Mr. Straw: The right hon. and learned Gentleman became something of a connoisseur of rebukes from the judiciary when he was Home Secretary. Under our proposals, his offending record would certainly qualify him for a lengthy period inside while, even under the stricter regime that I am proposing, I would probably get off for a first offence--and it is a first offence--with a caution.
I do not recognise the description of Lord Justice Auld's remarks as a rebuke. His work is independent and I am quite clear that his report will be independent. He placed the emerging themes of his report on a website for everyone to see. They were not his recommendations, but they were themes and we have drawn on them. I happen to think that the whole House will welcome this indication of the direction in which we wish the criminal justice system to go.
With regard to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first point, he cannot have it both ways. At the last election and the previous one, he campaigned time and again on the Conservative Government's record on the economy and many other things. He cannot pick and choose the dates that suit him. [Hon. Members: "You did."] I am picking a date when there was an election--May 1997. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot continue like some Pol Pot figure declaring a year zero--but if wants to pick and choose, I have the figures for his period with me. Between April 1991-92 and April 1996-97--that is the period he wanted--total violent crime increased by 28 per cent. and robbery increased by 52 per cent.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and wish to point out that West Midlands police has, in the past year, achieved a cut of one in eight in the number of burglaries, improved by one in five the number of robberies detected and is charging substantially more people with offences involving cocaine and heroin. Given that too many prisoners return to prison, can my right hon. Friend confirm that he expects the Prison Service to set and meet high targets for work on rehabilitation and resettlement as the most effective way of preventing reoffending, and that it will have the resources to do that?
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): The Home Secretary has said that at last there will be a significant increase in the budget of the Crown Prosecution Service. Will he confirm that the service remains independent? Will he explain what is meant by the criminal justice system-wide target to increase by 100,000 the number of recorded crimes ending with an offender being brought to justice? Does that mean that, this year, 100,000 such recordable crimes are going unprosecuted, or are we to expect an increase of at least 100,000 in such recordable crimes? Is it not a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide where and when it is right and fair to prosecute, and not for the Home Secretary?
Mr. Straw: Of course the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions properly remain independent of, for example, the Home Secretary. However, the antediluvian approach that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has exhibited shows precisely why we need far better to co-ordinate the work of the criminal justice agencies. Independence in decision making on individual cases cannot equal immunity from any effective management or co-ordination of the different criminal justice services.
Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, all too often, criminals on council estates go free because witnesses are terrified to give evidence? They know that when they go to the police, their name will somehow get out, and the next day they find that their car has been vandalised, they get phone calls at midnight from heavy-breathers and they are abused and shouted at in the street. Those witnesses come to their MPs and give us names and addresses, and we take the matter up with the police, but the culture of fear goes on.
Even in drugs cases, people on council estates who let the police take pictures or film a video from their bedroom window have their name read out in court, which is a load of nonsense. Communities in Northern Ireland and New York, for example, have realised that there should be rewards, even cash rewards, for giving evidence. There must also be protection for witnesses who live on the estates and who have to suffer the consequences even after the criminals have gone to jail. Until we eradicate that fear, more and more criminals will get off scot-free.
Mr. Straw: I share my hon. Friend's concern about the intimidation that takes place not only on council estates but elsewhere. Fortunately, although there has been only a relatively small increase in the grand total, the number of people being brought to justice is going up while crime is going down. A great deal more needs to be done to rebalance the criminal justice system so that there is a fair balance between the defendant, the public and the victim.
I was astonished to discover that when the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) was Attorney-General, fees for defence counsel were allowed to grow significantly in advance of those available to the prosecuting counsel in the same cases. That was a scandalous situation--which arose I am sure inadvertently, but under the right hon. and learned Gentleman's nose.
We are including in a Bill currently before Parliament much better protection for witnesses, particularly in cases involving antisocial behaviour orders. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) asked me about the number of ASBOs, which I found extraordinary because the Conservatives' policy is to tear up that law altogether so that people in those communities would have none of the protection afforded by those orders. Some 150 ASBOs have been put in place, which is 150 more than there would have been under the previous Administration. We want that number greatly to increase, but the Conservative party would leave communities without any proper protection.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the great concern in rural areas about low police numbers? When will he introduce the recommendation of the external consultants whom he employed that the sparsity factor in the police funding formula should be increased? When the right hon. Gentleman has taken advice, will he tell the House when he proposes to pay special constables?
Mr. Straw: On the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first point, although the standard spending assessment formula for next year does not provide for that, we have followed a different route and provision is made in the formula for Lincolnshire. [Interruption.] No, I am talking about the next three years. Rural forces will receive £30 million over the next three years, based on the equivalent of the sparsity formula. We believe that we are greatly helping rural forces.
Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): My right hon. Friend knows that I always welcome statements that announce his intention to deal robustly with offenders, especially persistent young offenders. I am happy to say that I represent one of the safest boroughs in London. It is so safe because its police have welcomed my right hon. Friend's policies and have targeted persistent young offenders. Is he aware of the pioneering system that they use to get the local community to help them to find persistent young offenders? As part of the "ringmaster" system, the police forewarn people about possible crimes in their areas, which encourages members of the community to be more vigilant and respond more quickly to the police. In targeting persistent young offenders, especially those who consistently offend in particular areas, can my right hon. Friend say how we can expand the Lewisham system to ensure that such people are brought to book?
Mr. Straw: I pay tribute to the Lewisham police and local authority and to everyone else who has helped to reduce crime in that area. Lewisham's experience shows that, for the same resources that are available to many equivalent London and other metropolitan boroughs, a great deal can be achieved by having good leadership and management and a clear focus on crime reduction. My hon. Friend asks about the "ringmaster" system. I do not know a huge deal about it, but I am looking forward to receiving further details on it, especially on how we can make better use of it, for example in the crime reduction plan and crime reduction toolkits that we are making available across the country.
Mr. Straw: I have in front of me the Canadian "Pocket Criminal Code" from 1996 which contains in one volume Canada's human rights Act, all its substantive criminal law, its procedural law and matters of jurisdiction. We should aim to have such a simple code. I am aware that the Canadian Parliament regularly amends the law. I do not accept that the sensible and widely welcomed amendments that I have introduced over the past four years could not happen under a codification system. However, if we move towards a codification process, Parliament will need to examine its internal procedures. We have sensible procedures to deal with consolidation, but do not have up-to-date modern procedures to deal with codification. We would need those if such a code were to be kept regularly up to date.