about the need for all of us, in these difficult times, to draw in the horns of the public sector when our constituents—people around the country—are having to do the same.

The Conservatives have pledged to make crime statistics totally independent. Ministers and special advisers will no longer receive advance warning, and the public will be given the whole truth. Why will the Home Secretary not agree today to give up control and privileged access, and end the politicisation of crime statistics that has done so much to corrode public confidence? That would make a difference. Perhaps the Home Secretary would like to tell us now that she is willing to do it. I see that she cannot be persuaded to change her mind, but does she now at least accept the formal leaked information from the head of the Home Office, Sir David Normington, to Ministers that

The stark reality is that violent crime has risen by 80 per cent. under this Government. Gun violence has soared almost fourfold and fatal stabbings are up by a third—figures that mask the untold human suffering inflicted on victims and their families up and down the country. It is against that background that the Bill must be judged, but it contains nothing that will rectify those tragic failings. Even the measures that we can welcome are irrelevant to what is required to make our streets safer and restore public confidence. As I shall make clear later, in the area of increasing police accountability and co-operation with the public, the Government have lost their way entirely.

Let me begin by responding to the main sections of the Bill. We can certainly welcome the appointment of Sir Ronnie Flanagan as chair of the senior appointments panel, but will the Home Secretary commit herself to listening to his advice? In February last year, Sir Ronnie gave a candid assessment of 10 years of failed policy, which, in his words, had left the police subject to “perverse incentives”, “a slave to doctrine”, and “straitjacketed by process”. The Home Secretary has completely failed to deliver on her promises to reduce the stifling effects of Whitehall micro-management, and the Bill does nothing to reduce the burden of bureaucracy that leaves officers with just 14 per cent. of their time to spend on patrol.

The principle of an appointments panel is sensible, but it is strange that it gives the Association of Chief Police Officers a statutory position in advising on appointments when the status of ACPO itself remains undefined. Is it an external reference group for Home Office Ministers, or a professional association protecting senior officers’ interests? Is it a national policing agency, or is it a pressure group arguing for greater police powers?

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During the initial outcry over the handling of the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), the chairman of ACPO saw its role as pontificating on the rights of the police to override the rights of parliamentarians to do their job and to determine what constitutes national security, which I found very odd indeed. Unless ACPO’s status is sorted out, we shall have some doubts over whether it should have this role on a statutory basis. I hope that Ministers will be able to provide more information about that in Committee, and that we shall have more opportunities to debate it then.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent promotion. Does he agree that there is every danger that the panel will become very expensive and extremely bureaucratic?

Chris Grayling: I share my hon. Friend’s concerns. It will be for Ministers to demonstrate in Committee that that will not be the case. The panel needs to be lean, mean and effective, rather than representing yet more substantial bureaucracy in the public sector.

We welcome the Government’s acceptance of our call for local authorities to be given greater licensing powers over lap-dancing clubs, although, as I shall explain later, on its own it will do little to protect the most vulnerable victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that it was a 10-minute Bill introduced by a Labour Member that proposed that change in the legislation in the first instance. I do not recall Conservative Front Benchers supporting me at the time.

Chris Grayling: I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not been listening to the comments of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench, but I am glad that there is agreement in all parts of the House on the need for change in an area that affects a number of other areas of government. It affects my former brief, for instance: jobs in such clubs were being advertised through local jobcentres. We need to do all we can to ensure that exploitation does not take place, and to give local communities the right to say when or where something should or should not happen.

We welcome stronger powers to crack down on binge drinking. A million people were victims of alcohol-related violence last year, with accident and emergency admissions related to alcohol up by a quarter since 2004. No one can deny the evidence from the police, local authorities and hospitals that the Government’s reckless policy of allowing 24-hour drinking has inflicted misery on innocent law-abiding citizens across Britain, not least the professionals who work in front-line services.

Keith Vaz: I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as the new shadow Home Secretary. I know that he was appointed only a few hours ago, but has he had an opportunity to read the Select Committee’s report “Policing in the 21st Century”? I am sure his hon. Friends have read it. The Committee’s members unanimously suggested that we consider the idea of a floor price for alcohol sold by supermarkets. The hon. Gentleman is right: given that alcohol-related crime
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accounts for almost 50 per cent. of crime as a whole, surely we should consider a more radical approach to try to control the easy availability of alcohol from supermarkets.

Chris Grayling: I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern, and I look forward to reading his report. He will not be surprised to learn that I have not yet had time to do so. My colleagues, including the shadow Chancellor, have argued for legislative measures to stop sales of under-priced alcohol. I have seen one or two examples which I found positively horrifying. In Liverpool, for example, I encountered a firm that would actually deliver alcohol to a park. There are real issues related to the sale of alcohol, particularly to people who are under age, and they need to be addressed.

What is open to doubt is whether any of the new powers that are being proposed will ever be enforced. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) pointed out, the Bill proposes an increase in the fine for refusing to stop drinking in a public place from £500 to £2,500, but between 2004 and 2006 not a single person received a fine of more than £250, and 98 per cent. of people were fined less than £100. The suspicion is that this is yet another case of all talk, no action from these Ministers, this Home Secretary and this Government.

The Bill introduces a smattering of conditions that local authorities can apply when granting new licences to sell alcohol—itself an admission of the failure of the Government’s extended licensing regime—although they are nothing like the power that the Home Secretary will give councils over lap-dancing clubs. Why will the Home Secretary not finally call time on the Government’s disastrous policy of allowing 24-hour drinking, and give councils proper powers and discretion over late-night sales of alcohol?

Ms Keeble: I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said about the need to support measures to tackle binge drinking. Will he commit his Front-Bench colleagues to supporting tough measures for the mandatory code—for example, to ensure that supermarkets stop pepper-potting drink throughout their branches and clamp down on in-store advertising and promotion of alcohol, as well as dealing with issues related to labelling and pricing?

Chris Grayling: I am delighted that the hon. Lady is keen to find out what our policies are for the future, because we hope to form a Government in the next 18 months. As I have said, we regard the issue as worthy of concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, has set out measures to toughen the rules for supermarkets, and I will be considering other options with him. The Conservatives are committed to tackling the scourge of excessive consumption of alcohol which affects so many of our city centres, so many of our communities and, as the hon. Lady will know, so many inner-city areas. The blight of alcohol addiction in many of our most deprived communities is a real barrier to helping young people, in particular, make more of their lives, and we must address that.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment. Does he acknowledge that the problem
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here is not necessarily the amounts of alcohol being drunk, worrying though those are, but the way in which those amounts are being drunk, in that there is a mentality among people in this country, and in particular among too many young people, that to enjoy themselves they have to binge-drink and get absolutely plastered in the process, in contrast to some continental countries where the population actually drink more per head, but people drink more responsibly? Does my hon. Friend also agree that no amount of legislation—of excessive legislation—will necessarily affect that British mentality, and that what we need is a change in people’s thinking and in how young people, in particular, are educated to live and grow up with alcohol, rather than to abuse it?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and it is a sign of the failure of this Government’s policies that so little progress has been made over so many years despite so much legislation being brought on to the statute book. It is a sign that the Government must focus not simply on passing Bills through this House, but on getting the job done out there, and must recognise that often when they micro-manage—or interfere or misjudge their powers—matters are made even worse.

In addition, clause 30 seeks to give the police enhanced powers to give young people a direction to leave an area where there is a risk of an alcohol-related disturbance. It will now extend to children over 10, rather than those over 16. This raises serious issues to do with children being placed at risk by being made to leave an area with which they are familiar when one would have expected the police to take a younger child home or into protective custody if there was a serious enough problem to move them out of the area in the first place. We will wish to look at this in detail. Do we really want the police to be moving on 10-year-olds, rather than addressing the problem and getting them home to their families? We will want to hear more about the Government’s thinking on this in debate in Committee, and we will need a bit of persuading that the approach in this part of the Bill is the right one.

Then we have the now annual exhortation by the Home Secretary to seize the assets of the Mr. Bigs of the criminal underworld. The intention is laudable, but it does not always work, as the Home Secretary knows. In its short life, the Assets Recovery Agency recovered a mere one third of its running costs in criminal assets, and the record of the Serious Organised Crime Agency has been little better; it has missed most of its targets. Yet again, this Government are proposing to introduce yet more law, which can never compensate for basic failures of law enforcement. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that some of this law has a draconian quality that must be questionable. The distinction between restraint of assets on arrest and seizure for confiscation after conviction is being blurred, and the level of judicial oversight reduced. It is unclear why this is being done, and it raises serious issues of fairness and interference with property rights without due process of law.

Mr. Steen: I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking up his new post; we are delighted to see him in it.

On the traffickers recovery programme, I do not know whether he knows that at present when traffickers are found, money can be confiscated from
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them, but it goes to the Treasury and is lost in that black hole. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a far better idea, and that this should have been in the Bill, that when traffickers’ ill-gotten gains are taken away from them, that money should go to the victims? At present, the National Criminal Justice Board gives money, but it is Treasury money, so victims are not getting it from the traffickers.

Chris Grayling: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I understand exactly where he is coming from, but the trouble is that under this Government the Treasury has so little cash that I suspect that persuading it to deal with this matter very differently may be a struggle.

Nowhere in the Government’s proposals is the evidence of failure more striking than in their approach to tackling human trafficking. That is a mere fig leaf for action. No one in this House should be under any illusion as to the scale of the barbaric trade pouring into Britain. Police upper estimates of the number of vulnerable women and girls trafficked into Britain for sexual exploitation have soared in recent years, from 4,000 to 18,000. The scale of the growth in this problem dwarfs the Government’s efforts to contain it, yet instead of freeing up more police to tackle human trafficking, they are downsizing the specialist unit at the Met, and instead of their driving prosecutions of those profiting from this modern form of slavery, convictions have slumped by two thirds since 2006. That is the reality behind the Government’s rhetoric.

The Home Secretary’s answer is a swathe of new criminal offences aimed at reducing the demand for prostitution. Should we take it from this change of focus, and from the failure to enforce existing laws against those who exploit vulnerable women, that the Home Secretary has now just given up trying to prosecute the criminal gangs involved? Does the Home Secretary agree with the Leader of the House that there is no evidence of any increase in people paying for sex?

We will scrutinise the new strict liability offences closely and carefully to ensure that they do not create scope for abuse or injustice. The much greater risk, however, is that they will lie dormant on the statute book, along with so much of this Government’s legislation produced over the last 11 years, because, as Commander Allan Gibson of the Metropolitan police’s human trafficking unit has made very clear, these proposals will be “very difficult to enforce”.

Mr. Malins: I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on taking up his new post. On clause 13, does he not agree that it is very silly indeed to have a measure whereby a man commits an offence if he uses the services of a prostitute whose activities are controlled in any way, notwithstanding the fact that first, the man did not know, secondly, he had no reason to know and thirdly, upon inquiry he was told that there was no such control? What is the man expected to do? There is no defence; is that not bad law?

Chris Grayling: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s comments as well. One question is: why would we have any confidence that the women concerned would own up to being in some way controlled? That would make it much more difficult to enforce this law.

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Lynne Jones: Does that not also mean that men who discover that a woman is trafficked or controlled will be less likely to report it, if this is criminalised?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady makes a very good point.

There are many things missing from this Bill that we would have welcomed, and, indeed, that we have called for for some time: measures to cut red tape, slash targets and consolidate excess audit; measures to address the sweltering burden of bureaucracy that police officers strain under day in, day out; proposals to revise the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 so that police do not spend hours filling out forms so that they can stake out the house of a known burglar; a strengthening of the powers of stop and search to deal with spikes in gun, knife or drug crime in hot spots; returning charging discretion to the police for summary offences to free up 1 million police hours; reversing the health and safety rules so that the risk to the public is made the top priority; and changing the rules so that police and prosecutors support members of the public who intervene in good faith to uphold the law. However, the most salient omission consists of the proposals for directly elected crime and policing representatives set out in the Green Paper published last July. It is something of a climbdown to go from a Green Paper to a first clause that cannot be more than 10 lines long; that is a dramatic climbdown by this Government.

The Home Secretary had promised this proposed legislation

She even went so far as to hail “a new deal” of

That was a nice slogan that got good press, but then it was dropped. Nothing better sums up this Government’s obsession with spin over substance—with headlines over delivery—than their failure to keep their promises to cut police paperwork and give back control over policing to local communities.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as shadow Home Secretary. If he were Home Secretary, would he press ahead, in the face of opposition from the Association of Police Authorities, the Local Government Association and his own party, even if he felt that consulting further and listening to people further would be a more sensible and rational way of approaching the issue of sensitive and proper accountability for the police?

Chris Grayling: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. He will know from his own constituency experience how frustrated many of the people we represent are, and that they feel that they do not have a say in the policing of their communities. We think it is time to change that, and to go ahead with strengthening the accountability of the police to their local communities. We thought that the Government agreed with us—we thought that there was a cross-party consensus on this—but that has now disappeared, which is a matter for regret.

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