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On crime, I welcome the fact that the Government have said that they will take action on issues raised during the general election campaign: violence, social disorder, drug abuse and drunkenness. The Government have committed themselves again to creating safe and secure communities as well as fostering a culture of respect. But surely it is reasonable to ask what has happened to those communities and to that culture of respect in the past eight years. Which Government have presided over the corrosion of discipline in our schools, the growth of drunken disorder on our streets and the disarray of our police forces faced with the burden of bureaucracy, targets and red tape?
Let us look at the Government's performance on their own measure. In October 2002, the then Home Secretary, the then Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-
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General published a document called, "Narrowing the Justice Gap". The justice gap is recorded crime less solved crime: it is a measure of unsolved crime, a measure of uncaught and unpunished criminals. That document said:
I agree. To listen to the Home Secretary, one would think that the Government cut the justice gap. Not a bit of it. It has grown by almost 1 million since the Government came to power. There are now 900,000 more crimes not being solved each year than there were in 1998. That means that, each year, the perpetrators of 5.5 million crimes are not brought to justicethat 5.5 million victims see the perpetrators of the crimes against them walking free. What is the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety's answer to that? Her answer is to dress criminals up in orange suits, an idea so irrelevant that even Downing street dropped it within 24 hours.
None the less, the Minister did manage to get the Home Secretary into trouble. The headline on the front page of yesterday's edition of The Sunday Telegraph was, "Six falsehoods in 100 seconds: how the Home Secretary misled public over 'yob crackdown'." Despite the Home Secretary's opening remarks, I have a higher opinion of him than that. I do not believe that he deliberately misled the public but rather that this situation demonstrates all too clearly the careless way in which the Government have designed their gimmicky and ineffective crime strategy.
Tom Levitt: I fear that the right hon. Gentleman is going down the same route that his party went down in its newspaper advertisements during the general election campaign. He is comparing crime statistics that were compiled on different bases and comparing different reporting techniques, and attempting to show a difference. Does he welcome the intervention by the chief constable of Derbyshire police at the beginning of the general election campaign? The chief constable wrote to all the local newspapers to put the facts about the fall in crime in Derbyshire on the record, so that no politician could fall into the trap of misleading the publicas the right hon. Gentleman is doing now, and as his party's advertisements did during the general electionby not acknowledging changes in reporting techniques.
I did not see the intervention by the Derbyshire chief constable, but I did see that by the chief constable of North Wales police, which, I think, made a similar point. He said that violent crime is not growing because of the change in the basis on which such crime is measured. [Interruption.] Of course, the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safetyshe is muttering, and I will give way to her in a moment if she wants me tosaid herself that the limit was 20 per cent. Violent crime in north Wales grew by 120 per cent., so even after that adjustment is made, there was still a 100 per cent. increase in violent crime. Across the
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country as a whole, the figure is 84 per cent., so even if we knock off the 20 per cent., there was still a two-thirds increase in violent crime.
Gun crime has doubled, and as the Home Secretary himself recognises, there has been a massive increase in knife crime, so there is a need to act on gun and knife crime. Who is telling the truth here? Is the Home Secretary just trying to invent another scare storyis he just expressing his own viewor is this real? The increase in violent crime is real, and for reasons that I will explain in a moment.
Let me pursue this question of a reduction in crime. There are indeed some reductions. Some of the recorded crime statistics have come down, but I must point out that the Government can claim zero credit for much of that. Recorded instances of burglary are coming down. Is that because more burglars are getting caught? No, it is because detection rates for burglary under this Government have dropped by a third, so fewer burglars are getting caught. Perhaps the explanation is that burglars fear prison. Under this Government, half of all first-conviction burglars go to prison, so that is not the answer. The real reason why burglary is going down is that it has become more difficult and less lucrativeit is as simple as that. Burglar alarms, better locks and more secure doors and windows make burglary more difficult. Some 10 years ago, the burglar who stole a video recorder could sell it for £100. Today, last year's video recorder will fetch a fiver in the pub. The risks have gone up and the rewards have gone down, but the criminal has not gone away.
Steve McCabe: It may have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's attention that some of the reductions that he is talking about are a direct result of Government targets. That is a reality that cannot be challenged. When the chief superintendent responsible for the operational command unit in my constituency publishes figures showing crime reductions across the board, is he a liar?
David Davis: Unlike the Home Secretary, I am not in that business, but I will say this: the Government may have too many targets, but even I do not think that they have targets for double glazing, locks on doors and burglar alarms.
Let us deal with what happens to those crimes. The crimes may decrease, but the criminals do not go away. They go into other, more lucrative crimesanything from liquor smuggling to drug dealingthat are safer and easier, and which generate more violent crime. Nobody, not even the Home Secretary, seriously disputes today that drink and drugs are the source of violent crime. Yet the Government have presided over an explosion of drink and drug-related crime.
What have they done about it? Worse than nothing. The Government's response to the problem of binge drinking was more drinking, longer drinking, easier drinking and 24-hour drinking. Today, we hear that the drinks industry is facing up to its responsibilities. If only the Government would do the same.
At the same time, drug addicts are faced with the lowest drug prices ever. In some urban areas, the price of cocaine is falling below that of a cappuccino. Drugs
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are flooding our streets because we have lost control of our borders and until the Government get a grip on our borders, this will continue. No wonder people are taking hard drugs. No wonder that 70 per cent. of theft is linked to drug addiction.
While trying to sound tough on drugs, the Government took the foolish decision to reclassify cannabis against the advice of the police, doctors and their own drugs tsar. As the ex-Cabinet Minister, Chris Smithhardly an old fuddy-duddypointed out:
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I have always believed that the law on drugs should be guided by the scientific evidence. If the advice is that a drug should be classified as more or less dangerous, that is what we should presume to follow. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree?
David Davis: Yes, I do. One reason why the decision to reclassify was ill founded was that the Government did not take into account some of the evidence on psychosis that the current chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs says he knew at the time. The risks of psychosis from cannabis use are serious, which is the basis of the argument. Although it grieves me to do it, I will pay a compliment to the Home Secretary who is at least reviewing the decision, but it was ludicrous in the first place.
The new Labour Government have failed to deal with the causes of violent crimedrink and drugsand are failing to deal with criminals. A proper criminal justice system punishes the criminals and reduces crime. It does that by taking criminals out of circulationtypically, by putting them in prisonand by deterring them from committing crime, generally by the threat of prison. It does so also by rehabilitation, again usually in prison. However, the Government do not intend to create enough prison places to cope with the expected 100,000 prisoners by the end of the decade.
Instead, they will use community service and fines to punish criminals. Clearly such punishments do not take criminals out of circulation. Equally clearly, they do not deter, even with the prospect of the Minister of State's orange suits. Nor do they rehabilitate. The hardest group of offenders to deal with are drug addicts, yet the Government's flagship drug treatment and testing orders have had a dreadful outcome. Two thirds of those concerned have failed to complete the course and 90 per cent. have been reconvicted.
We need to offer kids ladders out of drug dependency. At the general election, we set out a proposal to increase tenfold the number of residential rehab places. A Conservative Government would have done that. Our approach would have offered an escape from the cycle of misery that afflicts too many youngsters today. Conservative proposals would have offered a positive and constructive solution to this most terrible of problems. At least the Government are recognising the need for action on violent crime by promoting the Bill on this matter, but they are failing miserably to deal with
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the root cause of that crime. As a result of that failed strategy, recorded crime is up by 750,000 in the past eight years, with violent crime up by more than 80 per cent. Even where crime rates are falling, it is the result of factors beyond the Government's control.
What the Government can control is the number of police out on the beat, yet as we saw last week from the Police Federation, more and more officers are spending more and more of their time inside police stations, not on the beat catching criminals. The Government are tying up our police forces in red tape and targets and, as a direct result, cutting their effectiveness.
The Government can also control the effectiveness of sentences, yet they are failing to enforce effective sentences and are instead wasting money on expensive gimmicks that do nothing to lead criminals away from the temptation to commit crime.
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