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Whatever the policy differences between us, it is indisputable that the 10,000 antisocial behaviour orders—they have not been raining down like confetti, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam suggested—the 13,000 acceptable behaviour contracts and the
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1,000 or more dispersal orders have made a significant difference in communities up and down the country, and should not have been treated in a disparaging way that he will probably live to regret.

Julia Goldsworthy: Does the Minister agree with the statistic that gun crime has doubled under the Government, while seizures of illegal firearms have halved? Is his Department undertaking any links with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to try to ensure that the number of seizures increases rather decreases, given the fact that gun crime is rising so rapidly?

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Lady will know that, last year, gun crime was down some 14 per cent. However, the point that she makes about the link between HMRC and the importation of guns is a real one. We are addressing that, but more needs to be done, not simply between HMRC and Government, but across Government and with our colleagues in Europe. It is not an accident or anything other than the fact that, with the demise of many of the so-called people’s democracies in eastern Europe there has been a flood of firearms on to the European market and there are things that we can and should be doing about that.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Since my hon. Friend has been talking about antisocial behaviour orders, is he aware that, in addition to the Liberal Democrats’ repeatedly voting against every antisocial behaviour Bill that has come before the House of Commons, the Liberal Democrats on Manchester city council said that there was too much antisocial behaviour legislation and the Liberal Democrats in my constituency were against the appointment of neighbourhood wardens but then asked for more neighbourhood wardens?

Mr. McNulty: I would like to express surprise at such a stark apparent contradiction in the behaviour of Liberal Democrat councillors, but it happens all too often. [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Can we please have just one debate? If people wish to make interventions, they should seek to do so in the usual way.

Mr. McNulty: I will give way to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy).

Julia Goldsworthy: On the point about firearms seizures, the port of Falmouth used to seize more firearms than any other part of the UK. The reason why it has not done so for the last three years is that there have not been any patrols in Falmouth. All those resources have been deployed to the large ports to seize things such as tobacco. Will the Minister promise to take action in that respect and accept that that is the reason why seizures are declining?

Mr. McNulty: With the best will in the world, the hon. Lady simply cannot say that, because whatever we are doing in ports up and down the country is, by definition, a matter that is not related in the public domain. She made a causal link between a decline in seizures and the intelligence-led work that the authorities do. That simply is not the case. She made a fine point in
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terms of HMRC and working much more closely in that regard, but then she made a rather futile point.

The measures—especially dispersal orders, of which there have been 1,000—have made significant differences to our communities up and down the country and should not be disparaged. I do not accept the premise of the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam about young people. The Government do not demonise young people and ASBOs are not raining down like confetti. There have been 10,000 in the best part of three years. There has been an enormous amount of work up and down the country—involving individual support orders, acceptable behaviour contracts and a whole array of other interventions—to do everything but serve ASBOs. So his was nice, but profoundly empty, rhetoric.

Let us look at some of the steps suggested by the Liberal Democrats this week—if I can put it that way, as a reflection of their inconsistency—in relation to their “Safer Britain” initiative. They mention “More police on patrol” and say

The measures have been much vaunted and much costed. There is nothing in addition to what the Government have already done or have planned to do. Some 16,000—or 24,000, or whatever—community support officers were promised in the manifesto. Then we have the canard that somehow the Government are going to spend all the money that is needed in this area on ID cards. That simply is not the case. We have said time and time again at the Dispatch Box that, as a premise, some 70 per cent. of all the start-up costs for ID cards are there for biometric passports. To refer back to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, that is something that the Liberals apparently agree with. So they are okay on the 70 per cent., but they also want that money to be spent on more police, not biometric passports. The rest of the moneys, as has been made very clear, will come through the recovery of costs through the charge for the ID card. There is no massive pot of billions of pounds implied, at least, by the Liberal Democrats for additional police. If there are no ID cards, there will be no charge for ID cards and no recovery of the costs for ID cards, so it is an utter canard. It is a nice little suggestion that bears no scrutiny at all and is simply wrong.

It is unfair—I have to say this, as it ran through the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam—to attack, however benignly, the hundreds and thousands of professionals up and down the country who are working throughout the criminal justice system. It is profoundly wrong to suggest, as the hon. Gentleman did, that— [Interruption.] The problem is that we are not now in a school debating chamber, so the Liberal Democrats should rest easy a bit.

It is profoundly wrong to suggest that there is no education, training or skills tuition inside our prisons. That there should be more might be a proper argument, but it is a fact that there is plenty of it going on and it is wrong to suggest that absolutely nothing is going on.

Helen Jones: In connection with attacking professionals, what would my hon. Friend say to residents living near the Toll Bar road area in Hulme in
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my constituency who have been persistently plagued with drug problems from nearby flats? The police have gone in and seized large amounts of drugs in some cases, but it is very difficult to prove that people are selling. The Liberal Democrats would end sentences for possession of drugs, so those people would escape without punishment.

Mr. McNulty: What I would say to those people, if I may step out and be partisan momentarily, is that whatever else they do, they should never vote for a Liberal Democrat. It will not be possible to use antisocial behaviour orders, because the Liberal Democrats are against them, as they have shown in practical terms in councils up and down the country. Seeking a dispersal order to get rid of those individuals will not happen because the Liberal Democrats are against them, so those people causing trouble in my hon. Friend’s constituency are going to remain for ever in that estate.

The Government have made substantial additional investment in education for offenders—from £52 million in 2001-02 to £156 million in 2006-07. There is clear evidence that it is working. In the foreword—sadly, it is spelled F, O, R, W, A, R, D in my brief, so I will see someone and have words with them later—to its annual report of 2005-06, the chief inspector of the adult learning inspectorate said:

still too many—

A commitment to make learning and skills compulsory would come close to trebling those costs in terms of delivery alone and substantial investment would be needed to increase the availability of classrooms, workshops and IT.

Again, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam made a fair point—but then lost it in all the “Focus” drivel—about people with mental health problems and about levels of functional literacy in prisons. Some problems need dealing with, but it is absolutely and profoundly wrong to suggest that nothing is being done, though it may well be the case that more should be done.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Minister really cannot get away with the concept that he agrees that something should be done about people in prison with mental health difficulties, when the problem has been pointed out year after year in every report of Her Majesty’s inspectorate—and nothing gets done about it. The same problem is still there.

Mr. McNulty: No, that is not the case at all. The hon. Gentleman should not run away with his own rhetoric. It is not the case that nothing is being done. It may well be the case that more needs to be done and that the Department of Health and the Home Office need to deal with these matters more closely together than they have. I freely accept that that is a legitimate debate, but again it is wrong, particularly in view of what colleagues are doing—long before people even get
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to prison and subsequently when they are outside prison—on the mental health side of the equation. It is profoundly wrong to say that nothing happens. Again, the hon. Gentleman over-eggs the pudding.

Significant numbers of prisoners already work in prisons—for example, in prison workshops, kitchens and horticulture and, increasingly, as peer advisers, gaining qualifications themselves while providing support and guidance to other prisoners. Again, more needs to be done. Again, of course, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), has said, it is far more difficult to make that provision in a prison estate where optimal numbers are already surpassed. We have published the “Next Steps” action plan, a cross-Government commitment further to develop offenders’ skills and get more offenders into sustainable employment through the corporate alliance. Many employers have already seen that this makes business sense, as they can fill their labour gaps and work with prisoners through the prison gate, as it were.

To get back to the subject of the motion, it is not the case that better compensation for victims is paid for by prison work. That assumption shows a profound lack of understanding of the nature of prison work, and of who pays for it if it is not undertaken for the commercial sector. A number of commercial contracts already exist with the private sector. More often than not, however, prison work is about providing purposeful activity for prisoners and making a modest contribution to some aspects of running prisons. To suggest that we can develop our 160 prisons into some kind of corporate whole, with each one as a little profit centre, so that the profits can be used to compensate victims is shallow and sub-intellectual at best, and profoundly wrong and flawed at worst. Nor did the hon. Gentleman mention in passing that our criminal injuries compensation scheme is one of the most generous in Europe, paying out nearly £200 million a year to some 35,000 victims.

Then we come to the Liberal Democrats’ call to take back our town centres. Well, it would have been rather nice if they had voted for some of the measures that we have introduced on that issue. They ask for a reduction in alcohol misuse and the harms associated with it, and for more “liberal” licensing laws so that locals can have a more direct and profound say in the matter— [ Interruption .] Well, they do. Yet they voted against the new licensing laws on 23 March 2003. The Licensing Act is now working. About 600 licensing reviews have been completed where concerns have been expressed, and approximately 100 licences have been revoked.

Dispersal zones are working well in relation to alcohol issues, as are antisocial behaviour orders, but the Liberal Democrats do not like them either. As for alcohol disorder zones, I got fed up trying to find out whether they had voted for them or not. Again, however, those measures are working, or will work when they are implemented.

Ms Keeble: The Liberal Democrats propose that, before someone could have a drinking banning order imposed on them, they would have to have a
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psychiatric assessment. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is typical of the nonsense that we get from the party across the way?

Mr. McNulty: Sadly it is, on matters that are very serious.

Interestingly, the hon. Gentleman did not dwell on the last little gimmick from the Liberal Democrats. This is the Lib Dem freedom Bill, which was supposed to advance our ability to take these matters seriously. The genesis of this particular ditty came about when the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) resolved that his party needed a tougher form of liberalism. This was before he decided that prison was rubbish and did not work at all.

Alongside what is in the motion, the Lib Dem freedom Bill makes profoundly depressing reading. It would run a coach and horses through much of what we are trying to do, misguidedly all in the name of freedom and liberalism. It would reverse changes in the law on the right to silence, which have made it easier to convict the guilty, not in every case but in specific cases in which it would be of use to the authorities to make it more difficult to acquit those who are clearly guilty in specific circumstances. That is not even our measure, actually. It goes back to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to give due credit to the Conservatives, three of whom are in the Chamber this afternoon—

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Will the Minister please name us so that our constituents will know that we are here?

Mr. McNulty: I will if I have time during our deliberations.

Our measure refers specifically to a tight set of circumstances in which the right to silence can and should be challenged. The Liberal Democrats would get rid of it. That would make it much more difficult not only to convict those who are clearly guilty, but in some circumstances, to acquit the innocent. That is a totally befuddled and bemusing approach. It might look nice in a little five-point freedom Bill, but it is profoundly dangerous.

An equally dangerous proposal in this little ditty, the Lib Dem freedom Bill, is their opposing the retention of DNA records, which are helping to crack old crimes and convict dangerous offenders. Here, they are slipping into their rhetoric and entering profoundly dangerous territory. A fellow called Anthony de Boise would be very grateful if the Liberal Democrats had had their way and there were no DNA database. I will not go into all the details, but he was in dispute with his sister over the estate after one of their parents had died. He was taken in for theft and DNA-fingerprinted. The DNA was put on the database. The charges were dropped, but he was subsequently the subject of a further investigation, and because that DNA sample was on the database, the unloved Anthony De Boise is now doing 13 years for six counts of indecent assault on girls aged between 13 and 16, committed in Surrey between 1989 and 1996. That is because our legislation allowed us to retain that database.

Mr. Heath: rose—

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Mr. McNulty: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can respond to that point.

Mr. Heath: I would like to know why the Minister is not honest about the criminal justice system’s requirements. The database should either genuinely encompass everybody, or be restricted to those convicted of a criminal offence, and there are entirely logical arguments for either position. However, there is no basis in logic for a DNA database not only of those who have been convicted of a criminal offence, but of those who have been arrested but not charged, and those who have come before the courts and been found not guilty. If the police have followed proper procedures, a few people who work in No. 10 should now be on the DNA database; is the Minister?

Mr. McNulty: I am not, but I would have absolutely no difficulty with being on the database. I tell the hon. Gentleman sincerely that he should consider the victims of Anthony De Boise, the victims of another individual who is now doing six years for sexual assault, to whom the same thing applies—his DNA was picked up in one environment, but the charges were dropped, and he was subsequently charged for other offences—and the victims of Shaun Greenway, who is serving a life sentence for three rapes committed between 2002 and 2005. The Prime Minister has said clearly, in terms, that he is quite comfortable with the notion of everybody being on the database. [Interruption.] I will ignore the chuntering, if I may.

We are told that, under the Liberal Democrat freedom Bill, the use of hearsay evidence in court would be scrapped. It should not be used all the time, in all circumstances; however, in particular circumstances, and for particular crimes, when the proper safeguards are in place, it can make the difference between convicting someone who is guilty, after due process, and not convicting them. The proposal would sound lovely in a little Liberal Democrat freedom Bill, but it would be profoundly destructive to what we are trying to do for our communities under the criminal justice system.

Mr. Bailey: What assessment has been made of the number of crimes that would have been committed, and the number of people who would have been involved, had the Liberal policy on DNA retention been implemented?

Mr. McNulty: I can tell my hon. Friend that in 2005-06 there were, at the very least, some 45,000 DNA matches for crimes, including 422 homicides, 645 rapes, 256 other sex offences, nearly 2,000 other violent crimes and more than 9,000 domestic burglary offences, but the DNA database offends the sensibilities of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), so he thinks that we should scrap it. That is abject nonsense. The Liberal Democrats voted against the legislation when it came before the House, but what did we expect?

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