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Law and Order

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2009

I beg to move,

That this House views with great concern the rise in burglary, drug offences and crimes involving knives; is concerned by the Government’s complacency about criminal and anti-social behaviour; and is further concerned that the Government has no long-term strategy to tackle the causes of crime.

Let me start, Madam Deputy Speaker, by telling you a story about life in Britain today. It was told to me by the father of one of our soldiers serving in Afghanistan. The soldier was home on leave and out in his local town centre when he became the victim of an unprovoked attack from behind by two youths. He was able to hold them off and the police were called, but he was left badly bruised by what had been an unpremeditated attack. The two young men were arrested, but then, extraordinarily, they were let off with a caution. After 11 years of this Government, we have become a nation that appears so used to a violent assault of that kind that the police deem it fit only for a caution; we have become a nation in which such attacks are sadly routine and not a rare exception. There can be no clearer example of the fact that our society desperately needs change.

Once upon a time, a few years ago, a now well-known politician used the phrase “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” to great effect. Now, 12 years after that man, Tony Blair, became our Prime Minister—12 years since this Government took office—that phrase is a hollow memory. We have a Government who have simply failed to deliver; they have been soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime. We have another snapshot of a broken society, where antisocial behaviour is endemic, violence has become a norm, offenders do not seem to give a damn, carrying weapons is just routine, families can be terrorised by teenage gangs and many of our older people are in fear for their safety. [Interruption.] I am glad that the Minister for Borders and Immigration agrees with me and that he recognises the problems that we face. I am glad about that, because I think it is important to come and make some key points to this House—not a habit that the Government are used to.

For the past 10 years, we have had a whole string of initiatives from the Government; there have been more in the past few weeks. All are designed to create a sense of activity and action to tackle the problem, but they have simply not worked.

Does my hon. Friend share my dismay that so many Ministers are laughing and sniggering at this most serious issue when they have presided over an enormous rise in crime, whether it is measured by the British crime survey, as recorded crime or by any other means? The fact is that one person is being stabbed on the streets of this country virtually every day. Does my hon. Friend think that that is a laughing matter?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. Through his work as a special constable, he knows better than most in the House the real nature of the challenge that we face on our streets; it is only a shame that our Ministers do not also understand the nature of that challenge as well.

The reality is that the things that disrupt our society are just treated as the norm. I do not think that that is good enough, and it is time that we did something about it. That means dealing with the root causes of a broken society, in which, I am afraid, so many of these things are all too often unchallenged. It also means being tough when they happen.

On being tough when things happen, does my hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable that so many people sent to prison are let out earlier and earlier? Recent figures show that whereas two years ago as many as one in six people were let out earlier than halfway through their sentences, last year more than one in three were. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is totally unacceptable?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That has been endemic under this Prime Minister. Many of those former offenders let out on to our streets simply go back and offend again, and that is a sign of the Government being soft on crime.

I was as upset as no doubt the hon. Gentleman was to hear about the case that he mentions of violence against the person leading to a caution. Given that within the offence of violence against the person there are several offences such as harassment and assault without injury, for which I imagine that he thinks that a caution would be appropriate, can he tell us what offence was perpetrated?

A young man was attacked from behind, completely motivelessly, by two youths. I may be alone in this, although I am sure not on my own Benches, but I rather believe that in our society we should not tolerate a situation where somebody is out for the evening and gets beaten up on spec by two people who happen to be walking down the street as well. A caution is an unacceptable response to such a crime.

The reality is that we can see many of the root causes that the former Prime Minister talked about back in the 1990s. We have disaffected young men growing up in broken homes, in an environment where there is little structure in their lives and little sense of responsibility in their upbringing. We have endemic educational failure, with these young men often playing truant as they grow up. We have generational worklessness in their families. There is often the growing problem of addiction to drugs or alcohol, which destroys family life and immunises the consciences of many of those people out on our streets when they come to cause the trouble that they do.

Does my hon. Friend agree—I think that he will—that in the case of many young people there is a link between crime and school exclusions, with literacy and numeracy problems leading to frustration and bad behaviour on the streets?

My hon. Friend, with all his legal experience, knows more than most the root causes of many of the law and order problems that we face among our young people. He is absolutely right. Yesterday, I visited Feltham young offenders institution. What comes over loud and clear is how many of the people who end up in such institutions have profound educational failings in their background. That is certainly an issue that we need to address. It is a scandal that after 12 years of this Government’s rhetoric about all the things they were going to do—“My priority is education, education, education”—one in five young people still leave school barely able to read and write. That is not a satisfactory output for years of extra spending in our education system.

At the heart of this challenge is a simple fact in the lives of many young people: nobody really says no to them, so the misdemeanours of youth go unpunished, and they get away with it and do it again and again. The other consequence of people turning against society and becoming ghettoised is a haemorrhaging of the values that once kept crime in check, particularly violent crime. Too many people just do not care and cannot tell the difference between good and bad, and the Government do not know what to do about it.

Would the hon. Gentleman therefore applaud this weekend’s Operation Staysafe, which was pioneered by Merseyside police, although I understand that other police forces followed suit? They picked up young people on the streets who were at risk of becoming victims of crime or on the slippery path to becoming criminals themselves. Some 60 children were picked up, 29 of them in my own borough of Knowsley, and taken to safe places—some of them were even taken to hospital because of their consumption of drink—and their parents were involved. Is not that something practical that the Government are doing to address the issue that he mentions?

I will be in Liverpool tomorrow meeting the chief constable of Merseyside, so I look forward to finding out about what he is doing. It is right and proper that we should give our police greater freedom to do their job properly, and the hon. Gentleman describes good work on the ground from our police. However, they tell us all too often that they cannot do the job that they would like to do because this Government have wrapped them up in red tape and left them sitting in police stations filling in forms.

On that point, one of the things that Government and Opposition Front Benchers have talked about over the last few years is a reduction in bureaucracy. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that his proposals for grounding orders will not lead to more bureaucracy? The police would have to visit the youngsters’ homes in order to check that they were still there once they were subject to such orders. Has he considered that possible consequence of what he has suggested?

The right hon. Gentleman refers to my proposal on grounding orders, and I will happily deal now with that issue, about which I have talked extensively to police officers. The big problem is that there is nothing between a police officer meeting a gang of young people on the streets and the criminal justice system except for the Government’s clumsy system of antisocial behaviour orders, which take months, and multiple agencies, to deliver. Police officers say that they want something simple and straightforward that gives them some power to deal immediately with the problems that they face. They do not have such powers today, and I believe that my proposals will grant them in a way that is quick, simple and not bureaucratic.

The Government’s record speaks for itself. There has been a decade of failure to get to grips with law and order problems. Violent crime is up almost 80 per cent., robbery is up 27 per cent., criminal damage is up past 1 million offences, with nearly 3,000 committed every day, fatal stabbings are up by a third, and gun crime has nearly doubled, with injuries from gun crime up almost fourfold—and the Government’s response has been to be soft on crime. They have let people out of prison early, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) rightly said. Since the Prime Minister came to power, 47,000 people have been released early from prison, including 9,000 convicted of violent offences. Nearly 1,000 crimes have been committed by criminals who have been released early—and they are only the ones who have been caught. Five out of six offenders convicted of knife possession get off without a jail sentence. More and more offenders are let off with penalty notices, half of which are not even paid.

The Government have also been soft on the causes of crime. A culture has been allowed to grow outside society’s mainstream, somewhere alienated and with no hope; it is

“a culture of broken homes, truancy, poor education, drugs, no job, or dead end jobs…when we sow the seeds of such a culture, we should not be surprised at the harvest we reap”.

Those words are not mine, but those of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking back in 1993. He was right to say what he said then. This Government have utterly failed to get to grips with those challenges.

We are still waiting for real action on welfare reform 10 years on. On family policy, this Government have made it more financially attractive for some couples to live apart. The Government have thrown billions at our education system, but utterly failed to tackle truancy, indiscipline and endemic educational failure.

On the question of education, does my hon. Friend not agree that in the context of our proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, there is a considerable opportunity for us to consider reintroducing some form of physical punishment in schools to ensure that discipline is carried out, and indeed, to consider doing so outside schools, when we are dealing with thugs who are victimising the elderly and people who cannot help themselves?

I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on these subjects and on what could be done. I am not sure that I agree with all of them, but none the less, we share the aspiration of coming up with the right way of saying no to young people who step out of line without criminalising them.

We have big challenges ahead if we are to deal with the causes of crime, but we also have to be tough on crime itself. We have to tackle youth antisocial behaviour. Plenty of teenagers stray off the straight and narrow sometimes, but today there are no consequences when they do so. That is what has to change. All too often, when we look at the case of a 15 or 16-year-old who is starting to commit serious offences, we find a story of years of minor misdemeanours that have gone unpunished. That cannot be right. At the moment, things are moving in the wrong direction. In 2007-08, more than 93,000 youngsters aged between 10 and 17 received their first caution or conviction, which is up from 78,000 just five years ago—a big jump in the wrong direction.

ASBOs have become a badge of honour for some, and they take months to impose. The Government’s section 30 orders just move young gangs from the streets that they are on to the next potential hot spot. In the police Bill currently being considered, the Government are even talking about moving 10-year-olds on to the next street. I think that 10-year-olds out on the street causing difficulties should be sent home, not just moved on to the next street. That is where my thinking about grounding orders comes from, because they would give the police a power to send an immediate message to such young offenders that they cannot get away with causing trouble on our streets.

Taking on board the point made by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee about the need to minimise police bureaucracy, would the hon. Gentleman perhaps consider an alternative to his proposal for grounding orders? Penalty notices could be given by police officers or police community support officers asking young people to clean up things such as graffiti immediately. That would not require the constant supervision that is arguably suggested by the grounding order, and it would be clear and easy to apply.

There is some logic in having tougher community sentences for young offenders, but the simplicity of the grounding order makes it deliverable quickly by the police and local magistrates. It would be a powerful weapon in the armoury of individual officers in trying to deal with such problems.

The second thing that we need to change is the licensing regime. We should be much more robust about binge drinking in our towns and cities. There is a strong case for reviewing Labour’s 24-hour drinking regime, which has not created the continental café culture that we were promised. We should deal systematically with retailers who break licensing laws and clubs that allow drug taking on their premises, and there should be powers to do so simply and quickly. We need to take steps to stop unacceptable practices in the sale of alcohol to young people. I have come across the case of an organisation delivering alcohol to a local park, which cannot be sensible or acceptable.

So would the hon. Gentleman agree with the Home Affairs Committee’s unanimous recommendation that there should be a floor price for alcohol sales at supermarkets?

That is a different point, and I have not had a chance to read the Committee’s report, but I am aware that it has made that recommendation. I do not think that the matter is as straightforward as the Committee suggests, but I will happily read the recommendations and talk to the right hon. Gentleman about them at some point.

The third thing that we need to do is deal with the caution culture that I mentioned earlier. Issuing a caution should not be a case closed, a tick in the box and an extra notch on the list to be sent to the Home Office for the Home Secretary to review. That is not good enough. Giving someone a caution should not be a way of scoring an easy win in the case-closed league table. That has to be a thing of the past. Someone found carrying a knife in a city centre should end up in the courts and then behind bars, not get a caution. Unbelievably, I was told recently of someone getting a £65 penalty notice for carrying a 3 ft-long samurai sword around a city centre. All that has to stop. Someone who attacks a stranger in the street should end up in court and then behind bars, not get a caution and simply be sent on their way.

The fourth change that we desperately need is that oldest of political chestnuts, which we have been promised year after year by this Government: more police on the beat. Still only about 14 per cent. of police officers’ time is spent on patrol, compared with about a fifth on paperwork. If we walk into any police station and ask the officers what is their biggest bugbear, despite all the reports, reviews and announcements, they still tell us that it is the paperwork.

I am sure that my hon. Friend must therefore be as dismayed as I am to read about the cuts in police force numbers. Indeed, 49 police officers will be lost in Hertfordshire alone. I do not think that that can possibly be conducive to being tough on the causes of crime.

My hon. Friend is right. The reality, as we saw in the most recent crime figures, is that there has been a big jump in the number of robberies with knives and a worrying increase in burglary. Because this Government have wrecked our public finances, we will end up with fewer police on our streets, which is not acceptable.

What we have today is a Government who have lost their way. They do not realise that all the criminal justice Bills that they have passed in the past decade have just wrapped up the police in yet more bureaucracy. They do not realise that Acts of Parliament introducing more and more crimes do not actually solve crimes, or that their inability not to interfere is holding the police back. They look like a tired Government who have run out of ideas, and they seem to have little idea of how to solve the problems that we all face. To my mind, that is always a pretty clear sign that what we need in this country is change.

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

“welcomes the unprecedented 39 per cent. fall in crime since 1997, with burglary down by 55 per cent. and violence by 40 per cent; notes that the chance of being a victim of crime is at an historic low; further welcomes the record numbers now entering and staying in drug treatment services; further supports the drive to tackle gangs, including measures in the Policing and Crime Bill to introduce injunctions on gang activity; further welcomes the preventative, educational and enforcement action taken to tackle knife crime, with those carrying a knife now more likely to be caught, prosecuted and imprisoned, if found guilty; considers that the Government’s determination to tackle criminal and antisocial behaviour is demonstrated by the record levels of investment in policing since 1997 and increases in the numbers of police officers and police staff to an all-time high, as well as the Government’s drive to cut police red tape to free up more time for police officers to spend on the beat; is concerned at any proposal to make sudden cuts to the Home Office budget that could lead to reductions in police officer numbers; commends the Government’s determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with local communities in the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour; and deplores talk of a ‘broken society’ as a counsel of despair.”

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.

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.

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.

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 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?

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:

“The overall settlement is broadly in line with anticipated rises in core costs, and this will help preserve many of the key gains in police officer and police staff numbers made in recent years.”

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

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.

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?

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.

In a moment.

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.

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.

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 was recorded instead. As we know, according to the British crime survey, violence has actually fallen by 40 per cent. since 1997.

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

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.

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.

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

“for all of us, in these difficult times, to draw in the horns of the public sector”.—[Official Report, 19 January 2009; Vol. 486, c. 528.]

The hon. Gentleman likes to think that he has a reputation for straight talking, so let us translate that uncharacteristic 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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

“carrying weapons is increasingly the norm”.

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 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—

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

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.

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.

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—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The amendment to the motion before the House, which stands in the name of the Prime Minister, specifically states that the Home Secretary’s proposals include

“measures in the Policing and Crime Bill to introduce injunctions on gang activity”.

There does not appear to be any reference to that in the Bill, or indeed in the explanatory notes. Can the Home Secretary be called upon to explain what the motion is supposed to mean in those terms?

That is not a point of order for the Chair. We are not discussing—[Interruption.] Order. We are not discussing a Bill; we are discussing a motion and an amendment, which are before the House.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

When we put more police officers on the streets and invest in PCSOs to provide visibility and reassurance, crime comes down. When we take a tough approach to antisocial behaviour, crime comes down. When we more than double the number of people in drug treatment, crime comes down. When we ensure that parents live up to their responsibilities, and when we invest £25 million in family intervention projects to reach 20,000 of the most complex families over the next two years, crime comes down.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell talks tough about targeting problem families, but his party is no fan of parenting orders and his colleagues would cut funding for those projects. I suppose that that is what can be called “drawing in the horns of the public sector” as well.

When times are tough, I am determined to meet the new challenges head on. I am determined to help people in hard times. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman can say will change that. In fact, the “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” tone that he has adopted reminds me not of Tony Blair in 1993, but of someone very different. The echoes are rather more of John Major in the same year, when he said:

“Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less.”

When the hon. Gentleman says that we need “fewer rights, more wrongs”; when he calls for the criminalisation of all children; when his first instinct is not to welcome the dramatic falls in crime that we have seen since 1997 but, like a bad workman, to blame the tools that measure those falls; when he wilfully misunderstands the picture showing how violent crime has dropped in this country; when he describes as meaningless the hard work of the police and communities in coming together to build a better life for themselves, and to take on gangs and stand up to knife crime—then it is certainly the case that condemnation is on the rise and understanding is on the wane, but the lack of understanding is entirely on the hon. Gentleman’s part and on no one else’s.

I commend the amendment to the House.

I hope that all of us, in all parts of the House, can agree that crime is too high, and that violent crime is a continuing and real concern. I hope that there is, therefore, a consensus on the ends, but where there is clearly not a consensus is on the means.

This debate should, in our view, be about what works. There is a clear pragmatic principle, but sadly it seems that the debate is not about that. Both the other parties are locked in a populist battle about punishment—about who can be tougher, who can promise longer sentences, and who can lock up more people. The Government have criminalised a generation of young people. We lock up more young people than any other country in Europe. In 10 years, the number of 15-to-17-year-olds in custody has risen by 86 per cent. Our overall prison population has doubled, and it is also the highest in Europe. The average Crown court sentence has risen from 22 months to 25 months since 1997.

At the same time, we have clearly succumbed to legislative diarrhoea, with 3,600 new criminal offences and 66 new criminal justice Bills. Bills are being used to send signals like press releases. Do we really need a new offence of setting off a nuclear explosion? Would not murder, or even criminal damage, have been sufficient? Is it any wonder that all who try to make the criminal justice system work, from police officers through barristers to judges, are mystified by the results of this legal whirling dervish?

The message from those on the Conservative Benches is not that the Government’s toughness has failed but that it has not even been tried, which is extraordinary. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) says that he wants “at home ASBOs” for young people, so that they can be marched off and put under curfew. As we have heard, those powers are already on the statute book to cover night-time. If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, he wants to extend them to cover all time other than time at school. He wants a presumption that everyone carrying a knife will suffer a custodial sentence. Let us leave aside the completely implausible cost of that proposal.

The hon. Gentleman says that cautions should not be issued in cases that would include harassment and assault without injury. He wants to curb bail so that more people would wait in cells before trial if they pose a risk to public safety. Such a broad definition would surely encapsulate most car drivers. More people would effectively be found guilty until proved innocent.

The hon. Gentleman has talked of the number of people whom we lock up in this country. For every 1,000 crimes committed in this country, we lock up between 12 and 13 people. Can the hon. Gentleman name any other country in the world that locks up fewer people than 12 for every 1,000 crimes committed?

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a difference between my party and his on whether it is more relevant to give the figure relating to the population which is always given in international comparisons, or to scrabble around for a figure in an attempt to persuade us that we are not punitive. The embarrassing—

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s point before he intervenes again.

The embarrassing evidence for both the Government and the official Opposition is that punitiveness does not work to cut crime. For those who like simple correlations, a rise in the prison population against the recent fall in overall crime looks persuasive, of course, but the comparison does not look so persuasive when we note that the only country in the European Union where crime has risen since 1988 is Belgium. Everywhere else crime has fallen, including in the UK. In Denmark, there was a 9 per cent. fall in crime and a 9 per cent. cut in the prison population, and Finland offers a similar example. Outside the EU, in Canada there has been a 17 per cent. drop in crime with incarceration rates broadly stable.

Does this not actually prove the point of those who say that prison works? Lots of people go into prison; lots of people suddenly decide it is not a good idea to commit crime; therefore, the number of crimes committed goes down and the prison population falls because there is no need to lock as many people up. That is why prison works, and prison is a bargain for the taxpayer.

The hon. Gentleman has clearly not been listening to my speech, and I suggest he studies it in Hansard tomorrow, because I have given him a lot of international examples of where there are falling prison populations combined with falling crime. That evidence presents a real problem for his argument.

Of course the criminal justice system matters. It matters if it stops reoffending, but ours does not—at least not adequately. Of the young men whom we lock up in prison for the first time with sentences of less than a year, 92 per cent. go on to reoffend—prisons are, frankly, colleges of crime. A former Conservative Home Secretary, David Waddington, said that prison was

“an expensive way of making bad people worse.”

We should use non-custodial means of dealing with young and first offenders far more, not because we are soft, but because it works. The Matrix Knowledge Group recently found that seven alternatives to prison were better value for money for the taxpayer in reducing reoffending—and I always thought the Conservatives were keen on better value for money.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the number of people who commit crimes after being sentenced to prison for less than a year is very high, but will he concede that the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend? For those who spend more than four years in prison, the reoffending rate drops to about 35 per cent. Is not the answer, therefore, that these people should spend longer in prison, rather than less?

I take it the hon. Gentleman is not making an application to join his party’s Treasury team, because if so, he would suffer severe embarrassment on account of that suggestion; if he were to work through the public expenditure costs of what he appears to be suggesting, he would have to put up taxation enormously.

The truth is that as the Home Office’s own sponsored research has shown, there is

“no firm evidence regarding the extent to which raising severities of punishment would enhance deterrence of crime.”

Excuse the bureaucratic language, but let me translate: this is Home Office-sponsored research that says punishment does not work to cut crime. Of course, there must be prison for serious offences and for serial offenders, but what matters most in cutting crime is detection. We could introduce sharia law in this country, but we would not cut crime if the detection rate did not improve.

If we take the British crime survey definitions of crime and add in crime against young people under 16 and business crime, we can see that about one crime in 100 leads to a conviction in a court of law, and that is nothing like enough—I hope that the hon. Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) agree. Detection rates of recorded crime have fallen back from 34 per cent. at the end of the ’80s to 28 per cent. according to the latest figures. We can all agree that we need to cut police bureaucracy and to use more information technology, but anyone who thinks that they are the real or only problems has not studied the sharp differences in detection rates between police forces. Even for crimes such as violence against the person, to which the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has rightly been drawing attention, detection rates vary from a low of 36 per cent. in the case of London’s Metropolitan police to 67 per cent. in North Yorkshire. Of course, rural areas are easier to consider in this regard, but even like-with-like comparisons show big gaps in performance: Merseyside and Greater Manchester police manage rates of 54 per cent. and 50 per cent. respectively, which are far higher than the figure for the Metropolitan police.

What if we narrowed the differences with best practice? Some 400,000 more crimes would be detected if the average detection rate were close to that of the top 10 per cent. We need more police on the beat, which should be done by curbing prison costs and by scrapping the identity card scheme. Equally important, at a time of scrimping on budgets and real hardship for so many families, is the need for better and more effective policing.

Is the hon. Gentleman as concerned as I am that over the past three years the proportion of police officer time on the beat has shrunk from an extraordinarily low 15 per cent. to 10 per cent? The level is decreasing rather than increasing.

I certainly wish to ensure that police forces try to get as many officers in the front line, doing what the public want them to do, as possible. I believe that there are a set of answers on that issue, one of which is cutting bureaucracy and reducing the amount of time that officers have to spend repeating tasks that they have already done when they take their original notes.

May I discuss the broader question of how we improve efficiency? The Government had an answer in their Police Reform Act 2002—to set targets for everything that moved. That had some brutal impact, but the benefits of Gosplan-style centralism were always overestimated by the Labour party and only ever work in the most unsophisticated economy. Then we had the Green Paper, which sensibly suggested getting rid of targets and establishing serious local accountability instead. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary has now bottled the local accountability, so we are back to the system we had before 2002, which was found to have failed. What is it in the Government’s view that will drive up police performance if it is not genuine local accountability? At least both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives agree on accountability, although we feel that the Conservative proposals are dangerously Napoleonic and Caesarist, and we would prefer a more pluralist and British model. I would be happy to give way at this point, but I see that no hon. Member wishes to intervene.

Strong local accountability would ensure a focus on improving performance on key local priorities and it would mean holding police officers to account. It is not in the interests of the vast majority of hard-working officers that a small minority of passengers go undisciplined, yet one would conclude that it is from the tiny number of police officers who are dismissed from their force under one incapability procedure or another. Those serious issues of police reform are ones that both the Government and the official Opposition, when they were in government, have run away from—one saw that in the Sheehy report in 1993 and in report after report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. One of its more recent reports in 2004 said that we needed a

“fundamental review of concepts such as the single point of entry to the service, the 30-year police career and the current non-transferability of training, skills and qualifications”.

If we are to remodel the criminal justice system on what works, it is inescapable that we must also invest more in the practical research that can test scientifically what works. The National Policing Improvement Agency should be given a wider remit and should aim to do for policing, and, indeed for the wider criminal justice system, what the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence does for medicine. We should also put public faith back into the crime figures by ensuring that we do not have repeats of today’s rather unedifying spat between the Conservatives and Labour on whether or not the British crime survey or the recorded crime figures are correct. Let us make the Home Office statistical unit part of the Office for National Statistics itself. Let us make detection rates as well as crime figures available at ward level, so that people can see police progress as well as what the problem is.

We have discussed statistics, how many police officers have gone on the beat in the past 10 years and the statement from the chief constable of Gloucestershire that he will have to lose 60 police officers. These figures ought to be independently monitored, so that we have a proper set of statistics to debate.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We should try to ensure that the debates in this Chamber are about real differences of views, values and approach, based on the evidence, and are not extremely arid exchanges about which figures are right and which are wrong. We faced exactly this sort of problem in relation to economics in the 1980s, because when the Conservatives were in power they proceeded to change the unemployment figures time after time and it was only when the figures were put clearly under independent control, out of the hands of Ministers, that some restoration of public confidence in those numbers took place.

Let us end centralised targets and give local police authorities far more power. Let us head young people off from the criminal justice system early on, rather than have it come down on them with its full weight and turn them into lifelong criminals. Let us use community justice panels to decide how the punishment should fit the crime. The truth is that the Government have run out of ideas and are merely serving up another knee-jerk reaction of populist punitiveness. They no longer have any serious proposals to improve policing, even though the need to do so is manifest. The official Opposition look like reheated leftovers from the Blairite heyday: tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. What we need is a real change, a new approach and what works.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who made sensible suggestions, especially on police accountability; I think that was the first time the shadow Home Secretary has been described as being Napoleon and Caesar in the same sentence—one was slightly taller than the other, but both were shorter than the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling).

This is an important debate, and I glad that the Opposition have used part of their time to discuss law and order. It is important that we discuss the issue regularly and that it remains at the forefront of the Government’s policies on the domestic agenda. I was pleased to hear about the real success story of the Government’s policy on law and order over the past 12 years. I was also pleased to hear from the Home Secretary about the following: the work of the neighbourhood policing teams; the record level of investment that has been made; the overall fall in crime—she put that at 40 per cent., and although my figures show that the fall has been even better, we will use her figures; and the fact that this country’s police funding is the highest among the OECD. I welcome the decision taken only last week by Ministers to implement the rest of the recommendations of the Flanagan report. I believe that of the 59 recommendations to cut police bureaucracy 19 have so far—[Interruption.] I do not wish to interrupt the discussion going on between the two junior Ministers on the Front Bench, because I know that they have important things to discuss—

It is kind of the Minister to say that, but as I was lavishing praise on the Government I would have thought he would wish to hear it. I was pleased that 19 of the 59 recommendations made by Sir Ronnie Flanagan have been implemented and that only this week a written statement from the Home Secretary told us that the so-called Normington review and the first tranche of work by Jan Berry are to be accepted by the Home Office and that therefore bureaucracy will be cut even further.

The clarion call from all Members of this House, from all parts, for as long as I have been here—that is 22 years, this year—has been that we need to have more police officers on the beat. The issue of visibility was raised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), and we need to see our bobbies on the beat. If we accept the Government’s figures—I am glad to see the Minister smiling—an additional 50,000 people have joined the police work force as a whole. I am talking about civilians as well as uniformed officers. If we accept the Government’s figures, there are 15,805 police community support officers that we never had before and we have an extra 15,000 police officers—their number has increased from 125,825 to 140,230 this year.

If we accept those figures, they should mean that there is a police office on practically every street at every moment of the day. We know that that is not practical, and that is why we welcome the reduction in bureaucracy that will lead to that outcome. That is why I intervened on the Home Secretary—

As always, I am listening with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman, and he makes a lot of sense. The Government’s answer to a question put by me suggests that the number of police officers on patrol has fallen by 30 per cent. in the last three years. We may be getting more police officers, but they are certainly not out on the beat.

The hon. Gentleman is right, but the Government have sought to make amends. The problem is the targets that were imposed on police officers at every level. Those targets are now being removed. I do not understand why we would impose targets on local police forces in an attempt to make them more efficient and cost-effective, and then five or six years later decide that targets do not work and there is no point having them. But let us give the Government the benefit of the doubt. They have recognised that the targets that were imposed were not necessary and they are removing them. That will result in an extra 260,000 hours of police time. If we accept what the Government have said this week, police officers will have an extra 30 minutes a day out of the police station and out on the beat, in Northampton, in Leicester and in London—where we would like to see them and so that we can justify all the additional money that we have spent on the police service. If that is the Government’s direction, I welcome it wholeheartedly. If it means more officers on the beat and not filling in forms, hooray for that.

My concern, as I raised with the Home Secretary, was the report in The Times today and the comments made by Dr. Timothy Brain, who is supposed to be the leading expert—and with a name like that, one would imagine that he would be—for the Association of Chief Police Officers on finance. That chief constable told the newspaper that, as a result of what the Government have done over the past few years, he will have to cut the number of police officers in his force in Gloucestershire by 60. The newspaper telephoned other chief constables to ask them what the reduction will be in their area. In Suffolk—I choose that county off the top of my head—we are told that the reduction will be 28 officers.

The fact is that we need an independent audit to prove who is right. The Government assert that more money has been spent on the police force than at any time in its history. But Dr. Brain and other chief constables readily tell newspapers that they will have to reduce the number of officers as a result of what the Government have done. These are serious matters, and they go to the heart of the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh. Let us be clear about those statistics. Let us monitor them independently, so that we can have a real debate about substance and policy, rather than about whose statistics are correct.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the situation that he sets out is of particular concern at a time when we know that we can expect—and are beginning to see—a rise in acquisitive crime because of the impact of the recession? This is not the time to remove police officers from the front line.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is the worst time to do that, and I do not think that it will happen. Given the Government’s figures, the introduction of PCSOs and the proposals to reduce bureaucracy, what will police officers do if they do not need to fill in unnecessary forms and will be resourced as they have never been resourced before? In those circumstances, there should be no reduction in the number of police officers.

My second point is about new technology. I welcome what the Government have done in making a commitment to put in an extra £18 million for new technology, and that is precisely what the Home Affairs Committee called for—I see two members of the Committee in their places. “Policing for the 21st Century” was a unanimous report. We took evidence for over nine months from witnesses including Sir Ronnie Flanagan and Ministers, and we came to the conclusion that new technology would save police officers enormous amounts of time. The investment in new technology should be warmly welcomed, with the caveat suggested by Jan Berry in her report about the need for compatibility between police forces. There is no point in Lincolnshire buying one type of equipment if it is incompatible with the equipment that is purchased by Leicestershire. I suggest that Ministers, as well as providing the money, should introduce effective guidelines on procurement to ensure that when police forces buy new technology and equipment, it is compatible with other areas. That matter is connected to the database issue and the need to ensure that when the computers of the 42 different police authorities speak to each other, they are able to understand what is required.

We welcome the desire to reduce the level of bureaucracy in the requests for information between police forces, and from the Home Office, but it is essential that the new technology works and is compatible. I do not suggest that everyone should buy a BlackBerry, although I know that several hon. Members have one, as does the President of the United States, but it is estimated that such devices cost only £1 a day—[Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Eastleigh is checking his BlackBerry—[Interruption.] I apologise—I did not mean to get him into trouble. The fact is that they are very useful pieces of equipment. Imagine a police officer at the scene of a crime being able to access information from his or her BlackBerry, taking down statements there and then, and saving time.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that while technology is very important, the accompanying training is equally important? So although the Government have announced that Tasers will be made available—I am not very happy about that—the forces will have to pick up the training costs associated. Those costs should be covered, if the introduction is to be effective.

The hon. Gentleman is right. We do not know what will happen next year, but if I were to decide to join the police force, I would need a great deal of training in using equipment. Without training and support, new equipment is meaningless. However, there are examples of good practice all over the country. In Bedfordshire, the introduction of personal digital assistants—PDAs—meant that police officers spent 46 per cent. more time out of their stations. So there is every reason to support the introduction of better equipment and to give all officers access to it. It is not sufficient to allow some officers to have such equipment. If it is decided that it will be useful, everyone should have it.

Finally, because I know that other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate—[Interruption.] I am happy to hear from all hon. Members on this issue, because it is one that we should debate on many more occasions than we do. I have a problem with grounding rules, or however the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell describes his new proposals, because they would need to be monitored. I am not saying that the suggestion is bad because it was mooted by the shadow Home Secretary. I am saying that we need to be very careful about how we use such powers. It is of course important to take up fresh ideas, but if we merely take young people off the streets and confine them to their homes, they will still have to be monitored regularly by the police.

I was very interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O’Hara) said about what is happening on Merseyside with Operation Staysafe. Indeed, there is not that much difference between what is happening there and the Opposition’s proposals for curfews. I am not against the principle of curfews, but we should consider their use carefully to ensure that police time, although not necessarily the money, is costed. If we are saving the police time in terms of cutting bureaucracy, we need to ensure that that time is used effectively. I hope that when the proposals are fleshed out, we will know the result of that analysis. If the proposals turn out to be good, the Government should accept them—we should be able to build on fresh, new ideas that will benefit people.

We have just come to the end of our inquiry on knife crime, and the Select Committee took evidence today from a number of witnesses. In private session, we took evidence from a number of young people involved in knife crime who have now been helped by the Prince’s Trust. We then took public evidence from the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, who, in an interesting statement to the Committee, said that the criminal justice system was the most expensive blunt instrument that we can use to reduce the level of crime. She was basically saying that by the time somebody got to be a statistic, it was far too late, and that we needed early intervention to prevent that from happening.

I know that the statement made by the former Prime Minister about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime causes some merriment among the Opposition, but I say to the Government that it is important that we consider the causes and the investment that we can make in providing assistance to those in our education system and our schools, to those who have been excluded and to those in bad housing. It is important that we consider the huge issues that we do not want to tackle, because we are politicians, and the Home Secretary, in particular, has to make instant decisions and provide the public with an instant panacea to deal with the huge problem of the underlying causes of crime.

Of course, we are getting to the end of this Parliament, with about a year and a half to go before there will be a general election. Perhaps we should have tried to work on this problem sooner, but it is incumbent on the Government and on Ministers, who are listening carefully to what I am saying, to consider the long-term solutions even at this stage, with a year and a bit to go until the end of the Parliament. They should set in stone the values and principles for the future. We are all against an increase in crime, we all want to see more bobbies on the beat and we all want to get value for money. Those issues unite everyone, but communicating the fundamental values to the public so that they can be discussed is important. That is why one of the overlooked recommendations of the Select Committee was that we should have a royal commission into policing to consider why we have police officers, what they do, Parliament’s vision for them and how they fit with the law and order issues that we discuss. In grappling with the short-term problems of crime—those problems are clearly short-term, as crime happens daily, hourly and every minute—will the Government also use the opportunity to consider the long term and to lay the foundation stones that will make this society much safer?

As always in these debates, I begin by declaring an interest as a lawyer by background, a part-time district judge and a Crown court recorder. I hope tonight that I am speaking with some experience of the criminal justice system.

I want to focus on some problem areas and, I think, some solutions. One day 10 or 12 years ago when I was visiting a young offenders institution—in Kent, I think it was—I met a 19-year-old young man, in a cell, looking depressed, tired and drawn. Incidentally, he spent 17 hours a day banged up in his cell. I asked him what he was doing there and he said, “I am here for driving while disqualified.” “What’s the problem?” I said, “Are you a bad driver? Do you speed? Do you drive dangerously? Do you nick cars? What on earth is wrong with your driving?” “Nothing’s wrong,” he said, “My driving is good. I’m perfectly okay, but I don’t have a driving licence so I get disqualified.” “So,” I said, “Get a driving licence.” It was not unreasonable of me to say that. “But I can’t,” he said. I asked why not and he replied, “Because I would have to take the theory test.” “What’s the problem with the theory test?” I said. “I can’t pass it, because I can’t read and write.” That got me thinking—and I have thought ever since—about the link between crime and literacy.

That is the link for young children from some of the worst sink estates in London and elsewhere. At school, they get behind and begin to fail. Then, because they fail, they cannot keep up with their peers and get angry and bad-tempered. When things go wrong, they are excluded because of their poor performance, and they are out on the streets, where they commit crimes, which leads to their being locked up. There is a link between levels of literacy and school exclusions, and between school exclusions and crime.

My thoughts have been backed up by an inspectorate of prisons report, which said that some 83 per cent. of boys under 18 in custody had been excluded from school. An even more astonishing figure was given to me by the Ministry of Justice: 52 per cent. of young men in custody—boys up to the age of 21—had been permanently excluded from school. There is surely a link—I hope that the House will understand this—between literacy and numeracy, school exclusions and crime.

I want to focus for a few minutes on the young offender estate—the prison estate that holds youngsters aged from 13 to 21—and to tell the House a little about my experiences. I talk to many people who work in the young offender estate and ask about the levels of literacy among the boys who arrive at the ages of 13, 14, 15 and 16. One senior official told me that in his judgment, which is backed by many others at that young offenders institution, more than 80 per cent. of the youngsters admitted at the age of 15 had the literacy and numeracy level of an eight-year-old or of someone even younger. What the devil does that mean? It means that there are 15 and 16-year-old boys who basically cannot read or write. They cannot cope, and that has led to frustration and anger. I am not saying that that covers the whole scene, but it is a problem and it greatly troubles the young offender estate.

What value for money do we get from our young offender estate? What does it cost? The average cost of putting a youngster into the young offender prison estate is £33,000 a year. That is what it costs us. In Feltham A and Feltham B, which are the two young offenders institutions in Feltham, it costs £42,000 for the year. That is a lot of money, and what do we get in value for money? What about the reoffending rates? They are absolutely mind-boggling. Official Government figures show that 16 and 17-year-olds who are released from custody have, respectively, an 80 and 70 per cent. chance of reoffending within a year of release.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point, but should we not take into account the cost of that reoffending? Would it not often be cheaper, in simple financial terms, to keep somebody in Feltham at £33,000 than to have them committing one offence after another on the streets of London?

I will to come to that. Value for money, for me, means that people come out of Feltham, or anywhere else, and do not reoffend. That, I think, is what will save money.

Worse still, Government figures show that the 80 per cent. of those released who reoffend within one year do so, on average, four times in that year. Given that people are caught only once in every eight crimes that they commit, nobody can doubt the fact that, in effect, those youngsters are coming out and committing 30 or 40 crimes in their first year. At a cost of £33,000 a year, that is failure on a grand scale.

What are my remedies and solutions, if any? I have a few, which I want to draw to the attention of the House, and the first relates to literacy and numeracy. When someone arrives at a young offenders institution, on day one—I do not mean month one; I mean day one—a complete assessment of their educational position hitherto and their achievements should be undertaken. If they have been statemented, a full copy of the statement, binding on the prison, should be provided, and the prison should act upon it. Straightaway after that, a plan for that individual offender should be drawn up, showing what he or she must achieve in their time in that young offenders institution.

I wonder whether hon. Members know how many hours a week people in young offenders institutions spend on education. Would they think that it was six hours a day? Six hours a day spent in education would be fair enough. I will tell hon. Members the answer: Feltham, seven and a half hours a week; Glen Parva, five hours a week; Reading, five hours a week; Aylesbury, six hours a week; and Rochester, three and a half hours a week. Will someone tell me that that is good news? It is not.

What about being locked up in the cells? How long does one feel that it is a great idea to lock up a young man in a cell each day? Would six, eight, nine or 10 hours be right? Let us look at the figures; they are depressing. At Aylesbury, young people are locked up in the cells for 17 hours a day. That is horrific. What does it do? At Reading, they are locked up for 16.5 hours.

What about sport? I am old-fashioned, but I reckon that hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the value of sport, activity and physical work. I do not just mean PE in a gymnasium. A lot of those young people are pushing iron all day, or half the day or for a couple of hours, and according to the powers that be, all that does is make them stronger, and they can run away faster. No, I am talking about sport, out on the field in the open air. I met a young man who had not seen daylight in four months at a young offenders institution. Where is the sport? How many hours are spent on sport—real sport, team sport and active sport? Does sport help to develop character? I think that it does. People in our young offender estate are doing two or three hours a week on average.

Perhaps I am a little fanciful when I say that the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme is terrific. It is my pet hobby. I met an employer who interviewed everyone who came to him who had done the DOE. It is not done enough—barely at all—at places such as Feltham, Portland and other institutions. There have been only one or two bronze awards in the past six years, out of hundreds of young men going through the system.

Here is a revolutionary idea: I really believe that education—literacy and numeracy—is vital, which to me means that short sentences of six, eight or 10 weeks are a waste of time. We cannot do anything with a youngster in that period. All the judges whom I have spoken to say, “For goodness’ sake, put them away for nine months, because then you can make some real advances. If a crime is not serious enough for nine months inside, don’t bother. Don’t faff around”—I am not sure how Hansard will take that word—“with six weeks, because it’s a revolving door; they are straight out, having laid low, and they come out no better.”

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the other barriers to the prevention of young offenders reoffending is the fact that about a third of them have been through the care system and that there is no statutory requirement for a social worker to visit them while they are in custody, to try to work with them towards a package of rehabilitation, to ensure that they do not reoffend when they come out and find themselves back where they started?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point and anticipates a subject that I shall come to in my closing words. He is right.

In our young offenders institutions, we must focus on literacy and numeracy, but what else? Here is my nuts-and-bolts idea: in the last quarter of the sentence, all youngsters should be moved into a specific resettlement wing. What will happen then? The family will get more involved. Huge amounts of work will be done to arrange housing on release. It is no good leaving a young offenders institution in Surrey and being sent off to bed and breakfast in Slough at the age of 16. What is going on? Resettlement is the name of the game, coupled with the absolute requirement of going into a job. Education on release, housing on release, job on release—those are the things.

I went to Oakhill young offenders institution, where not one of the youngsters—both boys and girls aged 15, 16 and 17—who had done hairdressing had reoffended after two years of leaving. Oh yes, we can lock them up for ever if we want, but let us get the children literate, get them numerate, get them adding up and subtracting, get them to have a bit of pride, get them fit and well and give them a purpose. Let us give them a little remission, but it should be based on positive, excellent behaviour and real achievement, not just on sitting on their backsides or joining a gang. Let us focus on resettling them into the community, not back where they came from, but into a job or education. Let us put money into that. If we put money into it, we will save quite a lot of money in the long term, and we will be doing absolutely the right thing.

I, too, declare an interest as a special constable and a member of the Home Affairs Committee.

Virtually anyone who takes an interest in justice and home affairs would agree that the crime figures have gone up—unless, of course, they happen to work in the Home Office. But even Home Office Ministers now admit that crime is likely to increase over the next few years as a result of the recession, so we are certainly agreed on that. I personally think that it is very difficult to trust the statistics, whether one uses the recorded crime figures or the British crime survey, which is little more than an opinion poll. It does not take into account crimes committed on people under the age of 16 or property offences, and drug offences are unlikely to show up. So a gamut of offences is unlikely to show up, and the people behind the survey are simply asking a small sample of people, rather than the entire population, to give their opinions about crime, so it is as accurate at best as a political opinion poll. Recorded crime statistics are no real gauge either, because much of the violent crime that takes place on Britain’s streets is carried out between young people, who very often do not report it, even if they are the victims.

If the Government want to get an idea of what is really going on, they could do a lot worse than to ask someone such as Cherie Blair, who has undertaken work with the Street Weapons Commission and found out that the number of people with knife wounds who enter accident and emergency units has gone up by 85 per cent. over the past five years. However, most of those crimes will not be reported to the police, because there is no obligation on hospitals to do so. One of the best things that the Government could do is to ensure that information on anyone who goes into hospital, showing signs of having been either beaten up or stabbed, should be passed to the police. Not only would that help to tackle gang violence, but it could be used to help to tackle the curse of domestic violence.

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. The statistics on A and E admissions and knife crime were, of course, at the centre of the controversy, but we felt that it was right to publish those figures, because of the point that he is making.

The Government are right to publish those figures. Some good work is being done by the Government at the moment, and I will come to that before I make too many criticisms, but I shall first return to the picture of crime and follow some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins).

All sorts of reasons are given about why crime is so high—as another hon. Member said, it is certainly too high—but I do not accept that poverty is one of them. Of course, one can find a statistical link between poverty and crime, but simply not having money does not cause people to commit crime. Happily, I come from a reasonably comfortable background, although perhaps not as privileged as some. My mother was a miner’s daughter. She grew up in relative poverty. She says that there was hardly any crime in her community. My wife is from a family of agricultural labourers in eastern Europe. They live in a block of flats, where there is no crime, no graffiti and people are nice to one another.

What causes crime? Although this sounds a little old-fashioned, I think that the cause in many cases is a lack of proper family structure, but I take issue with people who talk about single-parent mothers. Such comments are lazy and an insult to the vast majority of people who do an excellent job in bringing up their children. I would never use that term, and I hope that other Members would not use it either. However, we ought to be honest enough to admit that there is a problem in some estates that have high levels of poverty with young people who become pregnant. If we ever talk about single-parent mothers, let us admit that it takes two to tango; there is a single father somewhere who has behaved in an irresponsible fashion.

We in this Chamber all have relatively comfortable lives and are responsible people, but we all know how difficult it is to get our children to say please and thank you, and to mind their manners. How much harder will that be for somebody with very little education and money who lives on a difficult estate? It will be impossible. Sadly, children who grow up surrounded by crime, drugs and benefits are likely to fall into the system. I do not know whether I put that tactfully enough, but it is true and we all know it. We should be able to address that.

We need to do more to support schools. It is a cliché, but by the time people are in the clutches of the police, it is too late. We need to be able to tackle bad behaviour before things get that far. That is why we should be doing more to support schools that want to take disciplinary measures against pupils—and not just pupils who walk in carrying knives, or who assault teachers, but pupils who walk in without their top button done up, or not wearing the proper uniform. That way, children will know that there are boundaries and things that they cannot do, and that if they transgress those boundaries, there will be consequences. That message does not get through at the moment.

I have some experience of the police, and experience of some of the good things that the Government are doing. I do not want to be critical all the time; there are Government initiatives that I fully support. For example, I support greater use of the Taser. I saw the most ludicrous Liberal Democrat press release this morning. It refers to “Taser guns”. Clearly, the Liberal Democrats are not aware that a Taser is not a gun at all; it is not a firearm, in the sense that it does not fire a projectile bullet. A Taser is far less dangerous than the baton that all police officers carry. That is why it is possible for police officers to fire a Taser at each other to experience the effects. Nobody in their right mind would stand there while somebody hit them with a police-issue baton, which could be absolutely lethal if it caught somebody in the wrong place. I notice that the press release refers to “children”. In their inconsistent fashion, the Liberal Democrats refer to “children” whenever somebody aged between 16 and 18 is involved in the criminal justice system, but to “adults” when coming forward with other ludicrous policies, such as giving voting rights to 16-year-olds, a subject that we will not go into now.

I could not stand it any longer; I had to intervene. May I recommend that the hon. Gentleman look at Amnesty International’s report on the use of Tasers, and that he consider, in particular, the number of people who have died as a result of being tasered but who did not present a real danger or threat?

I have looked at the Amnesty report, which deals, I think, with America. America has a very different system of policing from the United Kingdom and any other western European state. It is not a system of policing that I would recommend. If Amnesty were to consider the issue in context, it would have to look into how many people would have been shot dead with a bullet by American police officers had Tasers not been available to them. If a 16 or 17-year-old armed with a knife, and possibly high on drugs, came towards the hon. Gentleman, and the only person in the way was a police officer, I think that the hon. Gentleman would prefer the police officer to have a Taser than to rely on gas or anything else.

Of course, the training given to police officers who use Tasers is extensive. First and foremost, however, they are trained not to use them, but simply to show them. When the press release refers to hundreds of people being

“exposed to the use of Taser”,

it includes cases in which the police officer has shown somebody who is acting violently that the Taser is there and is an option, but has not actually used it. In any case, Tasers all have microphones, which means that the chances of them being misused in this country are very slight indeed. The Government are absolutely right on the issue, and they went about things in the right way; they used a pilot study, and have allowed chief constables to decide on the subject for themselves.

I would be happy to do so if the hon. Gentleman let somebody wallop him over the head with a baton; that is the alternative that police officers have at the moment.

What the Government have done on forms is quite good. The stop-and-account form is going, but there is more that they could do. The stop and search form is still very lengthy. I accept that there are situations in which it needs to be fully filled in, but when members of the public are stopped and subjected to a random search under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, often the problem is not so much that they find the search intrusive; it is more that they are irritated about the fact that they have to stand around for five or 10 minutes while the police officer takes down all sorts of information, which is often unnecessary. That delays them in getting to where they want to go. The search that is usually carried out is no different to the one that we all experience when we go into an airport. The public are getting used to the idea that a quick frisk is sometimes necessary for their own safety. The issue is the length of the form and the fact that the public are not aware that they do not have to wait for the police officer to fill it all in. Police officers should be encouraged to say, “You don’t have to wait, but if you want a record of the search, I am happy to get it for you.”

As I have mentioned before, it is inconsistent that police officers who stop people who are committing offences, who simply wish to talk to a person, or who detain a person so that they can be summonsed for a revenue offence, cannot carry out a quick search. Very often, those people are involved in criminality, and I would change the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow that to happen. If the Minister for Borders and Immigration wants to make a quick hit and get rid of a whole load of paperwork, he could give the British Transport police the power to issue penalty notices for disorder for revenue offences. Transport for London can do so, but the police cannot, which means that they have to get through a whole load of paperwork if they want to prosecute somebody for such an offence.

To return to the big picture, the problem is not the number of police officers. There are adequate numbers of police officers. The problem is that a small number of people commit so much crime that they take up all the time that should be available to police officers. In 2003, the Carter report suggested that half of all crime in this country is carried out by about 100,000 people, of whom only 15,000 are in prison at any particular time. Every police officer meets those people almost daily. They are arrested; two officers take them to a police station; a whole laborious process is gone through; the person is bailed and is then back out on the streets, and carries out further offences on the following day. That is why we need not more police officers, but more prison officers and prisons.

I do not accept the comments made about the cost of keeping people in prison. The cost of keeping somebody in a category D prison is about £25,000 a year. Most of the people who go to those prisons are on benefits. It was not I who brought up the issue of cost, but other Members have done so. The net cost of keeping somebody in prison is far cheaper than people realise. I believe that the net cost to the taxpayer of keeping somebody in a category D prison is not more than about £10,000 a year. The cost of keeping them out on the streets committing one offence after another is absolutely horrendous. It is also a huge burden on police time.

I agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking. There are two prisons in my constituency, which I have visited. I have also visited other prisons with the Home Affairs Committee. There is nothing like as much work going on in those prisons to help offenders as there could be. What I propose is not dissimilar to what my hon. Friend suggested. Yes, we should put people in prison, and make it clear to them that they should serve their sentence in full. It is a disgrace that somebody given four years in prison could be out in one year and seven months under some sort of early release scheme, and that somebody sentenced to a year in prison will be out after just three months.

One of the reasons why reoffending is so high is that prison is not seen as any sort of deterrent. A Faustian pact is made; because people are usually in prison for only a couple of months, the authorities effectively say, “Give us a quiet life and you can have your PlayStation and your television. Just don’t cause us any trouble,” so people spend all their time in their cells. We should get people out of their cells and get them working. We should give them practical skills. That is what happens in prisons such as Usk, which deals with special types of offenders. We should get that sort of culture into all prisons, particularly those dealing with younger people. Remission should not be automatic. Indeed, I am opposed in general to any form of early release. However, if we are to have early release, I would make it conditional on people getting rudimentary educational skills, passing exams and getting some sort of vocational skill that could give them a chance to work in the real world. Unless we start to tackle what goes on in the justice system, crime will continue to rise, and the police will find it harder and harder to cope.

I am delighted to be able to participate in this important debate. May I start by saying how embarrassed I am that more colleagues are not present in the Chamber to discuss these important issues? I count just one Labour Back Bencher and one Liberal Democrat Back Bencher, who has just turned up. That is an embarrassment to the Chamber, and to the House of Commons. We should show the country a bit more honour when dealing with these issues.

The first objective of any Government is the maintenance of law and order. Without it there is no trust, no stability and no basis for a civil democratic society to develop. I remind the House of a definition of law and order. It is a state of society where the vast majority of the population respect the rule of law, and where the law enforcement agencies observe laws that limit their powers.

The Government’s obligations are, first, to ensure that the appropriate laws are passed, and to allow the police and the courts to carry out their business fairly. The second objective is to provide the funds to ensure that there are sufficient resources for that to happen, for if law is poorly written or insufficient, it can be exploited by criminal elements. If law is too restrictive, it can place limitations on individual freedoms. Aside from the dictatorial tendencies that that can produce, it can hinder the free market and the potential prosperity of a nation.

With insufficient funding, police cannot enforce the law or train to understand the new challenges that we face—for example, cyberfraud and terrorism, neither of which has been mentioned in the debate. Cuts in front-line policing are likely to take place. We have heard that time and again from the constabularies. The reason is the recession that we are going through, which brings with it a wave of crime. Large numbers of police forces, unfortunately, are planning to cut thousands of officers. That is the case because the Government do not understand the priorities. I understand that 19 of the 43 constabularies are being forced to cut the number of officers, and that is simply to do with money.

The budget that has been set for 2009-10 is causing these cuts, with forces having to agree settlements of 2.8 per cent. Twenty of the police forces throughout the country have received only a 2.5 per cent. increase. One of those forces is Dorset’s. If we get only a 2.5 per cent. increase in our budget—[Interruption.] Does the Minister wish me to give way? I shall finish the point and gladly give way. If Dorset receives only 2.5 per cent., but has to meet a pay award of 2.6 per cent., it will clearly have to make budget cuts. It cannot pay the police salaries without a shortfall elsewhere. That is why there has to be a reduction in the police force. Does the Minister wish to respond? Silence.

I caution the hon. Gentleman about using that tactic. First, if I have understood it correctly, his party’s policy would result in a reduction in public expenditure, so the 2.5 per cent. that he mentions would presumably be less. Secondly, does he not acknowledge that the Government have provided above-inflation settlements for police authorities, including Dorset, and does he not further acknowledge in respect of his party leader’s calls for devolution that there is a responsibility on the policy authority to balance its books?

I hate to educate the Minister, who is experienced, but he knows that I was prompting him to answer my question. Instead, he posed three of his own questions, so I go back to the point. If the police are given an increase of only 2.5 per cent. when they have to pay salary increases of 2.6 per cent., there will be cuts. That is exactly what has happened in Dorset, which has one of the best performing but worst funded police forces in the country. We lost 13 officers last year and we are about to lose another 50 posts. That is all because of the cuts.

About 20,000 tourists visit Bournemouth on a Friday or Saturday night. Is tourism considered in the manning formula? No. All the police working in Bournemouth have to focus on half a square mile in our town centre because no extra support is given to help the police deal with the influx of 20,000 visitors. We in Dorset are glad to host the Weymouth sailing events, but has one extra penny been provided to meet the extra security requirements for such events? Not one. That is another source of pressure on our police, making them resort to cuts.

As has been mentioned a number of times, law and order is not just about policing. It is also about a way of life and a set of values. Law and order exists to catch those who behave in an unacceptable way, but it should also be about teaching values that prevent somebody from choosing to break the law. Why not prevent criminal tendencies from developing at an early age and stop people committing crime when they get older?

I pay tribute to the Dorset Life Education bus. That organisation goes around schools teaching kids the difference between right and wrong, and good and bad, making them confront issues and talk about challenges that they may face in future which might take them into a world of petty crime and lead to further crime in their later lives. Unfortunately, that great initiative will have its budget cut because there is not enough money coming from Government. I would be grateful if the Minister looked into that, as the organisation provides an important means of preventing crime and teaching young people.

Role models have changed so much since I grew up, and certainly since my parents and grandparents grew up. In the absence of proper role models, perhaps as a result of broken families, people look at their television screens, see a premier league football player go up and swear at a referee, and they think that that is how to deal with authority. That is appalling. When they are out on the street and see authority—a policeman, for example—they respond in the same way. We need initiatives to prevent children growing up with such bad habits.

Statistics have been bandied about in the debate. Cautions are up by 28 per cent. A gun crime is committed every hour in England and Wales, and a knife crime every half an hour. An ASBO is seen as a badge of honour, and we have one of the highest rates of cannabis use in Europe. We also have one of the highest levels of antisocial behaviour, and the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) spoke about the importance of prisons and rehabilitation, and the fact that so many people are going to prison and not getting the rehabilitation that they need. It is a horrifying statistic that 92 per cent. of those who go to prison for less than one year reoffend immediately, and about half of all prisoners reoffend. That suggests that they are not being rehabilitated and given the opportunity to do something better with their lives. They are not particularly good at crime as they keep getting caught, but they are never given the chance to do something else. The Government must address that. Instead, they are locking more people up in Titan prisons. There is not enough talk about what happens when prisoners spend time behind bars.

Time is short, but let us consider other aspects of Labour policy. Extended licensing hours have been mentioned. They have caused a 22 per cent. increase in crime between 3 am and 6 am. Our police have to stay on duty for longer hours and do overtime. That costs Dorset constabulary more money, which is why there is pressure to cut the number of posts. We have heard a lot about the statistics, but I would like to see greater clarity instead of the two systems that we have—police reported crime and the British crime survey. Let us agree on one set of statistics, rather than the embarrassing interchange of statistics.

We have heard about the important role of police community support officers. I do not doubt that they play an important role, but in Bournemouth, as in every other part of the country, they go to bed at 10 pm. They go off the streets at just the time that Bournemouth starts to get quite vibrant. When our town centres start to pick up, extra eyes and ears are needed. Police community support officers are fine, but why not encourage more special constables? I was in the Regular Army, and I was delighted to see my companions coming from the Territorial Army to boost us when we required support. Why not emulate what my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth is doing? Constabularies should be allowed to have as many special officers as they like, because on the big nights—Friday, Saturday and football nights—they need extra police officers, and that is when they could use people who serve part time. Such people need to make ends meet and cannot serve on a voluntary basis, as special constables are made to do at present.

I do not have time to speak about the important subject of the terrorist threats that we face, which I do not believe our police are able to contend with because of the deluge of other pressures upon them.

Between 1997 and 2009, the police budget has increased by 40 per cent., yet there has been only an 11 per cent. increase in the number of police on the front line—and the number of those police officers, of course, is now being cut. We have heard that 66 pieces of legislation have been introduced, yet there has been little public confidence in the criminal justice system; there is certainly little faith in our prison rehabilitation system.

The phrase “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” was spoken in a conference speech in 1997. How ironic that, 10 years later, the current Prime Minister said in a conference speech that we should punish crime and prevent it by dealing with the root causes. That is saying exactly the same in different words, and it shows that 10 years later the Government are still saying the same thing. The job has not been done.

The Government are failing, first, to create the appropriate law and, secondly, to fund the police to enforce the law. Is it any wonder that the majority of us do not feel as safe as we would like in our homes and towns? That is not how the majority of us want to live. We need a new approach to law and order. The Government have had their chance; it is now time for a general election and for the electorate to decide.

I welcome this debate because it defines the division between the Government and the Opposition on law and order. I declare an interest: I have two sons and a daughter-in-law who are police officers, so I live with the reality of policing in my day-to-day existence at home.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who led for the Opposition, said much to no purpose about the cause—I deliberately use the singular—of crime: the “broken society”. Let us for the sake of argument ignore the fatuity of the slogan “broken society”, which belongs in the same glossary of meaningless political slogans as the “war on terror”. Let us concede that society is broken: who broke it? It was the recently acknowledged heroine of the Leader of the Opposition. When in government, she said that there was no such thing as society and pursued policies based on that premise which had the effect of damaging the lives of the very citizens who make up society. We are still living with the consequences.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was light on the causes of the damage. That was because his party’s policies then—and, as far as one can discern them, they will be its policies should it ever come back into government—prove it guilty as charged. What did the hon. Gentleman offer to tackle the problems? Not a word. What we need is action, and action requires resources. The Conservatives, of course, are committed to cutting resources. The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) offered some interesting solutions, but they require resources. I assume that he will be in dialogue with the shadow Chancellor—perhaps that should be the shadow shadow Chancellor—about his proposals.

By contrast, the Government offer not gimmicks, as was the accusation, but action. On knife crime, they offer education together with enforcement, and it is effective. As was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), the Government have offered more police. They have offered more police community support officers, antisocial behaviour orders, social exclusion orders, spot fines and curfews. In my area, all those measures are being used to effect.

I referred to Operation Staysafe in my intervention; it would not be possible without police on the streets. I quote Deputy Chief Constable Bernard Lawson of Merseyside:

“Despite the fact that many young people have never offended, youth crime and anti-social behaviour are major sources of public concern to neighbourhoods…Operation Staysafe allows the early intervention by police and support services with young people to prevent those youths becoming involved in criminal activity or becoming victims of crime themselves. It can help to identify reasons for the young person being on the street late at night and intervene where necessary to protect our most vulnerable.”

That is practical action, and it has proved effective in Merseyside this past weekend.

Brighton and Hove also took part in Operation Staysafe at the weekend, and it proved effective. Having been out with the Sussex police youth team on Friday evenings, I can say that prevention in respect of kids being on the street can be very effective—for the children themselves, and for the local community.

That is a corroboration of my experience of the effectiveness of Operation Staysafe on Merseyside.

Things can be done only if police are on the beat. As I said, I have two sons who are regularly on the beat and they do not spend time indoors warming their toes. Indeed, I went inside the Arctic circle last weekend and I borrowed a pair of long johns from one of my sons. He needs them on long winter nights as he polices the streets of Liverpool.

The Opposition offer only cuts. I know what my community wants—not the Opposition’s peculiar mixture of soft nostrums, toothless rhetoric and the hopelessness of slogans such as “broken society”, which disguise their bankruptcy with regard to making society safe for our citizens. My community wants a Government who will work with and for our fellow citizens in tackling the antisocial behaviour that affects the quality of life that my fellow citizens deserve.

In the few short minutes that I have, I should like to draw the Government’s attention to Flycapture, a well-thought-out initiative that has unfortunately not been well executed. The Minister is frowning—perhaps for the same reason why many in my community have been frowning. Flycapture involves the central recording of fly-tipping in various constituencies. Fly-tipping blights many rural constituencies. With National Farmers Union representatives, I went to my local police county headquarters and attended a summit on this very matter. I find it disturbing that the county council, the police, the district council, the Gypsy and Traveller liaison officer and others involved in dealing with various aspects of fly-tipping clearance were unaware of the Flycapture system and unaware that there was central recording. Will the Government look into the system, roll out it out further and agree that local authorities need to come to a co-ordinated approach, so that we can crack down on rural crime and fly-tipping?

Many people in prisons have mental health issues—something that has not been particularly touched on in this debate. I am concerned that many in prison should have had much more care in the community and help with their mental health problems before they ended up there. When such people leave prison, they are often in a worse state than when they entered it. The Government should address that problem and ensure that resources go into communities to make sure that, as far as possible—as far as it can be controlled—it does not happen in future.

I should like to pay tribute to the Muslim community, particularly in St. Albans. It is looking at various issues, including minimising extremism, terrorism and the radicalisation of Muslim youths. I met Muslim leaders in my community on Friday. They are setting up Ummah UK, a community group to pull together Muslim groups, teach them about terrorism and extremism and how to resist it, and encourage them to resist the increasing use of drugs and alcohol that, unfortunately, dogs some ethnic minority communities. The group aims to work with the community to give a positive role model and promote positive activities. I congratulate the Muslim community in my area on looking to help policing in my community and on keeping its young people actively engaged with others there and with keeping their lives on track.

I, too, am concerned about the policing numbers reported in The Times today. I completely concur with those who have said that we need to have confidence that the figures are completely accurate.

When the Home Secretary replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), she remarked on the consistency of his remarks with a speech that he gave yesterday to the Local Government Association. Well, she is going to hear a consistent message from him. She began the substance of her remarks with a reply to a charge about gimmicks, which my hon. Friend had not made; some sensitivity there, I think. With a history of eye-catching initiatives, tsars of one sort or another and policing by press release substituting for a coherent approach, her sensitivity is hardly surprising. However, I enjoyed her quote from Sir John Major at the party conference in 1993, when he said that we should

“condemn a little more and understand a little less”.

She is right to note that there has been a change of tone associated with the arrival of my hon. Friend as shadow Home Secretary.

The Liberal party spokesman helpfully made the case for early intervention, as in the proposal on grounding that my hon. Friend is developing. He and I, as new members of the shadow home affairs team, were flattered by the charge of being Napoleonic and Caesarist. I will allow him to choose which role model he would like to follow, and I will be happy to take the other.

The Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee was correct about the importance of this debate, and correct to be sceptical about the effectiveness of apparent police numbers. I noted that he agrees with us about the removal of targets from policing, for which we have been asking for a very long time.

It is always instructive to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who presented extremely powerful and stark examples and statistics to the House. The failure to address educational opportunities in young offender institutions is a disaster in terms of value for money and opportunities missed for the people concerned. I commend to the House the exciting proposals to incentivise prison governors to make them accountable for reoffending rates. Our shadow justice team have some extremely interesting things to say about that, and the sooner they cease to be the shadow team and are able to put those things in place, the better.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) delivered his usual robust message about boundaries and authority, with the benefit of his experience as a special constable and on the Home Affairs Committee. However, the Government do not need to take that message from him alone. He has strong support from the chief constable of South Wales, who said, in a conference that was supposed to be closed but from which her remarks ended up being reported:

“in many of our larger cities, in areas of extreme deprivation, there are almost feral groups of very angry young people…Many have experienced family breakdown, and in place of parental and family role models, the gang culture is now established. Tribal loyalty has replaced family loyalty and gang culture based on violence and drugs is a way of life.”

She went on to deliver a damning critique of criminal justice policy, saying:

“in an age of cost-benefit analysis…there is no appetite for solutions that have no visible return and no patience for any which will not bear immediate political fruit.”

We have heard in this debate the sorry catalogue of the Government’s failure to deliver on law and order after nearly 12 years in office. Sixteen years after a young and ambitious shadow Home Secretary set out his analysis of the need to tackle crime and its causes, we see a society in which youth disorder is rife and violent crime up by a staggering 88 per cent. [Interruption.] It is not untrue. The Lord Chancellor should not intervene from a sedentary position, because these are his own Home Office statistics, about which there was an intervention on the Home Secretary. Perhaps he might choose to explain why more than 50 knife crimes are now being recorded every day, and fatal stabbings are up by a third, at an all-time high.

Tony Blair’s most famous pledge—the one that marked him out as new Labour and helped him ride to the Labour leadership—was never delivered. What a contrast with the inheritance that Labour received. Tony Blair’s then opposite number, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), was the first Home Secretary in decades to reverse the trend on rising crime. By force of will— and, of course, with the benefit of some pretty special advice—he changed the culture of the Home Office. In much the same way as, 10 years earlier, Baroness Thatcher challenged and changed the assumptions of the British establishment that their job was simply the civilised management of Britain’s relative decline, my right hon. and learned Friend challenged and changed the perception of those at the Home Office that their job was simply to try to manage, as best one could, inevitably rising crime levels.

These lessons we have learned. That is why I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members pay careful attention to the comments of my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, not only in introducing this debate but in the speech that he made yesterday to the Local Government Association. The remarks introducing him made by the Leader of the Opposition—the former special adviser to the last Conservative, and last successful, Home Secretary—also bear examination. Change is coming. Focus will be given to the Home Office and the police. Addressing the causes of crime will belong to the rest of Government; the Home Office will address crime. The police will be transformed from the centre, with a straightforward mission to fight crime and empowered by clear local accountability.

We have also learned what is not the answer. If legislative activism, money, eye-catching initiatives and bureaucratic accountability were the answer, it is inconceivable that the trend of falling crime inherited by this Government would not have continued. There have been 25 policing or crime Bills since 1997, with the latest major Bill, the Policing and Crime Bill, making its way through Committee as we speak. This endless stream of legislation might keep shadow Ministers engaged as they try to meet the challenge of getting up to speed with the latest legislative ideas in the much reduced time available to Parliament to examine them properly, but the overall effect has been highly doubtful. Such has been the blizzard of new legislation that it is well known that the judges are struggling to keep up. They are spending more time on legal refresher courses than ever before, with courts having to close as a result. If judges are struggling with this legislative blizzard, what on earth do Ministers think it is like for the police, who are expected to police the 3,000 new offences thus created?

During the economic good times, the Government failed to keep our streets safe or to provide the prisons required to lock up the criminals who stalk them. The gloomy economic outlook that we face today means that the challenges facing the police over the coming months will get worse. Indeed, as the then Minister of State at the Home Office, the right hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), said in response to a leaked Home Office document, it is “blindingly obvious” that some aspects of crime increase in a period of recession. It was reported in The Guardian yesterday that Superintendent David Hartshorn, the head of the Metropolitan Police’s public order branch—Britain’s most senior police officer with responsibility for public order—raised the spectre of riots, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming “foot soldiers” in a wave of potentially violent mass protests. Today, The Times highlights the fall in police numbers as the ugly reality of Government finance starts to make itself felt. The mismanagement of the economy, like the mismanagement of the police and criminal justice system, has left people more vulnerable to crime and left our society more vulnerable to social disorder.

The Government are no closer to delivering on crime today than when they first came to power. Whichever way Ministers spin figures on crime, it is clear that violent crime is up, robbery is up, gun crime has nearly doubled and knife crime is on the rise, with fatal stabbings at an all-time high. Labour has failed to empower the police to tackle the criminals, and has left some of our town centres virtual no-go areas for law-abiding citizens. Instead, despite years of criticism from the police and from the Opposition, the police are still spending a fifth of their working day dealing with paperwork. Talk about wasting police time! The huge growth in the use of discretionary cautions means that when police officers do encounter criminals, it is far less likely that the criminal will ever end up in a court, let alone a prison cell. Despite all the rhetoric on knife crime, the Government still refuse to apply a presumption that carrying a knife will mean a prison sentence. Despite initiative after initiative and an unprecedented volume of criminal justice legislation, the net result after 12 years of this Government is that people feel less safe, in parts of our country antisocial behaviour has become the norm, and the innocent citizen feels that his own liberties have been curtailed to no useful purpose.

It is time for a Government who are serious about tackling crime head on by releasing police officers to deal with the criminals, and time to mend the broken society that has allowed criminal behaviour to become endemic in our towns and cities. I commend the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell, who, in speaking to the Local Government Association yesterday and in the House today, has demonstrated that he will be a worthy successor to the last Home Secretary who turned back the tide on crime—another inheritance that has been so scandalously squandered by this wretched and unhappy Government.

Is it my turn now, Mr. Deputy Speaker? My apologies for not being quick to get to my feet, but I was listening to the speech by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) with some sadness. I shall explain why, but before I do so, I pass on apologies from the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) who could not be at the Dispatch Box because of Committee duties. That is why you will have to put up with me this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was looking forward to this debate because I thought that I would find out about the views of hon. Members across the House, and the views of those on the Opposition Front Bench. We did achieve the former, and we heard some very thoughtful speeches, to which I will respond in a moment—but sadly, what we heard from the Opposition Front Bench was a repeat of a speech that was delivered yesterday. I do not know what the rules and procedure of the House are concerning informing the House first, but if we have an Opposition debate it is important that we find out something new, instead of the single transferable speech that we heard, not from the Liberal Democrats, but from the hon. Member for the front page—sorry, the Front Bench.

Yes, and it was funny then, and it is funny now. I am going to keep on using it, because it is obviously hitting home.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) made a thoughtful speech. He described our procedures as a legal whirling dervish. He described the shadow Home Secretary as dangerously Napoleonic and Caesarist—language often heard in “The Dog and Duck” in Eastleigh, I am sure—and he accused my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of populist punitiveness. I can assure the House, having worked closely alongside the Home Secretary, that she does not go in for populist punitiveness. She has yet to tell me what it means, but I am sure that it was well intended.

The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, made a thoughtful speech on the analysis—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend is in his place, as he always is. He made a thoughtful analysis of the figures on police numbers, and got behind those figures to the issue of the allocation of police time, which is the really important point. The figures that he pointed out with regard to Gloucestershire and other police authorities were important. He talked about equipment compatibility, and I assure him that the National Police Improvement Agency is looking at that issue. He raised the case of Lincolnshire, in particular. We also thank my right hon. Friend for his Committee’s report, and his work on early intervention is important. This was one of the biggest gaps in the speech of the shadow Home Secretary. I was looking forward to his analysis of the causes of crime, but detail on that subject was thin on the ground. The Chairman of the Select Committee, on the other hand, gave us a thoughtful analysis of early intervention.

The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) gave an extremely interesting speech, clearly based on his experience. He put forward practical solutions focusing on how people in custody, particularly young men—he was right to refer to them—should be given more instruction, education and opportunities when they leave custody. There was a strange coming together of his ideas and those of the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who spoke from his experience of being a special constable. On these Benches, we recognise and applaud him for that, despite our party political differences. It is good for Parliament that Members undertake such duties, and there are Members in our party who do so as well. There was an interesting coming together of the two analyses. They were different in their premises, but similar in their conclusions, and they concerned what more can be done to give young men—not just young men, but those young men in particular—that added work experience. The hon. Member for Monmouth was good enough not to play yah-boo politics, which some have done in this debate, and to acknowledge the good things that have taken place. That gave his criticisms greater force, and we take those points on board.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) stood up for his constituency by calling for more resources for Dorset, and I now turn to that point. The resources provided to Dorset police authority have gone up by 47 per cent. since 1997, which is a 12 per cent. increase in real terms. I will come to this morning’s report in The Times in a moment, but police numbers in the hon. Gentleman’s authority area have increased by 179, to 1,463 officers, under this Government.

Could I move on? It is discourteous not to respond to all the points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), given his family experience—his sons are police officers—quite rightly pointed out the rather trivial nature of the Opposition slogan “the broken society”, which simply serves to talk down our country. This Government have never claimed that there are no problems in our society; of course there are—but my hon. Friend pointed out the end result of the Opposition’s policy. Opposition Members should look in the mirror in the morning and ask themselves a question. If they talk about reining in the horns of the public sector and reducing public expenditure, they cannot in all credibility come to this House and call for measures that would involve more resources, or criticise us for not providing them—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) says that they can do that, because they are in opposition.

In a brief speech, the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) made three or four important points. I will certainly ask my colleague the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing to look at the point she made about the fly-tipping project in her area. She made some important points about mental health, and the Government’s initiatives in that area should be commended, but it is right that we recognise that issue. She also praised the Muslim community, and she was right to do so.

The hon. Member for Reigate read out his speech extremely well, which is all I can say about it. I was disappointed that he did not respond to the analysis that hon. Members in various parts of the House had put forward. The Opposition should think hard about this point. They take the slogan “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” from Tony Blair, but they need to provide an analysis based on the facts of the situation. Just briefly, let us look at the resources. I assume that the article in The Times is coincidental to this debate, but again I congratulate the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on his front page this morning—well done.

Let me read out the figures for the seven forces that were criticised in the papers this morning. The article refers to Durham; I remember signing off a 30 per cent. increase for Durham police authority when I was a local government Minister; I think that the Prime Minister had some interest in that at the time. There has been a 49 per cent. increase in the number of Durham police, with 288 extra police staff. In Gloucestershire there has been a 52 per cent. increase, with 228 extra police staff. In Gwent there has been an increase of 91 per cent., with 415 extra police. In Hampshire, there has been an increase of 79 per cent., with 1,045 extra police. In North Yorkshire there has been an increase of 101 per cent., with 527 extra police staff. In Surrey, in the local county force of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, there has been an increase of 136 per cent., meaning 994 extra police staff. In South Yorkshire the increase was only 59 per cent., with 764 extra police staff. The Opposition call for more resources, but condemn the very Government who have brought them about.

I come to the analysis put forward by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell in the speech that he was kind enough to read out to the House following his speech to the Local Government Association yesterday. It really is not good enough to come along and bandy about statistics when every independent authority and every independent provider of statistics has shown that crime has fallen under this Government. It is not true to say that because we have changed the methodology of reporting violent crime, violent crime has gone up. That is the politics of 1984, and I condemn the Opposition’s motion and commend the Government’s amendment.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

Question agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).


That this House welcomes the unprecedented 39 per cent. fall in crime since 1997, with burglary down by 55 per cent. and violence by 40 per cent; notes that the chance of being a victim of crime is at an historic low; further welcomes the record numbers now entering and staying in drug treatment services; further supports the drive to tackle gangs, including measures in the Policing and Crime Bill to introduce injunctions on gang activity; further welcomes the preventative, educational and enforcement action taken to tackle knife crime, with those carrying a knife now more likely to be caught, prosecuted and imprisoned, if found guilty; considers that the Government’s determination to tackle criminal and antisocial behaviour is demonstrated by the record levels of investment in policing since 1997 and increases in the numbers of police officers and police staff to an all-time high, as well as the Government’s drive to cut police red tape to free up more time for police officers to spend on the beat; is concerned at any proposal to make sudden cuts to the Home Office budget that could lead to reductions in police officer numbers; commends the Government’s determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with local communities in the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour; and deplores talk of a “broken society” as a counsel of despair.