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Paul Holmes: My hon. Friend mentions policies that are based on the evidence of what works, and probation. Does he agree, therefore, that the Government's embarkation on cuts in probation funding and staff is folly, when, for example, the intensive alternative to custody that Derbyshire probation service is piloting costs one fifth of a custodial sentence and is more successful at preventing reoffending?
Chris Huhne: I am grateful for that intervention, because my hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the pilot in Derbyshire, where the results are encouraging and, indeed, the reoffending rates are as he describes. However, I agree with the Home Secretary that it is important to have more police on the front line-if only the Government would take his apparent advice. We need a further 10,000 police officers on the front line. We are still under-policed when compared with other leading industrial democracies, but we need better policing, too.
One of the biggest disappointments of the Gracious Speech and the Crime and Security Bill is that they represent yet another missed opportunity by the Government to show some real commitment to police reform. The National Policing Improvement Agency should be given a wider remit so that it can commission research into any measures that cut crime, including not only better policing methods, but measures outside the police. Chief officers should have greater discretion to manage their force, decide key staff changes and reward specialism.
The police contract-lifetime employment, now for 35 years, a single point of entry and pay linked to seniority rather than to talent or effort-should be urgently reviewed, as successive reports from inspectors of constabulary have pointed out. It was right to make a bonfire of the central targets and controls that have been introduced since 2002, but it was surely wrong for the Home Office not to cut back on the data requirements and red tape that went with that central control regime. It was surely wrong, too, to fail to put in place stronger local governance arrangements to pick up where Whitehall's meddling left off.
Chief officers must be responsible for operations, they must be independent and they must be operationally independent, but strategy and priorities must be determined by strong and representative police authorities that speak for their people throughout the force area. There should be better consultation at local, basic command unit or operational command unit levels, because that matters; but the real locus of accountability is where the money is decided, at police authority level, and only more powerful accountability will drive up policing standards towards the best.
Detection rates, even for violent crime, vary from 34 per cent. in the worst performing force, the Metropolitan police, to 67 per cent. in the best performing force in England and Wales. That is not an acceptable variation, and the public should not accept it. However, the Government have run away from the debate at the first whiff of gunshot from their own, Labour, councillors, and the official Opposition have proposed a system that makes strong men blench. One elected sheriff, in a multi-ethnic and diverse area such as Greater Manchester or the west midlands, would be a disaster, as the sheriff would be elected while ignoring the vast majority of his or her voters. That way lies insensitive policing, random
stop-and-search and the Brixton riots. Without such reform, the measures heralded in the Gracious Speech are just tinkering around the edges. We need stronger local governance, but it has to be right and it has to be representative.
Even where the Government are faced inexorably with the need for reform because of court judgments, they manage to botch their response. Let us look at the DNA database. Of course, DNA should be used in criminal investigations. No one denies that; and it will go on being used. Forensics should be better supported than Ministers' reorganisation of the service suggests. However, the Government's proposal-a six-year period holding DNA even of innocent people-is still an extraordinary response to the European Court of Human Rights and to the age-old principle of British justice that we are innocent until proven guilty. Just under 1 million innocent people-I think that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, who is not in his place, said that the figure is 750,000, but my information from a parliamentary answer of 15 October is that it is 986,000-now have their DNA on the database, yet 2.3 million people who were convicted before DNA was routinely collected do not have their DNA on the database. No wonder the effectiveness of the database is steadily falling.
Liberal Democrats favour instead a simple rule: if someone is convicted, their DNA will remain on the database; if they are innocent, it will not. By contrast, the Government's illiberal proposal is likely to be struck down again by the European Court, as it is not a proportionate response to a problem, and it still intrudes on the right to privacy guarded in the European convention on human rights.
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman just said that if someone is guilty and convicted, they are on the database, but if someone is innocent, they are not on the database. I thought that he supported the Scottish system whereby if someone is arrested but not charged for a serious offence they remain on the database. Is this a change in his approach?
Chris Huhne: The Home Secretary will have noticed that at our party conference-I note that we are a party that determines these things democratically-we voted very firmly for the view that innocence and guilt should be the determining criterion for whether someone is on the database. That has the great merit of simplicity and of being understood in line with our traditions in this country.
Chris Grayling: It is important for the House to understand where the Liberal Democrats are positioned on this matter, which is clearly going to be a matter of debate in the next few weeks, so can the hon. Gentleman clarify his position? Is he saying that the Scottish system is not the right one? I would have anticipated his supporting it, as he has appeared to do so in the past. Has that position changed?
Chris Huhne: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Scottish system was introduced while the Liberal Democrats were in government in Scotland, and we were very happy with it. In fact, there is very little difference between the system that I have suggested and the Scottish system. As a matter of clarity, it would make things much simpler if we applied the simple rule of innocence versus guilt.
The Labour Government's inadequate proposals on the DNA database are entirely typical of their approach to crime and civil liberties. Ministers have ignored the evidence of what really works to cut crime, but they have still managed to trample civil liberties underfoot. It is shocking, for example, that only one in five hospitals is providing the anonymised data that allow police to target violent hotspots and cut woundings by 40 per cent. In the case of Cardiff, that is clearly shown not in anecdotal evidence of the sort that the Home Secretary gave us on the DNA database, but in peer-reviewed, solid academic evidence of the type that he unfortunately proved rather too dismissive of in respect of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
The reality is that Ministers repeatedly come here with proposals that scythe away at the right to protest, the right to know how people have died at the hands of the state, the right to jury trial, the right to express oneself in a public place, the right to know what one is charged with when detained for up to 28 days, and the right to leave one's own home if a Minister decides otherwise in a control order. Rarely has so much that is so precious been sacrificed so enthusiastically on the altar of ineffectiveness.
That death of civil liberties by a thousand small cuts is precisely why Liberal Democrats have put forward a coherent and comprehensive Bill for repealing intrusions into hard-won freedoms. It is called the Freedom Bill. It proposes a reduction in the period of detention without charge from 28 days to 14 days. It advocates the abolition of the illiberal and discredited control orders regime-which, according to a recent front-page article in The Daily Telegraph, the Conservatives oppose. I was surprised to see that, given that whenever the measure has been up for annual renewal they have repeatedly refused to join us in the Lobby to show their opposition.
Our draft Bill also advocates renegotiating the unbalanced US-UK extradition treaty, with particular relevance to the current case of Gary McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome; scrapping the illiberal and expensive identity cards scheme; and rolling back the surveillance state by curbing the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, rather than removing the checks on police use of that Act, as the Conservatives propose. Only by putting together the cumulative losses of freedoms can we dramatise the effects of this Government since 1997, and indeed of the last Conservative Administration. The Freedom Bill is a key priority for us.
I turn to the stronger powers to tackle antisocial behaviour that have been suggested. It is a real and pressing problem across the country, as we all know from our constituencies. It can blight people's lives to live near or next to a family from hell. We will examine in detail the measures that the Government have brought forward in the Crime and Security Bill, and we will deal with them on their merits. Again, however, the strategy is far from clear.
We would instead introduce new community justice panels and positive behaviour orders and increase the use of acceptable behaviour contracts, while reserving antisocial behaviour orders as a last resort. There is a real problem with ASBOs at present, because they are honoured mostly in the breach. They are not used as a last resort, and they are not enforced properly. In response to the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who mentioned custody, ASBOs should be part of a
graduated response to a problem rather than something that we go to early in the process, which merely brings them into disrepute. We would also pilot a youth volunteer force, to make engagement with the community more attractive to young people and to bridge the divide between young and old people. Activities could include the restoration of sports facilities or environmental projects, providing people with skills for the future.
I turn to immigration, which was an important feature of the remarks of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) in particular. The Government have squandered opportunity upon opportunity to reform what is a broken system. The draft Immigration Bill is the ninth immigration Bill since 1997. If they were going to simplify the system all along, why have they used eight Acts to make it so complicated that the long-awaited and much lauded simplification Bill is now only ready to be published in draft? Their inability to tackle the issues involved simply beggars belief.
The debate on immigration should be based on the evidence of benefit to this country, not on scaremongering about British jobs for British workers or on whipping up yet more anti-immigration rhetoric. The abolition of exit checks by the Conservative Government, followed up by the Labour Government, means that we still have no idea how many people are in this country illegally. Nearly 2 million short-term visas are issued every year to students and others, but we still cannot check whether they have been respected by seeing whether the people who have been issued with them have left the country, as the UK Border Agency is still only able to check 60 per cent. of exits from this country. The Liberal Democrats would immediately reinstate exit checks, so that we could at least grasp the extent of the problem and ensure that short-term visas were respected. We would create a new national border force with police powers, so that our borders were properly controlled.
I did not hear anything from the Conservative Benches, or indeed the Labour Benches, about the benefits of legal migration. With a quarter of the doctors and half the nurses in London having been born overseas, the NHS would collapse without migrant workers. Migration must be able to respond to the diverse needs of different regions and industries, and a blunt cap on immigration of the sort proposed by the Conservatives-without any number attached to it, we note-would frankly be a Soviet-style response from a dynamic market economy such as that of the UK. Would we really refuse to allow Manchester City to sign Robinho at the transfer window because a cap had been reached, or refuse to allow some City of London firm to hire someone who could help create jobs for British people by bringing a skill that was not already available to us? That is just simple populism, not sensible policy.
North of the border in Scotland, even Conservatives want more migration and a larger population. In the south-east of England, by contrast, we are talking of desalination plants to provide fresh water, which clearly shows that we are reaching the environmental limits of population density, because such plants require fossil fuels to heat the water to evaporate the salt.
The Liberal Democrats would ensure that immigration works in the interests of the UK by creating a regional
points-based immigration system, giving greater weight to skills and regions that need migrants and less to those that do not.
Chris Grayling: With respect, I do not think I have heard such a load of complete nonsense for a long time. Will the hon. Gentleman explain that? How can he have a regional points-based system? If there is a quota for the north-east and people are allowed to move there, what stops them emigrating there and then moving to London, which may be full up?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman really must stop displaying his ignorance of matters within his portfolio. If he had actually spent any time studying systems that are based on the points-based system that we apparently copied, he would know that they operate in Australia and Canada. What happens is that a visa is issued that applies to a particular geographical area.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that 192 million people come in and go out of this country every year and that the most effective way of controlling illegal immigration is through employers. The system is very simple. As they do in Australia and Canada, we ensure that an employer has the visa papers of an employee. If they do not entitle that employee to work in that region, that is illegal immigration just as much as not having a visa at all. The system is very simple and it works. He could tell me that people will live in Southampton and work in Edinburgh, but that is highly unlikely. The main point is that the visa applies to the workplace, which is-he can talk to the UK Border Agency about this-the most important way of enforcement.
Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): May I give the hon. Gentleman a scenario? Suppose a company in Eastleigh that employs migrant workers has a branch office in Edinburgh, to which it would like to transfer two of those workers. How would he police a system which, effectively, is almost about internal house arrest in parts of the country? It is a bizarre suggestion.
Chris Huhne: It is not internal house arrest at all because it applies not to where people live, but to where they work. The key point is that it is a work visa. That is what happens in both Australia and Canada and, actually, the right hon. Lady should be aware that it happens in this country too. I agree that the Government whom she has supported do not enforce visas adequately and that they do not do enough checks of employers. There have been far too few prosecutions of employers-fewer than 200 since 1997 on the latest figures-but it is through those and checks on employers that we enforce the existing system. Exactly the same thing would apply under a regional points-based system.
The home affairs aspects of this Queen's Speech are nothing new: yet more legislation, thrown together in a haphazard manner and designed only to attract headlines rather than tackle meaningful reform an any issue, from policing to civil liberties, immigration and the DNA database. This Government have created 3,600 new criminal offences since 1997 and we are still counting-such criminal offences as the creation of a nuclear explosion, as if murder and criminal damage were not enough to meet the contingency. We have seen sheaves upon sheaves of new Bills. If law was the answer to problems, we
would have none. However, law is rarely the only answer, and sometimes not even a partial one. It is high time the Government concentrated on evidence and delivery rather than new Bills. If they did so, Britain would be a better place with a substantially lower crime rate.
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab): Today marks the 10th anniversary of the formal proclamation by the United Nations of 25 November as international day for the elimination of violence against women. Violence against women and girls takes many forms and affects all our communities. I acknowledge that the Government have done much to raise awareness and to protect victims of domestic violence, and much in the area of prevention, as the Home Secretary outlined earlier. I do not wish to delay the House by quoting more statistics, except for one that relates to the different way in which women and men may experience violence. Men are more likely to be victims of violent crime than women, but in domestic violence, in which the vast majority of victims are women, the victims have been assaulted on average 35 times before reporting those crimes to the police.
I welcome the Home Secretary's statement of support for the white ribbon campaign, as worn by many right hon. and hon. Members today. I commend the campaign, especially on its efforts to involve men in tackling the issue of domestic violence. In a Parliament in which women are under-represented, it is vitally important that male parliamentarians get involved in this campaign.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, on which I serve, is persevering with its commitment to promote the drafting of a future Council of Europe convention to prevent and combat violence against women, including domestic violence. In adopting a binding legal instrument, the Council of Europe would send out a strong political signal. I hope that the Government will support such a move in the Committee of Ministers. As the vice-chair of the sub-committee on trafficking in human beings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I welcome the Government's decision, a year ago, to ratify the European convention on action against trafficking in human beings. Earlier this week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, together with the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), who was in his place earlier, visited the human rights trafficking centre in Sheffield. I know that the future location and legal status of the centre is under discussion. Whatever happens in those discussions, the corporate identity and the collective wisdom in the Sheffield unit should be retained.
I recall that part of the Government's initial reluctance to ratify the convention was the argument from immigration officials that a victim-based approach could undermine immigration controls-the so-called pull factor. At the time, the JCHR argued that it was not credible to suggest that a woman would voluntarily submit to indeterminate sexual slavery of the most brutal kind for the purpose of obtaining UK residency. Thankfully, that view prevailed and was accepted by the Government. But I fear that immigration officials have not substantially changed their views and for that reason if, come April, the human rights trafficking centre is not to be a free-standing agency, it would in my view be better and more appropriate for it to be located with the Serious Organised Crime Agency rather than with the UK Border Agency.
The convention on trafficking has been in effect since February, and the monitoring system is now up and running. I seek an assurance from the Government that they will continue to ensure that the monitoring mechanism-the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings or GRETA-is adequately resourced and that they will legislate or otherwise act on its findings on the UK's implementation of the convention.
There are conflicting statistics on trafficking but we know that thousands are trafficked for sexual exploitation, the majority of whom are women. However, it is not only trafficked women who are forced or coerced into prostitution, which is another example of violence against women. Most prostituted women have been abused, and most of them are tricked into prostitution usually by men who groom them, get them addicted or use their power over them in other ways. That is why I welcome the historic vote in the other place on 3 November to back the Government and make it a crime for men to demand and pay for sex with trafficked women or those forced or coerced to work as prostitutes. In that historic vote, we have moved from the supply side to the demand side by insisting that men, not women, should bear responsibility for the abuse of prostituted women. But that vote will be effective only if the law is used. Passing the law is not the same as implementing it. It will be up to the Government to ensure that the police and magistrates make it work.
I do not want to comment substantially on the circumstances of the Dr. Magnanti and Belle de Jour saga, but I agree with Object's campaigns co-ordinator, Anna van Heeswijk, writing in the Evening Standard, that the one voice that has been conspicuously absent is that of the silent and silenced majority of women in prostitution who do not experience the sex industry as harmless fun. I share her view that the glamorous way in which it has been presented in the media tends
"to normalise what for the majority constitutes abuse and exploitation"
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