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In the previous Parliament, there were two types of Home Office policy--some good, sound and well thought-out policy, which we supported, but far too many soundbites, gimmicks and short-term solutions that were never going to work. I hope that there can be a self-denying ordinance about those and that they can be left behind because, invariably, they raised expectations but often failed abysmally.
I understand that the Lord Chancellor's Department is to take on additional responsibilities that previously lay with the Home Office. We will work well and constructively with the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues on the human rights, freedom of information and data protection agenda, but that is no substitute for a modern Government department of justice. It is no substitute for a minister of justice, accountable to elected representatives and working with the Home Secretary on matters involving courts and related issues. I hope that the Government have not stopped their reform of Departments with their announcement at the beginning of this Parliament. We will seek to persuade them that if we
Events of the past few weeks have highlighted the causes of crime around the country in places that we have all noted. We all share that concern. I have talked to people in each of the affected communities and I am aware of the way in which a single event can trigger a series of other incidents that can easily get out of hand. I hope that the lesson is always that we must seek to build and strengthen communities and to avoid stereotypes.
It seems to me that three fundamental concerns must be addressed, the first of which is inequality in our country. For as long as the likelihood of unemployment is so much higher in certain places, wards and communities, they are bound to have more problems. I was talking today to a friend in Harehills in Leeds, where because many youngsters have no expectation of success there is no reason for them to be restrained in their behaviour. The Home Secretary and I both represent inner-city constituencies and we know the score: the very rich live not far away from the very poor and disadvantaged. Unless we deal with that issue of inequality, many crimes of disaffection will continue.
Secondly, we need to deal with two of the fundamental causes of crime: drugs and alcohol. I hope that the Home Secretary and the Government will consider the idea of drugs courts. I am encouraged by the Home Secretary's response to the Metropolitan police policy that has been piloted in Lambeth. It is a pity that his predecessors did not agree to the proposal that we should have a standing body--it need not be called a royal commission--to advise on drugs policy in respect of all drugs, legal and illegal, including alcohol and solvents. If that proposal had been accepted some years ago, perhaps we would by now have had a report and further intelligent proposals. Drugs laws, whatever we may think about them, are clearly not working, and nor are the licensing laws. That makes it more likely that people will exploit and abuse drugs and alcohol.
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the war against drugs, which is clearly not being won. The royal commission is an excellent proposal from the Liberal Democrats. What is his own personal position on the decriminalisation of cannabis, and perhaps other drugs too?
Simon Hughes: I am happy to answer that, although I do not want to be distracted into that debate because my party has commissioned work, which is under way, to look at the Police Foundation report and its 80-odd proposals. My position is that we have to make sure that that work is presented to our party in the next few months. I hope that it will be a positive contribution to the debate in the House. The evidence is not overwhelmingly on one side, but I am absolutely clear that taking people to court for possession of recreational drugs rather than using police time to pursue the dealers, to whom the Home Secretary rightly referred, is a complete reversal of proper priorities, is against the interests of the police and the community and can alienate many individuals and communities. I am resisting the temptation to go further, not least because I am involved in the internal debate and we will shortly make proposals that I hope will help the debate in the House.
Thirdly, the Home Secretary is very alert to the issue of increasing racist activity in some parts of England and Wales and undoubtedly in other parts of the United Kingdom. In my constituency, as in others, right-wing groups have been seeking to be more active and peddle blatantly racist language and allegiance. Such activity has a harmful direct and indirect effect on those communities.
There is a dilemma for those who, like some other hon. Members and me, are liberal by nature in allowing free speech. I have always defended people's right to put their case, but people should be prosecuted when they use language, orally or in writing, that is clearly intended to incite racial hatred. Prosecutions do not always follow such language. Quite often, many people using such language are not prosecuted. Unless we have the security of knowing that people will be prosecuted when they break the law, the law is being taken for a ride and many communities will be hugely and dangerously disadvantaged.
Marches are another issue that I shall raise in my first or in another early meeting with the Home Secretary. The law is quite right in providing that marches should be banned only when there has been a proper consideration process and police take the view that they cannot manage them, but as right-wing groups seem to be able to stage one march after another, disrupting communities, increasing pressure and indirectly causing violent offences, we may have to re-examine public order legislation. Some freedoms are being abused by people with no interest other than causing harm to other communities. Such activities are doing no good in many of our urban areas and elsewhere and the legislation may need to be changed.
The Queen's Speech contains four Home Office Bills in addition to a draft Bill and two constitutional Bills that will be coming from elsewhere in the Government machine and have the involvement of the new Leader of the House, whom we welcome. Although only four Home Office Bills were trailed, a fifth has already been published. The Home Office is therefore living up to its usual reputation of promising much and delivering even more, even if it is not always quite what we would have wanted.
I realise that dealing with such a flood of legislation is very tough on civil servants, to whom I pay tribute. I was therefore encouraged and very positive about the Home Secretary's proposal, following that of his predecessor, that we should consider codifying the criminal justice system and the criminal law and seek to establish a permanent system, rather than consider a new criminal justice Bill every year, apparently to little effect.
The Home Secretary rightly said that in this Session we shall have the Halliday report on sentencing and Lord Justice Auld's report on the criminal justice system, both of which are welcome. Both reports, and the related legislation, merit very careful consideration. They should both first be put in the public domain so that a public response can be elicited and we can ensure, as the Home Secretary said, that the broadest possible consensus is
I have one linked rather bold suggestion. I believe that it would be better if both those Bills, both of which are necessary, were considered in draft form in this Session and considered substantively in the next Session. Therefore, both the criminal courts reform Bill and the sentencing and criminal justice Bill should be consulted on this year and enshrined in legislation only later. The purpose of waiting is not to prevaricate or delay, but to ensure that we get it right rather than repent at leisure.
I hope that the three main parties agree that victims' entitlements should be the centrepiece of that legislation. I also hope that Liberal Democrat Members will persuade the Home Secretary that victims should be able not only to make a written statement to the court but, after conviction, to make an oral statement to the judge as well. Such a provision might be controversial, but I believe that it is hugely important to victims or their families.
I also hope that we will increase our efforts to ensure that our prisons and penal system work far more effectively. The Home Secretary knows well that, as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said, the prison system will not work properly until prison working days are truly working days; effective treatment for drug, alcohol or sex abuse and anger management are available; everyone who goes into prison is prepared for their release, which certainly does not happen now; and everyone released from prison receives continuing treatment and support.
I want to add a few words on the subject of the controversy of the past few days, about which there has been considerable agreement among the three parties. Our views on the right sentence for Thompson and Venables might have differed, but we are all of the same view that the killing of James Bulger was the most ghastly killing and we understand the anger, frustration, sense of loss and aloneness of his family.
Liberal Democrats have, however, taken the view that it is right that judges and the parole board, and not politicians, set sentences. The sentence has been set and those two young men will now be released.
It is highly important that we accept the courts and the rule of law and that those young men--who, as the Home Secretary rightly said, will be at the risk of being recalled for the whole of their lives--are allowed to start to repay something to society to make up for the terrible thing that they did eight years ago when they were of primary school age. I understand the difficulty in drawing the line, but the penal system is about punishing and then starting again; it is about rehabilitation and restoration. Nobody is beyond that new start in our criminal justice system and we must say that to everybody, loud and clear.
There will be a debate between hon. Members about civil liberties, although I hope that we can reach as much agreement as possible. On behalf of my party, I continue to express great concern that there might be an attempt to take away the right to choose jury trial. We think that that is a misplaced proposal that is not based on the evidence; it is not a necessary part of the criminal justice reforms.
Another difficult issue is double jeopardy, any change to which could result in a change to many lifetimes of tradition. If the Government seek to change the law, they must proceed carefully, as we are dealing with the rights of people who have been tried and acquitted and who have been able to presume that they will not be tried again.
The criminal justice system must have the confidence of all the people, but we must be careful not to think that reducing the liberties of the defendant is not reducing the liberty of everybody. For example, someone who may have been a victim over the weekend in Burnley might be a defendant in a court case in Burnley in a few weeks' time. Liberties cannot be broken up like that. We do not enhance the liberty of a victim, or of any other citizen, by taking away their rights when they appear in front of a court charged with something of which they may be just as innocent as anybody else.
In that context, juries and lay magistrates play a significant part. They are ordinary people, playing a part in the criminal justice system. We disconnect ordinary people from the criminal justice system at our peril--the same applies if we disconnect young people from their communities--because another part of society becomes one that they do not own any more. I hope that we will resist moves to whittle down the rights of ordinary citizens to do their duty in the criminal justice system, which many of them have done, to our great benefit, over many years.
We must act better to acquire the proceeds of crime, on which I share the Home Secretary's objective. There are, none the less, difficult civil liberties and human rights issues and we will want to look at the matter very fully. We must ensure that we seek first a criminal conviction as a preliminary to acquiring any proceeds. Only if that cannot be achieved should we go down the route of acquiring on the basis of the balance of probabilities.
The House will consider an order under the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 before the summer recess. Being a veteran of last year's debate on the subject, I understood that before an order was introduced and the provisions of the Act extended we would see a report on its working. We have had the working party report, but no report on the Act has been laid before the House. I remind the Home Secretary that if he wants to persuade us to renew the Act he must first produce the right documents and evidence.