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We might need change, but we have not had much change in the Opposition spokesman’s speech this week. My hon. Friend the Minister for Borders and Immigration describes it as the “single transferable speech”—delivered yesterday, reported yesterday, repeated in the House today. However, I suppose that it is a mark of the new-found commitment of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) to being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime that at least he has succeeded in making a speech about law and order without once describing the Government’s action as a gimmick.

That, essentially, was the Conservative party’s policy on law and order under the hon. Gentleman’s two predecessors. They told us that the knife scanners in which we had invested were a gimmick. The told us that the ability to call or e-mail neighbourhood policing teams, which now patrol streets in every neighbourhood in this country, was a gimmick. They told us that taking action against young people who persistently drink in public was a gimmick. They told us that educating young people about the dangers of binge drinking was a gimmick—but then the Conservative party has pledged to cut all the advertising that warns young people about the dangers of alcohol, drugs and knives.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for giving way, and congratulate her on managing to muster one Labour Back Bencher for this important debate. She mentions gimmicks. What has happened to the respect agenda, which hit Bournemouth—we were told that it would help people in Boscombe—like a whirlwind? With a great fanfare, the Home Secretary or one of her colleagues came to Bournemouth to announce the initiative. What has happened to it? I can tell her, before she gets up to reply, that it was a gimmick. We have heard nothing of it since the announcement.

Jacqui Smith: The respect agenda and work on antisocial behaviour throughout the country mean that in nine out of 10 council areas, people believe that antisocial behaviour has decreased. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants that to continue.

Keith Vaz: One of the Home Secretary’s proudest boasts in the past two years—and that of all Labour Home Secretaries—is the increase in police numbers. Is she as alarmed as I am to read in The Times today that the chief constable of Gloucestershire suggests a reduction in the number of police officers, not only in Gloucestershire but in other parts of the country, when we have received figures that show that the number of police officers has
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increased? We have police community support officers for the first time, and the work force as a whole have increased by 50,000. Where do the figures about the necessity for a reduction come from?

Jacqui Smith: I am not sure where those figures come from, because there were more than 800 more police officers on our streets in September 2008 than there were in September 2007. The chief constable of Gloucestershire leads for the Association of Chief Police Officers on finance, and when we announced our spending review provision for police grant he said:

Police authorities are still working to those budgets, and the Government have invested in increased police numbers.

Several hon. Members rose

Jacqui Smith: I shall give way in a moment.

To continue with the point about gimmicks, Conservative Members told us that that seizing drug dealers’ assets on arrest was a gimmick. They also described reviewing the incapacity benefit of drug addicts who are not willing to undergo rehabilitation as a gimmick. So much for the professed interest of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell in tackling the causes of crime as well as crime itself.

Hon. Members will remember how the hon. Gentleman’s predecessors were united in their opposition to antisocial behaviour orders. Those were another “gimmick”—one that the hon. Gentleman and his Front-Bench colleagues tried to water down so that an ASBO could apply for only three months rather than two years. I know of many communities throughout the country that are still breathing a sigh of relief that they failed in their attempt.

Mr. Malins: On the subject of effective policies that the Government have introduced, may I take the Home Secretary back to the time when I revealed to the Committee that considered the Violent Crime Reduction Bill that many thousands of children carried knives into school every day? The Government’s answer then was to introduce a policy allowing head teachers to search children for knives. Has that happened often? Roughly how many prosecutions have resulted from the exercise of that power?

Jacqui Smith: Yes, it has happened. What has also happened is that scanners have been made available in some schools, along with search arches. It is a good thing that knives are hardly ever found in our schools. The point of the policy, as the hon. Gentleman said, is not to get young people into court, but to deter them from carrying knives in the first place, and that is what we have been doing. Thankfully, Opposition Members have failed in their attempts to undermine our determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with local communities in the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour and to give them the powers that they need to stop daily life from being made a misery.

Several hon. Members rose

Jacqui Smith: In a moment.

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Last December I visited a neighbourhood in Tower Hamlets where the local council and the police had used the new premises closure order powers that this Government introduced to evict the persistent offenders living in one flat and to board it up. That order was made possible only because covert CCTV had helped to capture evidence of antisocial behaviour and illegal activities. We know that CCTV is crucial to protecting the decent law-abiding public from thuggish behaviour, but we do not know where the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell and his Front-Bench colleagues stand on the issue these days. If he can bring himself to support the use of CCTV to make our streets safe, and the use of the DNA database to catch criminals, that will indeed be a major step forward in Tory thinking.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I will be supporting the Home Secretary’s amendment in the Lobby this evening because it is constructive, rather than simply an example of petty point-scoring like the Opposition’s motion. Does she agree that communities will find nothing gimmicky in the use of technical equipment to recognise car number plates, so that they can know that they will be kept safe by the police? The police can see burglars and other known criminals going into communities in their cars and can take defensive action to stop burglaries and other crimes. There is nothing gimmicky about that; it is just a good example of using technical equipment in policing.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman, as so often, is absolutely right: that is why police officers who use number plate recognition are five times more effective at making arrests than those who do not.

Whatever the truth, I suspect that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, despite what he said, will not be sharing a platform with his two immediate predecessors at the meeting of the convention on modern liberty this Saturday. That is a pity, because it would be a good opportunity to explain his latest thinking on the need for there to be “fewer rights, more wrongs”. I wonder what the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), with his solid support for the European convention on human rights, will make of that comment, which we heard this week.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell may not be keen on rights, but he is not very keen on facts, either. There are several important facts that we need to put on the record for him this afternoon. First, since 1997 crime in this country has come down by 39 per cent.—an unprecedented amount—overall. Violence is down by 40 per cent. and burglary is down by 55 per cent. He has only been in his job for a month, but before he opens his mouth to repeat the claim that violent crime is up by almost 80 per cent.—he has done it again today—I hope that he will pause for thought and try to remember two crucial details: the expansion of the “violent crime” category in 1998, and the introduction of the national crime recording standard in April 2002.

If the hon. Gentleman needs a lesson in the Conservative party’s position on those changes, I am sure that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) will oblige. However, those changes were designed to be honest about crime, so that common assault was classed as the violent crime that it is, and so that, rather than recording a single incident, the number of victims involved
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was recorded instead. As we know, according to the British crime survey, violence has actually fallen by 40 per cent. since 1997.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Hon. Members have attempted to catch the Home Secretary’s eye but at this moment she is not prepared to give way.

Jacqui Smith: Since that change in 2001, as the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell will know from the detailed answers that I have provided to his written question of 4 February, between 2002-03 and 2007-08, the total number of all criminal offences recorded dropped by just over 1 million.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), I have been doing my current job for only a month—but it is the Home Secretary’s own figures that we are using to calculate the rise of 88 per cent. She is right to say that on an unadjusted basis the figures would be different, because the rise then would be 300 per cent. The figures are in a Home Office statistical bulletin—and I know there is some doubt on the part of the chief statistician about the manipulation of Home Office figures—but on a like-for-like basis, there were 502,778 offences in 1998-99 as compared with 961,188 offences in the last year.

Jacqui Smith: Let me contribute to the hon. Gentleman’s education. I have just explained the difference made by changes to the violent crime category in 1998 and changes to the national crime recording standard in 2002. That is why the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds subscribed to the British crime survey as being an important way in which we measure violent crime. In the British crime survey, measured on a like-for-like basis, violent crime has fallen by 40 per cent. since 1997. That is due in large part, of course, to the tireless work of the police in bearing down on crime and building up public confidence.

That brings me to fact No. 2. Since 1997, we have seen record investment in the police and record numbers of police officers, police staff and police community support officers: record investment and record numbers, backed up by concrete steps to cut red tape, such as scrapping the stop-and-account form and police timesheets, so that more officers are freed up to spend more time on the beat. The action that we are taking will help us to deliver our plans to save up to 7 million hours of police time—the equivalent of an extra 3,500 officers.

Yet we have heard few words of support from the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell today about the efforts the police are making to keep our streets safe. In fact, we hear quite the reverse. In his first outing before the House in his current role just over a month ago, the hon. Gentleman used a curious phrase about the police. When challenged directly on where his party’s plans for sudden cuts to the Home Office budget would fall, he said that there was a need

The hon. Gentleman likes to think that he has a reputation for straight talking, so let us translate that uncharacteristic
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shyness into plain English. That means 3,500 fewer police officers in this country, including 49 in his local police force alone. The contrast could not be more stark: our plans to free up 3,500 more officers, or the Opposition’s plans to make cuts of the same number.

Chris Grayling rose—

Jacqui Smith: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, even though he has not replied to my letter on precisely this point.

Chris Grayling: Will the Home Secretary tell the House how much her Department spent on management consultants last year?

Jacqui Smith: It was certainly not £160 million, which is the amount the hon. Gentleman is proposing to cut from our budget—the equivalent of 3,500 police officers. If it is not, he can respond to my letter and say so.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I have listened very carefully, but I tend to judge people not just by what they say, but by what they do. Both the Home Secretary and Conservative Members might like to think about what is happening in my local authority area. Although there are substantial reserves—I mean millions; about £7 million is there to be used—the Tories have frightened local people by saying that one reduction they might make tomorrow is to reduce the number of PCSOs. Tomorrow, then, a Tory local authority will consider reducing the number of PCSOs, frightening local people with the prospect of losing the services previously provided. That is why I say that what matters is not so much what people say, but what they do. I will watch and see what they do tomorrow.

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point about the action taken by Tories when they are in power.

Today and yesterday, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell made some pretty big claims. He said, for example, that violence “has become a norm”. I think that I have already pointed out that that is not the case. Three in every 100 people will be affected by violence this year. That is still too many, but it is a wilful delusion on his part to say that it approaches a norm. Yesterday he said—he said it again today—that

Not so. Even in the hot spots that we have targeted, only 2 per cent. of stops find a knife. Guns are much rarer still. I remind the House that firearms-related injuries have halved in the areas targeted by the work of the tackling gangs action programme.

Yesterday, and again today, the hon. Gentleman suggested that truancy is the norm. Not so. The last time I looked, pupils missed less than 1 per cent. of school sessions. That is too high, but truancy is not the norm. Violence is the exception in this country, not the norm. To say otherwise is to fly in the face of the facts and to paint a false and damaging picture of families and communities up and down the country.

Britain is not broken—far from it—and I will defy anybody who says that it is. To call Britain broken is to
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offer no hope and no help to communities that need our support and are doing their best to make a better life for themselves. It is to surrender to a counsel of despair, rather than trying to solve people’s problems.

Confidence is a precious thing, and the hon. Gentleman—

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The Home Secretary will decide to give way as and when she pleases. Will Members please bear that in mind?

Jacqui Smith: Confidence is a precious thing, and the hon. Gentleman should choose his words carefully before he undermines that confidence and runs communities and the police down. At the very least, he should try to keep up with the facts, as we have seen today, and see for himself the difference that our action is making on the ground.

As the hon. Gentleman was adding the final flourishes to his speech this weekend, police and children’s services across England were, as my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) pointed out, running Operation Staysafe patrols—talking to more than 1,000 young people out on the streets and, where necessary, taking them home to their parents and asking those parents to explain why their kids were out late. On Friday night and Saturday night, the police were out doing the very thing that the hon. Gentleman claimed on Monday morning that they were not doing enough of.

The hon. Gentleman also needs to look at the small print of his proposals on the curfew order, which we have heard more of today, to keep troublemakers inside their houses. That is a good idea, which is why the police already have the power to go to a magistrate and ask for a troublemaker to be prevented from leaving their house at night. That is called an ASBO. Since 1999, the police have routinely been able to impose a curfew as a condition of an ASBO, and breaching it is a criminal offence.

Keith Vaz: I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. There is nothing wrong with putting forward new ideas, but my problem with the proposals of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) is that they would tie the police down even more. If they had to visit the homes of those who are subjected to grounding orders, that would take up more time, not less.

Jacqui Smith: I have to say to my right hon. Friend that there are times when police officers should visit the homes of young people whom they are returning to those homes. They should be supported through Government investment in things such as Operation Staysafe to be able to do so.

Crime is down—not just through tough enforcement, but through preventive action to tackle its causes and to build public confidence in the fight against crime. When we put more police officers on to the streets and invest in police community support officers to provide visibility—

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