House Magazine – The 30 year anniversary of the Select Committee

Posted on June 14th, 2011 in Speeches and Articles

My first full session as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee has proved quite a remarkable one with a number of highlights that have made me realise the full force that a Select Committee can have on the political landscape!

As well as grappling with the continuing high volumes of new legislation coming out of the Home Office, we have been faced with extraordinary, novel and fascinating circumstances that we felt it vital to investigate, such as the conduct of the ongoing investigations into leaks from the Home Office. We were the only Select Committee to investigate this matter and the report into this affair has been published recently.

The Committee have also strived to make room for emerging issues of public concern, such as the ongoing threat from terrorism, levels of knife crime and the terrible resurgence of the modern day slave trade in the form of human trafficking, We have heard from individuals on the frontline of each of these subjects, each of whose evidence has greatly impacted on Members of the Committee, we are united in our task to act to solve these problems.

We continue to make it a priority to hear directly from those most affected by the issues we are investigating — after all, this is surely one area in which select committees are uniquely positioned and a trait of select committees which I greatly admire:  to be able to listen to and provide a platform for people sharing their personal experience of the way policy in the UK is operating. Our witnesses have had a hand in re-shaping Government policy which is a significant achievement.

In our major inquiry at the start of the year, we heard the moving accounts of men and women who had been subjected to domestic violence, forced marriage and the inappropriately named ‘honour-based’ violence. We have met victims of human trafficking and patrolled the streets of Manchester with beat officers witnessing the shocking lives of women selling themselves for sex. We have invited young people from some of the toughest neighbourhoods with the highest rates of knife crime to tell us what they think would help to reduce teenagers’ fear of each other and the motives involved in carrying a knife, joining a gang and killing each other.

We also try and seek perspectives from further a field to learn across a wide scope of experience and ideals.  One of the highlights of the last year has been the recent opportunity to speak to the Reverend Jesse Jackson about his long, dedicated experience in the United States about some of the issues that we are grappling with here in the UK: growing problems like the availability of illicit drugs and knife crime because, while we do not face the same level of crime as comparable cities in the USA, we want to learn from their experience to try to make sure we never do. This was an evidence session I am sure no one will easily forget!

It is also important to note the way in which select committees can participate in ongoing debates and move them on. In a wide-ranging inquiry – supplemented by several one-off sessions focussed on emerging issues – into the pressures facing police in the 21st century we uncovered the disparate priorities pulling police attention in different directions, from dealing with international terrorism to the inordinate amount of time spent mopping up alcohol fuelled crime and disorder, all within a target-driven environment and under the glare of media interest.

Our conclusion that alcohol promotions – loss leaders and so called ‘ happy hours’ – are a significant element of the problem added to a growing if controversial weight of opinion, and it appears that Government  has now recognised that this issue must be addressed, the facts can now not be ignored of the negative impact such promotions has on our society.

In this inquiry we again sought the views of people who had, in terrible circumstances, had direct experience of the way serious crime is investigated and dealt with, such as Helen Newlove, whose husband Garry was murdered in a random attack by three teenagers, and Paul Carne whose mother was murdered by a man on bail for another murder.

It is a difficult balancing act, but I know my colleagues on the Committee want to continue trying to create the ideal mixture of pursuing scrutiny of our major priority areas while responding to novel and challenging emerging issues which are so important and require immediate response and action.