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"a new responsibility on local authorities to develop statutory partnerships to help prevent crime",
Of course-let us give the Government credit-there have been some successes in fighting crime over the years that have had a big impact on the overall figures. I have to say, however, that that has not always been down to the Government. We owe a big debt of gratitude to the motor manufacturers, for example, who have taken huge steps forward in automotive security, and as a result there is less automotive crime. More and more householders have taken things into their own hands, dramatically improving household security with better locks and alarms, not to mention the widespread use of double glazing, which makes it more difficult to break into a house. There have been some benefits and some successes under Labour, but many of them have come from way outside the impact of Government policy.
The next Blair pledge on the causes of crime was an anti-drugs initiative. Did that work? Recorded drugs offences have increased from 135,000 in 1998-99 to 243,000 last year-an increase of 79 per cent. Between 1998 and 2008-09, the proportion of adults using cocaine has more than doubled. A recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction that compared drug use in 28 countries in Europe revealed that we had the highest proportion of cocaine use among adults and 15 and 16-year-olds-not much of a success there.
Then there is pledge No. 3-the real area where change is needed if we are to break the cycle of poverty, deprivation, alienation and disorder in our society. The former Prime Minister said that we needed long-term measures to break the culture of drugs, family instability, high unemployment and urban squalor. There has been pretty broad agreement across the House in recent years that getting people off benefits and into work is an essential part of tackling a whole range of challenges from family breakdown to crime. I know that that view is shared by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who I see in his place; he has argued persistently over the years for tough action in this area.
"We will face up to the new issues that confront us. We will be the party of welfare reform. In consultation and partnership with the people, we will design a modern welfare state based on rights and duties going together, fit for the modern world."
I know that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead tried hard to deliver that and I know that the current Prime Minister stopped him from doing so. In reality, how have the Government done? There are 2.5 million unemployed people today-20 per cent. higher than in 1997. We now have the highest rate of youth unemployment on record, with one in five young people unable to find a job.
We are in the middle of a financial crisis, so before Labour Members get too exercised about that, let us take a different benchmark to judge performance: incapacity benefit. When he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister said in his first Budget speech:
"No one in our society...should be excluded from the right to work either because of disability or incapacity, if they want to do some work."
"we will also bring forward proposals to help those who are disabled or on incapacity benefit who want training or work... these comprehensive and ambitious initiatives mean that, from now on, no section of society should suffer permanent exclusion."-[ Official Report, 2 July 1997; Vol. 297, c. 310.]
So what went wrong? We have to remember all the Government's boasts over the past 12 years about the number of new jobs that they have created. Even though we are now in difficult times for employment, they will still tell us that there are more people in work than there were in 1997. How is that possible? The answer is very simple-I pay tribute again to the work done by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, who has highlighted many of these issues over the months and years-because the vast majority of the new jobs created under this Government went to migrant workers entering this country from overseas.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): As the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to cite me earlier, may I ask him a question about how he drew up the amendment that we are debating today? If we ask our voters, as we do by opinion poll, which issue most concerns them, we find that it is immigration. Why when tabling their amendment did the Opposition not want us to debate immigration as part of the Gracious Speech?
Chris Grayling: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we may debate issues broadly within the remit of the Gracious Speech. I will talk about immigration in the course of my speech and I will be delighted to hear him do so too, if he seeks to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. The truth is-I think he would agree-that over the past 12 years, while people have come into this country from overseas and successfully found jobs, entire communities have been trapped in poverty and in a cycle of deprivation and failure, which continues to blight the lives of far too many of our citizens.
The frustrating thing is that we now know-I do not blame the current Home Secretary, as he was not in the job at the time-that Ministers did this deliberately. They took a conscious decision to open up our immigration to a large number of migrant workers; they took a conscious decision to lower the bar for investigations into whether people should or should not be allowed to stay in the UK; and they took a deliberate decision to try to cover up what they had done. It was a scandalous approach to public policy from a Government who have kept getting things wrong year after year and who have shown little understanding of the challenge that Britain faces.
That is why the Government's approach to law and order has been so dominated by more and more legislation, and more and more erosion of the basic rights of our citizens. We see that in their latest attempt to deal with the controversial issue of the DNA database. The database is growing in size all the time, but the number of DNA-related detections is falling. The Government nevertheless persist in their desire to keep the DNA of innocent people on the database for six years, even when people have been suspected of the most minor of offences and have been charged with or found guilty of precisely nothing. Let me make it clear to the Home Secretary today that although there are things in the Policing and Crime Bill that we support, we will not allow it to go through in a rush before the election if it means leaving in place an unacceptable regime for our DNA database.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the database. I cannot understand why the DNA of innocent people is retained on it. Even if we accept the six-year limit, that is not what the European Court has ruled. Is he concerned about newspaper reports that people are being arrested merely because their DNA should be retained on a database that now has 750,000 innocent people's names on it? If those reports are correct, it is a very serious issue.
Chris Grayling: The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that matter of concern. When the Bill is debated, it will be dealt with straightforwardly by our bringing forward again proposals to extend the Scottish system across the UK. As he knows, that system would allow DNA to be retained for up to five years in the most serious cases, but would not allow it to be retained in minor cases. Were that law in place, we would not have seen such issues highlighted this week. I would welcome his support if we sought to push the Government to deliver such a DNA system before the election. If the Home Secretary wants his Bill to get through, let us set aside the Government's current proposals and work together on putting in place in the UK the Scottish system, which is supported by Members on both sides of the House, as soon as possible.
Chris Grayling: The Scottish system has an established definition, which I will not go through in detail as the hon. Gentleman can read it himself. Essentially, however, it treats investigations into serious crimes, such as a rape or murder, differently, allowing a dividing line to be drawn between serious cases in which retention of DNA for a period might be of benefit, and those minor cases, which are frequently highlighted in our media, where there is no requirement to retain the DNA of the individuals concerned.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that 56 non-police bodies in this country have access to the DNA database? Does he not see a common thread running between that and the access that local government now has to people's individual liberties following the introduction, and misuse of, the anti-terrorism legislation?
Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right. The Gracious Speech should include measures to end the mission creep that has existed under this Government in the area of civil liberties, whereby powers introduced for necessary reasons of national security are used for purposes that have no relation to that whatever. The Government have allowed mission creep in far too many areas, and it must be reined back. I am disappointed that they are not taking such steps, and if we are elected next spring we will certainly do so.
I wish the Government would understand that more law does not mean more order. If one introduces hundreds of new offences in endless criminal justice Bills, one merely swamps police in yet more new bureaucracy. When will the Government realise that their constant belief that we need more top-down solutions is plain wrong? The country needs a fresh start and a fresh approach, particularly to the blight of antisocial behaviour that has characterised Labour's years in government, and to which their response remains woefully inadequate. We need an instant response that does not let offenders get away with antisocial behaviour time and again, leaving them with a clear sense that the system has no teeth. It takes months to put in place an antisocial behaviour order: by the time the ASBO mechanism kicks in, they have offended multiple times. The system sends the message that if they do something wrong, nothing happens to them.
We need to put an end to the caution culture that allows people who commit serious acts of violence against strangers to get away with a legal slap on the wrist, and all because the bureaucracy that the Government have put in place makes that easier than spending days doing the paperwork necessary for a prosecution. It is time to stop the late-night drinking culture that the Government deliberately fostered, leaving town centres swamped by disorder at the weekends and the police stretched into an ever thinner blue line.
It is also time to accelerate the Government's tentative steps to cut down bureaucracy. I applaud some of what has been done in recent months, and I applaud the stop-and-search measures in the Bill, especially as we proposed them in the first place. I am glad that the Government have come to agree with us.
The Government's automatic early release scheme must also go. Letting prisoners out after serving a minority of their sentence, with no regard whatever to their standards of behaviour, just tells those offenders that they can get away with it. It is another example of the mismatch between the Labour party's rhetoric in opposition and actions in government.
"We now have the bizarre situation where, according to figures that I gave in my paper, the sentence length for repeat house burglars remains the same-at 15 months- whether for a first, second or third conviction." -[ Official Report, 28 October 1996; Vol. 284, c. 352.]
A burglar in Britain today is unlikely to get 15 months for a first conviction; he is likely to get off, be released and not go to jail at all. That is what has happened after 12 years of Labour Government. The system is not tough, as they promised, but more and more lax, sending all the wrong messages and saying to too many offenders that they can just get away with it.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does my hon. Friend also acknowledge that even were the maximum 15-month sentence applied, the reality is that someone so sentenced would probably only serve about five months in prison?
Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. [Interruption.] More to the point, does the Home Secretary not understand that the automatic early- release scheme-he was saying from a sedentary position that it is only 18 days-gives an offender a sense that they have bucked the system. If they get out early automatically, with no relation to how they have behaved in prison, it says to them that the system does not have the teeth they thought it might have, and they can just get away with it.
We also need thoughtful and real social reform finally to get to grips with the causes of crime-real welfare reform, not the failure of the new deal and the tentative approaches to change that have followed our radical blueprint for a new kind of welfare state. We will hear more about that later from my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). We need the kind of innovative changes in our education system and in the health visitor profession that were set out in the debate last Thursday by my hon. Friends the Members for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). We need a much smarter approach to the rehabilitation of prisoners, which is part of our prison reform and welfare proposals.
We also need much more radical changes on DNA and identity cards than this Government have been willing to countenance. That means dealing with the DNA database issue, and scrapping the now voluntary ID cards scheme altogether. I am interested to know whether Ministers have their ID cards with them today-[Hon. Members: "Full house."] Oh, very impressive. The Immigration Minister did not have his when we both appeared on "Question Time" last week.
We also need a Government who will finally get to grips with the job of controlling our borders. That involves imposing an annual cap on the number of people coming to live and work in the UK-that is part, but an important part, of the picture.
Mr. Frank Field: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is a matter not just of people coming here to work, but of people coming here to work who then become citizens? That is what is growing our population.
Chris Grayling: That is certainly the case, and the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the press investigation at the weekend into the scandalous situation of those institutions that provide certification on English language capabilities for those applying for nationality. The fact that that has been taking place under the nose of the Home Office is a big failing, and I hope that the Home Secretary will tell the House how he is dealing with the problem. Having people securing citizenship on a false prospectus is utterly unacceptable.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead is right that the issue is not just people coming to the country to live and work; it is also a matter of introducing tighter restrictions on spouse visas, and tightening up the student visa system. However, I have profound doubts about the Government's current proposals, which would result in the closure not just of rogue colleges, which we all want to see disappear, but of legitimate businesses up and down the country, which we would not want to see closed. I urge the Government to take care to ensure that those proposals do not have unintended consequences.
We also need real action to tackle illegal immigration, with a proper, dedicated border police force to tackle the problem, and particularly to get to grips with the evil networks of people traffickers and smugglers.
Mr. Frank Field: The Leader of the Opposition has said, although not in this House, that he would hope, as Prime Minister, to reduce immigration to 50,000 a year. Will the Opposition please give that commitment in the House?
Chris Grayling: The right hon. Gentleman has heard that commitment on many occasions. I strongly believe that we need to bring immigration down to the level that we saw in the first part of the 1990s-I would not pick an exact number, but he knows that we are talking in the region of tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. That is a substantial reduction, and is a necessary part of a wise and sensible immigration policy-not a closed-door policy, because we are an international trading nation and cannot afford to close the shutters altogether. However, we must have proper controls for the future that relate to the needs of our society, the pressure on our services and the nature of Britain today.
Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): I welcomed my hon. Friend's reference to people-trafficking. Does he agree that, although the Government have a good record in that regard and have done a great deal, we could do more? In particular, has he considered the idea of a rapporteur in the Home Office to provide a focus on the issue? Has he also considered giving people who come here to work Gastarbeiter status, which would mean their working for a contracted period and then returning home?
I think that the job of tackling human trafficking and improving the quality of our work in combating the traffickers would be done best by the proposed border police force. I think that that would enable the law enforcement world to focus on an issue that desperately needs to be dealt with even more effectively
than it has been so far. No Government do everything badly, and I accept that some good work has been done over the years, but we all recognise that there is more to be done, and I think that a border police force could step up our work.
As for my hon. Friend's second point, the big issue confronting us is the requirement for people who come and work here to leave when their time has expired. If they are granted a three-year visa, they must leave after three years. If I have one big criticism of what the Government have done over the past decade, it is that they have failed to ensure that that happens.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is being very generous in giving way. Does he agree that the issue of immigration needs to be addressed sensitively and carefully? Is it not highly regrettable that when Conservative Members have sought to engage in a proper debate we have been accused of racism, and has not that charge against us directly led to the growth of the far right? Should not the Government learn that engaging in a constructive debate might be more sensible, and to the greater good of the country, than levelling their usual charges against us?
Chris Grayling: I think it extremely important for any of us who debate these matters to do so with great sensitivity. It is always very unfortunate when, for example, the phrase "dog whistle" is used. The reality is that the debate is not about race or ethnic background, but about the country's resources, the services that we have, and the pressures on housing and on school and hospital places. It has nothing to do with race in a multicultural society; it is all about the pressures on the infrastructure of the country, and that is where we should centre it.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, which I chair, produced a report about a year ago on precisely the subject that we are discussing: community cohesion and migration. I agree with him about the need to ensure that when there are pressures on public services, the financial benefit to the country of immigration should be reallocated to the areas that bear the pressure. Does he accept, however, that part of the problem is that constant harping on numbers, and numbers alone, tends to suggest that the presence of any extra people is detrimental, and prevents the subtle, measured debate in which-as was pointed out by the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara)-we ought to be involved?
Chris Grayling: The hon. Lady must have misheard what I said a moment ago. I said very clearly that we should not close our doors, that we are an international trading nation, and that there will be a need for people to come in and out of the country. The issue is not about an absolute number at any particular point in history. The issue is about ensuring that we protect the ability of our public services to deal with the demands made of them, and that we are able to meet housing infrastructure needs. Inevitably, immigration policy needs to be shaped by that as well as by the needs of business, and the need of our domestic British population to find jobs and obtain the right skills.
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