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Does the Home Secretary also accept that, if one genuinely wants a strategy to deal with not only crime but the public fear of crime, far from the thin gruel of the statement, she needs to abandon the mix of legislative
hyperactivity, policy populism and addiction to mass incarceration, which has the disfigured the Governments approach to law and order for too long? Does she also agree that, for the strategy to be credible, she needs to show how she will deliver on her pledges? How are we to believe that neighbourhood police teams will be rolled out by April 2008 and be sustainable beyond that, when the Government cut by a third the number of promised community support officers? Local authorities throughout the country do not yet know whether they will have to pick up the bill.
Will the Home Secretary explain why the statement is silent on the urgent need to involve victims and communities in the administration of justice? Does she agree that she should work with her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to roll out aggressively the excellent community justice panels, which were pioneered in Somerset and elsewhere and give offenders the opportunity to explain themselves to victims and communities?
Will the Home Secretary also explain why the statement is silent about one of the biggest crises in our criminal justice systemthe epidemic of reoffending? A full 92 per cent. of young men who go to prison for short-term sentences reoffend in a matter of weeks and months of release.
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is time to tackle the Governments addiction to so-called summary justice? It is a pay-as-you-go approach to justice, which includes the roll-out of penalties and the over-use of cautions and fixed penalty notices, and has done much to damage public confidence and contribute to lamentable conviction rates. The Home Affairs Committees report today confirmed that now only three out of every 100 crimes lead to a conviction in court.
At first glance, the statement is not a strategy but a rag-bag of unrelated, minor media initiatives, which ignore the fundamental failure in the Governments relentless and shameless populist approach to law and order.
Jacqui Smith: I think that I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I was not quite clear about his first point and I do not think he was, either. Perhaps he was making the case that reductions in crime do not depend solely on investment in law and order and policing, butdare I say iton tackling some of the causes of crime. If that was his point, I strongly agree with him. It was precisely the point that I made in the statement. Increased investment in police and tough sentencing when necessary are a crucial part of reducing crime but they are not enough. Tackling unemployment, reducing the harm from drug and alcohol use, ensuring better education and early intervention are also important in reducing crime. They are part of the reason for the reduction in crime that has occurred in the past 10 years.
The hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise the important role of neighbourhood policing teams. I have been fortunate in the past fortnight to see their work on two separate occasions, and, even more important, to talk to local people, who now see what their police officers are doing and feel able to talk to them and work with them to solve problems in their communities. It is important that those neighbourhood teams are in place by next April and embedded in our
system. We have asked Sir Ronnie Flanagan to advise us on that, too. We are serious about the contribution of neighbourhood policing and that is why we have taken it forward.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about involving victims in justice. We have undertaken, and will continue with, that work with the Ministry of Justice. On the subject of his throwaway approach to the range of penalties on offer, I believe that it is a good idea, if possible, to intervene earlier with fixed penalty notices and other forms of punishment and warning at the point when, for example, we can prevent violence from escalating. It is good to have a range of tools at the disposal of those who are responsible for keeping order on our streets. Of course we will keep their use under review, but on the whole, those new initiatives and ways of tackling crime have been successful in the past 10 years, notwithstanding the fact that on almost every occasion, the hon. Gentleman and his party voted against them.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I welcome the fall in crime in West Mercia. That is a tribute to the hard work of the police force in my area of Telford. Will my right hon. Friend consider the scale of the house-building programme in the UK? We need more police architectural liaison officers so that we can do more to design out crime in local neighbourhoods. If such a large expansion in housing is going to occur, we need to beef up the team in West Mercia, and throughout the country.
Jacqui Smith: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the good work that happens in the West Mercia police area. My part of that area is one of the early developers of some of the neighbourhood policing that it is so important to spread throughout the country. My hon. Friend is right to identify the challenge and the opportunity that increased house building presents. That is why, in the design and technology alliance, we have emphasised working with, for example, John Sorrell from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. We can thus consider how we develop more housing in a way that builds out crime. For example, there is a housing estate in Bradford where a redesign of the way in which the housing operated led to an 80 per cent. reduction in burglary. It is a fruitful subject, and I agree with my hon. Friend that we can do more.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I am sure that the right hon. Lady is sincere in her expectation that crime will fall in the coming months, but how does that square with the possibility of losing many thousands of police community support officers after April? Will she give hon. Members some assurance about the future funding of that important component of neighbourhood policing?
I am not sure why the hon. Gentleman thinks that we are going to lose PCSOs. There are now 16,000 of them supporting the important work of police officers in neighbourhoods. That is an important development in the crime-fighting family in the past few years. [Interruption.] As the Under-Secretary of
State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) points out, such provision did not exist 10 years ago, when crime reduction started. It is an important development, and we are committed to continuing with it.
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement. I entirely agree that the publication of local monthly crime statistics is important in proving local police accountability. It is important too, however, that social landlords such as Stockport Homes publish monthly statistics on the actions that they have taken against antisocial tenants, which would improve their accountability to other tenants. Will my right hon. Friend encourage local crime and disorder partnerships to ask their social landlords to publish such statistics?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and identifies what I described in my statement as the whole range of partners whom we need to engage in cutting crime. Local accountability for crime statistics and the other forms of local accountability that she identifies, especially housing, are important.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I invite the Home Secretary to a night out in Kettering? We could spend the night together with the local constabulary chasing the 260 persistent and prolific offenders in Northamptonshire who commit £7 million-worth of crime each year. Residents of Kettering want those people locked up in jail, serving their time in full. How will the Home Secretary prioritise the police to catch, and the courts to convict and lock up, the people who commit the bulk of the crime in this country?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friendsorry, I mean the hon. Gentleman; we are not friends yet, although we might be after our night out in Kettering. [ Interruption. ] Some of my colleagues want to check whether the hon. Gentleman was offering to pay.
The hon. Gentlemans serious point is about not only how the police catch those who commit criminal acts, but how the latter are taken through the courts and convicted. There has been an increase of nearly 40 per cent. in criminal convictions over the past 10 years, as well as a reduction in crime. Considerable progress has been made, but the hon. Gentleman is right: we need the whole approach, from prevention and early intervention to catching criminals and ensuring that we deal with offenders properly, to bring down crime as we have done.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement, and Northamptonshire polices improved performance, which has benefited the local community. However, one of the continuing problems in tackling antisocial behaviour is the weak housing and estate management of the local authoritynow Liberal Democrat controlled. How will my right hon. Friend ensure that all partners pull their weight in partnership working, so that the police do not have to pick up the problems created by other agencies?
I join my hon. Friend in praising the improvements of Northants police. She raises an important point about the responsibility of the polices partners. We want to change the performance management
arrangementsso that we measure not only the work of the police, but that of all the partners engaged in the crime reduction partnership in solving crime locallyprecisely to identify that responsibility across agencies, which involves not only the police but local authorities, housing management, health services, education and others who contribute. That might make a contributionand as for the problem of having a Liberal Democrat council, I am sure that my hon. Friend is working hard to put that right.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Given that the British crime survey does not include crimes against those under 16, those who own commercial property or those who live in shared accommodationnurses, students and the elderlywill the Home Secretary assure the House, and my constituents who have been affected by crime, that the new monthly figures will include those victims?
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is right about the British crime survey. We have today published not only the statistics in the British crime survey, but the recorded crime statistics. We must work closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, in the way I have described, to develop local crime information. The hon. Gentleman correctly says that the information needs to be broad, to cover all the concerns of local people, and to be comparable between districts.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I welcome in particular my right hon. Friends comments about building safer schools partnerships and involving young people in neighbourhood policing teams. May I inform her of the success of the Broadgreen pilot neighbourhood policing scheme in my constituency? Its local knowledge of young people helped it to damp down some difficult racial and social tensions earlier this year. Will she give some comfort to three secondary schools, St. Josephs, Churchfields and The Ridgeway, which are working in partnership but are finding it difficult to secure funding to combat the menace of gang culture?
Jacqui Smith: I join my hon. Friend in praising the Broadgreen neighbourhood policing team. The work to damp down, as she described it, trouble before it becomes more serious is a key part of neighbourhood policing. I cannot promise her money today, but I can say that schools working together, particularly on the initiatives that she described, are part not only of the work that we in the Home Office are doing, but of the work to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is committed. I will certainly look at the scheme that my hon. Friend mentions, to see whether some of the money that we are already making available for supporting ways of reducing gang crime, particularly through the voluntary sector, might be relevant.
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong; we do not recognise that figure. In fact, as I have already pointed out, convictions have increased by 40
per cent. since 1997, and at the same time there has been a reduction in crimes overall and a reduction in the chances of becoming a victim of crime. There have been more convictions, as a proportion of a smaller amount of crime, and I think that that is a success.
Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement and the continuing excellent work of Staffordshire police. Does she recognise and understand that, despite falling levels of crime, my constituents in market towns such as Leek and Biddulph feel that their communities do not receive the attention that they deserve, because they are not seen as crime hot spots? Will she explain how the new neighbourhood approach could help those communities get their fair share of policing?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right to praise the work of Staffordshire police. We believe that neighbourhood policing teams need to be made available in every community, including in those that she mentioned, precisely because they can contribute to reducing crime, working in partnership with local people. There might be different challenges in areas such as Leek and others that she mentioned. Nevertheless, community safety and feeling safe in their homes are a crucial part of her constituents concerns, which the delivery of neighbourhood policing in every community will help to address.
Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The Home Secretary will not be surprised to learn that my constituents are fed up with rising violent crime, antisocial behaviour and low detection rates. The Government should not hide behind the British crime survey figures, which give only part of the picture; they should scrap the figures and instead rely more on the recorded crime figures, which give a much truer reflection of what is actually happening in constituencies up and down the country. The Government might then be able to do something about the problem.
Jacqui Smith: As I think I have already pointed out, we publish both sets of information, although we need to make that more local and clearer for local people. The hon. Gentleman accuses me of hiding behind figures, but perhaps his constituents will want to ask why he hides behind his and his partys rather poor voting record.
Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): With my right hon. Friends local knowledge of my constituency, she will know that many of my constituents are employed not only in the local town shops but in the nearby large shopping centre at Merry Hill. Notwithstanding the decrease in crime locally, they are particularly concerned about the levels of violent abuse that they receive. What more can we do to encourage employers and the managers of these organisations to engage with crime reduction partners to tackle this problem?
My hon. Friend is right: I do know her constituency, and the Merry Hill shopping centre. People who work in the retail sector have the right to be safe, and we need to ensure that we tackle crime in those areas. I am particularly impressed by the freedom from fear campaign that has been established by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, which I have supported in the past. I think that my hon. Friend was
involved in helping to launch it, and other hon. Friends have also been involved in it. It is a very good example of a union working with those who support it to protect the interests not only of its members but of all those who use our shops.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I welcome what the Home Secretary has said about doubling the maximum sentence from two to four years for people who carry knives. Will she take it from me, however, that whatever the truth behind the various figures, one reason why public confidence is low is that the policy adopted by the Government of routinely releasing people halfway through their sentence means that someone who receives a four-year sentence knows that they will be out in two years, or sometimes two years minus the time that they have spent on remand? Would it not be better to get back to imposing sentences that mean what they say, while acknowledgingI understand the position on thisthat there should be a modest reduction for people who behave well in prison?
Jacqui Smith: First, let me be completely clear that people who are dangerous are not released. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the length of sentences. In fact, on the whole, the length of sentences has increased since 1997. His words would have more resonance with me and others had his party not voted against the indeterminate sentences that we proposed.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): It is striking that the Home Secretary has not yet mentioned the point trailed in the media this morning, that Britain is unique in the degree to which the fear of crime outpaces the reality of crime. I wonder why she has not mentioned that. Could it be that the Government are partly to blame for that situation, especially as the whole basis of new Labours strategy on crime is never to be outbid by the Conservative party or the Daily Mail? Is it not time to replace the strategy of having no enemies on the right with a new strategy that bases criminal justice policy on the evidence, rather than on prejudice?
Jacqui Smith: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is not taking an overly party political approach to this serious issue! However, he makes an important point about public perceptions of crime, and he is right to say that a relatively high proportion of people continue to believe that crime is a serious problem. Actually, todays figures show that crime is stable, having fallen by approximately one third since 1998. The most appropriate ways to deal with the fear of crime are, first, to ensure that crime itself falls, which is why a fall of one third in the past 10 years is so significant, and secondly, to give people confidencethrough access to local information and through the ability to see and work with neighbourhood policing teamsthat their priorities are being addressed in their local area, and that what is happening through local policing and through their own contribution is making a difference.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
This next week sees the 40th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which was introduced by a Welsh Labour MP, Leo Abse. It established the partial legalisation of homosexuality. Much has changed since then, but there are still many
cases of homophobic violence and abuse. One young man was killed less than a mile from here; he was beaten to death by several young hooligans. A lot of gay-bashing goes on around the country, and there is evidence to suggest that many gay men are reluctant to report it to the police. My right hon. Friend has a substantial personal record on these issues. Will she consider completing it by introducing a specific offence of homophobic hate crime?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend, too, has an important record on these matters. He is right; violence in any form is completely unacceptable, but when it is linked to the kind of hatred and bigotry that homophobic crime represents, it is even worse. A lot of good work is going on in police forces now, including the work that we are doing with them, to record and to tackle crimes with a homophobic element. We will certainly continue to think carefully about how and whether we need to change the nature of offences to reflect the seriousness of the situation that my hon. Friend has identified.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If it is not inconvenient, would the Home Secretary stop in Wellingborough on her way to her date with my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), to meet my constituents, 20 per cent. of whom are afraid to go out at night because of violent crime?
Jacqui Smith: What a day it is going to be! [Hon. Members: And what a night!] Indeed. However, I must bring my mind back to the important issue before us. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which I partly addressed when I talked about the way in which we respond to the perception crime. A key part of our strategy must be the visibility of the police and other partners, so that people can see and feel that crime is coming down locally, and so that they do not feel trapped in their homes. This strategy, and the progress that we have already made, are important in ensuring that people have the freedom to live as they want to in their communities.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Home Secretarys statement, especially its emphasis on early intervention and the attempts to crack the inter-generational nature of criminality and deprivation. Does she accept that every pound spent on early intervention programmes, such as the social and emotional aspects of learning, the roots of empathywhich develops empathetic behaviour to inhibit violenceand intensive health visiting, can save perhaps 10 or 15 times that amount from being spent on the tale of underachievement, drug abuse, criminality and a lifetime on benefits? Will she reach out to other Departments to ensure that they play their full part in tackling crime reduction?
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