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"grooms women and girls into thinking that selling their bodies is an empowering career choice and tells men and boys that buying women for sexual use is acceptable".
Another gross form of violence against women is female genital mutilation. I congratulate the Government on having introduced the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, which is intended to help prevent that unacceptable and barbaric practice.
David T.C. Davies: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, since the Act was introduced, not one person has been convicted of an offence under it and that only one case has been investigated? Is it not a disgrace that the Act was passed but no real action has been taken?
The hon. Gentleman anticipated my comments. There is substantial evidence to suggest that hundreds of girls and young women are taken from this country every
year for such abuse to be carried out elsewhere. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Claire Ward) told the House that there have been no prosecutions or convictions for female genital mutilation. The Government have appointed a cross-Government co-ordinator to provide a single point of contact for work on that issue, and I hope that a Minister can come before the House, in the not-too-distant future, to report progress on the matter.
I wish to make one other reference to the Council of Europe. As the Parliamentary Assembly's rapporteur on honour-based violence, I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the assistance that his officials gave to me in commenting on the draft text of my report before publication. The report's recommendations have been adopted unanimously by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Most of the recommendations are already in place and have been implemented in the UK, but I would welcome Home Office support in the Committee of Ministers for the widest possible implementation of the recommendations on honour-based violence throughout the 47 member states.
On the issue of forced marriages, the Government are to be congratulated on the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which came into force last year. There is a fine line between forced marriage and so-called honour crime, as was shown in the brave testimony of Dr. Abedin, a woman doctor of Bangladeshi origin practising in London, who gave evidence to our committee. She had been held captive in Bangladesh and forced to marry. Thanks to the legislation passed by this Government and this Parliament, and with the co-operation between the UK and Bangladeshi authorities, she has been able to return to the UK, where she is trying to rebuild her life.
I would like to say a brief word on constitutional reform. Some 40 years ago, I chaired the British Youth Council and was involved in a successful campaign to reduce the voting age to 18. A few weeks ago, some hon. Members were in the Gallery of the Chamber when the UK Youth Parliament met and voted to take up as its campaign the right to vote at 16. I support it in that endeavour and shall quote a speech in the debate by a young man called James Evans:
"At 16, we can marry our MP, we can sleep with our MP and we can have children with our MP. We can sign up in preparation for fighting and potentially dying for our MP. And suddenly we are not mature enough to vote for them".
You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am the hon. Member who represents Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh. Although famed for being a maximum security prison, which it is, Belmarsh is also a local prison. I share the view of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) that there are far too many people, and particularly young people, who are in prison inappropriately for less serious crimes and for whom it serves no positive purpose. When we discuss the new Crime and Security Bill, I hope that we will see more resources diverted into restorative justice schemes and non-custodial, community-based projects.
I share the concern of the Children's Commissioner and the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe that too many of our young people are incarcerated or locked up in this country. Next door to Belmarsh, we are about to open the youth offenders institution Isis, which some people are calling "Son of Belmarsh". Less than a mile away from that institution, there are two superb projects: the youth awareness project and the archway project, which have a commendable record in diverting young people away from a life of crime. However, such projects are struggling for resources, while we pour more and more money into locking up young people for no positive purpose. I hope that we will see a transfer of funding into some of those more positive ways of working with young people.
My final point relates to the tragedy that occurred a fortnight ago on Tavy bridge, which was the scene of the fatal stabbing of a young man called Moses Nteyoho. We have to tackle the problem of knife crime. Projects such as the youth awareness project in Thamesmead and the archway project are successfully doing just that and diverting young people away from gang culture. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler), who was recently appointed as the Cabinet Office Minister with responsibility for young citizens and youth engagement, recently visited those projects and was greatly impressed. I hope that she will report to other Ministers and Cabinet members on how such schemes can be supported and promoted.
Charlton Athletic community trust has involved the parents of Rob Knox, who was fatally stabbed in Old Bexley and Sidcup. Charlton Athletic won the community club of the year award because of its "Street Violence Ruins Lives" campaign, which has brought the club and the community together to engage with young people. I invite the Ministers to come down and see Charlton Athletic community trust's action on fighting knife crime.
In 1997, the Government came into power on a huge wave of expectation-expectation that was based on huge promises. Given that the Gracious Speech makes even more promises, we should reflect a little on the promises made in the past. To that extent, I will continue the theme started by the shadow Home Secretary. The Government's biggest promise was that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. However, although the Government claim that crime is down, the reality is that violent crime is up, gun crime is up, knife crime is up and drug offences are up-by nearly 80 per cent. As we heard earlier, Britain has now become the cocaine capital of Europe.
As for antisocial behaviour, all three Labour party manifestos-in 1997, 2001 and 2005-spoke of dealing with the problem. If ever there was an admission of failure, it was the reference in the Gracious Speech to introducing legislation to tackle antisocial behaviour. The tragedy is that, in the intervening years, so many people-often some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our community-have gone through so much suffering
and misery. No one doubts that the 3.9 million incidences of antisocial behaviour recorded in England and Wales last year are a gross underestimate. People simply do not report these sorts of incidences because they are worried about the consequences for themselves and their families from the thugs who engage in such antisocial behaviour.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the first legislation on antisocial behaviour. As I recall it, the hon. Gentleman's party would not accept that there was such a thing as antisocial behaviour or that it needed legislation. Will he therefore deal with his party's road to Damascus conversion of accepting not just that antisocial behaviour exists, but that it is something that should be dealt with by law?
Mr. Vara: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to remind her that after 12 and a half years in government, she and her colleagues should perhaps address the promises they have made to the British public, rather than conversations in Committee Rooms in this place. Had they honoured and fulfilled those promises, perhaps the tone of this debate might have been a little different.
"Those who assault teachers or nurses should go to jail."
No doubt Mr. Blair received rapturous applause from all those in the hall when he said that, but we should go to our hospitals today and see how many hospital staff are prepared to applaud the Government. We should ask the staff about the 55,000 physical assaults on hospital staff last year alone, and we should ask them if the promises of jail for those perpetrators have been fulfilled by the Government.
What of those thugs who are caught? For them, antisocial behaviour orders are more a badge of honour than a measure of crime prevention. The 2001 Labour manifesto included a pledge that "persistent offending" should lead to "more severe punishment", but that has turned out to be such a mockery that it is scarcely worth spending time on it, although I will dwell on it just a little. Penalty notices for disorder are dished out by police forces like confetti. Some individuals are given penalty notices even before they have paid for the previous one. Following a freedom of information request that I made to every police force in the country, I found that one individual had received eight notices in one year alone. Surely someone should have come to the conclusion at some point that the method of preventing crime by simply issuing another notice was not working.
Labour's 1997 election pledge was to ensure that prison regimes would be constructive and that inmates faced up to their offending behaviour. There have been many subsequent promises to provide education and training, and treatment for drug addiction, but they have simply not been followed through. In fact, prison is now one of the best places in which to pick up a drug habit.
Let us consider what actually happens to prisoners when they go to prison. A new prisoner waits a few weeks to get on a training course. When he or she finally gets on that course, they are likely to be moved to another prison halfway through that course-without finishing it. Then, at the new prison, they start the whole process again, and wait a few weeks to get on a course and so on, so the cycle continues and the training is never completed. No wonder prisoners leave prison still unable to read or write, or to have a useful trade that could help them contribute to society, rather than being dependent on society or offending again. It was hardly surprising that when my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) tabled a written question on the amount of education received in prisons, he was told on 5 November, at column 1212W of Hansard, that prisoners at Reading prison receive less than an hour of education a day.
The drug rehabilitation programme has a similar pattern to that for training. A prisoner waits for several weeks to get on a course, and when he finally gets on it, he is moved to another prison. He waits for a few weeks again, gets on a drug rehabilitation course, and moves on to another prison yet again before the course is completed.
It is not only prisoners who are moved from one prison to another but, frequently, governors. It cannot be right that the average turnover time for a governor in a prison is a mere 18 months. We must have a system in which governors stay in a prison long enough to put in place initiatives that will be good for the inmates, and long enough to see those initiatives through. Given the present circumstances in prisons, it is hardly surprising that the incidence of self-harm in both prisons and youth offender institutions increased by more than 25 per cent. between 2004 and 2008.
There has been an absolute failure to manage the prison population. The Government have ignored all the warnings about an impending crisis in prison places. That is why prison capacity is now at 99 per cent., and it would have been a lot worse were it not for the Government's early release programme, under which nearly 70,000 prisoners have been released early, including those who had been locked up for violent offences.
The Labour manifesto of 1997 said that police should be on the beat, not pushing paper, yet 12 and a half years on, our police are being stifled by bureaucracy. Men and women join the police force not to sit behind desks, but to be out there on the streets, dealing with crime. We have the absurd situation in which the personal details of an arrested person can sometimes be recorded up to 17 times, on as many different forms.
A different, but important, consideration that is often overlooked in such debates is the hidden cost of crime: the cost of pain and suffering endured by the victims; the cost to the national health service; the cost of social services; the cost of the stress and strain put on the family and friends of those who need to adjust to care for the victims of crime; the cost of lost wages; the cost of increased insurance premiums, and so on. Although those are the hidden costs of crime, they are nevertheless real. The Home Office has tried only once to cost the separate headings, and in 2003 the estimated figure for those hidden costs was a staggering £29 billion. I am not surprised that the Government are not keen on an
annual assessment of the hidden cost of crime, because under them that figure would have increased on a regular basis.
To conclude, I refer to the original phrase uttered by Tony Blair: "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". Two weeks ago, in an article in The Sunday Times, Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, was asked to comment on whether he thought that Labour had delivered on that pledge, and his response was a diplomatic, "No comment." The Government have shown themselves to be weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime. They have shown themselves to be rich in rhetoric and poor in substance, plentiful in promises and lacking in delivery.
After 12 years in government, six Home Secretaries, 39 junior Ministers, nearly 50 criminal justice Acts and more than 3,000 offences, the Government have still not delivered on law and order. They are past their sell-by date. More importantly, they are well past their use-by date. They need to acknowledge that it is time to go.
Mr. William Bain (Glasgow, North-East) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech during the debate on the Loyal Address. It is an honour for any right hon. or hon. Member to represent any constituency in this House, but it is an even more special privilege to be able to serve the community in which I was born, brought up and educated, and in which I have lived throughout my life.
One of the upsides of having just fought the longest by-election campaign in modern history is that I was able to meet almost one in six, or 10,000, of my constituents during its course. What renewed my faith in our democratic process was having the opportunity to share my vision for Glasgow, North-East, and to hear of my constituents' hopes for their future, face to face. Despite the low turnout, the people of Glasgow, North-East care deeply about politics and about repairing the reputation of this House. They have sent me here to support the recommendations of the Kelly report, and to seek greater transparency in the way in which decisions are made by the House and our other democratic institutions.
It was gratifying that so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends-and, indeed, right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, particularly the right hon. Members for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)-were able to campaign in the constituency. Perhaps that contributed to the unexpected size of my majority, which was 8,111.
I should like to share with the House a conversation that I had with a voter on the eve of polling day. Many Members may sympathise with my predicament. When I canvassed this particular elector for the third time, he greeted me with the same response that he had given on the previous two occasions. "Are you still trying?" he asked. "Yes," I said. "I cannot support any of you," he said. "None of the candidates has sufficient experience to be elected as my MP." As I prepared to concede and to consider that my efforts might be fruitless, he leaned conspiratorially over his garden fence and said "Don't worry, I will be supporting your party-not because of you, mind you; I will be voting for the Prime Minister."
I represent a varied and interesting group of more than 20 communities in Glasgow, North-East, from Ruchill and Lambhill in the west to Hogganfield and Millerston in the east, and from Dennistoun in the south to Colston and Milton in the north. Each has its own history and character, but what they have in common is that they contain people of great humour, hard-working people, people of intelligence, talent and aspiration.
During the campaign, I met mothers in Royston who were determined to fight for better child care so that they could work more hours to support their families. I met young people in Ruchazie who were taking the first step towards an apprenticeship through a programme run by a local voluntary group. I met retired people in Possilpark who were running a lunch club three times a week for local disabled people because of their strong sense of social responsibility. While they do not believe that Government on their own have the answer to every ill in society, nor do they believe that Government are the problem-and nor do they believe that Government should be cut back, with all the social consequences that we saw in Glasgow in the 1980s and early 1990s.
My constituents are not, as some portrayed them in the election, passive recipients of the welfare state, but people who want to see their children do better than they have done and to possess the courage and ambition to strengthen their communities. They elected me because I will stand up for their values, and will support the policies on investment in jobs, child care, pensions, tax credits and the minimum wage that will bring about a great improvement in their living standards. They support an active state that can be a force for good and has greater equality as its aim, not an enabling state that would enfeeble communities because of its withdrawal of investment in jobs or decent public services.
The Glasgow, North-East constituency was created at the last general election from the previous seats of Glasgow, Springburn and Glasgow, Maryhill. Both areas have in the past had outstanding representatives, such as George and Agnes Hardie, John Forman, Richard Buchanan, James Craigen, Maria Fyfe-as doughty a fighter for social justice today as she was when a Member of this House-and, of course, my neighbour, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), whose commitment on issues such as international development I have respected for over a decade. There have even been two Conservative Members in the past: Frederick Macquiston, supporting a Liberal-Conservative coalition between 1918 and 1922, and Captain Charles Emmott of the National Government coalition between 1931 and 1935. Neither experiment has been repeated by my constituents since.
My immediate predecessor is Lord Martin of Springburn, and of Port Dundas. He is an exceptional person and parliamentarian. My family and many others in my constituency have known him for decades, and can attest that his career has been a tribute to the best traditions of public service. I know him to be a man of great fortitude under pressure-never more so than when Speaker of this House for nearly nine years-and of great kindness. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members will have their own memories of individual acts of encouragement or advice he gave, but no one will forget the compassion he showed to the late Patsy Calton on resuming her seat after the last general election in the midst of her brave battle with cancer.
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