By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in Parliament, Richard Bacon, a Conservative backbencher, tried to introduce a Bill which would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. One of Mr Bacon's lines of argument was that the legal requirement for Ministers to amend legislation - without a vote in Parliament - in order to comply with European human rights legislation - is "fundamentally undemocratic":
"Under section 10, a Minister of the Crown may make such amendments to primary legislation as are considered necessary to enable the incompatibility to be removed by the simple expedient of making an order. In effect, because the accepted practice is that the United Kingdom observes its international obligations, a supranational court can impose its will against ours. In my view this is fundamentally undemocratic."
Mr Bacon also compellingly argued that the controversial social issues that judges often like to get involved in should be decided by "elected representatives and not by unelected judges":
"[T]here is no point in belonging to a club if one is not prepared to obey its rules. The solution is therefore not to defy judgments of the Court, but rather to remove the power of the Court over us. ... Judges do not have access to a tablet of stone not available to the rest of us which enables them to discern what our people need better than we can possibly do as their elected, fallible, corrigible representatives. There is no set of values that are so universally agreed that we can appeal to them as a useful final arbiter. In the end they will always be shown up as either uselessly vague or controversially specific. Questions of major social policy, whether on abortion, capital punishment, the right to bear firearms or workers rights, should ultimately be decided by elected representatives and not by unelected judges."
By Matthew Barrett
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Guido Fawkes has a list of new Conservative members of Select Committees, from Graham Brady's office. Mr Brady explains: "For the following committees I have received the same number of nominations as there are vacancies, the following are therefore elected". The appointments are:
Communities and Local Government
John Stevenson (Carlisle), replacing George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), who became PPS to Theresa May at the reshuffle.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), replacing Damian Hinds (East Hampshire), who became PPS to Mark Francois, the Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole), replacing Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich), who was made the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Health Services.
By Jonathan Isaby
Soubry, who has worked a both a journalist and a barrister, explained the reasoning behind the Anonymity (Arrested Persons) Bill thus:
"In the past, the press did not publish the name and address of someone when they were arrested, but waited until they were charged to do so. Over the past few years, that has all changed. The press not only publish the name and address of someone when they have been arrested but they give more details. As we have recently seen with events in Bristol, it has reached the stage where many of us believe it has got to stop. A great wrong is being done, and it is time that it was righted. That is what I seek to do—to stop this sort of reporting."
"I mentioned events in Bristol. Let me make it clear that I do not intend to name anybody, and I am sure that hon. Members will also be keen not to name anybody, save for this: I do not think there is anybody who is not aware of the publicity and media coverage that was given to the first man who was arrested following the murder of Joanna Yeates. It is right and fair to say that everybody with any sense of decency and sensibility has accepted that the coverage of that individual was, if not outrageous, as I believe it was, certainly unacceptable and plain wrong. It is as if we had forgotten that one is innocent in this land until proven guilty. Unfortunately, it is not the first time that that has happened, but it is the most extreme case that we have seen.
"Everyone tends to forget that on being arrested, a person suffers the trauma of the arrest. It is difficult to imagine a worse accusation than to be accused of taking somebody’s life, raping someone or doing something horrible to a child. There is the trauma of the process and the nature of the allegation, and on top of that, the person’s name and address appear in the local paper. If it is a high-profile case, they appear in the national papers.
"What we saw in Bristol was, in effect, a feeding frenzy and vilification. Much of the coverage was not only completely irrelevant, but there was a homophobic tone to it which I found deeply offensive. The slurs on the man were out of order. All good and decent people in this country accept that. I include in that number fellow journalists.
The Daily Mail, on Monday, was first to notice the change in policy. In the 1990s Michael Howard instituted his 'prison works' policy and crime began to fall because repeat law-breakers could not commit offences so long as they were incarcerated. Incarceration, rather than the deterrent or rehabilitation effects, were most important in turning the tide against crime. Dr David Green of the Civitas think tank has long been a champion of this view.
Ken Clarke - under huge budgetary pressures and in alliance with the anti-prison Liberal Democrats - is ready to operate a more targeted prisons policy. Ken Clarke, thundered the Mail, needed to be "a little less Liberal and a little more Conservative".
The extent of the retreat from Michael Howard's 'prison works' policy was evident during Justice questions on Tuesday. Pasted below are some key exchanges between MPs and prisons minister, Crispin Blunt.
Mrs Helen Grant MP: In the context of capacity and overcrowding, what are the Minister's views on short sentences, especially for women?
Mr Blunt: The evidence is that short custodial sentences are not working. They produce terrible reoffending rates. We do not have the capacity in the probation service to address people on licence, which is one reason why they do not have any supervision when they leave prison, and we are on the most dreadful merry-go-round. It is one of the glaring gaps in the way that we deal with offenders and reoffending behaviour, and the current Administration will do their level best to address the issue.
Mr Jack Straw MP (Lab): "Does the Under-Secretary acknowledge that there has been a sustained fall in crime from 1995 to date, and that the increase in prison places and the fact that more serious and violent offenders are now incarcerated has contributed to that fall?
Mr Blunt: "Evidence on the effects of incarceration is mixed at best. We must take the political temperature out of the debate. Outbidding each other on how robust we will be in dealing with offenders probably does potential future victims no good. We must have policies that address future offending behaviour and consider the life cycle of potential and actual offenders so that we can support them effectively."
Mr Straw: "The whole House would agree that the fundamental test of an anti-crime policy is whether crime has fallen. With that in mind, will the Minister now acknowledge that crime fell consistently from 1995 and throughout the 1997 to 2010 Administration?"
Mr Blunt: "No, because the change in trend on crime was achieved by Michael Howard, the then Home Secretary, who delivered a robust policy that effected changes. He was the author of the change in policy, but there is a limit to continuing that process, as there must be to the rate of growth of incarceration. In the end, we cannot lock up everybody who might be a threat to someone, because in that way, the entire population would end up in prison. There is a logical end to that process, and we will do our level best to deliver more effective policies to ensure that there are fewer victims in future."
Dr William McCrea (DUP): "The Justice Secretary is reported as saying that millions of pounds could be saved by jailing fewer offenders and slashing sentences. Does the Minister accept that our first duty is the protection of the public and that we must provide prison capacity accordingly?"
Mr Blunt: "Yes, but I do not entirely recognise the hon. Gentleman's presentation of my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary's comments over the weekend. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the first objective is public protection, and if we are to protect the public of tomorrow, so that there are fewer victims, we have to ensure that we have a justice service that will deliver a reduction in reoffending rates and can divert people from offending in the first place."
Crispin Blunt is MP for Reigate and a shadow home affairs minister. Here he expresses dissatisfaction with the reaction of the public health minister to the points he made in a recent debate about the Cervarix vaccine against cervical cancer.
Since last autumn the Government has been rolling out a nationwide vaccination programme for teenage girls against two strains of the Human Papilloma Virus thought to cause about 70% of cervical cancers.
The vaccine they have chosen is called Cervarix and it is administered in three injections, currently to girls between the ages of 12 and 13, but soon all girls under the age of 18 will be included in the programme.
Cervical cancer has been given a new prominence in the public health agenda following the recent death of reality TV star Jade Goody, and it is only right that parents want to take the necessary steps to protect their daughters from the horrors of this illness.
However there are important questions about the Cervarix vaccine of which parents have the right to be made aware.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): For what reasons she decided to prevent Michael Savage from entering the UK; and if she will make a statement.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): Michael Savage was excluded for engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and by fostering hatred that might lead to inter-community violence. The exclusion is in line with the strengthened policy on exclusions that I announced to the House on 28 October last year. In his radio broadcasts, Mr. Savage has spoken about killing 100 million Muslims, and he has spoken in violent terms about homosexuals. Coming to the UK is a privilege. I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life.
Michael Fabricant: Notwithstanding the Home Secretary’s answer, she will be aware that the things of which she accuses Mike Savage are also illegal in the United States of America, and he has not faced prosecution there. Does she realise how ludicrous her ban is and the disrepute into which she has put this country in the eyes of many right-seeing—and, indeed, left-seeing—people in the United States? Does she also plan to ban Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and other middle-aged, white, ordinary, American radio presenters?
Jacqui Smith: I subscribe to the view, as expressed by another Member of this House, that “It’s clear for reasons of our security that we must expel or refuse entry to those who preach hate, pit one faith against another and divide our society.” Those were the words of the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he was right. Frankly, if the hon. Gentleman believes that it is appropriate for somebody to use words about Muslims such as, “I said so kill 100 million of them, then there would be 900 million of them. I mean would you rather us die than them?”, then he has a very different set of values than I have, and I want to ensure that those are implemented in the decisions that we make about who we do and do not allow into this country.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Home Office’s production of a “name and shame” list was a self-evident gimmick and demeaning to Government, and it has led to a completely avoidable legal action that is producing splendid publicity for Michael Savage. Does the Home Secretary think, on reflection, that that was a mistake and the wrong way for the Government to behave?
Jacqui Smith: No, I do not, because I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s party leader that we need to be clear about who we will and will not accept into this country. We need to be clear about the values that we have. Where someone preaches hate and foments hatred in the way that has happened in this case, where they provoke others to serious violence, and where they use phrases such as, in relation to somebody who said on his radio programme that he was gay, “You should only get AIDS and die, you pig!”, then it is right that we express our view about that. We recognise that coming to this country is a privilege, and we will express our values in terms of those we exclude.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): If it is an even-handed approach, could the Home Secretary explain why we have welcomed back to this country from Guantanamo Bay two UK residents, but not citizens, who are not only suspected terrorists in Afghanistan but wanted on murder charges in Spain?
Jacqui Smith: We have, for some period of time, taken a position of wanting to see Guantanamo Bay closed. In order to help to facilitate that, we have accepted back, and in fact sought the return to this country, of those who are nationals and have previously been resident in the UK. I think that President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo Bay is the right one, not solely because of the individuals there but because of the ability that that gives us internationally to take forward the sort of values that we hold, and the US holds, in fighting and tackling terrorism.
Yesterday the Commons hosted questions to the Home Office. The new Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling (right), had a chance to shine.
Shadow Justice Minister David Burrowes asked about drug prevention:
"Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Last month, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse published figures that reveal that nearly 25,000 young people aged under 18 are in treatment for drug and alcohol problems. Is that not an indictment of the fact that the Government did not do more earlier on drug prevention, and the fact that just 12 per cent. of the drugs budget was spent on prevention? There is no evaluation at all of many of the activities.
Jacqui Smith: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the progress made by those working in the drugs field over the past 10 or 11 years. Overall drug use and class A drug use among young people are now at their lowest levels ever, as measured by the British crime survey. Among school pupils, overall drug use has fallen. The rate of frequent drug use among pupils has also fallen. The people involved in that work should be congratulated, unlike the hon. Gentleman’s party, which proposes cuts to the Home Office budget; that would certainly impact on our ability to counter the harms caused by drugs. I hope that he will back up his words with words advising his Front-Bench team to put back that money."
Maria Miller, Shadow Minister for the Family, received a similar answer to her question, which answer again poured scorn on the Conservatives' spending plans:
"The Basingstoke rape and sexual abuse centre, along with many other rape crisis centres, does an excellent job to support victims. Why do the Government not do one thing that would really help those centres and adopt a three-year funding cycle, as suggested by colleagues on the Opposition Benches, to try and put an end to the financial uncertainty that so many of those crisis centres still face?
Mr. Campbell: The Government provided £1 million extra this year to rape crisis centres, and I am informed that no rape crisis centre has closed since that period. We value the work of rape crisis centres and are working with local partners to see how best they can be funded, but coming from a party that will cut investment, suggesting a commitment to a three-year period is asking a lot."
Let us take a deep breath and patiently say this once again: when a budget is large and complex it is possible to make overall savings whilst increasing or maintaining spending on specific areas!