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Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend’s experience in Luton is being shared by the people of Hull whose council is now
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Liberal-controlled. The party concerned voted against CCTV cameras to provide protection and security for local people, and will not fill vacancies in the CCTV monitoring room to make sure that perpetrators are brought to book.

Margaret Moran: My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which illustrates that the Liberals talk tough here but do not vote tough. Their voting record shows that they have been against any of the tough measures introduced by our Government, and that they are a danger to our communities.

The Government have invested nearly £3 million to improve St. George’s square and regenerate the centre of Luton. What has the Liberal council done? It has refused to introduce dispersal orders and alcohol-free zones. The problems that have plagued the centre of town will therefore reappear, and people will again not want to work in and visit Luton. Despite the Respect Task Force having been called in twice to deal with antisocial behaviour, that is the approach of Liberals on the council and of the Liberals’ national policies. The police tell me that they are doing their best, but that the council has refused to co-operate with them and introduce dispersal orders and alcohol-free zones. How can the police deal with such issues and respond to community needs when the practice of Liberal councils is to do exactly the opposite?

The council has not only wasted money from the Government for regeneration but in relation to identity cards. I undertook a major consultation of my constituents, 96 per cent. of whom are desperate to have ID cards. One in seven of the UK population wants ID cards, because they are a price worth paying for greater security and to get rid of fear of crime. Again, Liberal Members, and Liberals on Luton council, have voted against ID cards. The majority of people in Luton want the measure introduced, however, and we will deliver it.

Across the UK, crime has decreased by 35 per cent. since 1997, with domestic burglary down by 55 per cent. and 250,000 more offences being brought to the courts than five years ago. I especially commend the Government on introducing tougher sentences for murder and sexual and violent offences. In some areas, however, there are still problems. As I have illustrated, many of those problems are brought on by Liberal policies.

My area is covered by Bedfordshire police authority, which often tells me that it suffers from lack of resources. I must disabuse it of that notion. It complains that it did not get sufficient resourcing for the force amalgamation proposals, but it got what it asked for in full—£23,500. It says that the Government are cutting its resources; in fact, its budget in Luton has increased by 3.6 per cent., which is above the rate of inflation. Next year, it will receive £66.4 million in general grants, which is an increase of 3.7 per cent, and an estimated £11 million on top of that from a range of other Government funding streams, for instance, to help roll out neighbourhood policing across the area. It will also receive substantial investment in local policing. From 2007, the control on officer numbers that accompanied the large specific grant—the crime fighting fund—is being lifted, for which the authority asked.

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However, the distribution of police resources within Bedfordshire police authority is a major issue, on which I wish that our Liberal-Tory council would take action instead of whingeing.

Luton does not receive a proportionate share of police resources. Although it is pushed up the M1, it is essentially a London borough with the multiplicity of problems experienced by London boroughs, including the problems of crime.

Luton has higher crime levels than any other part of Bedfordshire. I have figures of 2 per cent. for sexual offences compared with 0.9 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole; 3 per cent. for robbery offences compared with 1.4 per cent. nationally; and 24 per cent. for violence against the person compared with 16.5 per cent. nationally. Within Bedfordshire, Luton is experiencing most of those problems. That is all the more reason why there should be co-operation between the police and the council. However, owing to decisions made by Bedfordshire police authority, Luton is disproportionately underfunded. If it received the same funds as a borough with a comparable “police family”, we would have at least 32 extra officers on the beat to tackle some of those serious issues.

I have called on Luton council to join me in a campaign to ensure that Luton receives its fair share of the additional funding for Bedfordshire police authority. I wish it would get its finger out, not only to deal with the issues that we have been discussing but to help me fight that campaign for a fair share for Luton. I hope that the Minister will have words with members of the police authority, and will urge them to ensure that Luton’s crime problems are tackled more effectively with better resources.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam has had his wings substantially clipped. The windy rhetoric that we heard bears no relation to the reality of what is happening in people’s lives.

Mr. Heath: I am concerned by what the hon. Lady said about her police authority. I have no torch to bear for Bedfordshire police authority, but it is not the police authority that determines the operational decisions of the chief constable. It is for the chief constable to decide who is deployed in her town.

Margaret Moran: The police authority, in conjunction with the chief constable, makes decisions on the allocation of resources between areas covered by the authority. I am sure the Minister will clarify the position, but that is what I have been told by both the chief constable and the Minister concerned.

I want to mention some serious national issues which, sadly, were not raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam. I hope that the Minister will think about ways in which we can tackle crime even better than we are already. The hon. Gentleman mentioned prison capacity. There should be further investigation of the number of women in our prisons. The Fawcett Society has done sterling research on those who are in prisons, and has found that a disproportionate number of women are there as a result of relatively minor offences. Many have been victims themselves, particularly of domestic violence, and increasingly they are becoming victims of the criminal
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justice system as well. More and more women are in prison unnecessarily, and we must try to break that cycle.

The second issue that I want to raise is e-crime. I am surprised that the Liberal Democrats have no policy on it, as it will be one of the biggest issues affecting the criminal justice system and the police system. I have just returned from Washington, where I had meetings with the FBI and others to discuss the issue. I am sorry to say that I have received no satisfactory answers to my probing questions about the extent of e-crime in the United Kingdom. The FBI and other United States authorities have a much clearer picture of what is going on: according to them, e-crime is now taking place on a massive scale, and will be the biggest issue affecting us in the future. [Interruption.]

Julia Goldsworthy: On that point, I have recently been contacted by a constituent whose credit card details, e-mail address and password were published on the internet, and he finds that he cannot report that as a crime unless he has suffered some financial loss. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government urgently need to address that issue?

Margaret Moran: That is one of a number of issues that we need to ensure we are getting on top of; I am just sorry that the Liberal Democrats appear to have no policies to address any such issues. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind Members sitting on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench that only one debate is taking place in the Chamber.

Margaret Moran: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Liberal Democrat Members obviously do not want to learn any lessons about what they should address if they want their party to be taken even half way seriously as a party of opposition, which is what it will continually be.

Mr. Jeremy Browne: I seek clarification on earlier comments that the hon. Lady made. Did she say that there are people in prison who she believes should be released earlier than Government Front Benchers wish?

Margaret Moran: The hon. Gentleman is not doing himself any great service. I merely made the point that we need to look into the fact that there are many women who are in prison for relatively minor offences and who have been victims of violence. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will support measures to tackle domestic violence and repeat victimisation, as he has so far failed to support most of the measures to tackle crime and support our victims that have passed through the House.

The Met police have recently concluded a report, and I am pleased to say that Detective Chief Inspector Charlie McMurdie, who visited Washington with us, was able to brief us on the fact that there is concern that local specialist e-crime units throughout the country can no longer cope with e-crime. Businesses have complained that the merger last year of the national hi-tech crime unit into the Serious Organised
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Crime Agency has left a serious gap in policing at a time when computer crime is reaching epidemic proportions.

Demand for computer forensic services, which cost the Met £4.3 million last year, is forecast to increase by 40 per cent. in 2007. There is a great need to focus on crime prevention and intelligence gathering, and there is a particular need for greater police resources to tackle organised criminal networks and individuals who represent a high threat in the online world. I am pleased that the report concludes that the police need to work more closely with businesses to prevent attacks. That is in all our interests, as confidence in the commercial world—indeed, in our whole economy—rests on a secure online world. We need to recognise that e-crime is now a mainstream issue.

I concur with the Met report’s suggestion that we should have a central unit. We cannot be Keystone Cops chasing after developments in the online world. The rate of advance in technology is very fast and the speed with which organised criminals online are able to develop new software and technologies outstrips our police’s ability ever to get to grips with that. We will never have sufficient police, forensic and technology-based specialisms and skills to keep up with the rapid rate of change in technology.

We should take up a suggestion of EURIM, the IT parliamentary and industry group that I chair, and of the Met report, although we should go further than it recommends. We should slap a sheriff’s badge on many people in the IT industry, where there are legions of security and technology experts, and give them greater powers to tackle some of these issues, because our police and resources will never keep up with the rate of change. We need to place greater emphasis across Departments—not only in the Home Office—on finding ways to tackle this problem. Confidence in our economy could rest on it.

I commend the Government for the work that has already been done on online child abuse, and the Minister in particular for his dedication to the issue and his wisdom in adopting the measures in two ten-minute Bills that I proposed: the checking of moderators by the Criminal Records Bureau, and a requirement that internet service providers introduce filters to protect us all—and particularly the children abused—from access to online child abuse sites.

When we were in Washington, we made very valuable contacts with the FBI and NCMEC—the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which does wonderful work in this area. They asked me to pass on their congratulations to our Government on taking a lead on the issue by working with the Internet Watch Foundation and setting up the Home Office taskforce. That is a tribute to partnership working, and such an approach does indeed work. The Government’s partnership arrangements with industry and with the charity and voluntary sector have been spectacularly effective in closing down child abuse sites. A few years ago, some 15 per cent. of such sites were hosted in the UK; now the figure is only 0.1 per cent. That has been achieved without legislation, and through partnership working. As the experts in the United States suggested, this model could be used around the world. We must
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take the opportunity to work with other countries to ensure that they understand how successful that model has been.

The problem is all too prevalent. In only the past week, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—a Government initiative that I commend most highly—identified three men who were using an online chat-room and planning to abduct and rape a young girl. That was excellent policing by CEOP, but it does need more resources. The FBI has thousands of investigators looking at sites; in effect, we have only one. We need to recognise that this is only the beginning for CEOP; it needs more resources. People are using the YouTubes of this world to associate online in order to plan real abuses of young women and children. Sadly, what happens in the online world translates to the real world. Through good detective work, an online paedophile in St. Albans was discovered to be raping and abusing a baby. He was tracked down through the good technical online detective work that organisations such as CEOP carry out.

There is a range of online issues that we need to address, not just grooming, chat-room paedophiles and the exchange of images. Of course, the technology is moving fast, and such images are transferred around the world through personal digital assistants. The cost to organised child abusers of entering that world has gone down. Anybody can now have a PDA, whereas the production of such images used to require a room and a camera or a video-recording facility, and much more equipment besides. The problem is that we are having difficulty keeping up with the technology. The sad fact is that some internet service providers, including some internationally known ones, are not doing enough to safeguard against the use of chat-rooms by online child abusers and paedophiles to plan their terrible acts against children.

We should remark on the only policy of the Liberal Democrats. [Interruption.] They are not interested, apparently, as they are talking to each other. They say that criminals should have the same freedoms as their victims. That is in the Liberal Democrats’ “Orange Book”, and suggests that paedophiles should have exactly the same liberties as any other member of the community. Another good one from a Liberal Democrat campaign booklet states:

However, the campaign booklet also suggests that party workers should give sweets to children to lure them into delivering Lib Dem leaflets. That is hardly appropriate or sensible behaviour in the context of the difficult issues that we are discussing.

We need to recognise that online child abusers are often techies and evidence suggests that they are developing new forms of encryption and software. They are using multiple servers to redirect images instantly and they are splitting data. We have to be ahead of online child abusers and to that end, I have a few recommendations to make.

We need to work globally and the internet governance forum is an opportunity to discuss the issues with other countries where servers are being hosted, such as Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries. I hope that my hon. Friend the
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Minister will support that. We need to devise common standards for data retention by ISPs so that we can detect abuses more easily, and we need to consider the forfeiture rules used by the FBI where online organised child abuse is being developed.

I suggest that in the light of the Home Office review of child sex offenders we need to drop silly ideas such as Megan’s law—I am sure that we could have a debate about that—and we need to look at the research that has been conducted, by the Pugh institute in the US, for example, which shows that a relatively small number of children and young people are subjected to abuse online. The same young people indulge in risky behaviour online as do so in the real world. Perhaps we need to examine those studies to see how we may better focus the limited resources that we have to ensure that we tackle that problem and safeguard those few young people who are particularly at risk.

We also need to consider greater resourcing for organisations such as CEOP and we need to discuss sentencing. The FBI is especially concerned that sentencing in the US far surpasses anything imposed by UK courts. It is keen to prosecute UK child abuse offenders because possession of such images in the US means a sentence of five years in prison, and production of the images means 25 years in prison. Let us compare and contrast that with the sentences of a few months passed down by some of our judges for such offences. Indeed, in a recent case the judge suggested that the paedophile buy his young victim a bike. There are some serious issues arising from sentencing that we need to address, and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider those.

Unfortunately, this debate has been initiated by the Liberal Democrats —[ Interruption. ] They clearly do not take these issues very seriously. They made no mention of e-crime or of child abuse online, which are big and serious issues, preferring instead to assault the Government’s record. We know that our record needs further improvement, but compared with what the people in my constituency would experience if—God forfend—we ever had Liberal Democrats in power, we are doing so much better. I know that people in my constituency know that the fairy-tale policies of the Liberal Democrats would do them no good whatever, and I am astonished that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam had the audacity to initiate this debate.

6.29 pm

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I am pleased to be called to sum up a debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), who opened it, called very opportune. We are approaching a decade of this Labour Government, and the Blair era will soon be written about in the history books. There will be plenty of material to consider—the absence of real leadership and of meaningful reform in welfare and health care, and the huge scar running through the Government that is the war in Iraq.

However, the Prime Minister is especially associated with one phrase. It made him famous as a politician, even though it was apparently authored by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The phrase is

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Laudable though the thought is, the phrase neatly sums up where the Prime Minister, and the Government as a whole, have gone wrong. He has put his faith in a slogan emphasising toughness, when what was needed was action with an emphasis on effectiveness. The Government’s attachment to spin, media management and presentation at the expense of serious and effective measures to reduce crime—and especially serious categories such as gun crime—has been a lamentable feature of their time in office.

An indication of the Prime Minister’s style was apparent when an e-mail memorandum was published in 2000. It was from “TB”, and was dated 29 April. It summed up his approach to the way in which the Government were to go about the serious problem of rising crime in this country. The Prime Minister said:

That e-mail sums up the Prime Minister’s entire approach to crime—gimmicky, ill thought out, and associated with him. The preoccupation was with getting in tomorrow’s newspapers, and not with addressing the serious problems afflicting the country.

A more recent example appeared in the Evening Standard of 17 January. A senior official who had worked directly with the Prime Minister said:

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