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19 July 2007 : Column 461

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I am fully signed up to these LPs and senators—a very good idea. Will the—what is my right hon. Friend called now?

Mr. Straw: Secretary of State.

Andrew Mackinlay: Will the Secretary of State reconsider the idea of Ministers in either House being able to appear in either House, especially once there are elections down at the other end of the Corridor? It is ridiculous that Lords in Waiting—I do not say this in any disparaging way—are parrots who just read from a brief. It would be much better if the Minister who was the architect of a piece of legislation piloted it through both Houses. There are plenty of precedents for that in Westminster-style constitutions. I hope that that will be looked at.

Mr. Straw: We will certainly look at that, although I am not certain that I will end up in the same place as my hon. Friend.

Andrew Mackinlay: I am going to heaven.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I agree with the question from the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us in the House believe that people want to destroy the current House of Lords because it is too successful? It represents the best interests of the people of this country and although it is not democratic, it was never set up to be democratic. It is there because of its experience and expertise, and we should appreciate the role that it has played.

Mr. Straw: It was set up precisely not to be democratic and resisted all democratic change throughout the process of change, particularly in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. I applaud the role of the House of Lords, which has actually been strengthened as a result of the changes that we introduced in the first Parliament of this Administration. As I said to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), I have never believed that there is a quantum of power that is fixed within this Palace. We have a strong Executive in this country—I believe that that produces benefits—but a strong Executive requires there to be a strong Parliament. That does not mean, however, that we freeze forever the particular constitution of the other place.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Lord High Chancellor made great play of giving more power to the people, as did the White Paper on governance. I speak as one who is in favour of an elected House of Lords. Does he agree that it is essential to ensure that there is no proportional representation in the voting system—not merely not a closed list but none at all—and that, to enhance the reputation of the House of Lords, serious consideration should be given to it conducting its business without whipping? I follow what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said about this. It is very important that it should have that degree of independence.

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Mr. Straw: That would ultimately be a matter for the other place. If the hon. Gentleman aspires to have a Government whom he can support, which may be an impossibility in his case, he will recognise the case for whipping at both ends of the Corridor. As for proportional representation, there will be a debate about that. Although I am passionately in favour of single member constituencies for this place, I recognise that there is a case for multi-member constituencies for the other place. We have to work through this.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I always thought that the right hon. Gentleman was a tough cookie. May I tell him, for the avoidance of doubt, that he should not be intimidated or slowed down in any way by the reactionary, antediluvian, troglodyte forces in all parties who oppose reform, that the arguments for democracy remain strong, and that he should proceed with a Bill sooner rather later?

Mr. Straw: I am glad of the hon. Gentleman’s support.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Lord High Chancellor has a great opportunity to strengthen Parliament and weaken the power of the Executive. Will he assure the House that the constitutional settlement to which he refers will be agreed before there are any changes to the system for election or appointment to the House of Lords?

Mr. Straw: The one is part of the other. [ Interruptio n. ] I am sorry, but that is simply the case. We are seeking to produce a comprehensive package of reforms that will lead to a new composition of the second Chamber.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that if Lord Malloch-Brown and Lord West of Spithead had had to stand for election, neither would have been able to achieve the experience at the United Nations or as Chief of Defence Intelligence which precisely fits them so well to be part of a revising Chamber and, indeed, Ministers in his Government? Is it not the case that if the 100 per cent. proposal—the one with the support of this House—goes through, there will be no prospect of such people getting into the other House, and that if the 80 per cent. proposal goes through, the people with the experience will not have the democratic mandate and the people with the democratic mandate will not have the experience?

Mr. Straw: That is pretty insulting as regards the kind of people who will be attracted to a second Chamber. I know that the hon. Gentleman is one of the troglodytes on the Conservative Benches. I acknowledge that there is a case for an appointed element. That is why I supported a 50 per cent. appointed element and then, when that failed catastrophically, went for an 80 per cent. elected element with a 20 per cent. appointed element. There will be much to be said on this on all sides until we finally reach agreement.

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Crime Reduction

1.24 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s new crime strategy. The strategy sets out the overarching principles, the context and the framework for tackling crime over the next three years.

Over the past 10 years, we have revolutionised the crime fighting landscape. We have provided record levels of funding, created new powers and partnerships, and set targets. With those working on the front line, we now have a better understanding of who commits crime, under what circumstances, and how and when to stop it. This formidable combination has seen crime fall by around a third since 1997. Car crime has halved, meaning over 1.8 million fewer incidents. On average, the chances of becoming a victim of burglary are roughly now once every 40 years, compared with every 25 years a decade ago. Staffing levels across the police service are at a record high, at more than 223,000 people, and the chances of becoming a victim of crime remain at historically low levels. Those are real achievements that make a difference to people’s everyday lives. I would like to pay tribute to the thousands of dedicated people on the front line, who, through their ambition and dedication, are working day in, day out to make our neighbourhoods safer, and to thank them all for the real difference they have made in communities across the country.

As today’s crime statistics show, we are holding to the improvements in the falls in crime, but we must go further. Now is the time to reinvigorate our efforts to ensure that we continue to make strong and sustainable reductions in crime. That is what the public expect; and as the nature of crime evolves, so must our approach. We all have a part to play in tackling crime, and now is the time for us to update and strengthen the terms of our partnership. We will refocus the work of central Government, concentrating on where we can make the most impact, particularly on areas where policy and delivery are newer and need national energy. I will lead a drive to join up Whitehall, bringing Departments together under a new national crime reduction board to lead, support and, where necessary, to challenge local delivery. At neighbourhood level, by April 2008 there will be a neighbourhood policing team in every community in England and Wales.

Crime cannot be tackled by police alone. It is now nearly 10 years since we established crime and disorder reduction partnerships to lead delivery of crime reduction at the local level, and much has been achieved by that partnership working. We now need a step change in the way that partnerships operate so that they can effectively respond to the spectrum of crime from the everyday to the extraordinary—from graffiti at the bus stop to terrorism. The reform programme that is under way will ensure that step change. New standards for crime and disorder reduction partnerships will be in place later this year. The new standards for community engagement will mean listening and acting on the concerns of local communities. Standards for performance will mean that partnerships are appropriately supported and challenged as necessary. We will measure how confident the public
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are in the agencies that collectively deal with crime and disorder problems at local level. Building on the work of Professor Adrian Smith’s review of crime statistics, published today, we will ensure that people have better access to local statistics. Working with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, we will ensure that by July next year, everyone will be able to have access to meaningful local crime information updated every month so that they can see how their priorities are being tackled.

The crime strategy will also focus on how we can intervene earlier to reduce crime and its effects, particularly with young people. Young people are frequently victims of crime. That is why I want to hear directly from them about their fears about crime and disorder and what we should be doing to help them to feel safe in their communities. In the autumn, the Youth Parliament will hold a special session so that I can hear at first hand what young people think would make a real difference here. I want to build on the positive links between schools and police already established through safer schools partnerships and to ensure that working with young people is a core part of neighbourhood policing in every neighbourhood.

In order to turn new technology to our advantage, we will lead a greater drive on designing out crime so that the iPhones and satnavs of the future are worthless to thieves. I am immensely grateful to Sebastian Conran, John Sorrell and the others who are coming forward to build a new design and technology alliance of people with a range of expertise to champion this approach. In our new partnership, we want partners in the voluntary sector to take a leading role in fighting crime, and in designing national and local initiatives.

As hon. Members know, antisocial behaviour remains a key local concern. Today’s statistics show that we have kept antisocial behaviour under control. The proportion of people who believe such behaviour to be a big problem in their area is down to 18 per cent. from a peak of 21 per cent. in 2002-03. Over the past 10 years, we have put in place a range of measures to tackle antisocial behaviour—from informal acceptable behaviour contracts to more formal antisocial behaviour orders and crack house closure powers. We want crime and disorder reduction partnerships throughout the country to use the full range of tools and powers they have at their disposal to tackle problems that matter to local people.

Finally, I want to talk about violent crime, such as murder, gun and knife crime, domestic violence and sexual offending, which has the highest and most devastating impact on individuals and communities. We are seeing signs of real progress here and today’s statistics are positive—overall violence is down 31 per cent. since 1997—but we know that we must do more. We will ensure that we work more closely with our delivery partners to prevent violence occurring in the first place by addressing the drivers of violence such as drugs and alcohol. When violence does occur, we will be robust in the prosecuting and managing of offenders, and we will support victims to reduce the harm of violence. We must look for innovative solutions to difficult and challenging issues, including knife crime.

Under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, those who carry knives face a maximum of four years’ imprisonment—double the previous maximum. We
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have also created powers for school staff to search pupils for weapons. However, we must recognise the work of the voluntary sector, and work with it to maximise our impact, which is why the Home Office is funding the excellent work of the Damilola Taylor Trust. It is aiming to sign up half the 11 to 16-year-olds in the country to its “Respect Your Life Not a Knife” pledge campaign.

We have proved that when you tackle unemployment and drug and alcohol misuse, crime comes down. When schools and health services, local authorities, police and neighbours work together, crime comes down. When you are not afraid to make tough choices about enforcing standards of behaviour, crime comes down. Together, we can continue to drive down crime levels. This new crime strategy sets out what we need to do to refresh our approach and I commend it to the House.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of her statement.

For 10 years, the Government have been trying to claim that crime is coming down. Unfortunately for the Government, the public obstinately insist on believing their own experience rather than ministerial claims and simply know that crime is going up, and all the fiddled figures in the world will not change their minds. The central contention of the Home Secretary’s statement today is based on flawed data. The Home Secretary repeats the mantra that crime has fallen, based on the British crime survey, but the BCS ignores the most serious crimes, such as murders. Despite the Home Secretary’s comments, for many years, it ignored crimes against children, and it ignores a total of at least 18 million crimes. How can the Home Secretary tackle crime, when she cannot even count it properly?

However, let me start by welcoming some aspects of the Home Secretary’s announcements, where she has adopted Conservative policy. We have been calling for years for direct, local accountability of police forces. She announced a small step in that direction. I congratulate her on that small step, and hope that we will see more. We have been calling for years for local crime data to inform that local accountability. Again, she has announced a small step in that direction, and I congratulate her on that. For the past three years, I have been calling for an initiative on designing out crime, so I particularly congratulate her on that.

Some crimes are going down, but the evidence is that this has little to do with the Government, and according to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, it has nothing to do with Government spending. The Government must take responsibility for overall recorded crime going up by 300,000, and more importantly, for the most serious crimes going up sharply. Recorded violent crime has doubled. This morning on television the Home Secretary said that drug crime is down. I just do not know where that idea came from—perhaps from the same advisers who told her predecessors to declassify cannabis. Drug offences have increased by about 50 per cent. during the term of this Government, and by 9 per cent. this year, and that figure is increasing faster every year because of the confused and contradictory signals they have sent out.

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The Government should not go in for self-deception. Let us look at the news of the last 48 hours. The Government said that 24-hour drinking would convert binge drinkers to a café-style culture. The doctors say that alcohol-related assaults have doubled in one year. The Government claimed an increase in the number of offenders brought to justice. The Home Affairs Committee says that nearly half of those offenders receive just a slap on the wrist and that they should not be counted.

The Government say that crime is down by a third. The Home Secretary might take time to read some of the documents produced by the people who work for her—in this case, the police. I quote Detective Constable Marsh, who said:

Should people believe the Government, or doctors, the Home Affairs Committee and the police? If the Home Secretary thinks that the Government’s strategy has been such a success, can she answer some questions for me? First, why has violent crime doubled, knife crime doubled and gun crime doubled? Secondly, can she explain why only three in every 100 crimes are ever brought to justice—even under her Government’s figures? Thirdly, can she explain why she considers the drugs policy a success when 80 per cent. of addicts abandon drug treatment orders before they are completed? Fourthly, can she tell us when policemen will spend more time on patrol than on paperwork?

I have to tell the Home Secretary that very few members of the public think that the Government’s crime policy is a success. If she thinks it a success, heaven help the country when she thinks it a failure.

Jacqui Smith: Well, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for quite a few elements of my statement. He is absolutely right about local crime statistics; they are an important way in which we can support local people to engage in partnerships that will help to bring down crime.

The right hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions. First, on drug-related crime, I have made it clear, as today’s statistics show, that crime most closely related to drug harm—acquisitive crime—has fallen by 20 per cent. since we introduced drug treatment and testing in prisons. Although there has been an increase in drug offences in the most recent figures, that is largely due to the more proactive approach taken by the police, particularly through the use of cannabis warnings. Young people’s use of class A drugs has held stable and their use of cannabis and other drugs has reduced due to the Government’s approach.

The right hon. Gentleman made a point about licensing. Basing such a sweeping statement on a report from one hospital is unfortunate. Research we have published today shows a 25 per cent. reduction in violent crime in relation to those licensing hours. As I outlined in my statement, we have already taken action on knife crime. It is only since April this year, when my predecessor as Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), introduced the reporting of offences involving a blade, that we have been able to track such crimes, but we are serious about it, and I spelt out how we shall do it.

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On ensuring that the police are able to focus on their work; first, this Government’s investment has meant that more police officers, and 16,000 police community support officers, are on patrol and working. It is because we take seriously the matter of focusing their attention on the streets that we have asked Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief inspector of police, to carry out a review that looks at how we can reduce bureaucracy.

The right hon. Gentleman prides himself on being a tough man in tackling crime—no hoodie-hugging for him. As we have seen too often, when the Opposition are put to the test, they talk tough but vote soft. They voted to water down antisocial behaviour orders, and voted against tougher sentences for murder and sexual and violent offences and against police powers to tackle organised crime. Talk is cheap, which is just as well because it is all that the shadow Chancellor would be willing to fund. Until the right hon. Gentleman can put some backbone into his leader and some economic sense into the shadow Chancellor, his words will ring hollow.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): May I applaud my right hon. Friend for the importance that she places on local crime reduction partnerships, such as the exemplary safer Hastings partnership, which has led to massive reductions in crime in Hastings? Seventy per cent. of the people even believe that there has been a reduction. I suppose that that is dreadful because 100 per cent. should believe it.

Recently, before my right hon. Friend took up her office, her predecessor vired specific funds from crime reduction partnerships to terrorism and prisons. Will she reconsider that decision and ascertain whether we can put that cash back?

Jacqui Smith: I agree with my hon. Friend that very good work goes on in our crime reduction partnerships and I know that he has raised the matter with my hon. Friend—soon to be right hon. Friend—the Minister of State, Home Department, the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty).

Despite the increased investment that the Government have found for funding local area agreements—where crime and disorder partnerships sit—and for increased police staff, there will always be tough decisions to make. Given the context of specific protection challenges, especially in counter-terrorism, it was necessary to make a decision this financial year about a small part of the funding for crime reduction partnerships. It will not be possible to put that right this year, but I will consider a range of ways in which we can support the good work of those partnerships in future.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I am obviously grateful to the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement. She was quick in its early stages to take credit for the reduction in some categories of non-violent crime. Has she read the report of the Prime Minister’s strategy unit, which confirms that a full 80 per cent. in those reductions have nothing to do with the Government’s law and order policies?

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