Nick Herbert: You Ask The Questions

The Shadow Justice Minister answers your questions, such as 'What would you have done about the economy?' and 'Do you want to be PM?'

Gordon Brown said this was "no time for a novice" as Prime Minister. Do you agree?

SHANE LEESON, Warminster

I think it was Sir Matt Busby who said "if you're good enough you're old enough." Gordon Brown isn't good enough. Pleading that you have the experience of office is hardly likely to work when you've so clearly cocked things up. It's interesting how the charge of inexperience is being levelled so widely - at Obama, as it was directed at JFK, and for that matter Blair, too. But I believe that what people look for is vision, character, judgement and competence. I think that David Cameron and his team win hands down on that score.

What would your party have done differently to counter the economic crisis?


The Conservative Party has been saying for years that we have to deal with ballooning personal debt. We have said we will introduce counter-cyclical capital rules to make sure we never end up in this situation again. We have proposed increasing bank deposit protection to £50,000 to prevent another run on a bank, and giving the Bank of England new powers to take action if a bank fails. And we have called for changes to City bonuses to make sure they don't encourage irresponsible risk-taking. Above all, a Conservative government would have lived within its means. We would have spent and saved wisely during the good times to see us through the bad times. This week, we've announced a fundamental overhaul of fiscal policy, with a new Office for Budget Responsibility, so that in future all governments will have to fix the roof while the sun is shining.

Last week Gordon Brown made a list of things the Tories opposed over the past 11 years: Bank of England independence, the minimum wage, paternity leave, civil partnerships ... are you proud of that list?


Funny how he didn't mention his 10p tax fiasco, increased borrowing, the release of 30,000 prisoners early ... I could go on. This is a new Conservative Party with new priorities. Since the last election, our leader has changed, our Shadow Cabinet has changed, our policies have changed and our priorities have changed. Under David Cameron, we have undertaken an extensive policy review to develop radical new ideas and policies to present at the next election. I think the public will want to know what we have to offer for the future, not what happened in history.

It was a relief to watch a leader give a speech from behind a lectern for once at Labour conference. When is David Cameron going to replace gimmicks with substance?

DAN LEONARD, Liverpool

I totally reject the assertion. In my own area alone, we have developed policies of real substance, such as locally accountable policing, crime mapping and radical prison reform. The Conservatives have been setting the policy agenda. I don't think Labour can make their "no substance" charge stick when they keep trying to steal our policy ideas. Flexible parenting rights, a constitution for the NHS, a border force, inheritance tax reductions, more accountable policing - these are just some of our ideas which they've appropriated in the last few years.

According to the British Crime Survey violent crime is down 40 per cent since 1997. So why do you continue to talk as if it has risen?

ROSE HIGSON, Kettering

The Home Office's own recorded statistics show that violent crime has increased by 80 per cent under Labour. The British Crime Survey has its uses, but it does not provide a true picture of crime in society. It is limited to persons aged over 16 and excludes homicide - when 27 teenagers have been murdered in London alone this year. It also leaves out crimes against businesses and the most serious crimes such as manslaughter and murder. The former head of the Home Office's police research group says that the BCS excludes around 3 million crimes. Britain remains a high-crime country with crime consistently among the top three concerns of ordinary voters. It doesn't help that we have two different measures of crime, and ministers always try to spin the numbers. I think we need robust crime figures published completely independently of government.

You want to prosecute civil servants who lose data. Should people who've made an honest mistake be sent to prison just to score a political point?

SALLY FORDHAM, Southampton

We've proposed making to an offence to handle data recklessly - in other words, it would only apply where proper precautions weren't taken, not when an "honest mistake" is made. Every time the Government has lost data, ministers have promised a crackdown, but nothing has happened and a culture of complacency remains. Unfortunately we've reached the point where a clear and unambiguous signal needs to be sent.

Do you believe that Ruth Kelly resigned to spend more time with her family?


I really don't know - but I think anyone can be forgiven for wanting to spend more time with their family than facing the daily infighting and bitterness in the current Government.

You don't like Titan jails. You don't like overcrowding. And you don't want to let people out early, either. So what's the solution to the crisis in prison numbers? Shouldn't we be using more community sentences for non-violent offences?


We set out a radical plan to deal with the crisis earlier this year. "Prisons with a Purpose" would involve transforming jails into accountable new Prison and Rehabilitation Trusts, with a mission to reduce re-offending, backed by a payment-by-results mechanism. By reducing re-offending, we can reduce the growth in the prison population in a sustainable way. To make the reformed system work we'll need to reduce overcrowding and prisoner movements, which is why we want to increase prison capacity by 5,000 places, which we'll achieve by selling off expensive old jails and building modern, local units, not huge and remote "titans". There's certainly a role for community sentences, but in their current form they are weak and poorly enforced, and do not command public confidence. We need to reform them so they do a better job of preventing the flow of serial offenders into the custodial system.

Was splitting the Home Office a good idea?


I think the jury's still out. Clearly the driver for the change was failure at the Home Office, rather than there being any particular merit in creating a new Ministry of Justice. The split has effectively created a department of homeland security, focused on borders, counter-terrorism, and policing, and an equally large justice ministry on the Continental model, responsible for prisons, courts, probation and criminal justice policy - as well as a host of constitutional functions. Clearly there's a danger that criminal justice policy will be dislocated by having two departments when the goal should be to join policy up. With the prisons crisis and stalled constitutional reforms, the Ministry of Justice has had a poor first year, and it is yet to prove an effective department. We'll have to do better.

Do you think we need to change the Human Rights Act?

JENNY SMITH, Northampton

More than that - I think the Act has caused fundamental problems and needs to go. The Government admits that the legislation has hampered the fight against terrorism. It has also tied the hands of police, undermined Parliament, and yet done little to protect traditional civil liberties. That's why we've said that we want to replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

Have you ever had a proper non-political job?

LEO NORRIS, Hungerford

Most of my career has been working for causes in which I believe, and before I was elected I was running a think tank. They felt like proper jobs to me and they were generally non-party political, but they certainly all had a political dimension.

Do you want to be Prime Minister?


Absolutely not.

Should other members of the shadow cabinet follow David Davies's lead and step down to fight their seats over principles in which they really believe?

STEVE KEMP, Brighton

DD did what he thought was right, and I went up to support his campaign. I'm glad that he's back in the Commons. But there isn't an issue which is making me think that I need to do the same thing.

You were the first out gay conservative candidate to get elected. Do you think gay people are well represented in the Conservative party?


Increasingly so. There are two out gay men in the Shadow Cabinet - Alan Duncan and myself. What's really encouraging is that we have a number of very able gay candidates who, all being well, are likely to be in the Commons after the next election. I think the Conservative Party is changing to become far more friendly to gay people, and that was reflected by the leadership backing the latest legislation to outlaw incitement to gay hatred.

Are you offended by people in your party who think a gay couple shouldn't be able to adopt?


I disagree, but I'm not offended. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

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Michelle Taylor