I beg to move,
That this House
notes the rising tide of firearms offences that has led to one gun crime being committed every hour;
is appalled by the recent spate of gun-related incidents across the country;
believes that after seven years the Government has failed to deal with the scourge of guns in towns and cities;
further notes the link between gun crime and drugs;
deplores the rise in violent crime;
resolves that 40,000 more police are needed on the streets to reverse this trend;
and believes that local communities should be given greater freedom to direct the efforts of their police force if streets are to be made safer.
When he was appointed, the Home Secretary said:
"I enter this job with key priorities in mind: tackling crime, particularly violent crime, and fighting those trafficking in drugs, people or guns."
Since 1997, gun crime has doubled. It now stands at 10,000 a year—one every hour of every day. Attempted murder with firearms has doubled to more than 1,200 a year—more than three attempted murders every day. Serious wounding with firearms has more than doubled to more than 400 a year—440 was the last estimate—and those last two categories have increased significantly in each of the past six or seven years. All that should be set against a backdrop of burgeoning drug addiction and drug trafficking.
The motion is principally on gun crime, but as we shall see, hard drugs are often the main cause of gun crime. The Prime Minister, when he was shadow Home Secretary, coined the phrase "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". I am afraid that what we see with gun crime is a Government who are neither. In the past few weeks, we have heard a great deal about gun crime in Nottingham. Gun crime is a major problem in a number of cities—most obviously, Manchester, Birmingham and London—and a possible problem in many others.
The reason we have called for this debate today is not that gun crime affects every corner of Britain—so far, it does not—but that in some parts of our nation it has spiralled out of control. In my view, the problem can be checked by a series of measures, and in today's debate I propose to put a series of questions to the Home Secretary to determine whether he intends to take those measures. If he implements them, we will give him our full support. First, however, we need to understand the causes, to stop such outbreaks before they become an epidemic that afflicts the whole country, and they might do so because the conditions that create such gun cultures exist in many parts of Britain. If we focus on one city, Nottingham, and on why this attractive, historic, medium-sized city in the heart of England has suddenly faced this assault on the lives of its citizens, we will understand the dangers that many British cities face.
A few months ago, the chief constable of Nottingham said:
"Since January 2003, 51 people have been shot, another 164 have been robbed at gunpoint and 300 have been threatened with a firearm."
In the last weeks, the nation has been horrified by the senseless and apparently random killing of a child. I am sure that the whole House, especially those who were not here earlier, will join me in reiterating the sympathy and condolences that the Home Secretary offered to the parents, relatives and friends of Danielle Beccan. The murder of 14-year-old Danielle is one of a long line of gun crimes in a city where police dealt with more than one shooting a week last year.
Some of the other killings that have given Nottingham a reputation as England's gun city include that of Brendan Lawrence, a 16-year-old killed in February 2002 as he stepped out of a car close to his home in St. Ann's, and that of Marvyn Bradshaw who was shot dead outside a pub in August 2003. The parents of the man convicted of Mr. Bradshaw's murder were thereafter shot dead. In September 2003, Marian Bates was shot dead at her jewellery shop; two months later, Omar Watson was shot in a barber's shop; and, in May this year, Donzal Munn was shot dead as he sat in his car. Finally, little Danielle Beccan was murdered. We should remember that many of these victims were innocents, caught in the crossfire. It is not just gangsters who are murdered. In the words of one police intelligence briefing:
"In Nottingham, as in other drug-ridden cities, if you live by the sword, it may not only be you but your family, friends or neighbours that die by it."
These horrific murders are not the whole story. For every actual murder with a gun, there are 15 more attempted murders. Nationally, there are between 1,200 and 1,300 a year, double the figure in 1997.
In Nottingham this year, there was the case of Derek Senior who was viciously attacked along with his girlfriend. He gave evidence against the attackers, leading to their conviction. The very next day he was shot three times on his own doorstep. What we are seeing in Nottingham is a culture of enforcement and revenge killings—a culture of vendetta and reprisal; a culture of corruption and intimidation of witnesses; a culture of both contract killing and casual murder; a culture in which the law is failing. That, in turn, has led to a street culture that leads young men to grow up believing that they buy respect by carrying weapons. That creates an environment in which they wear body armour and carry guns—real or replica—in a sort of macho fashion statement. Today, it is estimated that, around the country, there are 20,000 youngsters in gangs dealing in guns and drugs. In Nottingham, a youth of 13 has been found with loaded weapons and another police authority, Manchester, has had to use antisocial behaviour orders to prevent young men from wearing body armour precisely because that leads to violence.
What creates the conditions for this casual viciousness and the cavalier use of lethal firearms in a manner reminiscent of Chicago in the 1930s rather than an historic English town? The biggest single cause of the explosion in gun crime is the growth of the hard drugs trade. With that trade come drug gangs, drug barons, drug territories and drug wars. Britain now has for the first time more than 1 million class A drug users. In Nottingham, it is estimated that there are 6,000 crack cocaine and heroin addicts. Hard drugs are all too easily available, as is shown by the falling price of drugs on the street. In Nottingham, the prices for class A drugs are said to be some of the cheapest in the country. One can buy crack cocaine for as little as £10 rather than the national average price of £22. The average cost of heroin on the streets of Britain has fallen dramatically—from £80 in 1997 to under £40 today.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that drug prices in Nottingham are not a product of anything that its local authority or communities are doing, but that they are entirely due to the supply of drugs to the country as a whole? Although Nottingham has been targeted today, any other city in the country could just as easily be targeted in precisely the same way tomorrow. We must address the question of how drugs get on to the streets in the first place.
I apologise to Mr. Heppell. Of course the prices in Nottingham have nothing to do with its local authority or any of its local politicians. As Alan Simpson says, they are due to a combination of access to Britain and what criminals do with the drugs when they get here.
The price of drugs throughout the country is falling because the Government are failing to disrupt supply both at home and abroad. At home, we have what the Metropolitan Police Commissioner rightly calls our "porous borders". It is too easy to smuggle anything into this country, be that people, guns or drugs. Our border controls have been allowed to become too weak.
The failure abroad has been just as dramatic. The G8 countries nominated the British Government to control and eradicate the drug trade in Afghanistan. The Government accepted the task, but an American anti-narcotic official described the effect of that to me. He said:
"Last year Afghan heroin flooded the British market. This year, if it is not under control by the October crop, it will flood the world market."
Regrettably, the Government have yet again failed miserably this year to act effectively against the Afghan drug producers.
I have a great deal of sympathy with that idea. The hon. Gentleman will hear that my speech and questions to the Home Secretary resonate with that suggestion.
I want to pursue the question of Afghanistan because it is important and we face a major challenge. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with many people in the United States who want to undertake a policy of mass bombing to eradicate the poppy fields as a solution to the problem? We are engaged in a struggle to find a sensible way of providing an alternative viable crop.
The Home Secretary is right that the task is not easy, but the Government accepted it and took it on. If they could not do the task, they should not have accepted it. The situation has a material effect on our country and every other country in the world. As the American said, Afghan heroin will flood not only the British market, but the world market.
My right hon. Friend made a point about the Government's failure to deal with our country's porous borders. Does he agree that one of the main worries about the link between the drugs trade and violent gun crime is the number of Albanians who were involved in serious crime in their homeland and have been able to take over both the vice and drugs trade in our major cities? Does he accept that the heads of the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service are worried that such people have been able to enter the country by claiming to come from other eastern European countries? Is not the fact that they found that so easy yet another indictment of the Government?
To be fair to the Home Secretary, he has identified the fact that the issues are linked, but my hon. Friend is right that senior police are worried about the problem.
It is not impossible to defeat the scourge of drugs. The Americans have cut addiction among teenagers by 11 per cent. in two years. I am told that that was achieved through a strategy of attacking both supply and demand at the same time. The Home Secretary's policy on controlling demand for drugs was so confused that it led to the resignation of his drugs tsar. The Government's failure to eradicate the supply of drugs and to close porous borders means that there is more availability, lower prices and more demand, and thus more addicts, more drug gangs and more guns, which means that there will probably eventually be more deaths.
Sadly, if a town or city has a drug problem, it is likely to have a gang problem and eventually a gun problem. The Home Secretary said in an interview last year:
"We will not tolerate an escalation of the number of guns on our streets."
Unfortunately, it is not too hard to get a gun. On the streets of Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester and London, it is too easy: £100 or £200 for a pistol, and £1,000 for a sub-machine-gun. Where do they come from? There are essentially three sources for weapons: conversions, smuggled weapons and internet purchases. The first of these is conversions of replica weapons and air guns that enable them to shoot real bullets. Certain air guns, self-contained gas cartridge guns and the so-called Brococks are particularly easy to convert to fire real bullets.
To be fair, the Government recognised that some time ago. Unfortunately, they then made a complete hash of the policy. They properly acted to make it illegal to own, buy or sell such convertible firearms without a firearms certificate. However, at the time, the chairman of the Home Office's Firearms Consultative Committee told the Home Secretary:
"Compensation should be paid. Otherwise we are concerned that these proposals will have less effect than they might on persuading those owners to give up these arms".
I agree with him, but the Government refused, and because of that false economy, there are probably 50,000 convertible firearms at large. If only a tiny percentage are converted and get into criminal hands, the consequences will be disastrous. Action is necessary to stop that happening.
When my right hon. Friend correctly identified the three sources of illegal firearms, he put his finger on the problem for legitimate gun owners, whom he rightly did not include in that group. The Government's treatment of Brocock owners has created a pool of people who did not break the law when they purchased a gun but now find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Does he deplore that as well?
I understand my hon. Friend's point, but I would not encourage those people to do anything other than hand in their guns. It is important that they do that. Sadly, at the moment, many have not, and that is what we need to deal with.
Nine out of 10 real weapons used in crimes in the UK are smuggled in from abroad. The end of the Balkan wars is thought to have led to a massive rise in the sale of illegal weapons. The Home Secretary himself said that the Balkans were
"the gateway to Europe for organised criminals" and that
"Criminal gangs are behind a multi-million pound business smuggling people, drugs and guns"— the point made earlier by my hon. Friend Mr. Hawkins. Yet firearms continue to be smuggled into the UK. Again, our porous borders are to blame.
There is also the problem of postal and internet supply of weapons, either real or convertible. The Intelligence and Security Committee raised serious concerns about the number of weapons coming into the country via post from overseas suppliers, the weakness of the screening and the criminal and terrorist dangers. It first raised those concerns two years ago, and in the last debate on this matter, one of its members complained that nothing had been done. Indeed, I believe that he accused the Home Office of being "complacent". The screening of materials entering Britain via postal and courier services is erratic at best and useless at worst. As a result, it is too easy to bring real or convertible weapons into this country. It is long past time that the Home Office took a proper grip on the availability of illegal weapons in this country.
The increase in drugs, gangs and violent crime has left many police forces overwhelmed. The only way to curb the increase in crime is to provide more policemen. In recent years in Nottingham, violent crime has increased by 37 per cent., but since 1997 the city has been given only 7 per cent. more police—who have largely been paid for by the council tax. For some time, the chief constable in Nottingham has been asking for 1,000 extra police officers, but the Home Office has ignored him. It is by no means the only force in that situation. For example, Manchester, which faces similar problems, needs 3,000 extra police, according to its chief constable.
This weekend, we discovered that not only has Nottingham been denied extra local police, but that attempts by the National Crime Squad to help it break its gang problem have been stopped, apparently because of a lack of funds or targeting, against the advice of officers on the ground. Action that could have either prevented recent and future attacks or, at the very least, caught their perpetrators has thus been thwarted.
The Home Secretary must now recognise that a number of our cities are in danger of being overwhelmed by guns and drugs and that the police are finding it difficult to cope. I cite the example of Nottingham not because what has happened there happens everywhere; it does not. I cite it because in a society in which drugs and guns are freely available, it could happen anywhere. We are witnessing a formula for disaster: drug use is getting out of control, drug barons are steadily increasing in strength, and all too often the outcome is violence and gun crime.
Not at this point in my speech.
For some victims, it is too late. Now, the Government must act to stop the outbreaks of violence turning into an epidemic.
I have six questions to ask the Home Secretary. First, will he act to increase the physical security of our borders to stop the import of both drugs and guns? Secondly, when will the British Government curb the exploding supply of heroin from Afghanistan? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman now agree to pay compensation to those who dispose of convertible weapons, or find some other way of taking the 50,000 convertible guns out of circulation? Fourthly, will he tell the House whether he intends to introduce measures to stop the postal and internet supply of guns? Fifthly, after the recent spate of dreadful gun crimes, will he listen to the chief constables and give at least the hardest-pressed forces the police that they need? Finally, will he ensure that the National Crime Squad is properly resourced and targeted to attack the drug gangs wherever they are in the country and break their insidious assault on our cities?
Parts of our cities are spiralling out of control. Whole communities live in fear of whatever the next day may bring. It is time—and more than time—for the Home Secretary to act. If he does, we shall support him. If he does not, it will be more than the Conservatives who condemn him: it will be the entire British people.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"welcomes the record falls in crime achieved by this Government since 1997, recognising that the chances of becoming a victim of crime are now at their lowest level since records began and that gun crime fatalities are falling;
recognises that these achievements are the result of record numbers of police officers on the streets, reinforced for the first time by Community Support Officers;
welcomes the Government's achievements in reducing anti-social behaviour which has blighted the lives of too many of the most vulnerable people;
and supports the Government's continuing programme of action to tackle crime, including the recruitment of 25,000 Community Support Officers and wardens, the provision of extra prison capacity and tougher penalties for those who break the law."
I am disappointed. I came here this afternoon expecting a real battle. I expected to be savaged with real facts and figures, unknown to us, that would once again reveal a truly incisive Tory party policy that gives us real answers for the future. Instead, I have heard made-up statistics, such as 1 million people being on class A drugs. One in 50 people in this country—one in 40 adults—are not on class A drugs.
The actual number of problematic regular class A drug users is 280,000. That is why we have a policy to double the number of people in treatment over the next two and a half years, and why the number of people in treatment increased by 125 per cent. between April and September this year. The money is now flowing through and the treatment places are being created. The drugs intervention programme in the most affected areas, including Nottingham, is putting targeted money—millions of pounds—into localities throughout the country. In Nottingham's case, it has been doing so since last April. That programme, linked with additional policing, with the intelligence model of policing and of course with the development of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and proper interventions by the existing National Crime Squad and National Criminal Intelligence Service, is essential.
We do not dispute what David Davis said about the growing problem of gun crime linked to organised criminality linked to the drugs industry. That is self-evident, which is why we have and are continuing to put so much resource into drugs, why we have decided to pull together and expand the agencies that deal with serious organised crime, and why the Labour Government set up the NCIS, developed the NCS and began to get a grip on an international problem. As I was discussing with Interior Ministers in Italy this morning, in the case of crack, we have to deal with trafficking from south America. We have to work together with the other countries that are desperately affected to break that trade. In the case of the heroin that reaches our streets, we have to deal with Afghanistan and the trade through Turkey. There is no dispute about that. How to tackle the problem, however, is the $2 billion question. Bombing the poppy fields of Afghanistan is not the answer, as it would allow the Taliban to recruit people in those marginalised areas and offer individuals whose livelihood had been destroyed an alternative living. A more sophisticated approach is needed. When the new Afghan Government are in place, it will be possible to do the things that President Karzai, whom I have met three times in the past year alone to discuss this issue, has been attempting to achieve against the odds. His Administration have been fighting a battle against terrorists on the fringes of Afghanistan, stabilising the country as a whole, preparing for an election that people said would never happen, taking part in that election, establishing a new Government and working with us.
We must, however, tackle supply routes in neighbouring countries and through Turkey. The Foreign Secretary and I will, of course, ensure, that any transition by Turkey into the European Union, and even the first stage of reconsideration of its application in 2007, is based on its willingness to work with us. Along with France and other countries, we have put resources into the Balkans, where there are crucial supply routes. This is not about picking up heroin only at our ports; it is about stopping it crossing the continent and reaching Britain.
I did not say that I was doing a marvellous job, but I am glad to receive the accolade. Organisations in the UK and across Europe are working with us to revamp and improve Europol—another issue that I discussed with Interior Ministers in the past 24 hours—which is crucial if we are to tackle the problem, but the price of the world supply, not just the supply to the UK, fluctuates. [Interruption.] Well, we can make a graph from the statistics, perhaps not this afternoon, but I am happy to send Mr. Wiggin a copy later. Seizures of both heroin and crack cocaine have increased, with tonnages going up dramatically. However, it is a fact that the price has continued to drop. About three years ago, two dozen people in Glasgow died within a short period because there was a temporary cut in the heroin supply and prices rose. A contaminated supply led to those tragic deaths.
We therefore need a more intelligent approach to the problem. We must block the supply routes and change the nature of the crop, so that the producers can survive. We must work with our partners in Europe, if I may use a term that the Opposition never like to hear, because we can break supply lines and undermine organised gangs only if we operate together. Project Reflex, which will be incorporated in the Serious Organised Crime Agency, has done a good job in further disrupting the supply. We can, of course, continue to do so only by improving surveillance at our borders. Outside wartime, we have never had tighter border controls. No one ever envisaged that we would move our border controls to France.
No, it is not theory at all. Our border controls have moved to France, and clandestine entry has been reduced by 65 per cent. When Customs and Excise is divided and Customs becomes part of the new agency, that will allow us to co-ordinate surveillance at French ports. I shall shortly announce further measures at additional French ports. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Caroline Flint, has signed an agreement with the Belgian Minister of the Interior to improve and co-ordinate our response with that country, and it is obviously important to do so across northern Europe. That is the backdrop to the problem. This afternoon, however, we have heard nothing but doom and gloom from the Opposition. I do not dispute any of their statistics, except the figure of 1 million drug users; but instead of making positive proposals to tackle the problem, we heard a litany of problems in Nottingham, and how what is going wrong there is indicative of a total collapse.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, just as we should be going after drug dealers, there is a problem with those who deal in guns? Although the vast majority of people in this country who deal in firearms do so legitimately, there does seem to be a problem. When we look at how people trade internationally, we can see that weapons can even be exported legitimately and then re-imported as different types of firearm, which then get on to the streets. I was surprised that the Opposition did not pick that up. Would my right hon. Friend care to talk about that issue, because it is a key problem?
The issue is complicated because quite a lot of the guns that come into our country are not formally imported. Many of them are adapted from weapons that are already here. Some are part of the historic export trade of this country, which goes back a very long way. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats cannot remember far enough back to a time when they were responsible for any of this, although my city was built on exporting weaponry in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Liberal Democrats had a smell of office. We and the official Opposition need to examine our consciences and think about who we have exported to over the years and how we get the exports back in all sorts of different ways.
I take the point, and it is important that we are on the ball when tracking what is happening, which is why the intelligence-based approach is so crucial and why the National Criminal Intelligence Service and its successor are vital to stop what is going on.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that we need to track guns, try to control them and take them out of circulation. The point that the shadow Home Secretary made earlier interested me. He seemed to think that the key element was compensation. Apart from the fact that those are resources that could be used in the war on crime, is it not the case that in South Africa when compensation was paid it led to the importation of more guns so that compensation could be claimed?
Regrettably, that is true and there is always someone with an eye to a quick buck, especially if the Government are paying. I do not know where the resources to compensate the alleged 50,000 owners would come from. I suspect it would come from the money for the additional police officers requested today, including officers for Nottinghamshire. I will come on to that later. We cannot pay people for doing what we expect them to do under the law.
The amnesty that we had 18 months ago was the most successful ever. Some 44,000 weapons, some of them very serious, and more than a million items of ammunition were handed in. It was a great success—a greater success than after the tragedy in 1996. It was a success because a lot of people joined together: church groups, Afro-Caribbean community groups, young people's groups and people giving concerts. The movement of people who are now prepared to help to change the culture is encouraging. As I said in Home Office questions, that means that the communities that are most affected, and affecting, will be part of the solution. If that can happen in Nottingham, as it has in other parts of the country, we will be able to build optimism.
We do not want to frighten people to death, which is why I support what the head of the police standards unit, Paul Evans, said about getting things in proportion. If we scare people—if they are worried and concerned—the chance that they will come together and do something is diminished rather than increased. What we need is not doom and gloom and a negative response; we need to address the true facts, be prepared to come up with sensible policies and work together to implement them. Do not take my word for it; take the word of someone who has a lot of experience of dealing with the issue, who said we should stop indulging in
"the national passion for denigrating good news".
That was said by a Home Secretary—the current Leader of the Opposition—in September 1995. He should know because, when he first took over as Home Secretary, gun crime rocketed. [Interruption.] Yes, it did. It then came down.
I am happy to deal with true statistics. I have no problem with addressing the reality, but I am against myth and things being made up, such as when people go down to Brixton and pretend that there are no police available, that crime has risen, and that things have gone drastically wrong and the Government are to blame for not putting the police in. If there is to be no hiding place and no wriggle room—or whatever the term might be—for any Conservative politician, good luck to them. How long does wriggle room last? Does it last 24 hours or 12 months? Take the words of the previous shadow Home Secretary, who said just 12 months ago in October 2003:
". . . back in June, I saw Inspector Sean Wilson and his team reclaiming the streets for local people. Burglary is down, robbery is down, graffiti wiped away, abandoned cars towed away. Central Brixton is a safer, happier place than it was a couple of years ago. What made the difference? I'll tell you: real and sustained neighbourhood policing, bobbies on the beat."
We do not even have to go that far back. On
When people get on television programmes on the same day—
The shadow Home Secretary talked about the billion pounds being lopped off the nationality and immigration budget, which he said he would be able to halve in the first four years. Actually, he could not do so because we have already built into our forward plans, as part of the spending review, hundreds of millions of pounds worth of reductions in the figure that he proposes to halve. We have already allocated that money for the extra community support officers, police officers, technology and investment in CCTV that we are undertaking. The real dilemma is that, having taken a billion pounds out, where are the border controls and the extra people to stop the drugs and guns coming in which the right hon. Gentleman demanded this afternoon? People are needed to do those things, and those people have to be paid.
What we have is a billion pounds being lopped off the nationality, immigration and border control budget, a pledge to meet half the commitment that the Conservatives have made for 40,000 extra police officers, a demolition of the promises made this afternoon to increase border controls and stop people getting in, and the honest words of Mrs. Gillan. In an appearance on News 24 on the same day, she said that the Conservatives would be "held accountable" and deliver, and would
"start recruiting those police officers immediately".
How can one start recruiting police officers immediately if it will take a Parliament to raise the money from cutting the immigration and nationality budget at the same time as increasing border controls? [Interruption.] When does immediately not mean immediately? It is when a Tory Front-Bench spokesman says it. [Interruption.] I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham so that she can tell the House what immediately means, and put me straight.
Immediately means immediately. If the Home Secretary thinks that it is outwith the wit of man to place an advertisement or ask his officials to place advertisements to recruit more police officers, I do not know what he is doing in his job.
It is not about recruiting police officers; we are recruiting them. We have recruited 10,000 over the past two years. We have a budget to retain those numbers and invest in 25,000 community support officers. We have identified the money, but promising to raise the number of recruits by 5,000 a year, plus everything else that the Tory party has promised, including 20,000 extra prison places in their first Parliament—there is no budget for that either—is different. If they are promising 5,000 officers over and above what we have allocated and promising to provide them immediately, they must say where the money will come from. Keep on wriggling, and we will keep on governing.
Absolutely. When the Conservative Government of 20 years ago introduced the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the PACE codes, the amount of paperwork legitimately shot up. There is a tendency for all Governments to demand extra statistical information. We are asked at the Dispatch Box to do so. We are asked whether we can find out from any part of the country—[Interruption.] It seems that we have returned to Nottingham, despite the fact that I gave the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden a perfectly reasonable answer earlier. [Interruption.] I was not able to give the figures on drive-by shootings, because we do not collect them. I was asked to comment on what the National Crime Squad had done in terms of operational matters, but I could not do so as I did not have the statistic to hand.
The more statistical information the Opposition ask us for and the more we are asked to break it down, the more we have to ask somebody to collect it. It does not drop from the sky. We cannot put on a database data that we do not have. We cannot disaggregate a database that we do not have. There is a challenge to reduce the amount of paperwork that is being demanded nationally and locally, and we are doing that. I have set up a gateway blockage involving all ranks of the police service so that no form or data requirement is put in place without the clearance of that gateway.
We have also introduced fixed penalty notices. Some 20,000 have already been levied, which is a terrific boon for constables who do not have to take people down to the station and go through the process of arrest. We are spending £1 billion on the criminal justice information technology system, so that the police can at last use technology to tap into palm-top computers that go straight into the mainframe computer, available through the criminal justice system, instead of writing something on a pad, going back to the station and writing it in a book and then tapping it themselves into a computer, as I saw them doing when I became Home Secretary. That transformation in technology includes the introduction of Airwave, allowing police officers to communicate properly with each other and the station. There are also new methods of ensuring that they do not have to wait in court. [Interruption.] I am just telling hon. Members the answer to the question that I was asked: what about getting more police officers on the beat and in the community, doing the job? That is precisely what we are going to do.
The Home Secretary talks about the difficulties of police recruitment, and I am sure that he is right. We have some wonderful police officers in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, but the fact is that, ever since I have been elected, we have heard promises about extra officers, and all that has come forward is a handful of CSOs, none of whom can deal with drive-by shootings or gun crime. When will he honour his promises and restore the morale of Nottinghamshire constabulary?
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Nottinghamshire police would like to come to me—I challenge him to ask Steve Green, the chief constable, to affirm this—to ask to go back to the situation that we inherited, when there had been a drop of 1,100 in police numbers over the previous four years? [Interruption.] Oh yes there had been. Police numbers were tumbling exponentially—[Interruption.]
In the words of Sergeant Jones, they do not like it up them. [Hon. Members: "Corporal."] Goodness me, I have promoted him. I would rather get the rank of sergeant and corporal wrong in a fictional television programme than I would statistics about the number of police. There was a drop in police numbers up to 1997. They were dropping like a stone, and we have restored the amount; we are now 13,000 up on 1997. There was a drop in Nottinghamshire, and we have restored the force and are expanding it. There was no street robbery initiative, but we have put millions of pounds into Nottingham over the past two and a half years. There was no drugs intervention programme in Nottingham, but there is now, and it is beginning to work.
As the Home Secretary knows, the Liberal Democrats acknowledge the increases that are now appearing in some of our constabularies, but we are getting near the stage at which either he or, more worryingly, the Deputy Prime Minister will again be deciding on capping for police authorities. Before we get to that point, can he say whether he believes that any single police authority has sufficient police for local needs at this moment?
Not a force in the country has the number of police officers that it would like, in a world where money is of no object in being able to deliver the service. We cannot promise that, and I do not think that the official Opposition, even with Mickey Mouse figures, are promising it. Surely the Liberal Democrats are not going to make such a promise. Surely it is not the case that whatever a police chief requires in order to say that he can do his job properly, the Liberal Democrats will promise it to him. Would the hon. Gentleman like to intervene to tell me the answer?
I am happy to intervene, as we have already set out our police proposals. The Home Secretary knows that we have a figure, but I am asking him whether he will countermand the views of local people, as he did last year by nominating certain police authorities, as to the level of policing they want in their local communities.
I was very pleased that we did not override local people in terms of police authorities and reduce this year's budget.
The Liberal Democrat figures, with which I am of course familiar—they include 10,000 extra officers—are complete mythology. The Liberal Democrats say that they will fund the changes by not using the money for ID cards. However, ID cards will be paid for on the back of introducing biometrics and a clean database underpinning them for passports and visas. As a consequence, people will pay a charge that is additional to their passport increase. How on earth can police officers be funded from the Passport and Records Agency? How can the UK Passport Service raise the same money without delivering the service and also pass that money over to the police service instead? It is simply Mickey Mousedom. That is the end of the 10,000 police officers from the Liberal Democrats. [Interruption.] Do not argue with Mr. Heath, because it is not worth it.
I thank the Home Secretary for his great courtesy in giving way. Does he agree that the officers deployed on the street in the busiest periods—Friday and Saturday nights—are a combination of regular police officers and special constables? Will he concede that, because the number of special constables has plummeted by more than 40 per cent. under this Government, when regulars and specials are combined, in many parts of the country fewer officers go out on patrol than did so in 1997?
The hon. Gentleman appears to think that specials are full time. [Interruption.] The matter is simple—one must aggregate the full-time equivalent. I favour specials not only because they are good for policing, but because they are part of civil renewal, active citizenship and protecting workplaces and communities, which is why we are working with employers to get a joint policy of release from work and volunteering in the community. We will work to get a better deal and better training for specials, many of whom have joined the police service because they want to become full-time officers.
The combination of 13,000 extra full-time equivalent police officers and 4,000 community support officers is more than equal to the drop in specials over the past seven years—it is quadruple the size—and it is nonsense to pretend anything else. The street robbery programme has invested additional money over and above the police grant in those areas most affected by street crime, which includes low-level thuggery.
While I am on the subject, let us put the Opposition's duplicity about the British crime survey on the record. According to the British crime survey, crime dropped by 5 per cent. last year and has fallen by 30 per cent. since 1997. The Opposition say that the British crime survey is rubbish, but it was their survey of preference for years after they set it up in 1981—Margaret Thatcher said that, and, in their bunker, the modern Conservatives are returning to Margaret Thatcher.
The British crime survey has been revered throughout the world for 23 years, in which time it has used the same methodology, but widened the sample to show what is happening to crime across the country. A recording change in 1998 and the new national recording standard in 2001 dramatically changed the amount of recorded crime, including violent crime. Reported and recorded violent crime rose from 62 to 77 per cent. over that period, which more than cancels out the increase in recorded crime between 1997 and the present day.
"It is certainly true that crime rates have been coming down."—[Hansard, Westminster Hall, 12 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 50WH.]
I am glad that Mr. Grieve said that, because honesty is important. If something is wrong, say so; if there is a problem with drugs in our country, say so; and if gun crime causes difficulties for young people and our communities, we must address it. However, it is no good saying that crime has increased when it has come down; it is no good saying that police numbers are lower, when they are massively higher; and it is no good saying, "We do not want community support officers," before writing to Ministers to demand more community support officers.
There is no point in asking for more statistics before demanding that the Home Secretary's powers should be reduced to merely allocating a budget and setting strategic objectives. The shadow Home Secretary said that in his speech to the Tory party conference, and the policy also appeared last year in a Conservative document. One either does or does not want a proactive Home Office that bears down on crime, that takes spreading best practice seriously, that uses the police standards unit and the inspectorate to ensure that we can overcome failures, where they occur, that has the data to compare like with like and that directs the Serious Organised Crime Agency, rather than being completely hands off, as the Opposition demand.
Either one wants a Home Secretary who is held to account at the Dispatch Box and who has something to be held to account for, or one wants a Home Secretary who has a fantastically easy life and who simply says, "I have left it to the 43 forces. I have set the budget and gone out to lunch," which is an exact description of Tory party policy. The Tory party can go out to lunch next year, the year after and the year after that. When we publish our strategic plans, the Tories can go to America, they can toddle in from lunch an hour late when we debate justice and home affairs and they can take themselves wherever they like.
We need a vigorous Opposition who are intelligent and thoughtful and who act as a Government in waiting with statistics that add up, budgets that make sense and policies that address real issues. However, everyone knows—Conservative Members know this—that they will not be in government after the next general election, which is why we are acting, investing and thinking seriously about Britain's problems. We are mobilising Britain's forces to take pride in our country and do the job.
The Home Secretary was unfair on the shadow Home Secretary, who presented a reasonable case on firearms. I do not always agree with the shadow Home Secretary, but I found it difficult to disagree with him this time, particularly on the six questions that he put to the Home Secretary. I disagreed with him on some issues, which I shall address later, but the Home Secretary's approach was unhelpful.
We could argue endlessly about whether crime has gone up or down in this country. I agree with the Home Secretary that an overall drop in crime has occurred, which is welcome, but none of us welcomes the 6 million crimes that take place in this country. Whether or not a slight dip has occurred in one area, far too many crimes take place, and we have seen a big increase in the most serious crimes—particularly gun crimes.
Behind those statistics, actual individuals are victims of crime, and I have talked to some of then in the past week. In Taunton, for example, I met an estate agent, Mark Jeans, who was stabbed six weeks ago. Fortunately, his life was saved because the knife went into his ribs, and the only item that was taken was a packet of cigarettes. Last week, a friend of mine was mugged in London—a brick was pushed into his face in order to take his mobile phone. In my constituency, 70 people's cars were scraped and had their wing mirrors pushed in. When we discuss the figures, it is important to remember what crimes mean for individuals.
I agree that visible policing is one issue that concerns the public. In the area that I saw, the police station was round the corner and CCTV cameras were all around, so many of the precautions that we like to see to stop crime were in place, but I obviously take the wider and general point.
Let me say a few words about firearms, which the shadow Home Secretary mainly focused on, although his motion goes wider. The very large increase in such crimes—from just under 5,000 in 1997 to 10,000 in the last set of recorded figures—is troubling. Generally speaking, the pattern of firearm crime could be described as "bad versus bad"—organised crime carried out by individuals who are involved in the crime itself and in the associated gun traffic. The sadness, as we have heard through the examples given, is that innocent people often get involved in such crime.
Recent gun crime statistics suggest that not only those involved in drugs and organised crime perpetrate gun crimes, as petty criminals are starting to carry guns as well. That is a worrying trend, because it means that gun crime is spreading into areas beyond those that we have seen in the past.
I agree with some of the arguments advanced by the shadow Home Secretary, but I wish to raise one concern. The Government are considering the whole question of firearms legislation. Like many hon. Members, particularly those who represent rural constituencies, I have received several representations from those opposed to changing the law to cover individuals who hold guns for the purposes of sport. I am sure that the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community will be sensitive to that in carrying out the consultation. We are right to express our worries about firearms, but individuals in rural constituencies who have a legitimate reason for carrying guns do not want a further extension of legislation in that area.
One of the reasons I was more robust than the hon. Gentleman would have liked with the shadow Home Secretary is that it is a little aggravating to hear someone advocating policies about removing guns from people when their party voted against the legislation on handguns. The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point about sensitivity in considering such issues, but every time that they are raised in this House we hear contradictions from Members with a particular interest in maintaining the status quo: that is why they have been so difficult to handle.
I entirely recognise the Home Secretary's dilemma. Without wishing to open up a set of arguments against me, there is sometimes an obvious contradiction in being a liberal in such matters, because on the one hand we ask for legislation but on the other we tend not to want the state to over-legislate. It is a balancing act.
Given that gun crimes generally happen in urban and city areas rather than rural areas, we should consider legislation for different parts of the country that reflects where the main problems lie. I hope that, when the Government undertake their consultation, they will consider striking a balance between rural and urban communities in controlling firearms.
It does not make much sense to say that guns are focused in particular areas and assume that criminals will not travel. That is a strange suggestion. Surely—this would not affect sportsmen and those with other legitimate needs—we could say that a person must have an exceptionally strong need for a gun. We could ask why someone needs to buy 100 starting pistols or has a collection of replica guns that can be converted—
I agree with the hon. Gentleman to some extent on replica guns, because legitimate questions need to be asked in that respect. However, my point about different parts of the country is not about whether criminals can move around it but whether conditions should be placed on having a gun in a particular area.
Liberal Democrats support the establishment of the Serious Organised Crime Agency—SOCA—as a good and sensible measure, but will the Minister confirm that one of its responsibilities will be intelligence gathering on gun crime? That is not in the business plan for Customs and Excise, and it would be useful to know whether it will be one of SOCA's business plan objectives.
We have heard about the problem of purchasing fake guns on the internet. I would add to that the issue of eBay, where I have seen how remarkably easy it is to get into sites that sell guns. We must consider how to handle that as eBay grows in popularity. I should have thought that the people who run it would be amenable to a dialogue about how they introduce measures to control the situation.
In that context, I want to restate my concern about border control, which the Home Secretary dismissed at Home Office questions by saying that serious co-operation would be taking place through SOCA. However, it remains the case that where three bodies—Customs and the immigration and police authorities—have responsibility there is a danger of overlapping. That is not just my idea, or one for which the shadow Home Secretary has some warmth; it was the subject of a firm recommendation by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and has the support of the police. There is merit in reconsidering the issue, perhaps in a couple of years' time when SOCA finds that it needs particular help in those areas.
I want to move away from the issue of firearms to that of crime in general, which is the subject of the Conservative motion.
Did my hon. Friend see last night's "Panorama" programme on the subject of blade crime, which concluded that a quarter of school children now take knives to school for protection and that probably only a third of those injured by knives report their cases to the police? Does he think that we need a review on blade crimes as well?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that, particularly given his own experiences. I did not see the "Panorama" programme, but clearly the number of knife crimes is a major cause for concern. The situation is different from that which applies to firearms, but some of the same issues apply—for example, the ability to purchase such knives and the way in which their sale over the internet is managed. There is a strong argument for considering how we should put such controls in place.
We have had a small debate about the police and police numbers. The police clearly play a front-line role in acting as a deterrent. It is almost inevitable that in the next six months, in the run-up to a general election, we will get involved in a bidding war between the three parties as to who can put the most police on the streets. I try to avoid that, but it is impossible because the question is asked so many times.
Let me just explain our position, then Members can cross-examine me on it if they wish.
In my judgment, going beyond 10,000 police would be unrealistic. The Home Secretary does not portray our funding figures accurately. We believe that providing 10,000 police and 20,000 community support officers in the course of a Parliament is an effective way forward.
We have heard a lot of discussion about police and community support officers and community wardens, but other people are involved in reducing crime. I met some of them a couple of weeks ago in Fleetwood—they are the individuals who help people with drug and alcohol abuse problems. We need to take a multi-agency approach. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is doing that by targeting the small group of people who, through their drug abuse, contribute to a disproportionately large amount of crime?
I am pleased that I accepted the hon. Lady's intervention, because I could not agree more. The Government have been at their best in relation to such policies, particularly in youth justice, where I have witnessed some of the exciting schemes that are taking place. If the Government are brave enough to extend that beyond the youth area to work closely with probation services, that will be a creative way in which to tackle crime.
We made the judgment that 10,000 police is a realistic approach to take over the next five years.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only the numbers but how the police are deployed that is important? I had a meeting in my local police station recently and I was reminded that some incidents give rise to eight hours of paperwork.
That is an excellent point. The Home Secretary listed some ways in which he has tried to cut the time spent on paperwork, but whenever I speak to police that is still one of the first subjects that they bring up. A police officer in Devon last week told me that following every incident of domestic violence to which they are called, they have to fill in a matrix of 17 questions about every individual in the house. He told me that following an incident that was merely a domestic row and involved no abuse, the police were at the scene for only two minutes, but the process of filling in the matrix took about three hours. We should give the front-line police the ability to make a professional judgment on whether it is really necessary to fill in such forms.
The problem is not only what the state asks the police to do but the fact that if the procedures are not carried out properly—regardless of whether they are laborious—a defence solicitor can point that out and the case may be dismissed. Any police officer knows that that is the dilemma.
Absolutely. We have talked before about our increasingly litigious society and the blame culture. Perhaps we need to allow police officers to get it wrong on occasions, as the price for giving them some discretion. The problem is that, in some sensitive cases, the consequences of getting it wrong can be tragic. I accept that it is a difficult balance.
I found it interesting that the shadow Home Secretary chose to ignore the part of the motion referring to an extra 40,000 police and to concentrate mainly on gun crime. We have a problem with the 40,000, because we do not think that it is frank or fair to talk of such a figure. The Home Secretary said that the figure is more likely to be 20,000 over a Parliament.
The idea that we can achieve the 40,000 figure by having some sort of offshore processing for asylum seekers has not been properly explained to the House. We have tried to identify the island before, and offered to bring in atlases, and now we are told that an offshore process has been developed, but we need many more details about how it will happen, where the funds will come from and what evidence there is that it would be cheaper than the existing system. The question was asked earlier whether it would be possible to begin recruitment immediately, and I wonder whether it would be possible to move immediately to an offshore processing system. There are many gaps in the Conservatives' proposals, and I believe that they did themselves an injustice in coming up with a 40,000 figure that, in the rigour of a general election campaign, will be seen by the public as unrealistic.
Our police need to be more visible, and one way of achieving that is to start giving them more technology. There have been real breakthroughs in technology in some forces, and some police officers have the same kind of kit that I have—a mobile phone and a palmtop, and perhaps a mobile fingerprinting kit—but that is quite rare, and we need to do much more to give them technology that will enable them to be on the street much longer. If one calls out the AA or the RAC, the patrols that arrive will have more kit than the average policeman on the street. The Government would be wise to invest more in that area.
The Home Secretary briefly mentioned that he wants to do something to tackle the problem of the amount of police time wasted in magistrates courts, which would certainly be welcome. I hope that the Minister can say more about that initiative. Far too many police officers waste mornings outside courtrooms not being called and finding that other professionals asked to give evidence are called before them. We need to change the rota planning.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most effective things that the police could do in working with magistrates is to implement an antisocial behaviour order on conviction, as that has a serious effect on low-level crimes? If an ASBO is active on someone when they come out after a short sentence, there is not much bureaucracy involved, because it has all been completed already to get the conviction in the first place.
My point about magistrates courts concerned police having their time wasted when being called to give evidence, and I hope that we will hear from the Home Office about plans to reduce that. Clearly, ASBOs can be a useful tool, which police and magistrates can work through together, but my experience is that other measures also need to be in place to change the individual's pattern of behaviour over the longer term.
The final part of the motion concerns the need for policing to be more local and for the community to have more say and more direct involvement in what the police do. I was very disappointed that the shadow Home Secretary did not expand on that point, because there is an interesting debate to be had among all three parties on what we mean by localism, and where we are going. The previous shadow Home Secretary, Mr. Letwin, talked about sheriffs and elected individuals, and the Home Secretary has a consultation paper out on the concept of more directly elected bodies.
As a democrat, I am extremely hostile to such ideas, and not, as one might expect, keen on direct election for those who would run the police. There is not a great appetite out there for individuals to vote in elections, as we have seen in both general and local council elections. The idea that people on a rundown estate with severe problems are going to rush out to take part in this is not entirely convincing. The danger is that, on a low turnout, a set of individuals will vote with particular ideas that may not chime with our own about how the police should be run or, worse still, BNP-style candidates may run successfully in such areas. That could lead to a headlong collision with a chief constable who is given orders that he or she finds impossible to implement, but that will be hard to say no to, given the democratic mandate. I advise the other two parties to tread carefully in this area, because there could be damaging consequences.
As the Government have acknowledged, tackling crime involves being tough on its causes, too. The Government have not done enough on that. I would like to have talked more in this debate about their prison policy and tackling reoffending, and about education and retraining to make punishment work and reduce crime committed by individuals who have already been to prison. We need to tackle that, as reoffending rates are far too high. I would like to have been able to explore issues about community punishment, on which the Government have some good ideas, including their concept of prison without bars. We could do more with tagging and with giving the community a say in sentencing.
I hope that we can step back a little from knocking the figures back and forth and acknowledge that there are some complex issues. Given what the shadow Home Secretary said on firearms, we will support the motion, despite the 40,000 figure—the Conservatives have made some positive suggestions on firearms.
I do not represent the area in which Danielle Beccan was killed—it is represented by my hon. Friend Mr. Heppell—but I lived most of my adult life in St. Ann's. For many years, I was the chair of governors of the school that Danielle attended, and all my children went to that school. I now represent the adjoining constituency, which includes areas such as the Meadows, Radford and Lenton.
Such places are often caricatured as areas of conflict, in which gangs of young people are permanently at violent odds with each other. Indeed, I regret some of the past week's press coverage, which has painted the city that has become my home in terms that I often do not recognise. I walked around the streets in many of those communities over the weekend, and talked to families that I have known for decades. The people who make up Nottingham are kind, decent and generous, and the city needs to be understood and recognised as comprising such people.
I do not mean to interrupt my hon. Friend's flow—he is making a very good point about his home city—but as a former resident in his constituency, I wanted to endorse his comments. I spent five very happy years in Lenton, at the university of Nottingham. Nottingham is one of the most sought-after places to live in the entire country, and like many others I spent some of the happiest times of my life in that city. I commend everything that my hon. Friend says about Nottingham.
I am grateful for that intervention, which illustrates one of the reasons why, on coming to Nottingham as a student, I stayed and have never wanted to leave. But I have to recognise that some of the things that families were telling me over the weekend paint a rather different picture of life in the inner city since my children's school years. Indeed, I have been confronted in a stark way with the huge changes that have taken place since my own childhood.
At the age of 14, it was easy to identify the many young males aged between 13 and 15 who cycled around estates delivering vegetables or groceries. Yet families tell me that the sight that they most frequently readily identify now is of young teenage men age cycling around delivering drugs. In Nottingham, such kids are known as "shotters", because they deliver shots of drugs on behalf of drug dealers. The process is fairly simple. They stick the consignment of crack cocaine or heroin between their buttocks, get on their bike and deliver the package to whomever the dealer has specified. Some £30 a day is the going rate, which is much better than the pay for delivering vegetables, so one can see the financial attraction. The process begins with a simple and innocent set of instructions: "Just deliver this package to the fellow on the corner." As a result, kids are being drawn into this world.
The families told me that they want us to stand with them in support of strategies that intervene at every level of that process, and preferably long before the drugs reach the kids on the streets. Those families also said that we need to understand that the same "benevolent" dealers also have a pretty unscrupulous and exploitative record in terms of their kindnesses towards children. These people offer children access to crack cocaine, and such "kindness" very quickly gives way to a set of demands that draw children into prostitution. We are confronted as much with the cynical and cruel theft of childhood—the theft of a generation's childhood—as we are with the problem of hard crime and hardened criminals. In many ways, the biggest challenge that we face is the theft of the security in which children can play on, and live in, estates.
Communities in every part of the city are saying that we have to find ways to separate their children's lives from the activities of those who deal in drugs and guns. That will be difficult. We already know that, in addition to those involved in shotting, some kids are being asked to stash drugs. I am told that very rarely are the main dealers of drugs and guns found in possession of them. Parents are terrified that, unbeknown to them, their children are being asked, "Will you just stash this somewhere safe? Don't open it; just put it somewhere safe and you'll be looked after." We have to understand that in getting people to come forward, we must make it clear that, however tough we are going to be on those caught with guns, we will not be tough on the kids who are inadvertently being drawn into this world at the sharpest end of all. Our intervention should constitute almost a rescue mission, to ensure that the children who are pulled out of those broader networks are not criminalised at our first point of contact with them.
We need also to address another complaint that was regularly made to me over the weekend. Why, I was asked, are guns are so easily available? I am told that it is possible to rent a gun for £200. The deal is that if it is returned unused, a £100 refund is given. Families in these communities are telling us that we—as a Government and as a society—have to prevent our entering an era in which guns are as easy to rent as videos. We must tackle that absurdity at the level at which we interrupt the supply of drugs and guns.
I have a number of specific proposals about the strategies that we need to employ to deal comprehensively with the problem. We need partnerships between Government and national agencies, between Government and local authorities, and between local authorities and local communities. People tell me that the first thing that they want from the Government is additional resources to allow us in Parliament to be confident in our ability to intervene on the supply of drugs and guns to this country. They repeated the message that the easiest way to take guns off the streets is to prevent them from getting there in the first place. They want the Government to ensure that sufficient resources are deployed to make life tough for dealers in drugs and guns.
In Nottinghamshire, pressure is being brought to bear through the "More Cops for Notts" campaign. That is an issue in its own right and I do not want to distance myself from it, but in some respects it is separate from the specific issues that the Opposition have raised today. I would love to believe in my heart that an extra 1,000 police on the streets of Nottingham that day would have saved Danielle Beccan's life. Can I in all honesty say that? No, I cannot, and it does not help if I pretend otherwise.
We have to get the resources to target dealers of guns and drugs. There might be a case for deploying additional police, but if we do, I want such resources to be akin to the people who turned up in the film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" every time Butch and Sundance got off a train. Butch and Sundance would look behind them, see dust in the distance and ask, "Who are those guys?" I want the drug dealers and gun dealers to know that the resources that would drive them out of Nottingham would not be happy if they ended up in Leicester—that they would continue in pursuit of such gangs wherever they went. This is a national problem that happens at the moment to be manifesting itself specifically in Nottingham. We have to deal with the problem by deploying national resources in a national strategy.
My hon. Friend talks about the national dimension, but does he accept that we must also consider the huge significance of the international dimension? I was on board HMS Sheffield in the West Indies two years ago, while efforts were being made to stop crack cocaine coming to the UK from Colombia via Florida. So before considering the specific issues that my hon. Friend mentions, we must consider the international dimension and get right the rules of engagement of our forces, who are trying to stop this stuff getting into the country.
I accept that and it forces us to address other difficult issues about how best to approach those with a hard drug dependency. However, the issues raised with me on the doorstep include the point that Britain is an island. People know that there are many problems beyond our reach or competence as a single country to deal with—the work has to be done on the basis of international collaboration. However, the question is whether it is right to assume that, as a Government, we can do nothing more to halt the supply of the guns and drugs that come into the UK—and the answer is no. It has to be the case that we can find more effective intervention strategies to attack the supply side both where it is generated and where it enters this country. I also know that, at the local level, the resources that people ask for to deal with these problems are not primarily police related. People are looking for resources, security and clarity from the Government about strategies to empower communities to be an effective part of the process.
My hon. Friend lives in the centre of the very city that he represents. I know the area very well. When he talks about numbers, deployment and the responsiveness of the police in Nottingham city centre—it has quite a bleak reputation within the east midlands—does he agree that things could be improved somewhat if the licensing regulations in the city centre were radically altered to free up police from their current roles on Thursday to Sunday evenings? If that happened, it would help to stem the reduction of much-needed resources and help in the fight against drugs and guns.
I agree with my hon. Friend's point and I remind him that those were precisely the amendments that I tabled to the Licensing Bill. They would have given local communities and the local police much greater powers to object to some of the large-scale watering holes that currently absorb disproportionate amounts of police time on a Friday evening.
My point about the use of existing resources is that local people told me that what they needed from the central Government was to feel that they, the Government, were there with them on tackling a number of issues that they rightly viewed as their own. They wanted resources to allow them to break the links between kids and gangs. They wanted the backing of the Government for some of the initiatives taken by mothers, for example, working across the communities traditionally regarded as hostile to each other, to trash the myth and foolishness of that inter-community conflict. They want to know that the information that they pass on to the police can be given safely—in ways that will not imperil their lives.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the wider implications, then the national and regional implications, of the problem. Does he recall that the regional crime squads that used to operate have, for desirable reasons, largely gone? In the past, it would have been to the regional crime squads that Nottingham, Derby and Leicester would have turned for resources to tackle the issues affecting all those cities because of the gangs and all the rest of it. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the new national unit is effectively replacing the old effort that we used to have on a regional basis—in other words, that enough national support is available to Nottinghamshire police service to tackle the drug and gun problems that are particularly acute in the city of Nottingham, but whose origins extend over the whole region, in many cases across the police force boundaries?
There are two elements in that question. Not enough national resources have been available to tackle Nottingham's current problems, but I remain agnostic about whether there is a compelling case for revisiting the regional crime squads as opposed to the National Crime Squad. It would be nice to feel that the drug and gun problems could be dealt with in an east midlands context, but in reality the networks run much further afield—from Nottingham to Manchester, from Nottingham to Birmingham and from Nottingham to London. At this stage, I do not want to create unnecessary boundaries that might allow someone to feel that they could escape surveillance if they simply crossed a boundary.
I agree with that. I am not suggesting that we should go back to having regional crime squads. I am just wondering whether the hon. Gentleman shares my feeling that, having lost the regional crime squads, we are now at a time of crisis insofar as drugs and guns are concerned because not enough resources are getting through to a particular area from the national service that has been set up. The resources are being diverted to immigration crime and all sorts of other areas. We no longer have the specialist support that we might have had in the past and could, perhaps, have again if we were able to draw on more national resources.
Again, I do not know what the National Crime Squad has done in respect of diverting its resources. I made the point initially that Nottingham has not had sufficient support from the National Crime Squad to address or halt the problems with which the police, local authorities and local communities are being confronted. In that sense, I can say yes to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is for the National Crime Squad to come up with an explanation. My gut feeling is that local communities—and, to some extent, the police and local authorities—feel that they are on their own.
I was coming on to the point that local people do not feel that it is safe to come forward with information about the possession of guns that are circulating in their communities. One family said to me that it was very easy to talk about the problem from the outside, but that until someone has had the experience of having a gun pointed in their face with the threat that if they say a word to the police, they—or their kids—will be dead, they cannot truly understand it. It changes people's sense of how safe they can feel when they realise that to stay alive is to stay silent. We have to deal with that fear by putting mechanisms in place to allow safe channels for information that do not put the lives of others in the community at risk. I would like to set out how that might be done.
When I spoke to people about the problem, they were aware that the Government had successfully run a rat-on-a rat campaign. My belief is that we should now be telling people in Nottingham to grass on a gun. The experience of the tragic and completely senseless death of Danielle Beccan has forced people to cross a line. It is no longer seen as an issue between rival gangs, but as an issue that intrudes on innocent young lives. I believe that we will see a huge response from local communities and the local authority in Nottingham, but there must be mechanisms in place to make them feel safe.
People told me that it would be good to run a grass-on-a-gun campaign, but that more amnesty days would also have to be provided. If we are to say to our own kids in our own communities, "If I hear that you are carrying or stashing or that your mates, nephews or school friends are doing it, I will pick up the phone to send the information on", there has to be an element of security.
The problem is twofold. First, people have to know that there will be a police response, so the police need resources to back it up. It is not an effective message if people believe that the police will follow it up only in two or three days' time, when the guns may no longer be in the place reported or in the possession of the people reported. The police must be available to deal with the level of information at the point at which communities feel safe to provide it.
Secondly, people's own confidence and security is important. I am often asked to explain why we allow cars with blacked-out windows on our streets. It is easy to see what happens on the pavements when cars with blacked-out windows slow down—people back away. The expectation is that there is something untoward going on inside the car that could easily threaten their lives. People often ask me what is the case for allowing that to happen. A case could be made for allowing blacked-out windows only with special licences. The ambulance service and perhaps Securicor services need such windows. Licences could be extended even to people running stretched limos for certain social occasions, but why does anyone else who has nothing to hide require the right to drive round streets in vehicles that are perceived as constituting a threat to local communities? I cannot see any reason why we do not make it a requirement for all vehicles to have a special licence to have blacked-out windows. The police could then have the power to stop vehicles to check the licence and, if necessary, to check the vehicles. It would remove a completely unnecessary threat from the streets of the communities where people live.
I know that that is a very weak area. Families who are willing to give information that could be traced back to them ask us how their families can be protected. They do not want much, but they do want to live. We have seriously weakened the ability of local authorities to offer emergency rehousing as part of witness protection schemes. I know of several cases in which people have given evidence and have been moved by the local authority. However, the details of their relocation in Nottingham have been discovered and they have asked to be moved to another part of the country, but the transfer system between local authorities has broken down. It requires a police officer to say that the people involved must be moved as part of a witness protection scheme. The bureaucracy stretches out across a time scale that does not equate to the day-to-day sense of risk that the families involved feel. That is a matter of cash resources and the inability of local authorities to put the safety of families before the bureaucracy of the system.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his team will visit Nottingham on
I hope that the message that will come across in the press and to the people of Nottingham is that the Stand Together initiative in the city will be continued in the days and years to come. That has to involve the measures needed to tackle national and international sources of supply, as well as empowering communities to make a stand on their own behalf. The killing of Danielle Beccan was a watershed for the people of Nottingham. The outrage that it provoked will change the way in which communities feel willing to act in partnership with others. That amounts to a policy challenge for the Government and for local communities. People now know that the challenge at local level is to take the toys from the boys. We have to do that because they are not toys any more, but weapons that take lives—and not only of those involved in gang conflict or in drug and turf wars. They kill children. In many ways, the guns are now a threat to our future. Unless we stand together, we will not deliver a future safe for our children to live in. I hope that we can.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow Alan Simpson. He is a thoughtful, sincere and well informed Member of Parliament, as well as a diligent constituency representative. He has proved that once again this evening.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I grew up in the midlands, albeit a little further south. I also practised at the Bar, prosecuting and defending criminal cases involving drugs and firearms offences for several years from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, I share his concern about what is happening in all the midlands cities. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Danielle Beccan at the moment, but we all share the same concerns about all our inner cities and the problems that drugs and crime cause.
This is my first set-piece speech from the Back Benches for more than five years. Since I was first appointed to the Front Bench in 1999, I have always been either a shadow Home Office or shadow legal affairs Minister—although at times I also had other responsibilities, such as sport. I mention that because I have therefore had the privilege of receiving detailed briefings on several of the issues that are the subject of the Opposition motion and the Government amendment.
I shall, for obvious reasons, refer to the briefings only in general terms, but I raised one particular issue in an intervention on my right hon. Friend David Davis: the concern that many of the leading investigation authorities, such as the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, have had for several years about the greater prevalence of the use of guns by drug barons who have come to this country from other countries—in particular, from Albania. One of the sad effects of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia was a big increase in criminals coming into this country, sometimes surreptitiously from Albania or Kosovo, and sometimes openly, by claiming to come from other eastern European countries. We have seen the detection recently of a few of those drug and crime barons. When they entered the country, they claimed to be from Hungary, Bulgaria or the Czech Republic, but on investigation they were crime lords from Albania and Kosovo. We have also had an influx of serious criminals from India and Pakistan, and also from China.
The criminal gangs link the trafficking of drugs, people and guns, the exploitation of women and children and associated kidnap and ransom crime. It has been said that Albanian criminals have proved too wild and murderous for the Italian police and the police in southern France to cope with. They are a major problem that we ignore at our peril. The Albanians have in many cases taken over the drug rings from the Jamaican Yardies, who for many years brought in large quantities of crack cocaine, which is, as we know, both psychologically addictive and associated with a very violent culture. We now have an extraordinary problem, the like of which this country has not had to deal with before.
There are now far too many people using hard drugs in all our inner cities and even in our country towns. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South described all too vividly the kind of problems that his constituents face, with children being used as drug runners. I am sure that his description will have been chilling for anyone who heard it and for those who read it subsequently.
The police are doing their best to cope with these new problems and challenges. For my own area of Surrey, I wish to pay tribute to Denis O'Connor, who recently retired as chief constable but who has gone on to become one of Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. He was a superb leader of the Surrey county force and engendered the spirit within Surrey police that enabled many of his officers to produce great success in tackling crime, including major drugs seizures. Only recently there was a successful prosecution of drug dealers who were using a gymnasium in my constituency as the centre of their operations. I pay tribute to the work of Surrey police, led by Denis O'Connor, in tackling the drugs menace in recent years.
Unfortunately, people are concerned that the priorities in every part of the country and in the mind of every senior police officer are not the same as the general public would wish them to be. I was horrified, and I think that most law-abiding people were horrified, to hear a senior spokesman from the Association of Chief Police Officers recently say that the police will not spend much time on crime detection if there is no compelling evidence pointing to those responsible. Some crimes that are of huge concern to the public are so infrequently detected that informed commentators have pointed out that an air of hopelessness, which affects the victims of crime and the police, now sadly affects the whole process.
Official figures show that only 12 per cent. of burglaries are being cleared up. Even in the metropolis, where much good work has been done under Sir John Stevens, crime screening guidelines, which are being copied—in my view wrongly—in many parts of the UK, have downgraded some offences to "less serious crimes", which, to my amazement, include burglary. It is said that unless immediate and compelling evidence points to the culprits, such crimes will not be investigated further. We have reached a pretty pass if dwelling house burglary is no longer regarded as a serious enough crime to receive police priority.
The statistics relating to police clear-up—what are called detection rates—demonstrate that. In 1980, 40 per cent. of all recorded crimes were detected. The most recent figure that I have is for the year ending 2002, when the rate was down to 23 per cent. Moreover, the proportion of those detected crimes that resulted in a conviction fell from 18 to 9 per cent. There is a huge variation in detection rates between forces. The Audit Commission concluded that the variations are not explicable simply in terms of work load or local circumstances. It thinks that such patchiness is indicative of a misuse of resources. That is why Conservatives want a vast increase in police numbers and a guarantee that they will be properly deployed. One of the things that I find from talking to people about policing and crime is that the law-abiding population are, sadly, now far less confident that the police are being properly deployed and that they are concentrating on the right things. There is certainly huge concern that the law-abiding members of our community do not see police officers out on the beat.
I recognise that intelligence-led policing, as the vogue phrase has it, has a role to play when we talk about tackling serious and organised crime, but surely the first duty of every police force is to ensure that the law abiding are protected and feel protected. All too often in conversations with law-abiding people, I find that there is a lack of confidence in the police because there has been too much concentration on slogans and the kind of things that the Home Secretary talked about. If law-abiding citizens were to read what I can only describe as a contemptuous and dismissive speech by the Home Secretary of Great Britain, many of them would be angry because he complained that he heard nothing but doom and gloom, but the law-abiding people of this country know that the position in terms of guns, drugs and crime is, sadly, doom and gloom.
The Opposition motion makes it clear that the problem with the Government is that they think that having a strategy, initiative or announcement means that they are solving the problem. When the Home Secretary was challenged on that, he said that when the Conservatives were in government they did not have this initiative or that strategy, but it is not initiatives or strategies that the people of Great Britain want: it is criminals being caught and locked up so that they can no longer prey on the law abiding. Strategies, initiatives and bureaucracy do not achieve that.
There are few better examples of what I and law-abiding people are complaining about than the Home Office brochure that I have here entitled "Policing: Building Safer Communities Together". About half the questions in it are on things like the community advocacy service. It says:
"Would you like a community advocacy service in your area? . . . Who do you think should sit on the" police
"boards? . . . Would you welcome the creation of a neighbourhood panel in your area?"
I do not know how much taxpayers' money was spent on producing a huge number of copies of the brochure, but I guarantee that every law-abiding person would rather give money to chief constables to have more police officers on the beat than spend it on producing glossy brochures asking nonsensical questions about new ideas that the Government have for bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is not the answer; it is the problem. It is not what the people want. Unfortunately, it is what the Government believe in.
There are few better examples of the problem than the Home Secretary's response to an excellent intervention by my hon. Friend Mr. Francois about the collapse in the number of special constables. The Home Secretary simply did not understand my hon. Friend's point that if special constables are no longer available, and the number has reduced hugely since the Government came to power, they cannot patrol with the regulars. The Home Secretary's response was to say that some of the specials have become regulars. That is true and welcome, but it does not explain the huge collapse in the number of special constables. People are so upset about the lack of policing in their area because the Government have shown little interest in getting police on the street. It is all talk, strategies, committees, bureaucracy and no action.
The Home Secretary speaks as if all he has done is to improve the position, but that contrasts with what serving police officers say. A police sergeant was quoted in Police Review as saying:
"Officers spend so much time dealing with administration. The increased bureaucracy from"
Labour's proposals for more changes
"will further add to the time a sergeant spends on the whole process."
The Government are not taking any notice of that problem.
The Government are obsessed with their complex and expensive IT solutions. I predict here and now that their incredibly complicated and expensive IT project will turn out to be a disaster, just like every other IT project with which they have been associated. I predict that in a few years' time the Public Accounts Committee will have to inquire into the huge waste of taxpayers' money and the fact that the project has gone wildly over budget and does not work. It will be just like all the other IT disasters over which the Government have presided.
If I am right in predicting that the project will be another publicly funded IT disaster, all the taxpayers' money will be thrown down the drain instead of being spent on getting police officers back on the streets. I am not saying that there is no use for IT; I am just saying that the Home Secretary's decision to concentrate on the IT project as solving all the problems will not cut any ice with people who are worried about the rise in crime.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the Government's ability to run a major national IT scheme. I take it that he will vote against proposals for an identity card system on that basis?
In the past, I have expressed my concerns about the use of technology in all kinds of Government projects, not merely the one I was just talking about, and clearly some of the issues that arise in this context may also apply to identity cards, but I do not intend to make predictions without knowing what the motion would be. The hon. Gentleman made a nice try and I understand what lies behind his point, but I shall not commit myself to what my vote might be on a motion that has not yet come before the House.
When we look at the issues that have come to the centre of public attention recently due to the tragic shooting of Danielle Beccan, we have to consider whether the police forces affected have received what they asked for. Even Government Members have made it clear that forces such as Nottinghamshire have been asking for vast increases in officers—the chief constable of Nottinghamshire obviously wants that, as he has asked for it repeatedly—but they have not been getting those increases. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary pointed out, Manchester has been asking for 3,000 more officers. That is why we phrased our motion as we did; we feel that law-abiding people want a vast increase in policing. It is not good enough for the Government to say that they will solve all the problems with IT projects when we face a situation where violent crime is up by 20 per cent., as even they accept, gun crime is up by 30 per cent. and drug offences have gone up by 16 per cent.
As other Members want to speak, it would be wrong of me to take too much time explaining my view that the Government have presided over far too great a relaxation of drugs policy; I made speeches on that subject when I was shadow drugs Minister. I shall refer to some headlines as they describe what the law-abiding people of this country are seeing: "Labour drops key targets on drugs"; "Government goes soft on club drug-taking";"'Give young crooks £20,000 a year to stay out of trouble', urges Minister. So, who says crime doesn't pay"; "Crime shambles. Offences up"; "Plunging prices of drugs on the street"; "Cut-price drugs hit the streets"; "Cannabis explosion—when police tried going soft on the drug its use tripled. That same approach is about to become national policy"; "Cannabis laws in shambles"; "Real offenders are not paying price of crime"; "MPs urged to reconsider the dangers of cannabis".
It is not good enough for the Government to wash their hands of their responsibility for that explosion in drugs since they came to power in 1997. My right hon. Friend referred to the Prime Minister's use of the phrase "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". The greatest cause of crime, as all law-abiding people know, is drugs. The Government have not been tough on drugs as a cause of crime, they have been soft. There can be no argument about that; everybody in the country knows it. The Government have given misleading signals, especially to the young.
I feel strongly that the Government have created a situation in which the drug barons, who use guns so ruthlessly, can take advantage of the greater market for drugs and the lower street price for drugs. They have moved into our inner cities in increasing numbers and that has led to the rise in organised crime over which the Government have presided. I put the finger of blame firmly on the Government, because all those matters are linked.
I want to refer to one final quote from a paper that is not my normal reading, but perhaps that makes the words even more effective. The Independent stated:
"Mr. Blunkett's ideas grab headlines, but won't prevent a single crime."
I would go further: the policies of the Government— all about headline-grabbing initiatives, strategies and glossy brochures—are failing to tackle the problem and are ensuring, unfortunately for the law-abiding people of this country, that crime will continue to rise. It is not good enough for the Government to wash their hands of the serious problems that affect every part of the UK. As recent events have all too tragically demonstrated, the Government have lost control. That is why Members on both sides of the House should support the Opposition motion.
I am pleased to follow Mr. Hawkins, as I come from a constituency that is well endowed with some of the Government's special initiatives. We have a very can-do approach to tackling some of the problems.
I want to pay special tribute to the thoughtful way in which my hon. Friend Alan Simpson has dealt with the issues in his constituency. Our constituencies have much in common. Nottingham is a city of similar size to Plymouth and faces similar challenges. Thankfully, we do not have the gun crime that appears to be endemic there, but we have severe drug and alcohol-related problems. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the recent establishment of an all-party group on the night-time economy, as that will enable us to undertake some constructive thinking about the issues.
In Plymouth, we have a "Catch a Rat" initiative, rather than "Rat on a Rat", so I was interested in my hon. Friend's idea for "Grass on a Gun". I wondered what the equivalent might be for knives, but perhaps we could pursue the catch a rat theme on guns and knives. Those with such weapons are rats infesting our communities and making people's lives a misery.
I hope that the visit from the Home Office team that my hon. Friend mentioned will go as well as the recent visit to Plymouth. It certainly created a buzz in our community; the knowledge that Ministers were willing to talk to people in our communities about the challenges that we face brought very positive feelings. The Home Secretary and his team now have a first-hand view of our policing, crime and community challenges in Plymouth and of the way in which our local partnerships are working to tackle the deep-seated problems of antisocial behaviour, substance abuse of all sorts and binge drinking in a city that has for hundreds of years been associated with the abuse of alcohol, especially in the Barbican area where I live.
I am trying to choose my words carefully, because such things matter. When we talk about crime and crime figures, it is important to distinguish, as the Home Secretary did, between what the British crime survey and the figures for recorded crime are telling us. There has been a significant rise in violent crime in Plymouth, but the story is interesting and it may inform our debate to consider exactly what that rise means and how it chimes with what the British crime survey tells us about a fall in violent crime.
As my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety knows, alcohol and drugs problems are as serious in Plymouth as anywhere, and although, thankfully, we do not have the gun problem, we have a knife problem and I shall return to that point towards the end of my remarks. In May this year, we carried out a successful blitz on yobs and drunken louts, using on-the-spot fines, as part of the national campaign that the Home Secretary launched on
I am beginning to warm a little more to fixed penalties, but is not one of the problems the number of individuals who fail to pay them? Is there any evidence that a fixed penalty will stop an individual committing further crimes in future?
The hon. Gentleman makes a relevant point. I do not have the figures in front of me, but I was reading about them earlier today. Certainly, when they were reported in July at the end of that programme, more than half of such fines had been paid—a significant number—but I am not certain how many remain unpaid a few months later.
I was surprised to hear the comments made by Mr. Oaten. Perhaps I can direct him to a survey conducted by West Midlands police, which shows the difference in the payment rates for on-the-spot fines and conventional court fines. The police advocate on-the-spot fines for precisely the reasons that my hon. Friend mentions.
I thank my hon. Friend for that information. The cost of issuing such a ticket is £2, because the police time involved in bureaucracy is eliminated, compared with £90 if the case has to go to court. So measures that the Leader of the Opposition ridiculed at Prime Minister's Question Time only a short time ago are proving extremely effective.
Plymouth also took part in the summer alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, which involved developing a partnership approach to tackle alcohol-related violence and disorder and to target those who encourage under-age and binge drinking in our city. In the nine weeks from
A small part of that programme included a night bus pilot scheme, with part of the money coming from the Home Office and part from Plymouth city council. On two weekends, arrangements were made to ensure that buses were available at the times when clubs tend to close and people tip out on to the streets in large numbers—sometimes 10,000 people do so on Union street in Plymouth—and the buses took them away to the outlying estates. That seemed to prove effective, even though it was available only on those two weekends.
The programme also made use of a dispersal order under section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, which was in force between the end of July and the beginning of September and was often used to disperse groups on the streets in Plymouth.
What was the result of that summer campaign? Offences of grievous bodily harm were down by 50 per cent.; common assault was down 18 per cent., most of the reduction occurring in weeks 4 to 9 while the dispersal powers were in use; street offences were reduced; and there was a spread in the peak of offending, which tends to happen every Thursday to Saturday night. When the clubs close, crime tends to peak and policing is difficult, but running those buses seemed to help to spread the peaks, helping the police in the area and producing the sort of results that I have just mentioned.
If the figures on offences of drunkenness are removed from the area covered by that project—drunkenness is not part of the Home Office violent crime statistics—violent crime fell by 2 per cent., against an increasing 10.2 per cent. trend in the southern sector, which is the surrounding area, since April 2004. Using those powers and the partnership approach proved very effective. Indeed, the city council and the police will consider how to build on this through the community safety partnership in the busy period, the run-up to Christmas.
Plymouth has also made good use of antisocial behaviour orders, on which we also enjoy strong partnership work, involving the youth offending team and ensuring that we explore alternatives before using ASBOs as a last resort. There are currently more than 40 ASBOs in the area covered by the Plymouth basic command unit. Their huge potential to reduce crime has been illustrated in Stonehouse, which I have often referred to as being the poorest ward in England in 1997—thankfully, we are moving away from that position now—since proceedings were instigated against Clark Graham, a prolific offender who was obviously responsible, with his associates, for a substantial amount of crime in that area. If the trend that was established when the ASBO had been in place for a month or two continued, it would represent an enormous 28 per cent. annual reduction in crime in the area, a 25 per cent. reduction in police calls and a reduction in calls to my office in Plymouth. A substantial number of my constituents have contacted my office there and said, "Please help us", and the ASBO is providing an effective means of doing so.
We have also used the new powers to close two crack houses in Prince Rock and one on the Barbican. Again, that has made a transformational difference to residents there, bringing a new calm to areas that were previously blighted by crime and antisocial behaviour. The local evening paper quoted a resident who said:
"The community feels a lot safer. At times we used to have up to 40 people hanging around the houses. They would call round at any time of day or night and shout up at the windows or throw stones to wake them up. We were finding it impossible to live."
Again, the new powers and initiatives that the Home Office has introduced are proving very effective in bringing greater peace and security to parts of Plymouth.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety knows that I go out most Saturday mornings with my team to conduct a roving surgery. Over the past six months, I have conducted an antisocial behaviour survey in that way. One of the things that I have found is that crime is incredibly localised. In some parts of the city, the majority of people still rate drugs as an issue, but in other places not very far away, drugs do not feature at all in the survey. People say things quite spontaneously. There is no tick box for this; people just fill in the part of the form for other comments. They say, "Police are much more visible", "I'm quite happy—no major issues", "Things are better", "Area has cleaned up", "Things pretty good now" and "Very happy with all local issues." I am not sure how this fits with antisocial behaviour, but some say, "Pensions are good", "Health service better now" and "Vandalism better than it was." So the Home Secretary's remark that we should not lose sight of the good news stories is extremely important.
We have also had considerable success with the introduction of neighbourhood beat managers, who are beginning to instil confidence in communities that they will be listened to. As I know from some of the phone calls that I made this weekend, there is still an enormous amount to be done. Over the weekend, I put about four or five people in touch with the contact for their neighbourhood beat managers, who are keen to hear from and work with the communities. For years, the communities have been asking for the police to go back on the beat, and with the extra police numbers that we now have in Plymouth it is possible to make that happen.
My hon. Friend the Minister appreciates the partnership work that underpins all that. There will be an awful lot of competition for the together programme bids that she or the Home Secretary is considering. I hope that, from what she and her colleagues have seen in Plymouth, we will be one of those successful bidders. She can be absolutely certain that we shall make very good use of that programme. If the money for special initiatives is not welcome in Surrey Heath, it is certainly welcome in Plymouth. I am already thinking, with Chief Superintendent Maurice Watts, of things that could be done. Just today, I was talking to him about how we could crack down on binge drinking and the resulting misbehaviour that plagues our communities.
I recently saw on London television that one of the police forces, I think, in or around London is using the embarrassment factor of having a large bucket of soapy water—containing disinfectant, I hope—to clean up the mess made by people who urinate in the street. The Home Secretary was very concerned to hear of the extent to which that is a feature in some of our communities in Plymouth. Zero tolerance of those antisocial offenders has a bearing on creating the climate in which we can achieve major reductions in all sorts of crime, including violent crime.
There are many good news stories in Plymouth, but my hon. Friend the Minister will also understand that we have persistent levels of serious violent crime, including murder in the city.
Two such crimes stick out in my mind and it would be remiss of me to concentrate only on the good news stories in Plymouth. I am sure that people in Plymouth will recognise these cases, the first of which is the tragic death two years ago of baby Perran. Despite many reports from members of the community, he died a tragic death. He should never have been left in the care of the couple who were his so-called parents, and he died in tragic circumstances. They were drugs users, and reports from people in the community should have been taken note of, but they were not. However, when a ward has approaching 200 looked-after children in a population of only 10,000, the challenges for the public services are significant.
The same is true of the recent tragic death of Flo Seccombe. Last week, her murderer, Hartshorn, was put down for 14 or 15 years—for once, a sentence that fits the crime. The young man had been drinking and high on drugs for many hours before he committed an unprovoked knife attack on a woman who was sleeping rough in a bus station. It took many months to trace him, because some of the many criminals of that description better fitted the profile than he did.
People tend to call for reviews after such tragedies, and while it is important to learn the lessons, we must pay attention to what has happened before and to the action plans that come from the reviews. When reviews are put in place, they often do not recognise that things have already been done in the community in response to previous reviews and to the stringent audit and inspection processes that we now have across the public services—whether local government, social services, health services and so on. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety will agree that it is important that those reviews are proportionate to, and take account of, changes already in hand from previous inspections and reviews.
We have had a number of such reports in Plymouth—from social services, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection, internal reviews of serious cases and incidents, and the good guidance emanating from Lord Laming's review into the tragic death of Victoria Climbié. Many of them have already resulted in changes to senior management, to action and recovery plans, to closer working relationships, to more joined-up working between the public services and to joint commissioning of services between social and health services.
I worry that, because the reviews are expensive in terms of management time in particular, money and management time could be better used in developing front-line services and in investing in things such as Sure Start, children's trusts, programmes to tackle domestic violence and all the initiatives that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath so derided. For example, substance abuse and alcohol dependency contribute much to the circumstances that result in the tragic deaths that are all too frequently reported in the press. Some would agree that investing in preventive measures has far more to contribute to turning round the fractured families and communities about which we all share a concern.
May I commend you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your wisdom in calling me immediately after Linda Gilroy? I wish to raise one of the city-wide constituency cases that she has just mentioned. I agree that many good things are happening in Plymouth and that we are blessed with an excellent police force that is well led by Chief Inspector Maurice Watts. Much progress has been made. However, it is worrying that violent crime is still on the increase, and that is one of the points that I want to address in my remarks.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening when I said that serious violent crime had gone down and that the programmes over the summer period in which more people were caught had resulted in the figures going up.
I am grateful for that point but, not many weeks ago, I sat in the same meeting with Chief Inspector Watts as the hon. Lady. We were told that violent crime was on the increase, and I certainly believe that to be the case in Plymouth. Many things are positive but, sadly, we must address that problem.
I want to commend my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary for a very powerful and positive speech setting out serious points and asking serious questions of the Home Secretary. I confess that I normally enjoy the Home Secretary's speeches. He is a talented man and speaks well. I am afraid that I do not know what went wrong today. We were treated not to a serious response to some very credible questions but to sixth-form party political debating points. That did him no service and did not grace the debate. I was disappointed to witness that; it is not normally the way that he performs.
We have heard a little of the infamous saying by which the Government came to power claiming that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. I want to tackle a couple of issues relating to that in what I hope will be a fairly brief speech. A primary cause of crime is drug addiction, and in Plymouth we face a serious problem. We heard earlier that Nottingham has perhaps 6,000 heroin addicts and crack cocaine users, and we normally use a figure of 2,500 to 3,000 for Plymouth. I want to put it on the record again that the waiting time for treatment for a young heroin addict who bravely comes to the decision that he wants to kick the habit is still about 12 to 18 months. That is far too long to be meaningful.
The Minister frowns and shakes her head, but I invite her to look carefully at the statistics. I have checked recently with some of the voluntary agencies that are involved with these brave young lives, and they confirm those figures. She may have figures that come from a mandarin in Whitehall, but I assure her that young people are waiting months before they get the treatment and help that they require to kick a drugs habit that is fuelling crime and causing much distress in Plymouth.
Another primary cause of crime is surely mental health difficulties, which seem to affect many people and may be on the increase. I raise with the Minister the troubling case that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton mentioned about the recent tragic murder of Flo Seccombe and the conviction on Friday of her killer, Ian Hartshorn. I refer briefly to something that the judge said when he passed sentence in that case. A newspaper report points out:
"Judge Taylor said that in the run up to the killing Hartshorn had been drinking for 13 hours on an empty stomach, had taken cannabis and also his daily amphetamines.
The judge said: 'You ignored your curfew and stayed out getting into difficulties'.
Judge Taylor said that Hartshorn eventually went to Bretonside Bus Station where he came across 'the prone figure of Flo Seccombe as she slept in a duvet'.
He said she was a 'frail and particularly vulnerable person who posed no trouble to Hartshorn as she was fast asleep and snoring'.
He said Hartshorn told her to stop snoring or he would stab her and when she didn't he 'thrust a knife into her neck so that it severed a vital blood vessel on the opposite side'."
Flo Seccombe sadly died.
As the story unfolded, it became clear that, before the killing, Mr. Hartshorn had been to seek help from the psychiatric services in Plymouth.
The report added:
"Paul Dunkels, defending, in mitigation, said to the court: 'He thought there was something wrong with him.' . . . Hartshorn was referred to an adolescent consultant psychiatrist on September 23, 2003, when he showed signs of 'frustration and anger'. Mr Dunkels said that the psychiatrist said Hartshorn expressed 'paranoid, morbid thoughts about his family, constantly wanting to know they were safe'. He was also suffering from night sweats, panic attacks, and had 'particular thoughts of harming other people'.
Mr Dunkels said Hartshorn 'assaulted his own sister in the past and has stopped himself from stabbing her by removing himself from her presence'."
The psychiatric report on Hartshorn concluded that he
"was not in need of psychiatric care" and Judge Taylor said of the report:
"I could not believe that I read that"— and nor could I. It is easy to second-guess professional people, but it seems that there is a crisis in mental health support and provision in Plymouth, Devon and perhaps other parts of the country.
What do I want from Ministers? I do not expect to hear answers about the specific case this evening, but I invite them to call for an urgent report on the case to determine what lessons that can be learned from it so that law-abiding people in Devon and Cornwall are kept safe from violence flowing from mental health problems. If the Minister calls for such a report, I hope that she will write to me to tell me how it is getting along.
I pay tribute to the police for the way in which they tracked down and prosecuted the killer of Flo Seccombe. They attribute that to good old-fashioned detective work, and I agree with them. I pay tribute especially to Detective Chief Inspector Andy Boulting and his team for solving such a difficult case.
I put it on record that I appreciate that it is extremely difficult to deal with disturbed young people. We should not deprive people of their liberty lightly, yet we cannot force people to choose what is best for their lives. The provision of quality care, and especially residential care, for such troubled young people is expensive, and such issues raise all kinds of complex challenges. I accept all those facts, but Ministers have an overriding duty to protect the public.
Ian Hartshorn had a turbulent history and was well known to the authorities. When he killed poor Flo Seccombe, he had just come off a tagging scheme, which was the sentence for burglaries that he had committed, and he was under a police curfew. However, the murder took place in the middle of the night, so what was the point of him being under a curfew that did not work? Will the Minister review how the curfew system operated in the case?
Ian Hartshorn was in supervised social services accommodation, although I am not yet clear about precisely what kind. What kind of supervision allows a disturbed young man to drink himself senseless and wander around the streets of Plymouth with a knife in his hand in the small hours of the night? Will the Minister call for a report on that matter?
My main worry about the case is the fact that Hartshorn had a history of mental health problems and that he presented himself to the authorities to ask for help only nine days before the murder. He was an alcoholic at the age of 11 and indulged in self-harm. He was consistently involved in a range of crimes for which he had received a variety of sentences, and he was infatuated with knives and other sharp objects, but when he went for help nothing was done. How could a psychiatric consultant conclude that he was not in need of psychiatric care? Judge Taylor could not believe that, and neither can I. Will the Minister please examine that matter?
I am worried about the way in which mental health services are delivered in Plymouth and I suspect that there are such concerns elsewhere. Perhaps too many agencies are involved. We heard earlier that the answer to all our problems was a multi-agency approach, but sometimes that is another way of saying that no single person or organisation takes responsibility, and I fear that that is happening in Plymouth.
The report on the case in the Plymouth Evening Herald said:
"A spokesman for the Strategic Health Authority, overseeing all health care, said: 'The South West Peninsula Strategic Health Authority will consider the internal investigations into the care and treatment of Mr Hartshorn by Plymouth PCT and Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust before deciding on what further action is necessary."
It seems that the primary care trust, the hospital trust and social services are involved in the process, but who is responsible for delivering mental health services in Plymouth? How could a disturbed young man such as Ian Hartshorn slip through the net in such a way? Does anyone know what is supposed to happen to him and people similar to him? Perhaps they should receive institutional care, but if so, where? Plymouth has the Glenbourne unit at Derriford hospital, but that small unit is nearly always full, so where are people supposed to go? Such people may use halfway house accommodation, but the rules in such places are so lax that nocturnal prowling with a knife is permitted. We need to get more of a grip on the situation.
As the case was raging in our local media throughout the weekend, a person told me about their experiences of dealing with Plymouth's mental health services. His son had been on cannabis and had tried to kill his parents—I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that is a serious matter. The son spent two months in the Derriford hospital psychiatric unit, and in the first two weeks after he left the unit, 13 different people tried to help him. He did not see the same person twice. After that time, he received only one call per week from the mental health services to his mobile phone. He is now slipping back into his old and violent ways. I am forced to conclude that there are insufficient places for disturbed young people in Plymouth and that they do not get the right treatment from the mental health services. That situation contributes significantly to Plymouth's crime levels, so I ask the Minister to address the problem.
The pressure on services is getting worse. Recent revelations that cannabis can cause a violent reaction in 10 per cent. of users alone should have caused the Government to rethink their idiotic and shameful decision to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug. The more that I learn about the case—I read that Hartshorn had taken both cannabis and vodka—the more I realise that such substances can cause certain people to have a serious reaction that can lead to violent crime.
The problems are likely to increase. More and more young people in our society are growing up in homes that fail to nurture and support them. More and more young people are on hard drugs or experiment with cannabis and indulge in binge drinking. More and more young people are being affected by disturbing experiences. That situation will produce—and is producing—more and more young people who experience various forms of mental health challenges. For their own sake, such disturbed young people need better help than they are receiving at present, and Ministers need to take more effective action to protect the public.
An internal review is now under way into Plymouth's mental health agencies, but that is not enough. I ask the Minister to intervene and call for a full report before someone else gets killed.
I shall make a brief contribution to a debate in which several hon. Members on both sides of the House have raised good points. However, one of the problems with the debate is the fact that the motion is designed to serve too many purposes, which probably explains why the shadow Home Secretary had such difficulty addressing it. There is a serious problem with guns and drugs about which several hon. Members have made valid points, but there is also a problem with the Conservatives' ludicrous promise of 40,000 extra police, which no one believes and the shadow Home Secretary could not explain. Of course, the final part of the motion refers to greater freedom for communities to direct policing, but that concept is clearly so difficult to explain that he did not bother to address it.
That seems to have been the difficulty with our debate tonight. When Members have been free to concentrate on real issues, we have heard valid contributions. However, it is absurd that the Conservative party, whose leader allowed police numbers to fall by more than 1,000 when he was Home Secretary, should now say that it will increase them at a rate of 5,000 a year and achieve a 40,000 growth within five years. It is absurd that, while the Conservatives plan to cut £1.6 billion from the Home Office budget, they say that they can afford policing costs that will run at about £1.3 billion. It would be better for the public if we did not waste time on what is clearly political nonsense designed solely to catch the odd headline and achieve nothing.
That damages the case that Opposition Members could make. I was interested when Mr. Francois, who is not now present, mentioned special constables. There is a valid argument that we could make greater use of special constables. I am intrigued by the number of senior policemen who tell me that, because they cannot rota special constables, they are not as useful as they could be. We should be considering the array of support available: community support officers, special constables, and neighbourhood and other wardens.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. There is an analogous example in the case of the retained firefighter, who can be rostered and trained to the same high degree as a regular officer. Is there not a case for retained police officers, directly analogous to firefighters, who could fill some of the gaps and be proper, omnicompetent constables?
I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. I was about to say that I accept that, at one level, we need a larger police force. I believe that we need specialised officers—people who can deliver a particular service. When the public talk about the visible uniformed presence, they want reassurance. I am not sure whether that always requires a fully trained, highly specialised police officer and I believe that there is scope for examining how we could add extra support. We would make more progress if we were all honest about that and did not waste time with ludicrous claims about police numbers that no one believes will ever be achieved.
In the same vein, we would make much more progress with the public, and with people's anxiety about crime, if we confined ourselves to talking about things that are actually true. It is easy to see how politicians get themselves locked into a position in which they bid up ideas about crime and the fear of it. We are witnessing that at the moment. However, the reality is that a small number of serious crimes are causing problems, and we should all be applying ourselves to tackling them. Against that, we should acknowledge that general crime figures are coming down. It does not pay to tell people lies about what is happening.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I should perhaps tell him that the West Midlands police's own figures show that crime is coming down according to all their main indicators. Burglaries, vehicle crime, street assaults and thefts are all down. I suggest that he speaks to the commander at his local operational command unit if he does not believe that that is the case.
The hon. Gentleman is making an obvious mistake, although I do not know whether that is by design or accident. He will know that we changed the method for recording crime and we made it obvious that there would be an increase in figures based on that more accurate record. The fact is that the trend is going in a particular direction, and I think that he knows that perfectly well. Recently, when I met the chief superintendent in the operational command unit that covers my constituency, he showed me superb figures for the work that the men and women of West Midlands police are doing. Rather than trash or attack them, we should be commending them for their achievements, and I find it outrageous that people are not prepared to do that.
I concede that, despite the fact that the police are making progress, there are some problems and certain crimes that we have to be anxious about. We have heard about them tonight—drug and gun-related offences. There is also the constant fear of antisocial behaviour, which fuels people's fear of crime and makes them feel less safe even when the statistics are moving in the right direction. On the motion, therefore, we would be better served if we could concentrate on the real issues, and steer clear of nonsensical policing figures and hysterical and untrue arguments about crime.
I want to make a couple of specific points about guns. David Davis made a number of useful points on guns, but he was wrong to emphasise compensation. That is not the route to getting guns out of the hands of criminals or to cutting the supply. If he were to look at the South African experience, he would realise that compensation is often the way to increase the flow of guns. We should be making it more difficult for people who have no reason to have a gun to have access to one. I make it clear again that I am not against legal gun clubs or people who use guns for legitimate sporting purposes, who are normally responsible and reliable. I have no problem with them, but it is far too easy for people to get their hands on guns.
I will give one example. The other week, it was possible for me to buy a gun from the eBay internet site. The way in which the sellers work is simple. They advertise an empty bag or box. The buyer bids for that bag or box, and when that is done, the seller throws in the gun for free. In this case, I paid £80 for a .22 air pistol, which is technically legal. However, the gentleman who sold it wanted to conduct the sale in a motorway service station, where he produced the gun from the boot of his car, complete with gas cylinders—which promptly took it beyond the legal range. It would have been possible for a 12-year-old child to purchase that weapon and have it sent through the post. That is why we have a problem with guns, and that is what we should be seeking to tackle. We should be trying to cut the supply.
Considering the money that an organisation such as eBay is worth, it has no need to engage in that trade. One group that proudly advertises on its site is known as Guns2thugs. I strongly recommend that hon. Members look at the site, because I can assure them that they will be appalled. We should focus our attention on cutting the supply of guns and taking active steps to reduce the number of replicas available. A police officer confronting a replica has no way of knowing whether it is a real gun.
About two years ago, according to the most recent statistics that I have seen, 85 per cent. of the incidents to which the West Midlands police armed response unit was called out involved replica weapons, but there was no way for the police to know that they were replicas at the time. If we want to take the guns out of our society, we have to find ways of ensuring that people who do not need guns do not have them.
I agree entirely—that is the only logical step for us to take. It is far too easy for people to acquire replica weapons and for the weapons to be re-engineered in back-street workshops, then sold in back-street pubs or traded on things like the eBay internet site. The only thing to do is ban them. The idea that definition is a problem is absurd. If we want to stop weapons getting into the wrong hands, we can do it. It is surely not beyond the legal minds of this country to come up with a simple, straightforward definition.
That is an area in which we could make real progress and about which hon. Members on both sides of the House want something to be done. We should ask people, "Why do you need a gun?" and restrict the ways in which guns can be bought and sold. We should take every possible step to ensure that guns cannot be transferred through the postal service. It is ludicrous that guns can be sold on internet sites. We should seriously consider whether there are any present or potential laws that could be used to tackle organisations such as Guns2thugs, which proudly tells its customers that it will get them the real thing to do the real job. In this day and age in a society such as ours such things are almost beyond belief. If we focused our attention on that area we could make a big difference to communities across the country.
My final observation about today's debate is to say how struck I was by the comments of Mr. Oaten about the final part of the motion and the proposal to give
"Local communities . . . greater freedom to direct the efforts of their police force".
I am slightly surprised that the Liberal Democrats intend to support the motion because I thought that two thirds of the hon. Gentleman's speech was telling hon. Members why they should not support it. It is extraordinary that he wriggled himself into opposing his own instincts; perhaps that is Liberal Democrat policy. However, he made a valid point: we should think carefully about what we mean by that phrase. It would be absurd to have direct elections for people who can control the police. That would be the last word in politicising the police and it would open the door—or at least pose a risk of doing so—to the problem of groups such as the British National party getting control of our police forces. That would be a terrible way to proceed.
To return to my earlier point about the need to deal with real crime, not the fear of crime, and not to exaggerate, we must bear it in mind that, in some areas, those who, for some political reason, had a vested interest in whipping up the fear of crime would be the ones who ended up controlling our police force. They would not make rational decisions about where crime is high, which problems need to be tackled and what type of policing would have the greatest impact. They would act solely out of narrow prejudice, bias and political positioning. That would damage the police and the public's relations with the police.
Such a policy makes a nice soundbite—it is superficially attractive—but it would have long-term consequences that none of us should want. I am glad that the shadow Home Secretary decided not to refer to that part of the motion because I would have hated to hear him trying to defend such a thing. It is in our interests to drop such notions, which would not help us to tackle crime but would damage the public's relationship with the police. I cannot see how any decent law-abiding citizen would gain from that.
Like many hon. Members, I was moved and horrified by the speech of Alan Simpson—moved because we all share his heartfelt wish that the terrible recent shooting in Nottingham acts as a turning point for the local community, and horrified by the picture he painted of daily life in parts of Nottingham, especially for young people. It is terrifying that 12 and 13-year-olds have become inured to becoming drug carriers.
In the course of the debate, we have heard many facts and figures about the national scene, many of which have been disputed. I shall give a local snapshot to illustrate the reality on the streets of the statistics, and contrast my constituency experience with that of hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Gentleman. By timely chance, I spent Saturday night doing what I am sure many hon. Members do regularly: I spent the night patrolling with my local police. Much of what I experienced throws light on issues that are often discussed in terms of national statistics.
To put my comments in their proper context and to contrast them with those that we have heard about Nottingham, let me say that if my speech sounds like a report from the front line, it should not. My constituency, Ashford, is part urban, part rural, and extremely prosperous. The unemployment rate is less than 2 per cent. and the area is fast growing. Precisely because so many people have moved into the area, the facilities available, especially the night-time entertainment facilities for the sort of young people who often get involved in low-level disorder, are much better than they were 10 years ago. Although there are pockets of deprivation, the background is broadly peaceful and prosperous. If any part of the country ought not to be suffering the sort of violent crime, disorder and drug problems that the debate is about, it is Ashford. Given all that, some of my experiences on Saturday night are instructive and very worrying.
Having travelled less than 200 yd from the police station in the centre of Ashford, our police van was flagged down. We saw three men: one was lying on the ground, blood pouring from several wounds in his head; the other two were able to stand but they, too, were bleeding from various wounds. It turned out that they had been attacked by another local gang using metal pipes or baseball bats. Whatever had led to the attack—there might be charges, so I cannot give all the details that I know—it was not a drunken punch-up. It took place relatively early in the evening and was not a traditional fight: serious weapons were used and serious injuries inflicted. At the same time—7.30 on Saturday night in a peaceful and prosperous town—another patrol had to leave the station at the same time as us to investigate the smashing of every window on the ground floor of a house in central Ashford, and the spraying of CS gas into that house to act as a form of intimidation.
As I said, that all took place before 8 pm in a largely peaceful, medium-sized town. In many ways, that is the real world background to our debate. I am giving anecdotal, not statistical, evidence, but several issues thrown up in the course of that Saturday's evening patrol are directly relevant to the introductory speech of my right hon. Friend David Davis, particularly the issue of guns and knives. Several hon. Members have discussed the remarks of Mr. Paul Evans about whether we should be more worried about gun or knife crime on our streets. The answer clearly is that we should be worried about both, and I am sure that the Minister is. Statistically, there are far more knife crimes than gun crimes, but if gun crime is increasing she, I am sure, will be extremely worried.
In the context of our discussion about Nottingham, it is interesting to relay the views of the Ashford police who, thankfully, say that there is not a gun culture in the town or in that part of Kent. There are serious drug dealers who carry guns, but the problem is not nearly as prevalent as it is in other towns and cities. Knives, however, have been a growing problem for some years. Kent police are a good, proactive force, and they have a strategy for dealing with the problem. Their basic method involves the proactive use of stop-and-search, which, they assure me, works. The word is out on the streets, so that people who a few years ago thought it fashionable to carry knives, know that they are taking a big risk if they do so in Ashford. If a police car goes past, officers are likely to get out and stop and search such individuals. The net result is a reduction in the use of knives in and around the town, so such policing works.
Similarly, the police use a stop-and-search technique to attack known drug dealers in the locality, and they find it very effective. One of the strongest points that I absorbed from my evening patrolling was that they are extremely worried that the Government's extra demands will discourage such activities. If they are required to fill in forms every time they stop someone, let alone stop and search them, they are worried that young constables who are being trained will never get into the habit of using stop-and-search properly. They will be deterred from doing part of their job which the police know is effective in helping to stamp out the type of violent crime that we are debating. In addition, it will be more difficult to obtain intelligence.
I part company from my hon. Friend Mr. Hawkins, who made an excellent speech, but appeared to decry the concept of intelligence-led policing, which was pioneered by the Kent force and has proved effective in many ways. The police say that without intelligence they cannot operate effectively against the most serious criminals. One of the best ways of gathering intelligence is to be out on the streets, constantly stopping people and talking to them. I hope that Ministers will take heed of the message that anything that deters police from undertaking such activities will probably lead to a net increase in violence.
Many hon. Members have spoken about young people on the streets. My information is that it is now quite usual in Ashford to find children as young as five out on their own after dark, which I find appalling. Such behaviour is standard for teenagers. At about 10.55 pm, just before most pubs turned out their clientele, we came across two young boys outside the local video stop on the high street. When we stopped and asked them whether they were waiting for someone to come out of the shop, they said no, they had just been in there on their own. They both lived about a mile away and were just hanging around the high street at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night. It was another sign of the effectiveness of proactive police intervention that, having been talked to and told to go home by the police, they both walked off. We followed them in the police van and they went home. The Minister will be relieved to hear that I do not propose to hold the Government responsible for the fact that teenage boys think it reasonable to be out on their own, but if we rely on the police to try to deal with such problems—frankly, we should rely on parents rather than the police—anything such as form-filling that keeps them off the streets is a bad thing.
The subject of drugs is clearly central to much of our discussion. I agree with many points made by Members on both sides of the House, and shall merely add a wry observation. A poster on the wall at Ashford police station reminds officers that cannabis is still illegal, and that they can still arrest people for possession. The existence of such a poster in a police station suggests that it is not just teenagers who are confused about whether or not cannabis is illegal. If police officers who deal with the problem have to be told that it is, Ministers are deluding themselves if they think that they have not sent out mixed messages on cannabis. As a society, we need to resolve the debate. If cannabis is still illegal—and it is—that message needs to be spelled out much more clearly.
Returning to the issue of stop-and-search, during the evening we came across known local drug dealers. Officers jumped out of the van and stopped and searched them. No one was found to have anything on them, but the technique of disrupting the lives of known serious drug dealers is an extremely effective way of keeping a lid on the drug problem. Again, if Ministers make decisions that make it more difficult for the police to conduct such searches, they should reverse them. The increased paperwork that the police must undertake when they stop people and the ambiguity of the drugs message are two examples of the way in which Government policy has reduced the effectiveness of local police, who are conscientious, hard-working and intelligent.
I move on to the statistical facts. Mr. McCabe said that he wished to deal only in real facts and figures, so I shall please him by quoting from Home Office figures, which I hope those on the Government Front Bench will not challenge. The Kent recorded crime statistics show that violence against the person was up 11.7 per cent. between 2003 and 2004, and sexual offences were up 7 per cent.
I am not in any sense disputing the figures that the hon. Gentleman quotes, but would I be right to think that violence against the person includes domestic violence cases, on which the police have been instructed to take a tougher line?
And rightly so. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that domestic violence is as serious as any other type of violence. If the statistics include that, so they should. I want to paint a realistic picture. Not every statistic from the Kent recorded crime statistics is going up. Burglary, theft and handling of stolen goods, and fraud and forgery are going down, but criminal damage is up hugely—18.8 per cent.—and overall, total violent crime is up 11.5 per cent. and total offences are up 5.1 per cent.
Perhaps the most alarming figure is the detection rate. In 1998 the detection rate in Kent was 34 per cent. This year it is 25 per cent. That is key to the problem. We all know that the best deterrence against crime being committed in the first place is the likelihood of being caught. It does not matter what we do with sentencing—if people do not believe they will get caught, they will not be deterred. It is axiomatic that for detection rates to rise, police intelligence needs to be good. For intelligence to be good, officers need to be out of the station talking to people. For officers to be out of the station, they must not be spending half their shift filling in forms. The pledge from my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden to reduce the amount of paperwork and to increase the number of officers is central not just to solving the crimes that have been committed, but to deterring future crimes.
My final point relates to the patrol with which I went out. The patrol looked in at a number of potential trouble spots, or houses where dubious activity was known about, or where the neighbours had been complaining. I therefore spent most of my Saturday night in and around such areas in my constituency. I can tell the House that I was not spending it in the leafier, more comfortable parts of the town or the surrounding villages. The people most likely to be the victims of crime and disorder and with the constant threat of drug dealers around their area are those who are least comfortably off—those who need strong public services, including a strong police force, to make their lives tolerable.
No one can tell me that tough policing enforced constantly by highly visible police officers is uncompassionate. It is precisely on our most difficult and deprived estates that the quality of life must be improved by tough policing. The Government's failures in this area, by making the job of police officers more difficult, let down most of all the most vulnerable in our society. That is why we need a radical change in policies to cut crime, and why I urge the House to support the motion.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Green and to reflect on many of the points that he made. The opening speech by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary posited some extremely powerful points. Although those on the Government Benches have criticised that speech for lacking practical points, I think that they are wrong. I hope to add some practical points that particularly relate to the problems and difficulties in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.
Alan Simpson made a powerful speech about the effects of crime, particularly gun crime, in Nottingham. I shall return to that. My constituency is in Newark and Retford, and although it is in Nottinghamshire, it is quite a long way from Nottingham. It takes a good hour to get to Nottingham from where I live. We do not have anything like the level of gun crime that the city of Nottingham has. We have it, but it is nothing like as serious. We do not have the same level of drug crime as Nottingham has. We have it, but it is nothing like as serious. We do not have the level of general violent crime that Nottingham has. We have it, but it is nothing like as serious.
So why is the vast proportion of my postbag made up of complaints, observations and general whinges about policing in my constituency? The answer is simple. We live in a series of rather prosperous towns and villages, where the pace of life is thoroughly agreeable. But there is a lack of police officers on the streets of Newark and Retford to both deter and reassure, as a result of the operations of the police in Nottingham.
Perfectly reasonably, the chief constable has to make decisions to concentrate his resources where the problems occur, and that frequently means that officers from our constituency are taken away. It means that people such as Inspector Gary France from Retford and Inspector Jeremy Butler from Newark, whose performances year on year and month on month are impressive, and who are getting on top of the crime that we face in our small market towns and doing a good job, have grave difficulties in engaging with the public and making sure that the public whom they serve are thoroughly reassured. The difficulty is simply a lack of resources.
You could have been forgiven, Madam Deputy Speaker, for concluding from what has been said tonight that the city of Nottingham—I appreciate that there is at least one Nottingham Member on the Labour Benches, and one former Nottingham Member on the Opposition Benches—is some sort of lawless hell hole. Interestingly, however, Stephen Green, the chief constable, has pointed out that shootings in the city of Nottingham are 40 per cent. down over the past two years. There have been initiatives such as Operation Lance, which is a bit of political hot potato and is targeted principally against Jamaican drug crime. Some 340 drug arrests have occurred as a result of Operation Lance, while Operation Stealth, which has been running for the past two years, has resulted in the arrest of almost 1,000 people. The sentences of those convicted amount to more than 1,000 years, yet the operation has been carried out by only 25 officers. That suggests that things in Nottingham are not quite as bad as the press and public may perceive.
The hon. Gentleman said that Operation Lance was targeted against Jamaican drug crime. I am sure that that is the case, but I wish to make the point—it may be a minor one—that much of what is described as Jamaican drug crime is carried out by British-born black kids, and some of them are of Jamaican origin, while others are not. In a way, it is the involvement of the British-born black kids that is more frightening for society as it goes forward.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. That is why I underlined the fact that Operation Lance was a bit of a political hot potato. This operation has specifically targeted those who are Jamaicans by birth and are being welcomed into the city of Nottingham by a mixture of black and white drug gangs, and it has been very successful.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South made the point that the sad and unnecessary shooting of Danielle Beccan was a watershed. That is absolutely right, because there is no doubt that we in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire felt that things were improving. Without detaining the House too long, I may say that it is interesting to note that this shooting came in a climate of lack of expectation; there was no warning and no intelligence to suggest what was going to happen. It seems to have been completely random, unlike the planned shootings that take place between criminal organised gangs. Such a shooting was almost impossible to stop from the point of view of Nottingham police, and it was particularly depressing in that regard.
The fact remains that if these remarkable statistics can be achieved by Nottingham and Nottinghamshire police, how much more could be achieved if the correct level of resourcing was given to them? In particular, what would happen if some specific points were being dealt with much more imaginatively? I wish to mention three of those points. First, the police would like to use covert operations much more than they currently can. The difficulty with such operations is clear; they are extremely expensive in terms of money, manpower and training. The "more cops for Notts" campaign is a pretty blunt and unrefined campaign. Perhaps the answer is not just more cops for Notts, but more specialised cops.
Secondly, as has been pointed out, there is the programme of witness protection. It is very difficult for the police to produce convictions if witnesses do not feel secure and are unwilling to come forward. Will the Minister comment on the possibility of anonymous evidence being permitted in court to allow witness protection to be more effective?
My final point is hardly innovative and has already been referred to in passing: there are hardened users of both drugs and guns, but on top of that a gun and knife culture exists, particularly inside the city of Nottingham. How can youngsters be weaned off that culture? How can they be taught that to be big on the street does not necessarily involve being tooled up and that they do not need to carry a firearm or blade?
We have heard several statistics tonight about youngsters from around the country being found with weapons on them. When children are found carrying weapons, the police are frequently blamed without much thought being given to the problem. Several different initiatives have been implemented in Nottingham, many of which were instigated by the city council. If those programmes were more coherent and subject to national leadership, if there were set targets and more proper organisations, and if the approach were less random, maybe the culture of the carriage of guns and weapons by children might be overcome.
So much for the city of Nottingham specifically, although it is interesting that since I was elected Nottinghamshire police have constantly discussed the need for an extra 1,000 officers. Tonight, we heard from my right hon. Friend David Davis that Nottinghamshire police have received about a 7 per cent. increase in their number of officers, and I have seen a number of CSOs deployed on to the streets of both Newark and Retford. However, a 7 per cent. increase and a few CSOs is only a handful of officers. Will the Minister tell me why nothing more has been done to add more officers and resources to Nottinghamshire constabulary? Is that just a convenient excuse that a failing police force trots out time and again to defend itself—I think not—or are Nottingham and Nottinghamshire a special case that needs special attention?
To stop tragedies such as that of Danielle Beccan happening again, my county and that city need some form of special attention as a matter of urgency. In the comfortable towns of Newark and Retford, the police bear the blunt of the blame for the lack of officers. Instead of a trusting relationship between people and police, Government policy and Government under-investment mean that a wedge is being driven between the service and the people. That state of affairs is disgraceful, and I call upon the Government to do something about it now.
First, I reiterate my earlier intervention on my hon. Friend Alan Simpson. Understandably, many hon. Members mentioned the tragic case of Danielle Beccan, but it is also important to get across the fact that Nottingham is a vibrant, exciting, diverse and sought-after place in which to live. As I said earlier, I spent five of the happiest years of my life in Nottingham as a student at Nottingham university.
When I first became an MP in 2001, I held a surgery in one of the slightly more leafy areas of my constituency, Quedgeley. A mother who came to visit me told me that she had to spend time in local car parks in the city centre trying to get hold of heroin for her teenage son because of the 16-week wait for methadone. Earlier this year, I opened a drug rehabilitation centre in the heart of my constituency, and that 16-week wait for methadone is now a five-week wait. That is real progress, so we must keep things in context.
Statistics represent another element of the debate. People always talk about lies, damn lies and statistics, so which set of statistics can we really trust? The Conservatives certainly believed in the British crime survey when they came up with it in 1982, and I dare say they believed in it when it suggested that crime figures were going up, but they need to believe in it now, as do we all. We should not lose trust in it because it shows that vehicle crime is down by half, house burglary is down by 47 per cent., assault is down by 43 per cent., wounding is down by 28 per cent., and vandalism is down by 27 per cent. But who are we to be trusted? We are just politicians. It is anybody's guess whether people in the Public Gallery or viewing this debate at home trust the Home Secretary, Home Office Ministers or, indeed, the Opposition, but I would say to them, "If you are not going to trust us with regard to these statistics, who should you trust?"
In my constituency and in almost every other, people should trust their local police. I know what my local police are saying loud and clear, because they said it last month in a local newspaper, the "Gloucester Citizen". On
"This has been a truly remarkable start to the 2004/5 operational year."
The chief constable, Dr. Tim Brian, said:
"It demonstrates the success of the investment and changes we made in 2003".
There is slightly more explanation in the remarks of a man whom I know very well, the chief superintendent of the Forest and Gloucester division, Chris Merrick, who says:
"Our efforts around controlling the supply of controlled drugs on the streets of Gloucester have also had an impact on crime generally".
Perhaps the person who goes furthest—my neighbour, Mr. Clifton-Brown, will know him better than I do—is Chief Inspector Jim McCarthy of the Cotswolds and Stroud division, who said of the statistics:
"They prove that our intelligence-led approach to reducing the opportunities for committing crime is paying off."
So what are the key innovations and what difference are they making at a local level in my community, as in communities all over the country? There has been a release of 17 additional police officer posts for general policing duties—that means more bobbies on the beat—through the civilianisation of custody detention officers, and there have been 61 additional community support officers, 31 of whom have been funded above and beyond the Government match funding figure. I hope that police forces that have stuck their necks out by trying to innovate in the same way as the Gloucestershire constabulary will be rewarded when their settlements come up later in the year. That innovation has made a significant difference locally. Overall crime is down by 19.2 per cent., domestic burglary is down by 27.2 per cent., and vehicle crime is down by 31.8 per cent. Perhaps most significantly, the level of crime fell by one third—33 per cent.—between last August and this August.
The other key element is resourcing. Several hon. Members spoke about resourcing, and not least Patrick Mercer, who made an eloquent plea for an extra 1,000 police officers. This debate comes up year after year, and usually in May in areas such as mine, when there is an election around the corner, so a couple of years ago I decided to request a study by the House of Commons Library to consider the pattern of policing in Gloucestershire and the number of civilian support staff and police officers down the ages, all the way back to 1979.
It is an interesting pattern. Back in 1979, Gloucestershire constabulary had 1,096 police officers. In fairness to the Thatcher Government, police numbers then went up, peaking in 1984 at 1,149. The figure then stayed largely the same, varying up and down a bit, and peaking in 1992 at 1,174. That was the highest number of police officers that we ever had under the Tories—back in 1992—and from then on the number kept dropping, right the way through until 1999, when the Government had changed and had put in the resources. However, one cannot turn the battleship around in a couple of years. In 1999, there were only 1,104 officers, less than there had been in 1992.
Since then, the rural policing fund, which has brought us about £750,000, and the crimefighting fund, which is over and above our annual settlement and has been worth about £4 million to my constituency in the past four years, have made a huge difference. When the work was done for me back in 2002, we had 1,183 officers—far more than ever before—and 545 civilian support staff, compared with only 367 in 1992. I know that hon. Members may argue that civilian support staff are not that important or that we could get rid of them and have more officers on the beat, but one cannot say that, because some of these people do jobs that make it easier for officers to get out on the beat. For example, there are civilian statement takers.
Those figures were for 2002. This morning, I decided to get in touch with the Library again. I was told that on
Would not it have been even better for Gloucester if the hon. Gentleman had been able to cite an increase not only in civilian back-up but in jobs for real police officers?
I like the hon. Gentleman immensely and he makes some very good points in the House, but he was not listening to what I was saying. I said that we had 1,269 police officers—more than we have ever had before; and for the first time in the history of Gloucestershire, we have more than 1,000 constables. Compare the figures with those of years gone by, and they reveal a huge difference. On top of that, we have additional civilian staff and 61 community support officers, 31 of whom are funded—this is a message for my own Front Benchers—over and above the match funding figure. It is a right to take such decisions at local level, and police authorities and constabularies can do so. Innovating in that way demonstrates that they can reduce crime statistically.
I say not just to Members of this House but to members of the public listening to this debate in the Chamber, on television or on the radio that if they if they are not prepared to trust the statistics of the British crime survey and other organisations, and if they are unwilling to trust what Ministers or Back Benchers such as I say—if so, they are unlikely to trust Opposition Front Benchers, either—they should listen to and trust local police officers, who are saying that crime is going down and that they are better resourced than ever, and in areas such as mine, they are also innovating like never before.
I reciprocate by pointing out that I am fond of Mr. Dhanda, who is doing his very best to defend a difficult position. He will remember that "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" was one of the promises that, sadly for the people of Britain, simply has not proven true. People feel less safe than they did seven years ago, and not without good cause.
The facts on Labour's crime record speak for themselves. Well over 1 million violent crimes are committed every year in the UK, and crime is rising year after year. Some 800,000 more offences are committed each year compared with 1998–99; that equals an extra 90 crimes every hour, compared with five years ago.
Of course, the Government try to hide behind selective statistics and changes in the recording of crime. So why, then, do adjusted records since the method of recording was changed still show an increase in crime? Violence against the person went up by 14 per cent. between 2002–03 and 2003–04. The number of serious assaults has increased by more than 1,000, and there were 30,000 of the less serious, injury-causing crimes in the past year. The number of sexual offences is up; criminal damage is up; and total violent crime is up by more than 100,000 offences since 2002.
In my constituency, the number of thefts of motor vehicles has risen by 5 per cent. in the past year. It is a telling sign of the state of crime in Britain that this seems to be a relatively lucky situation. We should consider some of the crime rate figures for Wales. In the last year, robbery offences were up by 30 per cent., and sexual offences in Dyfed-Powys increased by 90 per cent. Robbery offences in south Wales went up by 71 per cent. Violent crime has risen almost twice as fast in Wales as in Manchester or London. No matter what we do with these figures, it is impossible to conceal what everyone in Britain already knows—that crime is soaring.
Yet this is not all that we have to worry about. Detection rates are falling. More crimes are being committed, yet fewer criminals are being punished for them. In fact, detection rates have sunk to just 23 per cent. For every 100 crimes, 77 are left unsolved. Nearly four out of every five criminals are left unpunished, and for all the unpunished criminals, there are the many victims of crime who are left knowing that justice has not been done. No wonder people feel disappointed. We are living in a country in which the law-abiding majority are losing out. People do not feel safe going about their everyday life because the system is leaving criminals to roam our streets.
According to a survey carried out last year, nearly a quarter of adult females admitted to feeling "very unsafe" when they were out at night. People are unable to go out and enjoy themselves because they do not feel safe in their own towns. Crimes are left unreported because people have no hope of the criminals being caught, or because they know that if they are caught, the punishment will probably not fit the crime. Not only have crime rates grown and detection rates fallen in the past seven years, we have also witnessed the introduction of schemes that impose on criminals punishments that simply do not bring justice, so even when offenders are caught, there is no guarantee that they will be punished fairly.
We know that Labour's early release scheme has led to 3,600 crimes being committed by people who were let out of prison early. Earlier this year, the Home Office confirmed plans to hire a public relations firm to launch a £1 million pound publicity drive. What for? Its purpose is to increase public confidence in alternatives to sending convicted criminals to jail. People do not want alternatives to sending criminals to jail; they want their money to be spent on more effective policing to stop crime. They want it to be spent on safe prisons to hold dangerous criminals. They want prisons to hold the 100,000 prisoners predicted by 2010, not 20,000 fewer prisons, as the Home Office is planning.
The Home Secretary has rejected pressures for a major prison-building programme. Instead, he wants to refurbish prisons and use weekend jail sentences for convicted criminals. Perhaps he has been listening to the Liberal Democrats—not sending burglars to prison, abolishing mandatory life sentences for serial rapists and cutting prison sentences for people who deal in ecstasy and cannabis. The fact remains that the soft approach to crime will not work.
No one is suggesting that all criminals should be sent to prison and that there should be no alternative. Of course rehabilitation and help should be available as well. We need to combine effective support with effective punishments. We need better, more rehabilitative sentences for persistent offenders. Two issues perhaps stand out more than any others here—young offenders and those affected by drug misuse.
Young offenders are being failed by the present system. The Government introduced an intensive surveillance and supervision programme for young offenders, a community sentence involving curfews and 25 hours a week of education and therapy. Yet that was completed by fewer than half those sent on it over the past year. The way in which jail sentences are being managed is not working either. Just 7 per cent. of young offenders were given custodial sentences last year, yet providing prison places for young offenders cost the Youth Justice Board £283 million of its £394 million budget. Of those, 80 per cent re-offended on their release, so nearly 70 per cent. of the Youth Justice Board's budget was spent on successfully punishing and rehabilitating just 1.4 per cent. of young offenders. Once again, something is clearly not working here. Tackling young offenders properly would prevent those youths from going on to a lifetime of crime and destruction. It is one of the most important aspects of bringing crime down. It is more than just punishment; it is prevention. Prevention is one of the keys to fighting crime in Britain, as is tackling the drug problem.
It does not take much to realise that the current system is failing criminals with drug problems as well. Britain now has a million or so hard drug addicts. [Interruption.] We all know that drug addiction often leads to other crimes, such as violence, theft, robbery and organised crime—
I hear Government Front Benchers claiming that the figures are wrong. I wish that they were and I hope that the Government will continue to do more to cut crime, but they are not succeeding.
The Prison Service now believes that in some jails up to 80 per cent. of prisoners are hard drug users. Other estimates suggest that half of all crime is drug related. We should think how many crimes could be prevented if drug offenders were treated effectively, but it is simply not happening. There are examples everywhere of the failure of the Government's methods for tackling drug crime. In my own constituency of Leominster, known drug dealers are left unpunished. Indeed, local people have been to see me to express their anger and despair at the fact that drug dealers are flouting the law, openly selling drugs on the streets and laughing in the face of justice. Drug addicts need to be given the simple choice between rehabilitation and criminal punishment. We want a system that will work for everyone and not leave drug addicts to suffer and hurt others. Harm done to others is, of course, one of the saddest results of crime.
Let us consider the increasing problem with gun crime in the UK. We do not have to look any further than the tragic news stories that come out so often nowadays to realise that gun crime is growing. The facts and figures are there to prove it. Home Office figures show that, in England and Wales, there were nearly 25,000 firearm offences in 2003–04 compared with fewer than 15,000 in 1998–99. Firearms used in crimes, excluding air weapons, increased by 36 per cent. between 2000 and 2003, and the number of firearm fatalities has increased from 49 in 1998–99 to 81 in 2002–03. However, clamping down on legal gun owners is not going to help matters. Forcing more and more legislation on responsible, law-abiding gun owners is not going to help cut crime. I do not believe that any of the firearms crimes were committed by legal owners of guns. It is time to think again on that. If I am wrong, I know that the responsible Minister will intervene, but I suspect that she is thinking that suicide is the only crime in which a legitimate owner may have used a gun against himself. Making legislative changes, which the Government believe will help, will not succeed in tackling the problem.
It is also time to think again not just on crime, but on the way our police work. Our police work hard. Unfortunately, they have to spend most of their time hard at work at their desks, buried under the unnecessary paperwork that the Home Secretary has forced on them. Just 17 per cent. of police time is spent out on patrol—and most of that in vehicles. We do not need much of the super-political correctness that leads to most of that red tape—the sort that requires forms to be filled in every time a policeman stops or speaks to someone in the street, even if that person has not done anything wrong and it would be a waste of time to take down details. Of course, it does matter. The police should be on our streets, where we need them and, importantly, where they want to be. They should be visible and active within the community, where they are clearly failing at the moment. Survey after survey reveals that people feel the presence of police on their streets is too low.
The police should be able to focus on their local issues. They should not be chained to Government directives affecting everything they do. Policing plans, targets, funds and grants are forced on to them at national level, without consideration for local priorities. The Government provide up to 85 per cent. of police funding. A significant amount of that money is granted through specific ring-fenced funds. That means that what is in many cases desperately needed cash has to be spent on particular schemes, such as community support officers. There is no guarantee that such schemes will be the best form of policing for an area. Local police, not Whitehall, should be tackling the issues that matter most in their area. Nor should the police have to worry about the 58 performance criteria—a ridiculous number—or the best value regime, which add to their work load. They should also be accountable to the residents of the area they police, which cannot happen while they are so controlled by the Government.
The Government make much of the increase in police numbers in their time in power. Indeed, the hon. Member for Gloucester—my neighbour—did so in his contribution. But we all know how much police authority precepts—the income from council tax—have increased in that time. The £955.5 million increase between 2000–01 and 2003–04 could have paid for an extra 19,100 police officers. That is nearly 7,000 more than were actually recruited. So even the improvements are not all that they might have seemed to be. We have more police officers, but not as many as we could have had.
Many of the additional police officers are part of the community support schemes and are officers with very limited powers. They are police officers, but not as we know them. The Government need to realise that their schemes are not working. We need many more police and many more prison places. Community sentences simply are not effective, and approaches such as the early release scheme are impractical and dangerous. Red tape and bureaucracy are stopping our police forces doing their job. The people of Britain deserve better than to live in fear of criminals. It is the criminals who should be living in fear of punishment. There is no escaping the fact that crime is a growing scourge on the lives of people in Britain.
The new regulations and initiatives that the Government have introduced on crime are worthless if they have no effect. We all want a decline in crime and an effective system for rehabilitating criminals. We all want to make Britain's streets safer. Unfortunately, the Government are failing to achieve that.
I am grateful to have a chance to speak in this important debate and I have listened with care to the contributions of hon. Members on both sides of the House. For more than a decade, gun crime has cast a shadow over my constituency. Sadly, every so often an incident occurs, normally involving a young girl or girls, such as the incident in Nottingham or the incident in Birmingham 18 months ago, and for a few days gun crime makes the headlines and we have debates in the House. But in Hackney, parts of Brent, Lambeth and Southwark and other inner-city areas in Birmingham and Manchester, gun crime has taken its toll year in and year out for a decade.
It is always important to remember in our discussions that levels of gun crime in this country are still only a fraction of those in cities such as New York and Chicago. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on the steps that they have taken to deal with the gun crime menace—including increasing sentences for carrying a firearm and funding community organisations that address the issue. My Labour colleague, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has also been responsible for putting many more policemen on the streets of London, with the results that we see.
The particular problem of urban gun crime that I face in Hackney seems to be rediscovered every 18 months or so. We have always had armed professional criminals who commit a crime, take the gun home and put it away, but what has been happening on the streets of inner London for more than a decade is new. For young men—it is primarily young men—going out routinely armed is part of their style. They are not dressed to go out clubbing of an evening unless they carry a gun. The notion of guns as a style accessory that is part of a person's culture is new. As an east-end MP, I know all about professional armed robbers, but what we see on the streets of Hackney, Lambeth, Brent and Southwark is something else. We see young people for whom the gun culture is part and parcel of their youth culture.
Although the level of gun crime is tiny and it is important not to sensationalise it, the fact that an increasing number of innocent passers-by are caught up in the crossfire creates real fear in inner-city communities. The people most likely to be on the receiving end of a bullet fired by a professional armed criminal is another professional armed criminal and, sadly, security guards. In Hackney, however, people waiting at a bus stop have been caught up in gun crime. People have gone to clubs, a gun has been fired in one room, the bullet has travelled through a wall and has hit an innocent person in another room. Most recently, an 18-month-old child was shot as a result of a gun incident. Such pervasive and random crime creates fear in the community out of all proportion to the statistics.
In the short term, it cannot be repeated often enough that the majority of gun crimes are performed with replica weapons that have been re-engineered. I have asked Ministers about that before and heard about the difficulties of definition. I can only repeat that the police and people in the community want a complete ban on replicas. It cannot be beyond the wit of Home Office lawyers and the great brains that advise Ministers to devise a way of dealing with the menace of replicas that does not mean arresting children for carrying toys. The majority of the guns involved in inner-city gun-crime incidents are replicas. As has been said, a policeman called out to an incident at which there is a gun does not know whether he faces a replica or a real gun. It will not be too long before a policeman opens fire only to find that he has fired on a kid with a replica. I urge Ministers to consider a total ban of replica weapons.
Other steps need to be taken to keep guns off the street in the short term. I am chairman of the all-party group on gun crime, which last year took evidence on the subject. We were concerned to find that Customs does not keep records of the number of guns it confiscates when people try to smuggle them into the country. It needs to make gun crime more of a priority by tracking guns going in and out of the country. It is extraordinary that it cannot produce those figures. We need a more joined-up approach to gun crime, that embraces what is happening in Customs. Those are some of the short-term measures.
In the medium term, we need to do something about witness protection. A witness to a major gangland killing will be whisked away by the police, have their identity changed and the rest of it. Unfortunately, in Hackney, as in other inner-city areas, gun crime is almost too routine for that to happen. I cannot speak for Nottingham, Gloucester or other parts of the country, but gun crime in inner-city London is not stranger crime. By and large, people know who committed the crimes. If they do not know the individual, they know the gang.
The problem is that people are still frightened to come forward, because they believe that the police cannot protect them. As I have told Ministers before, more needs to be done to protect witnesses, not only witnesses to major gangland killings but to the intermediate type of gun crime. A middle-aged woman visited my advice session. She was a churchgoer and had gone to court as a witness. Since seeing someone go down for a gun crime, that woman, who is in her 60s, has had to move four times. She rings the police to ask for help, but the trial is over and they no longer have a role.
How can we crack down on gun crime if people who genuinely want to be witnesses feel that the police cannot protect them? We need to focus on witness protection, not just for major crimes but for the intermediate gun crime that is tragically an everyday reality in my constituency.
As the hon. Lady knows, I support her hugely in what we are trying to do in the all-party group. May I add one more thing to her list? It is about victim support. My experience is that if people know that when they give evidence or a statement to the police it is bound to mean that they have to go to court, they will not come forward; whereas if they know that they can talk to the police but that a separate process requires their consent for the use of that evidence, we will receive much more evidence. People are willing to share information, but not if the result is their having to stand publicly in the witness box six months later.
That is a reasonable point. It is all too easy to bandy statistics on the subject, but I am looking at practical steps forward for people who face the reality of gun crime day in, day out. That would help my constituents, who want to go to court and see criminals behind bars but are terrified and, for whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, do not feel that the police can or will afford them protection, especially once the criminal has actually been sent to prison.
The police cannot fight gun crime on their own. It is in the nature of inner-city gun crime that the community often knows who is behind it. It is vital to have links with the community and to work with it. The Metropolitan police have shown the way with Operation Trident, although there is always more that could be done, but they were ahead of many police forces in realising that they had to enlist the support of the community.
The House may not welcome what I am about to say, but I have to point out that there is a history between many inner-London communities and the Metropolitan police. For centuries, the history in Hackney has been that Hackney people do not grass—rightly or wrongly. When, in addition, we consider some of the incidents of brutality and corruption that have characterised some inner-city police stations, we have to acknowledge that history. I say to the community that we must put the suspicions and issues of the past behind us, and work with the police to put criminals behind bars. However, I say to the House and the police that there is a history and we must work to bring the community and the police together.
I now turn to the long term. As I said, gun crime has been a problem in Hackney for more than a decade. Years before the House was talking about it, years before the papers were talking about it, people were coming to me saying, "We see people on the bus with these guns. What is going on?" What really brought the situation home to me was when, four or five years ago, officers from Operation Trident showed me slides that they had taken of people who had died as a result of gun crime—the actual criminals, the young men carrying the guns. I saw pictures of young black men, not much older than my son, lying face-down in pools of blood and I asked myself, "What has our community come to that young people hold their lives and their communities so cheap that they will throw away their lives?" And for what? For nothing.
Gun crime is a particular tragedy for the communities in which it occurs. I have spoken of the fear that criminals often engender and of how people are frightened to come forward, but it is a tragedy for communities that there is a generation of young men, even if it is only a minority, who are so socially alienated that carrying a gun and being the muscle for a hard-drug operation is the height of their aspiration.
Obviously, criminals commit crime, but criminals are created from a pool of social alienation, and part of that alienation is the frightening, continuing educational underachievement of black boys in our schools system. I have said this before, but I will say it again: we cannot allow a situation where, year after year, other ethnic groups catch up with white children—in some cases, overtaking them—and black boys continue to fall further behind. Unless we address the underlying causes of that social alienation, a proportion of young people, a fraction, will always fall through the school system, fall into social alienation and become prey to the gun culture.
I would advise against exaggerating gun crime in this country—it is nothing like what is seen in the United States—but I have no doubt, as a mother, a resident and a Member of Parliament in somewhere that has been a hot spot for gun crime for more than 10 years, that it creates fear in the hearts of residents, even if the figures about what is likely to happen and whether they are likely to see it are relatively low.
Thanks to the work of Operation Trident, gun crime has begun to recede. Trident has been successful, but there is more to be done. We cannot afford to let 18-month-old children become the victims of gun crime. We cannot afford to lose even one life to gun crime, so I urge Ministers to consider taking practical steps about replica weapons, to consider witness protection issues and to help those in Operation Trident work closely with other police forces to roll out its lessons about the importance of listening to the community. Above all, I urge Ministers to look at why some young men in some of our big cities seem to feel that life has nothing more to offer them than demonstrating their masculinity and status by holding on to guns.
It is tragic that, every 18 months, hon. Members get up in the House to say, "We have reached a watershed on this issue." We heard that about the Birmingham shootings; we have heard it today. This is not just about the rare case of a young girl that excites public opinion; some of us will not be satisfied until the relentless, week-on-week toll that gun crime causes in our communities is ended.
Time is running short, so I wish to consider a specific point about crime in the south-west. Mr. Heath, who is in his place, and I face a particular problem in that Avon and Somerset police force is involved in a difficult balancing act because it covers the conurbation of Bristol and a vast rural area to the south. I pay tribute to its chief constable, Steve Pilkington. The last time that the Home Secretary set targets to reduce burglary in urban areas, it decreased by 8 per cent. in the urban area, but it increased by 8 per cent. in Somerset. The reason is that the resources had to be put into Bristol to fight crime there. In the latest round, more than two thirds of the officers who have been created have gone to Bristol, with few coming to the rural areas. That has exacerbated the problem of rural crime.
We also have a problem with the M5 making it easy for criminals and others to move quickly around the west country. Rural crime is becoming more and more of a problem, which, as far as I can see, the Government have not addressed in any way or form. In the past week, three support officers have been created for the whole of the west of Somerset. That is it; no new policemen have been created. We had some parish wardens, but the problem was that the Government removed the funding and told the district councils that they could take them on. The districts councils could not afford to do so. We made representations, but we got absolutely no joy.
The problem is that it is getting harder to do the jobs that we need to do. We have heard a lot about gun crime in Hackney. Luckily, we have had only one gun crime on Exmoor, but when the police support units that were coming down from Bristol and up from Exeter got there, they realised that their radios do not work on Exmoor—a fundamental problem when dealing with an incident with a gun. The incident was contained and dealt with, but the police could not operate normally when they got up on to the moor. The person was eventually brought down and the situation was resolved. If we are going to create extra police, their numbers must be distributed fairly. It is easy to say that we have created 1,000 or 10,000 more police, but if they are not distributed to do the job, we will be failing people.
We face another problem that has not been covered in the debate. We have lost our probation officers: one end of my constituency has none now and the other has one for half a day a week. As we well know, the probation service in Bristol has just asked whether the courts in Somerset could just take a quota of court reports. The quota suggested is under half of what is required per month. The courts cannot physically do their job, because there are not enough probation officers. The justices of the peace are under more and more pressure to sort out serious crime and crime generally, but they cannot obtain the reports that they need. The Government have not addressed the problem, even though Members from Somerset have pushed it time and again. In fact, the problem has got worse over the past few months, because the justices of the peace cannot do their job.
I pay tribute to one measure that has been a great success—the antisocial behaviour order. In rural areas where one family causes the trouble, we know exactly who they are and what they are doing. In one of the large villages in my constituency, we faced a terrible problem with a family who, interestingly enough, had been moved from an urban conurbation. The police applied for an order, got it and resolved the problem. However, in the meantime, urban area problems that we are not used to were placed upon us and the police could not deal with them because they had no experience of them. However, the Bristol police came to the area and resolved the problem.
I know that my hon. Friend Angela Watkinson wishes to speak, so I shall conclude my remarks. I ask the Government to distribute police numbers fairly. We cannot fight rural crime in the same way as we fight urban crime. Chief constables, such as Steve Pilkington who was criticised by the Home Secretary for no fault of his own, are just not able to deal with it.
The premise of my speech was to illustrate that if antisocial behaviour and low-level crime go unchecked, they escalate into more serious crime and, at the other end of the spectrum, to the gun crime that has been the subject of this debate.
I was in the main police station in my constituency recently for the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Metropolitan police. It was a rather happy occasion, with a splendid cake—it was a shame to cut it. While I was there, I made a shocking discovery. A row of posters on the wall showed the successes of Havering police in exceeding the targets set by the Metropolitan police for clearing up crime in certain categories. Havering was first out of 32 London boroughs in the detection rate for total notifiable offences, second for vehicle crime, fourth for robbery and 12th for residential robbery. I hope that the Minister will join me in congratulating Havering police on their excellent achievement in scoring way above its targets. What shocked me was that the Metropolitan police clear-up rate for total notifiable offences is 20 per cent. It gets worse. For residential burglary, the figure is 17 per cent., for robbery 16 per cent. and—wait for it because this is the real shocker—for vehicle crime it is 5 per cent. If the figure were any lower, stealing, damaging or breaking into a car would be a non-crime. This is corporate trivialisation of crimes that are the breeding ground for yet more serious crime. Such crimes need to be treated seriously so that young criminals do not become bolder and turn into serious criminals.
I telephoned my main police station last night and asked why it had taken so long for Havering to issue its first antisocial behaviour order. I asked what police resources and time have to be invested into achieving an ASBO. An officer replied and referred to the youngster involved. He said:
"which he breached twice . . . In 2004, he seemed to take off and from April-August committed ten substantive offences of shoplifting/criminal damage/assault and public order, which were not proceeded with essentially because witnesses and victims were unwilling to attend Court through in the main fear of reprisals. There were three other offences which did go to Court—robbery, assault and burglary—for the last, after two supervision orders had failed miserably, he was sentenced to 4 months in prison at a YOI."
The officer initiated proceedings for an ASBO in June 2004 and finally achieved his objective when it was granted on
"I would not even try to assess the number of hours I have been involved upon this project, but needless to say it was considerable, revisiting victims, reinvestigating allegations, attempting to persuade victims to put their fears to one side and attend Court (unsuccessful), attending multi-agency case conferences, taking third party statements so that I could present the case, jumping over a succession of new hurdles erected by the Defence and sanctioned by the Court. This is on the face of it a user friendly piece of legislation, but in reality, which is exacerbated by the misunderstanding and misinterpretation by the Courts, but mainly the Clerks of the Courts, it has become so unwieldy that Officers tend to shy away from the prospect."
The measure would be an excellent tool if it were more user-friendly. Although the concept behind ASBOs is good, their methodology needs serious revision. The police need the freedom to use the targets that they feel are most appropriate to their local circumstances.
We have had a serious debate and I should say at the outset that, although I shall make a few disobliging comments about Government policy, Her Majesty's Opposition have attempted today to consider these serious problems and help the Government to face up to them.
My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said that the debate would focus largely on Nottingham, as indeed it has. Conservative Members think that Nottingham gives us a powerful warning, not that Britain is consumed by gun crime, but of what could go wrong throughout our society if action is not taken now. My right hon. Friend has visited Nottingham on several occasions and I went there on Saturday. I am pleased to hear that Home Office Ministers will go there shortly to find out what can be done to help. The Home Secretary said that he understood the problem. Although we take him at his word, we expect him to take the necessary action.
The motion is specific and addresses, above all, gun crime, which has risen steeply in Nottingham. We could have widened the debate in many different ways. For example, we could have dwelt on last week's Metropolitan police figures for London that showed that knife crime had increased by 13 per cent. over the past year and that half the offenders were under the age of 21. We could have considered the figures from Birmingham and Manchester—they will come out shortly, but they have been trailed—that will show a sharp rise in alcohol-fuelled street violence in Britain's towns and cities. We could have considered the general rise in crime and the fall in detection rates, but we wanted to face up today to the dangerous escalation of gun crime.
Gun crime in this country has risen by 35 per cent. over the past year. In the past 100 days—since the House rose for the summer recess—25 people in Britain have been shot, the youngest of whom was a child in Hackney aged one and a half, and 18 people have died, the latest being 14-year-old Danielle Beccan. In Nottingham alone, there have been 11 fatal shootings over 27 months and there are 17 ongoing murder inquiries. As the House heard earlier, the usually quiet suburb of Arnold, which I had the pleasure of representing for 10 years, was recently the scene of the murder in broad daylight of Marian Bates, a local jeweller.
We are all sorry that the Home Secretary is not in the Chamber. He chided my right hon. Friend David Davis for citing a figure of 1 million drug users and suggested that that was not true. I can only say that he should read page 64 of his own 2002–03 crime survey for England and Wales on which he will find the direct quote that my right hon. Friend used.
The Home Secretary talked about bombing Afghanistan, but my right hon. Friend said nothing about bombing Afghanistan. Instead, he outlined to the House the problem of increasing amounts of heroin from that country appearing on our streets and asked the Government to set out their policy to deal with that.
The Home Secretary then chided my right hon. Friend for what he had said about the 5,000 extra police for eight years, the 20,000 prison places and the 20,000 drug rehabilitation places that are part and parcel of the Conservative party's forthcoming manifesto for the general election. I have just moved from our economic team, and I can tell the House that my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: those are costed policies approved by the shadow Chancellor, and they will be introduced when we return to government.
The right hon. Gentleman then had the nerve to tell the House that the police were burdened with bureaucracy and form-filling because of the Conservative party's parliamentary questions—a statement that was met with astonishment across the House. He then defended the British crime survey—but all Governments use the British crime survey, and all Oppositions look at recorded crime figures. I would also say to the Home Secretary, were he here, that the British crime survey excludes sex offences, illegal drug use, retail crime—of which there were 8.5 million incidents in the past year—gun crime, and crimes against people under 16, which constitute one of the fastest growing categories of crime.
The Home Secretary's response left us with an impression of his stunning complacency. He did not seem to care much about the six questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, which are extremely important, and to which I shall return later.
The House then heard a speech by Mr. Oaten, who defended the seriousness of the shadow Home Secretary's speech and said that he would support us in the Lobby. He also raised points about the locally elected police boards and the use of legitimate firearms, to which I am sure we shall return in due course.
The House also heard a moving speech by Alan Simpson, who said that the city of Nottingham was populated by people who are kind, decent and honourable. Having represented some of those people in the suburbs of the city, I entirely agree with him. He also talked about the cynical and cruel theft of childhood, and the need to separate children from drugs and guns. I agree with much of what he said about that too. He said that we must do more to protect our borders from guns and drugs, and made a good point about the lack of necessity for cars to have blacked-out windows, which I hope those on the Government Front Bench will consider carefully. He spoke of his hope that the murder of that little girl nine days ago would be a watershed for Nottingham, and the whole House will agree strongly with him about that.
My hon. Friend Mr. Hawkins expressed his concern about villains coming into this country from eastern Europe, and launched a trenchant attack on Government drugs policy. Linda Gilroy endeared herself to the Government Whips Office by the way in which she spoke about law and order issues in her constituency, whereas my hon. Friend Mr. Streeter spoke about violent crime rising in Plymouth, the murder of Flo Seccombe and the crisis in mental health services in Plymouth and the rest of Devon. He also asked the Minister a number of questions.
Mr. McCabe brought us back to the west midlands, and three times questioned the Conservative party's pledge about the 40,000 extra police. He did so because he knows that that pledge is going down extremely well in his constituency and the rest of Birmingham. The Conservative party's costed promise of 2,414 policemen and women will go down well in the west midlands.
My hon. Friend Mr. Green spent Saturday night on patrol in his constituency, and shared some of his experiences with the House. My hon. Friend Patrick Mercer offered wise words about some of the wider issues on the national stage, as well as issues particular to Nottinghamshire.
My hon. Friend Mr. Wiggin—[Interruption.] I apologise if I mispronounced my hon. Friend's constituency. He inveighed against the Home Office's public relations budget, and said that prison works. How right he is.
Ms Abbott spoke about the dreadful events in her constituency, reminded the House of the dreadful events that happened in Birmingham at new year 2003, and gave some insights into the horror of young men carrying guns as fashion accessories—a point that was mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South.
I visited Nottingham on Saturday and met two representatives of Mothers Against Guns: Janice Collins, whose son Brendan was shot near where Danielle Beccan was murdered, and Christine Bradshaw, whose son Marvyn was murdered at the age of 22; his murderer was convicted in July. Those two dignified and decent women, whose every waking hour has been ruined by the pointless and vile murder of their children, speak for many when they say what needs to be done. I hope that when the Home Office team go to Nottingham, they will have a chance to listen to what that organisation says.
Mothers Against Guns makes it clear that there are not enough police. Nottinghamshire's chief of police has asked for an extra 1,000 police; under Conservative proposals, he will receive an extra 714 as swiftly as possible. Everyone knows that there are not enough police on our streets and it is extremely important that we get more. The organisation says, rightly, that the five-year minimum sentence for possessing an illegal firearm is not enough. Guns have replaced the baseball bats that gangs carried five to 10 years ago. We need to send the strongest possible message that those who carry, keep, sell, maintain or import firearms illegally will be imprisoned for a very long time. Mothers Against Guns also speaks of the importance of better witness protection, which has been mentioned today, as well as the availability of firearms and the danger of our porous borders, which has been mentioned often in this debate.
The Government amendment to our motion invites the House to welcome
"the record falls in crime achieved by this Government since 1997, recognising that the chances of becoming a victim of crime are now at their lowest level since records began".
What a brass neck and nerve the Government have. Recorded crime has increased in almost every category since 1998. The overall number of offences has increased by 16 per cent., from 5.1 million to 5.9 million. Violence against the person has increased by 90 per cent., sexual offences by 44 per cent, robbery by 51 per cent., total violent crime by 83 per cent. and criminal damage by 37 per cent. Over the same seven-year period, detection rates have fallen. Detection rates for violence against the person have fallen from 79 per cent. in 1997 to 50 per cent.; for sex crime from 77 per cent. to 39 per cent.; for robbery from 27 per cent. to 18 per cent.; for burglary from 23 per cent. to 13 per cent.; and for violent crime from 69 per cent. to 47 per cent. Those figures are not manufactured in Conservative central office. They are the Home Office figures produced in July this year.
We have not heard an answer to any of the six questions posed by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary. We did not hear what the Home Secretary will do about the physical security of our borders or the burgeoning supply of heroin from Afghanistan. Will he introduce an amnesty? We heard nothing. Will he take measures to stop postal and internet supply of guns? Again, no answer. Will he provide the extra police—not community support officers—that Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester are crying out for? The answer to those questions is apparently that he does not have an answer.
I have been reading some of the speeches made by the Prime Minister when he occupied the position currently graced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden. The right hon. Gentleman now blames the '60s for disorder in Britain, but when he was shadow Home Secretary he inveighed against the then Tory Government who, he said,
"will not take any blame or responsibility but puts it on the 1960s or the trendy liberal establishment—anywhere but on the Government, who have been in power and have had a chance to do something about it. That is what people dislike about the Government. What people dislike about the Government more than anything else is that . . . they do not have the guts to take any responsibility . . . for the situation that they created."—[Hansard, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 38.]
That is what they have done. Labour has been in power for seven and a half years—seven and a half years of rising crime. For seven and a half years, Labour has had the chance in government to put those things right. Instead, we have had seven and a half years of Labour failure. That is the real record for which the Labour Government now stand condemned.
We have had an excellent debate, which has highlighted serious issues about guns and drugs and other problems that beset our communities. However, I may have made an error at Home Office questions, when I welcomed Mr. Mitchell to the Front Bench. Ear plugs would have been welcome tonight, and I may need them for his future performances.
I shall try to bring some sanity to our debate. It is right that we consider these important matters, particularly in view of the tragic events in Nottingham, Hackney and other parts of the country. The thoughts of everyone in the House are with the families and the friends of people struck by those events. However, it is also important to get the facts right and set our debate in context. I am saddened by the Opposition's attempt to paint the country as crime ridden and to whip up fear of crime among decent, law-abiding citizens. I am also saddened by their failure to acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been made over the past few years. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explained, the Government have a positive record in this area, and I am delighted to put it before the House. Let us get some facts into the debate and get away from the high-flown rhetoric that characterised the contribution of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield.
It is an incontrovertible fact that police numbers have increased by more than 12,000 since 1997. It is also an incontrovertible fact that when the Tories were in power, despite their saying that they wanted to recruit an extra 5,000 police officers, they managed to reduce the number of police officers on the street by 1,100. The Opposition often say that they do not like national targets or direction from the centre. They think that the Home Office is interfering when it tries to drive policies through, but they must examine their own record. They put extra money into the police service, but they managed to reduce the number of police officers, which is a pretty inefficient way of operating. Today, there are 4,000 community support officers, who spend 70 per cent. of their time patrolling the streets. They are building relationships with the community and working with schools and hospitals. Again, it is an incontrovertible fact that there were not any community support officers under the Tories.
My hon. Friend is quite right. In a debate in Westminster Hall last Tuesday, Mr. Luff unfortunately described CSOs as "two-thirds police officers". Any CSO described in such terms by his Member of Parliament would feel let down.
I have given the facts on police numbers. We have heard a lot about the British crime survey, which Mr. Richard Garside, the director of the Crime and Society Foundation said in a report provided
"a far more accurate picture of the crimes it measures than . . . police figures."
The survey gives the following facts—burglary is down by 42 per cent., which means that 500,000 fewer people are being burgled than under the Tories; vehicle crime is down by 40 per cent., which means that there are 1 million fewer victims than under the Tories; and violence is down by 26 per cent., which means that 380,000 fewer people are subject to violence than under the Tories. In half of all recorded violent crime there is no injury, and half of that crime is fuelled by alcohol, which is why there was such a brilliant campaign against alcohol misuse over the summer.
I shall give the House some more facts. In 2001–02, gun crime was, I accept, a very serious problem, and increased by 35 per cent. The following year, it was up by just 3 per cent., as we began to get a grip on it; and in the past year, 2003–04, it was up by just 1 per cent. I would not for a moment suggest that it is not a serious or significant crime, but the number of homicides in which firearms are involved has gone down slightly and the number of robberies with firearms has gone down by 13 per cent. Members who spoke on the issue, including my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), made the point that we need to engage communities so that we can fight this scourge together.
Let us have some facts about drugs: 3,000 people went into drug treatment between June and August this year, up nearly 100 per cent. Fact: when the Tories left office, there were fewer than 100,000 treatment places. They never regarded treatment as a priority. It was bottom of the food chain as far as they were concerned. The Government have put nearly £500 million into drug treatment and making sure we break the cycle between drug addiction and crime. We are now seizing £1 million a week from criminal assets and recycling those funds back into the communities to make sure that we are fighting crime.
The final figures that I shall give this evening—I could go on with figures all evening, but I do not want to do that—are an important set of statistics relating to the fear of crime. For the first time all the figures around fear of crime are beginning to come down. Does not that say something about why the Opposition tabled the motion today and engaged in scaremongering? People's fear of burglary, vehicle crime, violent crime and antisocial behaviour is down from 21 per cent. to just 16 per cent. in the past 18 months—a pretty good result for our determined policies to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour.
We had a depressing contribution from David Davis. He mentioned several areas of concern. He spoke about drugs and residential rehabilitation, which has been an obsession of the Tory party, but there was no mention of what happens when people come out of residential rehabilitation. Do we put them back into the same communities? What we have done with our drugs intervention programme is not just get people into treatment, but provide them with education, training, alternative housing and support in their communities to make sure that they do not go straight back into the arms of the dealer—a well thought through, sensible, thoughtful, practical solution that appears to be alien to the Opposition.
The Government's flagship policy was drug treatment and testing orders. The latest figures show that 80 per cent. of all those sentenced to those orders reoffend. Does not that show that what the hon. Lady is saying is nonsense? She is living in a dream land and the British public do not believe a word of it.
Not at all; it is the hon. Gentleman who lives in fantasy-land, but we will leave his fantasy island policies for the moment. The figures on drug treatment and testing orders are pretty early figures. Previously, before we had drug treatment and testing orders, there was no intervention. If the hon. Gentleman was in touch with the real world, he would know that the kind of people who are sentenced to drug treatment and testing orders lead some of the most chaotic lifestyles that could ever be imagined. He ought to recognise that the very early results show 20 per cent. success.
The second area that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden mentioned was prison places to lock up more people. Again, he did not deal with the question of what happens when people come out of prison. Those are simple headline policies, not thought through and not sensible. He did not speak about the persistent offender strategy that we are developing, which will prevent people from becoming persistent offenders. We will catch and convict those who are and we will resettle and rehabilitate people who come out of our prisons. He did not refer to the fact that we have a higher number of drug treatments going on in our Prison Service than we have ever had. There are about 57,000 detox treatments going on in prison, 44,000 CARATs—counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare—and 4,000 rehabilitation places. These are sensible, practical policies. I am sorry that the contribution from the right hon. Gentleman was full of headlines today and incoherence tomorrow. It illustrates for me the bankruptcy of the Tory party.
I shall try to deal with as many of the issues that hon. Members raised as I can. Mr. Oaten mentioned the sale of guns on the internet. I am pleased to be able to tell him that Operation Bembridge was mounted this year, the largest-ever operation consisting of co-ordinated raids of items bought on the internet. It led to more than 100 arrests and hundreds of illegal weapons being seized, together with hand grenades, Semtex, anti-personnel machine guns and machine pistols. That kind of concentrated operation is going on. I was delighted to have the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the Serious Organised Crime Agency. He said that he was warming to fixed penalties. Goodness me, he will be reviewing his policy on antisocial behaviour next, and we will welcome the Liberal Democrats to the fold.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South made a moving speech and expressed the views of his community extremely well. The fact that he said his community would be standing together was important. We will be sending our support and visiting in the next few weeks. We will look at a range of Home Office policies and at how we can help to support those communities so that they become more stable and more safe, and better places for people to live and work in. I pay tribute to him for his contribution, and also to other Nottingham Members for trying to ensure that that happens.
I shall gloss over the contribution of Mr. Hawkins. I was surprised that he did not want to take into account the views of local people. He did not think that information technology worked, but I say to him that, with regard to DNA, automatic number plate recognition and case and custody programmes, I think that he is living in the world of 1940 rather than the modern day policing world.
My hon. Friend Linda Gilroy made an excellent contribution, as she usually does. Her work in her area is tremendous. I was delighted to visit the area recently and see the bobbies on the beat project in the new deal for communities area. The dispersal orders have now been used 70 times in the alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, and we have got some extremely good results. The powers to close crack houses have been used 100 times, and we have closed 100 crack houses in Hackney using the powers 11 times there.
Mr. Streeter made some important points about the tragic murder of Flo Seccombe. I am happy to say that I shall look into the matter and I shall certainly write to him. I know that the case has caused a lot of concern locally, and it is a very important matter. That lady was very vulnerable indeed in those circumstances.
My hon. Friend Mr. McCabe made an excellent contribution. It was a breath of fresh air; it was refreshing and grounded in reality. He talked about the fact that crime was down and about the difficulties associated with buying guns on the internet. I hope that Operation Bembridge will help to reassure him.
Mr. Green spent an extremely entertaining evening with his police. I am glad that he saw for himself the problems of binge drinking; I hope that he did not indulge. He also brought to our attention issues about stop and search. Some 75 per cent. of knives seized by the Met were found through stop and search, so it is an important power. He is right that we have more to do on detection rates, and forensics and science are very important.
I am sorry that I was not present to listen to the contribution of Patrick Mercer. I was delighted that he said that he had a very effective police force. He called for more specialised officers for Nottingham. I appreciate the pressures that exist, but we must ensure that we take action across the piece in the area.
My hon. Friend Mr. Dhanda made an excellent contribution. Crime is down in his area, and waiting times for methadone prescribing are down from 16 weeks in 2001 to just five weeks now. That is a significant advance, but we again have more to do.
Mr. Wiggin talked about young people on intensive supervision programmes. He said that half those programmes had been completed successfully. I am delighted; again, the kind of people that go on ISPs lead very chaotic lifestyles, and we are beginning to get a grip. He also said that people do not want effective community sentences. Yes they do; people in communities are supporting the work that we are doing on drug intervention. His contribution was very disappointing—he had no ideas or policies, and no proposals to make. There were simply empty and depressing complaints and a litany of empty ideas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington made a very helpful contribution in which she brought to our attention the shadow of gun crime in her constituency. She also highlighted the point that although gun crime is a serious issue, it is very small in comparison with what happens in New York, Chicago and other parts of America. She pointed out that young men are increasingly going out with guns as part of a style culture. We need to ensure that that does not happen in future.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger talked about rural crime and deployment and raised the issue of probation. An extra 1,800 probation officers are now in the service. Clearly, we try to direct our resources to the areas of highest need. Where places are suffering repeat victimisation, such as in some of our poorest communities, it is right that they get resources.
Angela Watkinson talked about zero tolerance of antisocial behaviour and low-level crime. I am delighted that she supports our proposals to tackle antisocial behaviour, but I am very disappointed that her police force has got only one antisocial behaviour order. If ASBOs were so difficult to obtain, we would not have 2,455 nationally. I have 50 in my constituency.
At the Tory party conference in Bournemouth, Mr. Howard made much of his 10 words on policy. I have 10 words—
Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr. Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House welcomes the record falls in crime achieved by this Government since 1997, recognising that the chances of becoming a victim of crime are now at their lowest level since records began and that gun crime fatalities are falling; recognises that these achievements are the result of record numbers of police officers on the streets, reinforced for the first time by Community Support Officers; welcomes the Government's achievements in reducing anti-social behaviour which has blighted the lives of too many of the most vulnerable people; and supports the Government's continuing programme of action to tackle crime, including the recruitment of 25,000 Community Support Officers and wardens, the provision of extra prison capacity and tougher penalties for those who break the law.