§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about increased spending for the police and the criminal justice system for 2001–04, following the statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday.
The Government's strategy for fighting crime is comprehensive and long term. The current programme for that was spelt out in a document laid before the House last November. Our strategy seeks to prevent criminal behaviour, as well as to raise the performance of the criminal justice system, better to detect, to catch and to punish those responsible for crime and disorder. The spending review will reinforce that strategy.
First, the police. The police are at the sharp end of the fight against crime and disorder, but, like others in public service, they have operated under tight financial constraints in the first years of this Government. For the first two years in office, we kept to the spending plans set for the police by the previous Administration. Following the comprehensive spending review published two years ago, I announced in December 1998 a small real-terms increase for 1999–2002 of about 2 per cent. in total. None the less, pressures on police budgets have continued, not least from the cost of pensions, which is now estimated to take 14.5 per cent. of total budgets compared with just half that—7.2 per cent.—10 years ago.
Despite those pressures, I am glad to tell the House that the police service has embraced reform over the past three years, with a commitment to a clear performance culture. Major strides have been made in cutting unnecessary bureaucracy to meet 2 per cent. efficiency targets; in reducing unacceptably high sickness and early retirement rates; in setting challenging performance targets; and in publishing detailed information about crime trends at basic command unit and crime and disorder partnership level so that the service and the public can better compare police performance in their areas.
As we know from the experience of the 1980s, without reforms of that kind, increased police funding is no guarantee of improved performance. However, increased resources properly targeted and managed can unquestionably help to secure significant improvements in the fight against crime. I am therefore pleased to announce today major investment in policing in England and Wales.
for the police, spending in cash terms will rise by more than 20 per cent. between this year and 2003–04. The settlement will see an increase of over 10 per cent. in cash for next year alone against the current provision for 2000–01, which itself has been raised by £90 million over the original 1998 comprehensive spending review plan. The allocation will therefore rise from £7.7 billion for this year to £8.5 billion next year; £9 billion in 2002–03; and £9.3 billion in the final year of the settlement.
Much of that increase will be allocated direct to police forces through the police grant and SSA for them to spend as best fits their local needs. I am, however, targeting investment on two key areas to boost front-line policing, by raising police numbers and by enhancing police equipment and new technology.
377 As the House knows, the downward trend in police officer numbers, which began in 1992–93, has regrettably continued under the present Administration. I have today answered a parliamentary question from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) showing that officer numbers in the last year have fallen by 1,678, to a total of 124,418 for the 43 forces in England and Wales. Civilian numbers in the last year have shown a small rise to 53,227.
To reverse that trend of falling police numbers from 1992–93, I announced last September that there would be new money for this financial year from the crimefighting fund to provide 5,000 additional recruits over and above forces' existing plans. The Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget in March ensured that that recruitment could be accelerated from three years to two, starting this April. Today, I am able to announce funding for a further 4,000 recruits over and above those already planned, taking the total to an additional 9,000 recruits by 2003–04.
Following changes made in the law by the previous Administration in 1994, the Home Office since then has had no direct legal control over police numbers, so predicting future numbers is very difficult, but the investment that I have announced today, alongside the investment announced earlier in this and the last financial year by the Chancellor, provides the funding to enable chief constables to raise officer numbers to record levels by the end of the settlement period. That significant boost for police recruitment will also help the service to achieve the targets that I have set the police forces to improve the recruitment and retention of more black and Asian officers.
As I have already told the House, in the Metropolitan and City police areas, which have both suffered particular recruitment problems, a £3,329 increase in the London allowance for new recruits and for those who joined after 1994 was brought into force on 1 July this year. However, if we are to get the best from our police officers, as well as funding more police officers, we must ensure that they are properly equipped with the most up-to-date technology.
A key part of that drive is to provide the police with more reliable, better-quality radio and data communications. The new public safety radio communications system—PSRCS—given the go-ahead by me in December, will give officers in rural and urban areas alike fast secure digital communications and access to local and national databases, saving them time and improving their safety. As a national system, it will also provide effective communications between individual forces.
Funding for the new system for this financial year from the capital modernisation fund was announced last September, but I accept that the service needs reassurance about the medium-term funding for that system as well. I am therefore glad to tell the House that the Government are making provision to meet the costs of the new PSRCS. That will amount to around £500 million over the three years of the settlement.
In addition to meeting the core costs of the system, which will be paid centrally by the Home Office, this funding will provide for expenditure by police forces on local service requirements, known as menu costs, and installation and equipment costs. I know that the service will accept that, as a result of this investment in the police, the public will expect improved outputs.
378 Research evidence and our own common sense tell us that increasing the likelihood of bringing criminals to justice is key to reducing offending and reoffending. However, in the 1980s and early 1990s the number of offenders convicted fell by a third, while crime doubled.
We are determined to improve detection, especially of serious and of persistent offenders. An important new target for the whole of the criminal justice system, set out in yesterday's White Paper, is therefore to increase the number and proportion of recorded crimes for which an offender is brought to justice. To help achieve this, we are making additional investment in the DNA database, in the number of scenes of crime officers, and in information technology systems, better to link up parts of the criminal justice system.
Our plans also include a substantial investment allowing the Crown Prosecution Service to integrate with its criminal justice system partners and play its full part in improving the performance of the criminal justice system as a whole. Cross-criminal justice system working will be helped by the 2.5 per cent. annual real-terms increases for the courts.
The settlement will also enable us to do more to help victims. It introduces for the first time a joint criminal justice system reserve of £100 million for 2001–02; £200 million for 2002–03; and £225 million for 2003–04. The Lord Chancellor, the Attorney-General and I will together manage this fund. The reserve will provide us with much greater flexibility and will mean that we will be able to respond effectively to new pressures on the system as they arise.
Let me come on to wider issues. A key part of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was to establish crime reduction partnerships in every district of England and Wales, to ensure that local authorities and other local agencies worked better to support the police in the fight against crime and disorder. A total of 376 partnerships are now established.
To reinforce the partnerships' work we have, since the 1998 comprehensive spending review, invested significant resources under the Government's crime reduction programme. This includes £150 million on the biggest-ever expansion in closed circuit television; £60 million on securing two million homes in 400 high crime areas to prevent domestic burglary; and £35 million on targeted policing initiatives, including the Cardiff scheme to reduce alcohol-related violence.
This targeted approach has already paid dividends, with domestic burglary across England and Wales down by 24 per cent. since April 1997 to its lowest level for a decade, and a 17 per cent. reduction in vehicle crime over the same period.
Over the coming three years, we will be investing £300 million a year on dedicated programmes to reduce crime, targeting, among other things, vehicle crime, domestic burglary, robbery, and violent crime more generally. This £300 million will also be used to tackle drug abuse and drug-related offending, and to improve the way in which we deal with young offenders.
The youth justice system in place when we took office in May 1997 scarcely deserved that name. It was a shambles, and we are significantly reforming it. We are also delivering on our pledge to halve the time that it takes to deal with persistent young offenders, from the wholly unacceptable 142 days—20 weeks—that we inherited. 379 The latest figures show that by March this year, the average time was already down more than seven weeks to 94 days.
As the House is well aware, the approach of other public services has an important influence on levels of crime and disorder. Truancy from schools, substance abuse and poor housing design all affect the environment in which crime breeds. Violent crime imposes great costs on the national health service. All relevant Departments therefore now have crime reduction targets. Extra resources are being provided to support crime reduction initiatives in the main programmes of other Government Departments, especially Health, Education and Employment, and the Environment, Transport and the Regions. However, behind much local crime and disorder is more organised crime—highly sophisticated or high-volume crime being run by a relatively small number of criminals.
In June, I announced the Government's plans to confiscate the assets of such criminals. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor's settlement yesterday provides for the funding of a dedicated national confiscation agency, and £15 million, £18 million and £21 million over the settlement period to pay for that agency.
I turn to prisons and probation. The effective punishment of offenders is a key part of our strategy to reduce crime. We have already implemented minimum sentences for drug dealers, burglars and serious sexual and violent offenders; we have brought in other tough provisions against sex offenders; and, with the Bill currently before Parliament, we are strengthening community punishments.
The settlement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor yesterday provides for an additional £240 million, £380 million and £470 million for prisons and probation. This will increase capacity, boost the "what works" programme to reduce offending, and support the modernisation of the probation service. A new building programme for the Prison Service and other arrangements will provide 2,660 additional places on top of the 1,400 new prison places that will be brought into place next year.
As the House is aware, the statistics for the latest recorded crime levels for England and Wales showed a 3.8 per cent. increase in the period March last year to March this year. I am the first to accept that more needs to be done to tackle the problems which can undermine our communities and wreck people's lives.
We have put in place a comprehensive strategy to bring sustained, long-term benefits in crime reduction, and to buck the long-term trend in crime.
Overall recorded crime is still 6 per cent. lower today than it was when we came to office. Where the police and others have targeted those crimes which affect people most, we have seen important successes. Our programme announced today lays out arrangements to build on that success.
The major investment that I have outlined will ensure that the police are better funded and better equipped than they have ever been before, and that all sections of the community and all other public services give the police proper support in the fight against crime. I commend the plans to the House.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)
I think that the reaction of most people listening to that 380 announcement will be that they have heard it all before. Last year, announcing rises in police spending, the Home Secretary said:This is a fair settlement which will ensure that the police have the resources they need to fight crime and disorder across England and Wales.Result? A 4 per cent. increase in crime.
At the Labour party conference, the right hon. Gentleman, amidst a fanfare of trumpets, announced an additional 5,000 police recruits and boasted how he had secured the funding. Result? A drop of 1,600 police over the last year.
The right hon. Gentleman has announced money to help local councils to fund the asylum system. Result? An Audit Commission report painting the picture of an asylum system that is out of control. He has announced money for more immigration officers. Result? Double the backlog. Here we are again today with major announcements. I shall press the right hon. Gentleman for the story behind the latest figures.
The increases for the police, which the right hon. Gentleman has presented rather selectively, are in cash terms. In real terms, will he confirm that they represent 3.8 per cent. over three years? Will he confirm also that that is exactly what the Conservative Government spent on average year on year between 1987 and 1996? Is he not just announcing a return to normal?
How much of the rise that the Home Secretary has announced will be taken up by pensions? He passed over that subject by acknowledging the problem, but he did not say how much of the money will be dedicated to pensions. How much of the money will he spend on salary rises? When he has taken from the money the half a billion that he has just announced for the public safety radio communications project, the extra money needed for pensions and the extra money needed for salary rises, how much will be left over the three years as extra money dedicated to fighting crime?
How much of the planned increased expenditure on asylum is earmarked for planned detention centres in Kent, Bedfordshire, Doncaster and possibly elsewhere? What level of asylum applications is the Home Secretary assuming in his figures? Is he assuming more asylum seekers, the same number of asylum seekers or fewer asylum seekers?
We are well used in this Government to the Chancellor of the Exchequer disagreeing with the Prime Minister and to the Prime Minister disagreeing with the Foreign Secretary, but let me ask the Home Secretary whether he agrees with himself when he said:The amount of money you put into the police doesn't necessarily change outputs.How right he was.
Has the Home Secretary not brought about the present position through a series of measures that have been designed to encourage the criminal rather than the crimefighter? [Interruption.] When Labour Members start bellowing, we know that they do not want to hear what is being said.
Is it not the case that the Home Secretary inherited a situation in which the number of constables on the beat was rising, and that he has let their number decline? Has he not decided and put into law a provision to let criminals, including violent criminals and criminals 381 convicted of homicides, out even before the halfway point of their sentences? Is not the message that he has sent the criminal, "There are fewer people out looking for you. But, even if you're caught, don't worry. You will never have got out so early in your lives"? Is that not the sort of message that militates against every penny that the right hon. Gentleman puts into policing? Is it not true that money is not a substitute for a common-sense approach?
As the Home Secretary announces a real increase that does not differ from the spending that took place for a vast amount of the time that we were in office, is he not embarrassed by the fact that, in his memorandum, the Prime Minister homed in on the failures of the Home Office as a reason for the public holding the Government in contempt? There has been a 26 per cent. rise in robberies, but the Home Secretary told us in his spending announcement last year that the police have enough money to fight crime effectively. There has been a 16 per cent. rise in violent crime, but he told us last year that his new recruits would make a difference. There has been a 4.5 per cent rise in sex crimes, but he lets criminals out early before the end of their sentences.
There are one or two measures in the announcement that we can welcome—if they happen. If it happens, we welcome the investment in the DNA database.
May I press the Home Secretary on his announcement of money for prisons in which he said that some of it—he was not explicit how much—would be devoted towards "what works", that is to say towards constructive prison regimes and the treatment of offenders? Will he accept that much of that money will have to make up for the huge decline that there has been in the purposeful activity that has taken place in prisons under his stewardship? It has fallen from a peak of 26 hours in our last Parliament to 22 hours now, under his stewardship. Overcrowding is rising, suicides are increasing and conditions in our prisons are such that if they had prevailed under us, the Home Secretary would never have stopped talking about them. We have not heard much talk since he came to office.
Will the Home Secretary admit that he is now taking the people's money to clear up the mess created by Labour politicians? Once again, he stands up, announces money and tells us that everything will be all right tomorrow. His promises on crime have as much credibility as Billy Bunter's postal order.
§ Mr. Straw
First, the shadow Home Secretary tries to trade statistics and compare our record on crime with that of the Conservative Administration of whom she was a member. Frankly, that is one of many unwise escapades on which she is embarked. The simple and indelible truth is that crime under the Conservatives doubled while the number of people convicted fell by a third.
if the right hon. Lady wants to consider the different Administrations under Mrs. Thatcher and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the contrast is even more acute. In the first three years of the Thatcher Administration, crime rose by 21 per cent; in the first three years of the Major Administration, it increased by 42 per cent; in the first three years of this Labour Administration, it has fallen by 6 per cent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read the memo!"] Hon. Members say that I should read the memo; what I should like to see are the memos that pass between the shadow Home Secretary and 382 the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the shadow Chancellor, who has now fled the Chamber.
What the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was forced to say today is completely the reverse of what she said only six weeks ago, when, in answer to a question from Mr. John Humphrys on "On the Record", she said that Conservatives were promising more money on health and education and,we are promising more money on law and order.What is she promising now?
§ Mr. Straw
If the right hon. Lady wants me to finish the quote, I shall. She said:we are promising more money on law and order, but our promises on health and on education and the other things are to honour existing promises on spending, so it's not that much extra.Is she promising more or not? Earlier in the same interview, the right hon. Lady simply said:We will spend more money on law and order.She then moved on to the next question. Today, she says that money is no substitute for a common-sense approach. Is she now saying that thin air, waffle and what she describes as Conservative common sense are expected to pay for the 9,000 additional officers, the £500 million on the police radio and everything else that we are investing in a 21 per cent. increase in spending on the police in the next three years?
§ Mr. Straw
We have always made it absolutely clear that the money that I announced last September would be available to spend this financial year. We expected police numbers to fall in the previous year. That is why we have provided additional funds, and not only allocated but increased the money for the next three years.
The right hon. Lady said that she welcomed some of our spending. She mentioned only two items: the spending on the DNA database and some of the spending on prisons.
We did not hear whether she welcomed the significant 20 per cent. cash increase in spending on the police and whether she and her right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor intend to match that spending in the very unlikely event of their gaining office. Will they match that spending?
The simple truth—as we learned yesterday from the shadow Chancellor—is that given the Conservatives' commitment to cut £16 billion from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's promises and given that the shadow Home Secretary has already pledged to increase spending on asylum by £3 billion on detention places and £500 million on the restoration of cash benefits for asylum seekers, there is no way in the world that she could match that spending.
I hope that this will be the last we shall ever hear of the right hon. Lady, or any Opposition Member, complaining about a reduction in police numbers and a lack of investment in the police. What the British public know now—and will remember at the next election—is the appalling record of the Conservatives on crime and 383 disorder. During their time in office, crime doubled, while the numbers convicted fell by a third. Our programmes, announced today, will significantly increase spending so as to secure long-term reductions in crime and disorder.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
May I welcome the resources announced by my right hon. Friend and his emphasis on the need to target those resources on the real problems? He referred to the Cardiff scheme, which has brought about a cut in violent crime. Does he recognise that that initiative started with a surgeon in an accident and emergency unit and that the key to it was the enthusiasm with which the police, local authorities, people involved in victim support and nurses and doctors worked together to target the problems of violent crime in the area? Will my right hon. Friend encourage others to follow that example? Does he recognise that almost all the increased crime revealed by the figures yesterday is accounted for by three police areas—West Midlands, Thames Valley and the Metropolitan police? Will he work with the heads of those forces to see that the crimes that are responsible for those increases are targeted, particularly in view of the fine record of the current Commissioner of the Metropolitan police on crime reduction?
§ Mr. Straw
I greatly commend the initiative in Cardiff under the leadership of Professor John Shephard. I am happy to say that, under the crime reduction programme that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) introduced, we are helping to fund that important new initiative to get violent crime in the Cardiff area down. It is an important example to the rest of the country.
My right hon. Friend referred to the significant variations in performance of otherwise similar police force areas. He is right to say that the increase in crime in the Metropolitan police area, Thames Valley, West Midlands and one other area is more than equivalent to the total increase in recorded crimes during 1999–2000. If one looks at the overall figures, it is striking to notice that, in some of the 18 police force areas—including the police force area of Kent, represented by the shadow Home Secretary—there have been small reductions in crime in the last few years. In Kent, there has been a 24 per cent. reduction in crime, despite that force having a similar level of resources to others.
I recognise the importance of increasing spending, provided it is spent properly. However, I wish to underline to the House the great importance of ensuring that every police district achieves the best and follows the example of the best. I draw the attention of the House to the comparisons that we included at the back of the crime statistics, which assemble the police districts into what are called statistical families so that each hon. Member, and members of the public, can compare police districts. The striking differences between police performance, given similar resources, makes interesting reading.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
Of course the additional resources will be welcomed by the Liberal Democrats, as they will be by people outside the House. Given the Home Secretary has 384 said that we have lost 1, 700 police officers over the past year, and 2, 700 since the election, and given that that is 400 below his estimate of the current numbers that we should have had, can he give us the missing figures between now and 2004, when he expects numbers to be at a record level? What are the Government's estimates for the numbers in March 2001, 2002 and 2003?
Secondly, why will the real-terms increase in the police budget over three years be 3.8 per cent., while the average increase in the Home Office budget as a whole is 6.4 per cent? Why will the police receive less than the rest of the Home Office, in relative terms?
Thirdly, let me return to a question that has already been asked. If we take out the cost of the pensions budget and other administration and salary costs, what is the net increase in provision for front-line policing? That is the phrase that the Home Secretary used, and he said that it was a priority.
Fourthly, let me ask a question about prisons. If we take out the additional cost of places and the security required to keep people in them, what additional money will be spent on constructive work programmes or on helping to prevent reoffending by prisoners, either when they are inside or when they have been released?
Fifthly—if the right hon. Gentleman cannot give a full list now, perhaps he will do so later—what changes have been made in targets? The target that he mentioned—toincrease the number and proportion of recorded crimesfor which offenders are brought to justice—is laudable, but no figure has been set. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the current figure is only 3 per cent., which is extraordinarily low.
Finally, let me ask about victims, whom the right hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned. He has allocated a sum to the Lord Chancellor. Can he tell us how that money will be spent, and whether it will include more resources for legal aid? Would it be reasonable to conclude that from now on the right hon. Gentleman and his Department will spend less time on soundbites and suggestive gimmicks in dealing with the Government's requirement to be tough on crime, and more time dealing with the underlying causes of crime and developing the long-term strategies which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, are what the country really needs?
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. Lady is twittering that she asked the same questions, but she did not. The one thing she did do was avoid saying whether the Conservatives would match our spending.
There is no point in the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) shaking his head. The key question between now and 10 pm on election day is "Will the Tories match our spending on the police—and, if so, what other spending will be cut?" [Interruption.]
Let me return to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and answer his questions while I have the necessary information to hand. He asked 385 me about accredited educational and vocational qualifications. The plan is to provide for 23,400 in 2001–02, rising to 36,200 in 2003–04. That will include an increase in the number of level 2 basic skills awards from 18,000 to 21,000.
The hon. Gentleman asked what the additional funds were likely to provide for victims. They will allow the victim support magistrates courts witness service to be completed in all 430 magistrates courts, and an improvement in specialised support services for both victims and, for example, vulnerable or intimidated witnesses. They will also enable work to take place with victims participating in restorative justice measures, and will provide for recording of pre-trial cross-examination of child witnesses on video and the use of intermediaries to assist children to give evidence in court.
That last point is very important if we are to secure more convictions of sex offenders and paedophiles. One of our main difficulties at present is that of providing a safe and secure environment in which children can give evidence, and ensuring that it is proper evidence for the use of the court.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of other questions. He asked about police targets, and wanted to know what my announcement today about the number of police in March 2000—it is about 400 below the original projection, which was published late last year—meant for the other projections under the crimefighting fund. It means, broadly, that there will be 400 fewer officers at each point in time. I shall provide additional information on that as soon as we have it.
We have reasonably reliable information for this financial year and for next financial year. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand that, for future years, we are dealing very much with projections, particularly because the police service does not know funding levels for 2003–04. Soon, we shall be consulting with the police service on the method of allocating the crimefighting fund recruits for that year. I shall ensure that the House is made aware of how that money is made available.
The highest previous recorded level of police officers—which was reached, I think, in 1993—was about 128,200. As I explained, we anticipate that, in 2003–04, as a result of the announced substantial additional funding, police officer numbers will increase above that level to the highest ever levels.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey talked about the real-terms increase in funding—which, as was made clear yesterday, represents an average annual increase of about 3.8 per cent. over the next three years. That is supplemented by the significant increases in the crime reduction programme—which is not directly part of the police budget—and by money that we are allocating to deal with drugs, which is also very important. The 3.8 per cent. increase also has to be seen against a baseline that we have already increased by £19 million, or more than 1 per cent, in the current financial year.
The hon. Gentleman asked about pensions. As for his general point, I am satisfied that the increases of 20 per cent. in cash, with a very substantial boost of 10 per cent. for next year alone, are sufficient to take account of what I call prior charges on police budgets—typically, pensions, pay rises and the police radio system. Those 386 increases will also pay for additional police numbers. The great restraint on those numbers is simply the capacity of the training estate.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
May I tell my right hon. Friend that people in communities in my constituency are deeply unimpressed by slanging matches on crime between those on the respective Front Benches? They are much more confident about what the Government have done in the Kingstanding area of my constituency, for example, to reduce domestic burglary by about one quarter in the past three years—although none of us takes any satisfaction from the contribution to the overall increase in crime made by villains in the west midlands.
Given that the Home Secretary said that crime rates have fallen in 18 of 43 police areas, what work is being done by either the Home Office or the police service itself to learn lessons from those areas and to identify best practice that can be applied elsewhere? Although it is a little early, can he also say what conclusions he draws from the first year of operation of the community safety partnerships and the good work that they are doing in their areas to respond to community demands on how local police should behave?
§ Mr. Straw
As to how we use best practice of one force area to raise performance in other areas, huge work is being done—partly in the context of best value, and partly, in the wider context, led by the inspectorate of constabulary—to draw forces' attention to best practice and to get them to apply it.
We shall shortly be publishing the very important report of the inspectorate of constabulary on the performance of basic command units. That report shows that similar basic command units, in similar areas and with similar resources, perform very differently. It is at that level—just as it is at the school or hospital level, where the health and education services are improving performance—that real improvements can be made.
The community safety partnerships, which have been operating for just over one year now, are working well. In those areas where they are working particularly well, district councils, police and other agencies, including the health and education services, are making a major contribution to the reduction in levels of crime and disorder. That is shown, for example, in the increasing use of anti-social behaviour orders. Major reforms in the youth justice system are also helping to drive down offending and re-offending by young offenders.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that in the last four years of the previous Government crime fell by nearly 20 per cent. and the number of police constables increased in every single year? Two months ago, the chairman of the Police Federation told the Home Secretary,I have never known greater uncertainty, greater dissatisfaction and a greater sense of despair than exists here and now.Does the Home Secretary absolve himself from responsibility for that sense of despair?
§ Mr. Straw
Oh yes, they did, especially around the time that he implemented the ill-advised Sheehy report, which has been the main cause of the recruitment and retention crisis, especially in the metropolitan areas, and which it has taken me to readjust. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to trade police numbers, the simple truth is that when he came into office as Home Secretary in spring 1993 police numbers stood at 128,300. By the time he left office, under the budget that he established—which, he should remember, he promised would lead to an increase of 5,000 extra officers—the number of officers had fallen by 1,400. The current settlement represents the best increase in the funding of the police service to achieve record numbers of police officers that this country has ever seen.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
When my right hon. Friend comes to my constituency to discuss law and order, as he has kindly promised to do, will he explain to my constituents why the Liberal Democrats ask him to be tough on the causes of crime but voted against the financing of the new deal, which has reduced youth unemployment in my constituency by 61 per cent.? While my constituents welcome the projected increase in police numbers in Greater Manchester, and also the reduction in burglary in the C division by 34 per cent., will my right hon. Friend accept that they are still deeply worried by disruptive behaviour and would like to see the greater invocation of anti-social behaviour orders and curfews and an increase in the age of curfew applications to teenagers? Will my right hon. Friend consider how he can augment the triggering of those welcome actions that were included in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998?
§ Mr. Straw
When I come to my right hon. Friend's constituency on Saturday, I will discuss with him and, as importantly, his constituents what has been done in the area to bring burglary down and what still needs to be done to get on top of the long-term trend in crime. He is right to tease the Liberal Democrats who, as always, want things both ways. They want us to be tough on the causes of crime, but they do not want to be tough in the methods by which we bear down on those causes. I remember my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that the welfare-to-work programme was as much an anti-crime programme as it was an economic policy. Putting 1 million people back into work and bearing down on the scourge of long-term unemployment, especially among the young, is profoundly important in securing a decent civic society and binding people into a common set of values. It is without that common set of values, including a sense of responsibility, that an environment develops in which crime breeds.
I can tell my right hon. Friend that we want to see local districts and the police service making better use of the powers that we gave to local authorities and the police, as they requested—although we did not direct them to use the powers—where they feel appropriate. There is not the least doubt that in those areas where the authorities are 388 using those powers, especially anti-social behaviour orders, big differences have been recorded in levels of crime and disorder. I hope that a good debate will develop in Greater Manchester that compares levels of performance in the local districts with comparable districts elsewhere, so that where burglary, vehicle and other crime rates appear to be significantly higher, the police and local authority can discuss and determine what actions they will take to reduce those levels.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. May I appeal to hon. Members to up the tempo? Short questions and short answers enable me to call more hon. Members than would otherwise be the case.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
Is the Home Secretary aware that on 1 May 1997 the Lincolnshire police force had 1,221 officers, and only 1,145 on 1 May this year? That reduction, of 76 officers or just over 6 per cent., is the second largest in England and Wales. When can the Lincolnshire force reasonably expect to have the same number of officers that it had when the right hon. Gentleman came to office? Will the Home Secretary guarantee that the next settlement will incorporate the sparsity factor recommended by his own external consultants?
§ Mr. Straw
On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's final point, we are announcing tomorrow the allocation of the £15 million for rural police force areas that is additional to the current standard spending assessment. That will help rural areas. Longer-term reform of the SSA will be announced in due course, but the Government fully accept that rural areas have special needs. We have taken them into account in the settlement.
The figures in the crimefighting fund provide for increases for Lincolnshire this year, next year and the year after. However, between 1998–99 and 1999–2000, the Lincolnshire force has enjoyed budget increases that are among the largest—of 4.5 per cent., compared with an average across the country of 3.1 per cent. Ultimately, the allocation of cash to officers, equipment and other expenditure is, by law, a matter for the chief constable and not the Home Office.
§ Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)
I also welcome my right hon. Friend announcements, but the biggest complaint at my surgeries in the villages around my constituency has to do with youngsters' disorderly and unruly behaviour. At a recent meeting, the divisional commander for my area put that problem down to a lack of policemen and to the huge amount of paperwork needed to bring those responsible to court. He was very complimentary about the fast-track system that the Government have introduced for young criminals, and said that youths were now being brought to court very quickly. However, he said that the big problem was that there was nowhere to send the ones who were found guilty, with the result that they were soon back on the streets.
Do my right hon. Friend's announcements today mean that the problems that I have described will be solved, in my constituency and elsewhere?
§ Mr. Straw
I must advise my hon. Friend not to take at face value suggestions by the officers of any public 389 authority that the only reason for their failure to perform at a certain level is the lack of resources. He ought to compare the relative performance of his police district with that of other, similar, forces. The detailed statistics show that otherwise similar areas perform very differently. I do not think that Durham's police problems are worse than those in my own constituency of Blackburn. However, excellent policing in my constituency—where resources are lower than in most areas—and good partnership work with the Blackburn and Darwen district council has meant that virtually every category of crime has fallen. The force in my area makes full use of the powers available.
On youth justice, the Government are now giving the Youth Justice Board an annual budget of £230 million, including £190 million for the juvenile secure estate. The previous Administration did not properly organise the juvenile secure estate and did not implement powers to allow magistrates to remand into secure custody the so-called bail bandits—people who are arrested one day, charged the next, taken into court the next and then let out on bail. This Government have given the courts clear powers to remand young criminals directly into secure custody. Since June, the Youth Justice Board has had the power, duty and money to ensure that those places are available—in Durham as elsewhere.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)
The Home Secretary has made much-vaunted claims about increased expenditure leading to improved performance, but he has completely failed to deliver. We have fewer police and rising crime, and less purposeful activity among prisoners. Why should we believe that the latest increase will make any difference?
Will the right hon. Gentleman share with the House further thoughts on recruitment? He claims that he will have the funds for 9,000 extra recruits; we presume that that has been cleared with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, unlike the announcement last September. Why should we believe his claims about extra recruits when the numbers for Hendon are plummeting, and there is a real problem with retention in my county of Hampshire because the allowance provided for London officers is not provided for Hampshire officers, and Hampshire officers cannot afford to make their contributions to their pensions?
§ Mr. Straw
I understand the funding problems that the police have faced and I made it clear in the settlement that I laid before the House in December 1998 that the spending increase for the three years from 1999–2000 was, at 2 per cent., small—that was the word I used. However, the last people in the world able to complain about police funding are Conservative Members of Parliament. It is no good the hon. Gentleman waving his hands. The straightforward truth is that his right hon. Friends promised to increase the number of police—constables and every other rank—when they were in government. On 27 January 1997, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald promised 5,000 extra officers over three years. However, no money was provided to meet that target. The difference between us and the Conservatives who preceded us is that we have spent more than they pledged to do. The hon. Gentleman faces the problem faced by every Conservative Member of Parliament: how, on the one hand, to call for more spending than I propose and infinitely more than the right 390 hon. Lady recommends and how, on the other, to support the shadow Chancellor, who does not want spending to be increased in any of those areas, but instead wants to cut it by £16 billion.
§ Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of my interest in rural policing and that, as well as general issues, the case of my constituent, Tony Martin, raised specific issues relating to the difficulty of policing in the fenland, where three police authorities have to co-ordinate their activities. I raised that matter in an Adjournment debate some months ago, when the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), assured me, as he has done every week since, that active consideration is being given to the Norfolk police bid for extra help to address that specific problem. The community safety partnership meets tomorrow; can I give them any good news after the Chancellor's announcement of extra finance for the police?
§ Mr. Straw
My hon. Friend can take his community two pieces of good news. First, my announcement today will have a direct impact on the Norfolk constabulary by ensuring that it can put in place a good police radio system, that it is better able to detect and prevent serious crime, and that officers numbers increase. In addition, I am pleased to tell him that, today, we have agreed to allocate £600,000 to a targeted policing bid jointly submitted by the Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk constabularies. That programme, which is not part of the spending review, focuses on problems of crime in rural fenlands and is an excellent example of collaborative work between the three police forces in the area. I hope that my hon. Friend finds that news welcome.
§ Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham)
Would not the money that the Home Secretary has earmarked for new prison places be better spent on providing suitable accommodation for the large number of mentally disordered offenders who are currently in prison but ought not to be held there?
§ Mr. Straw
I accept that there are people in prison who ought to be in the mental health system. We transfer a significant number of such people every year into the hospital system and I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that prisoners who are inappropriately held in prison are transferred to where they should be. However, if we are to bear down on criminal activity—not only by serious criminals, but by persistent criminals for whom probation and other community punishments plainly have not worked to prevent their reoffending—there has to be an increase in the number of prison places. That is why we have put in place funding for the 2,600 places that I have announced today, in addition to the 1,400 places that are currently being built and will be open next year.
§ Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)
Is my right hon. Friend aware of partnership initiatives in Croydon, and will he consider the initiative to use domestic camcorders, issued by the council or the police, so that members of the public may survey areas that have 391 habitual graffiti problems? That would allow citizens to gather evidence and deter criminals and help to bring them to justice.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I welcome in general today's announcement, particularly the reiteration of the need to take account of the sparsity factor affecting rural police forces in Wales. Does the prison programme that the Home Secretary mentioned include the proposed new prison for north Wales, and will that prison be built under the private finance initiative?
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I have a short question. Now that my right hon. Friend has the money to do it, may we have a project to evaluate the benefits that would arise from the introduction of national identity cards?