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Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I thank the Home Secretary for his customary courtesy in providing the Opposition with a copy of his statement well in advance, but I draw his attention to the fact that, despite the supposed Home Office embargo, the press have had the details of the announcement drip-fed to them by Downing street over the past week. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would comment on that and tell us precisely who authorised it.

I welcome the Home Secretary's intention to expand the number of secure training places by 400, but does he accept that that is modest compared with the 1,000 places that we have already announced we will provide? If the menace of youth crime is all that he claims it to be, why will the right hon. Gentleman not match our proposals? However, bearing in mind his opposition when the previous Government introduced secure training centres, I suppose that we ought to welcome the U-turn.

I also welcome the Home Secretary's decision to consult on a new victims' charter. Will he be implementing the proposals that we have put forward for statutory rights for the victims of crime and if not, why not?

The right hon. Gentleman's document says at paragraph 3.109 that victims and witnesses--[Interruption.] Labour Members just do not want to hear this, Mr. Speaker; that's okay. The document says:

Is that not a damning indictment of the record of this Government, who in their manifesto four years ago pledged to ensure that victims were kept fully informed of the progress of their case? That manifesto pledge was broken and now we are supposed to rejoice at a consultation document, just a few weeks before a general election.

The right hon. Gentleman said that antisocial behaviour orders had removed a climate of fear and intimidation. How many orders did the Home Office estimate would be issued, and how many have actually been issued over the past two years? Are the 2,660 extra prison places on top of the 12,600 extra places over the 15 years to 2011 that

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were announced by the previous Government in March 1996? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that at any one time around 2,000 prisoners are out early on the Government's home detention curfew scheme, in which case the extra places that he has announced should be occupied by those prisoners anyway?

Will the Home Secretary tell the House--no doubt his special adviser will have told him--how many prisoners will be released earlier than they are at present as a result of the proposals in his document, especially those on custody-plus sentences? Will he also spell out in detail exactly how persistent offenders will receive tougher sentences under the Government's proposals? Will those sentences be mandatory and, if not, what guarantee is there that they will be imposed?

What exactly is the status of the Home Secretary's so-called crime plan? Despite the spin doctors' efforts to convince us otherwise, there are hardly any firm detailed proposals on the courts or on sentencing. Throughout the document, the words "consider", "examine, "might" and "possibly" are used in relation to proposals that the right hon. Gentleman's spin doctors have been putting forward over the past week as the Government's firm plans for action.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman making what is billed as a major 10-year announcement on the court system and sentencing before either the Auld report on the criminal court system or the Halliday report on sentencing have been produced? Is he aware of Lord Justice Auld's statement last week that the Lord Chancellor has assured him that, pending receipt and consideration of the report, the Government do not intend to take final decisions on issues within his terms of reference? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Lord Justice Auld has said that his review is

So, is what is in this so-called crime plan final or not? If not, how can the Home Secretary claim any credibility for proposals with which the senior judge conducting the Government's own review of criminal justice clearly wants nothing to do? Should there not be a "check against delivery" sticker on the plan as well as on the right hon. Gentleman's statement?

Under this Government, police numbers have been slashed by more than 2,500, violent crime is rising and more than 30,000 criminals have been let out of jail early. Many of the right hon. Gentleman's flagship policies have been abject failures. In other words, the Government have produced endless spin and no delivery. Even the Prime Minister said this morning, "Clearly we haven't done enough." What he actually meant was that, clearly, he has done very little.

Is it not the reality that the right hon. Gentleman was rushed into his announcement by a Prime Minister who has realised that his Government have failed to be tough on crime and to deliver on their promises? The Prime Minister thinks that the solution lies in making another set of promises in time for the election. The reality was stated by the Home Secretary's own special adviser,

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Mr. Justin Russell, who said that the right hon. Gentleman's policy "doesn't look very impressive", and that it would be, in practice,

In reality, is not today's announcement a desperate attempt to cover up the failure of child curfew orders, antisocial behaviour orders and the special early release plan, which has created more than 1,000 victims of crimes committed by perpetrators who should still have been in jail, and who would have been in jail if we had been in office? Does not the announcement attempt to cover up the first rise in crime in six years and a huge decrease in both regular police officers and specials?

Far be it from me to reject a repentant sinner, but let me say this. When we proposed measures to give victims more rights, the Home Secretary was silent. When we proposed to expand secure training centre provision, he said that it would be too costly. When we proposed cops in shops and better use of part-timers, the right hon. Gentleman shrugged. When we proposed more purpose in prison regimes, he laughed. Yet today he proposes all those things. If it has taken him so long to catch up with the Opposition, he should make way for us, which is exactly what he will have to do in a couple of months' time.

Mr. Straw: As usual, I shall endeavour to answer the right hon. Lady's questions. She spoke of the time when her party was in office. Indelible from the record of the previous Government are the facts that crime doubled while the number of people convicted of crime fell by one third. They did nothing to bring together the disparate aspects of the criminal justice system. If one thing, above all others, led to the degradation of our criminal justice system, it was the botched reorganisation of the Crown Prosecution Service in the mid-1980s and its continued underfunding throughout the remainder of the Conservatives' period in office. That is one of the many things that we have determined we will put right. Now that the economy is on track, we are able to do so by increasing total spending on the CPS by 23 per cent. in a single year.

The right hon. Lady asked a series of questions. She noted that we are promising 400 extra secure training centre places for young offenders, but asked why we would not match her pledge of 1,000 places. The reason is simply that we are not in the business of spraying promises around like confetti without any resources to pay for them, as the previous Administration did with catastrophic electoral consequences.

The best illustration of the difference between what the Conservatives said and what they would have done had they returned to office in May 1997 lies in the spending plans that they published in the month of the election. They promised 5,000 extra officers, but, as the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) will remember well, they also promised less money in real terms. That was the reality. Time and again, they made promises and refused to match them with money. We have matched our manifesto promises with action, and we have put those promises into practice.

The right hon. Lady asked about persistent offenders and whether the changes that we are flagging up would necessarily result in mandatory sentences. We shall not make a final decision on that point until we have received

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the report from John Halliday. What is plain, however, is that the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which established the present sentencing framework, is fundamentally flawed in that it does not give proper weight to the persistence of offending. That sentencing framework certainly needs to be changed. How exactly that is to be done remains to be seen, but I do not rule out the use of more mandatory sentences or of steps to ensure a proper gradation into custody if people do not accept the opportunities to get out of crime offered through more effective community punishments--just as we have provided similar steps for young offenders.

The last of the charges made against us by the right hon. Lady is that the Command Paper has, from time to time, used the words "consider" and "examine". I plead guilty to that charge. We do indeed say that we will consider and examine a number of proposals. If only the Opposition considered and examined ideas and proposals before they spoke about these matters, they would be much more effective as an Opposition.

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