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Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): I welcome the targets and the vision that my right hon. Friend is setting out for us today. However, we inherited from the Conservative Government the huge problem of the numbers of police taking early retirement. There are large disparities between different forces throughout the country: some forces, such as Staffordshire, are having to meet a greater cost than others in terms of pension payments. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will consider closely ways in which to meet the cost of those pensions, so that we can iron out disparities and set across-the-board targets for new recruitment on the ground?
Mr. Blunkett: I cannot give an assurance now on the meeting of the various pension requirements that are picked up by the devolved police budgets. There are enormous calls on the police grant: I cannot recall the exact figure, but a substantial percentage of the police budget--about one fifth--is now spent on police pension requirements, and there is an issue in terms of the impact in different parts of the country. None the less, my hon. Friend makes a valid point that needs consideration.
I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I should like to speak briefly about the criminal justice proposals in the Queen's Speech. We shall consult on the proposals from John Halliday and Lord Justice Auld; on the proposals made in the Command Paper "Criminal Justice: the Way Ahead"; and on other suggestions now being made to modernise court services and the criminal justice system and provide a far more effective way in which to bring those who have committed a crime to justice and deal with them and to deal with sentencing--in other words, the possibility of a penal code similar to those which apply in other countries. I offer the opposition parties an opportunity to participate.
There are few countries in the world that have the constant debate on these matters and the constant change that we have. There is more legislation than it is possible to spend time reading in this area. No sooner has a Bill been passed than another one is being passed to update it. I am still investigating which orders exist that have not yet been laid. The process goes back donkey's years. Over the recent past of the Home Office, the entire Department has been geared to legislation. It is time to get a grip on what we want to do, to settle it in this Parliament, and to allow our successors to settle down to implementing what we decide.
I offer the opposition parties the opportunity over the months ahead to work out, without prevarication, whether we can find consensus on the criminal justice system with the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General. Let us see whether we can work out a penal code and a sentencing system that are followed by the most appropriate measures to stop people offending, to reduce recidivism, to ensure that people are re-integrated and to protect our communities. I offer Back Benchers the opportunity to come forward to work with us, and to bring forward their suggestions on how they would wish to proceed.
It may be that the opposition parties will not wish to take up the opportunity. Obviously, the main opposition party will have to consider the matter following its leadership contest. However, it seems to me that it is time to stop the knockabout in this place and to deliver to those whom we represent.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I repeat my welcome to the new Home Secretary. He will recall that he has had many debates with me over the years, including long before we were both elected to this place. I thank him for what I think the House will accept was a reasoned, reasonable and constructive speech. I welcome his colleagues in the Home Department team. We have an entirely new team of Home Office Ministers--not a single stone unturned.
I think that I am right in saying that although many Home Office responsibilities have been hived off elsewhere in the new Parliament, only one has been acquired--the responsibility for drugs that previously rested with the Cabinet Office. It was entirely logical that that should happen. I believe, however, that the number of Ministers has not decreased, so we have seen a slimming of responsibilities but not of the number of people in charge. That might be an issue to be dealt with in due course.
I join the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) in expressing my thanks to the Foreign Secretary. I was always grateful, as were my colleagues, for his courtesy in ensuring that we were properly informed, and invited to participate where appropriate. I hope that the new Home Secretary's offer, which my colleagues and I accept unreservedly, will continue a policy that we have always adopted from the Liberal Democrat Benches: to seek to be constructive and
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald continues, as I do, to have home affairs responsibilities. We might not agree on a raft of matters, even though as her Member I seek to represent her to the best of my ability.
Simon Hughes: The right hon. Lady tells me that both she and her good mother voted Conservative. I felt like saying, "You may know what you did, but I am sure that even if your mother did not vote Conservative she would not have told you." I welcome back the right hon. Lady; we should be grateful that, none the less, in this place she has always pursued Home Office matters with vigour, proper concern and integrity--qualities that unite the three major parties. We seek to contribute to these debates on the basis of what we believe is right for the country. I hope that in this Parliament we shall serve the country well.
Mr. Bercow: While we are on the subject of previous Ministers and are going through proper courtesies, will the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to join me in saying that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), whatever disagreements we might have had with him, was an exceptionally assiduous Minister, was unfailingly courteous and that many of us will miss him? We should be nice to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire but, if the Government are wise, they too should be nice to him.
Simon Hughes: I endorse that remark unreservedly and also pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). As a final prefatory remark, I pay tribute to Jackie Ballard, who represented Taunton in the previous Parliament. Because of a few hundred votes, she cannot be with us today, but she served in our Home Office team with conviction and commitment. Many of us will miss her greatly. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) was rather more blessed by the electorate and now has a huge majority; he has joined our Home Office team, and we welcome him warmly. In addition, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and--
Simon Hughes: A Freudian slip--I apologise hugely and immediately. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) is here again to make sure that legal affairs are looked after properly by Liberal Democrat Members.
Liberal Democrats share with the Government what appear to be some central Home Office commitments: preventing crime, especially violent crime; increasing the detection rate, which is still abysmally low in England and Wales--25 per cent. on average; building safer communities; and clamping down on thuggish behaviour.
As events in Bradford, Burnley, Leeds, Oldham and other places have shown, many of our urban and other areas have a legacy of inadequate education, an inadequate youth service and poor training and employment prospects. There is huge disaffection and a great lack of skills and self-worth among youngsters and many of their families. Members on both sides of the House will agree that those problems and a sense of alienation do not ever justify crime and violence, but they often explain it. When one adds the abuse of solvents, drugs and alcohol, there is a ready cocktail that we ignore at our peril.
In our society, it is far too acceptable that people will be verbally and physically abusive; it is far too acceptable that they will resort to knives and firearms; and it is far too acceptable that, when punished for wrongdoing, they sometimes go into custody, but come out hardly rehabilitated at all and highly likely to reoffend within a short period. The press release issued by the Home Office when the Home Secretary visited Croydon the other day stated that key among his objectives were the three Ds--delivery, delivery and delivery. That is what the country wants from the Government's second term; in many respects, they need to do better than the Home Office did in the last four years. Crime must go down, police numbers must go up and the statistics must be accurate and honest about not only such things but everything else.
If I may say so gently, I am glad that, in spite of the trailers that the Home Secretary put out before he took up his job, his speech today indicated that he is more concerned about being effective in dealing with the causes of crime and dealing with crime, and will leave aside any desire principally to get a reputation for being, as he said, much less liberal than his predecessor.