HC Deb 24 May 2000 vol 350 cc972-1028
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.39 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I beg to move, That this House regrets that police strength in England and Wales has fallen by more than 2,300 since the Government came to power, that crime is now rising, and that the Government has released early from prison thousands of drug dealers, sex offenders, burglars and violent criminals; notes the criticism of the Government's crime reduction targets, and further that police officers are unable to devote much of their time to fighting crime because of unnecessary bureaucracy; notes with surprise that none of the Government's local child curfews have been issued and that anti-social behaviour orders have been issued at the rate of less than one per week since they became available; further notes that, in contrast to the Government's failure to tackle crime, the Opposition propose to reverse the decline in police numbers that has occurred since the Government came to power, to provide effective and appropriate punishment and rehabilitation for offenders and to put the interests of victims at the heart of the criminal justice system; calls on the Home Secretary to reconsider his proposed changes to Immigration Rule 320(18) that would remove the prohibition on foreign sex offenders and drug traffickers entering the United Kingdom; and calls on the Government to work to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system and the police, to restore police morale, and to implement effective policies to tackle rising crime. In short, the Government have betrayed the electorate. They have betrayed the general public and they have broken one of the major promises made by the Labour party, which said that it would be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". Championed by the Prime Minister, that slogan was the rallying cry of new Labour long before the general election. However, in government, the Home Secretary has been all talk and no delivery. Far from being tough on crime, he has been tough on crime fighters. After six years of falling crime rates, beginning in 1993, crime is now rising once again.

The first sustained fall in crime since the second world war has been turned round, and we are now faced with a rising crime rate. The latest figures are even more alarming than those for last year. In London, the crime rate increased by 12.6 per cent. in the year ending 31 March. The Metropolitan police have said that that gives "cause for concern". Nevertheless, last week the Prime Minister told the House that he did not believe that policing was in crisis. Yet on that very day the Home Secretary stood up at the Police Federation conference, and there, quite unmistakeably set out in 2 ft high letters behind him, was the conference's theme, "Policing in Crisis".

The chairman of the Police Federation told the Home Secretary that there was a crisis of no confidence, a crisis of no cash and a crisis of no colleagues in the police service. This week, in THE HOUSE magazine, he wrote: The new century finds the service at its lowest ebb in recent memory. If that is the opinion of the police, let not the Home Secretary try to take refuge in blaming the previous Government.

A recent survey of more than 6,000 serving police officers found that three quarters believed that morale was low and that 71 per cent. would have taken another job with the same rate of pay if it had been offered to them.

Hon. Members and the public can draw their own conclusions as to who is telling the truth about what is happening in the police service, or perhaps I should say, what is happening to the police service. Police numbers have fallen by more than 2,300 since Labour came to power. That includes a significant fall in the number of front-line constables. The thin blue line is getting ever thinner.

The Home Secretary always likes to bleat that numbers fell under the Tories between 1993 and 1997. However, he knows as well as I do that the number of constables increased year on year over that period, and that the reductions in total numbers were due to cuts in middle management. Under the Labour Government, both the overall number of police officers and the number of constables have fallen. That is despite the Home Secretary's words to the Police Federation within days of coming to office, when he said: The police constable is central to the success of our police service. In difficult, demanding and often dangerous circumstances, the constable is the physical presence of the law on our streets. Yet under his Administration and under his stewardship of the Home Office, the number of constables— the physical presence of the law on our streets— has steadily fallen.

We all know about the way the Home Secretary and his spin doctors fiddled Labour's conference pledge on police numbers. By contrast, we are pledged to restore the number of police officers to the levels inherited by the Government. We say that with no smoke and no mirrors. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to confirm that the figures on police numbers given in written answers hide the real picture? Is it not the case that the figures that he and his Ministers regularly provide relate not to actual strength but to budgeted strength, and that the amount of manpower available on our streets is substantially less than the Government have said? Will he tell the House how many police officers there actually are in England and Wales? Is it the estimated 124,800 provided in parliamentary answers, or is the figure substantially lower?

Fewer police officers are having to cope with more and more bureaucracy, such as the new crime reduction targets. According to the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir John Evans, on the day those targets were announced they were already in some difficulties. The Police Federation has said that the targets will mean shifting resources away from serious crimes, including crimes of violence, and from street patrolling.

We have seen that happen before, in the Government's approach to the health service. By setting politically inspired targets, they have distorted priorities. According to the police, there seems to be a real danger that the Home Secretary is now doing the same in the war against crime.

As if that were not enough, in the White Paper on licensing the Home Secretary wants to make police officers—not local councils, local magistrates or local bureaucrats, but police officers—responsible for approving requests to sell alcohol on a temporary basis. With just five days' notice, the local police officer would have to carry out the necessary checks, receive objections, issue a formal letter granting or refusing permission and, if there were objections, defend his decision before the licensing committee of the local authority.

I do not know about the Home Secretary, but surely that proposal would be regarded by most sensible people as an unnecessary bureaucratic burden. It does not contribute to fighting or preventing crime, and it would be perfectly possible, under the Government's plans, for the local authority to shoulder much of that burden. The police would have to be consulted, but why do they have to do all the bureaucratic donkey work? Joined up Government? We do not even have joined up thinking in the Home Office.

We need a comprehensive review of all police functions to ensure that they are allowed to get on with the job of fighting crime. The right hon. Gentleman told the 1997 Police Federation conference that the police have my wholehearted support and the wholehearted support of this new Government. We will do all that we can to ensure our police service is strong and effective. We will also support you by providing the protection and the resources you require. Surely the Home Secretary has not forgotten that speech of three years ago. What is the reality today? Yesterday, we found out that, far from giving front-line police officers the full support and protection that he pledged, under his early release scheme the Home Secretary has let more than 100 criminals convicted of assaulting police officers out of prison before the minimum point of their sentence. People who, having assaulted the police and been given, on average, four and a half months in jail, have served just six weeks. What message does that send out to the men and women of our police service?

It is another kick in the teeth for the police when the criminals that they have caught and seen locked up for a range of other serious crimes are let out of jail early. [Interruption.] I hope that Labour Members are listening, because this is where the Home Secretary's policy has got them. Between January last year and the end of last month, the Home Secretary's early release scheme let out more than 20,000 convicted criminals before the minimum point of their sentences.

What sort of convicted criminals? Trivial ones? Nope. There were 53 convicted of manslaughter; six convicted of attempted murder; 34 of making threats to kill; 2,562 of wounding, actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm; 128 of assaulting police, obstructing a constable or resisting arrest; 23 of cruelty to children; two of causing an explosion; 20 sex offenders with convictions for buggery, indecent assault or unlawful sex with an under-aged girl; 1,887 convicted burglars; 811 robbers; 125 arsonists; 60 blackmailers; 30 kidnappers and 772 convicted of affray and violent disorder. I am not surprised that the Government are getting embarrassed.

Despite the Government's promise of a war on drugs, 2,767 people convicted of drug dealing and trafficking have been released. This week, the Minister of State admitted that he had not even given us the true picture in his previous answers. His excuse was that there had been under-reporting of the further offences committed by the criminals when they should have been in prison. Now we know that almost 400, rather than fewer than 200, which was the Home Secretary's previous claim, have committed more than 700 further crimes when they would, but for the Home Secretary's kindly early release scheme, have still been in prison. Those crimes include two rapes, nine assaults on police officers, 18 other serious assaults, 21 burglaries, 14 offences of affray and violent disorder and 13 offences of drug dealing. Labour Members should take note of that because they are the Home Secretary's own statistics given in his own written answers, and they are beyond dispute.

Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that she has the agreement of the shadow Chancellor to spend the extra £1.5 billion that would be involved if such an early release programme were abandoned?

Miss Widdecombe

While I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's figure, I do indeed have the agreement of my right hon. Friends the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor and of the entire shadow Cabinet that we will scrap completely the early release on tagging scheme. Under Labour, the message is clear that, "If you get six months, you will get out in six weeks."

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The right hon. Lady has just given an undertaking to the House. Can she put a price on it? How much?

Miss Widdecombe

We have estimated that the total cost of all our provisions involving imprisonment is £260 million.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

The right hon. Lady has just told the House that she will scrap the early release scheme. Does that mean that she would require Tony Martin to serve his full sentence and not allow him to be released early?

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that the right hon. Lady is aware that that case is under appeal and is sub judice.

Miss Widdecombe

I was, indeed, aware that the case was sub judice. I shall take the underlying question as opposed to the specific case. We have said that we will scrap early release on tagging. That is the scheme that was introduced by the Home Secretary, by which prisoners do not even serve up to the minimum point of their sentence at which they would get automatic release, but are released before that. We have also said that we would restore the proposals that we introduced and which the Government threw out when they came to power—for honesty in sentencing, so that the sentence handed down would be the sentence served and everything would be transparent.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

What the right hon. Lady has said is that a Conservative Government would abolish early release on licence, and make criminals serve the full term ordered by the judge in open court. Is she saying that someone currently sentenced to four years would have to serve that four-year sentence?

Miss Widdecombe

The right hon. Gentleman heard me—

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe

I am going to answer, if the right hon. Gentleman will have some patience. I have just got back to the Dispatch Box and he yells "Answer." A bit of courtesy would be appreciated. He heard me say clearly just now that I would reintroduce the proposals that we almost put on the statute book for honesty in sentencing—proposals which Labour abandoned. He will know that we proposed that judges should take account of what people would actually serve and what they expected and wanted people to serve, and that that would be the sentence handed down. It would be transparent and everyone would know where they were.

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe

As the right hon. Gentleman spent a lot of time opposing those very sensible measures, he knows precisely how the calculations were done. He knows exactly what was involved, and he knows that we have said that that is what we will reintroduce.

Mr. Straw


Miss Widdecombe

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is keen to prevent me from moving on to his immigration rules, but I shall give him one more chance.

Mr. Straw

I shall come on to deal with why we opposed those rules, which would have had the effect—among many other adverse consequences—of prisoners serving less time than they do under the current regime.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Straw

Oh yes. The right hon. Lady may also have forgotten that so chaotic were those provisions that they had to be withdrawn and subsequently reintroduced, and that they were still chaotic. Given what she has said, will she confirm that, in practice, her proposals—for all the badging that she gives them—would make not a scrap of difference? Currently, in principle, someone who is sentenced to four years serves two, whereas, under her proposals, if the judge intended that person to serve a minimum sentence of two years, that person would be given a minimum sentence of two years.

Miss Widdecombe

The right hon. Gentleman is releasing those people even before two years—that is the point of the tagging scheme. He should not be allowed to dodge that fact. We have said that we expect the judge to give the sentence that he expects the prisoner to serve.

I shall now deal with the immigration rules.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

In a moment.

Mr. Hughes

On this point; before she moves on.

Miss Widdecombe

All right; I am very generous.

Mr. Hughes

Can the right hon. Lady confirm that the implication of the policy that she has just outlined is that there would be longer sentences and more people in prison? If so, how does she explain the fact that, when she and other Conservative Members were in government, we had rising prison numbers, falling conviction rates—[HON. MEMBERS: "Falling crime."] No, not falling crime—[Interruption.] No. How does she explain those facts, and the fact that, in 1992, after 13 years of the Tories, we had the highest crime rates in the history of this country? How does she explain that?

Miss Widdecombe

The very fact that the hon. Gentleman finds it necessary to rewrite history proves just how completely he misunderstands it. Yes, we did have rising prison numbers and we had record prison numbers, but during that time we also had the first sustained fall in crime. The lesson was that, if we take repeat offenders off the street, we have an impact on crime and protect the public. If the hon. Gentlemen were interested in protecting the public, he would welcome putting people in prison who would otherwise be menaces on the streets.

I shall now deal with the immigration rules, whether Labour Members want me to or not. The Home Secretary proposes to change the immigration rules for convicted criminals. Previously, the British public were—or so they thought—protected by those rules against all foreign criminals convicted of offences that would carry a maximum sentence of 12 months or more in the United Kingdom. Under the Home Secretary's proposals, that rule will apply only to the most serious offences—those with a maximum sentence of 10 years or more—such as murder, rape, armed robbery, offences of violence against the person, violent sex crimes and firearms offences. However, his plans throw up a couple of very interesting loopholes.

First, the exclusion will not apply to paedophiles convicted of dealing in child pornography, for which the maximum sentence is a paltry three years. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now, therefore, consider extending his proposal either to cover paedophiles or—if he will accept our amendment to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill—increasing the sentence for that offence to 10 years.

Mr. Straw

As the right hon. Lady makes a serious point, I tell her that the consultative document that I published last week was just that—a consultative document. I welcome the comments that she has made on the matter, and understand entirely the case that she makes for special protection in respect of paedophiles. I shall take full account of her proposal and get back to her.

Miss Widdecombe

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for seeing good Conservative sense after we have drawn it to his attention. Now, let me try him again.

The right hon. Gentleman's proposed change in the rules will also not cover those who are convicted of dealing or trafficking in class C drugs, for which the maximum sentence is five years. Although we do not hear as much about class C drugs as we hear about heroin or cocaine, they are not harmless substances. They include the so-called date rape drug, rohypnol, and banned steroids used by athletes such as nandrolone, which got many headlines last year. Perhaps the Home Secretary will also consider extending the prohibition to people who deal in those drugs. I shall give way if he wants to jump up and agree.

I hope that the loopholes were a mistake. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his promise today to look at proposals and consider afresh the changes that he is seeking to make. It would send out a wrong and dangerous message if he did not do so.

We saw on Monday the utter embarrassment of the Home Secretary and his colleagues when my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) highlighted the failure of child curfew orders, which appear to be a source of great hilarity to the Home Secretary. More than once, he has described them as new powers to protect children under 10 from being drawn into crime. However, they have not been used by a single local authority. In the 20 months that they have been available, there has not been a single application for one. He has been forced to admit that he will have to amend the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, because the great flagship measure that he trumpeted is not working.

Then we have the anti-social behaviour orders. The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), told the House on Monday that 40 had been issued—less than one a week. Just half of those have been against juveniles, despite the Home Secretary's view, expressed last year, that they should be routinely used against the middle and older age groups of juveniles and young people—the 12 to 17-year-olds. Another Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said in Westminster Hall on 1 March that the charge that the anti-social behaviour order was too complex and bureaucratic was well made.

The orders are certainly complex and not even their creator, the Home Secretary, understands them properly. On 12 July last year, he twice told the House that using the orders was "a last resort". Just three months later in October, he wrote an open letter to all local authorities urging them to use the orders, saying that they were not a measure of last resort. No wonder local authorities and the police are confused. The Home Secretary is even more confused and has passed that on to them.

The Government have consistently promoted those measures as a panacea for youth crime, but they have turned out to be nothing of the kind. Our proposals would take persistent young menaces out of an environment that is failing them and give them a real incentive to change.

The Government promised the electorate that they would do a great deal on law and order, but after three years we have falling police numbers, rising crime, thousands of convicted criminals being let out of jail early and a crisis of no confidence in the police. It is a crisis of the Home Secretary's making. Victims have been let down. The police have been let down. The public have been let down. Those who voted Labour have been comprehensively betrayed. The only person with anything to thank the Home Secretary for is the criminal.

4.4 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the fact that recorded crime has fallen by 7 per cent. since March 1997, with domestic burglary down by 20 per cent. and vehicle crime down by 14 per cent.; applauds the Government's investment to boost police recruitment; supports the Government's strategy for tackling crime and the causes of crime through better prevention, improving the performance of crime and disorder partnerships, the police and the criminal justice system, more effective punishment of offenders and securing greater support and protection for victims and witnesses; backs the radical reforms of the youth justice system, including swifter punishment for persistent offenders; and notes that all this is in sharp contrast to the record of the previous administration when crime doubled and the number of offenders convicted fell by a third. The best that one can say about the speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is that at least it was brief. Her problem is that while the Leader of the Opposition has taken over her job, she has been spending too much time signing copies of her book.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Straw

I shall give way to the right hon. Lady in a moment, but I have only just begun.

I am always glad when right hon. and hon. Members do not become completely obsessed by politics but find other things to do with their spare time, so it is in the spirit of great affection in which I hold the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald that I congratulate her on the production of "The Clematis Tree", her first novel. [Interruption.] With her customary modesty, the right hon. Lady has described it as a very good book. I am still waiting for a signed copy. However, as any gift must be declared in the register these days, I should declare that I would be happy to pay for it.

I have not yet read the book, but I have read the reviews, which were like an allegory for her speech today. Some reviews you agree with and some you don't, Madam Speaker. One with which I entirely agree—and one which showed that her writing skills have fed through to her speeches—said of the book that it was completely devoid of plausible contemporary reference. One with which I wholly disagree is that the right hon. Lady is lacking a knack for fiction. She has shown today that she can produce fiction not only in novels, but in speeches.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

I am somewhat confused by what the Home Secretary has just said. Is it his practice only ever to read reviews before making his mind up, rather than reading the book itself?

Mr. Straw

If the hon. Gentleman wants a serious answer, the best books page that I read is to be found in the Financial Times. Rather than wasting my money, I see what is recommended by its expert reviewers and then buy it.

I welcome this opportunity to debate the Government's record on crime, not least because it already compares well with the appalling record of the Conservative party when it was in government. In the first two and a half years following the 1997 general election, overall recorded crime fell by 7 per cent., with domestic burglaries down 20 per cent. and vehicle crime down 14 per cent. In the first two and a half years of Margaret Thatcher's Government, crime went up by 15 per cent. In the same period of the Government led by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), crime rose by 31 per cent.

The right hon. Lady can tinker with start dates and nit-pick over footnotes—we will no doubt hear more of that—but the incontrovertible truth is that over the 18 years of Conservative Government, crime doubled while the number of offenders punished fell by a third. Crime did come down towards the end of the Conservatives' period in office, but only back to the appallingly high levels of 1990.

The Tory record was clear—much more crime and many more criminals getting away with it. It is little wonder that the former Tory Home Office Minister David Mellor was moved to admit at the last election that the Conservative Party had lost the plot on law and order. In contrast, we have already put in place policies fundamentally to reform the way in which the criminal justice system works to ensure that it is tough on crime and tough on its causes. The programme includes tougher sentences for repeat and serious offenders; radical reform of the way we deal with young offenders; greater support and protection for victims and witnesses; effective action on preventing crime in the first place, and better detection when it does occur in rural and urban areas; and an overhaul of our system of criminal justice to cut delays and put an end to revolving-door justice.

Miss Widdecombe

The Home Secretary talks about being tough on the causes of crime. Presumably that is exactly what his child curfew orders and anti-social behaviour orders were meant to tackle. There has not been a single instance of the first and, for juveniles, there has been less than one every two weeks of the second. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his efforts have been the most abject failure?

Mr. Straw

Not for one second. I will refer to anti-social behaviour orders in a second, and we will want to know whether the right hon. Lady supports them or not. Residents, police and victims all support them.

On the issue of child safety orders—

Miss Widdecombe

Where are they?

Mr. Straw

I would like them to be used, but it is for local authorities to use them.

In the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, introduced by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), a number of offences were laid down that have not resulted in a single conviction. I do not complain about that. I thought it sensible to have such offences. The act has broadly worked well. The parenting orders in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which were derided, have been used by the score in the pilot areas alone. People said that they would not work, but they are working extremely well. The reparation order, the action plan order and all the other orders that we have introduced to reform the youth justice system, left in such disarray by the Conservatives, are working and ensuring that fewer young offenders reoffend.

We are taking action to tackle the social conditions in which crime and criminality breed. We developed our policies by listening to those at the sharp end of the fight against crime: victims of crime, the police, councils, and Members of Parliament whose surgeries were full of constituents angry at the levels of crime and disorder in their communities. We also drew on the experience of the previous 18 years and on the reasons for the previous Government's failure to tackle the problems.

The fundamental reason for that failure on crime was the fact that the Conservatives did not have an overall strategy. Yes, during the 1980s they put money into the police, and numbers rose, but they coupled that with changes that disrupted the ability of the police to do an effective job, such as the flawed introduction in 1985 of the provisions in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the disastrous way in which they established the Crown Prosecution Service a year later.

There was also the absence of any means or method of helping local communities to fight back against disorder and anti-social behaviour. There was even—I ask my hon. Friends to comprehend this—a sentencing regime that gave the green light to criminals to offend again and again, with the Criminal Justice Act 1991, under which the courts were to be prevented by law from taking previous convictions into account in determining whether and for how long an offender should go to jail. That incoherence and incompetence led the British people to lose faith in the Conservatives' ability to keep our communities safe.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Was it not an alarming admission on 8 May that no fewer than 11 prisoners have been illegally let out of jail early, before serving the minimum tariff required, including people convicted of drug trafficking, assault, burglary and sex with a minor? Why did the Home Secretary not consider that serious enough to justify a full statement to the House?

Mr. Straw

As the House knows, I am never slow in offering to make oral statements. Of course it is a serious matter, and no one denies it, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to start trading statistics about people who are let out of prison illegally and early, I might remind him, although I do not want to cause embarrassment to the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe or the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, that 500 prisoners, not 11—the figure mounted day by day—were let out early owing to the incompetence of the service over which they were presiding in the summer of 1996.

The Conservative Government not only had no strategy: they did not understand that they needed one. As crime soared to its highest ever level, they did not have a clue what to do, so they cast around for scapegoats, for Someone—anyone—to blame, provided that it was not themselves. Who did they choose? They did not choose the criminals, nor even the "liberal establishment". Instead, they alighted on the police.

As former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker remarked in his autobiography: I found that while several of my ministerial colleagues and Tory MPs supported the police in public, they were highly critical of them in private. The then Government's revenge against the police was the Sheehy report, which the then chairman of the Police Federation, Alan Eastwood, described as a "monumental blunder" that had thrust this Service to the edge of a cliff. It is fair to say that it was the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who has now been adorned as a member of the liberal establishment and who is a former Home Secretary and Chancellor, who nearly brought the police service to the edge of that cliff. However, it was the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe who failed utterly to rescue the situation—indeed, he did the reverse. He implemented the biggest ever cut in the housing allowance, which has been a major factor in the recruitment problems now affecting the London police. He also forced a real-terms cut in spending on the police in 1995–96 and promised thousands more officers while securing many fewer.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

The Home Secretary frequently refers to the fall in police numbers in the last four years of the previous Government and he has just referred to a fall in real-terms funding for the police in one of those years. What he never points out—and I would be grateful if he would confirm my figures, which come from the Library—is that during my time in office as Home Secretary, spending on the police increased in real terms by 4.2 per cent, whereas under his stewardship, spending on the police in real terms has fallen. In other words, while I was Home Secretary, chief constables had the money they needed to maintain police numbers had they chosen to do so, whereas the right hon. Gentleman simply has not given them the money. Is not that the difference?

Mr. Straw

I have great respect for the staff of the Library, but my figures—which are on the record and I am happy to exchange them with my old friends the Library statisticians—show a real-terms increase in spending of 4 per cent. between 1997 and 2000. For this year, budgets will rise by 4 per cent. while the GDP deflator will increase by only 2 per cent. I notice that the right hon. and learned Gentleman turned to the Tories' usual alibi of blaming someone other than themselves for the fact that police numbers fell. Of course, they do not give this Administration that concession. In the small print of his question, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had provided the money—which, by the way, he had not—to the police service to spend on increased police numbers, if chief constables chose to do so. It turns out that the fall in numbers was not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's fault for cutting real-terms spending on the police in 1995–96 by 0.4 per cent., but the fault of the chief constables for not spending the money properly.

Mr. Howard

The Home Secretary has challenged my figures, but they show that in 1993–94 spending on the police in real terms—at 1998–99 prices—was £7,001 million. In 1997–98, the last year for which I was responsible, it was £7,294 million. For 2000–01, it is only £7,369 million. If the Home Secretary compares the figures year by year, he will find a 4.2 per cent. increase in real terms in my period in office and a fall in his.

Mr. Straw

I am sorry to disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Such matters of arithmetic are not easy to resolve.

Mr. Howard


Mr. Straw

With great respect, I have already given way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman twice. My figures, which are produced by Government statisticians and based on Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy police statistics—on which his statistics will also be based, because they are the only source of those figures—tell a different story. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity later to explain away how he promised 5,000 additional officers in 1997 on budgets that could not conceivably deliver them.

How little has changed! In recent weeks, we have heard senior Tories sniping at our police service over the May day riots and over rural policing. They pay lip service to the police in one breath and constantly second-guess their professional competence in another. When the Tories are not making excuses and searching for scapegoats, they are holding up the war on crime. They waffle tough words—such as we heard today—but act to the contrary.

The Conservatives' motion talks about putting victims at the heart of the system, but the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the Tory party have vehemently opposed our Bill to stop the misery caused to victims by persistent offenders stringing out less serious cases by choosing jury trial when there are no good reasons for doing so.

Our Bill will help victims and speed up justice. I have long accepted that there are times when the so-called establishment mobilises against common-sense policies to tackle crime. This is one such occasion, but who do we find standing full square with the lawyers and the liberal establishment, and against the views of all the police associations, of the Lord Chief Justice, of the senior judiciary and all the magistrates? It is none other than the Leader of the Opposition, with the right hon. Lady in his wake.

Miss Widdecombe

The Home Secretary says that his proposals to reduce the automatic right to trial by jury will benefit victims. Does he agree that he has said that two thirds of the savings under the measure will be achieved as a result of fewer people being given prison sentences? That will happen because magistrates give fewer and shorter custodial sentences. How will it comfort and reassure victims to know that under his proposals more people who should be in prison will instead be on the streets?

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady knows very well that if magistrates believe that their sentencing powers are not adequate when someone is convicted in a magistrates court of an either-way offence, they can transfer that person to the Crown court for sentencing. She cannot wriggle out of it and pretend that she does not know that. She also knows that our proposals will speed up justice and stop criminals spinning cases out to the point where victims are so fed up or intimidated that they will not go to the court—which, almost invariably, is further away from where they live than the magistrates court. She knows, too, that our proposal will save time wasted unnecessarily by prisoners on remand.

I turn now to the issue of anti-social behaviour orders. In government, the Conservative party refused to implement those orders. In opposition, it sought to water them down, and it now describes them as a gimmick in need of repeal.

As the House has heard, more than 40 ASBOs have been granted in the past year. I want many more such orders to be granted, in the same way as I want there to be many more convictions for theft, burglary, violence and other crimes. The Opposition, however, do not want there to be any anti-social behaviour orders at all. They want the protection that the orders offer removed altogether.

The Opposition want the three young thugs in Preston who were making the lives of the residents on the Callon estate a misery to be free to carry on their criminality. They want the same licence for thugs and criminals in areas across the country—both rural and urban—where anti-social behaviour orders are in force.

Anti-social behaviour orders are in force in 25 areas, which include Weston-super-Mare, Camden, Liverpool, Yeovil, Middlesbrough and parts of Sussex and Suffolk. They are helping in the prevention and detection of crime.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Recently, a shopkeeper in Lymington went out to defend his property against a mob of drunken youths. A police car passed by. The policeman in the car looked at what was going on, and the car passed on. The shopkeeper subsequently made representations to the police station, but he was told that the policy was that an officer would not get involved in an incident if he was on his own and had no back-up—but the citizen involved was on his own and had no back-up. If the police are not prepared to intervene to assist citizens, how can any justice be had, ever?

Mr. Straw

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, and I congratulate the citizen to whom he refers. I can say, modestly, that I have been in that situation myself on four occasions over the past few years. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that there will always be some instances of unhappiness about the way in which an individual police officer has behaved in an individual circumstance. The answer is for the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up with the chief constable, or with the superintending officer in that area.

I am not alone in saying that anti-social behaviour orders are having an effect. Robin Searle, assistant chief constable of Nottinghamshire police, has said: Through new legal powers the police and other agencies are also sending out a clear message to the most persistent young offenders, who previously thought that they were untouchable, that we will target them and take the strongest possible action. The contrast between the actions of this Government and those of the previous Conservative Government is not simply that we are delivering crime reduction where the Conservatives could not. It is that we also have a strategy for the long term. That strategy includes the new deal to get young people back to work, the sure start programme to help parents of vulnerable young children, the anti-drugs strategy, and a raft of policies to tackle social exclusion. Some 376 local crime reduction partnerships between the police, councils and others are up and running, pooling resources and effort into fighting crime.

The right hon. Lady complained that we had established targets for each police force area, in co-operation with those police force areas.—[Interruption.] She keeps waving her hands as an alternative to rational argument.

Madam Speaker

Order. I ask the right hon. Lady to contain herself while in a sedentary position. She has made her speech and should let the Secretary of State make his.

Mr. Straw

The right hon. Lady cannot help it, Madam Speaker—we should have sympathy for her plight. [Interruption.] I apologise, Madam Speaker, for any impertinence I may have shown to you.

The right hon. Lady waves her hands like a semaphore flag, which I have to decipher. I gather from her semaphore that she is not too keen on targets. Last year's crime figures, as they relate to previous years, show, underneath the overall totals, a very variegated situation. The right hon. Lady laughs. Of course we want to get overall crime figures down. Figures for some crimes are coming down, such as domestic burglary and violent crime, which we have targeted as a matter of policy.

Some police services do very much better than others even though they may have the same resources, powers and number of police officers. I am delighted to say that one of those is Lancashire which, with a less good budget settlement than many other forces, managed to reduce crime by 10 per cent. in the last full year.

What is true for police forces overall is also true for individual basic command units. That is why we have asked forces to set targets at a basic command unit level. I am astonished that the Tories should oppose that, because it was their policy in relation to schools 15 years ago. Far from the police objecting to them, the targets have been welcomed by the Association of Police Authorities and by Superintendent Peter Williams, the national secretary of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales.

Miss Widdecombe

I could not contain myself just now because I simply could not believe what we were being told. The right hon. Gentleman talks about crime reduction. Is crime going up, or is it not? Is it the first time in six years that it has gone up, or is it not? Is it happening under his stewardship, or is it not? Is it happening against a background of falling police numbers, or is it not? No matter how much waffle we hear, those are the facts. Will the right hon. Gentleman please address them?

Mr. Straw

I am addressing all those issues, and the waffle is coming from the Conservative party. The right hon. Lady knows very well that recorded crime overall rose by about 3 per cent. in the last year for which we published full figures. Within that figure there are major variations. Therefore, there are lessons to be learned. Yes, there is the issue of overall resources; we are addressing it, something that the previous Government failed to do. There is also the issue of how those resources are best managed.

I regret that police numbers have fallen. However, the last people in the world to lecture us about police numbers are the right hon. Lady and other Conservative Members. The Conservatives promised an increase of 1,000 in police numbers in their 1992 manifesto and then began cutting police numbers in 1993, so that they fell by 1,400 by 1998. The Conservatives' pre-election spending plans, published just before the election, would have led to an even greater loss of police numbers, with no strategy to reverse that decline.

The right hon. Lady presented the police budget for 1997–98 in a debate in the House in January 1997. She is staring at the ceiling, praying that I will not remind her of what she said. She said: I have already reminded hon. Members of the commitment…to provide funding for an additional 5,000 police officers over three years.—[Official Report, 29 January 1997; Vol. 289, c. 457.] However, that commitment was like so many others made by the right hon. Lady and her party before 1997 and since: the commitments of the rattling can—empty and worthless.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I hope that the Home Secretary can give a calm answer to my question. When does he propose to act on the report commissioned and received by the Home Office on the sparsity element in its funding formula for police forces? As the right hon. Gentleman may be aware, that is worth £2 million to the Cumbria constabulary and would make the difference between the continuation of reductions or turning them around and reversing them.

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. In the current police grant, £35 million is for sparsity. We shall be acting on the matter in the context of the comprehensive spending review. The Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) recently visited Cumbria—a very rural area—and talked to officers about the matter.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

The Home Secretary has been in charge for three years, but he complains about police numbers under the Conservative Government. Will he confirm that police numbers have declined during the past three years? When does he expect police numbers to match those he inherited in 1997?

Mr. Straw

I confirm that police numbers have gone down. The hon. Gentleman knows that—there is no dubiety about the matter. What I am trying to do is to explain that decline. We decided to stick to the spending plans of the previous Government for the first two years—even though we did not have to do so—because we were not willing to make promises to the electorate that could not be delivered. We learned a few lessons in opposition—the current Opposition have failed to learn them—so, although I am happy to hear complaints about the fact that police numbers have gone down from police officers, police services or the public, the people who cannot complain about that reduction are members of the previous Administration.

Moreover, the Conservatives tried to trick the electorate by saying that police numbers would rise by 5,000—as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said just before the general election—while allocating an amount that ensured that numbers were bound to go down. We are dealing with the matter. We are injecting funds so as to reverse the decline in police numbers. This year, £59 million is ring-fenced from the crime fighting fund; there will be more next year to accelerate—in two years, rather than three—the recruitment of 5,000 officers more than previously planned. After those two years—

Several hon. Members


Mr. Straw

No, I shall not give way.

On the basis of the projections provided by police forces, we expect a return to the 1997 numbers. As for more police officers, that is a matter for the comprehensive spending review.

Many hon. Members were rather perplexed at how subdued the right hon. Lady was on Monday during Home Office questions. I was, too, until I read what she had said on Sunday on the BBC programme "On The Record", where she, and her spending plans, were taken apart by the relentless questioning of Mr. John Humphrys.

This matter is like the Tories' pensions pledges—they make a pledge in the morning and it falls apart in the afternoon. We saw that today. The right hon. Lady talks about honesty in sentencing; what she actually means is that she plans to cut sentences in half, with no licences for those people who come to the end of their period of imprisonment. Her plans will cost at least £1,900 million, but she gagged and fluffed—just as she did in the House—and tried to convince an incredulous Mr. Humphrys that the cost would be just a fraction of that amount—£200 million. This year, we have put an extra £300 million into the police service alone. The right hon. Lady's calculation is as worthless and hopeless as the ones she made before the election; it is doubly undeliverable, because under the Tories' so-called tax guarantee, there can be no extra spending anyway.

Oppositions can always make headlines. I know that; I spent 18 years in opposition. However, I also know that if Oppositions are to become Governments they require more than headlines. They need credibility; and to be credible, they cannot in one breath promise the earth on education, health, police, prisons and pensions and, in the next, promise to cut taxes. It simply does not add up.

The British people drove the Tories from office in 1997 not only because they had failed comprehensively on law and order, but because they broke the trust of the British people, cynically making one promise after another that they knew could not be delivered. By contrast, the promises that we made are being delivered—getting on top of the legacy of high levels of crime and of criminality with a strategy for the long term. We have put that strategy in place with the most fundamental reform of our criminal justice system in a generation to make our society safer and to allow people better to live their lives free from fear.

I urge the House to support our amendment.

4.35 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

We welcome this debate on crime and we welcome the opportunity to examine the Government's record and to hear what the Conservative party proposes to do.

First, I shall consider the Government's record just over three years on from the general election. It was perfectly valid for the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) to remind the House that the Labour party went to the election with the theme of tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. That was its selling point and message and we must judge what it has done against that claim.

Of course, there has been some good legislation, some good initiatives and some worthwhile and considered proposals. In my conversations around the country, I pick up that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is generally welcomed and that police and local authorities in England and Wales welcome the new crime partnerships. I also pick up from my conversations that the new structure for dealing with young offenders is a good initiative and that it is much more likely to deal with young people effectively. Certainly, there have been good initiatives on crime reduction, and it is not always the big national schemes, but the small local initiatives that count. In many areas, the Government's actions have been welcomed, as they have been by the Liberal Democrats over the years. The Government have been clear about certain forms of crime, such as racially motivated crime. They have deserved support and have made progress.

We do not come to the debate with the attitude that, by definition, all we can do is criticise the work of another political party. That would be an unreasonable and unfair starting point. However, we have to consider what works, a phrase that was inherited from the previous Conservative Government and used again by this one. The test is what works to prevent, detect and deal with crime.

Perhaps, because he was understandably concentrating on the Conservatives, the Home Secretary did not hear my attempts to intervene on him. I absolve him of responsibility for that, because he is normally willing and courteous in giving way. However, I understand that he may have had difficulty in picking up my requests to intervene.

Let me paint the picture of the serious position that we are in and that is a challenge to us all. We need to go from where we are and not where we would like to be. On Monday, I quoted Home Office statistics to the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and—along with those published by the House of Commons Library, which are often prayed in aid—those statistics are the most authentic that we can quote. The latest figures show that, of 100 offences committed, only 45 per cent. are reported, only 24 per cent. are recorded, only 5.5 per cent. are cleared up and only 3 per cent. result in a caution or conviction. The figures are worrying whatever the level of crime.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald was wrong to deny that crime reached a peak under the Conservative Administration. In 1992, the number of recorded crimes was higher than it had ever been before or has been since. Although the figure goes up and down. we clearly want a system that, whatever the level of offences, prevents crime more effectively, detects it better and deals with it more effectively.

Let me share with the House the other statistic that I wish to quote. It shows that, of the men who are convicted and imprisoned, more than half reoffend within two years and, of those who are under 21, more than 70 per cent. reoffend within two years. In addition to the fact that people are not being deterred, something is badly wrong when, despite a rising prison population and a general trend for longer sentences, a significant number of people are coming back into the system. That is as important as other matters that should be addressed as policy areas.

Mr. Howard

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the proportion of those reoffending within two years of leaving prison is almost identical to the proportion of those who reoffend within two years of being sentenced in the community or having a probation order imposed on them? Whatever that statistic demonstrates, it certainly has no relevance whatever to the effect of prison on people inside prisons.

Mr. Hughes

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right to argue that alternatives to prison do not suddenly prevent reoffending and that, in some areas, the figures are similar. However, if prison is to serve any purpose, it is meant to do two things. First, it should punish and deter and, secondly, like other sentences, it should have some benefit for offenders so that they are less likely to reoffend. However, we do badly in preventing people from reoffending.

I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. We do badly in all our responses and, unless we cut the huge percentage of crimes committed by those who, in theory, are dealt with but for whom, clearly, the punishment does not work, we are not providing an adequate remedy.

The background to that includes the fact that, under the previous Government, convictions fell significantly, as objective figures show clearly. There were just under 2 million convictions in 1979 and just under 1.5 million convictions in 1997. There was one conviction for every eight crimes committed in 1985 and one conviction for every 14 in 1996. We must therefore ask ourselves how get to more convictions for those cases brought into system.

In this area, I disagree profoundly with the Home Secretary, whose solutions include reducing the right to choose jury trial. I do not think that that will have a significant effect on such matters, and is marginal to them. Clearly, the Home Secretary and his colleagues did not think that the matter was sufficiently important to be anything other than marginal at the last election when, as he conceded, he did not believe that reducing the right to jury trial played any role in dealing with crime. It was not part of the Labour party's programme or its manifesto.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Hughes

I shall give way to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Straw

I have followed the hon. Gentleman's speech carefully. He may like to know that the number of those convicted rose by 7 per cent. in 1998, although it fell a little last year. However, it remains significantly higher than it was. Part of our strategy for the criminal justice system as a whole is to ensure that the police catch more people and that those people can be processed more effectively through the system.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the attrition rate and the big gap between the number of offences committed and the number of people who end up before the courts. However, whatever side one is on, if we are to close that gap, one must accept that the prison population must rise to cope with the fact that more offenders will be sent to prison, at least until we get on top of the problem.

Mr. Hughes

That may be the case and I accept that such matters are not simple. However, in this country and elsewhere, the pattern of rising prison populations does not necessarily mean that crime goes down. It does not work like that, which is why the Home Secretary came up with a recent initiative that I shall deal with now, although it is a bit out of context. We welcome the initiative if it means that we can punish, deter and begin rehabilitation by having shorter prison sentences, such as at weekends, or during the evening or day, which allow people to go on working and paying into the system—having them in prison costs the state a fortune—and if it works better than the present system. Other countries do that.

To take one simple example, people who are guilty of some type of football hooliganism offence are in some countries locked up at the very time that they would otherwise be going to a football match. That is a specific punishment, which relates to where they committed the crime and does not use up prison establishment resources, cost the state a huge amount or stop the person concerned earning and contributing to society.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about recidivism. The point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary, which I think the hon. Gentleman missed, was that there is little evidence that less punitive means of dealing with offenders produces results in terms of recidivism. Indeed, what might be loosely described, for the sake of reference, as the liberal establishment's rehabilitative instincts have not borne fruit in dealing with repeat offenders.

Mr. Hughes

I understood the former Home Secretary's point clearly. He was saying that both types of response produce similar results on reoffending; I accept that.

Incidentally, in the great attack by the leader of the Conservative party on the liberal establishment he used a slightly ill-judged phrase. Would that the Liberals had been the establishment for the past 40 years. The two parties that have been the establishment have been the Conservative party and the Labour party. If people are to be blamed for this great failure of law and order and the increase in crime—I say with the greatest humility that many people can be blamed for many things and we can be blamed for some things—it cannot be us. The answer to the questions that we have consistently asked is not to be found in the liberal establishment. It lies in Conservative policy for most of the time and Labour policy for some of the time—neither of which has been in any way noticeably successful.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, in the text of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, "liberal" has a small "1"? Does he agree that targeting people who are committing offences ensures that they are charged with offences, convicted, sent to prison and therefore unable to commit further offences? Was not that the insight of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), and did it not work?

Mr. Hughes

It is not terribly insightful; one hopes at least that when people are locked up they are not committing offences. In case the hon. Gentleman does not realise, having come to his job quite recently, most people who are locked up are let out after a—varying—length of time. If most who are let out offend as often as most who were not punished in the first place, one must ask whether the system is particularly useful and effective. The reality is that both offending and reoffending rates are way too high, to which we have not yet produced a response.

When I took over the job of Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, our senior researcher commended a few bits of reading to me. None of them keeps me wide awake for great periods. However, I commend a Home Office research study—I am sure that the Home Secretary and his colleagues read little else these days, apart from reviews in the Financial Times of books written by their opposite numbers—entitled, "Reducing Offending: An assessment of research evidence on ways of dealing with offending behaviour".

Mr. Bercow

Is it a racy read?

Mr. Hughes

No, not at all. The one message that I am trying to put to the House is that we must try to reach a conclusion on what works and implement those policies. We do not want simplistic, knee-jerk and ill-thought-out policies that respond more to a demand for political rescue than any desire for success in criminal justice and rehabilitation.

Mr. Heald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

No, I will not.

One criticism that lies rightly at the door of the Conservative party, which initiated this debate, is that, in the past few months, there has been a more and more speedy procession of initiatives, most of which appear to ignore the evidence, or to be inconsistent, or to have not been thought out. When the Conservative party in one month appears to be arguing for mandatory sentencing but, as soon as somebody in Norfolk is convicted and receives a mandatory sentence, appears to be arguing against such sentencing, people in the country are entitled to ask whether it has thought through what it is saying—because it does not sound like it.

Mr. Bercow

If a man who is sentenced to six months' imprisonment for sex with a minor is released from prison after only six weeks, how does that deter him from reoffending, how does it deter others from imitating his offence and how does it reassure the public?

Mr. Hughes

Most people's initial reaction would be that it does not. I concede the proposition that the hon. Gentleman makes by inference and which was made from the Front Bench. We on the Liberal Benches are carefully considering the policy of releasing people earlier than they might otherwise be released, although we have not yet reached a conclusion, because such policies send out messages and risks are involved. Of course it is appropriate to release people if they are assessed to be no risk, although risks have to be taken sometimes. However, the criminal justice system should not send out messages that suggest that serious offences—an adult having sex with a minor, which is clearly serious and unacceptable behaviour, for example—are fine and that those who commit them will be treated leniently.

Before the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) told me that she attended a recent seminar on the American experience. In some cases, if the court that passed the sentence is satisfied that a drugs habit has been adequately dealt with and that there is a prospect of the individual staying off drugs, it can reassess and perhaps reduce the sentence on the basis of that person's development in prison. I have learned not only in the House, but before being elected, that sentences must be tailored to a combination of factors, including not only the crime, but the individual. Therefore, the balance in the case to which the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) refers seems to be wrong, but I clearly cannot comment further on the specifics.

We have rightly spent a lot of time talking about the police, so I shall not concentrate on that today. I have criticised the Government because police numbers at the end of the Parliament are projected to be lower than at the beginning. We believe that having fewer police is highly unlikely to prevent or detect and reassure the public. I have not visited a single county in England and Wales—the policing of which is the Home Secretary's responsibility—where people have told me that they are more comfortable because there are fewer police.

We all agree that adequate police numbers are needed in every community, whether rural or suburban; there is no selective option. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) and others have the same interests for their village and rural communities as I have for my inner-city community. There is no difference between the demands. However, we have still not adequately recognised those who become the victims, despite the fact that the Government, the Conservative party and ourselves want to do so. I agree with the general proposition that the criminal justice system still does not look after victims adequately.

I want the Government to consider three propositions in that context, the first of which is general. We must better inform those who become victims of the sequence of events involved in the crime. Often, people are not given the information that would satisfy them that the crime of which they or their relatives were the victim has been dealt with adequately. Secondly, there must be a serious review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme because it has lost touch with reality. I cite a painful example involving a couple who live about a mile from the House.

Wendy and Chris Radford, my constituents, had a son and daughter. Last year, their 17-year-old son was attacked on his way to work early in the morning by a male, who was found guilty, convicted and sentenced for manslaughter. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board offered compensation for the loss of their only son. They received the maximum—£10,000—although they were not after the money as they are both in work. They see other people in other life circumstances receiving compensation. For example, someone who had been under stress at work received £175,000. I do not mean to be vulgar, but they see someone who was caused mental stress after being plagued by someone who followed her around at school holding what is described in a newspaper as a "chocolate willy" receive £101,000. They produced examples of people who received tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation under the criminal injuries compensation scheme, although it is said that a value cannot be put on a life lost. We should consider how victims are dealt with under the civil damages and criminal justice systems.

Let me make a third request, which I realise is controversial. I should be grateful if the Home Secretary and his colleagues, along with us and others who are interested, would consider ways in which victims and their relatives could be integrated appropriately in the criminal justice system before the passing of sentence.

Let me give a simple example. Soon after I was elected, the son of near neighbours of mine was attacked, and subsequently died as a result. They went to the trial, which took place at the Old Bailey. There were convictions, although of relatively less serious charges. From the beginning to the end of that case, no one formally asked those people anything, and they were never able to, as it were, put a statement into the criminal justice process. They were never able to describe the effect of that death on them.

I have seen families destroyed, mentally as well as emotionally, by the injuries and deaths of relatives, and I have seen those directly involved destroyed. I do not think we can pretend to victims that the criminal justice system works well if we have independent prosecutions on behalf of the state and society involving—I have done this, so I know about it—such long mitigations by the defence on behalf of persons who are convicted, but giving the victim no opportunity to say anything formally. I do not think it inconsistent with justice for the defendant to give victims or their representatives opportunity to speak, although that must clearly happen after conviction. I ask the Government, and the Home Secretary specifically, to think about the issue.

Let me make two more brief points. The first is topical: it relates to an announcement made this week. We must move quickly on the involuntary manslaughter corporate liability agenda, to which the Government very properly responded in their paper. Throughout my time here, people have complained that practices on building sites that have led to deaths have attracted derisory fines for the construction companies which, directly or indirectly, have been responsible for those deaths. Corporate liability is required: someone must carry the can.

It was in my constituency, or on one of its boundaries, that the Marchioness sank 10½ years ago. At the end of the day, none of the corporate entities that owned the vessel that collided with the Marchioness were liable: no one carried the can. Another example mentioned in the paper to which I referred earlier relates to those who are found guilty of driving under the influence of drink or drugs. I believe that the penalties imposed on those convicted of killing, maiming or injuring while driving, generally, a vehicle—although this could apply to vessels or to aeroplanes, for instance—are often far too lenient. We must make people take responsibility for their actions, if the link between a sense of duty and personal responsibility and actions and reactions is not to be completely lost.

My last point is this. I have become convinced—our amendment mentions this specifically—that we should devote as much urgency as the Government devoted to nursing recruitment after a couple of years and are, I hope, now devoting to police recruitment, to the recruitment of people who are qualified and able to deal with drug addicts and drug offenders, so that we can prevent them from reoffending and returning to their addiction.

Of course, the dealers who make money from drugs at others' expense need to be dealt with as soon as possible, because they are real villains in society. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton and I, and others, are regularly told by people including experts that even when it is believed that someone should be referred to drug treatment, that person will have to wait for weeks, or months, by which time it is often too late.

There are good initiatives in terms of work in prison and after prison, but, in far too many cases, people go out of that door and their chance of having work, a decent home environment and the help that they need to stay off drugs—from which they have been released while in prison—is not there. I hope that Ministers will respond positively, and find the funds, the recruitment mechanisms and the commitment to ensure that we prioritise the drugs menace highly. Because of that menace, many people commit crime, but many can be released from it and kept free of it.

Liberal Democrats have said from these Benches that the priorities are preventing and detecting crime and dealing with it effectively. If the Government concentrated even more on that agenda and somewhat less on taking away the liberties of the citizen—as they are doing in a Bill upstairs in Committee to reduce people's ability to choose a jury trial—they would better serve the public and, indeed, their supporters, who elected them to do the first, but not the second.

5.1 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

Fear of crime is almost certainly the biggest single political issue that my constituents face—it is above concerns about pensions and anything else on the political agenda. In the light of that, I must say that the attack on the Government by the Opposition is unwelcome. It is unwelcome not because there is not a debate to be had about crime and crime reduction, but because, when we trivialise the issue and make it a matter of party political knockabout, we do a major disservice to the real interests of millions and millions of people. I hope that we can have a much more intelligent debate that focuses on the real issues.

Mr. Heald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The Government have already done an awful lot. Many things have been welcomed by my constituents, but the message that they would expect me to give the Government is that there is still a long way to go and not much time for us to make those changes.

Recently, I conducted a survey on crime in one of my local areas. What was astounding was the enormous response to that survey and the overriding concern that people in that community had about the issue of crime and crime in their communities. People feel unsafe—they feel unsafe in their homes and unsafe on the streets. Some people feel very unsafe—so much so, it destroys the quality of their life.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned drugs. It is right to say that, as long as we keep people in the queue for drugs treatment, we are simply recycling people: they are going back on to the streets and committing further crime, which is not good for those individuals and disastrous for society more generally. I know that drug treatment is an integral part of policy, but there is much more for us to do.

My constituents recognise that the issue of crime is much more complicated than simple slogans about who is tougher on the criminal. It is about a whole societal approach. They still want a Government who, like the present one, are committed to cracking down on unemployment. That is why they do not accept the bogusness of the Conservative Government of the past, who doubled crime on the back of the destruction of the communities in which my constituents live.

One of the things of which we should be aware is that trust in the police is much more fragile now than at any time that I can remember. When I go to public meetings about policing, I am struck by how strong the reaction of local people is and by how much the emphasis has changed—it is no longer on the local authority or the Government failing. The basic feeling is that the police are not performing the role that is expected of them. Although that is unfair in some ways, there are issues that must be addressed.

I welcome the clear targets being given to the police. I welcome them for my own police force because it is sometimes difficult to know what the aims and ambitions of the police and senior police management are. It is important that the public understand the strategies, aims and ambitions, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise, too, that sometimes the targets that have been set seem crude and narrow to people on the streets. The public's priorities are more wide ranging than those expressed so far by the Government or by the police. The public say to me that there is a lack of focus.

One of the biggest issues facing communities throughout the country is nuisance. It may seem almost trivial in the grand scheme of things, and I shall be talking about much more serious crimes, but when groups of young people are about quite petty crime that creates fear and disharmony in local communities, which is devastating or destructive.

I recently took up with the local police force the serving of drinks to those under the permitted age. I received a long letter in response, but I did not get what I wanted. I wanted a commitment that the police would take the offenders to court and that their licences would be taken away. That would give a clear message to all those who seek to abuse the law and participate in the process of giving alcohol to young people, which causes the sort of nuisance about which my constituents complain.

My constituents complain legitimately about the slow police response when a crime is being committed and where there is chronic criminality. In West Gorton, one of my constituents—Nora Peyton, a wonderful woman—persistently challenged local drug dealers. As a result, her home was attacked and she was shot at by young people. Nevertheless, she had to wait for about three months for the local police to crack down and make the necessary arrests. Once the police acted, the situation improved immeasurably. The quality of life in the West Gorton community is now massively better than it was. However, three months was too long to wait.

There are issues about the culture of the police, which is sometimes thought to be too defensive. It sometimes leads to victims being blamed instead of being embraced in a partnership. A local police officer told one of my constituents, a victim of robbery, "What do you expect, sir, living where you do? If you want to avoid crime, move away from the area." That type of police officer is massively damaging to morale and the relationship between the public and the police. They have no place in modern policing. They constitute a minority, but they give the police a bad name.

We do not have enough police. In my constituency, Greater Manchester does not have enough police to deploy. An inner-city area has massively more problems than other areas. We do not have enough police in Greater Manchester, and I hope that that message will be taken on board. I will not entertain the Opposition's argument about police numbers, as when they were in government they took many police officers away from my community. However, it is an issue that the Government must address in the context of the comprehensive spending review.

Mr. Heald

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that during the Conservative years the number of police constables continually increased? One of the National Audit Commission's criticisms of the present Government is that they have reversed that trend. Does he not agree that that has made a difference?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not agree. My constituents saw a massive increase in crime and a police force that became beleaguered by the sheer scale of criminality. The numbers game is an interesting one to play, but when in government the Conservatives failed communities, and not only in inner-city areas. They failed the nation, and they should remember that to their shame.

On a more positive note, there are many good things happening in policing, both nationally and locally. Some of the more general initiatives that the Government are taking, such as new deal and sure start, are making serious and important impacts in my community. There is a much better focus by the police and more intelligent policing. Some of the experiments in Salford, a neighbouring area to my constituency, are important in terms of how the police can crack down on local criminality by focusing on its sources. Local area partnerships are successful, although they are still new and not all are consistently good. We must raise the worst standards to the best. Nevertheless, the partnerships are making a big difference.

The multi-agency approach to crime is having an enormous impact in ensuring that those who are responsible for the majority of crimes are targeted, and sometimes before criminality becomes an issue, by dealing with the underlying social issues. We have had success with the implementation of the anti-social behaviour order process. Ten such orders have been made in the Manchester area, the first being in my constituency. That case involved a group of young thugs who terrorised the local community. However, the process is far too complicated and we need to refine it and make it easier.

One of the most ridiculous aspects of that first case was that the stipendiary magistrate in Manchester refused to allow the names of those young thugs to be published. It was only after a campaign in the Manchester Evening News, for which it deserves credit, that that decision was reversed when the anti-social behaviour order went to appeal and the names could be made available.

The police are good at ensuring that anti-social behaviour orders are made. The Government's youth offenders initiative is already having a remarkable effect. The police, along with other agencies, have targeted 77 young people who they believe are responsible for about a quarter of youth offences in the city of Manchester. That is a significant step. We are still waiting for the Greater Manchester police and the court process to narrow the time it takes for cases involving young offenders to get to court.

Local schemes have been enormously important. Under the Home Office funded scheme, Manchester has had £0.5 million for closed circuit television and burglary prevention initiatives, and we hope to get help with projects on domestic violence. The local programme from the city council has matched that money with 65 schemes involving everything from gating back entries to make people feel more secure and to prevent intruders, to CCTV and home security for the elderly, who often fear violence more than most.

I want to raise some further issues about which my hon. Friend the Minister may like to think. We have to change the police culture. We still have some way to go to ensure that they work in partnership with local people and other local agencies. We must address the problem of a lack of police.

The biggest single issue that I would like to draw the House's attention to concerns my constituency's undeserved but nevertheless difficult reputation for murder, which is the most violent of crimes. It is often murder by young men of young men, sometimes involving drugs and sometimes not.

One of the problems that has emerged in recent years is the extremely low success rate for bringing offenders to court. The police put time and effort into the most serious cases: there is no suggestion that they spare any effort to bring those offenders to book. However, they face two important problems, the first of which is witness intimidation. That issue ranges across all crimes, but it is a major problem in murder cases.

The police tell me that when they have taken a witness to court—who may be reluctant at first—and they have asked the judge whether the witness can give evidence behind a screen, the judge has said that that is not possible because on appeal the case would eventually go to the European Court or to our own courts under the European convention on human rights, and giving evidence in that way would be deemed to be unacceptable. It is unacceptable to me that witnesses cannot be given protection in the court process for that reason.

I should like to raise with my hon. Friend the question of cost. Forensic science is enormously expensive. The police tell me that it costs £1,500 for each low-copy DNA test, which can detect a fingerprint on a spent cartridge. That is important for the detection of crime. If witnesses do not come forward, the police can use modern science to come to their aid. However, they have to consider the budget because the prices charged for such forensic science are excessive. That problem must be tackled, and I hope that the Minister understands that.

I am convinced that the Government have already made an important start in rolling back public attitudes and giving more reassurance. We have a long way to go, but the changes that my hon. Friend and his colleagues are making are transforming the public's view in my area of the way in which society operates. It is a change that can only be for the better.

5.14 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

I did not intend to speak in the debate this afternoon. I had come to listen and to put a limited factual point to the Home Secretary in an intervention, but I have been provoked into making a speech by the hotch-potch of misdescription, exaggeration and sheer distortion that we heard from the Home Secretary. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make this speech, which I hope will be relatively brief.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) made an interesting speech. I thought it a bit rich when he accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) of making what he wrongly described as a knockabout attack on the Government's record. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman was during all those years when we were subjected to attacks from the Opposition Benches that were so crude that they did not merit the description "knockabout". I imagine that he was present on at least some of those occasions and has not totally forgotten them.

The hon. Gentleman made one point on which I wish to join him. He paid tribute to one of his constituents who stood out against the drug dealers and, in time and with the help of the police—he said that it did not come quickly enough—had managed to combat effectively the activities of drug dealers in that part of his constituency. I came across a number of examples of that when I was Home Secretary. The people involved—often in the least privileged communities, acting with enormous courage in the face of real risk—deserve enormous credit, praise and tribute, which they rarely get. Not only their local community but the whole of our national community owes people who take that kind of stand in those difficult circumstances a great debt.

The first of the two points that I wish to cover is the crime figures. In, I think, the first debate that took place after I became Home Secretary, the then shadow Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, issued a challenge to me. He asked whether I would be content for my tenure in office to be judged by what happened to the crime figures. I suppose that as they had doubled between 1979 and 1993—I shall come back to that point in a moment—he thought that he was on pretty safe ground.

I confess that I was not sufficiently confident of my ability to turn things round in the relatively short time that I would have available to take up his challenge, so, to my eternal regret, I declined to accept his challenge. I wish that I had done so because between 1993 and 1997 we saw a fall in crime of about 18 per cent. We never hear that figure from the Home Secretary when he talks about crime under the previous Government, or, indeed, from the Liberal Democrats. We hear only that for the period as a whole from 1979 to 1997 crime doubled under the Tories. It is an accurate figure—it did. It more than doubled between 1979 and 1993. What they never say is that crime had increased even faster under the previous Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 and had increased under the Conservative Government before that.

The truth is that crime had increased for all those years. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right to draw attention to that fact and to the relationship between it and the extent to which the liberal establishment held sway throughout that period.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I have always accepted and confirmed on the record that whereas 1992 was the peak in crime figures, after that they dropped. One of the reflections that I do not hear very often from the Leader of the Opposition is that the period when crime dropped—when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Home Secretary—was when the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was Prime Minister. Crime rose under Baroness Thatcher and dropped when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was Home Secretary. That is hardly an indictment, even for the Tory party, of the liberal establishment.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. There was a classic conspiracy—I do not want to spend the whole of my remarks on this—between the criminal justice establishment and the civil servants in the Home Office and the Treasury to keep down the number of people in prison because prison is expensive. One of the classic objectives of criminal justice policy during most of that time—the hon. Gentleman is one of the few people who still subscribe to it—was to keep as few people in prison as possible.

The truth is that one of the key elements in the turnaround in crime during my period of office—it was not the only element; there were others as well—was the increase in the prison population. I believed, and I said, that prison works, in the sense that—as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said just a few moments ago—while persistent, prolific, professional criminals are in prison, they cannot commit crime.

The other day, in a debate on these topics, I was very interested to see the junior Home Office Minister in the other place—I do not know whether the Minister of State would himself subscribe to this—come out with the phrase that the Government "believe that prison works". I was very pleased to hear him utter that phrase. When I was being criticised for uttering those words—the criticism was widespread and very considerable—I do not recall anyone from the Labour party coming to my support and saying that he agreed with that proposition. That policy, however, was a key factor in the fall in crime.

My point is simply that if one accepts the proposition that prison works in that sense—as the Government do, according to the junior Minister in the other place—it makes no sense at all deliberately and as a matter of policy to let people out of prison before the earliest date on which they would otherwise be released. It grieves me that crime has now started to rise again, and I hope that the increase is a temporary blip. I am not sure, however, that it will be.

If one is looking for the causes of that rise in crime, it is difficult to escape the inference that the early release of prisoners—my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald, in opening the debate, gave all the details of the numbers and the extent to which those who had been released early had already begun to commit crimes again—in some way and to some extent is connected to the fact that crime has now started to rise again.

Mr. Heald

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that a little earlier, when I said that he had had that insight, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) commented "not much of an insight"? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it was really quite a deep insight, and that the danger is that it is being lost again—not only in the early release scheme, but in the worrying idea that we should imprison people from nine to five, rather than from 12 to 12 and at weekends? Does he fear that what is happening is that the Home Office empire is striking back?

Mr. Howard

There is a good deal in what my hon. Friend says. It was striking that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), in one and the same breath—I am constantly amazed at his ability to speak without drawing breath—said, "Of course we all share that insight. But if people reoffend and are reconvicted as soon as they leave prison, what is the point?" The point is that they do not reoffend to any greater extent having been in prison than they do if they are dealt with in some other way, and that, while they are in prison, the public are safe from their attentions. That is the point.

Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that the exceedingly high crime rates and the very high prison population in the United States are proof that prison works? Is he aware that although crime rates are still very high in the United States, they have been gradually decreasing for the past 20 years? In the United States, there is no correlation between a reduction in crime rates and whether a conservative or liberal sentencing policy is in effect. Reduced crime rates are correlated with access to employment and housing and the maintenance of close family ties—all of which are damaged or broken when someone is in prison.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Lady simply could not be more wrong. She needs to look at the evidence much more carefully. I commend her particularly to a study that has been done by Professor Charles Murray—who I think shared a platform with the Home Secretary at a very recent conference on these matters. His research shows very clearly that, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, as the risk of being sent to prison increases, crime falls. Graphs demonstrate that fact very clearly. One of the things that happened when I was Home Secretary was that the risk of being imprisoned increased quite significantly and crime fell. One can see exactly the same pattern happening in the United States. There is a very direct correlation between the two developments.

Those were my only comments on crime figures. I should like, however, to say a word about police numbers. Just as one never hears the Home Secretary talking about crime in the last four years of the previous Government, when crime fell, but only about crime doubling over the whole period of that Government, so one never hears him talking about police numbers over the whole of the period of that Government, when numbers increased by 16,000, but only about the last four years, when the numbers did indeed fall—although, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald was right to point out earlier, the number of constables on the front line continued to increase.

I should like to set out very clearly the position on funding because I think—I am not certain—that, in my earlier intervention, I may inadvertently have read out an incorrect figure. If I did, I certainly want to put that right. The figures are absolutely indisputable. In 1993–94, Government provision for police expenditure in England and Wales—in real terms, at 1998–99 prices—was £7,001 million. In 1997–98, the year in which I left office, the figure was £7,294 million. That was a real-terms increase of 4.2 per cent. In the current year, 2000–01, the figure is £7,278 million: a real-terms reduction.

It is true that we passed legislation that gave chief constables much more power to spend as they saw fit the money that was made available to them. I ensured that the United Kingdom police service had the money that it needed to maintain police numbers—if that is what they decided to spend their money on. We did provide the money that was necessary to make good the previous Prime Minister's pledge to give police enough money to recruit 5,000 extra officers. The difference between that period and the period since the general election is that, whereas there was a 4.2 per cent. real-terms increase in spending on police during my time, there has been a real-terms decrease under the current Home Secretary. In other words, in my time chief constables had the money they needed to maintain police numbers, had they chosen to do so; under the current Government, they simply have not had the money.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman care to comment on the effect of the implementation of the Sheehy report on the number of Metropolitan police officers? One of my police officer constituents told me that one of his colleagues—who pounds the same central London beat as he does, but joined after the report was implemented in 1994—is paid more than £400 less for doing exactly the same job. My local police inspector told me that that factor is the biggest barrier to increasing the number of Metropolitan police officers.

Mr. Howard

Most of the Sheehy report was not implemented. The report made a number of recommendations—earlier in the debate, we heard about the police service's reaction to those recommendations—but, for the most part, the report was not implemented. Some of the report was implemented, including the provision to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

In looking at the provision for housing allowance, it was quite difficult to justify that type of provision. It is made in very few other jobs. It did not seem the best way of dealing with the problem of recruitment. However, to take housing allowance away from people who had joined the police service on the basis that they would receive it also was very difficult to justify. Therefore, we said that those who have the allowance will keep it, but that those who join the police service after the decision had been taken and announced—they knew exactly what the terms and conditions were going to be when they decided to join—will not get it.

Of course, decisions that are taken against a particular labour market background cannot be expected to last for ever. Government decisions are not set in stone, never to be reviewed. The circumstances in the London labour market have changed and it is probably more difficult to recruit officers now. If circumstances have changed and certain policies are no longer appropriate, they should be reviewed. I have explained the reasons for my decision. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, but these things need to be looked at as circumstances change.

Mr. Efford

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that, as a result of his decision, new police recruits were £400 worse off and that that has made it more difficult for the Metropolitan police to recruit officers, who come primarily from outside London and find it difficult to cope with the costs of that move?

Mr. Howard

I do not know how many times the hon. Gentleman wants to put the same question and get the same answer. I do not know the exact numbers, but it is true that the terms and conditions were changed. Police officers who joined knew what the terms and conditions were. At that time, there was an abundance of applicants to join the Metropolitan police and there continued to be a healthy surplus of applicants for some time after the introduction of that change. That may well no longer be the case. It was several years ago and circumstances have changed, so it may be appropriate to look at the situation again.

My final plea is simple. I hope that when the Home Secretary explains what is happening and tries to justify Government policy, he gives the whole picture, not just part of it. When he is talking about police numbers, perhaps he will be good enough to say that, although they may have fallen in the last few years of the Conservative Government, they increased by 16,000 between 1979 and 1997, that during the four years when they were falling, the number of constables continued to increase and that during those years the amount of money made available to the police was enough to maintain the numbers, in sharp contrast with the position under his stewardship. I cannot stop him from talking about crime doubling under the Tories, but perhaps, to complete the picture, he might point out that it rose even faster under the previous Labour Government, that it started to rise again under his Government and that the only occasion on which it has consistently fallen—the biggest fall since records were first kept in the middle of the 19th century—was between 1993 and 1997, when it fell by nearly 18 per cent.

5.33 pm
Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Most of what I have to say is based on the experience of my constituency, but I hope to draw out some general points of wider relevance. I moved to Lowestoft, where I now live, in 1986. Every week when I looked in the local paper, I saw reports that a garage had been broken into and garden furniture stolen, or that a house had been broken into and a purse or some jewellery stolen. I began to form the view from those press reports that I had moved into a community with massive amounts of crime. After a while I discovered that those crimes were reported because they were virtually the only ones and garden tool theft was newsworthy.

I also had a pleasant surprise when I looked at my home contents insurance policy with Co-op insurance, because it had a special low rate for Suffolk—I believe that it was the only county to which the rate applied. Those relatively low levels of crime were my benchmark.

Over the next 11 years, I saw crime rise and rise. Trends in my constituency were part of the overall picture, in which crime doubled under the previous Government. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) says that that happened in the early years. In my part of the country we tend to lag behind and crime continued to rise in the later years. In the view of people where I live, the Conservative party ceased to be the party of law and order.

With the election of the new Labour Government came very high expectations, particularly in view of the Prime Minister's slogan of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. However, we had to stick to another manifesto commitment—to keep to the Tory spending limits for the first two years. That was an important commitment for many people who voted for us. It was necessary to bring the deficit in the public finances into balance and contribute to the economic stability of the country. We should remember that those were Tory spending limits. Had the Conservatives won the election, they would not have spent any more than we did in the first two years.

Mr. Howard

We hear that trotted out time after time by Labour Members, but it is complete tosh. If the hon. Gentleman knew the first thing about how any Government worked, he would know that three-year expenditure plans are the best estimate that can be made at the time, but they are revisited at every subsequent expenditure round. The figures are always adjusted. If the hon. Gentleman looks back over the 18 years of our Government, he will see that such adjustments always took place. It is tosh to suggest that we would necessarily have stuck to those figures. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that it is ridiculous.

Mr. Blizzard

We now know that the Conservatives promise to spend even less on fighting crime because of their tax guarantee. They launched a plethora of pre-manifesto guarantees last autumn, including the patients guarantee, the parents guarantee and the rest, but there was not one guarantee on law and order or crime fighting. That reflects the fact that they do not intend to spend any more money on fighting crime.

Mr. Heald

Police numbers in Suffolk have fallen by 30 since the general election. We have pledged to provide the money to restore those numbers. What does the hon. Gentleman want to happen?

Mr. Blizzard

I shall talk about police numbers in Suffolk later.

Crime is now high on people's list of concerns. In my constituency, it now rivals unemployment, which has been a long-standing concern. I shall focus on developments in my area in the past three years. However, it is not easy to make comparisons from the figures. This Government have been more honest than the previous Government in asking the police to compile statistics that more accurately reflect levels of crime. The performance summary from Suffolk police's annual report shows that total crime went down in 1997–98 from the level in the Tory years, but it went up again in the following year, reflecting a new method of calculation. House burglaries per thousand dwellings went down in 1997–98 and again the following year. The story on violent crime is not so good, because it has risen, but the police are now required to use a wider definition of violent crime when compiling their statistics.

In the top corner of the performance report on crime management, Suffolk police write: Changes in the way the Home Office records offences make comparisons with previous years' figures difficult. However, the overall underlying trend is still downwards. I am encouraged by that.

Another difficulty in making comparisons concerns the boundaries one uses. If we take Suffolk as a whole, the crime rate is one of the lowest in the country. The county is at the bottom of the league table—a league table one relishes being bottom of. That is a tribute to the police in Suffolk, and to the honest people of the county. Of course, crime is not uniform across the county and is higher in some parts than in others.

All too often, as soon as one mentions Suffolk—a rural shire county—statistics are used to advance arguments about rural policy. However, Suffolk contains urban areas such as Lowestoft and Ipswich: areas where crime is highest in the county. Crime is still an issue in rural areas. Where previously there has been scarcely any crime at all, one notices even a slight rise in crime. The rate may remain relatively low, but people fear crime and do not want it to become as bad as it is in other places in the country. Often, those people have sought retreat in a shire county from somewhere where there has been higher crime.

The thin blue line is thin in rural areas, and single police officers often have to cover a load of parishes. Where there is a crime, the response is sometimes not as good as the people or the police would like. I say that because the arguments advanced on sparsity are valid. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister appears to have accepted the arguments. We look forward to a positive outcome from the comprehensive spending review on these issues, as Suffolk—like other parts of the country—needs more police.

Not all Suffolk is rural, and most of the crime in my constituency is in the town which, unfortunately, has one of the highest rates in the county. Even now, however, crime rates in Lowestoft are about average for the country. The conditions that breed crime, or are associated with it, have in parts of Lowestoft been deemed comparable to inner cities by the director of public health, in his annual report. Unemployment, deprivation and low pay statistics back that up.

I am pleased that the area has single regeneration budget status, assisted area status and objective 2 status from the Government, and there is a new bid for other parts of the SRB in the next round. It is important to tackle the causes of crime, but that takes time and people are rightly concerned about tackling crime now.

The perception where I live is that crime is rising. On election day, I went to vote and found that my next-door neighbour had been burgled. I was told that a lot of homes in my area had been burgled also. People who have been burgled are not happy voters and some do not bother to vote at all.

Looking at the figures for Lowestoft is difficult because of changes in the sector boundary and the methods of measuring crime. It appears that the trend in house-breaking in the past three years has been about level. The trend in violent crime has been up but, thankfully, the trend in the dealing and supply of drugs has gone down. I want to pay tribute to the previous chief inspector, Owen Lower, and the current chief inspector, John Everitt—and their teams—for the work they have done.

The good news is that following the two years in which we kept to the Tory spending limits, there is now clear evidence of the Government's three-pronged attack on crime working in Lowestoft. I was delighted that, on 17 May, we heard the announcement that the 5,000 extra police would come in this year and next. That means that, this year in Suffolk, there will be 31 extra police, with 14 extra the year after.

There will not just be 31 extra police, but 12 on top of that. Suffolk police carried out a brave and creditable exercise by consulting the people of Suffolk on what they wanted from the police. They went round the county, held public forums and even had electronic voting. The police asked people if they wanted to pay more to have more police, how much they were willing to pay and how many police they would like. As a result, Suffolk police are funding an additional 12 police this year from an increase in council tax. I commend the police on that, and I hope that my area gets a good share of them. It is certainly good news for Suffolk as a whole.

On police numbers, I had a conversation with the chief constable a few months ago in which I asked him this—if money appeared on his table, what would he do with it? Chief constables, of course, are responsible for police numbers. He said that apart from one or two pieces of kit, he would use the money to employ civilians. By doing so, he could get more police out from behind their desks and on the beat. I say that to demonstrate how we can have more police on the beat, even though it may appear that police numbers have not increased or decreased. I hope that Conservative Members will take note of that.

The other good news is the £193,000 awarded by the Government for more CCTV cameras. The cameras have made a difference. Sometimes the public are disappointed with the results from these cameras, and we must improve the way in which they are used. However, they are very welcome.

As part of the Government's crime reduction programme, we received £33,000 under the reducing burglary initiative. That has been targeted on the parts of Lowestoft with the greatest need, and it is a partnership between the local authority and Suffolk police. It is part of a larger multi-agency programme aimed at tackling youth crime.

The engagement locally by the police in crime reduction partnerships has been good. My local authority has responded positively and has carried out audits. It was one of the first in the country to succeed with an anti-social behaviour order. It is difficult for the district council to play its part in the partnerships as well as it would like.

What tends to happen is that the lead officer for the partnership is often busy already and sees it as just another thing to do. The same is true of the local drugs action team; the officer nominated is usually a busy person. Following the comprehensive spending review, I would like to see money passported through to authorities to employ specific additional people to drive the partnerships forward. They will succeed if we do that.

There is so much in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, including the potential for community involvement in crime prevention and reduction. If we can harness that, we can do much more. I would like neighbourhood wardens to be employed—using SRB money, if possible—to support the police. Such wardens could do valuable work in gathering information and intelligence, visiting people and liaising with schools, for example, to deal with children who cause trouble on the way to and home from school.

In this Session, we have seen a large amount of legislation to improve the criminal justice system, and I support that. However, my constituents want the existing laws to be enforced as well as they can be. Catching people is the most important thing. It is important to prevent crime, but we must make sure that we catch people who break the law. My constituents will welcome the extra police, but will hope that there are plans in the comprehensive spending review to employ still more.

We have had a debate about whether it is size or what one does with the police that counts. Of course, it is vital to have efficient police, but a bigger efficient police force has to be better than a smaller efficient police force.

One of the Government's core beliefs, which I share, is that we should combine fairness and enterprise. I believe that the Government have shown a commitment to both. Crime is particularly unfair. It is unfair on people who work hard to provide for themselves, their families and others. It is a tragedy when their hard-earned property or their money is stolen or when they suffer attack and personal injury.

It is the Government's policy, which I support, to be the champion of ordinary, hard-working people. To do that, we must protect them and protect their families, homes and property. That is why our policies on crime are so important. I believe that, now that we have got through the difficult first two years, the Government are showing a good lead, and I hope that they continue in that way.

5.51 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. It is an especial pleasure to follow the outstanding speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I also agreed with the sentiments with which the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) concluded, as well as with many of the earlier parts of his speech, when he spoke about the growing public perception of crime. As well as crime itself, the fear of crime is growing. It is also a question of police numbers. Elderly people feel the most vulnerable and fear that the help may not be available to them should they fall victim to crime.

It was absolutely right to choose this as a subject for debate. In my constituency, it is a matter of growing importance. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe got the big picture absolutely right. We are getting used to the Government's great selectivity with statistics, but the striking thing about the history of crime in this country is its remorseless rise, decade after decade. It has certainly been on a steadily rising curve over my lifetime. The only point at which the trend was departed from was from 1992 onwards. That was the only sustained period in which crime fell. It rose during the rest of the Conservative period of office, but it fell significantly in the period from 1992, with many fewer victims.

It is worrying that that trend seems to have been reversed and crime seems to be resuming its upward trend. We must do whatever we can to reverse the trend and prevent people from falling victim to crime. That is another reason why it was right to choose this subject.

My constituency has been badly affected by crime over the past three years, for reasons that have a local character quite apart from the general matters that we have been discussing. When the big increase in crime in Hertsmere is discussed, it will not do for Ministers or Labour Members to tell my constituents that it has something to do with the previous Government. That excuse is wearing thin generally, and certainly in the case of Hertsmere.

Up to 1997, Hertsmere had been policed for a long time by the Metropolitan police, generally without complaint about their performance. Shortly after that, the decision was taken to transfer Hertsmere to the Hertfordshire police, with effect from 1 April 2000, as a result of the new arrangements for the governance of London. Hertsmere was subject to a lengthy period of transitional policing by the Metropolitan police, and it is the widespread perception—which I suspect is backed up by the figures, although they are hard to obtain because policing districts were changed—that there was a substantial reduction in police numbers. That was certainly the complaint of all three political parties in Hertsmere.

Especially in the past year, the result has been a disastrous policing performance, with total crime up 11 per cent., violent crime up 51 per cent.—from 557 to 840 incidents—and robbery up 58 per cent. Robbery was very rare in Hertsmere before. The clear-up rate collapsed, falling by 27 per cent. The local paper was right to run a banner headline calling that a huge rise in crime figures. It certainly was, and it has caused great distress and discontent among my constituents.

Hertsmere has now been taken over by Hertfordshire police, who have certainly shown a commitment that has been warmly welcomed. Everybody is now backing them and giving them their strongest possible support, and their attitude has been praised. We look for better things in the future.

My constituents are certainly entitled to feel some disquiet and despair when they set that against the big picture of what the Labour party promised about policing before the general election. We were promised a crackdown on anti-social behaviour, but such behaviour has grown in Hertsmere. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary were very strong on the subject.

The Home Secretary said that he would go to war against all anti-social elements, even down to the squeegee merchants. The Prime Minister said that he was in favour of zero tolerance policing. At a Labour party press conference, he said: I am absolutely passionate about this… You go out and ask old people who face these types of problem and they will say zero tolerance is a good idea. If you refuse to tolerate the small crimes then you can create a different climate within local communities. The first thing that was implemented in those places that have adopted zero tolerance policing—I am thinking in particular about New York, which had a real mayor in Mayor Giuliani, as opposed to the red mayor that we have been given in London—was the recruitment of thousands of extra police officers. In this country, the Government set up an apparatus under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, including, among the many buzzwords, the anti-social behaviour orders and local curfew orders.

Those orders were at the core of the Act. It is no good Ministers playing them down and saying that there are examples of previous laws that have not been given much effect. They were the flagship measures in the Government's flagship Bill. The anti-social behaviour order was trailed countless times, with press releases, visits to inner-city estates and announcements by different Ministers and by the Prime Minister himself.

The Government were warned by some that the orders were impractical and broke new ground legally. It has been interesting to hear some of the complaints from Labour Members in this debate. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) said that the anti-social behaviour order process was complicated. He can say that again. We understand that others have made the same complaint.

What is beyond peradventure, given that the anti-social behaviour orders have been in operation for more than a year, is that they have not lived up to the expectations built up for them by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. About 40 or 45 orders have been issued, and I understand that at last we have had one in Hertfordshire.

It is very interesting that Ministers' tone is beginning to change. It is going through a distinct evolutionary phase. When the failure of the courts to issue more of the orders was pointed out to Ministers, they said that it would take time for them to bed down. When it became clear that they were not bedding down at any perceptible rate, they said that the deterrent effect was the most important thing.

In olden days, public executions had a deterrent effect, but there have to be some in an area for there to be any effect at all, and large parts of the country have not seen a single anti-social behaviour order. Until recently, the nearest one to Hertfordshire had been in Camden.

We have moved on to a new phase, which right hon. and hon. Members will recognise, in the evolution of a struggling policy. The Government have stopped trying to pretend that the policy has been a success or that it has had some sort of remote effects that have been successful. Now the Government are looking for someone else to blame, but they cannot make up their mind who should be blamed. The Minister of State, Home Office said during Question Time on Monday that local authorities could be criticised for their approach. The Home Secretary has aimed higher and chosen a different target. In an angry outburst at a recent conference, he made what was described by the Press Association as a scathing attack on "well heeled" civil liberties lawyers. In explaining why the number of anti-social behaviour orders was so low, he said: I had in mind some of the lawyers and so called legal experts who have been running a campaign against Anti Social Behaviour Orders suggesting ludicrously that they go against the European Convention of Human Rights. I think there is a huge issue of hypocrisy here. They represent the perpetrator of crime and then get into their BMWs and drive off into areas where they are immune from much of the crime. The Home Secretary should be more careful about attacking such people, because the ruffled feathers were probably to be found more among friends of Labour Members than anyone else. Ministers will have to decide who is to blame, but I expect that in the end—

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

You are.

Mr. Clappison

The Minister has beaten me to it. I knew that it would end up being our fault.

I have a helpful suggestion about the anti-social behaviour orders. Some of the suggestions that I have made in the past have been adopted by other hon. Members. If the orders are to be used in targeting what the Government have described as sub-criminal behaviour, they will have to employ many more police officers. As the House will have gathered tonight, the police officers we have are already fully stretched dealing with criminal behaviour. It is not possible for the frontiers of crime fighting to be stretched to cover sub-criminal behaviour when the Government have such difficulty dealing with actual criminal behaviour.

In the debate on police numbers, we have heard much from the Government about initiatives, strategies, partnerships and fighting funds. If we had an extra police officer for every time we have heard one of those buzzwords, we would all be happier. What is the real picture on police numbers? The Home Secretary told us on Monday at Question Time about the Government's plans for police numbers. It is an accepted fact that in every year under this Government so far the number of police officers has fallen and, according to Labour Members, after three years of this Government, that fall is all the Conservatives' fault. The Home Secretary said: The projections of police numbers based on forces' estimates for recruitment and wastage now rise as follows: it is projected that, in March 2001, the number will be 126,500 and that, in March 2002, it will be 127,000.—[Official Report, 22 May 2000; Vol. 350, c. 655.] That will still leave police numbers lower than when the Government took office.

For some strange reason, the Home Secretary finished his prediction at March 2002. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office police resources unit has a projection for March 2003 that police numbers will start to fall again, to 125,900? That unit gives the same projection for other years as the Home Secretary gave the House on Monday. If the Minister can confirm that point, it is worrying and my right hon. and hon. Friends are right to highlight the subject.

While there cannot be said to be a clear link between police numbers and the incidence of crime, the public expect visible policing. They also expect a speedy response from the police for the victims of crime. Visible policing is vital for the elderly, because it does so much for the quality of their lives when they see a bobby on the beat when they are out and about. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) represents a constituency covered by the Metropolitan police force, so he had better be very careful.

Mr. Efford

Would you care to comment on the £400 a month reduction in the salaries for police officers and its effect on recruitment to the Metropolitan police? Your Government did it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must use the correct terms. It is nothing to do with me.

Mr. Clappison

The hon. Gentleman has had his answer. If that is the quality of the excuses from Labour Members, they should watch out. The local election results were only the beginning.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he and his party voted against the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, which will tackle organised crime and drug trafficking? The hon. Gentleman claims to support the fight against crime, but he voted this month to stop powers to tackle crime.

Mr. Clappison

I understand that my hon. Friends took the view that the powers in that Bill were not strong enough. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the history of the last Parliament, he will see that the previous Government introduced measure after measure to crack down on drug traffickers and drug trafficking, some of which broke new ground. I give Labour credit for not always opposing those measures, but they did oppose several measures that have proved helpful to the police, including the change in the law on the right to silence. The Home Secretary himself opposed that change, but it has assisted the police greatly in tackling crime.

Mr. Heald

Does my hon. Friend think that the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) might find it helpful to read the reasoned amendment on Third Reading? It makes it clear that the powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill will be inadequate for the police's purposes.

Mr. Clappison

My hon. Friend is right. The issue of honesty in sentencing is also connected to prison numbers. I invite the Minister to reflect on the view expressed on both sides of the House about the mess that sentencing in the criminal justice system is in. Whatever view one takes of the efficacy of prison, honesty in sentencing—what the courts give an offender and the sentence he actually serves—is important. It cannot be honest for courts to sentence an offender to prison for six months and then, six weeks later, for him to be released. We have talked about how victims feel, but I cannot think of anything more disillusioning for a victim of crime—perhaps an elderly person—than to see the offender sent to prison for six months only for that person to be released six weeks later, so that the victim might bump into him in the supermarket or the pub. It cannot be right to tell the public one thing and then for something completely different to happen.

The Home Secretary mentioned the economies to be made by ending the right to trial by jury. However, there is no trade-off to be made between good law and order and civil liberties. The Government demonstrate that because their law and order policies do not work, at the same time as our civil liberties are being reduced. As The Guardian said—and I happily quote it on this occasion—civil liberty is the poor relation of this Government. That applies especially to trial by jury. The Home Secretary, when he commended the abolition of the right to trial by jury this afternoon, forgot to remind the House of what he said when the same measure was proposed in 1997 by a review under the previous Government. The findings of the review were not adopted, but they were considered. He came out and said that that review's proposal for curtailing the right to trial by jury was wrong, short sighted and likely to prove ineffective. Nothing has changed since then, but the Home Secretary has now adopted that proposal.

There is no trade-off between civil liberties and law and order. Both are going downhill under this Government, whose ineffective authoritarianism does not protect members of the public. People want an effective system of law and order more than anything else. They also want their traditional civil liberties to be preserved and the justice system to be administered fairly.

Unless the Government get a grip on the problem and cease to be complacent, I predict that there will be more speeches from hon. Members about fear of crime in their constituencies, which was the burden of the contribution from the hon. Member for Waveney. Conservative Members are right to focus on a matter that is growing in public importance largely because the Government are guilty of dereliction of duty with regard to the police force.

6.11 pm
Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Like many hon. Members, I come to the debate only too aware of those of my constituents who have suffered from the effects of criminal behaviour. Some are victims of crime while others suffer from the effect of crime on their neighbourhoods; and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) that the fear of crime is almost as pernicious as crime itself. That fear has grown in our communities over the past few years, and must also be tackled.

All hon. Members will have seen examples of how the fear of crime stunts people's lives—the elderly ladies who are afraid to open their front doors; the people who are afraid to go out at night or to leave their homes empty for any length of time. That fear is not always related to the most common forms of crime, but it is real: it destroys and disfigures communities, and it stems from a feeling prevalent during the previous Government's period in office—that nothing could be done and that the thugs and criminals were getting the upper hand.

Mr. Hope

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party is deliberately trying to promote the fear of crime for political reasons? My hon. Friend has come to the House to contribute to the debate on this Opposition day motion. Is it not surprising that only three or four Conservative Members have done the same?

Helen Jones

My hon. Friend is right to point that out.

More important, however, was the way in which the previous Conservative Government failed to tackle crime and the fear of crime. I believe that that was an offence against a civil society that the Tory Government committed time and time again. There are recidivists on the Tory Benches, and their collective amnesia reminds me of the rewriting of history that is the subject of the novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four".

We should not allow the Conservative party to rewrite history. If the Opposition are to be taken seriously when they talk about crime, they must answer some important questions, the first and most important of which is the one to which we keep returning: how is it that the party that poses as the defender of law and order allowed crime to double during its time in government?

Mr. Heald

Did not the hon. Lady hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) explain that crime fell during the previous Parliament for the first time since the second world war? The Labour Government have taken the country back to the bad old days of rising crime. Should not the hon. Lady think about that?

Helen Jones

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's thesis. His Government have to be judged on their whole period in office, not just on the figures for a few years.

The previous Government failed in other ways. They said that prison works, but for it to do so, criminals must first be caught and taken to court. Under the previous Conservative Government, the number of offenders brought to book fell by one third, whereas the period between the arrest and sentence of young offenders rose to four and a half months. In contrast, the conviction rate under this Government has risen to the highest level for 20 years.

The Conservative party tells us that burglary is a destructive and damaging crime. It is, and its victims feel violated in their own homes. So how did it happen that, under the Conservative Government, the chances of being burgled rose from 32:1 to 13:1? Conservative Members have many questions to answer.

My constituents know about the fear of crime. They learned a great deal about it during the 18 years of Conservative Government. That Government talked a good fight, whereas, in contrast, this Government have acted to reduce crime. The figures for domestic burglary have fallen by 20 per cent. under this Government, and crime has fallen by 7 per cent. overall. I know that the Opposition do not want to hear those figures, but they show the real picture.

Jackie Ballard

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Helen Jones

I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me, but I have given way several times and want to make progress so that other hon. Members can speak in the debate.

The figures that I have cited, and the Government's action to reduce crime, are not based on some remote theory but on the real experiences of our constituents. Those decent men and women tell us what they want to happen in the criminal justice system. They want to live in safe, quiet communities. They do not want to be terrorised by young offenders who are out of control, or to have their lives rendered unbearable as a result of harassment by a few people.

That is why the Government have introduced anti-social behaviour orders. If any Conservative Members think that those orders are merely a gimmick, they should come and talk to the people who come to my constituency surgery. They will be told how vital the orders are.

We reformed the youth justice system because people had had enough of seeing young offenders walk away laughing at the system after repeated cautions. We have also introduced a final warning for young offenders—something that the previous Government failed to do in 18 years in power. We are well on course to halving the period between arrest and sentence for persistent young offenders—a pledge that I recall the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said could not be delivered. This Government are delivering it.

Labour Members know that our constituents were sick and tired of seeing criminals go to court for the same offences time after time without being properly punished. That is why minimum mandatory sentences have been adopted. It is hard to believe that some Opposition Members have called for the abolition of mandatory sentences for murder, the most severe crime of all. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make it clear in his response to the debate that the Government value human life far more than that.

Many hon. Members will agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) said earlier—that crime in many areas of the country is largely drug related. My hon. Friend was right to say that greater powers are needed to protect witnesses in those circumstances. Almost every week I meet people who know who the drug dealers on their estates are but who are afraid to come forward with that information. In their position, I, too, would be afraid. We must do much more to protect those people when they give evidence. The police need to be given much more in the way of resources for surveillance of people who deal in drugs so that they can use that evidence in court.

We have taken steps to tackle the menace of drug-related crime. That is why we are introducing the power to test certain people for drugs on charge, and why we introduced drug-testing and treatment orders—measures which were opposed by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). That is why we are putting £20 million into arrest referral schemes.

We have to act to get people off drugs if we are to tackle the menace of drug-related crime at one end of the spectrum while ensuring that those who profit from that evil trade are not allowed to keep the profits that they make from dealing in human misery. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will talk about how those powers might be strengthened.

In the light of that, I hope that Conservative Members will reconsider their opposition to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. They opposed a Bill that gives police more power to tackle organised crime such as drug dealing and money laundering. That sits very ill with some of the statements that we have heard from the Conservative Benches.

Mr. Heald

The hon. Lady should not perpetuate a myth. The reasoned amendment that the Opposition tabled on Second Reading of that Bill said that the powers in it were inadequate, and called for tougher measures.

Helen Jones

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are at variance with the response of the police. The police said that they needed the powers in the Bill, yet the hon. Gentleman voted against it.

Mr. Heald

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Helen Jones

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to make some progress. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman will be able to speak at the end of the debate, as our silent Whip says.

Reducing crime is also about encouraging partnerships. The Opposition make light of that, but it is one of the most effective ways of tackling crime in our communities and keeping people safe. That is why we are investing £250 million in crime reduction programmes and why we have put £170 million worth of investment into closed circuit television cameras.

The crime and disorder reduction partnerships around the country are beginning to tackle crime. More important, they are changing attitudes. I should like to give an example of how that has operated in my constituency. We had a problem in an area called Birchwood, caused by a small number of young people. Everyone knew who they were. We have brought together to tackle that not just the police and the youth offending teams but local councils and the housing association for the area. As well as tackling those particular offenders, we have been looking at how to make the whole area safer so that people are less likely to have the opportunity to commit crimes.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the attitude of the Conservative party in dismissing local partnerships as useless and ineffective sends completely the wrong message to people and agencies working together to carry out the improvements that she eloquently describes.

Helen Jones

I could not agree more. I would go further: the Conservative attitude sends the wrong message to people whom the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, the former Home Secretary, quite rightly praised earlier for standing up to criminals in their community. These people must be supported, and we are putting into place the measures and the partnerships to support them. The fact that the Opposition reject that says much about their real agenda. It is about whipping up fears in the community. It is more about headline-grabbing than about tackling crime.

The Conservatives hope that we have forgotten their past record. Were she here, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald would tell them that when it comes to obtaining forgiveness for their past record, absolution requires a firm purpose of amendment. They have no purpose of amendment at the moment. They remain recidivists on crime, and for that reason, I urge the House to reject the motion.

6.24 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) may be a pleasant person, but that was a pretty nasty speech. It was unnecessarily and inaccurately partisan, and I hope that if she re-reads it tomorrow—she may be the only person who does—she will spot the occasions when she should have followed the examples of the hon. Members for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) and for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) in reflecting the real concerns of constituents. Those hon. Members were able to say that; I am able to say that; and most right hon. and hon. Members will say that. We should have a partnership not just with local organisations but across the House to achieve what our constituents want, whether they are represented by a Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, or anyone else.

Our constituents want to have a sense of security; they want to believe that three essential things are happening. They want to know that fewer people commit serious crimes; that those who do so commit them over a shorter period; and that a growing number of people find something worthwhile to do in the campaign on behalf of the victims of crime. Those are the three crucial elements.

If anyone wants confirmation of that, I suggest that they watch "Crimewatch UK Update" this evening. My constituent Michael Abatan is related to a victim of crime who died; he was a victim in the same event, in which he was injured, and he is a witness. There are many people like him, like his partner Kathy, and like the partner of his brother Jay Abatan who died, who want people to help in solving crimes. They would be the first to say that we should try, with the police and everybody else, to cut down on the amount of crime committed.

Let me give an indication of how serious the problem is. Every week, 2,400 people in this country are, for the first time, convicted of a serious criminal offence, for which they could be sent to jail for six months or more. Fortunately, they are not sent to jail in large numbers. I shall also give a comparison because I am often reminded by my doctor daughter that politicians talk, but do not always give evidence or figures on the basis of which their remarks can be judged. In the United States, whose population is five times this country's, there are 2 million people in jail. The equivalent for this country, on the basis of population, would be 400,000 people in jail. We actually have getting on for 70,000 people in jail. Our crime rate does not match that in the United States. So although prison has a purpose and may be necessary, it is false to say that it is the way to reduce the number of victims of crime, the number who become criminals for the first time or the amount of time for which people remain criminals.

I shall claim to be the voice of the liberal establishment, as no one else has. I do not mean the soft liberal establishment—although one has some ideas which, if tested, may be shown to work. Let me give an illustration. Some 1,800 people a year used to die as a result of people drinking above the legal limit and driving. That is two and a half times more than the number of murder victims a year in this country. In terms of gaps in families, the criminal activity of drink-driving caused more misery and avoidable tragedy than all the murders that had been committed. That figure of 1,800 people a year killed by drink-driving is now down to about 500. Although the figure is still far too high, it is less than a third of what it was at its peak. There was no change in the criminal law during the period over which the figure diminished from 1,800, to 1,200, to 600, to what it is at present. There was no change in sentencing, enforcement or penalty. It happened because of a change of culture.

One lesson to be learned from that example is that a change of culture can make a difference. I believe that the crime rate was low between the wars not because of different levels of unemployment, or because there are now more radio-cassette players for people to steal, or because of drugs, but partly because during that period many more younger people took part in worthwhile activities. The growth of organisations such as the Woodcraft Folk, the Boys Brigade, the scouts and brownies involved many younger people as youth leaders. Many more, whether they lived in rich or poor areas, in social housing, privately rented or owner-occupied accommodation, were involved in two or three worthwhile activities a week, such as sport and drama.

I believe that if we did a study at juvenile courts and saw who was persistently in trouble with the law, it would tend to be people who did not know what they would be doing, on a regular basis, a week or even two weeks ahead. I am not arguing that many of us got through our teenage years without doing anything wrong, but the difference between most of those who are persistently in trouble and those who are not lies in the confidence and competence of parents to provide meaningful activities for their children.

I pay tribute to the Peabody Trust; this afternoon, I attended, as an observer, one of its community development meetings. In the housing for which the trust takes on responsibility, sometimes from local authorities, it tries to find easy ways to combat people's fear of crime—for example, by ensuring that there is a lock on the rubbish chute lockers, so that people do not go in there to inject heroin; and that people can go in and out of their own front door without being worried.

I congratulate the Government on their announcement that child prostitutes will be considered to be victims rather than criminals. When I was chairman of the Church of England Children's Society, we tried to work with partnerships in some of the most difficult areas. Children in care were often both victims of crime and those who subsequently became criminals. We failed those children of the state in so many ways. If we can offer some hope to the children for whom we have responsibility—either through local authorities or nationally—we shall also give the rest of our children a better chance.

It is not possible to go into detail about some of the most important matters. However, if we took a liberal establishment view, we should take account of the figures to which I referred—the 2,400 a week or the 30 per cent. of men who have been convicted by the age of 30. We should learn more about people's experiences in jail—especially those of younger people. When I visit prisons and listen to people aged under 25, it occurs to me that I might meet such people on the streets of any of our towns and they might say, "I don't want to beg, but I came out of prison this morning. Can you tell me where to find a bed tonight and a job interview tomorrow?" Until we can give an answer to that question in every part of the country, people leaving jail will not have the chance that they deserve.

I do not believe in being soft. People who commit crimes should be caught—early. We could adopt further measures to reduce the consequences of what may have started as mild bad behaviour. I offer an example from Worthing. Recently, some people—I suspect they had been drinking in public—went to an alley behind some shops and lit a fire. The fire melted a gas pipe, causing a conflagration in which two shops were burnt out. In my view, there was also a failure to use proper materials for the gas supply in an exposed area—plastic pipe may be all right underground, but not in the open, where there may be rubbish. We need to learn lessons from that.

We should also learn lessons about visible policing. The Home Secretary can make a decent speech. I suspect that he and I might agree on some elements of his responsibilities. However, when his ears go red, I think that he is talking to the gallery rather than to those who share his concerns. At present, they are not red. Sometimes, when the right hon. Gentleman raises his voice, we can be fairly sure that he is trying to mislead his Back Benchers and, possibly, the Opposition. It does not always work.

Anything that the Home Office says about statistics on policing or about the last Government should be checked by the director of the Office for National Statistics—as, indeed, should any similar statements from the Department of Health and the Prime Minister. The Government should say whether they mean that the figures apply from 1979 or from 1992—the Home Secretary is rising to adopt my suggestion.

Mr. Straw

We do check. I am absolutely committed to integrity in statistics. Before the implementation of the National Statistics Commission across government, I called in the Royal Statistical Society to ensure that our statistics—provided for Ministers—were of the highest integrity and independence. That is in stark contrast to the record of the previous Administration.

Mr. Bottomley

The Home Secretary should check that with the Office for National Statistics. I held ministerial office for six years during the previous Administration. Although my experience was not at the right hon. Gentleman's exalted level, it was twice as long, so I have twice as much experience of dealing with Government statistical services. Furthermore, I can give him a statistic that he has probably not calculated. During the first five minutes of his speech, the number of Back Benchers who were not in the doughnut around him fell from 11 to nine—a reduction of 18 per cent. in the number of Back Benchers who were listening to him. I merely say that to illustrate the fact that he was not talking to a large audience.

In relation to the serious points that the right hon. Gentleman made, when he talks about the last Government, will he make it plain whether he means the 1992–97 Administration or the years from 1979 to 1997. The last Government is an ambiguous expression, which will no longer suffice. I should be grateful if he could confirm what he means.

I pointed out that there were between 65,000 and 70,000 people in prison. Last year, 18,000 of them were found to have used illegal drugs. I shall not go into detail about the Cambridge Two and the slogan "Help the Homeless—Jail the Social Workers". However, if on only one of the 30 occasions when people in prison use illegal drugs—[Interruption]—I do not know why hon. Members are laughing. If 18,000 in 65,000 prisoners are using illegal drugs, and if the Prison Service—in closed institutions—can detect those drugs in only one in every 30 cases, we have a major problem. The figures are contained in Home Office statistics. No doubt, if I have got them wrong, the Home Secretary will point it out.

The figures have been going down. The problem involved about 24 per cent. of prisoners; the number is now between 17 and 19 per cent. However, if people can obtain illegal drugs in prison, they will continue their drugs habit when they are released. If prison is to help, it should be part of the cure or therapy for some of the underlying problems.

People who are on drugs commit crimes. Sometimes, people commit crimes to obtain drugs. We need to deal with both elements. I support the efforts of the Home Office and the Prison Service to reduce the amount of drugs in prisons.

My final point relates to my constituency. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) that elderly people especially need a sense of security. That will come when they can see that crime in their area is falling. That point was also made by the hon. Members for Manchester, Central and for Waveney. People will gain a sense of security when they see police officers around and about.

In Worthing, I should not mind if the police station was moved from the centre of town to Durrington. What is important is that the police are visible in villages such as Ferring, Rustington, Goring and East Preston and in central Worthing. People need to see the police and talk to them. People should not see the police only when a family member has been killed or injured in a car crash, or when someone is suspected, or is the victim, of a crime; the police should form an ordinary part of the community.

Mr. Hayes

The non-adversarial policing that my hon. Friend describes will never be achieved if our national statistics are crime led and the police service is funded accordingly. The police will always have to fund such policing on a discretionary basis and they do not have resources to do so.

Mr. Bottomley

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. If he does not have a chance to make a speech, I hope that the Home Office will respond to it.

In trying to achieve that sense of security, the police should consult with local authorities about whether there should be a further reduction in drinking in public. If there are to be increased opportunities for young people to drink in licensed premises, the corollary should be that the amount of drinking in the streets—by the young or by older people—should be controlled. I do not want to get rid of street cafes in tourist areas. However, in residential areas, where there are problems owing to people drinking in the streets, the police and local authorities would be right to reflect popular views that the arrangements should be reviewed. If necessary, there should be a clampdown and a ban.

6.39 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

We have held a good and well-informed debate, although there has been the occasional spiteful comment. However, certain themes have emerged from both sides of the House—even though their interpretation might not always have been the same.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) made a thoughtful and serious speech. Although he described himself as a member of the liberal establishment, I am sure he meant liberal with a small "l". Many of us would agree with what he said about groups, such as the Peabody Trust, that examine thoughtfully the way in which problems of the architecture of the inner city can be dealt with. Obvious changes can be made and everyone in the House should pay those groups a tremendous tribute. My hon. Friend's comments about drink driving were relevant and both sides of the House can accept his point about the need for a change in the culture of society.

One of the themes that my hon. Friend highlighted has been a feature of the debate. A visible police presence is an incredibly important part of elderly people feeling safe in their communities. That point was made by everyone who has spoken.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) talked about the need to consider the victims and, in an excellent speech, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) said that the fear of crime was the top issue in his constituency. He spoke about a lady who stood out bravely against the drug dealers who were attacking her and he said, quite frankly, that there were not enough police in his area.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Central echoed a point made by Fred Broughton of the Police Federation, who said that the police receive much of the criticism for the way in which things have gone recently. He said: Every policy station in the country is facing anger from its community. The hon. Gentleman echoed that comment and it is true that, in his area, crime is up by 6.7 per cent.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) also paid tribute to the bravery of all the individuals he had met as Home Secretary and who put up a fight and stand up for decent values in difficult circumstances. He also put the record straight. He pointed out that, under his stewardship, crime fell by 18 per cent. He is convinced, as I am, that the reason for that was a firmness of approach. To send criminals to prison is not the crime; the crime is not to do that. He spoke about the relationship between the liberal establishment and the failure of successive Governments to deal with crime. He also pointed out that, during his time in office, funding for the police increased in real terms by 4.2 per cent. when, under this Government, it has fallen by 0.2 per cent.

The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) said that crime is now rising in Suffolk and that it is the top issue in the county. He pointed out that, in rural areas, there was virtually no crime but that its incidence is now rising. He used the expression that the thin blue line is thin. The perception is that crime is rising.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) described the plight of the elderly and the vulnerable, with police numbers falling and crime rising in his constituency. He called for a crackdown on anti-social behaviour and pointed out the weakness of antisocial behaviour orders and of the unused and unloved child curfew order.

It was a feature of the debate that everyone who has taken part is concerned about ASBOs. In a debate a few months ago, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) explained that only one child curfew order has been made in Nottingham and that was against someone who had been convicted 55 times in the past two years on charges including theft, taking vehicles, robbery, burglary, handling stolen goods and motoring offences.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 1 February 2000; Vol. 343, c. 139WH.] He explained the bureaucratic and complex regulations or requirements of an ASBO and all the case conferences and consultation that must be undertaken. He said that it should be a quick and efficient process, but that it was not. The Government will clearly have to think again about a flagship policy that has failed.

In measuring the Government's performance against their promises, the starting point should be the Labour party's manifesto. It said: The police have our strong support and that the Labour party would get more officers back on the beat. The police believed that "strong support" meant more than just words and that "more officers" meant more officers. In fact, funding is lower in real terms and the number of constables, which increased under the previous Government by 2,500, is now sharply falling. The Audit Commission has criticised the reversal of that trend. Like some Members who have spoken in the debate, it has pointed out: Officers on patrol, especially on foot, provide a sense of security, of help being close at hand. I make the central charge that the Government, unlike the Labour Back Benchers who have spoken in the debate, are simply out of touch with the public's concerns on law and order. I come to the Dispatch Box from time to time to reply to statements that the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), makes and last week we heard about the plan for extensive new training for the police. However, where will the officers come from to be trained? Can they be spared? The Police Federation vice-chairman says: Our men on the ground are saying that it is getting to the stage that they feel vulnerable and overworked. They do not feel that they can give the public anything like the service they would like and it is in danger of leaving a vacuum on our streets.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heald

Unfortunately, I do not have time to give way.

Last week, the Minister told us about a new complaints procedure. However, 90 police stations have closed in the past year, so where does one go to make a complaint? He has spoken of improving police equipment and technology but, in April, on average almost a quarter of the Metropolitan police's vehicles were off the road every day for repairs. He has announced new communications for the police, but 999 calls are now being answered by a recorded message machine.

The Minister talks about cutting bureaucracy for the police yet the White Paper on licensing will give them a new role as the licensing authority for church fetes and other temporary events. While he tells us that he is considering rural sparsity funding, the National Farmers Union estimates that the cost of rural crime to farmers has risen by £100 million per annum.

What do the public think when they see a headline that says, "Yard operators are 'losing it' in a 999 crisis"? A recent article says that Scotland Yard, which used be the gold standard of policing in Britain, is in danger of being overwhelmed with emergency calls amid a staffing crisis and a surge in the number of people dialling 999. Senior officers are drawing up continency plans and they say that they are coping with a surge in calls. No wonder—crime is rising at 3 per cent. The surge in calls should be no surprise. If crime is rising, it is obvious that more people will ring in.

When an operator was asked about the problem, he said: On one recent shift 20 to 30 calls were being held in a queue. He explained: The problem is caused partly by…a rise in the number of calls. How can a member of the public—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary says from a sedentary position, "How professional", but the public have a right to know whether their 999 calls will be answered. The public have a right to see police on the beat and to have their numbers restored, so that there is visible presence and the public need not be frightened. The public have a right to hear from the Home Secretary how he will tackle the rise in crime, and I hope that he is about to do just that.

Mr. Straw

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Heald

Goodness knows what the right hon. Gentleman said. Perhaps I did not hear him correctly. I thought that he said, "That was very professional". The operator was explaining the shortcomings of the Home Office and the difficulties that he faces in trying to answer people's calls at the most desperate moments when people are frightened and afraid. I thought that it was at those comments that the Home Secretary was sneering.

People are entitled to feel safe in their communities. The Conservative party is committed to providing answers, particularly to the central question of police numbers. The public want to know when the Government will respond positively. The public want the answer that the Government will restore police numbers to the level that they inherited and that they will be tough on crime and the causes of crime. In other words, the public want the Government to live up to their promises; they do not want the current position, which is all talk, all sweet words and no delivery.

6.49 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

Our debate has been quite thoughtful—at least Back Benchers' contributions were. I welcome our discussions, as it is important to have a political debate about the issues, and I am glad that the Opposition decided to table the motion. However, I regret the fact that only three Conservative Back Benchers were present for most of the debate, and think that that is significant.

I intend to try to set out the strategy that the Government are seeking to follow. We inherited problems after 18 years of Conservative Government. I shall not get into trite questions about whether crime doubled or, indeed, go through that whole debate. However, I shall indicate the problem that we are trying to address in each policy area and how we are doing that.

I do not think that the problems that we inherited were those of a great liberal establishment. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister for a considerable part of that period, would not have been very pleased to be described as part of such an establishment. For much of her life, she represented Finchley—a Hampstead liberal if ever there was one. Authoritarian ineffectiveness, to reverse the words of the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), was characteristic of that whole period of government.

Our strategy has been to build our way out of the crisis that we inherited. We believe that it is important to address anti-social behaviour, and we all know of such problems in our constituencies. As an aside, let me say that the young people causing such problems are the children of the no-such-thing-as-society generation. We did not have the necessary legal instruments, which had not been provided by the previous Government, so we set about establishing them. Of course, we have to do a great deal more, and do it better, so criticism on that is perfectly justified. However, we got the legal instruments in place as we needed to do, and we are addressing the problem.

Partnership is another element of our strategy. There was no legal basis to the partnerships when we came to power. Everyone acknowledges that the most important legislation on changing the culture of policing and other issues has been introduced by us. We have set about achieving a legal basis for the partnerships and have changed Metropolitan police boundaries to get them going. We have also put resources into closed circuit television, neighbourhood wardens and so on to make those partnerships work. We have set about that process, although I accept that we have not done enough. However, we are going to do more.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) made some rather jeering remarks about technology. We have inherited a situation in which 43 police authorities each use different technologies and so cannot communicate with one another. Police, prisons, the probation service, the crown courts, the magistrates courts and the Crown Prosecution Service all have entirely different systems and cannot relate to one another effectively. We are investing to solve that important problem, which should have been addressed a hell of a long time ago.

We are putting money into DNA testing and are improving the police national computer. Those are significant matters, as it is important to use technology to benefit policing. Modernisation of the police is important, as is training, as most people would acknowledge. The Police Federation certainly did when the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire and I attended its conference. It is important to establish a best value regime that addresses significantly different levels of performance by different basic command units and different police authorities throughout the country.

We have worked on establishing an independent complaints procedure and dealing with the relationship with the community and related issues following the Macpherson report. Major issues have to be addressed, but so do ridiculous issues. Different police forces have different height requirements for special constables. People with glasses can be recruited in some forces, but not others. That is a ludicrous state of affairs which we must modernise and get straight. We have had to deal with all the mess that was left behind.

Serious and organised crime is another important matter which we tackled by getting real joint working between the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the security services, Customs and Excise, and the immigration and nationality directorate. That had not been done before, and we have got a strategy to get those key agencies working together. Of course, there is a great deal more to be achieved but, again, we are moving in the right direction.

Mr. Heald


Mr. Clarke

I shall not give way, because of the time constraint that the hon. Gentleman himself mentioned.

Drugs involved the same problems. We had to get the agencies working together properly and we introduced new legal instruments to try and address the issues involved. As everyone acknowledges, drugs are the core of a great deal of crime, and we have tried to make our strategy on them move forward.

I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said about support for victims and witnesses, and I can assure him that we will consider those points. We need more such support. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was right to pay tribute to the courage of witnesses, and he will acknowledge that it is the duty of the state to give them all possible support. That is why we are making available more money and resources and providing better support for Victim Support. We have a lot further to go, but we are building on the inadequate provision that we inherited.

We are tackling reoffending by dealing with the situation of those who have been convicted, whether they require help with drug problems or education in literacy and numeracy. We are setting up a coherent programme to try to prevent people from reoffending. That is difficult and involves tackling cultural questions and significant problems.

Several hon. Members mentioned bobbies on the beat. We have made clear our intention, by the end of the Parliament, to increase police numbers to the level that we inherited.

Mr. Clappison

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke


In many places, the issue of bobbies on the beat is not simply a question of police numbers; it is a question of using technology effectively, reducing obstructions in the criminal justice system and developing partnerships. Of course, as my hon. Friends have said, people want a high-profile local police force. We are committed to that, and I acknowledge that a great deal needs to be done, but we are setting about that task and aim to increase police numbers, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said.

We have made progress in those strategic areas, and what we are doing is right. Of course there is more to be done, and I accept the fair criticism from my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that we are not moving fast enough. However, I do not accept criticism about our strategies and methods or claims that what we are doing is nonsense and that we are going in the wrong direction. We aim to build a resilient law enforcement and criminal justice system. Without going into any of the arguments about money and police numbers, I can say that we did not inherit such a system and we needed to improve it.

I turn now to what the Opposition have been saying. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has not at any time acknowledged her errors or her responsibility for the situation that we inherited. The Opposition have no strategy of any kind, but have merely staged populist public relations stunts. Their programmes are uncosted, and would require more than the £260 million that the right hon. Lady suggested. The cost of the measures that she described would be getting on for £2 billion. That is on top of the £3.5 billion that the Conservatives are committed to spending on asylum, making almost £6 billion altogether.

Let us consider what has happened in Parliament when measures have been considered. On illegal immigration, the Conservatives listened to the road hauliers rather than taking account of the interests of law enforcement. On the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, they listened to lawyers rather than the police or anybody else. If the Opposition had won a vote on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, all agencies would have had to suspend their investigations into paedophilia, drug trafficking and money laundering on 2 October. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire failed to say that the reason for that vote was that he had listened too much to the businesses involved and had not taken enough account of the interests of law enforcement.

Mr. Heald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke


Last week, in proceedings on a private Bill promoted by Kent county council—there is an identical Bill promoted by Medway council—we even heard the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) saying that he was not interested in the measure suggested by the chief constable of Kent and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Clark) because he was worried about antique dealers, despite the fact that they want to identify fences. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has prevented the progress of legislation on international banning orders for football supporters committing offences and on stopping under-age drinking.

Throughout this Parliament, the Conservatives have shown that they aim not to help law enforcement, but to oppose it. That is why the Leader of the Opposition, realising that his party has no strategy, has decided to take over from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and has overruled various of her decisions. He is wearing the clothes of racist populism and turning himself into skinhead Hague. He believes that he is playing a populist card. I urge the House to reject the motion and to back the Government's strategy to build a country in which we can be proud and safe.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 138, Noes 358.

Division No. 206] [6.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Heald, Oliver
Amess, David Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Horam, John
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Baldry, Tony Hunter, Andrew
Beggs, Roy Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bercow, John Jenkin, Bernard
Blunt, Crispin Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Key, Robert
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Brady, Graham Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Brazier, Julian Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lansley, Andrew
Browning, Mrs Angela Leigh, Edward
Burns, Simon Letwin, Oliver
Butterfill, John Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Cash, William Lidington, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
LIoyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clappison, James Loughton, Tim
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Collins, Tim Maclean, Rt Hon David
Cormack, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Patrick
Cran, James Madel, Sir David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Maples, John
Day, Stephen Mates, Michael
Duncan Smith, Iain Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Evans, Nigel May, Mrs Theresa
Faber, David Moss, Malcolm
Fallon, Michael Nicholls, Patrick
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Norman, Archie
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Fox, Dr Liam Ottaway, Richard
Fraser, Christopher Paice, James
Gale, Roger Pickles, Eric
Garnier, Edward Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Gibb, Nick Prior, David
Gill, Christopher Randall, John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Redwood, Rt Hon John
Gray, James Robathan, Andrew
Green, Damian Robertson, Laurence
Greenway, John Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Grieve, Dominic Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Ruffley, David
Hague, Rt Hon William St Aubyn, Nick
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Hammond, Philip Shepherd, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hayes, John Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soames, Nicholas Walter, Robert
Spicer, Sir Michael Waterson, Nigel
Spring, Richard Wells, Bowen
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Whitney, Sir Raymond
Steen, Anthony Whittingdale, John
Streeter, Gary Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Swayne, Desmond Wilkinson, John
Syms, Robert Willetts, David
Tapsell, Sir Peter Wilshire, David
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Taylor, Sir Teddy Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Thompson, William Yeo, Tim
Tredinnick, David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew Tellers for the Ayes:
Viggers, Peter Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
Mr. Peter Luff
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Alexander, Douglas Campbell-Savours, Dale
Allan, Richard Cann, Jamie
Allen, Graham Caplin, Ivor
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Casale, Roger
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Caton, Martin
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Chaytor, David
Ashton, Joe Clapham, Michael
Atkins, Charlotte Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Austin, John Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Baker, Norman Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ballard, Jackie Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Barnes, Harry Clelland, David
Barron, Kevin Clwyd, Ann
Bayley, Hugh Coffey, Ms Ann
Beard, Nigel Cohen, Harry
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Coleman, Iain
Begg, Miss Anne Colman, Tony
Beith, Rt Hon A J Connarty, Michael
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cooper, Yvette
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Corston, Jean
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Cotter, Brian
Bennett, Andrew F Cox, Tom
Benton, Joe Cranston, Ross
Bermingham, Gerald Crausby, David
Berry, Roger Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Best, Harold Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Betts, Clive Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Blizzard, Bob Darvill, Keith
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davidson, Ian
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bradshaw, Ben Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Brake, Tom Denham, John
Brand, Dr Peter Dismore, Andrew
Breed, Colin Dobbin, Jim
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Donohoe, Brian H
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Doran, Frank
Browne, Desmond Dowd, Jim
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Drown, Ms Julia
Buck, Ms Karen Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burden, Richard Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burgon, Colin Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Burnett, John Edwards, Huw
Burstow, Paul Efford, Clive
Butler, Mrs Christine Ellman, Mrs Louise
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen Ennis, Jeff
Cable, Dr Vincent Etherington, Bill
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fearn, Ronnie
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark Kidney, David
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Flint, Caroline King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Flynn, Paul Kirkwood, Archy
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kumar, Dr Ashok
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Laxton, Bob
Fyfe, Maria Lepper, David
Gapes, Mike Levitt, Tom
Gardiner, Barry Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gerrard, Neil Llwyd, Elfyn
Gibson, Dr Ian Lock, David
Gidley, Sandra McAvoy, Thomas
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McCabe, Steve
Godman, Dr Norman A McCafferty, Ms Chris
Godsiff, Roger McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)
Goggins, Paul
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McDonagh, Siobhain
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Macdonald, Calum
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) McDonnell, John
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McFall, John
Grocott, Bruce McGuire, Mrs Anne
Grogan, John McIsaac, Shona
Gunnell, John Mackinlay, Andrew
Hain, Peter McNamara, Kevin
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McNulty, Tony
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) MacShane, Denis
Hancock, Mike McWalter, Tony
Hanson, David Mahon, Mrs Alice
Harris, Dr Evan Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Harvey, Nick Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Healey, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) Martlew, Eric
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Maxton, John
Hepburn, Stephen Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Heppell, John Meale, Alan
Hesford, Stephen Merron, Gillian
Hill, Keith Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hinchliffe, David Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hoey, Kate Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Hood, Jimmy Mitchell, Austin
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Moffatt, Laura
Hope, Phil Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hopkins, Kelvin Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Mountford, Kali
Humble, Mrs Joan Mullin, Chris
Hutton, John Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Iddon, Dr Brian Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Illsley, Eric Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Jenkins, Brian Norris, Dan
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Oaten, Mark
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) O'Hara, Eddie
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Olner, Bill
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Palmer, Dr Nick
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Pearson, Ian
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Pendry, Tom
Keetch, Paul Perham, Ms Linda
Kelly, Ms Ruth Pickthall, Colin
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W) Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Khabra, Piara S Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris Steinberg, Gerry
Pope, Greg Stevenson, George
Pound, Stephen Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stinchcombe, Paul
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Stoate, Dr Howard
Prescott, Rt Hon John Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Primarolo, Dawn Stringer, Graham
Prosser, Gwyn Stuart, Ms Gisela
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Stunell, Andrew
Quinn, Lawrie Sutcliffe, Gerry
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Raynsford, Nick Temple-Morris, Peter
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rendel, David Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Timms, Stephen
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff Tipping, Paddy
Rooney, Terry Tonge, Dr Jenny
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Touhig, Don
Rowlands, Ted Truswell, Paul
Roy, Frank Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Ruane, Chris Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Ruddock, Joan Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Tyler, Paul
Salter, Martin Tynan, Bill
Sanders, Adrian Vis, Dr Rudi
Sarwar, Mohammad Walley, Ms Joan
Savidge, Malcolm Ward, Ms Claire
Sedgemore, Brain Wareing, Robert N
Shaw, Jonathan Watts, David
Sheerman, Barry Webb, Steve
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Whitehead, Dr Alan
Shipley, Ms Debra Wicks, Malcolm
Short, Rt Hon Clare Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Willis, Phil
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wills, Michael
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Winnick, David
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Woolas, Phil
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Worthington, Tony
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Wray, James
Snape, Peter Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Soley, Clive Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Southworth, Ms Helen Wyatt, Derek
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel Tellers for the Noes:
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Mr. Mike Hall and
Mr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the fact that recorded crime has fallen by 7 per cent. since March 1997, with domestic burglary down by 20 per cent. and vehicle crime down by 14 per cent.; applauds the Government's investment to boost police recruitment; supports the Government's strategy for tackling crime and the causes of crime through better prevention, improving the performance of crime and disorder partnerships, the police and the criminal justice system, more effective punishment of offenders and securing greater support and protection for victims and witnesses; backs the radical reforms of the youth justice system, including swifter punishment for persistent offenders; and notes that all this is in sharp contrast to the record of the previous administration when crime doubled and the number of offenders convicted fell by a third.

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