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One could not sum up better the sentiments of those Labour Back Benchers who have contributed to the debate. Because the Prime Minister thinks that something is a good idea, they think that it is happening and making a measurable difference to our communities.

Jane Kennedy: I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s summation, and I am sorry that I missed about half an hour of the debate. I referred to Liverpool during the opening speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). The Liberal Democrat council there has funded fewer than five community support officers: all the rest of those officers have been funded by the Home Office, and the same is true of alley gating. Such measures make a material difference to local neighbourhoods, but the Liberal Democrats in power in Liverpool are mightily reluctant to put their money where their mouth is and fund similar initiatives.

Mr. Browne: The right hon. Lady seemed to suggest earlier that Liverpool was run better by the Labour party, but I remember when the then leader of the party commented on the obscene spectacle of a Labour council scurrying around handing out redundancy notices to its own workers. I therefore caution her against holding up Labour in municipal government in Liverpool as a model.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) referred to police community support officers. Does my
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hon. Friend agree that it is a disgrace that the national target for PCSOs has just been reduced from 24,000 to 16,000? In Gloucestershire alone, that will lead to a loss of 74 PCSOs whom we expected and needed.

Mr. Browne: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. That target was a cast-iron pledge—a real, genuine, black-and-white, in-ink promise in the Labour manifesto—but it was broken almost as soon as the votes were counted in Liverpool and other constituencies across the country.

The Government’s approach is to put the emphasis on spin, appearance and media headline initiatives rather than on practical measures to deal with crime. Since 1997, a total of 39 Secretaries of State, Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries have passed through the revolving door of the Home Office. Labour has created more than 3,000 new criminal offences, passed 115,000 pages of legislation and introduced more than 50 Bills, including 24 criminal justice measures. In the 60 years between 1925 and 1985, Governments managed to get by with only six Criminal Justice Acts—an average of one every decade. The Labour Government get through them at the rate of more than two a year, yet they do not seem to be having the desired effect.

I shall list some of the Bills proposed in this Session, to give a sense of the legislative frenzy that the Government mistake for effective action on crime: the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill, the Legal Services Bill, a criminal justice Bill, an asylum and immigration Bill, the Offender Management Bill, a counter-terrorism Bill, the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill and the Serious Crime Bill. No wonder Ministers have no time to run their Department effectively and deal with the public’s priorities and concerns about crime. They are too busy trying to position themselves for the next day’s newspapers and vis- -vis the Opposition parties to get to grips with some of the serious problems that afflict our communities.

Mr. Kevan Jones: May I put the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) asked the hon. Gentleman? When Liberal Democrats have local powers—as they do in Liverpool—to make communities safer by appointing CSOs, why have they not done so?

Mr. Browne: All kinds of measures have been taken by local councils all over the country. I may be as disingenuous as the hon. Gentleman was trying to be when I suggest that the correlation between crime rates and areas represented by Labour Members may be unflattering but that does not mean that every person in his party is directly responsible for the situation.

The outcome is bleak indeed. Violent crime, which concerns people most, has doubled since 1998. Our prisons are overflowing. Only this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam pointed out that violent offences in prisons have increased by 600 per cent., including attacks on brave prison officers. Sixty per cent. of prisoners reoffend within two years. The figure rises for young men on short sentences, 92 per cent. of whom reoffend within two years of release. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has just
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noted, the Government have even broken their promises about the numbers of police community support officers.

Earlier in the debate, we heard a list of wholly misleading and unrepresentative claims about the Liberal Democrats. It is not for me to suggest that anybody in the House was deliberately being misleading, but I shall briefly go through the claims. It was said by a Labour Back Bencher that my party voted against ASBOs. Not true. I refer Members to a Library note of 18 January 2007, which states that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998

Many Members on the Labour Benches owe the House an apology, which they may want to make through the proper channels.

It was said that my party favours votes for prisoners, but that was not in our manifesto and the leader of my party has made it explicit that he does not favour them—just as, I believe, the Minister is on the point of introducing them. It was said in interventions during the debate that my party voted against measures to close crack houses. Let me make it clear that we have always supported proposals to make it possible for crack houses to be closed, but, in this case, they were contained in a bigger Bill with a whole series of other measures. We voted against the Bill because there were other features of it that we objected to. Most particularly, we objected to the total inability of Labour Members to appreciate that freedom of association is an important right to preserve in an open, free and liberal country. Perhaps even worse than all those untruths was the claim that my party is against community support officers. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are the party that has championed community level activities to reduce crime. It is the big, top-down schemes that have been brought forward by the Government that have been most ineffective.

There is a better way. We could have more police on patrol in our communities—working with our communities—rather than having £100,000 spent every single day on getting ready for identity cards, which will curtail the liberties of our fellow citizens. We could make work and training compulsory in prison so that we cut the appalling reoffending rates. That would mean that those young people—92 per cent. of young men are reconvicted within two years—would be equipped with greater skills to read, write, get a job and make themselves respectable members of society, rather than going through a revolving door into the community and committing crimes against the constituents of all Members. We could have honest prison sentences—rather than the spin that we hear from the Government—where life really means life.

We could have new measures to tackle the problem of drink-fuelled violence, which has exploded under the Government. The idea that in 1997 the problem was worse in our town centres than it is today is a myth. Perhaps no Labour Members ever go out in town centres. The idea that drink-fuelled crime and antisocial behaviour is being sorted out by the Government is
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beyond contempt. We could have better compensation for victims—the people who are so often forgotten in this process—and real work in prisons so that prisoners are able to reacquaint themselves with some of the challenges that they will face on the outside and so that they can pay their dues to both the victims of crime and society as a whole.

We have had an interesting debate, but, more than anything else, it has revealed how thin and tired the Government’s legislative programme is. I am afraid that the public have seen through the spin and the eye-catching initiatives that are designed to win headlines in tomorrow’s papers, but do not seem to bear any resemblance to the effectiveness of tackling crime in the communities that we represent. They have seen through the endless legislation that is designed to score party political points in the House, but that does little, if anything, to tackle the problem of crime and antisocial behaviour. Labour Members think that the public do not understand that their day-to-day experiences are all too familiar. So many people see vandalism, graffiti, theft and other crime. They see that violent crime has doubled. Knife crime is up. Gun crime is up. The situation is serious, but Labour Members are living in a mythical world where everything is going all right, everybody in prison is being rehabilitated, crime is being sorted out and serious crime is being sorted out. When they go back to their constituencies, they can see with their own eyes that that is not the case. The public are sick of tough talk from Labour Ministers on crime. What they want is effective action to reduce crime, and that is what the Liberal Democrats are offering.

6.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I think the usual words are that we have had an interesting debate this evening. I want to put on the record—I think it important to do so—some of the Government’s successes in tackling crimes. I will quote the sources so that Liberal Democrat Members, as well as my hon. Friends and other Members, can be clear about them. That should help to deal with some of the claims made in the Liberal Democrat “Focus” leaflets on crime, as my hon. Friends will hopefully be able to use Hansard to attack them.

It remains clear that much of what the Government have done on crime has been a success. Crimes that affect most people are down by 35 per cent., representing 5.8 million fewer offences; and the chances of being a victim of crime fell from 35 per cent. to 24 per cent., while fear of crime remains at historically low levels. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety said earlier, burglary is down by 59 per cent., vehicle theft by 60 per cent. and household offences are down by 45 per cent. All British crime survey violence offences are down 43 per cent. and all personal offences are down 41 per cent— [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) wants me to continue, last year firearms offences were also down 14 per cent.

May I also say that tools and powers to tackle antisocial behaviour are now being widely and wisely used with nearly 10,000 antisocial behaviour orders across the country? I do not know about my hon.
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Friends, but what I often encounter in community meetings up and down the country is not requests to abolish ASBOs because they are paraded as a badge of honour, but to hand out more of them. We are often told that approximately half of all ASBOs are breached, but it is important to remember that half of those responsible for those breaches end up with custodial sentences. If we spent rather more time saying that half of ASBOs are observed and that in respect of the half that are breached, half the people go to prison, we would see even more ASBOs used, as the public would view them as more effective. Alongside those ASBOs, more than 13,000 acceptable behaviour contracts have been used.

Jane Kennedy: On the subject of antisocial behaviour orders, the Minister may like to know that the Merseyside police use them extremely effectively against second-level criminals, such as the organisers of the drug dealers. They are based on the same rules as apply to young offenders. Very effective and imaginative use is being made of a tool that the Labour Government have provided to the police and which the Liberal Democrats have opposed.

Mr. Coaker: My right hon. Friend provides an excellent example, based on her experience in Merseyside, of how ASBOs can be used.

More than 1,000 dispersal areas have also been established, but let me say this to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg). When it comes to ASBOs and dispersal orders, it is not about demonising young people. Everyone accepts that the vast majority of young people are decent people. What it is all about is ensuring that there are effective tools to deal with the behaviour of the minority of young people who cause problems in our communities. Who are the people who demand ASBOs, who demand action against criminal behaviour and who want acceptable behaviour contracts introduced? It is not people in this House. It is, by and large, other young people who are the victims of the sort of antisocial behaviour and criminality that take place on the street.

Julia Goldsworthy: On the subject of dispersal orders, there have been problems at both ends of my constituency. Those orders have been put in place, but all they have done is move the problem to another location. The young people involved have moved from Falmouth town centre to the beach and in the Illogan area they have moved to Portreath. Is it not just moving the problem around rather than dealing with it?

Mr. Coaker: It is not just a matter of moving the problem around, but of dealing with it where it exists. If the problem occurs somewhere else, it needs to be dealt with there. The hon. Lady has no doubt pointed out to the police in her constituency, who have used dispersal orders to try to deal with the problem, that she is against them. That is the point.

It is important to put on the record the facts about spending on the police. On a like-for-like basis, Government grants and central spending to help the police service tackle antisocial behaviour and crime in England and
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Wales will have increased from £6.2 billion in 1997-98 to £11 billion in 2007-08. That is a cash-terms increase of nearly £4.8 billion or 77 per cent. In real terms, there has been an increase of more than 39 per cent. between 1997-98 and 2007-08. We can always debate the level of resources, but no one can deny that, by the time the recruitment has finished, there will be an additional 16,000 police community support officers where there were none before, 14,000 additional police officers, and—a fact that is often missed out—20,000 additional civilian posts, making an important contribution to ensuring that we keep police on our streets.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I am interested in what the Minister is saying about police numbers. The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety will be aware from our debate in Westminster Hall last week that there are 216 fewer police officers in Greater Manchester this year than there were this time last year. The police authority there is facing a £26 million shortfall in resources over the next two years. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government are proposing to do anything about that? If not, it could mean further police cuts.

Mr. Coaker: Like every police force in the country, Greater Manchester will have received a significant increase, of at least 3.6 per cent., in its resource budget. I understand that the hon. Gentleman’s party is in favour of local decision making. In response to representations from the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Chief Police Officers, we have given local police forces flexibility over how they spend their money. We said that we would introduce local flexibility and local decision making. The hon. Gentleman is no doubt in favour of that. He can advocate dictating from the centre how resources are to be spent in a local area if he wants to, but we believe in local decision making. Local chief constables can make the decisions that they wish to make on their increased resources. That is what the hon. Gentleman supports, and it is what we support. He should stop moaning about it when it has consequences that he does not like.

Martin Horwood: The Minister has just quoted the figure of a 3.6 per cent. increase, but is not that simply in the general grant? If we are talking about overall funding of police forces, is not the figure well below that and, indeed, well below the police cost index, which would mean a cut in real terms? Will the Minister confirm that that is the case?

Mr. Coaker: It does not mean that at all. The hon. Gentleman knows that all police forces have had an increase of at least 3.6 per cent.

I want to put on record some of the improvements that we have made. Since 2001, there has been an almost continuous improvement in the number of offences brought to justice. In the year to September 2006, the criminal justice system brought 1.38 million offences to justice. This represents an increase of 37 per cent. On gun crime, recent events show that there is no room for complacency, but in the year to September 2006 there was a 14 per cent. overall reduction in firearms offences. That is something that we should all be pleased about.

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Let us look at the Lib Dem policy on DNA records. They want to reverse the changes that we made to the law because they are opposed to the retention of such records. They should understand that, using the DNA database, killers, murderers and rapists who would otherwise have been walking freely around the country have been brought to justice. The majority of people in this country would be proud of the fact that DNA is now being collected in a way that means that people who would not otherwise be brought to justice are being brought to justice.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD) rose—

Mr. Coaker: I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I have some further points to make.

The Liberals, a large number of whom are here today, voted against the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003— [Interruption.] Hon. Members shake their heads, but I will show them the relevant Hansard afterwards. On 24 June 2003, they voted against the Bill, which contained the powers to close crack houses and the provisions for dispersal orders. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) was here; he voted against the Bill, as did the hon. Members for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). I have a whole list of them here. They all voted against the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. One or two Liberal Democrat Front Benchers may be a bit confused about that, but if they look in Hansard, they will find a list.

The dispersal powers in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 have been used more than 1,000 times across the country, so when the Liberal Democrats say that they want local teen gangs to be broken up, we point out that they opposed giving the police powers to disperse gangs of teenagers. Most astonishingly of all, in their mini-manifesto of March 2005, the Liberal Democrats informed us that they would end all jail sentences for possession of drugs of all classes. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam was not aware of that when he responded to one of my hon. Friends earlier. Are the Liberal Democrats honestly saying that that should apply to offences of possession of heroin, crack cocaine and crystal meth?

Simon Hughes: For simple possession.

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman says that, but the honest answer to my question is yes. He needs to get out into his constituency, and the country more widely, and tell people that the Liberals oppose jail sentences for possession offences for any drug, including class A drugs. I hope that that is read into the record. Hon. Members of all parties can put that fact in their leaflets, so that when the Liberal “Focus” leaflets about being tough on offenders are sent out, hon. Members can point out that the Liberal Democrat policy on drugs is soft, and will lead to more harm in communities.

Simon Hughes rose—

Mr. Coaker: I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman; he was not in the Chamber for most of the debate.

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Another point that seems to have caught the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam by surprise was the fact that the Liberal Democrats want to allow 16-year-olds to buy alcohol. That seems to have come as a shock to him, yet in Hansard on 25 January 2005, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) asked:

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