Crime Reduction

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 19th July 2007.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary 1:24 pm, 19th July 2007

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government's new crime strategy. The strategy sets out the overarching principles, the context and the framework for tackling crime over the next three years.

Over the past 10 years, we have revolutionised the crime fighting landscape. We have provided record levels of funding, created new powers and partnerships, and set targets. With those working on the front line, we now have a better understanding of who commits crime, under what circumstances, and how and when to stop it. This formidable combination has seen crime fall by around a third since 1997. Car crime has halved, meaning over 1.8 million fewer incidents. On average, the chances of becoming a victim of burglary are roughly now once every 40 years, compared with every 25 years a decade ago. Staffing levels across the police service are at a record high, at more than 223,000 people, and the chances of becoming a victim of crime remain at historically low levels. Those are real achievements that make a difference to people's everyday lives. I would like to pay tribute to the thousands of dedicated people on the front line, who, through their ambition and dedication, are working day in, day out to make our neighbourhoods safer, and to thank them all for the real difference they have made in communities across the country.

As today's crime statistics show, we are holding to the improvements in the falls in crime, but we must go further. Now is the time to reinvigorate our efforts to ensure that we continue to make strong and sustainable reductions in crime. That is what the public expect; and as the nature of crime evolves, so must our approach. We all have a part to play in tackling crime, and now is the time for us to update and strengthen the terms of our partnership. We will refocus the work of central Government, concentrating on where we can make the most impact, particularly on areas where policy and delivery are newer and need national energy. I will lead a drive to join up Whitehall, bringing Departments together under a new national crime reduction board to lead, support and, where necessary, to challenge local delivery. At neighbourhood level, by April 2008 there will be a neighbourhood policing team in every community in England and Wales.

Crime cannot be tackled by police alone. It is now nearly 10 years since we established crime and disorder reduction partnerships to lead delivery of crime reduction at the local level, and much has been achieved by that partnership working. We now need a step change in the way that partnerships operate so that they can effectively respond to the spectrum of crime from the everyday to the extraordinary—from graffiti at the bus stop to terrorism. The reform programme that is under way will ensure that step change. New standards for crime and disorder reduction partnerships will be in place later this year. The new standards for community engagement will mean listening and acting on the concerns of local communities. Standards for performance will mean that partnerships are appropriately supported and challenged as necessary. We will measure how confident the public are in the agencies that collectively deal with crime and disorder problems at local level. Building on the work of Professor Adrian Smith's review of crime statistics, published today, we will ensure that people have better access to local statistics. Working with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, we will ensure that by July next year, everyone will be able to have access to meaningful local crime information updated every month so that they can see how their priorities are being tackled.

The crime strategy will also focus on how we can intervene earlier to reduce crime and its effects, particularly with young people. Young people are frequently victims of crime. That is why I want to hear directly from them about their fears about crime and disorder and what we should be doing to help them to feel safe in their communities. In the autumn, the Youth Parliament will hold a special session so that I can hear at first hand what young people think would make a real difference here. I want to build on the positive links between schools and police already established through safer schools partnerships and to ensure that working with young people is a core part of neighbourhood policing in every neighbourhood.

In order to turn new technology to our advantage, we will lead a greater drive on designing out crime so that the iPhones and satnavs of the future are worthless to thieves. I am immensely grateful to Sebastian Conran, John Sorrell and the others who are coming forward to build a new design and technology alliance of people with a range of expertise to champion this approach. In our new partnership, we want partners in the voluntary sector to take a leading role in fighting crime, and in designing national and local initiatives.

As hon. Members know, antisocial behaviour remains a key local concern. Today's statistics show that we have kept antisocial behaviour under control. The proportion of people who believe such behaviour to be a big problem in their area is down to 18 per cent. from a peak of 21 per cent. in 2002-03. Over the past 10 years, we have put in place a range of measures to tackle antisocial behaviour—from informal acceptable behaviour contracts to more formal antisocial behaviour orders and crack house closure powers. We want crime and disorder reduction partnerships throughout the country to use the full range of tools and powers they have at their disposal to tackle problems that matter to local people.

Finally, I want to talk about violent crime, such as murder, gun and knife crime, domestic violence and sexual offending, which has the highest and most devastating impact on individuals and communities. We are seeing signs of real progress here and today's statistics are positive—overall violence is down 31 per cent. since 1997—but we know that we must do more. We will ensure that we work more closely with our delivery partners to prevent violence occurring in the first place by addressing the drivers of violence such as drugs and alcohol. When violence does occur, we will be robust in the prosecuting and managing of offenders, and we will support victims to reduce the harm of violence. We must look for innovative solutions to difficult and challenging issues, including knife crime.

Under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, those who carry knives face a maximum of four years' imprisonment—double the previous maximum. We have also created powers for school staff to search pupils for weapons. However, we must recognise the work of the voluntary sector, and work with it to maximise our impact, which is why the Home Office is funding the excellent work of the Damilola Taylor Trust. It is aiming to sign up half the 11 to 16-year-olds in the country to its "Respect Your Life Not a Knife" pledge campaign.

We have proved that when you tackle unemployment and drug and alcohol misuse, crime comes down. When schools and health services, local authorities, police and neighbours work together, crime comes down. When you are not afraid to make tough choices about enforcing standards of behaviour, crime comes down. Together, we can continue to drive down crime levels. This new crime strategy sets out what we need to do to refresh our approach and I commend it to the House.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of her statement.

For 10 years, the Government have been trying to claim that crime is coming down. Unfortunately for the Government, the public obstinately insist on believing their own experience rather than ministerial claims and simply know that crime is going up, and all the fiddled figures in the world will not change their minds. The central contention of the Home Secretary's statement today is based on flawed data. The Home Secretary repeats the mantra that crime has fallen, based on the British crime survey, but the BCS ignores the most serious crimes, such as murders. Despite the Home Secretary's comments, for many years, it ignored crimes against children, and it ignores a total of at least 18 million crimes. How can the Home Secretary tackle crime, when she cannot even count it properly?

However, let me start by welcoming some aspects of the Home Secretary's announcements, where she has adopted Conservative policy. We have been calling for years for direct, local accountability of police forces. She announced a small step in that direction. I congratulate her on that small step, and hope that we will see more. We have been calling for years for local crime data to inform that local accountability. Again, she has announced a small step in that direction, and I congratulate her on that. For the past three years, I have been calling for an initiative on designing out crime, so I particularly congratulate her on that.

Some crimes are going down, but the evidence is that this has little to do with the Government, and according to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, it has nothing to do with Government spending. The Government must take responsibility for overall recorded crime going up by 300,000, and more importantly, for the most serious crimes going up sharply. Recorded violent crime has doubled. This morning on television the Home Secretary said that drug crime is down. I just do not know where that idea came from—perhaps from the same advisers who told her predecessors to declassify cannabis. Drug offences have increased by about 50 per cent. during the term of this Government, and by 9 per cent. this year, and that figure is increasing faster every year because of the confused and contradictory signals they have sent out.

The Government should not go in for self-deception. Let us look at the news of the last 48 hours. The Government said that 24-hour drinking would convert binge drinkers to a café-style culture. The doctors say that alcohol-related assaults have doubled in one year. The Government claimed an increase in the number of offenders brought to justice. The Home Affairs Committee says that nearly half of those offenders receive just a slap on the wrist and that they should not be counted.

The Government say that crime is down by a third. The Home Secretary might take time to read some of the documents produced by the people who work for her—in this case, the police. I quote Detective Constable Marsh, who said:

"At conference John Reid congratulated us for reducing crime. I have been in CID virtually all my service and crime has not reduced. It is out of control."

Should people believe the Government, or doctors, the Home Affairs Committee and the police? If the Home Secretary thinks that the Government's strategy has been such a success, can she answer some questions for me? First, why has violent crime doubled, knife crime doubled and gun crime doubled? Secondly, can she explain why only three in every 100 crimes are ever brought to justice—even under her Government's figures? Thirdly, can she explain why she considers the drugs policy a success when 80 per cent. of addicts abandon drug treatment orders before they are completed? Fourthly, can she tell us when policemen will spend more time on patrol than on paperwork?

I have to tell the Home Secretary that very few members of the public think that the Government's crime policy is a success. If she thinks it a success, heaven help the country when she thinks it a failure.

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C

I feel compelled to point out to the honourable gentleman that the BCS is a survey of victims of crime. As such victims of murder may struggle to take part...

Submitted by C Whitehouse

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

Well, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for quite a few elements of my statement. He is absolutely right about local crime statistics; they are an important way in which we can support local people to engage in partnerships that will help to bring down crime.

The right hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions. First, on drug-related crime, I have made it clear, as today's statistics show, that crime most closely related to drug harm—acquisitive crime—has fallen by 20 per cent. since we introduced drug treatment and testing in prisons. Although there has been an increase in drug offences in the most recent figures, that is largely due to the more proactive approach taken by the police, particularly through the use of cannabis warnings. Young people's use of class A drugs has held stable and their use of cannabis and other drugs has reduced due to the Government's approach.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about licensing. Basing such a sweeping statement on a report from one hospital is unfortunate. Research we have published today shows a 25 per cent. reduction in violent crime in relation to those licensing hours. As I outlined in my statement, we have already taken action on knife crime. It is only since April this year, when my predecessor as Home Secretary, John Reid, introduced the reporting of offences involving a blade, that we have been able to track such crimes, but we are serious about it, and I spelt out how we shall do it.

On ensuring that the police are able to focus on their work; first, this Government's investment has meant that more police officers, and 16,000 police community support officers, are on patrol and working. It is because we take seriously the matter of focusing their attention on the streets that we have asked Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief inspector of police, to carry out a review that looks at how we can reduce bureaucracy.

The right hon. Gentleman prides himself on being a tough man in tackling crime—no hoodie-hugging for him. As we have seen too often, when the Opposition are put to the test, they talk tough but vote soft. They voted to water down antisocial behaviour orders, and voted against tougher sentences for murder and sexual and violent offences and against police powers to tackle organised crime. Talk is cheap, which is just as well because it is all that the shadow Chancellor would be willing to fund. Until the right hon. Gentleman can put some backbone into his leader and some economic sense into the shadow Chancellor, his words will ring hollow.

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Photo of Michael Jabez Foster Michael Jabez Foster Labour, Hastings and Rye

May I applaud my right hon. Friend for the importance that she places on local crime reduction partnerships, such as the exemplary safer Hastings partnership, which has led to massive reductions in crime in Hastings? Seventy per cent. of the people even believe that there has been a reduction. I suppose that that is dreadful because 100 per cent. should believe it.

Recently, before my right hon. Friend took up her office, her predecessor vired specific funds from crime reduction partnerships to terrorism and prisons. Will she reconsider that decision and ascertain whether we can put that cash back?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I agree with my hon. Friend that very good work goes on in our crime reduction partnerships and I know that he has raised the matter with my hon. Friend—soon to be right hon. Friend—the Minister of State, Home Department, Mr. McNulty.

Despite the increased investment that the Government have found for funding local area agreements—where crime and disorder partnerships sit—and for increased police staff, there will always be tough decisions to make. Given the context of specific protection challenges, especially in counter-terrorism, it was necessary to make a decision this financial year about a small part of the funding for crime reduction partnerships. It will not be possible to put that right this year, but I will consider a range of ways in which we can support the good work of those partnerships in future.

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Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am obviously grateful to the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement. She was quick in its early stages to take credit for the reduction in some categories of non-violent crime. Has she read the report of the Prime Minister's strategy unit, which confirms that a full 80 per cent. in those reductions have nothing to do with the Government's law and order policies?

Does the Home Secretary also accept that, if one genuinely wants a strategy to deal with not only crime but the public fear of crime, far from the thin gruel of the statement, she needs to abandon the mix of legislative hyperactivity, policy populism and addiction to mass incarceration, which has the disfigured the Government's approach to law and order for too long? Does she also agree that, for the strategy to be credible, she needs to show how she will deliver on her pledges? How are we to believe that neighbourhood police teams will be rolled out by April 2008 and be sustainable beyond that, when the Government cut by a third the number of promised community support officers? Local authorities throughout the country do not yet know whether they will have to pick up the bill.

Will the Home Secretary explain why the statement is silent on the urgent need to involve victims and communities in the administration of justice? Does she agree that she should work with her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to roll out aggressively the excellent community justice panels, which were pioneered in Somerset and elsewhere and give offenders the opportunity to explain themselves to victims and communities?

Will the Home Secretary also explain why the statement is silent about one of the biggest crises in our criminal justice system—the epidemic of reoffending? A full 92 per cent. of young men who go to prison for short-term sentences reoffend in a matter of weeks and months of release.

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is time to tackle the Government's addiction to so-called summary justice? It is a pay-as-you-go approach to justice, which includes the roll-out of penalties and the over-use of cautions and fixed penalty notices, and has done much to damage public confidence and contribute to lamentable conviction rates. The Home Affairs Committee's report today confirmed that now only three out of every 100 crimes lead to a conviction in court.

At first glance, the statement is not a strategy but a rag-bag of unrelated, minor media initiatives, which ignore the fundamental failure in the Government's relentless and shameless populist approach to law and order.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I think that I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I was not quite clear about his first point and I do not think he was, either. Perhaps he was making the case that reductions in crime do not depend solely on investment in law and order and policing, but—dare I say it—on tackling some of the causes of crime. If that was his point, I strongly agree with him. It was precisely the point that I made in the statement. Increased investment in police and tough sentencing when necessary are a crucial part of reducing crime but they are not enough. Tackling unemployment, reducing the harm from drug and alcohol use, ensuring better education and early intervention are also important in reducing crime. They are part of the reason for the reduction in crime that has occurred in the past 10 years.

The hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise the important role of neighbourhood policing teams. I have been fortunate in the past fortnight to see their work on two separate occasions, and, even more important, to talk to local people, who now see what their police officers are doing and feel able to talk to them and work with them to solve problems in their communities. It is important that those neighbourhood teams are in place by next April and embedded in our system. We have asked Sir Ronnie Flanagan to advise us on that, too. We are serious about the contribution of neighbourhood policing and that is why we have taken it forward.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about involving victims in justice. We have undertaken, and will continue with, that work with the Ministry of Justice. On the subject of his throwaway approach to the range of penalties on offer, I believe that it is a good idea, if possible, to intervene earlier with fixed penalty notices and other forms of punishment and warning at the point when, for example, we can prevent violence from escalating. It is good to have a range of tools at the disposal of those who are responsible for keeping order on our streets. Of course we will keep their use under review, but on the whole, those new initiatives and ways of tackling crime have been successful in the past 10 years, notwithstanding the fact that on almost every occasion, the hon. Gentleman and his party voted against them.

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Photo of David Wright David Wright PPS (Rt Hon Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary), HM Treasury

I welcome the fall in crime in West Mercia. That is a tribute to the hard work of the police force in my area of Telford. Will my right hon. Friend consider the scale of the house-building programme in the UK? We need more police architectural liaison officers so that we can do more to design out crime in local neighbourhoods. If such a large expansion in housing is going to occur, we need to beef up the team in West Mercia, and throughout the country.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the good work that happens in the West Mercia police area. My part of that area is one of the early developers of some of the neighbourhood policing that it is so important to spread throughout the country. My hon. Friend is right to identify the challenge and the opportunity that increased house building presents. That is why, in the design and technology alliance, we have emphasised working with, for example, John Sorrell from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. We can thus consider how we develop more housing in a way that builds out crime. For example, there is a housing estate in Bradford where a redesign of the way in which the housing operated led to an 80 per cent. reduction in burglary. It is a fruitful subject, and I agree with my hon. Friend that we can do more.

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Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow Spokesperson (Innovation, Universities and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am sure that the right hon. Lady is sincere in her expectation that crime will fall in the coming months, but how does that square with the possibility of losing many thousands of police community support officers after April? Will she give hon. Members some assurance about the future funding of that important component of neighbourhood policing?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I am not sure why the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are going to lose PCSOs. There are now 16,000 of them supporting the important work of police officers in neighbourhoods. That is an important development in the crime-fighting family in the past few years. [Interruption.] As the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Mr. Coaker points out, such provision did not exist 10 years ago, when crime reduction started. It is an important development, and we are committed to continuing with it.

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Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer), HM Treasury

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. I entirely agree that the publication of local monthly crime statistics is important in proving local police accountability. It is important too, however, that social landlords such as Stockport Homes publish monthly statistics on the actions that they have taken against antisocial tenants, which would improve their accountability to other tenants. Will my right hon. Friend encourage local crime and disorder partnerships to ask their social landlords to publish such statistics?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and identifies what I described in my statement as the whole range of partners whom we need to engage in cutting crime. Local accountability for crime statistics and the other forms of local accountability that she identifies, especially housing, are important.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

May I invite the Home Secretary to a night out in Kettering? We could spend the night together with the local constabulary chasing the 260 persistent and prolific offenders in Northamptonshire who commit £7 million-worth of crime each year. Residents of Kettering want those people locked up in jail, serving their time in full. How will the Home Secretary prioritise the police to catch, and the courts to convict and lock up, the people who commit the bulk of the crime in this country?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My hon. Friend—sorry, I mean the hon. Gentleman; we are not friends yet, although we might be after our night out in Kettering. [ Interruption. ] Some of my colleagues want to check whether the hon. Gentleman was offering to pay.

The hon. Gentleman's serious point is about not only how the police catch those who commit criminal acts, but how the latter are taken through the courts and convicted. There has been an increase of nearly 40 per cent. in criminal convictions over the past 10 years, as well as a reduction in crime. Considerable progress has been made, but the hon. Gentleman is right: we need the whole approach, from prevention and early intervention to catching criminals and ensuring that we deal with offenders properly, to bring down crime as we have done.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, and Northamptonshire police's improved performance, which has benefited the local community. However, one of the continuing problems in tackling antisocial behaviour is the weak housing and estate management of the local authority—now Liberal Democrat controlled. How will my right hon. Friend ensure that all partners pull their weight in partnership working, so that the police do not have to pick up the problems created by other agencies?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I join my hon. Friend in praising the improvements of Northants police. She raises an important point about the responsibility of the police's partners. We want to change the performance management arrangements—so that we measure not only the work of the police, but that of all the partners engaged in the crime reduction partnership in solving crime locally—precisely to identify that responsibility across agencies, which involves not only the police but local authorities, housing management, health services, education and others who contribute. That might make a contribution—and as for the problem of having a Liberal Democrat council, I am sure that my hon. Friend is working hard to put that right.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Given that the British crime survey does not include crimes against those under 16, those who own commercial property or those who live in shared accommodation—nurses, students and the elderly—will the Home Secretary assure the House, and my constituents who have been affected by crime, that the new monthly figures will include those victims?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

The hon. Gentleman is right about the British crime survey. We have today published not only the statistics in the British crime survey, but the recorded crime statistics. We must work closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, in the way I have described, to develop local crime information. The hon. Gentleman correctly says that the information needs to be broad, to cover all the concerns of local people, and to be comparable between districts.

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Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Rt Hon Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State), Department for Transport

I welcome in particular my right hon. Friend's comments about building safer schools partnerships and involving young people in neighbourhood policing teams. May I inform her of the success of the Broadgreen pilot neighbourhood policing scheme in my constituency? Its local knowledge of young people helped it to damp down some difficult racial and social tensions earlier this year. Will she give some comfort to three secondary schools, St. Joseph's, Churchfields and The Ridgeway, which are working in partnership but are finding it difficult to secure funding to combat the menace of gang culture?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I join my hon. Friend in praising the Broadgreen neighbourhood policing team. The work to damp down, as she described it, trouble before it becomes more serious is a key part of neighbourhood policing. I cannot promise her money today, but I can say that schools working together, particularly on the initiatives that she described, are part not only of the work that we in the Home Office are doing, but of the work to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is committed. I will certainly look at the scheme that my hon. Friend mentions, to see whether some of the money that we are already making available for supporting ways of reducing gang crime, particularly through the voluntary sector, might be relevant.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

The current clear-up rate is three crimes in 100. What would be a satisfactory clear-up rate?

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r

100% anything else is a faliure in our system. 3% is riduclous....

Submitted by ross warren Continue reading (and 2 more annotations)

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong; we do not recognise that figure. In fact, as I have already pointed out, convictions have increased by 40 per cent. since 1997, and at the same time there has been a reduction in crimes overall and a reduction in the chances of becoming a victim of crime. There have been more convictions, as a proportion of a smaller amount of crime, and I think that that is a success.

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Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the continuing excellent work of Staffordshire police. Does she recognise and understand that, despite falling levels of crime, my constituents in market towns such as Leek and Biddulph feel that their communities do not receive the attention that they deserve, because they are not seen as crime hot spots? Will she explain how the new neighbourhood approach could help those communities get their fair share of policing?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My hon. Friend is right to praise the work of Staffordshire police. We believe that neighbourhood policing teams need to be made available in every community, including in those that she mentioned, precisely because they can contribute to reducing crime, working in partnership with local people. There might be different challenges in areas such as Leek and others that she mentioned. Nevertheless, community safety and feeling safe in their homes are a crucial part of her constituents' concerns, which the delivery of neighbourhood policing in every community will help to address.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Home Secretary will not be surprised to learn that my constituents are fed up with rising violent crime, antisocial behaviour and low detection rates. The Government should not hide behind the British crime survey figures, which give only part of the picture; they should scrap the figures and instead rely more on the recorded crime figures, which give a much truer reflection of what is actually happening in constituencies up and down the country. The Government might then be able to do something about the problem.

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

As I think I have already pointed out, we publish both sets of information, although we need to make that more local and clearer for local people. The hon. Gentleman accuses me of hiding behind figures, but perhaps his constituents will want to ask why he hides behind his and his party's rather poor voting record.

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Photo of Lynda Waltho Lynda Waltho PPS (Rt Hon David Hanson, Minister of State), Ministry of Justice

With my right hon. Friend's local knowledge of my constituency, she will know that many of my constituents are employed not only in the local town shops but in the nearby large shopping centre at Merry Hill. Notwithstanding the decrease in crime locally, they are particularly concerned about the levels of violent abuse that they receive. What more can we do to encourage employers and the managers of these organisations to engage with crime reduction partners to tackle this problem?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My hon. Friend is right: I do know her constituency, and the Merry Hill shopping centre. People who work in the retail sector have the right to be safe, and we need to ensure that we tackle crime in those areas. I am particularly impressed by the freedom from fear campaign that has been established by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which I have supported in the past. I think that my hon. Friend was involved in helping to launch it, and other hon. Friends have also been involved in it. It is a very good example of a union working with those who support it to protect the interests not only of its members but of all those who use our shops.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

I welcome what the Home Secretary has said about doubling the maximum sentence from two to four years for people who carry knives. Will she take it from me, however, that whatever the truth behind the various figures, one reason why public confidence is low is that the policy adopted by the Government of routinely releasing people halfway through their sentence means that someone who receives a four-year sentence knows that they will be out in two years, or sometimes two years minus the time that they have spent on remand? Would it not be better to get back to imposing sentences that mean what they say, while acknowledging—I understand the position on this—that there should be a modest reduction for people who behave well in prison?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

First, let me be completely clear that people who are dangerous are not released. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the length of sentences. In fact, on the whole, the length of sentences has increased since 1997. His words would have more resonance with me and others had his party not voted against the indeterminate sentences that we proposed.

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Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice

It is striking that the Home Secretary has not yet mentioned the point trailed in the media this morning, that Britain is unique in the degree to which the fear of crime outpaces the reality of crime. I wonder why she has not mentioned that. Could it be that the Government are partly to blame for that situation, especially as the whole basis of new Labour's strategy on crime is never to be outbid by the Conservative party or the Daily Mail? Is it not time to replace the strategy of having "no enemies on the right" with a new strategy that bases criminal justice policy on the evidence, rather than on prejudice?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is not taking an overly party political approach to this serious issue! However, he makes an important point about public perceptions of crime, and he is right to say that a relatively high proportion of people continue to believe that crime is a serious problem. Actually, today's figures show that crime is stable, having fallen by approximately one third since 1998. The most appropriate ways to deal with the fear of crime are, first, to ensure that crime itself falls, which is why a fall of one third in the past 10 years is so significant, and secondly, to give people confidence—through access to local information and through the ability to see and work with neighbourhood policing teams—that their priorities are being addressed in their local area, and that what is happening through local policing and through their own contribution is making a difference.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons

This next week sees the 40th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which was introduced by a Welsh Labour MP, Leo Abse. It established the partial legalisation of homosexuality. Much has changed since then, but there are still many cases of homophobic violence and abuse. One young man was killed less than a mile from here; he was beaten to death by several young hooligans. A lot of gay-bashing goes on around the country, and there is evidence to suggest that many gay men are reluctant to report it to the police. My right hon. Friend has a substantial personal record on these issues. Will she consider completing it by introducing a specific offence of homophobic hate crime?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

My hon. Friend, too, has an important record on these matters. He is right; violence in any form is completely unacceptable, but when it is linked to the kind of hatred and bigotry that homophobic crime represents, it is even worse. A lot of good work is going on in police forces now, including the work that we are doing with them, to record and to tackle crimes with a homophobic element. We will certainly continue to think carefully about how and whether we need to change the nature of offences to reflect the seriousness of the situation that my hon. Friend has identified.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

If it is not inconvenient, would the Home Secretary stop in Wellingborough on her way to her date with my hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone, to meet my constituents, 20 per cent. of whom are afraid to go out at night because of violent crime?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

What a day it is going to be! [Hon. Members: "And what a night!"] Indeed. However, I must bring my mind back to the important issue before us. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which I partly addressed when I talked about the way in which we respond to the perception crime. A key part of our strategy must be the visibility of the police and other partners, so that people can see and feel that crime is coming down locally, and so that they do not feel trapped in their homes. This strategy, and the progress that we have already made, are important in ensuring that people have the freedom to live as they want to in their communities.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

I warmly welcome the Home Secretary's statement, especially its emphasis on early intervention and the attempts to crack the inter-generational nature of criminality and deprivation. Does she accept that every pound spent on early intervention programmes, such as the social and emotional aspects of learning, the roots of empathy—which develops empathetic behaviour to inhibit violence—and intensive health visiting, can save perhaps 10 or 15 times that amount from being spent on the tale of underachievement, drug abuse, criminality and a lifetime on benefits? Will she reach out to other Departments to ensure that they play their full part in tackling crime reduction?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

I completely agree with my hon. Friend and I commend him for the important work that he is doing in Nottingham, particularly in the area of early intervention. I have had the pleasure of working with him on the development of social and emotional education. In the strategy, we are completely clear about the significance of early intervention, and he is right to say that that job will require not only the resources and efforts of the Home Office but efforts across government. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is already committed to an early intervention approach, and I look forward to being able to look at this issue and others across government through the national crime reduction board, which I will bring together and chair.

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I entirely agree that prevention of crime should be the focus of government intervention. However, although Atlow Mill Centre is the leading centre of excellence in the country for the delivery and development of programmes in emotional education we have failed to attract any government funding for our programmes which cover preventative programmes for domestic violence; Breaking the Cycle (working with mothers and children) and Stop Hurting (working with Perpetrators); prevention...

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

May I therefore appeal to the Home Secretary to display real statesmanship? Given that more than 60 per cent. of the 12,000 people in our young offender institutions suffer from speech, language and communication impairments that prevent them from accessing education, training and anger management courses, and that in that category, the reoffending rate is 80 per cent., will she undertake to work with her right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Justice, for Health, and for Children, Schools and Families to ensure that every young offender institution in the country employs a speech and language therapist, so that those young people can access the help that they need before their lives are permanently blighted?

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Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Home Secretary

As a result of our investment in rehabilitation, we have already seen four times as many offenders being taught basic skills in recent years than was the case four years ago. The hon. Gentleman has a strong record of raising the issue of speech and language therapy, which I take seriously, and I will look at the matter that he has raised. He is right to say that this would involve working across government—a commitment that I have already made. I will take this matter very seriously—but I am just disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not add an invitation to a night out in Buckingham.

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