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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 January 2007, 12:07 GMT
Conservative opinion
On Sunday 28 January 2007, Andrew Marr interviewed David Davis MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

David Davis MP
David Davis MP

ANDREW MARR: I'm joined by the Shadow Home Secretary David Davis. Welcome David.


ANDREW MARR: Let's start off by looking at what's happened in prisons.

Roughly speaking twenty thousand extra people have been put in prison since this government came into power and presumably you welcome that.

DAVID DAVIS: Well yes. I mean a goodly part of that twenty thousand were actually prisons commissioned by the previous Conservative government.

But the problem is that later on in the programme as it were they ceased to build prisons or cut the rate and ignored the forecast in their own department that they'd need a hundred thousand by the end of this decade.

ANDREW MARR: Does this mean that although John Reid is getting a fair amount of stick at the moment, a lot of stick, actually it's the fault of others, it's the fault of the Chancellor Gordon Brown and previous home secretaries for not getting the money in to build prisons earlier?

DAVID DAVIS: There is no doubt that the, the Chancellor has a sort of guilty role in this in that he didn't provide the money for, for those prisons, I think against previous home secretaries.

But also I mean one has to say it's only three months, I think it's about three months since the, during the Queen's speech I raised this issue again and I was accused by John Reid of making a dreadful fuss about nothing. I think that's the words.

Something quite close to that. So he clearly wasn't paying attention, wasn't focusing on it. And bear in mind it's on his watch that they actual sold off a prison...

ANDREW MARR: Okay. So suddenly in the blinking of an eye you find yourself as Home Secretary, what would you do now?

DAVID DAVIS: Well at the moment there are only bad options available. I mean prison ships, army camps, those sorts of options. The, the, the idea run in this morning's News of the World - I think you covered it in your, in your, in your previous piece - about using polygraphs, lie detectors.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, exactly.

DAVID DAVIS: Actually an idea run two years ago and still not implemented. But never mind. Those things you have no choice but to do. They're bad options because actually one of the roles of prisons is actually to rehabilitate. And one of the great tragedies about this government is rehabilitation rates have gone down. Re-offending has gone up dramatically ...

ANDREW MARR: Because rehabilitation is expensive ..

DAVID DAVIS: But also it takes time. It means a prisoner's got to stay in a prison for a, a, a period of time, not be moved around. And you can't do, you can't give ..


DAVID DAVIS: .. them drug rehabilitation or whatever, if they're being moved from prison to prison which is what's happening now.

ANDREW MARR: So let's be clear. A Conservative government would spend if necessary billions on building more and more prisons?

DAVID DAVIS: It would spend what it takes. I mean we don't actually know - it'll, it'll be two years until we come in. But you know within a year, six months of the next election then I will actually give the, the country a forecast of what I think is necessary and what it will cost in terms.

ANDREW MARR: Because there is an argument that we already imprison proportionately far more people than other comparable countries. And that there are lots of people in prison who shouldn't be there. You don't buy that?

DAVID DAVIS: Well actually, two questions and the answers are different. Firstly, we actually imprison more people because we have far more criminals, we have far higher crime rates. We actually, the risk of a, of a criminal going to jail is lower in this country than almost every other European country, ironically because we have so many more criminals. And prison isn't enough by itself.

I mean there are bits of what the government say which we agree with in terms of ... In other words when somebody becomes a criminal you worry about how you rehabilitate them, particularly if they're young. And you worry about what happens when they come out of the other end and rehabilitation in prison. You may remember one of our policies of the last election which we still have is one of giving residential rehabilitation to drug offenders. Biggest driver of crime today, drugs. Biggest thing the government's let go out of control, drugs. And so one of the, that ... one of the alternatives ...

ANDREW MARR: So when, when the boss of the Youth Offenders Service resigns and says that we're swamping our prisons with too many children you don't agree with him?

DAVID DAVIS: Well as I said there are two components to this. Early on, particularly with youngsters, your focus must be most on rehabilitation. And so what we have to do is try and find those routes which will help get those kids off the conveyer belt to crime, a phrase that my predecessor coined.

The trouble is that at the moment even the non-custodial sentencing is failing. I mean the one for youngsters, I, the so called ISSP - doesn't matter what it stands for - is, is actually failing at ninety two per cent. Ninety two per cent of them back in, back in custody as it were in a couple of years.

ANDREW MARR: And just to be absolutely clear, when you read about a convicted paedophile not being sent to prison because the judge decides there's not enough space after the letter from John Reid, or the same thing is said about a convicted drug smuggler, do you think those two people should now be in prison?

DAVID DAVIS: Yes I do. The duty of a judge is to decide whether somebody should be in prison or not. There are many aspects to that, you know whether it's for public protection, whether they're going to run away on, on bail or whatever. Whether they would re-offend while they're out. And of course what's proper for them in terms of their punishment. The, the sentence should fit the crime.

That's the job of the judge. The job of the government is to provide the resources, the prison places, the non-custodial sentences that are necessary as a result of that. It's that way round. It should never be the case that, that the government is saying to judges sorry old boy, we can't provide enough prison places for you.

ANDREW MARR: And if it gets to the use of executive order by the Home Secretary saying "The following people should be released early" how would you react to that? Because this seems to be around the corner.

DAVID DAVIS: Well it may do, it may be. I mean one of, one of the other stories this morning in the papers is that their own forecast is eighty three and a, three and a half thousand more places needed by, by June of this year.

I hope it doesn't get to that point because that will quite explicitly put people at risk. They're looking at every other option and I would drive them to look at every other option first.

ANDREW MARR: You're not calling for John Reid himself to go at the moment are you?

DAVID DAVIS: Look, these, ministers don't resign in this government. Sometimes they're fired. But at the moment the, the Prime Minister is so powerless that I don't think he could fire anybody let alone a Home Secretary. So it's a pointless exercise. My interest is how we solve the problem, how we get it right.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about another issue which has been much discussed this morning which is the gay adoption business. Because there is a tough choice for all ..


ANDREW MARR: .. politicians. Either you side with those who say anti-discrimination laws should affect everybody or you say the churches are doing such a good job in this particular area that they should be given a special exemption. So which side do you come down on?

DAVID DAVIS: Well I'm, I'm not going to come down either side. We have a free vote on this because it is an issue of conscience. And right enough, you're quite right, it is a challenge between three things actually. It's a, it's a challenge between the very proper right of gays to be protected from discrimination.

The very proper right of children to have the best available adoption service. These are very, very badly damaged children and actually the Catholic Adoption Society is the best to deal with that. And also frankly the right of people to, to exercise their religious rights. We think, I think anyway - I mean this is not a Party issue, this is my view. I think the, the government's handled this very, very badly indeed.

This should have been debated, each element of this should have been debated properly in Parliament before we got to a decision point. What they've actually done is had an order in Council for Northern Ireland, so there's been no debate on that virtually, and this we're seeing as decisions being taken by, by, by a minister along the way.

ANDREW MARR: But now we are at a decision point, you have to jump one ... one way or the other.

DAVID DAVIS: Well no the Party ...

ANDREW MARR: Sure. Come on, you can't just say we want more debate, should have been more debate.

DAVID DAVIS: No, no, the Party quite properly said this is a, this is a matter of conscience and there is not a party line on this. Why should there be on something which is a choice between ..

ANDREW MARR: Well I'm asking for your own view, your own personal view.

DAVID DAVIS: Oh my personal, personally I will almost certainly vote against this measure because, because I don't - I think there's a better compromise available.

ANDREW MARR: And vote in favour of allowing the church, in effect allowing the churches an opt out?

DAVID DAVIS: Well I think, I think, I think there, I think there's a compromise though they haven't found. That's the point. And they simply haven't worked at this long enough. It's become an issue of battle within, within Cabinet, an issue between the, between various members of the Cabinet.

Each of them threatened to resign, I mean of itself a sort of silly situation to be in. And I think actually there is a more sensible route than they one they've found.

ANDREW MARR: Because I mean I'm interested because it is a kind of cultural battle as we were saying. And in that choice you would side with the churches?

DAVID DAVIS: Oh no. In my, in that, in that choice I would side with the children. I mean you should remem - no, no, no, no ..

ANDREW MARR: You have to side with the churches or with the gay lobby.

DAVID DAVIS: With, with, with, with, with respect Andrew you, you know your briefing should have told you, I was actually the Chairman of the Conservative Adoption Form. I founded it several years ago. I've got a long standing interest in youngsters.


DAVID DAVIS: There's a real problem with actually placing twelve, thirteen, fourteen year old youngsters - not babies - but, but, but adolescent children who are, who have been treated incredibly badly by the state, who have a very great difficulty staying out of prison, let alone anything else. I mean forty per cent of our prisons are, prison ..

ANDREW MARR: Sure. Sure.

DAVID DAVIS: .. are ... So you've got to say to yourself what's going to be the consequence of this. If the consequence of this is actually we end up with a worse adoption system then that's, that's a reason to come back to this and say perhaps that's not the right answer.

We should do something else or find a better compromise. And I think there is a better compromise out there. We just haven't found it yet ...

ANDREW MARR: David Davis thank you very much indeed ..

DAVID DAVIS: Thank you.

ANDREW MARR: .. for joining me.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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