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Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): I welcome the proposal to extend closed circuit television. The previous Conservative Government introduced that measure, and it is one of the reasons why crime has come down over the past five years. In opposition, we have pressed for its extension, so we welcome the announcement. I quarrel only with the Home Secretary's description of CCTV as being like having a number of police officers permanently on the beat in particular streets. I do not agree with the implication of that remark. We certainly need CCTV, but we need policemen on the beat, too. Our fundamental criticism of the Government is that they are cutting the number of police.

CCTV apart, the Home Secretary's statement is simply a re-announcement of old policies--as we had yesterday from the Secretary of State for Health. If anyone doubts that, they need only look back to the Prime Minister's speech at September's Labour party conference, in which he said:


What is new is that the Home Secretary is claiming credit for extra spending on law and order. He boasts of £400 million over the next three years. If that is his claim, where will the money come from? Let the Home Secretary confirm that between 1979 and 1996-97, under the previous Government, there was a 3.3 per cent. average annual real increase in Government financing for the police. If the Government had kept to that average, they would be spending an extra £1.3 billion on the police over the next three years. It is a story with which we are familiar: the Government have taken a lot of money from one budget, namely, the police; they have given some of it to another budget, namely, crime prevention; but, most of all, they have kept the change.

On the anti-social behaviour orders, let me ask the Home Secretary two questions. First, can he give the House an assurance that the orders, which we have supported, do not offend, as is claimed by some, against the European convention on human rights? We have already seen one example this week of how that may have

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happened--contrary, I suggest, to overwhelming public opinion in this country. No one wants to see another such example.

Secondly, as the Prime Minister said, the child curfew orders were a central part of the Government's strategy. Can the Home Secretary confirm that, after six months, no local authority has applied for such an order?

Lastly, the Home Secretary mentioned targeted policing--hotspot policing, as the Prime Minister described it. The idea comes from the United States, together with so-called zero tolerance policing. It has been very successful there in reducing crime, but I emphasise that it has been accompanied by a determined drive to recruit more police in New York and throughout the United States. Surely the trouble with the Government's approach is that they are presiding over a declining police service in this country. We increased police numbers by more than 15,000 during our period in office, but police strength is now coming down in this country--down in the cities and down in country areas. Does that not mean that the full potential to reduce crime in this country will not be realised under the Government's policies?

Mr. Straw: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to welcome what I have said about closed circuit television--and well he might, because the previous Government invested £38.5 million in closed circuit television over four years whereas we are investing £150 million over three years into such crime reduction programmes. We are not taking that money from the police.

The right hon. Gentleman said that, under the previous Administration, budgets rose by an average of 3.5 per cent. That took place at a time of much higher inflation. Police budgets are due to increase by 3 per cent. during the next year and, in other areas, budgets are due to increase by 3.5 per cent.

As for accusing us of cutting police numbers, that is an extremely dangerous line for the right hon. Gentleman to follow. Although it is true that the number of police rose in the 1970s under a Labour Administration and in the 1980s under the Conservative Administration, after 1992 the Conservative Administration presided over a serious decline in police numbers. Notwithstanding the fact that they had promised 6,000 more police officers, they delivered 450 fewer police officers in that five-year period. As for the past two years, when the numbers have decreased, we were following the previous Conservative Administration's spending plans, with only this difference: we put in a bit more money than they did.

I see the right hon. Gentleman smirking about that, as Conservatives always did when they broke their promises, but Conservative Members need to remember that they lost office so comprehensively because they broke their promises.

The right hon. Gentleman says that there was nothing new in the statement except the increased funding for closed circuit television. There was a great deal that was new, including the guidance--which I have published today--on the use of anti-social behaviour orders, which has been the subject of a great deal of consultation with local authorities, the police and others. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman now welcomes the use of

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those orders, because we received a mixed message during the legislation's passage through Parliament. I believe that one or two Conservative Front Benchers welcomed them, but the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) described them as "dangerously unworkable" and the Conservative central office information simply dismissed them as "a gimmick". The orders will be workable, and they should make a great deal of difference. [Interruption.] I shall deal with child curfew orders in a moment.

I enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's question about the European convention on human rights. There is always space for people to undergo a Pauline conversion on matters such as human rights, and we greatly welcome the Conservatives' subscribing to the convention. The answer is that I signed a clear statement to the House, saying that we believed that the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act were compliant with the European convention.

Sir Norman Fowler: Believed?

Mr. Straw: Of course. It is a statement based on the best opinion that we received. I cannot take account of all the possibilities that may occur in Strasbourg. It is our best belief, and it has never been gainsaid.

On child curfew orders, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that no local authority in England or Wales has applied for such a curfew, [Interruption.] but as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is pointing out, the equivalent has been used in Scotland. When I went to Yardley in Birmingham before the election, I was asked for such orders to be used there.

This is not an exercise in central government, whereby we tell local authorities and local communities what to do. We are responding to their requests for such orders. It is up to local communities to use them. It is possible that, owing to the success of all our other reforms of the youth justice system, they may not be needed, but if they are needed, they are there.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if there is one lesson that we should learn from the 1980s, it is that simply pouring more resources into the police is not the right way to deal with crime. The real issue is how those resources are used. My constituents will welcome the new measures that he has announced today, and will watch with great interest to see how they work. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give the House that the resulting reduction in crime will be properly audited, and that figures will not be massaged by some local police forces in order to give a better impression than is warranted by reality?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the welcome that he gives. He is right to say that we must be as careful about the expenditure of resources on law and order as about that on other areas. I hope that we may be able to get beyond the rather low level of debate offered by the Opposition, whose only concern now appears to be inputs, rather than outputs--notwithstanding the fact that they sought to elevate the debate on every other public service to the level of outputs.

The document entitled "Reducing Offending" shows that there are many cost-effective ways of reducing crime. For example, the research evidence from the safer cities

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programme initiated by the previous Administration shows that money invested in burglary prevention projects produces a rate of return five times higher than money invested in additional police officers. Chief constables know that, which is why, when they are offered a choice about how to spend their money, they often do not put it directly into expenditure on more officers, but invest it instead in IT systems and additional civilians.

My hon. Friend asked me to ensure that the reductions in crime are properly audited. I should tell him that a major exercise is being undertaken by the research and statistics directorate of the Home Office to lend greater credibility to the crime statistics across the country. Many police forces already ensure the highest levels of integrity in those data. Some do not, and we are taking them to task.


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