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6.49 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): I am glad that the debate was ended by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) in the same farcical mode as his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) began it. Labour Members have made some extraordinary comments today. They are not quite sure which way to turn, whether to keep up with the rhetoric of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime or to condemn some of our proposals and support some colleagues in the other place. They just do not know what way to squirm. We shall find out in 10 minutes what Labour will do about our proposals.

At one point, the hon. Member for Blackburn implied that he was worried that the longer prison sentences that we propose would not be brought in soon enough. Does anyone seriously believe that the Labour party, which does not believe in the private finance initiative or building prisons more rapidly, will build prisons faster than the Conservative Government would to enable that policy to be implemented more speedily? It is so farcical.

Mr. Michael: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maclean: No, I will not.

Mr. Michael rose--

Mr. Maclean: Sit down.

I turn to criminal injuries compensation. I am not going to lecture the Opposition, I merely want to inform my hon. Friends, in case they were worried or were taken in for a moment by the hon. Member for Blackburn, who said that the criminal injuries compensation measures on which we voted a few months ago could have led to cuts in such compensation. Here are the figures for the past five years: in 1990-91, £109 million was paid out, in 1991-92 the figure was £143 million, in 1992-93 it was £152 million, in 1993-94 it was £165 million, and in 1994-95 it was £175 million.

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Mr. Michael rose--

Mr. Maclean: No, I will not give way. Now, the year of cuts--

Mr. Michael: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister ignores the fact that there were£700 million-worth of cuts in the Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order. He is being very mischievous.

Mr. Maclean: As I said, Labour Members are squirming tonight and will go for any sort of abuse.

I say to my hon. Friends, what about the year of cuts? In 1994-95 we paid out £175 million, but last year, the Government paid out £183 million to the victims of crime: the highest and most generous compensation scheme of any country in the world except the United States.

I listened carefully to the thoughtful speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). He said that he was worried that some drug addicts and burglars might be imprisoned after their third offence and there might be some unfairness on occasions. Such people will have two chances beforehand. They will not receive a minimum sentence for the first conviction.

Some people might share the view that it would be a little unfortunate if those who are simply passing on a cannabis cigarette or whatever were sent to prison, but we are not dealing with cannabis. Drug dealers who will be liable to a minimum sentence are those who are dealing in class A drugs. If someone is convicted for a third time for selling crack or cocaine, I have no sympathy for such a person being sent to prison. Have we not heard of so many tragic occasions in the past few years of people dying through drugs--not because they got them from professional dealers but because they bought a tablet from a so-called friend? On resources, I refer my right hon. Friend to chapter 13 of the White Paper, which sets out the details.

I agree entirely with the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East(Mr. Butler), who pointed out the tremendous success in deterring driving and drink-driving offences. The threat of imprisonment through the totting-up procedure has worked wonders. He gave excellent support for the Government's proposals, and I totally support what he said.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) knows that I cannot comment on the details of the constituency case that he mentioned, but I sincerely hope that his constituent will find some comfort from his public support of her today. If a Member of Parliament can publicly support her, I hope that others in his constituency will have the courage to do likewise.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery(Mr. Carlile) promoted what my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) described as the producer view. I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Criminal Justice Act 1991 was not designed to stop people going to prison but to ensure that prison and proper tough community sentences were given equal consideration and that each was used when and where appropriate. He was worried about shorter sentences. Let me tell him, we

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already have shorter sentences, but they are dishonest. They are not what is pronounced in court. The prisoner does not serve that. We are merely trying to bring in some honesty.

There is a myth that rapists will find no option but--

Mr. Straw rose--

Mr. Maclean: I want to conclude this point. The hon. Gentleman had 35 minutes and failed to make his points. He is not going to steal my remaining seven or eight minutes.

Mr. Straw rose--

Mr. Maclean: I will not give way.

A myth has grown that rapists may as well kill the victims. It is still a myth even if great men repeat it. As soon as the Lord Chief Justice made that point, I checked with experts in the Home Office research department and asked them to trawl the literature on the subject. From the literature that we have studied, there is no suggestion whatever that that is the likely course rapists will take in future because it would require a perfectly calm, logical rapist, who in the moment of rape took a legally correct decision to kill the victim. We have looked at the available research--much is American--but can find no research whatever to suggest that rapists are more likely to kill their victim.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) made a good point that community sentences have higher reoffending rates than prison. That point needs to be made very clearly. One of the myths that has grown over the years is that prisons are universities of crime. The real universities of crime are the street corners, where the practicals can be carried out immediately.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolkcongratulated the police on their excellent funding settlement in Suffolk and elsewhere.

The Opposition today could quote only some of their Lordships in the other place who come to their rescue as their allies. I find it extraordinarily rich that, in a debate on law and order, the Opposition can rely only on support from some of their Lordships in another place, which the Opposition propose to abolish if they are ever elected to form a Government. Our proposals are supported by people the length and breadth of the country, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset made clear. It is the first time that I have heard a chief constable's speech in this House and I would like to hear more of them.

It is quite clear that today's debate has highlighted the divide between the Conservative party and the Labour party. We have set out clear, considered and concrete proposals, which will help to protect the public from persistent and dangerous criminals and have the wholehearted support of the police. Over there on the Opposition Benches sit members of the Labour party--a party totally opposed to our proposals, but too frightened to openly and honestly admit it. The hon. Member for Blackburn has ducked and dived and dodged and weaved today in a pathetic attempt to avoid alienating either his Back Benchers or the public--hence the extraordinary Opposition amendment on which we shall be voting in a few minutes. Opposition Front-Bench Members will be reassuring their hon. Friends that they are voting against the Tory proposals. At the same time, the spin doctors are reassuring the press that the Labour party really does support the Home Secretary's proposals.

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The Labour party has tried to debate anything other than the proposals set out in the White Paper. Their so-called strategy for crime is not worthy of the name. I reckon that Labour Members must pray that smoking is never banned because, if it is, it would deprive them of the fag packets on which they need to work out their future policies.

The Labour party talks about crime prevention and about a six-year old report which proposed giving local authorities a statutory duty to undertake crime prevention. While Labour talks, we have been empowering local partnerships up and down the country to install closed circuit television and to promote neighbourhood watch. Labour talks about promoting and supporting the police. We heard the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth say that he was worried about the number of police officers since the last election. We now have 2,000 more constables than we had before the last election. When we came to office in--

It being Seven o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion, pursuant to Order [7 June].

The House divided: Ayes 237, Noes 278.

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