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13 Jan 2003 : Column 419—continued

4.8 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): I beg to move, To leave out from XHouse" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:


I ask the House to reject a motion, which, if it were not so serious, would be laughable. The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has made a supreme bid to outdo the leader of the Liberal Democrats in joining XHave I Got News For You". I was going to say XDrop the Dead Donkey", but after last week I had probably better not.

Let's face it: every time a set of statistics is published, every time a high-profile crime is committed, people believe the evidence of the front page but not the evidence placed before them. It behoves us, in a debate of this sort, to get to grips with the real issues. The right hon. Gentleman said, after an amusing interlude, that this was not a laughing matter, and indeed it is not. He said that confusion did Xbad things" to the message to potential burglars, and of course he is right. He rightly said that we need to take much more control of the guidance that goes out, and we do. That is why we put such measures in the Criminal Justice Bill and published

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them in the White Paper last July. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman was thinking about that at the time. I do not remember him saying anything when we published the White Paper or the Bill, but I am happy to be corrected on that.

Confusion damages the signal that is sent out, and, therefore, the culture on the streets. The Lord Chief Justice is, rightly, independent—the judiciary must remain independent and I challenge any Opposition Member to suggest otherwise—and he will be as concerned as I am, and as I am sure the Lord Chancellor is, that we get the message right and that it is clear. I am sure that he will contribute, as I intend to do this afternoon, to ensuring that the guidance that has gone out is clarified, and that judges who misunderstand or misinterpret it are left in no doubt that there is a very clear policy coming out as part of that guidance.

Simon Hughes: I absolutely agree with the Home Secretary; it is very important that accurate statistics are given, so that the media cannot misrepresent the truth. That being the case, what does he say to the chairman of the Statistics Commission, Sir John Kingman, who wrote to him on 1 October—I quote accurately—to say:


Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely with that last sentiment. To publish only good news and not bad would be a luxury I could not afford, and one that we do not have. No one could pretend that we have hidden the facts. This time last year, we made it absolutely clear that we believed that street crime—robbery and snatch theft—had reached a point at which direct intervention was required, and, it has to be said, that intervention was successful. The reason that we published information in the autumn was precisely to avoid the complete untruth that was being perpetrated at the time and is being perpetrated now, namely, that the street crime initiative had failed. In March last year the main Opposition party declared it another initiative on another day, and that it was bound to be a failure, but by October, its own publication had acknowledged that it had succeeded. The reason that we published a full evaluation of the first period of the full street crime programme after six months was precisely because we had said that within six months we would reverse the trend, and that the incidences of robbery and snatch theft would fall. They have, and they are. The statistics that we published last Thursday showed a 10 per cent. drop in robbery figures. So the straight lies that were being told last week, and reiterated and perpetrated, for instance by the leader of the Conservative party on XThe World at One" on Friday, when he simply lied [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We had best have temperate language in the House. I would ask the Home Secretary to withdraw that remark. The right hon. Gentleman is a Member of this House.

Mr. Blunkett: Of course, at your request, Mr Speaker, I will.

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Let me put it another way. The Leader of the official Opposition completely misunderstood and misinterpreted the statistics that had been published the day before, by declaring that all sectors of crime had gone up when the vast majority of sectors of crime had just been shown to have come down. According to the official statistics, burglary has come down by 39 per cent. since 1997, and, according to the British recorded crime survey—the largest and most highly respected such survey in the world—has come down over the previous 12 months to September by 7 per cent. Street robbery has come down, and the police are proud of their record in terms of what they have done to deal with street robbery over the past nine months. I am proud of them as well, because they have made this work. If, however, someone says that street robbery has risen when it has fallen, I presume that they have either misinterpreted the statistics, that they have a problem with numeracy, or that they are just trying to make mischief. I presume, Mr. Speaker, that that language is acceptable to the whole House.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): The Lord Chancellor said on the radio that the Home Secretary agrees with the guidance given by the Lord Chief Justice on the sentencing of burglars. Was he right to say that?

Mr. Blunkett: The Lord Chancellor was perfectly right to say that he, the Attorney-General and I had agreed with the Lord Chief Justice last March on a clear statement on sentencing, which followed the clear statement on sentencing that I made on 5 July, a month after taking over as Home Secretary and when we had the first ever national probation conference. I spelled out my intentions clearly, which were to ensure that we reduce the incidence of crime and, in particular, reoffending with the aim of cutting the number of people who go to prison through ensuring that they no longer commit crimes, rather than having the objective of sending more people to prison who then reoffend and have to be sent to prison again. I repeat that, because, in my view, it is straight common sense.

I also believe that those who commit repeat crimes should, per se, be sent to custody. The introduction of custody minus was not included in the Halliday report, but it is, I think, a proposal that has commanded support across the House. I say XI think" because a number of proposals that commanded support across the House on 4 December appear not to command the support of the whole House just over a month later, even though the official Opposition did not vote against the Criminal Justice Bill on Second Reading as they agree with a large proportion of what we are putting forward.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett: Let me finish on sentencing before I let the hon. Gentleman intervene. Let us get it on the record properly.

For the first time, we set out in the legislation the objective of sentencing, which is to ensure that our streets are safer whereby those who are dangerous sexual and violent offenders are put away, and put away for longer, and action is taken when they are away to ensure that they do not reoffend if and when they come

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out. That is clear and I hope that anyone could agree with it. Those who have committed repeat offences—that includes committing a new offence for the first time—should expect to go to prison.

We should expect to mix prison and community sentencing in the way described in the Bill and as I described on 4 February last year at the prison governors' conference—in a new, imaginative way to avoid reoffending. We should ensure reparation to the victim. We must ensure that we tackle the scandals of the intimidation of witnesses and the delays and repeat delays that they have to put up with, which ensure that they do not want to take part in the criminal justice system. Where people have offended non-violently for the first time, we make a sensible judgment in the courts, allowing the judiciary—the magistracy and the judges—to decide whether a new range of tougher community sentences should come into play to ensure that such people have the opportunity of rehabilitation.

It seems to me that, unless we are to go down the road of spending all the money available to us through the criminal justice system on even more prison places year after year, there is no alternative but to have an incremental, stepped approach under which custody minus and custody plus play their part. I heard someone guffawing about tougher community sentences. Community sentences can be not only tough, but as effective as prison in terms of avoiding reoffending if they are rightly designed and if they involve, for instance, proper drug treatment after testing. The investment of #500 million, which we are making, over the next three years will make that real.

A party that is against increased public expenditure, that has opposed the Chancellor's investment in public services and that would have prevented us from having the new deal programme, which has taken the very young people referred to from the Front Bench by the right hon. Member for West Dorset out of unemployment and despair, has no right whatever to take us to task. We have reduced crime, reduced burglary, reduced robbery and reduced street theft and we have turned around a system in which there was no Youth Justice Board and no programme of long-term investment in reducing young people's reoffending. We have turned around young people's reoffending by 14.6 per cent. That is an official figure, which is on the record—[Interruption.] I am being told that no one believes official statistics. Does that have anything to do with people who believe that they are intelligent, including highly intelligent and thoughtful leader writers for The Times, who have written about the publication of the national crime recording standard—recently revamped by chief constables, not us, so that it is more transparent and involves more recording, for example on CCTV, as well as crimes otherwise recorded? There is more recording, of course, because there are more police to undertake recording and greater confidence that they will do something. Who would believe that a leader writer for The Times would be so puzzled as to suggest that publishing that recording standard alongside the British crime survey, involving a 40,000 sample, was a deliberate ploy to confuse the British people? The answer is anyone who had not read previous leaders in The Times—for three years, they have been pressing us to publish both figures—or anyone who had not read previous editors of The Times,

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such as Simon Jenkins, who pressed us to use the British crime survey rather than the national crime recording standard because it is more accurate and is not subject to the vagaries of recording methods.


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