§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government's crime reduction strategy, which I have published today. Copies of the strategy document and of the Home Office model of recorded crime are available in the Vote Office.
First, however, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in expressing my shock and outrage at the attack that took place yesterday at St. Andrew's church, Thornton Heath in the London borough of Croydon, in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks). It is hard to think of anything more terrible than to have the serenity of a church service destroyed by such an attack. I should like to express our deepest sympathy for those who were injured, their families and friends and the entire congregation who witnessed that awful event. I should like also to express my admiration for the courage of those who intervened to save the largely elderly parishioners from even worse injury.
Over the century, recorded crime has risen by an annual average of around 5 per cent. Recorded crime in fact doubled in the 1980s and early 1990s. Thanks to the tremendous work of the police and local authorities, it has fallen steadily since then—by 19 per cent. over the past five years and by 9 per cent. between 1997 and 1999. For the first time, last year's British crime survey showed that the overall level of crime, including incidents not reported to the police, was on the way down, as was fear of crime.
Over the past two and a half years, we have sought to lay the foundations for the most co-ordinated attack on crime and its causes: 375 local crime and disorder reduction partnerships are now up and running; over the next three years, £400 million will be put into evidence-led crime reduction programmes, including the biggest ever investment in closed circuit television; £60 million is being invested in schemes to cut burglary, and there is help to protect the most vulnerable pensioners.
A new crime fighting fund has been established with new money to recruit 5,000 more officers over and above those already planned. We have made available £34 million for extending the DNA database and are putting an extra £50 million towards transforming police communications. All that is on top of the extra £1.25 billion provided to the police over this year and the next two years.
We are insisting on tough, consistent prison sentences for serious criminals, far more rigorous enforcement of community sentences and zero tolerance of anti-social behaviour. Alongside that we want quicker, more effective punishment for persistent young offenders, with a thorough modernisation of the whole system for dealing with young criminals.
There is, however, more to do. Despite recent falls, crime is still way above its level of the late 1970s, and the level of property crime is significantly higher than in most comparable countries.
Over the past five years, as figures published this morning show, all forces have achieved reductions in crime, but some have been much more successful than 22 others: for example, Northumbria, Kent, Durham, Surrey and Gloucestershire have all achieved reductions in recorded crime of more than 30 per cent. Those statistics reveal that similar police forces and local authorities, with similar problems and similar resources, achieve widely differing performances in crime reduction. Reducing the crime rate of the 21 forces with the highest rates to that of the average would cut recorded crime by 0.5 million. However, we want to aim higher: our emphasis is on encouraging the police, local authorities and others to raise their performance. I have set out how we can raise performance and reduce crime across the country in the strategy document.
The best value regime set up under the Local Government Act 1999 establishes the process for delivering a step change in the quality of all local services, including crime reduction. From April 2000, we should like every police authority and local crime reduction partnership to set five-year targets for reduction in the three sets of offences of greatest concern to the public: vehicle crime, domestic burglary and street robberies. For police authorities, the aim should be, over that five-year period, to raise the level of their performance to that of the top 25 per cent. of comparable authorities. We shall discuss the comparators and the process in more detail with chief constables and police authorities. Of course, we shall take into account the particular circumstances of individual forces.
From January next year, we shall publish crime statistics not only for entire police force areas, but for individual police divisions, or basic command units. By April 2001, we should have data available to ensure top quartile targets at the level of the local partnerships. Together, those measures will enable people to see how their local police and partnerships are doing, compared with performance in equivalent areas.
I recognise that, to raise the performance of the local partnerships, strong leadership and support are needed at national and regional level. At national level, we are to establish a new national crime reduction task force to be chaired by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), with the chief constable of Kent, Mr. David Phillips, as vice-chairman. We are discussing with the Local Government Association the appointment of a second vice-chairman to represent local authorities. At regional level, we shall appoint new crime reduction directors, based in the Government offices for the regions. The regional directors will work with the police, local government and other agencies to support crime reduction work and help to sustain improvements in performance.
From January, Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary will lead a new inspection on crime reduction with the Home Office and the Audit Commission to examine how forces, at basic command unit level—that is, district level—and partnerships are dealing with local crime and disorder problems. I should also tell the House that, in response to calls from the police service for a simplification of Government priorities, the number of ministerial priorities for the year 2000–2001 has been reduced to two: reducing crime and disorder and increasing confidence among minority ethnic communities.
On the Home Office model of recorded crime, from the early 1990s, economists in the Home Office have sought to isolate those factors external to the criminal justice 23 system—such as levels of economic activity and employment, the stock of goods, and the number of young men—which might historically have been related to movements in recorded crime. The models suggest that there is a strong historic association between changes in the level of recorded property crime and some of the key economic and demographic factors.
The economists have made a projection of what effect they believe that association would have on the level of recorded property crime, assuming no positive intervention by the police, local authorities or Government. Those projections are not forecasts of what the Government believe will or should happen. Criminal behaviour is wrong and the model provides no excuse for it. Moreover, there is nothing inevitable about the trend in the model. The models for the four-year period 1997 to 2001 suggest that, if no positive programmes had been or were to be put in place, by 2001, theft would be 40 per cent. higher and burglary 25 per cent. higher than in 1997. However, half way through this 1997–2001 period there is good evidence that we are bucking the projected trend. Burglary in the first two years of this period is down and not up; and vehicle crime is down, not up. The research therefore underlines the relative success achieved so far, but also the scale of the challenge that we face. One key of many to meeting that challenge is the better targeting of crimes and of criminals.
We therefore have a strong focus in our strategy on vehicle crime and burglary, which together account for 40 per cent. of all recorded crime. Tomorrow I will be announcing the successful projects in the first round of the £150 million CCTV programme, significantly aimed at reducing vehicle crime. From Wednesday, any offender convicted of three separate domestic burglary offences from that date will face a minimum prison sentence of at least three years. Also on Wednesday, curfew orders enforced by electronic tagging will become available to all courts across the country.
Later this week, we will be announcing plans for the distribution of the £20 million for drug arrest referral to establish such schemes in every police custody suite by April 2001, to get offenders off drugs and into treatment. The crime and public protection Bill will facilitate the use of drug testing at arrest and charge, and for offenders on community punishments to deter further drug use and offending. The Bill will also extend the possibilities for electronic tagging and provide for reform of the probation service.
Also published today are figures which show that on youth crime we are well on our way to meeting our key pledge to halve the time that it takes to deal with persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence by March 2002. In 1997, the average time was 142 days—more than 20 weeks. In 1998 it was 125 days. This fell to 110 days across the first half of 1999. Individual areas are showing how much can be achieved through good partnership between agencies. Two areas, north Wales and Warwickshire, have been particularly successful, managing already to achieve an average of fewer than 71 days.
By modernising and speeding up the court process with the national roll-out of the Narey changes we are meeting our pledge to relieve the police of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens to get more officers back on the beat and on to operational duties. Above all, we are 24 transforming the way in which victims are treated, with the measures in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, and a 50 per cent. increase in funding for victim support to provide witness services in every magistrates court.
The Government are determined to put the public's protection first. Ours is an ambitious programme which will, if achieved, make major inroads into reducing crime. The fight against crime is an integral part of our commitment to make Britain a better place in which to live. If we can cut crime, we can add value to every aspect of our life. I commend the strategy to the House.
§ Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)
First, I associate the Opposition with the Home Secretary's comments about the appalling crime which took place at St. Andrew's church in Croydon yesterday. I am sure that the Metropolitan police will be conducting a full investigation and that lessons can be learned when their report is made known. For today, however, I think that the right response is just to express sympathy for the victims and their families and pride in the courageous actions of those who managed to disarm the alleged criminal.
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement and also for his courtesy in giving me early sight of the background documents to his announcement. I thank him also for giving me the opportunity some little while in advance to see a copy of the statement.
We can welcome and endorse several aspects of the statement. Indeed, one or two items in the right hon. Gentleman's list of measures seem more than a little familiar from the period before May 1997.
First, may I ask about the extension of electronic tagging as a means of enforcing curfew orders? The Opposition support that in principle, but we have some questions. We would welcome the use of electronic tagging as part of a community penalty. Does the Home Secretary accept that in many cases, it would make sense to link a tagging order to a compensation order, so that a criminal is deprived of his liberty during his leisure time, but during his working hours he is earning money from which to pay compensation to the victims who have suffered from his actions?
Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to deny media reports last week that the Government are planning to use tagging to allow for the early release of serious, violent and sexual offenders? Does he accept that such a step would be an abuse of the tagging system, and that such criminals ought not to be released early?
Secondly, I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement of the expansion of the DNA database. That follows his announcement of that during his Labour party conference speech, the announcement during the Prime Minister's Labour party conference speech, and the exclusive briefing to the Daily Mirror. Can the Home Secretary confirm what the Government intend should happen to samples taken from people who are subsequently acquitted of charges brought against them? Are we right to understand that, as with fingerprints, those DNA samples should be destroyed after an appropriate period?
Can the right hon. Gentleman comment on the £34 million that he mentioned in his statement? Is that entirely new money, is it funded from the reserve, or is it 25 coming from elsewhere in the Home Office's budget? Can he assure us that it will not cause cuts to other services in his Department?
Finally, on the measures that we welcome, I very much applaud the Government's decision to implement the three-strikes provision in the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 in respect of recidivist burglars. Presumably, that will lead to a revision of the Home Office forecast of the future prison population.
Can the Home Secretary say by how much he expects the prison population to expand, following the introduction of that measure, and over what period? Does he agree that no Government could implement the legislationunless there were an assurance of the resources to house and finance the increased prison population"?—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 March 1997; Vol. 579, c. 885.]Those are not my words, but the words of the noble Lord McIntosh of Haringey when the Bill was going through Parliament. How does the Home Secretary reconcile that need with the reported letter from the then Chief Secretary, which made it clear that the Treasury was not prepared to countenance a further reserve claim to accommodate the pressures on the Prison Service?
How many extra prison places will be required? What are the implications for the prison building programme— for example, does it mean that the Government will be contracting for more private sector prisons over the next few years? How much will that prison accommodation cost, and where will the Home Secretary get the money?
The Home Secretary made much in his statement, and makes even more in the strategy document published today, about the various measures that the Government have introduced. May I urge on him the need to keep those measures under constant review? Will he confirm, for example, that of the drug treatment and testing orders so far passed by the courts, more than half have been breached, and about one third have been revoked because of the seriousness of the breach? Can he say whether the number of anti-social behaviour orders has now risen above the grand total of seven? Can he confirm that there are still no child curfew orders in operation?
There have been reports recently that the Home Secretary plans, just one year on, to introduce amendments to his flagship Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Can he confirm that? Does he agree that there is a need for independent audit and scrutiny, not just of the police service, but of the Government's measures on crime and crime reduction?
We are happy with the idea that there should be greater public access to information about police performance, but the Home Secretary must understand that, after the smoke and mirrors trick over the figure of 5,000 extra police officers that he claimed at his party conference, there will be an element of suspicion that the publication of league tables amounts to an effort by a Home Secretary who knows that crime is once more rising to deflect blame for that away from himself and on to the police service. We know that the 5,000 promised additional officers have proved to be a mirage. Will the Home Secretary confirm that the vice-chairman of the Police Federation saidhe hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of recruiting 20,000 officers over the next three years",and that the chairman of the Police Federation claimed that his service was being "short changed"?
26 The Home Secretary set up a convenient Aunt Sally in the form of an economic model, which, to no one's surprise, predicts a rise in crime. I suspect that the predicted rise is likely to be even higher than the actual increase over which the Government will preside. People want a fall in crime and reduced fear of crime, not simply an increase that falls slightly below that predicted by a team of economists in the Home Office.
After a five-year fall in recorded crime, it is increasing; police numbers are down by more than 1,000 and are due to decrease further in the next 12 months; police budgets are stretched, and efficiency savings are used to plug the deficit rather than to improve front-line services. Will the Home Secretary accept that his success and that of the Government should be measured not only by targets, aspirations or good intentions, but on whether their policies lead to the fall in crime that the public want? The Government's record contains little to suggest that they are capable of achieving the success that the country needs.
§ Mr. Straw
I thank the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for his remarks about the terrible events in the church yesterday. As he said, questions will need to be asked and answered about that eventually, but I know that the House accepts that the day after the event, and while the police investigation continues, is not the right time for that.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes many of the announcements that I made. I am happy to put on record—the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) will wish to know that it is already on record in a Home Office press notice—that the genesis of the provisions for burglars who are convicted on three separate occasions is the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, which was passed under the previous Administration.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the effect of the provisions on the prison population and whether the prison projections took that into account. The effect has already been fully taken into account because, although we inherited the policy from the previous Government, I was also committed to it. I have not got the projections in my head but I am happy to send them to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that the prison population has risen by approximately 5,000 in the past two years and that we are making arrangements to deal with a further increase.
I understand those people, mainly outside the House, who sometimes suggest that we should set an arbitrary limit on the number of prison places, but I believe that we should provide as many prison places as the courts require to deal with criminals who need to be imprisoned. We shall have a chance to reduce the prison population significantly only when we can get crime down to 1970s levels.
The hon. Gentleman asked about DNA. I am pleased to tell the House that the Prime Minister gave a DNA sample today and that it did not match any samples on the DNA suspects database. The £34 million is new money, over and above that announced in the comprehensive spending review.
The hon. Gentleman asked about electronic tagging—I am glad that he now appears to support it. That may be because he has read the unanimous report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which supported its use not 27 only as a court punishment, but for the early release of appropriate prisoners. We have no plans or intention whatever to provide for electronic tagging to facilitate the early release of serious or sexual offenders. Let me make that clear, with a full stop—none whatever.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the drug treatment and testing order. Recently, we published a research study of the pilots and, from recollection, I think that the figures he gave are correct. That shows the importance of rigorous enforcement of community punishments, which has not occurred in respect of traditional punishments meted out by the courts and enforced—or not enforced, often—by the probation service. I am sorry that a third of those orders are being revoked, but they are being revoked quickly and on clear scientific evidence. If there were similar rigorous enforcement of other community punishments, such as probation or community work service orders, we would not have such levels of repeat offending on them. We are determined to make sure that the order is used by the courts—not in respect of offenders who would otherwise go to prison, but for those who would otherwise be given a community punishment—to ensure either that they get off drugs and off crime or, if they do not, that they go to prison.
The hon. Gentleman asked about child curfew orders. There have been none, as he knows, and we are consulting local authorities and the police about whether the age limit should be raised from 10 to 16. I am at a loss to understand where he is coming from on anti-social behaviour orders. They were asked for by the police and local authorities and they have been welcomed by them. Where they have been used—for example, in Lancashire and in Derbyshire—they have turned out to be an important tool in cracking down on anti-social behaviour. It is often the case that criminal justice agencies, being conservative with a small "c", take some time to get used to and to implement new and fresh measures, but I would have thought that Conservative Members would be doing themselves a favour if, instead of criticising the measure, they said that, wherever we are faced with evidence of serious anti-social behaviour, the orders should be used. That is what Labour Members are saying. Conservative Members will find themselves on the wrong side of the argument if they say that such orders should not be used.
I have two more points to make. First, the hon. Gentleman asked about an independent audit of our measures. I am happy for there to be such an audit and those matters should be kept under continuous review. One way in which that can happen is through the Home Affairs Committee continuously monitoring what we are doing and I would welcome that. He talked about what he described as the mirage of 5,000 additional officers. The money that we are putting in to secure 5,000 officers over and above the 15,000 who are predicted to be recruited in any event by the police service is wholly new money. We are also providing for that money to be ring-fenced so that it is used for that purpose, and that alone.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the previous Administration were in office, his boss, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), said that she hadalready reminded hon. Members of the commitment made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister"—28 the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major)—to provide funding for an additional 5,000 police officers over three years."—[Official Report, 29 January 1997; Vol. 289, c. 457.]The only thing was that they did not provide sufficient funding and did not ensure that the money was ring-fenced. Instead of that pledge being met by even a 1,000 or 2,000 increase in the total number of police officers, the number fell by 1,500 over those five years.
Lastly, what will be our measure of success? We want the crime reduction partnership to succeed, but on one measure I am confident beyond peradventure that we shall succeed: under our Administration, crime will not double, as it did under the Conservatives.
§ Madam Speaker
I would remind the House that that opening exchange has taken almost 30 minutes. I do not want long, rambling statements from hon. Members, but pertinent questions to the Secretary of State and brisk exchanges. I am sure that he will oblige me with brisk answers.
§ Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement.
On behalf of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks) and myself, I should like to offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families who suffered in the brutal attack at St. Andrew's church, Thornton Heath yesterday. We also pay tribute to the bravery of PC Tracey, who was involved in preventing further bloodshed and probable death. I ask that the House extends its sympathy to the community, which is in a state of shock and horror. Will my right hon. Friend take a personal interest in the investigation of that horrific event?
§ Mr. Straw
The House will wish to be associated with the remarks of my hon. Friend. I am grateful that he also places on record the concern felt by the Under-Secretary, in whose constituency this incident took place. As the House understands—although the public outside sometimes does not—my hon. Friend is a Minister and a member of the Front Bench, so is not able to take part in these exchanges. I fully associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Davies) said, and I am taking a personal interest in the investigation of that appalling crime, as is the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
I also associate myself with what has been said about the dreadful attack in Croydon yesterday.
I welcome the Home Secretary's proposals, virtually all of which, so far as I can see, build on the measures that I put in place between 1993 and 1997. Will he confirm— because I have never heard it from his lips—that recorded crime fell from just over 5.5 million in 1993 to just over 4.5 million in 1997, which was a reduction of about 17 per cent. and the biggest fall ever recorded? In view of some of the reports in this morning's newspapers that the Government intend to create a national DNA database, will he also confirm that the national DNA database—the first in the world—is in existence, having been established by the previous Government, and has been making a 29 significant contribution to crime reduction for a number of years? Finally, will he tell us whether the Prime Minister's DNA sample will be preserved?
§ Mr. Straw
I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks. I think that he has undergone a Pauline conversion to consensus politics. I say that with generosity, and I hope that he takes it in that spirit. He is right, and it is ridiculous to argue about the figures, which are a matter of historic record. He will also accept that the fall that took place between 1993 and 1997—and a fall it was—
§ Mr. Straw
Of course it was. I am happy to concede that, if Conservative Members will also concede that, in the previous 14 years, crime had risen relentlessly to the stage at which we had the worst record compared with almost any other major industrialised country.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked about the DNA database. I am sorry that I omitted to reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). I understand that the Prime Minister's DNA sample will be destroyed, because it disclosed nothing suspicious. The same regime applies to any DNA sample as applies to fingerprints.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the range of measures announced. It is not just the courts that are reluctant to make use of the powers in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I have evidence from my constituency that some police officers—although not all—and many housing officers do not know about the powers available to them to obtain anti-social behaviour orders or are not talking to each other. Will my right hon. Friend and his team constantly remind local government in particular of the availability of those powers?
All that people in my constituency want is a return of the safety and security that has been stolen from them over the years. They will judge the Government's success and that of the police—I welcome the publication of performance figures—by the way in which measures are taken in partnership to reduce crime and the fear of crime in their streets and in and around their homes.
§ Mr. Straw
I entirely understand my hon. Friend's frustration. I have written to every chief executive and every chief constable in the country, urging them to make use of the orders—orders which did not fall out of the sky, but were sought by them, and on every detail of which they were consulted. To ensure that there are no bureaucratic blocks in the use of the orders, in some areas but by no means in all—many areas now intend to use them—I have asked my noble Friend Lord Warner of Brockley, who chairs the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales, to spearhead action in the Home Office and with local authorities and the police to ensure that individual officers at local level, and individual housing officers, understand that the powers are available, and understand the value to them and, above all, to local communities of using those powers.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
I associate both my Liberal Democrat 30 colleagues and those of us who represent south London constituencies with the expressions of sympathy and thanks to those who assisted at St. Andrew's church in Thornton Heath yesterday.
All right-minded citizens are in favour of crime reduction, and a crime reduction strategy. Does the Home Secretary accept that people also believe that crime reduction is directly linked to the number of police who are there to achieve both a reduction in crime, and a reduction in the fear of crime?
This morning, the Home Secretary issued a table showing figures for the police forces in England and Wales. He divided them into the 21 with the highest crime reduction rates, and the 22 with the lowest. Will he comment on the fact that his own table shows that only eight of the 21 forces with the highest reduction rates have experienced a fall in police numbers since his party took office, and that, on average, there has been a rise in numbers in those forces? Of the 22 forces with the lowest rates, 17 have experienced a fall in numbers; the average number in each force has fallen by 55, and the total has fallen by 1,200. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a reduction in crime and the fear of crime depends on the number of police officers available to fight crime? Will he give a pledge that all those forces will have the increase to which he aspired for the country as a whole?
Let me ask one more question. The Home Office budget for crime reduction proposals is about 3 per cent. Only about 3 per cent. of crimes ever result in people being arrested or cautioned. Will the Home Secretary consider again a change in the balance, so that a much larger part of Government resources, effort and interest can be devoted to crime prevention, and we can reduce the amount of crime by preventing it from happening in the first place?
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)
He has lost the plot completely.
§ Mr. Straw
That is probably accurate.
I believe that good police forces can always make use of additional police officers. That is one of the reasons why we have established a crime fighting fund to increase the number of officers. If, however, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), rather than picking out the odd two-year period, compared the changes in crime levels in police force areas with the changes in police numbers over five years, he would see that there is the weakest correlation. I am happy to send him the regressions.
As it happens, in the Metropolitan police area the number of police officers has fallen by 2,000. To be fair, it fell by 2,000 under the last Administration. At the same time, the force has made significant inroads in dealing with the crimes that worry the public the most. It is crucial for us not just to put additional resources into the police service, but to ensure that they are used effectively, and that the forces that are at the bottom or the middle of the tables aspire to the performance of the best of those that are comparable.
As for the hon. Gentleman's point about crime prevention, I simply do not know where he gets his figures. We have put £400 million into crime prevention, more than any previous Administration have provided.
§ Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
We know from DNA and CCTV that science and technology can make 31 an important contribution to crime reduction. May I make a point about vehicle crime, which my right hon. Friend mentioned? Car advertisements all tell us that cars are pretty, that they are cool and that they are fast, but never that they are secure. Why are we not making vehicle manufacturers produce secure cars? Would that not make a huge contribution to crime reduction?
§ Mr. Straw
It is true that cars are advertised for their speed and for other attributes, but I place on record the fact that, over the past 10 years, vehicle manufacturers have gone through a step change and taken security seriously. They understand that it is an important selling point for them, as it is for insurers. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the vehicle crime reduction task force is chaired by a leading executive of the Ford Motor Company. All the big manufacturers recognise that their interest lies in getting vehicle crime down.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Crime reduction task forces and regional directors are all very well, but my constituents in outer London are looking for more policemen in the community doing their job visibly and effectively. In those circumstances, can the Home Secretary justify the inadequacy of the funding by his Department to the police service? Is it not true that, in the past five years, Hillingdon division has seen a 14 per cent. drop in manpower—no fewer than 16 uniformed officers and civilians last year and a projected 17 next year? That is wholly inadequate and needs to be rectified, as the police consultative committee has put to him.
§ Mr. Straw
One of the things that I can claim to have done is to stem the reduction in funding to the Metropolitan police. I ensured that, from 1998–99, there was funding in the budgets that I set not just as the Home Secretary, but as the police authority for London, to stem the reduction in numbers, which had been severe in the previous five years.
The exact distribution of police officers within the Metropolitan police is a matter for the Commissioner. I will pass on to him the hon. Gentleman's concerns, but, at any level of policing, some police services and police divisions are able to deliver more effective reductions in crime than others. The Prime Minister and I were in the Medway area today. As a result of very good intelligence-led policing—not the addition of officers, but greater intensity of work by officers—the area has recorded a 26 per cent. reduction in burglary and nearly a 40 per cent. reduction in motor vehicle theft. It is about resources, but it is also, critically, about how those resources are used.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is aware of the satisfaction among my constituents at the increase of £10.3 million in the Greater Manchester police budget for this year, which is equivalent to an increase of about £22 million over the past two years. That money will be well used by the excellent police force in our division. Recently, the representative of the police force, Superintendent Brinnand, attended a crowded meeting of my constituents at, ironically, in view of the dreadful events to which hon. Members have referred, Sacred Heart church in Gorton, 32 where, among other things, my constituents asked for the extension of curfew orders to 16-year-olds. We look forward to that. We also look forward to my right hon. Friend adding impetus to the invocation of such orders and anti-social behaviour orders. Having told me in correspondence that he is happy to come to my constituency, will he give us a date?
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
The Secretary of State knows that those who already live in the most unattractive parts of our towns and cities suffer disproportionately from crime. Will he make every effort that he can to ensure that the people who live in those areas can take responsibility for clearing up the mess that is a large part of making people feel that the area in which they live does not matter, so crime and disorder does not matter?
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that areas that look neglected and have high levels of incivility suffer the highest levels of direct crime, such as burglary, robbery and vehicle crime, even if they may be similar to other inner-city areas in other respects. That is why we should all be highly intolerant of anti-social behaviour. Unless graffiti and criminal damage are nipped in the bud, an area will quickly graduate to more serious crime.
§ Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham)
I welcome the strategy. My right hon. Friend has already referred to his successful visit to Medway this morning with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to learn about the success of Kent county constabulary, particularly the police force in Medway, on Operation Radium, which has targeted car crime and domestic burglary. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success was achieved through the careful use of the resources that were available to the police force, particularly through proactive intelligence and the multi-agency working approach?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes. I am glad that my hon. Friend was with the Prime Minister and me at the presentation today. He makes an important point. More police officers could have been used as bobbies on the beat, but the chief constable made a courageous and entirely correct decision that those resources would be better used on the careful targeting of the crime problems in the area. Crime has been reduced far more by that overall strategy than would have been the case if the officers had simply been on generalised patrol.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
There is an estate in Bransgore that has been tormented by under-age drinkers and miscreants for some time. On the 13th of this month, the police finally apprehended two of them lighting a fire—and they let them go! Has the 33 Secretary of State seen the survey of police morale published in national newspapers last week, showing that 50 per cent. of police officers are reluctant to make an arrest and that two thirds are looking for another job? What is there in his glossy strategy to answer that?
§ Mr. Straw
I have not seen the survey and I do not believe it. If the level of juvenile nuisance is so great that it is driving the hon. Gentleman and his constituents mad—as evidently it is—I suggest that he urges the local authority and the police to apply for an anti-social behaviour order. We have had similar problems in Blackburn. The police secured an anti-social behaviour order in respect of one offender and I understand that it has proved very effective.
§ Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that he will ask police authorities and crime reduction partnerships to set five-year targets for reductions in vehicle crime, burglary and robbery. Will he set national targets for reductions in burglary and robbery in the same way that he has set a target of a 30 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime?
§ Mr. Straw
I wholly reject that point. The right hon. Gentleman has to explain his position to his constituents. On the one hand he calls, on their behalf, for increases in spending on the police, and, I dare say, on health and education. On the other, as a member of the extreme right wing of the Conservative party—he seems to be acknowledging the fact—he supports the shadow Chancellor's criticism of our levels of spending on the police and every other public service as reckless and irresponsible. He cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)
Will my right hon. Friend's strategy do anything about people who make wild, vexatious and unfounded criminal allegations in public? For example, is he aware that the Royal Bank of Scotland has said that it is satisfied that there is no evidence of any computer hacking into its accounts? Is it not time that the Tories apologised for their ridiculous Watergate-style conspiracy theories against Labour?
§ Mr. Straw
Our strategy is designed to deal with real incidents of crime, not with ludicrous allegations. I understand that, six days later, the Conservative party has provided no details whatever to back up its wild allegations. There is an offence of wasting police time and, unless we get details, the chairman of the Conservative party might well be considered a candidate for being charged with such an offence.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) has just written to tell me that, after taking into account the 34 increased area of Surrey police's responsibilities, its budget is to be cut. Why is that the force's reward for producing among the best figures that the Home Secretary listed today?
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman knows that the distribution of police grant is based on the standard spending assessment, which is agreed by the police authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Government. However, it is not a formula over which any Home Secretary has ever sought control, and it is designed to distribute resources as fairly as possible. I well understand the concerns in Surrey, which I have sought partly to offset by the transitional grant—although I accept that that does not go the whole way. Surrey's problems illustrate that when the previous system operated before 1995–96, spending in Surrey was historically higher than in other comparable authorities. That is the root of the problem. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to see me about this matter, I shall be happy to arrange a meeting.
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's determination to deal faster with young criminals. Is he aware of the evidence of the success of the restorative justice experiments in the Thames Valley area? Does he believe that there is some conflict between using restorative justice—where young criminals accused for the first time may be asked to confront the victims of their crime—and speeding up bringing such people to justice?
§ Mr. Straw
We are certainly aware of the value of the systems of restorative justice that have been pioneered in Thames Valley by Charles Pollard, the chief constable, which are now being rolled out across the country under the provisions of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. There is no conflict between our determination to secure a halving of the time between arrest and sentence and restorative justice, as the procedures of restorative justice start at the beginning of the sentence, not the end. We have taken that into account.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
The Home Secretary has been saying for years, rightly, how important it is to nip the plague of graffiti vandalism in the bud. What exactly will his strategy do to put that into practice?
§ Mr. Straw
There are serious problems of graffiti and criminal damage in many areas which sometimes require action by the police. Usually, however, they require action by the local authorities, voluntary agencies and the police working together. I have seen a number of examples where the local authority has 24-hour anti-graffiti patrols or better lighting, where the authority is applying to the Government for closed circuit television and where the police are taking a properly oriented approach to those difficulties. Every single page of the document is designed to improve the safety and tranquillity of the hon. Gentleman's constituency, as well as the other 500 or so constituencies in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I welcome the increased money for CCTV and for DNA testing—something that the general public will understand 35 to be a good investment. Is not the best way to reduce crime to reduce unemployment, which is precisely what we are doing? Is not that why the new deal really works? In the 1980s, when unemployment was rising, crime was rising and, in the 1990s, as unemployment has fallen, crime has fallen. Was not the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), probably correct?
§ Mr. Straw
My hon. Friend is right. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has often said, the new deal is not only an economic programme but a programme to reduce crime. One of the encouraging examples that we were shown today in the Medway area was of new deal people being used to fit locks and bolts onto people's houses. Jobs were being provided, which is one way of getting down crime, and the targets were being hardened, which is another.
§ Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)
When members of the public voluntarily give DNA samples as part of a mass screening in a murder inquiry, for example, is it the Home Secretary's intention to allow those samples to be retained on a database with the member of the public's consent?
§ Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of his strategy will depend not only on the police, but on the partnerships in which they are being asked to engage? Historically, we have tried to secure efficiency through the inspectorate of constabulary; perhaps we need a body with wider powers if we are to eliminate the discrepancies in efficiency.
§ Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)
The Home Secretary rightly said that it is a priority to reduce administration and bureaucracy for the police. What estimate has he made of the additional work load imposed on senior police officers, in particular, by his own crime and disorder legislation?
§ Mr. Straw
I have not made an estimate. Senior police officers and operational officers throughout the country tell me that they regard the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as the most important single anti-crime measure to be passed by the House since the war. They wanted it and they are delivering it. I am grateful to them.
§ Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the 20 per cent. reduction in crime in Lancashire. I urge him to get local partnerships to pay especial attention to the horrendous problem of street crime, which can have the most devastating consequences for its victims and leads to the widespread fear of crime, contributing to the decline of the value of visits to town and village centres and rural centres. Does he agree that street crime is more a matter 36 for partnerships between local authorities and the police than some other crimes, which require more emphasis on evidence-led policing?
§ Mr. Straw
Street crime is terrible wherever it takes place and can cause great fear. I know that my hon. Friend is making great efforts with the local authority and the Lancashire constabulary to tackle street crime. Exactly how it is tackled is a matter for the police and the local partnerships but part of the purpose of our crime reduction investment, including in closed circuit television and police targeted hot-spotting, is designed precisely to tackle street crime.
§ Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)
Why has not the Home Secretary implemented the recommendations of a recent internal Home Office report, which clearly stated that the sparsity factor should be taken into account when policing rural areas?
§ Mr. Straw
Because we said that we would not make changes in the standard spending assessment for three years. I understand the concerns about rural policing. Incidentally, the same concerns about policing levels are felt by hon. Members in inner urban areas, as they always will be. Under the guidance for the bidding for money from the crime-fighting fund for the additional 5,000 officers, we will invite bids that take into account, among other things, the need to improve crime fighting in rural areas.
§ Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement on the drug referral scheme. I have in my constituency an excellent drug rehabilitation group, the Open Road. Will such groups be involved in the initiative and will they have adequate funding to help them to help the Government to combat the drug problem?
§ Mr. Straw
The drug action teams should be fully involved in the crime reduction partnerships, because they are an integral part of tackling drug-related crime, which probably accounts for about half of all acquisitive crime. On the issue of resources, what is crucial in drug treatment—even more so than in policing—is not only the total amount invested, but the need to ensure that the money is properly used to purchase adequate numbers of treatments. The bureaucracy that has grown up around some drug action teams must be broken down to ensure a real and direct connection between the young people—as they are typically—who need drug treatment quickly, and the delivery of that treatment. In some areas, the contracts for drug treatment have been re-let, and twice—or more— the treatments are provided for the same amount of money than before.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it will be critical to the success of his strategy—we all hope that it will be successful— that those who are guilty are convicted? Will he, therefore, agree to look again at the rule that states that a jury may not, except in exceptional circumstances, be entitled to know about the previous convictions of the person appearing before them? Was it his experience in the past as a barrister, as it was mine as a solicitor, that sometimes juries look on in stark disbelief when they have 37 acquitted someone as they realise that he is to be dealt with for offences to which he has already pleaded guilty and for which he has previous convictions? I accept that the Home Secretary cannot revisit that territory immediately, but will he agree to do so, in the context of his strategy?
§ Mr. Straw
That is one of the most difficult areas of the law of evidence. People's previous character should not be dragged gratuitously into trials as proof of their guilt of the offences with which they are charged. Previous character should be adduced only if it is probative of the offence for which they are being tried. As the hon. Gentleman will know, if a defendant challenges the character of any witness, he has to put his own character in. We have no plans to change the law in that area, and I understand that the Law Commission has considered the issue of character. It may consider it again and, if it does, we shall consider its report. The current rules exist to ensure not only that the guilty are convicted, but that the innocent—including those with previous convictions who are innocent—are not unjustly convicted.
§ Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the huge frustration in many communities, not least in my constituency, at the failure of the police and local authorities, such as Gedling borough council, to use the anti-social behaviour orders—the parenting and curfew orders—and allow young people to terrorise the elderly and people who live near parks? Will he do all he can to continue to encourage local authorities and the police to use those orders to tackle that blight on our communities?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the leadership that he is showing—as I know from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—in his constituency. It is frustrating, because those police services and local authorities that have used anti-social behaviour orders—or injunctions in respect of social housing tenants—have discovered that they can solve the 38 problem more effectively than by simply resorting to charging those involved with minor public order offences, and they can save time, and much money, in the future.
§ Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)
I, too, welcome any attempt to connect the drug misuser with responsive treatment services. However, there are long waiting lists of volunteers for treatment at the moment despite what my right hon. Friend has said. Can he assure me that adequate training programmes exist to get enough people in place by 2001 and will he also recognise that up to 50 per cent. of those presenting for treatment are also likely be suffering from mental illness? That is not widely recognised, but if we do not begin to recognise dual diagnosis, the revolving door will merely spin faster.
§ Mr. Straw
We are investing considerable additional resources in drug treatment and testing, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I are examining whether that money is well spent. Of course I understand that many of those with serious drug addiction problems—I do not know the exact number—also have problems with mental illness. We must stop such people committing crimes if we are to ensure that they are properly treated.
§ Mr. Hilary Benn (Leeds, Central)
Will my right hon. Friend remind the police and local authorities that anti-social behaviour orders can be used to deal with anti-social behaviour in privately owned or rented dwellings? After all, if such anti-social behaviour occurred in a council or housing association property, those responsible could be subject to eviction.
§ Mr. Straw
One reason why we designed the anti-social behaviour orders was because of the concern of local authorities and the police that the avenue of an eviction order was not available, in most cases, for tenants of private landlords. Anti-social behaviour orders can be used to deal with private tenants, owner-occupiers, juveniles over 10, and they do not have to be used as a last resort.