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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I will in a second.

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We are ensuring under the new deal, which the Conservatives deride at every opportunity, that appropriate prisoners can secure jobs for when they leave prison, so that they do not face the terrifying situation of going through the gate, going back to old haunts and to persistent offending.

Miss Widdecombe: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: I will not for a moment.

Miss Widdecombe: I bet the right hon. Gentleman will not.

Mr. Straw: I will give way to the right hon. Lady again at least four times.

In addition, the sure start programme and the working families tax credit are providing much greater support for children of low-income families. The new deal for communities is targeting the areas of greatest social dislocation and crime. It is ensuring--I am sorry that it did not happen in the past--that money is properly spent to improve behaviour in those areas, as well as the physical environment.

As we agreed when we debated the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 just before Dissolution, the whole House and the country have been profoundly shocked by the savage death of young Damilola Taylor, and our hearts go out to his family and community. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has assured me that no effort will be spared in bringing his killers to justice. We hope and pray that their huge efforts are successful.

I echo the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) that, in recent years, north Peckham had been making tentative steps towards its revival. It is extremely important for that community, and for the parents and children in that community whom I have met, that the progress of the past three years in not set back by the tragedy. Indeed, our resolve to make the area better is all the stronger.

In the past three and a half years, we have made a good start--but it is only a start. Ours is a strategy for the long term, and fundamental to it are two key factors--investment and reform. Investment in policing and crime fighting will increase by more than 20 per cent. in cash--which is almost 12 per cent. in real terms--in the next three years, with a 7 per cent. real increase in spending next year alone. That is the highest annual increase for 15 years, with targeted resources going on recruitment and technology. We are also investing record sums in closed circuit television schemes, crime reduction projects and projects aimed at tackling issues as varied as domestic violence, crack cocaine dealers and racial crime.

Mr. Llwyd: Given the crime survey figures that the Home Secretary mentioned and what he described as the successes of the new deal, why is it such a priority to deal with the so-called yob culture now?

Mr. Straw: We have to deal with crime in whatever form it occurs. In Cardiff, in the hon. Gentleman's own Principality, there is a very good example, on which we are drawing, of how excellent co-operation between police, the city council and the accident and emergency

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department led by the eminent Professor John Shepherd is working to reduce violent and alcohol-related crime. Why is it important to do that? A majority of people who go out on a Friday or a Saturday night, or on any other day of the week, have a right to be able to enjoy themselves peacefully and without being assaulted or abused by others who are drunk or worse.

It is important to do that because--this is our argument about anti-social behaviour generally--if we fail to check allegedly low-level disorder, such people get out of control in their own minds and graduate from having a pop at someone to breaking a beer glass on their heel and smashing it into someone's face. If they think that they can get away with such behaviour, they might start to think that, generally, that is the best way of resolving conflict and enriching themselves. Therefore, dealing with allegedly lower-level disorderly crime is a very important way of cutting off the graduation route between such people and higher-level organised crime. I do not see any direct contradiction--indeed, there is none--between what we are doing to deal with such behaviour and what we are doing at the more serious end of crime.

Three years ago, evidence was produced showing that, unfortunately, compared with otherwise similar low- income estates, disorderly estates on which there were higher levels of graffiti and litter and a greater sense of abuse had higher crime levels. If we nip lower-level offending in the bud, we can stop offending entirely.

Mr. Michael: I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has referred to the success of the project in Cardiff. Obviously, the situation varies from area to area, and the needs of each area have to be considered. However, will he invite hon. Members on both sides of the House to urge health authorities, police and local authorities in their constituencies to learn the lessons of the Cardiff project and to learn that it is possible to reduce the amount of violent crime that damages victims?

Mr. Straw: Yes. In doing so, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, who piloted the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 through the House. One of the central provisions of that Act--section 17--requires not only police and the local council but all the other authorities, including the health authority, to work together. The truth is that, in some areas, health authorities are working effectively together, but in others they are not. They should follow Cardiff's example. Professor Shepherd and his colleagues have shown that by co-operating with the other partners in the area to reduce alcohol-related and violent crime, health authorities can save the staff in the NHS and the NHS budget a huge amount.

Tied to our programme of investment is reform. The legislation to be introduced this Session will further help the police and their partners to use those extra resources most effectively. The two key strands of investment and reform mark out the choice on law and order between a Government who are delivering and a Conservative party trapped by its own contradictions.

We are also combining investment and reform in immigration and asylum matters. We inherited a legacy in which investment had been cut, the number of immigration service staff, astonishingly, had been cut and London and Kent local authorities were faced with an unbearable burden of asylum seekers. It was taking 20 months, on average, for an asylum decision and appeal to be determined.

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We are putting additional resources into the system and reforming it. For many years, only 30,000 to 35,000 decisions were made. In this calendar year, 100,000 decisions will be made and the target for the financial year is 150,000. Families with children are already being dealt with inside the two months plus four months target, and we are aiming to reach that target for all other applicants by the middle of next year. Some 4,000 additional staff are being taken on to improve caseworking still further and to ensure that we secure more removals.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked where the asylum and immigration legislation was. She is not interested in the answer, which is that we are setting out to implement the comprehensive Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

The real question is, what would be in the right hon. Lady's Bill? Throughout the progress of the 1999 Act, only two measures were challenged. One was the ending of cash benefits, which was a huge pull factor for port applicants. We said that cash benefits had to go and would be replaced with a national asylum support system, based mainly on the provision of support in kind. The right hon. Lady's party voted against that, so I assume that clause 1 of its proposed Bill on asylum would be the restoration of cash benefits at ports, with the consequential increase of £500 million as well as a significant increase in the numbers of unfounded claims by asylum applicants attracted to this country.

The other matter that the Conservative party voted against throughout the Act's proceedings was the civil penalty on lorry drivers carrying clandestine immigrants. If there is one measure in the Act that has made a difference and ensured a real tightening of security, not only by the immigration service but by those carrying and ferrying such clandestines, it has been the imposition of a civil penalty. Why does the right hon. Lady think that P&O suddenly decided to employ security guards? It is because, under principles of civil penalty established in 1987 by the previous Administration and taken on by us--but as the Conservatives have no memory, they have forgotten that--P&O, along with other carriers, faces the prospect of a substantial bill if clandestines are carried on its ferries. It has decided, sensibly, to tighten its security. Otherwise, hauliers might vote with their feet and go to more secure ports.

Why, at long last, has the port of Calais decided to tighten perimeter security? The answer is that it realised that under the threat of the civil penalty it would lose trade--indeed, it was losing trade--to other, more secure, ports. This measure has worked.

Miss Widdecombe rose--

Mr. Straw: Of course I will give way to the right hon. Lady. I need to hear from her whether her proposed Bill would at least be consistent with what she said before, restoring cash benefits and repealing the provisions for the civil penalty. What is her answer?

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