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The battle lines are now drawn and the electorate have a clear choice. There will be no new deal for either the police or the public under this Government, who
cannot beat their addiction to micro-managing the police, and will not introduce real local accountability. This Government do not trust the police or the public. The alternative is a Conservative Government who will release our police forces from the suffocating grip of Whitehall, get officers back on the streets in large numbers and give local people the say they want over policing in our communities.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on his maiden speech as shadow Home Secretary and on his promotion to one of the most important jobs in opposition. He has not previously been involved in home affairs issues, but I have learned two things about him since his appointment: first, that he was born on 1 April 1962; and secondly, that in 1987 he co-authored a book entitled Just Another Star? We will know at the end of 18 months whether it was an autobiography, as we will be able to judge his performances over the next few months.
I welcome this Bill, which is important because it puts into action many of the pledges that the Home Secretary and other Ministers have spoken about over the past few months. It rightly builds on the success of the Flanagan report, and it contains elements of the reforms that I know the Home Secretary has been keen to put into effect. I shall support the Bill on Second Reading, but I wish to raise a number of concerns that I hope the Home Secretary and other Ministers will take on board. I hope that we will be able to strengthen the Bill when it comes out of Committee and back to the House on Third Reading.
My first concern relates to the clauses on alcohol. Both the shadow Home Secretary and the Home Secretary spoke passionately about their desire to ensure that the Government did more to control the amount of alcohol that is finding its way into our city centres and is directly related to crimes being committed in them; 45 per cent of crimes of violence in this country are alcohol-related. Alcohol is 69 per cent. more affordable than it was 15 years ago and it cost the criminal justice system £1.5 billion last year, so it is important that we get to grips with this countrys readily available supply of alcohol. We do not want to stop people drinking. I have to declare my interest: I do not drink alcohol. However, I know that other Members of this House occasionally do. I make no attempt to stop people drinking, and neither do members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, who produced a unanimous report on this issue. We are talking about drinking in moderation and for social reasons, rather than drinking that results in what we sadly see in many of our towns and city centres: complete disorder, which occupies so much of the time of our excellent police force.
The Home Secretary has started to grapple with the problem. We do not pretend for one moment that she is going to solve it overnight, but she is right to have introduced a tougher code in this legislation. I pressed
her, as I have done in the past and shall continue to do, on the issue of the floor price of alcohol in supermarkets. The evidence given to the Committees inquiry into policing clearly showed that the readily available alcohol in supermarkets is resulting in young people, in particular, having access to alcohol. This alcohol is so cheap; the latest figuresthis is not an advert for ASDAshow that ASDAs Smartprice beer is being offered at 52p a litre, whereas one can buy Evian water there for 93.3p a litre. It is wrong that alcohol should be cheaper than water.
Margaret Moran: I endorse my right hon. Friends sentiments. Is he aware that alcohol is 69 per cent. cheaper than it was in 1980? Does he agree that we need to do what we have done in Lutonengage with young people in our schools and academies, drawing up a toolkit so that young people can help to be part of the solution, and not just the problem?
Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend, who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee, is absolutely right. This is also about engagement; it is not just about compulsion. I hope that such engagement will be part of the process that the Government introduce in this Bill.
The second issue that I wish to discuss is the accountability of our police forces. Our Government, right at the last moment, withdrew their proposals for elected members of police committees, and I understood perfectly well why they did so. There was a risk of extremist minority groups taking over police committees on the basis of single-issue activities, and that would have destabilised the way in which the committees operate. The Government were right not to proceed with those proposals, but it is important that members of the public are made more aware of what police committees do. I can name a number of members of my local police committees, but sadly the only ones who I can recall are those who are elected representatives themselvescouncillors nominated from the various political groups. It is important that members of local police committees go out to the local communities, hold meetings and engage with the public, so that people understand exactly what they do. I say that because although those bodies control budgets of several million pounds, people still do not know precisely what they do.
Ms Keeble: Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the many police officers and police community support officers who are directly accountable to their local communities through the operation of safer community teams and through direct day-to-day contact, whereby they take up peoples local concerns and respond to the priorities of their communities?
Keith Vaz: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in praising the work not only of the police in NorthamptonI am sure that she was keen to mention Northamptonbut of the police in other parts of the country where local police officers are able to engage with communities. People sometimes do not know the names of chief inspectors and superintendents, but they certainly know the bobby on the beat and they have enormous respect for what that individual police officer does, even though they may be unaware of the strategies or the vision behind what is happening locally on policing.
Finally, I wish to tackle the other point that causes me concern. I hope that the Home Secretary will re-examine her proposals in clause 13, in part 2 of the Bill, on sex offences. I understand why the Government have decided to take this course of action on sex offences. The Select Committee has just concluded its inquiry into the very serious problem of human trafficking. In this House today there is a world authority on the issues associated with human trafficking; we are very lucky to have the expertise of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who has campaigned on these issues for many years. I am not convinced that the best course of action is to prosecute in the proposed way men who go into situations where they wish to buy sex from prostitutes; such men are going to be expected to ask whether the woman concerned has been trafficked, and even if they get an incorrect answer, as is highly likely, given the situation that these poor women are in, they will then be prosecuted.
The polices own evidence to the Select Committee [Interruption.] The Home Secretary is shaking her head, but the fact is that the police have said that they were not properly consulted on this issue. I know that she is keen, at all times, to consult them on issues that affect them, but they were not consulted on this issue and they feel that this proposal is not enforceable. The sentiment is right. The Home Secretary feels that she needs to do something and she is right to try to tackle the menace of human trafficking, but it is not possible to do so in the way she proposes, because too many technical difficulties are involved.
David T.C. Davies: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to pursue a policy of killing the demand, as it were, we need to look not only at sex workers but at those who control child beggars, drug abusers and drug pushers, all of whom use trafficking as a means to increase their disgusting businesses?
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is very difficult. Ministers have used the phrase, Let us tackle the demand for sex. We cannot just say to people, Do not have sex or Do not have sex in these circumstances. Governments should not be involved, in my view, in making such statements. The Government should be saying unequivocally that human trafficking is wrong and that the exploitation of women in particular is wrong. As the Home Secretary correctly said, we should be seeking a package of measures. However, I fear that she will get mired in this difficulty because of the technical problems that lawyers will create in such circumstances. I am not saying that she has not had the best legal advice around, because I am sure that as Home Secretary she will have access to the top lawyers in the country, but there will be difficulties with her proposal and I hope that she will reconsider it.
May I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs for his generous comments? I want to let him know that on a police raid in which I have been involved [ Interruption. ] He is not losing
any minutes[Hon. Members: He is.] No, he is not, because the button is pressed. In the police raid in which I was involved, the problem was that the punters were foreign and the girls were foreign and neither of them could communicate by way of language. The idea of a trafficking offence that has no defence is just not a runner.
Keith Vaz: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I do lose minutes, by the way, as that was the third intervention, and so I am sorry but I cannot let my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) intervene. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said; he has been on more of those raids and has visited more brothels than I have, for legitimate parliamentary reasons, I should say.
There is much in Flanagan and in the Green Paper, and the Select Committee produced a very large report on policing in the 21st century, so I hope that this will not be the last such debate. I take the point that there has been too much legislation, but much more work needs to be done on reforming the police, cutting red tape and all the other issues that the Home Secretary spoke about. I will forgive her if she comes back later in the year with another Bill on this issue if she deals with all the other points that have been made about what our Select Committee talked about.
Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): I am always delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). He gave some wise words of advice to the Home Secretary, which I hope that she will heed. I shall turn to that aspect of the Bill later in my speech. I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on his inaugural outing and on his appointment to an important role in the House, joining the somewhat select gathering of those who tend to come to the House for Home Office business.
The Bill is a hotch-potch, as is commonly recognised, but it hides a clear hole. It is a hotch-potch because it contains legal ingredients on matters that are barely related, which have been thrown together with no thought as to freshness, let alone a recipe. We have measures on police reform, force collaboration, prostitution, aviation security, alcohol-fuelled disorder, asset seizures and extradition. This is the 66th criminal justice Bill since 1997, and it should be becoming abundantly clear that quantity does not make up for a lack of quality. I want first in my remarks to deal with the central void in the Bill, namely police reform. I shall then deal with some of the bitty aspects and I shall finally turn to the reforms of the prostitution laws, which would not only be controversial, but in my viewI agree with the right hon. Member for Leicester, Easta serious mistake.
The largest disappointment of all is the fact that the Bill hides a hole because the fundamental direction of travel on which the Government had embarked in their Green Paper, which the Liberal Democrats welcomed, has been ditched. Localism has gone; it has disappeared; it has vanished like a Cheshire cat. Yet there is no alternative set of proposals and no alternative vision of the world.
I assume that the Government still intend to abandon the extensive national targets, as the Home Secretary appeared to imply earlier, that they built up following the introduction of the Police Reform Act 2002, but if so, who is to exercise the powers that the Home Secretary has exercised until now? If it is the existing police authorities who will do so, then we are merely back to the position as it was before 2002. The duty that the Bill will introduce is negligible in its difference from the duty in the Police Act 1996. In short, we are now back to the police governance arrangements as they were when the Home Office decided that they did not work.
Let me remind the House that those arrangements did not work in terms of efficiency because there had been a long-term decline in detection rates for recorded crime, even though detection is the most crucial part of an effective deterrent against crime. That is important. One could introduce sharia law in this country and it would have no effect on crime whatsoever if the chances of getting caught remained extremely low. On a broad definition of crime, including business crime, only one in 100 crimes ends with a conviction in court99 do not.
National targets are a blunt instrument with many unexpected and counter-productive effects, but they have introduced a new focus on efficiency, effectiveness and outcomes. What will now take their place? The answer in the Green Paper was right: local accountability. Local accountability involves two crucial elements that are now lacking. The first would be a proper local debate about priorities, which would allow local police forces to use their police authority as a genuine sounding board on popular opinion. It would also allow the abandonment of targets that were inevitably nonsense in some parts of the country, such as targets for cuts in the types of crime that were already negligible in some force areas. The second crucial element would be a local drive to greater efficiency. The fact that police authorities should be accountable to voters would drive police forces to compare their own working methods with best practice and to improve. That matters because the variations in police performance are just as significant as the common factors. If the average detection rate were improved so that it came closer to that of the top 10 per cent. of forces in this country, nearly 400,000 more crimes would be detected each year. That would be a real deterrent, as we know from the Home Offices research against crime.
Even for serious offences such as violence, detection rates vary widely, from 36 per cent. at their lowest in London to 67 per cent. at their highest, yet those offences should surely be a high priority everywhere.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): My hon. Friend makes an important point about detection being a huge deterrent against crime. The Green Paper includes a hint that the funding formula should be met in full, which would mean the end of the funding floor and the rural policing grant. That would be a huge impediment for detection in areas that depend on those funds. The Dyfed-Powys police say that it would cut their budget by about £8.6 million.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about his local police force, which is, by the way, an extremely good police force in terms of its detection rates. It is very effective. In view of the model of local
accountability that we Liberal Democrats are talking about, it is extremely important that there should be an established, understood formula for funding that takes into account need across the country and that is not subject to the sort of vagaries that we have sadly seen as both the Treasury and the Home Office have chopped and changed on such issues as police community support officers and the 101 number.
The Governments former answer to the problem was the same as ours: more local democracy holding police forces to account. I welcome the Home Secretarys implication earlier that she has not entirely given up on that vision, but I hope that it is not just a smokescreen for retreat, as was the case with the provisions in the Counter-Terrorism Bill, when although she said that she was not changing her mind, the reality was that the policy had changed fundamentally. I do not know what the Governments answer in this Bill actually is. It cannot be Her Majestys inspectorate of constabulary, because however admirable its work is, it has not managed to reduce the disparities, despite many long years of trying; nor, for the same reasons, can it be the National Police Improvement Agency. We are left with a Polo policing reforma policy with a hole in the middle. We are left with a vacuum, a void and intellectual vacuity.
Rob Marris: I note the argument the hon. Gentleman is making and I wonder whether he could elucidate how far his party would take the localism policy. For example, do he and his party want the 43 police forces in England and Wales to be funded wholly by a local income tax? I think that that used to be his partys policy. What proportion of funds should be raised locally? Can he say a little more about the funding of the police in his conception?
Chris Huhne: As the hon. Gentleman may know, local funding for the police has been steadily increasing as the amount of central Government grant is cut. There has to be an adequate amount of central Government grant to ensure that different needs are met across the country. That is a key matter and he is right to draw attention to it. [ Interruption. ] The answer to the question clearly is to make sure that there is a settled system, that each police authority is happy with the outcome and that there are no changes from year to year. Local funding would then pick up the remainder. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that our policy is to move towards local income tax, which would be preferable to the precept on council tax.
We can but speculate on the reasons for the Governments dramatic U-turn. Perhaps the Home Secretary realised that her plans for elected police authorities were fatally flawed. Such bodies would have been deeply unrepresentative and would have encouraged confrontational politics, because for the first time since 1997, the Government planned a new body elected under the first-past-the-post system. The Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Greater London assembly, the London Mayor and the European Parliament all use proportional or preference systems. In a force area, each borough that was a crime and disorder reduction partnership would elect one person as if it was a Westminster constituency.
The result is clear, as we know from an analysis of the Green Paper proposals made by the Electoral Reform Society. Based on the 2007 local election results, it
showed that the Conservatives would win two thirds of the seats on police authorities outside London with just 38 per cent. of the popular vote. The proposals would also have wiped out Labour representation in the south of England.
The answer is not to ditch direct elections entirely, because the fundamental intellectual argument is correct, but for police authorities to be elected by a system of fair votes that ensures a proper ethnic and gender balance through the natural operation of a partys self-interest. In force areas with substantial ethnic minorities, such as London, Greater Manchester, Liverpool, West Yorkshire and the West Midlands, either the Green Paper system or, even worse, the Tory system of single elected commissioners for each force area would provide substantial parts of the population with little or no representation. We know that first past the post is biased against women and ethnic minorities, because the parties want to put up white, middle-class men in suits who are held to alienate the fewest votersjust look at us in the Chamber. The result of the proposals would be an alienation of many from the police that could ultimately prove dangerousinsensitive use of stop and search by the police was largely responsible for the Brixton riots.
What of police reform has been left? Not much, I fear. The general requirement to take account of local views is a sop and it certainly cannot be enforced, as suggested, by the inspectorate. There are sensible provisions for collaboration between police forces and authorities, but we are not happy that the Home Secretary has the power to give directions from the centre in that matter. Nor are we happy that there is no duty to collaborate where it would be beneficial to the local communities involved. That would be a much more sensible way of proceeding than attempting to ensure that the Home Office was on every case.
There is further centralisation and potential bureaucratisation in the proposals for a police senior appointments panel. The Home Secretary has the power to appoint both the chair and members, and to instruct the panel to carry out additional functions. The Association of Chief Police Officers has raised serious concerns, saying that it is
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