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My hon. Friend also pointed out that many prisoners suffer from drug addiction problems, and we know that drug addiction leads people to commit serious criminal offences. The scandal is that more people come out of prison as drug addicts than go in, so we need treatment programmes in prison to ensure that we clean these people up and get them to a position where they can go
back into society, hold down a responsible job and start giving back to the community, as opposed to taking away from the community. That is why it is so important that when people are in prison, we do something with them on the educational and training front. We must give them the skills that they require to go and compete in the jobs market.
I am all in favour of building more prisons in the short to medium term, because unless we relieve prison overcrowding, we will not be able to address the underlying causes of reoffending. When prisons are overcrowded, it becomes purely a management issue for prison officers and the governors, as opposed to a rehabilitation issue. So let us, in the short to medium term, build more prisons so that we can start to have the space in the criminal justice system to rehabilitate people back into society, instead of sending out better criminals. Indeed, it is debatable whether we are sending out better criminals. To get into prison in the first place, they have to be caught, so they are not learning their skills from particularly bright operators.
It is important, going ahead, that as we clean up our communities and make society a safer place, we start to address seriously the revolving door of prison. Let us be sure that when people go to prison for a significant period, we use that time to make that prisoner a better person. Certainly, punish them. Having their liberty removed is a punishment. For many of these people, going to drug treatment classes-
David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman will have heard the comments from the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies). If prisoners are showing evidence that they are benefiting from rehabilitation and their behaviour is improving, does he believe that the concept of remission of sentence should be retained in the Prison Service? His colleague seemed to suggest that it should be abandoned.
Mr. Walker: I am not here to fall out with any colleague. Parole for good behaviour is positive. If people go to prison for five years and are then told that they will serve six years unless they demonstrate good behaviour, the switch is to a negative approach to managing prisoners. We need a rewards-based system, and good behaviour should result in early release-not obscenely early release, but certainly early release. I am not arguing for a softer approach to prisoners. I believe that we should be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. Right now we are not being tough on the causes of crime because we are not addressing low educational attainment, addiction rates or mental health problems.
I know that time is short, so I shall conclude. We have to be brave in promoting prison reform. There are not a lot of votes in it for any of us, but it is the right thing to do, because we want to make the communities that we represent safer places. When we keep turning back out into these communities criminals who are unreformed, who remain violent, who remain ill, who remain addicted, they are just as dangerous or even more dangerous than before we sent them to prison. So I hope all Members will approach prison reform with open-mindedness and courage. If we get it right in the long term, there will be a consequential saving to taxpayers, and our communities will be safer places in which to live.
Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am very glad to be following the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), as I am certainly more on his wavelength than that of the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies).
One thing that has always dismayed me during my time as a Member of this House is the misuse or ignoring of evidence in order to justify unjustifiable policies. One particularly bad example involves drugs policies, and both Front Benches are guilty in that regard. That is not what I intend to talk about today, however. I want to concentrate on a particularly bad example of the misuse of statistics.
On 13 November, articles about household benefits appeared in a number of the tabloids. The Daily Express carried the headline "Shameless Labour. Toll of families on £15,000 benefits doubles to 1.2 million since Labour came to power". The article went on to say:
"Last night, critics described the massive handouts as a grim indictment of the flourishing welfare dependency culture fostered by Gordon Brown. The statistics sparked new anger about the growing burden on the working population, having to pay for claimants languishing in a lifetime of taxpayers-subsidised indolence."
In the article, housing benefit, incapacity benefit and jobseeker's allowance were all described as "handouts". Only at the end of the article was it mentioned that the figures included pensioners, the disabled and people caring for the elderly and infirm.
"The number of families raking in more than £12,000 a year in benefits has trebled since Labour came to power, figures showed yesterday. Britain's culture of spiralling welfare dependency means 300,000 households now receive that figure or more in benefits-up from 100,000 in 1997. A worker would have to earn £27,000 a year to take home £20,000."
"The number of families on £20,000 a year in welfare handouts has risen threefold".
The source of these stories was information obtained from a written parliamentary question from the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who was extensively quoted in the aforementioned articles as saying:
"These figures show the shocking growth of a dependency culture under Labour. The Government needs to get to grips with Britain's benefit culture and radically reform our welfare system. It's hardly surprising that so many people spend their lives on benefits when in some cases they can get as much on benefits as many people earn in work."
But the figures do not show a shocking growth in dependency. They are taken from the family resources survey, and they are rounded to the nearest 100,000 of population. It is not therefore valid, for example, to describe a change from 100,000 to 200,000 as a doubling. Those figures could mask a change from 149,000 to 151,000, which is hardly a change at all. As the Library specialist told me, it is better to look at the percentage of households for which the change is less dramatic, if it exists at all.
Let us first look at the number of households that said that they receive more than £15,000. Based on rounded-up survey samples in 1997-98, there were about
600,000 such households, equating to 3 per cent. of all households, of which 500,000 had at least one member of working age. By 2007-08, the overall numbers had, indeed, doubled to 1.2 million, or 4 per cent. of households, but the figure for household members of working age had not increased significantly at all: it was still about 600,000, or 2 per cent. of households.
If there was any story from those figures, it was the large increase in the number of pensioner households that receive benefits of more than £15,000 per annum. The number had increased from 100,000 to 600,000 during the period in question. That is not a twofold or threefold increase, but a sixfold increase, so why did the right hon. Member for Maidenhead not congratulate the Government on helping the most vulnerable pensioners, those with disabilities and extensive care needs? The headline should have read "Labour pride", not "Labour shame".
On the numbers of households receiving more than £20,000, the figures are so low as to be meaningless. The table from the written answer on the number of households with persons of working age gives the following percentages: 1997-98, 1 per cent.; 1998-99, 1 per cent.; 1999-2000, 0 per cent.; 2000-01, 0 per cent.; 2001-02, 1 per cent.; 2003-04, 1 per cent.; 2004-05, 1 per cent.; 2005-06, 1 per cent.; 2006-07, 1 per cent.; and 2007-08, 1 per cent. Only if pensioner households are included does the percentage rise to 2 per cent. or 3 per cent.
There is a similar story on housing benefit. The Tories have put out scare stories about the increase in the housing benefit bill, but given that the number of social homes has decreased by 1 million since 1995, making more people dependent on the private sector, it is not surprising that the bill has gone up.
I think that I have established beyond doubt that the Opposition are not averse to misusing statistics. Their leader did so in his speech to their party conference, maligning the Labour Government on poverty while conveniently forgetting the huge rise in poverty under the Tories. Thank God they have not been in power through the recent recession.
It is particularly odious to misuse statistics in a way that pillories vulnerable people and panders to the lowest form of populism. We have seen the Tories recently put about completely unwarranted scare stories about the Government taking away disability living allowance and attendance allowance from pensioners. Then the next day, as I have shown, the same people-those pensioners-are portrayed as undeserving and a part of the dependency culture.
Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): The speeches that we have heard today have oscillated between both ends of the spectrum in terms of quality, and this evening I will attempt to make my own small contribution.
I was incredibly disappointed with the Home Office aspect of the Crime and Security Bill, because I should very much have liked it to cover two particular areas: the UK's current drug problems, about which there should have been greater detail; and the lack of trust between the police and the community.
I begin by talking about the drug problems that we face in the UK. The charity Addaction estimates that drug-related crime costs this country £110 billion a year. Of course, it is almost impossible to calculate the actual cost because there is a huge personal cost in terms of families, lost lives, and children and teenagers who become addicted to drugs and then go on to have lives that are meaningless. The figure of £110 billion is incredibly large-although it may even be on the conservative side-given the economic crisis and the Government's having to look at public spending in various Departments. One would therefore have thought the Bill might do something to deal with the problem.
Let us look at what the Government's strategy has been over the past 12 years. Shortly after they came to power, they introduced a 10-year strategy to combat the misuse of drugs. Ten years later, they issued another strategy that was almost identical to the first one. It was about maintaining and containing the drugs problem. It was not about dealing with or reducing the problem, but managing it. That is borne out by the number of methadone prescriptions, which have gone up by 71 per cent. In 2007, there were 1 million prescriptions; in 2008, there were 1.8 million. That huge increase proves in itself that the whole strategy is about maintenance.
We know-because it has been proven by a rehabilitation centre in Stevenage that has a 70 per cent. success rate-that the only way to deal with a young person's drug problem is abstinence. That means putting them into rehabilitation, removing their source of drugs, making them go through cold turkey, and giving them the support that they need. That has never been this Government's policy; despite its being a proven treatment method that works, it has never been adopted. Yet they are also the Government who declassified cannabis and then reclassified it as a class A drug. Their message to young people has been one of total confusion. They say, "Cannabis is not as serious as we thought it was. Oh yes, whoops, sorry, it is-we're going to reclassify it as class A. We're not going to do anything about treatment for the addiction or about the people at the school gate, the drug pushers, peddlers and pimps-we're just going to up the number of methadone prescriptions and give people an alternative to the drugs that they've been taking all this time." That is not a solution, and it is part of what is breaking down our society.
When I recently visited Styal women's prison, every single offender was in there for a drug-related crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) talked about the need to create more prisons. If we dealt with the drug problem properly-in a way that worked, using abstinence and rehabilitation on a day-care or residential basis-we would not need to build extra prisons because the drug-related crime numbers would fall and we would not need those extra spaces. The financial cost of crime would also be reduced considerably, and we would be a much better society as a result. It is not only about the young people whose lives are lost as a result of drugs, but about the people who are victims of the crimes committed in pursuit of the drugs needed to sustain a habit.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Does my hon. Friend recognise that there are 5.5 million crimes in which the characters who committed them have been caught and punished, but 4.5 million criminals are not yet caught? That is the problem.
Nadine Dorries: I absolutely agree. That is partly why it is so difficult to calculate the true extent of the problem. However, the figures that my hon. Friend quoted, and other figures, reveal the depth of the problem that we are dealing with.
It is a shame that in their final Gracious Speech, the Government have produced a Bill that deals with clamping and antisocial behaviour, but not with the worst antisocial behaviour that we face, which is a result of the drug problem. It is a huge shame that they have missed this golden opportunity to make a better society and deal with a problem that they have tried, and failed comprehensively, to deal with over the past 12 years. It was a golden opportunity to say to the people of the nation, "We understand the drug problem. We understand that there are many victims of crime as a result of drugs, so we are going to produce some really good treatment programmes, such as abstinence."
I wish to touch on the erosion of the community's trust in the police. That may be because of the de Menezes shooting or police storming into the offices of an MP without a search warrant or permission in a politically motivated manner. It may be because the police are arresting people to take DNA without their permission. No Home Office Bill can be implemented without the people having trust in the police. Without communities working with the police, there is almost no point in bringing forward a Home Office Bill, because it will be impossible to implement.
What can we do to improve trust in the police? We can make them more accountable to the people. When I write to my chief constable with a complaint from a constituent, somebody else writes back to me-an allocated department or another officer. Nobody in the police is accountable to the general public on a day-to-day, issue-by-issue basis.
The Crime and Security Bill would have been fantastic if it had somewhere in it the introduction of an elected police commissioner or some way of making the police accountable to the people. The argument that Labour Members frequently give is that that would mean politicisation of the police, and that if we bring politics into the police force at local level we will be doomed. However, the announcement by the Association of Chief Police Officers this weekend that it wanted to introduce a register of men who have been reported for committing two or more domestic violence attacks was politicisation. It shows the police acting in a political manner and considering something that will appease the Government of the day. It is not a policy that says, "Let's introduce something that will get rid of all the drug pushers at the school gates at 4 o'clock every day."
So why not use the Bill to bring in elected police commissioners, for whom people could go to the polls to vote at the same time as voting for us? Then when something went wrong in a particular area and the MP or the general public wanted to hold someone to account, they could go to that directly elected commissioner. He or she in turn could hold the local police board to account. We do not have that, and it is another golden opportunity missed in the Bill.
In my constituency, I suffer with the problem of clamping, which is covered in the Bill, on residential streets as well as in areas owned by the local authority. People come to my surgery on a weekly basis with stories of hardship about how they have been dealt
with. As the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, people who do not have the financial wherewithal to pay the £150 on-the-spot fine can suffer hardship as a result. Once they pay the fine, some cannot keep their car, and some may not be able to keep their job. They are people who are living on the edge and trying to keep together their home and livelihood, and they find themselves suddenly having to pay £150 to get their car back. If they have to borrow that money as they do not have it that day, the cost escalates and is ramped up. If the Bill is used to protect those people from that hardship, that will be a good move. However, that is the only thing in the Bill that I can see will be of any particular use to people who are looking for something to make their life a little more crime-free and a little easier.
I will therefore sit down and bemoan the fact that the Government have not even acknowledged that abstinence programmes work, and that they have not put anything in the Bill to point up that directly elected police commissioners would be a good idea and something to debate in the House. I hope they use the Bill to produce something to make people's lives better which, ironically, would be on the issue of the clamping of cars.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): The subjects of today's debate on the Loyal Address affect the day-to-day lives of our constituents across the country: crime and disorder, antisocial behaviour, worklessness, benefit dependency and violence against women. Those issues blight too many lives, and the challenges must be addressed by the next Government, but that requires change. Above all, the Queen's Speech and this debate have shown that this Government understand neither the need for change nor the depth of change needed, and they certainly do not have the vision or ideas to do what is necessary to tackle those issues.
The debate was marked, as expected in a debate on the Queen's Speech, by the variety of issues that have been addressed by hon. Members. It was also notable for the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), who unfortunately is no longer in the Chamber. Making a maiden speech is daunting enough for new Members following a general election, but at least at that time there is some safety in numbers. Making a maiden speech is far more daunting and lonely for new Members who come in following a by-election, but I think he passed with flying colours. It was clear from his speech that he has immense pride in the fact that he is representing his home constituency. He spoke with wit and humour, and we look forward to hearing much more from him in future.
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