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Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to discuss also amendment No. 81, in schedule 4, page 65, line 26, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 and insert

(2) In sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 6A after the words "joint authority", there shall be inserted the words "or a Police Authority established under section 3 of the Police Act 1964".'.

Mr. Blair : The new clause proposes to place a statutory responsibility for crime prevention on local authorities, thereby putting crime prevention in a proper and structured framework. The proposal is supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Federation and every senior police body. It is supported by virtually all the agencies connected with crime prevention and by local authorities. In short, it is supported by everyone except the Government.The proposal is also in line with the explicit recommendation of the Government's last published report on crime prevention.

Behind the new clause lies an important debate about the future of policing and the type of policing that we wish to see in our society.

There are essentially two views of the role of the police. First, it is seen as simply a law enforcement agency to catch the criminal after the crime has been committed. The other view encompasses that vital role, but also sees the police as a public service working within its local community. That notion of community policing is not just consistent with the British system of policing but has been vigorously developed in recent years by the police themselves. The Government tend to the narrow view of policing, but we strongly favour the police as a public service working in local communities. Community policing sees the police as part of a local partnership working with other agencies that have an interest in fighting crime--schools, businesses, social services, local authorities and local community organisations. Therefore, the involvement becomes much more than law enforcement : it is also about preventing crime and tackling its causes. All over Britain, Labour councils are leading the way on crime prevention and have exemplified that approach.

The reason for our approach is perfectly simple. Only one crime in 50 leads to a conviction. Therefore, any policy that deals simply with catching the criminal after the crime has been committed is one-sided and incapable of offering a solution. Up to a point the Government agree, but they say that there is no need for statutory responsibility to be placed on local authorities. They simply say, "Let it happen and if it happens, fine." If it does not happen, they do not intend to act.

Precisely that argument, however, was rejected by the Government's own report--the Morgan report, published three years ago in 1991. That report expressly rejected the ad hoc approach taken by the Government. It said that, as the provider of a range of services that have a direct impact on the causes of crime, the local authority is a natural focus for the co- ordination--in collaboration with the police--of the broad range of activities intended to improve community safety. It concluded :

"local authorities, working in conjunction with the police should have clear statutory responsibility for the development and

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stimulation of community safety and crime prevention programmes, and for progressing at a local level a multi-agency approach to community safety."

In other words, the very report set up by the Government's own standing conference on crime prevention--the very people who were asked to analyse the way forward for crime prevention--came out with a solution

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise to you and to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) for interrupting the proceedings. Is it in order for a Government Whip to ask one hon. Member to leave, and then walk around the Chamber and ask another to leave as well ? Is it not a fact that the entire Conservative party is not the slightest bit interested in law and order and crime prevention ?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to confirm what my hon. Friend said : I also saw what occurred. The Whip went over to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), and subsequently turned round from where he is now sitting.

As you know, Madam Speaker, for some time Conservative Members have been asking when they will hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). The Whips are now deliberately organising matters so that not a single Tory Back Bencher is left in the Chamber. That shows their complete lack of interest in any matter concerning the police and criminality. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I think that I can deal with this. I do not know what the Whips are up to ; personally, I am riveted by the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).

Mr. Blair : I am delighted, Madam Speaker. It is a pity that the attention of more Conservative Members is not on my speech, and on the issue of crime and crime prevention. It is interesting that Opposition Members are the ones who are really talking about such issues.

The Morgan report set out a strong framework for crime prevention. It said that such a framework was absolutely necessary, and that without it the policies of crime prevention would not be co-ordinated in the right way. That is not merely the view of the report ; it is the view of ACPO and every other police body.

Far from agreeing with the report, the Government are undermining the position of community policing. First, they are to set national objectives centrally, rather than allowing local priorities to take precedence. Secondly, as was pointed out today by senior police officers and chief constables, their review of the core functions of the police has provoked a widespread fear that they intend to strip out their community service functions, leaving only those connected with law enforcement.

The dangers of that can be seen from experiments in crime prevention all over the country. There are examples everywhere of the fact that crime prevention--carried out on a proper, structured basis and led by police and local authorities--can actually work. In Reading, crime reduction groups have been set up under the Thames Valley policing initiative, resulting in a 50 per cent. drop in crime in certain areas. In the King's Cross area, as a result of work done by a partnership of local businesses,

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police and the local authority, drug dealers have been driven off the streets and the place has been made safer for local people to inhabit. In Wigan--again, as a result of a partnership between local authority and police--vandalism in schools was dramatically reduced ; that has now resulted in a £250,000 reduction in the insurance premiums paid by Wigan schools. If such examples, from those and from other authorities throughout the country, were built on and brought within a proper framework, they could lead the way in developing proper crime prevention measures.

That is not prescriptive, but it sets a clear plan within which community policing can develop. Why do the Government not carry it out ? Their own report said that it should be done, every body connected with policing advocates it, and local authorities want such a duty to be put on them. Why do the Government resist the recommendation of their own working party ? The answer is : dogma about local government. There is no other reason. If anybody but local authorities had been given the task of co-ordinating the measures, the Government would have agreed overnight. But because local authorities were given the lead role, they did not.

4.15 pm

Now that the Government are spending more money through unelected, unaccountable quangos than through local government, it is surely a scandal that they are unwilling to give local authorities that statutory responsibility. Had they done so, it would have provided a boost for crime prevention, and that could have been happening over the past two or three years.

The public are entitled to better. Every part of our communities should be mobilised in the fight against crime, and should be entitled to the type of partnership that has worked successfully where it has been tried.

It is the Opposition who take the issues of crime and of law and order seriously, and the Opposition who are prepared to put in place the proper statutory framework, backed by Government, to fight crime in our local communities. If the Government and Conservative Members vote against the new clause, they will be showing that they are just not serious about law and order today.

Mr. Charles Wardle : I suspect that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has come to the House to set down a personal marker on law and order and crime prevention. [Interruption.] The presence of a number of his supporters on the Opposition Benches makes it clear that the hon. Gentleman's appearance at the Dispatch Box today has been trailed as a landmark contribution on law and order. Yet all that we have heard, other than some interest in the Morgan report, is one bland generalisation after another.

It is little wonder that the shadow Cabinet national executive monitoring group has asked the hon. Gentleman to redraft his law and order document, and in particular to beef up the crime prevention section. Perhaps that is what he intended to do today. But if the hon. Gentleman really is an advocate of law and order, and seriously wishes to challenge the achievements of the Home Secretary in that regard, he will have to explain to the House why he voted against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in 1984, the Public Order Act in 1986 and the Criminal Justice Acts in 1988 and 1991, and why he abstained on Third Reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill now passing through Parliament.

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The hon. Member for Sedgefield will have to concede that virtually every one of his suggestions, except his recommendation that we provide a statutory obligation for local authorities on crime prevention, is already in practice. When he talked about the Thames Valley scheme and others, including the scheme in Wigan, of course the hon. Gentleman failed to mention that there is no need for any such statutory obligation, because the partnerships already exist ; they are already working successfully without the Morgan recommendation.

No doubt the House will recall that the Government have taken up with enthusiasm some of the recommendations of the Morgan report. Morgan emphasised partnership. No Government have ever done more than we have on partnership for crime prevention at local level, and the partnerships are already working. What the hon. Gentleman provides instead is his theme song about Morgan.

All that would lead to is not greater crime prevention, but an auction ; a series of bids for extra funding to do a job which is already being done locally. The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that the Bill and reforms that my right hon. and learned Friend has set in train already provide for locally focused policing plans, so that local interests may be taken into account. That is precisely what exists already in the Bill, and it has been greeted with enthusiasm by those involved in crime prevention up and down the country. I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman. I wish him well in his search for another job. I do not know about other hon. Members, but I see him as eternally youthful, pleasantly earnest and capable of singing a catchy refrain, but not necessarily with much substance. I think that he thinks that he is the Labour party's answer to Cliff Richard. Unlike Cliff, he has not succeeded in getting anything into the charts, and certainly his law and order single will not get there, either.

Every force and every police authority--and, indeed, every local authority- -already acknowledges the importance of crime prevention. We do not need the statutory requirement. The prevention of crime is already one of the fundamental roles of the police. It has been since 1829. To single it out now as one specific function, as an addition to the provision that sets out the duties of police authorities, would not make any sense at all. The Government strategy in dealing with crime already provides for partnership, and it is working successfully. I have already made it clear that the whole community has to play its part in crime prevention. Until the hon. Gentleman realises that everyone must have a vested interest in preventing crime, that everyone must involve himself or herself in crime prevention schemes, he will never understand that simply imposing a statutory obligation would encourage people to shrug off that responsibility.

The spread of crime prevention initiatives at local and national level is testimony to the success of the partnership approach. The House will be familiar with the success of the national board on crime prevention, with the work of the ministerial group on crime prevention, with Crime Concern, started by the Government and with the success of closed-circuit television schemes brought in by many partnerships. The House will be familiar with the growing success of the parish constable scheme, of more than

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130,000 neighbourhood watch schemes and other watch schemes, of the success of crime prevention panels and of estate action. The list could go on and on.

In every police authority, in every area, strategies are being developed for targeting crime and are linking with local community groups, with local authorities, with local businesses and with individuals to ensure that crime prevention schemes are initiated and expanded. It does not need an additional statutory push of the kind that Morgan recommended and, now, the hon. Gentleman recommends. For those reasons, I urge the House to reject the new clause. May I now turn to amendment No. 81, about which I have better news for the hon. Member for Sedgefield ? As the Bill stands, the chairman of a police authority is to be appointed at the annual meeting. That means that there is a risk of the chairmanship changing part of the way through the budgetary process, if the annual meeting has to be held between December and January. That seems to be a perfectly good argument in support of amendment No. 81, and the Government are therefore prepared to accept it.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : What a disappointing speech from the Minister. I suppose that it was not to be expected that the Home Secretary would dignify the debate about crime prevention by speaking himself, but the fact that he sat there and allowed the matter to be handled by a junior Minister in such a manner was testimony to the Government's low level of interest in crime prevention. We are quite familiar with that.

The Minister's first four minutes of roustabout might have amused a Conservative party wine and cheese gathering, but would certainly not have impressed anyone who was interested in the reduction of crime in this country.

The reality is that the Minister and, indeed, the Government have failed to grasp the significance of crime prevention in the battle to reduce crime. They do not speak on these matters with any great authority, having presided over an explosion of crime during their tenure of office. Successive Home Secretaries have asked the House to believe that the latest piece of criminal justice legislation would be the panacea, and when Opposition Members have not necessarily accepted that view, that has been held up against us as evidence of our lack of faith.

After crime has doubled in this country, it is scarcely surprising that we regard the implementation of yet another criminal justice Bill as unlikely to be the panacea. The truth is that crime prevention is one of the most hopeful, purposeful and effective ways of dealing with a scourge which afflicts society and which the Government have ignored too long. It is not enough to say, "We favour partnership ; let a thousand flowers bloom," but to give no leadership whatever in the area of crime prevention.

I would take issue with the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) only if he sought to imply--I do not think that he did, because his speech was peculiarly non-partisan--that it is only Labour authorities that have been effective. The truth is that Liberal Democrat authorities throughout the country have promoted effective schemes of crime prevention, even against a background of serious cuts in Government expenditure which have borne down directly on those areas of discretionary expenditure which include crime prevention.

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Sutton council is a case in point. Even in a year when its budget had to stand still, the council thought it right to appoint a crime prevention officer. But the Government have done nothing

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : The hon. Gentleman has treated us to a tirade against the Government, saying how little they have done and how crime has increased. Now that our serious crime figures show a decline, can he name a single country in western Europe where overall crime has decreased ?

Mr. Maclennan : The encouraging short-term trend is certainly not statistically significant, or internationally comparable--as the Home Secretary was frequently at pains to argue when he was shrugging off, month by month, the most appalling crime increases in Europe.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : Would the hon. Gentleman care to justify his comment about statistical insignificance ? In the Metropolitan area, residential burglaries have fallen by 16 per cent., and in my constituency, which is part of that area, house burglaries have decreased by 50 per cent. Is that not good news for householders ?

Mr. Maclennan : It is excellent news, but it does not establish a trend. I hope that it will be the forerunner of a general improvement in the effectiveness of community policing--an area in which the Metropolitan police, especially with Operation Bumblebee, have shown a lead.

The fact is that the Government have turned a deaf ear, not only to parties in the House that have advocated strong crime prevention measures, but to their own advisers. I will not labour the point that the hon. Member for Sedgefield eloquently and cogently made--that to shrug aside the advice of the Morgan report is highly irresponsible and does not impress those who are interested in results, as opposed to Government rhetoric.

The Government ought to be analysing local crime prevention schemes, drawing together the information about what is effective, disseminating best practice, encouraging it and exhorting those who are working as volunteers, or in commercial groups, or in local government, to come together and build on best practice.

Even without Government resources at our disposal, a year ago the Liberal Democrats published evidence of what we were doing in our local authorities, showing what was effective and disseminating it among other authorities, regardless of their political complexion. We suggested that they start to do likewise and that they come up with other ways of doing even better. The Government have subsequently come up with comparable ideas of their own.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard) : I was extremely interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of disseminating best practice on crime prevention and I entirely agree with him. Is he not aware that Crime Concern, an organisation which the Government have set up and are funding, and which he should be aware of, because its chairman is president of the Liberal Democrats--demonstrating our non-partisan approach to these matters--is doing precisely what the hon. Gentleman has said should be done ? It is doing it effectively and disseminating best practice about crime prevention across the country. Does not the hon. Gentleman know about that ?

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4.30 pm

Mr. Maclennan : Of course I know about the excellent work done by Crime Concern under the leadership of Tim Clement Jones, who, as it happens, is not the president, but a distinguished member, of my party. I am also aware that the resources that the Government have made available to Crime Concern are not of the magnitude that would enable it to do the work that could and should be undertaken by the Home Office in drawing together information.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : Surely the Government should recognise that Britain has the finest network of local authorities, which could operate crime prevention more successfully than central Government can. All advice and information should generally be available through the local government network.

Mr. Maclennan : I am a strong believer in decentralising authorities in these matters, but the Home Office and its counterpart in Scotland have a role to play in ensuring that the best experience of local government and local police authorities is made widely available, and that that best practice is followed and added to by further and better examples.

The Under-Secretary seemed to sweep aside the central importance of crime prevention in policing, and I agree with the hon. Member for Sedgefield that that reflects very much the Minister's attitude to policing. One is increasingly fearful that the Government intend to tackle crime only after it has been committed, to put to one side the causes of crime and crime prevention, and, possibly, to contract out most of the rest of the matters that are handled by the police, which play such a significant role in making the civil order in which we live one where people are not smitten by fear and the expectation that crime will blight their lives.

The proposal in the new clause was canvassed in Committee and I spoke strongly in favour of giving police authorities a specific and express duty to treat crime prevention as a priority. The Government have been only too willing to impose national objectives on police authorities, a trend which I deplore and regard as counter-productive to community policing. Crime prevention, however, does not fall into the sort of national objective category that the Government appear to favour. It goes to the core of what policing is about.

I agree with only one thing that the Minister said--it is implicit in policing that the police must be concerned about crime prevention. Such a general statement, however, goes nowhere near to addressing the importance of the task, the importance of the allocation of responsibilities and resources for crime prevention, and the importance of the involvement of the community in that task, wherein lies the best hope of reducing the impact of crime on the lives of our citizens.

Mr. Blair : With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly to the Minister's comments.

I thank the Minister for accepting amendment No. 81, but I should deal with his central argument. As I understand it, he agrees that partnerships should be set up throughout the country, but says that that is already happening. The fact of the matter is that it is happening not everywhere but only in certain parts. It should happen everywhere.

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Why do not the Government give the lead ? If they were prepared to place these partnerships in a proper framework, there would be a chance of extending them throughout the country.

The Home Secretary mentioned Crime Concern. I understand that it is fully behind the Morgan report and its recommendation that local authorities should be given statutory responsibility. Ultimately, we are driven back to the conclusion that the recommendation is being resisted merely because local authorities were given this responsibility. It is dogma standing in the way of progress. We should have none of it : we should vote for the new clause. Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 246, Noes 280.

Division No. 281] [4.35 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beggs, Roy

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Benton, Joe

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Tony

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chisholm, Malcolm

Church, Judith

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Dafis, Cynog

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)

Denham, John

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dowd, Jim

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foster, Don (Bath)

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Gapes, Mike

Gerrard, Neil

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Graham, Thomas

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Harman, Ms Harriet

Harvey, Nick

Henderson, Doug

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hodge, Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Hoon, Geoffrey

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