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Crime Levels

Volume 522: debated on Monday 24 January 2011

The two main measures of crime—the British crime survey and police recorded crime—provide either a partial or confusing picture of trends in crime since 1997. It is crucial that we have a measure of crime in which the public have confidence. That is why we have asked the national statistician to lead an independent review of how it is produced.

The picture of crime in Greater Manchester is neither partial nor confusing—between 1998 and 2009, the number of police officers rose by 1,200 and crime fell by a third. However, with the cuts imposed by this Government, Greater Manchester police will lose 1,400 police officers. Our chief constable told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that that will mean changes to policing, fewer police on the streets and a lesser service. What does the Minister—in his current role or any future exalted one—plan to do if the Government’s cuts lead to a rise in crime, as my constituents fear they will?

I should first of all point out to the hon. Lady what the chief constable of Greater Manchester police actually said. He said that

“the end result will be more resources put into frontline policing and a more efficient and effective service for the people of Greater Manchester.”

If she is going to mount her attack on the basis of police numbers falling, perhaps she will reflect on the fact that police numbers in Greater Manchester fell in the last year of the Labour Government.

Under the previous Government, more than 4,000 new offences were created—an average of 28 new offences for every month of that Government. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not have a deluge of new offences under this Government?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the previous Government’s record was repeatedly to introduce criminal justice Bills and to create more and more offences. This Government want to ensure that the police can focus on crime fighting rather than on form writing and the bureaucracy that they were landed with by the previous Government.

As the British crime survey was established by the previous Conservative Administration to produce greater accuracy in assessing levels of crime, why does the right hon. Gentleman not show the same courage as the former Home Secretary, now Lord Howard, and simply admit that crime went up inexorably until 1995, and that since then, on the Conservative’s own measure, crime has consistently fallen to one of the lowest levels that we have seen in three decades?

I note that on the right hon. Gentleman’s measure, crime started to fall two years before the advent of a Labour Government. He knows as well as I do that the British crime survey excludes important crimes—those against young people and property—and we therefore believe it is important that we have measures in which the public can have confidence. That is why we have asked the national statistician to conduct an independent review of those matters. I urge him and Opposition Members to join us in giving evidence to the national statistician. Let us reach a measure in which we can all trust and have confidence.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a DNA database, CCTV cameras and having as many criminals in prison as possible all contribute to a reduced level of crime? Would he like to comment on what impact the Government’s plans will have on levels of crime in future?

As so often, I do not agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Of course, the national DNA database and CCTV are important, but it is equally important that there is proper governance of them and that we achieve a proper balance between civil liberties and crime-fighting measures.

It is a pleasure to be working once again opposite the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I am only sorry not to be asking my first Home Affairs question of her.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said that there is no link between the number of police officers and the level of crime. However, the Birmingham Mail has reported that some parts of Birmingham have already seen a recruitment freeze, a cut in the number of officers in the neighbourhood team and a significant increase in the number of burglaries in the past nine months. The local police, who are being put in a very difficult position by the Government, have said that they are struggling to fight crime in the area as a result. Does he still stand by his claim or will he admit, to the police and the public, that he has got it wrong?

May I first welcome the right hon. Lady to her post? I look forward to debating these issues with her, although I hope she will not follow the poor example of her successor—[Laughter.] I mean her predecessor. I hope that she will not follow his poor example by partially quoting Government Members. I did not say that there was no link, and she should know that. Instead, I should point out something said by somebody with whom I believe she has regular conversations: that this was a tighter environment for police spending, and would be under any Government. That was what the new shadow Chancellor said to the Home Affairs Committee on 22 November 2010, when he was shadow Home Secretary.