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Several hon. Members rose--

Miss Widdecombe: We want to improve the quality of life for people suffering the effects of crime almost as a daily consequence and also for people who are not living in deprived conditions but who nevertheless have to take measures every day against the possibility of crime. We want to turn society round so that we once again expect to come home from holiday and find that we have not been burgled, rather than saying, "Thank God we have not been burgled". That demands giving a high priority to crime prevention, tackling crime, increasing police numbers, making the police effective and having a visible police presence on estates and in rural areas. In short, making this country safe and ensuring that its citizens take that safety for granted must be our top priority. Any Government who fail to make that their top priority have failed in their first duty.

The Government were given a second chance. I very much hope that they will use that second chance to a great deal more purpose than they used the first one.

4.7 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): My congratulations on your election, Mr. Speaker, both to your constituency and to

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the House. The new ministerial team and I are privileged to take over from the new Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team, building on the foundations that they have laid and on which we will build in providing for the action needed to protect people from crime and to provide fairness and equality in all Home Office activities.

I was given a video of a television programme made about three years ago called "How to be Home Secretary". It frightened me to death--it was all about clouds appearing in blue skies, and being overtaken by events. I was quite worried the other morning when someone pulled up alongside the kerb; I thought for a moment that my security men might have to intervene, but it was Lord Kenneth Baker, who leaned out of the window to say, "Remember, it's events, dear boy, it's events." So I am truly warned, including by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), about what is to come.

I should like to pay tribute to the right hon. Lady. I was about to say farewell, but she has not actually gone yet. I am genuinely disappointed that she is not standing in the Conservative party leadership campaign.

When the right hon. Lady talked of laying aside the god of public expenditure cuts and replacing it with the quality of life, I began to warm to her. I thought that she was going to outdo the shadow Chancellor on reform and social policy, but then she undid it all once again--what a shame.

I also pay tribute to the right hon. Lady on her stance and remarks during the past weekend about issues surrounding Thompson and Venables. She is right to say that some major issues need to be addressed on the back of the Thompson and Venables parole and the original hearing. I do not intend to talk about the forthcoming decisions of the Lord Chief Justice or the subsequent parole board in terms of other cases, but there are real issues with which to deal--the sort of accommodation in which juveniles are held in such circumstances and the way in which parole board hearings proceed. I will deal with those in the weeks and months ahead with my ministerial team.

On a lighter note, I must also tell the right hon. Lady that, as with many parts of her speech this afternoon, when she is good she is very, very good, but--

Miss Widdecombe: When she is bad she is horrid.

Mr. Blunkett: I would not have said so for a moment. I was going to say that the speech may have been her swan song, but a different bird springs to mind. I was in Egypt a little while ago with friends on holiday. It was late afternoon and the sun was balmy--[Interruption.] Hon. Members will see why it was barmy. I heard something in the distance that reminded me of the House and asked what it was. For a moment, I thought that it was the right hon. Lady, but it turned out to be a hoopoe bird. Anyone who has heard that bird will know that she gives a pretty good imitation of it.

Miss Widdecombe: No, the bird was imitating me.

Mr. Blunkett: I did not know that the right hon. Lady had such a mischievous sense of humour. However, my friends told me that she is a damn good author. "The Clematis Tree"--[Hon. Members: "Read it out."] It would

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certainly take a long time. I gather that the book is both sensitive and poignant, and I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for the work that she has done in her present post and in fighting the fight for the Conservative party with vigour and commitment.

My hon. Friends and I could agree with a number of passages in the right hon. Lady's speech. Apart from the fact that it costs a lot of money to improve the prison system, I do not think that there is any disagreement between us. There is a real need to improve what is called in the Home Office "the estate". There is a need to adapt it to the circumstances of the 21st century, to ensure that people are properly and vigorously put to work with a positive outcome--namely, that they do not reoffend. Given that, both with custodial and community sentencing, three out of five people do reoffend and that long-term prisoners are even more likely to do so, there is a great deal to be done.

I will not go into that subject in detail. It was not included in the Queen's Speech because it does not require legislation; it requires resources and will. Finally on that matter, we will be judged not by the people who end up in prison but by the number we prevent from having to be sent to prison. I want to get that on the record. There are now a record 66,500 people in prison--almost 50 per cent. higher than 10 years ago. That is not a record to emulate; it is a record to overcome.

In this debate--the final day of debate on the Queen's Speech--the Government will be making clear their priorities, on the record for people to see. Those are the commitments to order, to effective policing, to measures against antisocial behaviour, to reforming the criminal justice system and, yes, as it has been mentioned, the sentencing regime, as well as to reinforcing civil and community pride--active citizenship and community development, which have been badly eroded over the years and which must be lifted to the top of the political agenda.

This is not a job for Government alone; it is a job for our society, involving the development of economic and social policy, fair and effective immigration and asylum policy, equality of treatment and good race and community relations. What we need is not simply more legislation, but delivery: Government and people working together to create a civilised society--one that is enabled to take the necessary actions to ensure that people are not exploited or do not exploit others.

That is the view we take in respect of the deplorable incidents in Oldham and Burnley. The message is clear, and my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) reiterated it at Prime Minister's questions this afternoon. No one gains from disorder, antisocial behaviour or damage to people and property. No one will gain from what has happened in Oldham and Burnley unless we learn the lessons rapidly, not by conducting prolonged inquiries, but by ensuring that people sit down and work out action programmes together. We cannot have these matters simply referred up to Government, important as it is that we take action to support, to advise, and to look at the resourcing and the fairness of the way in which we treat these communities. The community itself should take on the challenge and the responsibility of doing the job.

Mobilising communities, as part of the solution, underpins our thinking in several key areas of Home Office responsibility and Home Office policy. On the

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Cowley estate in Brixton, which I visited two weeks ago, I saw people pulling together to overcome the scourge of drug pushing and drug addiction. I saw people coming together, working with the police to overcome the scourge of petty burglary and of antisocial behaviour. It has been done in St. Paul's in the Walsall Heath area of Birmingham; drug pushers and prostitution were literally pushed out of the area.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald mentioned her visit to Hackney. There are examples across the country of communities coming together, supported by Government nationally and locally, supported by and working with the police, to make a difference to their area. The policy of the Home Office will be to pursue that approach with vigour; the civic agenda pursued by the active communities unit within the Department will engage with those issues as well.

With regard to the preventing and detecting and combating of crime, there can be no difference between politicians about the objectives. The issue is: how to set about achieving the goal. Overcoming disorder wherever it is, providing an answer to violent crime, will be paramount in restoring people's confidence in the system.

Those trafficking in drugs, in guns and in people must be first in the firing line of our policies, for all those people are our enemies, and that is why the proceeds of crime Bill will be so important to tackling the exploitation of others for the profit of a few.

As the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats this afternoon says, we will of course have to be vigilant about the safeguarding of civil rights and liberties, and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald made mention of that this afternoon; but those who would use the proceeds of crime to buy the best legal advice in the country are not the victims but the perpetrators, not just of crime but of detriment to the life, liberty and freedom of others. No one, no matter how well-meaning, should use the justice system designed to protect the minority as a justice system to protect those who inflict injustice on others.

We must get the balance right. Of course we must take care to ensure that we do not end up with the wrong presumption about the wrong person, but I make it absolutely clear that there is no point in people's willing the intent if they do not also will the means.

I just sound a warning. Those who have the proceeds of crime at their disposal will buy the best legal brains, not merely to challenge when the Bill has become law, but to lobby and take action while the Bill is proceeding through the two Houses of Parliament. No one should make any mistake about that.


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