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13 Jan 2003 : Column 412—continued

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. [Hon. Members: XRight hon. Gentleman."] I apologise. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he is doing the House and the country a disservice in completely overlooking the role of intelligence-led policing and the way in which police efforts focus on the hard end of crime? Focusing on the activities of criminals is bringing down crime across a whole range of offences to the benefit of communities.

Mr. Letwin: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to reply. I hope that at some time or another he will do what I have to do on a regular basis and talk to police constables the length and breadth of the country, because he will discover that the flip phrase Xintelligence-led policing" means something on the streets in Britain by its very absence. In the

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United States, as I have seen for myself, the police know the streets and the residents of them because they patrol up and down. As a result, they gain genuine low-level intelligence day by day and hour by hour. They have real-time information on the compliance status information system—the comstat system—and know where the patterns of crime are developing. That enables them to take the required forces to where the criminals operate. We, however, have to wait minutes, hours or days before the police arrive.

What do we find has happened in this country? In the past 24 hours, the Metropolitan police force has been so hampered by the Home Secretary and the Chancellor that its policy of intelligence-led policing on burglary consists of giving up the investigation of all burglaries except those for which it already knows the crook in question.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I thought we would soon get around to that. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give me chapter and verse on what the Home Office has, or has not, said to the Met. Did it affect its decision last summer to introduce pilots in Enfield and Southwark? Did it affect the information that the force gave out on 2 December? We have done nothing that the right hon. Gentleman claims. Instead, we have done exactly what he asks us to do, which is to leave the decision making to the commissioner and the Metropolitan police.

Mr. Letwin: I am sure that the Home Secretary is not to blame for that particularly lunacy. I suspect that he—[Interruption.] I will answer the Home Secretary. When some journalist rang him as he rang me, I suspect he thought, as I thought, that it was an April fool's joke. I suspect that he had no prior knowledge that the police were going in that direction. My accusation against him is that he has made it impossible for the police to adopt any other system of policing. I do not believe that the commissioner, for whom the Home Secretary and I have a high regard, chose that course of action because he woke up one fine sunny day and thought it would be fun not to pursue most burglars. I suspect that he is bound up with bureaucracy, as the president elect of the Association of Chief Police Officers said just a day ago, and is unable to provide the policing that is required because the Home Secretary has made it impossible for him to do so.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): The right hon. Gentleman says that he frequently speaks to police officers, and he criticises the intelligence-led model. Will he come to Kent, where the intelligence-led model has been extremely effective in cutting burglary and gun crime year on year?

Mr. Letwin: I am a huge admirer of Sir David Phillips, the chief constable of Kent, who pioneered the intelligence-led model of policing. That has been a huge success in the restricted examples to which it has been applied at the higher end of crime. At the lower end of crime, however, intelligence-led policing is not possible

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without having police officers on the street because they cannot collect the intelligence unless they are there to do so. That is what is lacking in this country.

Jonathan Shaw: We have more police officers in Kent doing exactly what the right hon. Gentleman describes than we had last year and the year before that.

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman and his constituents have more police officers, but not enough of them by a large measure. When the BBC, which is not a supporter of the Conservative party as far as I am aware, discovers in a poll that 28 per cent. of the people in Britain cannot remember when they last saw a police officer, it behoves Labour Members not to make a great song and dance about policing on our streets.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I think that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. We both have flats in Lambeth and I have seen more policemen on its streets in the past few months than I have seen in the 25 years that I have owned a flat there, including two officers on the Brixton road in the past half hour.

Mr. Letwin: I am tempted to say that the hon. Gentleman is in a privileged class of one. I know not what anecdotal evidence suggests about the police officers on the streets immediately adjoining his residence, but his colleague the Member of Parliament for that area does not share his view about the number of those officers or about the Home Office policy on drugs which is occupying most of their time because of the vast increase in drug-dealing networks.

One half of a settled and coherent policy would be to get the police on the streets, but the other half would be to offer young people a way off the conveyor belt to crime, and I regret that the Home Secretary and his predecessor have been as deficient in that as in the matter of the police. We have not seen long-term rehabilitative sentences for young persistent offenders. We have not seen mandatory drug treatment and rehabilitation for young cocaine and heroin addicts. Neither of those measures has been implemented in an effective form. Instead we have seen a rash of initiatives, some of which will be discussed in the next debate, and a flood of money. Those policies are very ill-focused and there is no clear means of lifting the majority of young potential criminals off that conveyor belt to crime. If we do not do that we will never make a serious impact on the causes of crime about which the Prime Minister spoke so eloquently in opposition.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I share the right hon. Gentleman's concern about that matter. He knows that I share many of his criticisms and those of the public of what the Government have done, or failed to do, in the last five years. However, will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the country why it should now have greater confidence in his party when crime doubled during its 18 years in power and violent crime increased in every one of those years? What would make the Conservative party deal more effectively with crime and law and order now, when during its 18 years in office it lamentably failed to do what the right hon. Gentleman is now calling for?

Mr. Letwin: I do not believe that we can hope to make an impact on these problems without doing the very

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things that I have described: getting police on to the streets and getting young people off the conveyor belt to crime. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the policies that we have been promoting for a year or more are new, and they offer the possibility of a serious attack on crime, in the way that American cities have attacked crime through policing and in the way that the Netherlands and Sweden have got young people off the conveyor belt to crime.

I want to defend the record of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), because during each of his years as Home Secretary he remorselessly reduced levels of crimes such as burglary, both recorded crimes and those measured by the British crime survey. I shall tackle that in some detail, and I will reflect in a moment on what is happening to that record as a result of the Government's muddled messages and confused thinking.

The second problem that we face, apart from the Government's failure to produce a serious long-term strategy, is the fact that the Home Secretary has sought to mask what people know are the realities of crime through irrelevant and illiberal high-profile measures in criminal justice Bills. That is the eye-catching initiative method of legislation. What has the proposed change to the double jeopardy rules to do with the kinds of crime that we are talking about today? Very little. What has the limitation of trial by jury in fraud cases to do with robbery, burglary or gun crime? Very little. The point of those eye-catching initiatives is to sound tough, and the tragedy is that in sounding tough the Home Secretary has succeeded in being illiberal without being effective. To be illiberal in order to be effective has a justification; to be liberal, admitting that one may be ineffective has a justification, but to be illiberal and ineffective is inexcusable. [Interruption.] I am charmed that the Home Secretary is so charmed by my remarks.

Nowhere is that pattern of incoherence masked by lunges for ineffective, irrelevant and eye-catching initiatives more evident than in relation to recent sentencing policy. A little while ago, the Home Secretary made a magnificent discovery. He spotted ahead of the rest of us that his own figures—we had not seen them, but he had—were going to reveal a vast increase in gun crime. I imagine that an order went out in the Home Office saying XDo something—a headline is coming, so let us anticipate it." An order was eventually given: XLet us have mandatory sentences for gun crime." About 24 hours later—I am unable to ascertain the precise number of hours—a counter-order was given: XLet us have exceptions to the mandatory sentences for gun crime." There was a process of order, counter-order and disorder.

The fact is that an initiative on sentencing was produced at short notice in relation to an anticipated headline and that it could not withstand even a day's scrutiny. However, that is small beer, as they say, in comparison with what has been happening on burglary. I admit that I should today very probably be tendering my resignation as shadow Home Secretary. I should have to do so on the ground of sheer mental inadequacy, as I have struggled mightily for many days now, but failed utterly to understand the Government's position on burglary sentencing. I do not know what it is that the

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Government have been trying to tell us; my powers of intellect have not been up to the task. I hope that, at the end of this debate, the Home Secretary will rescue me from the need to resign by informing me and unclouding a mind that is currently unable to wrestle with the ghastly question of whether the Government have a policy on burglary sentencing, and if so, what that policy may be.

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