"be asked if they wish to respond about whether they consider the complaint should be investigated or does the complaint indicate some procedural issue that could be more beneficially dealt with by Other Action";
"the process of reporting on Local Assessment decisions of 'investigation' and 'other action' be changed so that they are not public information until:
I can think of no other sphere in which a complaint can be made and submitted for investigation when the person being complained about does not know what the complaint is, and I hope that the position changes. Whether we keep the standards board is one question, but people who are dedicated to public service should not be exposed to such treatment. Councillors-especially parish councillors, but the same applies to members of councils at every level-should be treated properly.
Let me say something about prisons. In 1992, the prison population was 44,000. In 2010, it is 85,000. It costs, on average, £41,000 a year to keep someone in prison, and the outcomes of being in prison are bad. I do not think that we have £1,000,640,000 to spend on those extra people in prison when they do not come out better than they were when they went in. I am told-although I have not checked-that a Home Secretary who later became a Conservative Prime Minister said that the purpose of prison was for people to come out better than they were when they went in, and also that he halved the prison population. I am told that it was Winston Churchill in 1910, when he was a Liberal. That is another example of alliance, or of change. Given that Churchill was able to join the Conservatives from the Liberals, I hope that other Liberals will follow his good example.
The Prison Reform Trust has provided a great deal of information in its Bromley briefings, and I think that any Member of Parliament who has received those briefings should read them and discuss them locally. The Howard League for Penal Reform has made similar points. I hope that, as a result of their work, we will begin to understand that we must engage with Government-this Government, just as much as the last-to establish that the purpose of our policy, and the results of our actions, should be getting the prison
population back down to 44,000. There may be a prison building programme, but I would rather try to find ways of ensuring that prisons are not overcrowded. We do not need a prison building programme, but we may need a prison rebuilding programme. Let us try to reduce the number of people who commit offences, and reduce the number of occasions when it is judged that a prison sentence is the right option. I suggest that anyone who reads my speech should also read the early chapters of Jeffrey Archer's first book about prison, which shows how counter-productive even the first weeks can be.
Let me end by returning to the subject of my constituency, where one of the biggest issues is parking. I have been told that it is possible to raise the amount of revenue and reduce the amount of aggravation by training the parking control people to behave in a way that is humane and helpful, and to stop being jobsworths. I do not want to criticise any individual parking control person in my constituency, because I have not found myself offending, but people have asked me why they have to pay £8 for four hours and 13 minutes in a town centre car park. In the car park in Union place there is 24/7 paying. It is empty after 6 pm. The town centre does not have nearly as many people at that time and they can park on a yellow line.
Then there are the problems experienced by people with businesses who try to deliver a few bits of supplies in their estate cars rather than in vans, and are not allowed to use an unloading bay for five minutes. Such things are just wrong. Although parking is not directly my responsibility, I suggest that for those involved in public service throughout the chain of life-someone dropping a child at school, a doctor calling at an address, or a restaurateur trying to keep his business going-we should bring humanity back into the rules, and, if necessary, change the rules.
I have been in this place for some time. I have seen great improvements, which have normally taken place because someone has been dedicated to making the necessary change. If people say that only Government can make such changes, they are wrong. One of the greatest delights of my public service was reducing the incidence of over-the-limit drink-driving by young men by two thirds in about two years, with no change of the law, no change in sentencing and no change in enforcement. I believe that if we manage to get the public finances under control and also improve our social behaviour, we can probably make a great start during the next year or two. Once we start to achieve success, we shall be able to build on it further.
I hope that others who make speeches today and during subsequent debates on the Queen's Speech will pay more attention to the individual Bills, but I believe that we have an opportunity to make the country better by building on some of the successes achieved by the last Government while also trying to make up for some of their failures.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab):
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let me begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) for his maiden speech, and for the tribute that he paid to his predecessor, Claire Ward, who served as a Justice Minister in the last Government and who
performed that role extremely well. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), who spoke with passion about his city of Derby and with warm regard about his predecessor, Bob Laxton. He reminded me of the major triumphs of the Labour Government over the past 13 years, including the minimum wage. I well recall a debate that lasted 36 hours in which we were kept up all night by Conservative Members to vote for the minimum wage and to ensure that we achieved that bit of social progress for people not just in Derby, but throughout the United Kingdom. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his contribution.
I find myself in a very strange position. This is the first speech that I have made from the Opposition Back Benches, and indeed from the Back Benches generally, in 13 years. It is a novel experience. As my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) pointed out, however, after the initial shell shock of an election defeat-which is what it was-it is important for us to return to the fray, start to challenge the Government on the issues of the day, and present alternatives in relation to some of the key issues raised by our constituents, which are also important to us as Members of Parliament.
Having said that, I should add that, while I think it is our job to hold the Government to account, I welcome a number of the proposals in the Queen's Speech. For instance, I consider the agreement on the introduction of fixed-term Parliaments to be a good and progressive move. We can argue-as we will over the next few weeks and months-about the length of time involved. I think that four years is probably appropriate. However, I believe that the principle is one that we should support.
I welcome the proposal for a referendum on the alternative vote, as I would if it were included in the Labour manifesto, and the potential recall of Members of Parliament who have committed acts that are a disgrace to their constituents and their constituencies. That is an important process. We shall need to examine the details of how it will work in practice, but it is important for us to support the principle.
I also welcome the commitment to co-operation with the devolved Administrations. My constituency is in north Wales, and we have a devolved Administration. I hope that there will be co-operation not just on the potential referendum on devolved powers that will, I hope, be implemented shortly, but on the whole scope of how that devolved Administration-they remain one of the areas of Labour Government rule in the United Kingdom-will work with the new Administration here in Westminster.
I hope that the Government will not pursue one of the crazy ideas that they had in opposition: the idea that Welsh Members of Parliament would not be able to vote on English matters. Let me give an example from my constituency, which is 2 miles from the border with England. Some 30% of my constituents use the hospital in Chester, in England. Several hundred work at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port, which currently receives a devolved grant from the English Government to support the factory's work. Aircraft travel over my constituency from Liverpool and Manchester airports. The train line goes through Crewe and Chester to my constituency in north Wales. On all those issues there is an element of national Government responsibility which involves my dealing with England-only issues. I feel that I would be letting my constituents down if I did not have a vote on
such matters, and I hope that the Government will consider such co-operation with the devolved Administration, which will be important in the future.
I also welcome the commitment to stable government in Northern Ireland. I had the privilege of being a Minister in Northern Ireland for two years and I am pleased that, five or six weeks ago, the devolution of justice to Northern Ireland took place, providing, I hope, a stable devolved settlement for the future. A great deal of cross-party work has been done and I look forward to seeing that continue in the future to ensure that we build on that stability and do not give into the terrorists who want to destabilise the devolved Administration. We must work collectively with the devolved Administration to build peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. When I was a Minister in Northern Ireland, there were parts of that community to which I could not go, even with police and military support. Now Northern Ireland is prosperous and is facing a future with a devolved Administration involving people working side by side who were enemies for many years. We need to build on that stability for the future.
Having said what I welcome in the Gracious Speech, I turn to three areas where I have major concerns, the first of which is police reform. I declare an interest: I was until two weeks ago the Minister in the Home Office responsible for the police. We ensured that crime was down by 37%, that we had record numbers of police officers on the streets and that there were 16,500 police community support officers, introduced by the Labour Government, supporting those officers on the streets. Yet we face now a proposal radically to reform police management, with directly elected police commissioners. Superficially, that might seem to be a positive idea, but the chairman of the Association of Police Authorities-not a Labour party member; indeed, he is a member of the governing party-does not believe that it is a good solution. The Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Superintendents, the Police Federation and local government do not believe that it is a positive solution, and neither do I.
Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): Would not Government members do well to remember that a fine line divides improved accountability-the rhetoric behind the measure-from the political interference that could do enormous damage to public confidence in the police service in this country?
Mr Hanson: I agree, and that is the point that I wish to emphasise today. I believe that there is room for greater political accountability for the police service. We need to look at how we strengthen police boards, at how we improve training and at the support we give to chairs of police authorities. The possibility that individuals might become chief constables through direct election might cause conflict that would be detrimental to the service. Ultimately the police service has to serve all the people of a community and not be politicised in the way indicated by my right hon. Friend.
Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con):
I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman but it was made clear earlier that there was no intention of
having elected chief constables. In Bournemouth, the people who are asking for accountability are asking for a relationship with the police who are in charge. The police there do not answer to the people of Bournemouth directly, but to the Dorset police headquarters in Winfrith, which then answers to the Home Office. The community that needs to be represented is out of the loop. That is why the Government have proposed elected representatives; to provide that important interface between the public and the police who are supposed to be looking after them.
Mr Hanson: It is very important that we have close co-operation between individuals and communities and the police that they serve. That is why the White Paper that we published before Christmas looked at trying to strengthen police authorities and to make them more accountable to local communities, but in a way that did not involve direct elections, which I understand the proposed Bill will do. I fear that, and I pray in aid the Mayor of London-as I recall, one Boris Johnson-who did not take up his role as the directly elected chairman of the police authority and gave it to his deputy. I understand that there is a need for accountability but I do not believe that what the Government propose will achieve that objective. Let us look at the level of objections from professionals and at the needs of the service, which are to reduce crime and to build confidence in policing. I do not believe a shake-up as proposed by the Government will be beneficial.
My second point concerns the reference in the Gracious Speech to the priorities of reducing the deficit and restoring economic growth. I happen not to believe that taking £6 billion out of the economy this year will help those objectives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North said, many private sector companies depend on public sector investment. Taking that £6 billion out now will greatly damage the community at large. When I was Police Minister, we had a proposal to save many millions this year through savings on IT, uniform procurement, vehicles, air support and a whole range of other things. I say this to Government Members; if we could have taken out an extra £200 million to £300 million in efficiency savings, do they think that we would not have done it? That money was not there to take out without impacting on the police service directly or on community support officers. I will challenge the Government and hold them to account on how they take that extra resource out of the Home Office budget.
The Government have proposed to restrict still further the DNA database. Before the election, we proposed that individuals' DNA data could be held for ever if they had been convicted of a crime or for six years if they had been arrested, charged but not convicted. If the Government are proposing to reduce that, it will damage the potential to get convictions in court. There will be people who are murdering or committing rape who will, if the DNA database is restricted, not be convicted and will be let off. I do not believe that the party of law and order that now forms the Government would want that to happen.
I can show-not today, Mr Deputy Speaker-many cases when the DNA database has led directly to convictions for murder which would not have been achieved had the DNA not been taken, sometimes from individuals who were originally innocent but convicted later. I caution the Government; they must be very careful about the steps they take. I do not want to see people being killed, raped or attacked by individuals who could have been convicted through use of the DNA database.
Finally, I confess that I have an ID card. Since I have had it, I have never felt that my civil liberties were under threat. I have travelled to Austria on this card and used it to cash cheques in Britain and abroad. I have used it to secure a range of services. I have never been asked to show it to anybody and never been asked to explain why I should have it. Before they scrap the card, can the Government look at its benefits? Some individuals hold them voluntarily and wish to use them to travel and to show their identity. Can the Government look at the costs of decommissioning ID cards and the potential difficulties faced by individuals such as myself who paid £30 for the card and probably have £29.50 worth of lifetime left on it, but also at the costs of the computer system? ID cards are a valuable tool in helping to secure our borders and I hope the Government will think carefully before decommissioning them.
As I have already said, this is the first foray for 13 years back to opposing, rather than supporting, the Government. I believe that there is some good in the Gracious Speech, and I welcome it where that is the case, but there are also some real issues to do with the deficit, cutting public spending, crime, reform of the police, DNA databases and ID cards that I will wish to challenge not only today, but in the months ahead. I know that Labour Members will hold the Government to account on every issue on every day of every week of every month, because it is important that we have a strong Opposition. I hope that the Government will welcome the contributions we can make to ensure that they are up to the game in their activities, and that we fulfil our duty as an Opposition as well.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who was a very well respected Minister in the last Government, admired in all parts of the House. It has also been a pleasure to listen to two very fine maiden speeches. I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) is still in his seat. He made a fine contribution, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), who greatly impressed us all by delivering his maiden speech without a single note in front of him; I think most of us would agree that that shows no mean courage.
I wish to start my remarks by thanking my constituents very much indeed for having returned me to this House with 52.8 % of the vote, a much larger majority than I had in the last Parliament and a considerably larger majority than I had in 2001 when I was first elected here with a majority of only some 700 or so. It is a massive honour to be not only elected but re-elected, and I pledge to serve my constituents in this Parliament in the same way as I did in the previous two.
I am a little saddened that there has not been much reference so far in today's Queen's Speech debate to the
fact that we are a nation at war; I hope that those who speak after me might do something to rectify that omission. I agree that we as a country face massive problems at home. We have heard many eloquent speeches about that, and that is right and proper, but we must never forget that we are a nation at war. Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition paid tribute to the six, I think, lives of British servicemen in Afghanistan lost since the last time this House met.
I carried my Royal British Legion pledge card throughout the general election campaign, and I have it here with me in the House today. I am a member of two Royal British Legion branches in my constituency, and I took the pledge I made to it before the election very seriously. It is perhaps our first duty in this House to support our servicemen and women and make sure that they have the right equipment, and to look after their families at home, especially those families who have lost members serving in Afghanistan. I greatly welcomed the Prime Minister's remarks that we will pay particular attention to our mission in Afghanistan, and to making sure there is a political solution to that crisis. I think we have to believe the previous Prime Minister when he told us that two thirds of the plots hatched against this country originate in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore, this terrible war is necessary, but-in common with, I believe, all Members of this House-I want our troops to come home as soon as possible and not to be there a day longer than necessary.
Mention is made in the Gracious Speech of political reform. I support that; the ability to recall Members of Parliament who have behaved very badly is a welcome step. My constituency of South West Bedfordshire borders Luton South, and considerable disquiet was expressed in my local press that the former Member for Luton South could not be removed and was absent for a very long time. I have experienced some of the anger about this subject locally, therefore, and I think the ability to recall Members of Parliament where there has been serious wrongdoing is to be welcomed and will go some way to restoring public trust in Parliament.
I am concerned, however, that for two days following the general election there was the very real possibility that the parties that had come second and third might have formed the Government of this country. I therefore make the urgent plea that we introduce the new political convention that the leader of the party that gains the largest share of the vote in a general election becomes Prime Minister either of a minority Administration or of a coalition, as we have at present. My constituents were beginning to send me very angry e-mails asking, "What is happening up in Parliament? Most people have voted for a Conservative Government but it looks like the Labour Government, whom we thought we had voted out, are going to be kept in office." I think there would have been real anger, and that people might well have taken to the streets. If we are going to talk about political reform in this country, we would do well to establish the political convention I recommend.