HC Deb 16 March 1999 vol 327 cc902-15 4.18 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I wish to make a statement on forthcoming Government initiatives to tackle crime. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides the foundation for our strategy on crime and disorder. The major reforms of the youth justice system for which it provides are currently being rolled out; and the House will be familiar with them. Two other major parts of the Act come into force in the next two weeks. From 1 April, effective local crime strategies to reduce crime and disorder must be in place in every area of the country. Those strategies are being drawn up by the more than 400 statutory partnerships established between the police and local authorities. They follow a six-month period of consultation between local communities, police and local authorities.

Clear and deliverable local targets are being set to reflect the priorities of each local community. Those targets will, for the first time, give local people the means to monitor how effective are the police and local authorities in reducing crime and disorder in their area. The early signs are that those local partnerships have invested considerable energy and enthusiasm. We all understand that they must now deliver.

I know that many hon. Members have been as concerned as I, the police and local authorities about the lack of effective remedies to combat serious and persistent anti-social behaviour in our communities. We have been determined to put that right. I am therefore pleased to tell the House that the new anti-social behaviour order under the Crime and Disorder Act will come into force and be available to the courts from 1 April—in only 15 days' time.

That civil order will be available against any individual over the age of 10 whose behaviour is such that the court judges it likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to others. In terms of the rules of evidence and the burden of proof, the order will be similar to a civil injunction. It will typically impose conditions restraining the behaviour of named individuals. Those may include a curfew or prohibition on going to particular areas or houses or contact with particular individuals. A breach of an anti-social behaviour order will be an arrestable offence punishable on indictment by up to five years in prison or by an unlimited fine.

Many police forces and local authorities are undertaking work to prepare for the start date of 1 April. I am today issuing detailed guidance about the use of the orders. Copies have been placed in the Library and are available in the Vote Office.

Last July, I announced our intention to begin a £250 million, evidence-based crime reduction programme to reverse the long-term upward trend in crime. It is the biggest programme of its kind ever undertaken in this country or abroad. I am pleased to say that the first projects under that programme will soon be under way.

On Thursday, I shall announce the first 11 provisional areas to benefit from a £30 million initiative in targeted policing to establish what works. That will give targeted support to some of the most innovative and dedicated police work that is taking place. The schemes will bolster the police in their dedicated work to tackle crime.

England and Wales have one of the worst records on burglary in the industrialised world, despite recent falls owing to excellent work by the police and local authorities. Early next month, therefore, we shall announce the 60 areas that are to benefit from the first phase of a £50 million anti-burglary initiative. Over three years, our scheme will cover more than 2 million homes in about 500 of the country's high crime areas. It builds on the previous Government's safer cities campaign, which I commend, and should have a major impact on property crime rates.

I turn now to the outline announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget statement last week. As he told the House, an additional £150 million is being allocated to boost support to crime prevention in areas in England where crime is highest. That brings the total funds for the crime reduction programme to more than £400 million.

The breakdown of the additional £150 million will be £20 million in the coming financial year, 1999–2000; £60 million in the next year; and £70 million in the third year, 2001–2002. In addition, £13 million will be available for projects in Scotland, £4 million for Northern Ireland and a further £3 million for Wales. A key focus of that additional programme will be investment in closed-circuit television systems and the infrastructure necessary to make these systems operate most effectively, including in housing estates, towns, bus and railway stations and car parks.

The evidence is clear. In the right context, CCTV can significantly reduce crime and disorder. It is like having permanently on the beat in particular streets or areas a number of police officers with eyes in the back of their heads and an incontrovertible record of what they have seen. When used properly, CCTV can deter criminals, greatly assist the police and others in bringing offenders to justice and help to reduce people's fear of crime.

Take vehicle crime, for example. It accounts for almost a quarter of all recorded crime and costs us £4 billion a year. In September, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced a national target to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent. over the next five years. The additional resources for CCTV and related security improvements are a major step on the road to meeting that target. Among other things, the resources will be targeted at improving car park security. Home Office research in six cities provides firm evidence that the installation of CCTV in car parks leads to significant reductions in vehicle crime.

A project in Hull, for example, led to a fall in the theft of cars in the targeted car park of almost 90 per cent., compared with a reduction of only six per cent. in the city centre as a whole. Given that up to 30 per cent. of all such crime takes place in car parks, the potential pay-offs from this major new investment in security are enormous. Another project in Darlington has cut the number of vehicle offences in the town by more than 80 per cent.

Funding for the new initiative will be allocated through a competitive bidding process. We will invite bids for schemes in places to which the public have access. We expect roughly half the funding to be allocated to residential areas, although the precise split will depend on the quality of the bids received. Bids must be submitted through local crime and disorder partnerships. Successful bids will be those which have the biggest impact in reducing crime, are part of a broader strategy and represent the best value for money.

The initiative will be managed jointly by the Home Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, as part of the crime reduction programme, with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices discharging their separate responsibilities. The joint work of the DETR and the Home Office is significant. It represents co-ordinated government at both national and local level, and will complement existing programmes, such as the new deal for communities and the single regeneration budget. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I will issue a joint prospectus as soon as possible, which will set out guidance to partnerships on the submission of bids, including time scales and selection criteria.

The measures that I have announced today are part of a coherent strategy for giving local communities the means that they need to tackle crime, the fear of crime and disorder. I commend them to the House.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I welcome the proposal to extend closed circuit television. The previous Conservative Government introduced that measure, and it is one of the reasons why crime has come down over the past five years. In opposition, we have pressed for its extension, so we welcome the announcement. I quarrel only with the Home Secretary's description of CCTV as being like having a number of police officers permanently on the beat in particular streets. I do not agree with the implication of that remark. We certainly need CCTV, but we need policemen on the beat, too. Our fundamental criticism of the Government is that they are cutting the number of police.

CCTV apart, the Home Secretary's statement is simply a re-announcement of old policies—as we had yesterday from the Secretary of State for Health. If anyone doubts that, they need only look back to the Prime Minister's speech at September's Labour party conference, in which he said: Because of the Government's policies, young children alone on the streets can be subject to curfews. From April, anti-social neighbours can be taken to court and punished. I announce today that we will be introducing measures to tackle the first of 20 worst crime hotspots around the country. What is new is that the Home Secretary is claiming credit for extra spending on law and order. He boasts of £400 million over the next three years. If that is his claim, where will the money come from? Let the Home Secretary confirm that between 1979 and 1996–97, under the previous Government, there was a 3.3 per cent. average annual real increase in Government financing for the police. If the Government had kept to that average, they would be spending an extra £1.3 billion on the police over the next three years. It is a story with which we are familiar: the Government have taken a lot of money from one budget, namely, the police; they have given some of it to another budget, namely, crime prevention; but, most of all, they have kept the change.

On the anti-social behaviour orders, let me ask the Home Secretary two questions. First, can he give the House an assurance that the orders, which we have supported, do not offend, as is claimed by some, against the European convention on human rights? We have already seen one example this week of how that may have happened—contrary, I suggest, to overwhelming public opinion in this country. No one wants to see another such example.

Secondly, as the Prime Minister said, the child curfew orders were a central part of the Government's strategy. Can the Home Secretary confirm that, after six months, no local authority has applied for such an order?

Lastly, the Home Secretary mentioned targeted policing—hotspot policing, as the Prime Minister described it. The idea comes from the United States, together with so-called zero tolerance policing. It has been very successful there in reducing crime, but I emphasise that it has been accompanied by a determined drive to recruit more police in New York and throughout the United States. Surely the trouble with the Government's approach is that they are presiding over a declining police service in this country. We increased police numbers by more than 15,000 during our period in office, but police strength is now coming down in this country—down in the cities and down in country areas. Does that not mean that the full potential to reduce crime in this country will not be realised under the Government's policies?

Mr. Straw

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to welcome what I have said about closed circuit television—and well he might, because the previous Government invested £38.5 million in closed circuit television over four years whereas we are investing £150 million over three years into such crime reduction programmes. We are not taking that money from the police.

The right hon. Gentleman said that, under the previous Administration, budgets rose by an average of 3.5 per cent. That took place at a time of much higher inflation. Police budgets are due to increase by 3 per cent. during the next year and, in other areas, budgets are due to increase by 3.5 per cent.

As for accusing us of cutting police numbers, that is an extremely dangerous line for the right hon. Gentleman to follow. Although it is true that the number of police rose in the 1970s under a Labour Administration and in the 1980s under the Conservative Administration, after 1992 the Conservative Administration presided over a serious decline in police numbers. Notwithstanding the fact that they had promised 6,000 more police officers, they delivered 450 fewer police officers in that five-year period. As for the past two years, when the numbers have decreased, we were following the previous Conservative Administration's spending plans, with only this difference: we put in a bit more money than they did.

I see the right hon. Gentleman smirking about that, as Conservatives always did when they broke their promises, but Conservative Members need to remember that they lost office so comprehensively because they broke their promises.

The right hon. Gentleman says that there was nothing new in the statement except the increased funding for closed circuit television. There was a great deal that was new, including the guidance—which I have published today—on the use of anti-social behaviour orders, which has been the subject of a great deal of consultation with local authorities, the police and others. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman now welcomes the use of those orders, because we received a mixed message during the legislation's passage through Parliament. I believe that one or two Conservative Front Benchers welcomed them, but the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) described them as "dangerously unworkable" and the Conservative central office information simply dismissed them as "a gimmick". The orders will be workable, and they should make a great deal of difference. [Interruption.] I shall deal with child curfew orders in a moment.

I enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's question about the European convention on human rights. There is always space for people to undergo a Pauline conversion on matters such as human rights, and we greatly welcome the Conservatives' subscribing to the convention. The answer is that I signed a clear statement to the House, saying that we believed that the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act were compliant with the European convention.

Sir Norman Fowler


Mr. Straw

Of course. It is a statement based on the best opinion that we received. I cannot take account of all the possibilities that may occur in Strasbourg. It is our best belief, and it has never been gainsaid.

On child curfew orders, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that no local authority in England or Wales has applied for such a curfew, [Interruption.] but as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is pointing out, the equivalent has been used in Scotland. When I went to Yardley in Birmingham before the election, I was asked for such orders to be used there.

This is not an exercise in central government, whereby we tell local authorities and local communities what to do. We are responding to their requests for such orders. It is up to local communities to use them. It is possible that, owing to the success of all our other reforms of the youth justice system, they may not be needed, but if they are needed, they are there.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if there is one lesson that we should learn from the 1980s, it is that simply pouring more resources into the police is not the right way to deal with crime. The real issue is how those resources are used. My constituents will welcome the new measures that he has announced today, and will watch with great interest to see how they work. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give the House that the resulting reduction in crime will be properly audited, and that figures will not be massaged by some local police forces in order to give a better impression than is warranted by reality?

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the welcome that he gives. He is right to say that we must be as careful about the expenditure of resources on law and order as about that on other areas. I hope that we may be able to get beyond the rather low level of debate offered by the Opposition, whose only concern now appears to be inputs, rather than outputs—notwithstanding the fact that they sought to elevate the debate on every other public service to the level of outputs.

The document entitled "Reducing Offending" shows that there are many cost-effective ways of reducing crime. For example, the research evidence from the safer cities programme initiated by the previous Administration shows that money invested in burglary prevention projects produces a rate of return five times higher than money invested in additional police officers. Chief constables know that, which is why, when they are offered a choice about how to spend their money, they often do not put it directly into expenditure on more officers, but invest it instead in IT systems and additional civilians.

My hon. Friend asked me to ensure that the reductions in crime are properly audited. I should tell him that a major exercise is being undertaken by the research and statistics directorate of the Home Office to lend greater credibility to the crime statistics across the country. Many police forces already ensure the highest levels of integrity in those data. Some do not, and we are taking them to task.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

The thrust of the statement is to be welcomed, as is the fact that the Home Office and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are working together. Perhaps it would be better still if other Departments were brought in—the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health are two obvious examples.

Can the Home Secretary tell the House how much of the doubled crime that was experienced under the 18 years of Conservative Government will be eaten into by the measures that he announced today? When does he expect us to get back to the 1979 level that the Conservative Government inherited?

There is concern that the funding of the partnerships depends on local authorities and police forces working in partnership. Does the Home Secretary agree that local authorities are already underfunded, and that the measures that he has announced this year will lead to the police being underfunded? Although it is true that the number of police officers rose under the total period of the previous Conservative Government, it has fallen in the last few years. Does the Home Secretary agree that the number of police officers now is less than it was when he launched his "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" campaign?

I am interested in the crime reduction programme. Can the Home Secretary give an assurance that effective projects which started under the safer cities programme will continue and not be shelved?

Finally, is the Home Secretary seriously trying to tell people that CCTV cameras can replace the bobby on the beat?

Mr. Straw

To take the hon. Gentleman's last point first—which picks up a question asked by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—no one is suggesting that CCTV should replace officers on the beat; rather, we are suggesting that it complements their work. CCTV has been successful in reducing crime in town centres and housing estates because it is literally like having a police officer on the beat with eyes in the back of his or her head and it provides an incontrovertible record of what has happened. CCTV is enormously important in providing good evidence for the police for prosecutions, in acting as a significant deterrent—and, as the hon. Gentleman will have seen if he has been in control rooms—in enabling the police to deploy their resources far better than ever before, for example where disturbances occur late on a Friday or a Saturday night. The two are therefore complementary.

A choice has to be made at the margin about how the additional resources should be spent, and we do not resile from that. Such choices must be made on the basis of the best evidence. The hon. Gentleman—like my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin)—picks up on the Conservative Government's record. It should be borne in mind that, when police numbers rose in the 1980s, we saw the largest rise in crime that Britain has ever experienced. We should consider whether there is the direct relationship between the number of police officers and the level of recorded crime that Opposition Members insinuate.

We accept that better co-ordination with other Departments is needed. The hon. Gentleman will know that health and education departments are partners at a local level in the crime and disorder partnerships, and we are working closely with the other Departments at a national level.

The hon. Gentleman asked me rashly to name the day when crime will be back to the 1979 level. I have not promised to do so, so I shall not take up his offer. However, I have been set the challenging target by the Prime Minister to bring vehicle crime down by 30 per cent. during the next five years, and I have been promised an imaginative career move if I fail.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it was futile niggling of the kind that we have just heard from the Tory Front-Bench spokesman that led to the Conservative vote in my constituency falling to 4,000 at the general election, and to the total absence of Conservative councillors from Manchester city council? That is why my constituents look to my right hon. Friend to deal with the serious problems of crime from which they have been suffering all these years.

We welcome what my right hon. Friend said about burglaries, CCTV and so on, but my constituents will be looking most to the effect of the anti-social behaviour orders. Day after day I receive letters and approaches from constituents about rowdy gangs and abominable neighbours, including named people who move from street to street, causing havoc as they go.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is right in saying that we will judge my right hon. Friend's announcements by the effects. Is he aware that we shall look to those effects to take away the terrible misery from which ordinary people suffer day after day as a result of such offences?

Mr. Straw

In place of a futile niggle, perhaps I may be allowed a sycophantic difference of emphasis from my right hon. Friend: surely the real reason for the fall in the Conservative vote in Gorton was the excellence of my right hon. Friend's reputation. Knowing my right hon. Friend as I do, I am surprised that there were even 4,000 Tory voters.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his welcome of the anti-social behaviour orders which are built partly on the experience of the people in Manchester and Salford. I have visited many of the areas that have suffered in that way. I know that Manchester city council is one of the authorities that are preparing themselves for the introduction of the orders. It has one of the best records in the country of taking out injunctions against its own tenants, but the orders are important because they will be available for use against people regardless of housing tenure.

My right hon. Friend is also correct that people are waiting for the beneficial effects of the orders. Their success will depend on the enthusiasm of the police and the local authorities in applying for orders and, in some cases, on the courage of local people in making applications to the police in the first place. It will also depend on how far the judiciary—magistrates and the Crown courts—are alert to the need to make those orders. I am pleased that we have had discussions with the Magistrates Association as well as with the higher judiciary to ensure that they understand the emphasis that the House has placed on the effectiveness of the orders.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

Talking of Pauline conversions, will the Home Secretary accept that I will not unduly delay the House by reminding it of the number of times in the first year of this Parliament that he pooh-poohed the effectiveness of closed circuit television because the Chancellor would not give him any money? Now that the Chancellor has given him some money, he is all in favour of closed circuit television. I hope that this is the real Home Secretary.

The right hon. Gentleman talked of outputs. Will he tell the House what reduction in burglary, car theft and anti-social behaviour he wants to achieve, and over what period, in order to feel that that use of the money has been justified, and that it has been money well spent in terms of law and order?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to tweak me on that point, but I did not pooh-pooh the value of closed circuit television at all. Indeed, I have been through all the times that I used to raise the matter with him when he sat on the Front Bench, and I raised it time after time. I could not come up with the money—here, he must take the admonition—because we did not have the money; we were following the Conservatives' spending plans and no money had been allocated. That is absolutely true and he knows it.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me what reduction in crime we anticipate. We are setting a national target for reduction in vehicle crime of 30 per cent., which is a substantial reduction and something on which we as a Government will be judged. In particular, I will be judged on that, especially if I fail, although I do not suppose that anybody will notice if I succeed. We have set a national target partly because the factors affecting vehicle crime often involve national policy—for example, the design of vehicles and co-operation in and co-ordination of policies by car park groups—to which vehicle crime is directly susceptible.

Burglary and robbery are much more susceptible to local strategies, which is why we have not set national targets. We are inviting local police and local communities to set those targets, and they are doing so, but we shall also judge the effectiveness of the individual programmes within the crime reduction programme—for example, that to reduce burglary—very carefully. If they are not working according to the target that has been set for the individual programme we will withdraw the money from similar programmes.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

May I tell my right hon. Friend that communities all over my constituency and the rest of Birmingham will welcome the anti-social behaviour orders, which come into force from 1 April, alongside other more positive measures to encourage young people to live more fulfilling lives? However, does he agree that the critical ingredient in combating crime in our communities is not the number of police officers or, indeed, the level of resources that they have, important as they are, but the active involvement of people within communities in retrieving the safety and security that they have had stolen from them?

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. If we do not have the communities on side, no amount of police officers or CCTV will solve the problem of disorder. Moreover, and to emphasise the point, we know that, where there are high levels of incivility in an area, the chance of people suffering, for example, a violent crime is four times greater than in other similar areas. If we deal with disorder, we can cut a great deal of crime.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

The Home Secretary seemed to come perilously close to suggesting that there was an inverse relationship between the number of police officers and the incidence of crime. In fact, the opposite is the case: there is a positive relationship between the number of police officers and the ability not only to prevent but to solve crimes.

Does the Home Secretary accept that much of what he said will not translate readily into provision for rural areas, where the incidence of closed circuit television cameras and the like will inevitably be low? It is the number of police officers that is instrumental. In Cambridgeshire, for example, only by maintaining the increased levels that have been accompanied by a substantial reduction in crime over the past couple of years can we achieve a further reduction.

Mr. Straw

Many rural areas have done very well out of the Budget increases that I announced earlier. For instance, Cambridgeshire—part of which the hon. Gentleman represents—has been allowed a 4.5 per cent. spending increase in the next year. That is more than adequate to maintain the number of police officers and to secure investment, especially given the efficiency savings we expect the police to make not as a result of the number of officers, but in a number of other areas in which the service has not been efficient in the past.

I did not suggest for a second that there was an inverse relationship between the number of police officers and the rise of crime under the last Administration. What I drew to the attention of thinking Conservatives, of whom I believe the hon. Gentleman to be one—[Interruption.] He went to a good school, same as me. Anyway, what I drew to the attention of thinking Conservatives was the fact that there was not necessarily a direct relationship. We have learned something from the Conservatives about the efficiency of public services; they seem to have forgotten what they learned about the same thing when they were in office.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

I welcome the general measures announced by my right hon. Friend, but may I probe him beyond the distribution of cash? As he will know, my constituency, consisting of hundreds of square miles, is one of the most rural; but it has been at the forefront in using closed circuit television cameras in urban areas, which has helped the police to be more effective elsewhere. Does my right hon. Friend accept that his financial measures must address the deprivation in some of those urban areas? Does he also accept that, although crime may appear to be lowish in such counties as Norfolk, peaks of crime are hidden in the general average, which require every bit as much attention as crime in urban areas?

Mr. Straw

I accept what my hon. Friend says, not least because I visited his constituency about 18 months ago. On a wet Friday evening in King's Lynn, 700 people turned up to hear me speak about law and order, which suggests either that they were very worried about the situation or that there was nothing else to do in King's Lynn. I trust that it was the first, not the second.

As I saw during that visit, there are indeed serious peaks of crime in some areas, which are disguised by the overall figures. I am pleased to say, however, that next year Norfolk will have a 5.5 per cent. increase in resources. That reflects our view of the importance of giving proper resources to semi-rural counties such as Norfolk.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I welcome the use of anti-social behaviour orders in the criminal justice system. Such orders, however, are not akin to civil injunctions, as the Home Secretary said; they are part of the criminal justice system. Is the right hon. Gentleman content that it is constitutionally appropriate for the police or applicant local authorities to play an active part in the sentencing process? Only they may consent to a reduction in the two-year period of an anti-social behaviour order, as the right hon. Gentleman will see if he looks at his own Act. Does he think it appropriate for the police and applicants to be party to sentencing? It would surely be more appropriate for that to be entirely in the gift of the courts.

On a previous occasion, the Home Secretary was kind enough to admit that the Conservative Government had done great things with regard to the introduction of closed circuit television. Will he, as a Labour politician, join me, as a Conservative politician, in kicking the back end of Oadby and Wigston Liberal Democrat borough council, and in inviting it to apply to his Government—it refused to apply to mine—for CCTV funding for the hard-pressed people of the borough?

Mr. Straw

I am always happy to take part with Conservatives in the re-education of the Liberal Democrats—on CCTV and many other subjects. Of course, one of the reasons why all of us—I hope—are sensitive to the issue of anti-social behaviour and to problems of law and order is because of the constituency link. I make that point just in case anyone is thinking otherwise.

I acknowledge and commend the previous Government's work, for example, on safer cities. There is little point in calling into question the record of a previous Administration where we support it. I do not intend to do that.

I do not accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about the structure of the anti-social behaviour orders. The only point where, as it were, the applicant—the local authority or police—could play a part in what he describes as the sentencing process under the orders, is where there is an application to the court to lift the order within the two-year minimum period, but the order itself is not a sentence of the court. A sentence of the court arises only if there is a breach of the order. That is an arrestable offence. A breach of an order will be dealt with in the normal way for either-way offences. The police and local authorities will play no direct part in the sentence that either the magistrates or the Crown court judge hands down.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

May I in the warmest terms congratulate the Home Secretary on his statement on crime reduction? I do so as a member of the Magistrates Association, as former chair of the North-West Leicestershire Safer Communities Forum, a forerunner of the statutory partnerships, and as chair of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch CCTV scheme, which installed cameras in that town.

It is true that the existence of cameras can have a positive effect. Does my right hon. Friend nevertheless accept that there is a need to look at the dispersal of crime that can arise with CCTV, and to tackle peripheral issues such as improving street lighting in car parks, so that the quality of the image that is produced by the camera is satisfactory? Does he accept that local authorities that are cash strapped—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. That is far too long. Mr. Straw.

Mr. Straw

I accept what my hon. Friend says. Let me make it clear that not all the money need be spent directly on CCTV. As my hon. Friend says, if CCTV is to be effective, other things have to be done as well—for example, improvements in street lighting and action to ensure that crime is not displaced. One of the good things about the latest round of cash for CCTV is that it will be available, for example, on housing estates to which some acquisitive crime may have been displaced by CCTV in town centres.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Will the Home Secretary ensure that rural areas get their fair share of any money that is available? The money should go not just to areas such as Longridge in my constituency, to finance CCTV and other schemes, but to rural parts—of the right hon. Gentleman's constituency; of Lancaster, Burnley and Pendle; and all round our area. Rural areas need their fair share of the money as well.

I know that the Home Secretary has a reputation for being a hard Home Secretary and I believe him to be so.

Mr. Straw


Mr. Evans

It is a compliment. Having that sort of reputation, the Home Secretary may not be popular with many Labour Members, but may I encourage him not only have a reputation for being hard, but to be hard where he has not been so far? Boot camps have proved very successful. Will he look again at that idea? A rigorous and firm regime is the only language that some thugs can understand. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will consider establishing a boot camp in the north-west.

Mr. Straw

I did not hear the first consonant when the hon. Gentleman said "hard", and various alternative expressions were running through my mind. I accept, of course, what he said about the importance of rural areas being covered by the provisions: it is a mistake to believe that only urban areas have high crime levels. Although crime is disturbing wherever it occurs, a sudden upsurge of serious disorder or acquisitive crime in a peaceful rural area can be very disturbing. I shall certainly give an undertaking to ensure that the money is used across the country. Which areas benefit from it will depend on the quality of bids. I hope that Ribble Valley district council—to name one council—will be able to make a high-quality bid.

I feel that the debate on the precise form of detention, punishment and treatment of young offenders is not served simply by attaching to it the label "boot camp". None of the so-called boot camps in the United Kingdom, whether at Thorn Cross or at Colchester, bears any relationship to the boot camps that I have seen in the United States, which are of a totally different order.

We need tough and effective punishments, and a range of punishments. We have kept going the so-called boot camp at Thorn Cross because it has turned out to be successful. I closed the facility at Colchester only because of its cost, not because of a judgment about its effectiveness.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the substantial resources that he has been able to extract from the Chancellor to achieve the laudable aims that he has described. I should like also to associate myself with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in commending the general drift of the Home Secretary's strategy. However, may I tell my right hon. Friend that it is difficult to give the document unqualified support when it has been impossible to read the detailed guidance on anti-social behaviour orders? Although I have seen in his hand a copy of the document—it looks very nice—copies are not in the Vote Office as he said they were. When my right hon. Friend and I last had a little discussion on these issues—when a world cup football match was on—we were almost the only two hon. Members in the Chamber. On that occasion, too, the guidelines were not available.

My query concerns the possibility of people maliciously accusing other people of behaving anti-socially, and of insufficient resources or detection methods being available to ensure that such malicious claims are rooted out. I have had several such cases in my own constituency. I should be grateful if the guidelines can be made readily available, so that we may assess whether those points have been dealt with.

Mr. Straw

If—as I now appreciate—the document is not available in the Vote Office, I can only apologise to my hon. Friend and to the House. I shall take action to find out why it is not available.

There is a very powerful filter in the body of the Act itself to ensure that malicious claims are not made. It is not possible for any individual who feels that he or she has suffered serious anti-social behaviour directly to make an application for an anti-social behaviour order. An application would have to be made by the chief officer of police in the area or the chief executive of the local authority—and I am sure that they will take very careful action to filter out malicious cases. If they fail to do so in any individual isolated case, we shall expect—I believe that it will happen—the courts to filter out such claims as are made.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)

Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that many people have noticed the success of his policies and that, certainly in Battersea, police and many of the community partners in crime reduction strategies will greatly welcome today's announcement? The Opposition's obsession with what they call a declining police service is unfounded, and no one but Opposition Front Benchers would call a 0.5 per cent. fluctuation in police numbers a service decline. Yesterday, we even had the spectacle of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) describing as a decline in police numbers what turned out to be a reduction of four police officers that was more than offset by an increase in seven police staff.

Not only are the Conservatives' claims not true: they are not relevant. There is no evidence of a direct relationship between the incidence of crime and police numbers. As the document "Reducing Offending", to which my right hon. Friend referred, says, what really affects crime statistics is effective policing, targeted on criminals and victims.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend is right. Reports by the Audit Commission and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary show that there is no direct relationship between the gross number of police officers and the number of officers available for operational duties. One of the complaints of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, who are all experienced former senior professional police officers, is that while the overall number of officers has risen in recent years, the number available for operational duties has stayed static or declined. That has to change. That will be achieved through better management, better deployment, often civilianisation, the use of information technology and getting a grip—as the previous Administration failed to do—on the fact that early retirements and excessively high levels of sickness make a difference to whether the police are effective on the ground.