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We have not yet seen the fifth Bill, the criminal justice and police Bill, but we understand that one of its great new ideas is the fixed penalty notice for people under the influence of alcohol. It sounds a little incredible to walk someone who has been arrested to the police station to give them a fixed penalty notice.
Mr. Hughes: Clamping them might be possible, but I do not understand that yet to have been proposed. Dealing with people is entirely different from dealing with a car--an obvious and relatively immoveable object sitting by the side of the road. There is no problem about identity
The curfew proposal is more serious. Our gut reaction is to be against it. For the first time in my life, I convened a focus group and, when I consulted its members on the issue, they were against it. Yesterday, I went to Walworth school in my constituency and talked to the youngsters there. One youngster at that secondary school gave an accurate summary of the inaccuracy and wrongness of the proposal when he said that it would be like punishing the whole class for the mistakes of one or two people. Those youngsters were not at all persuaded about the proposal and I shall tell the Home Secretary about their suggestions in a minute. I have not found any police enthusiasm for the proposal. If there were loads of police and they had nothing better to do than wander around and try to deal with all the youngsters on the streets, it might be credible. In Scotland, the Strathclyde experience is not a parallel and has not been defined in any event as a curfew.
The Government must make the case and win the argument. We do not think that they will, and it is highly likely that my colleagues and I will seek to remove this part of the Bill in both Houses. In contrast with what the Government normally do, we have seen not seen a trial or testing of the proposal in England or Wales, and there is no evidence that it works. Indeed, the best Home Office research suggests that it is the wrong way forward. It is a sign of the authoritarian streak that keeps reappearing in the Labour party and is without sound principle. The right to silence was lost some years ago; the burden of proof is often under threat; and the right to choose jury trial the Government want to take away. There is a worrying trend in the Labour Government's policy that seeks to be more and more authoritarian and less and less understanding of the fact that people's basic civil liberties should also include being able to walk around in the evening or at night. That should hold for law-abiding citizens, whether they are under or over 16.
I shall say a further word about young people. There is real demonising of young people. Society often demonises them in general, but there is a particular risk of those in the inner city being demonised. I chose to live in the inner city in my early 20s, and have never moved away. We all know that there are brilliant models of good young people who will be the citizens and leaders of the future. We should listen more to them before we start ghettoising them by estate, street, postcode or neighbourhood. If we go down the road of having curfews, we risk alienating many more young people than we will get on the side of the police and order.
Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that young people in Strathclyde and Hamilton in Scotland support the joint initiative of the police and local authority? That initiative works in Scotland and is very similar to what the Government are proposing. It is a child safety
Mr. Hughes: I have seen a briefing from Strathclyde and talked to Scottish colleagues. The scheme is targeted on individual youngsters who are regular offenders. That is different from what the hon. Lady is saying. Powers already exist for young offenders to be dealt with in the usual way. The police do not need extra powers to do that. The scheme is linked to constructive activities for young people to divert them from crime, which are as important as the scheme itself. The idea that there is suddenly a blanket approach at 9 or 10 o'clock for a certain age group, which is very difficult to define, as opposed to proposals for specific youngsters, tackles the problem in the wrong way. We agree on the need to deal with individual regular offenders, but we do not accept generalised views of certain areas or estates.
Mr. Straw: Of course, we will discuss this in more detail when the Bill is in Committee. If the hon. Gentleman examines the proposal, he will see that it is very similar to that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna). Far from being an imposition from the centre, it gives a power to local authorities and local communities. Application for that power must be preceded by discussion with the local community.
Mr. Hughes: I accept that. We shall return to this debate later, but may I quickly say that the same power has been available for the under-10s but, so far, no one has asked to use it. The power has now been extended to under-16s, but it has not been trialled or tested and there have been no local opportunities to see whether it has been taken up or worked. Suddenly, there appears to be a policy for which there will be national legislation. The Home Secretary may have spoken to different people, but I have not met any significant numbers of police or lay people who have said that they need the power. Without the numbers of police that are needed, the power will probably--indeed, even certainly--not be used in any event.
Today's debate also concerns the inner cities, where it is intended that the power will often be used. Of course, in our inner cities we must encourage personal responsibility and support for families and must make sure that there are diverting activities for youngsters. However, above all we must build up sustainable communities. That is a catchphrase, but it refers to more than bricks and mortar, and is about communities of geography and communities of identity as well. When we allocate homes to people, we must stop disregarding where their family lives, where the nursery school is and where the carers and people who can do the babysitting are. Lord Young, now a Labour peer in the other place, is an eminent sociologist who has written a book that I commend to colleagues. In "The Communities We Have Lost and Can Regain", he makes it clear that if we are to regain proper law-abiding life in the inner cities, we must
One thing is needed above all, however, and it is the same for inner cities as it is elsewhere: there must be a renunciation of violence. Coupled with drugs, the great evil is the willingness of people to resort to violence in the home, on the pitch, in the playground--where there are bullies--and on the streets, where people use knives, bottles and anything else. Too often, our role models use violence. Too often, television programmes display violence and videos glamorise it. Unless we all have a less violent society, there will always be violent youngsters. Children are not violent in their first few weeks of life or when they first go off to nursery school. They start to be violent only because they see others behaving violently.
Mr. Bercow: One cannot object to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. His position on child curfews is commendably clear, in contrast to the fog of confusion that descends when it comes to police expenditure. Using our fertile imaginations to the full, let us envisage a scenario in which there is a Liberal Democrat Administration and the hon. Gentleman is Home Secretary. Is he seriously telling the House that his party would increase police expenditure as a proportion of national wealth? In that case, at what time today did he decide on that policy?
Mr. Hughes: The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes and the answer to the second is that that policy was not decided today. I should be surprised if the hon. Gentleman had not read our alternative Budget but, if he has not, I shall send him a copy. The policy is in that document, our pre-manifesto and our alternative Queen's Speech. If the hon. Gentleman has not read those documents, he should take them to bed with him, because they might at least keep him quiet.
To conclude, police officers are not the be-all and end-all, but they are centrally important. Our party has made a commitment to the fact that we need at least 130,000 officers in England and Wales. How many we need thereafter should not be decided by me, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard), the Home Secretary or the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), but by an advisory body that regularly gives independent, objective advice from a standing conference.
There is an entire police agenda, and we regret that the Government have not allowed an opportunity for it to be debated. The debate should be about pay, conditions, housing, pensions, special constables and more retained officers. It should also be about neighbourhood wardens and a community safety constabulary.
We need a Prison Service that works; at present, it is often direly ineffectual. If we prevented many more who leave prison from reoffending, as half do within two years, there would be a chance of bringing crime figures down. That entails dealing properly with drugs, alcohol, violence and sex offenders.
We need fair treatment for all our citizens. The Home Secretary rightly seeks to make sure that that is Government policy, but he has had one blind spot. Contrary to the views of many Labour party members, he insisted that asylum seekers should shop with vouchers, whereas everyone else shops with money. If anything will stigmatise people who are already stigmatised, it is the fact that they must go out on the street unable to act like self-respecting citizens.
Lastly, we need better treatment of victims, as we agree throughout Parliament. My colleagues and I believe, among other things, that victims should have a better opportunity to present their case to courts after sentence, not just in writing.
There may be a shared commitment to the law and order agenda, but there is also a dangerous auction between the Government and the Tory party for sounding tough, as opposed to being effective. That is not the way to go. We will support policies that have shown that they are likely to be effective--which have been tried and tested and command widespread support. We will oppose policies that take away liberties for no matching benefit. That means that the Government will get our support this Session for some of the Bills, as I have suggested, but if they insist on taking away the right to choose jury trial, we will oppose them, and we believe that we will defeat them.