HC Deb 23 July 1969 vol 787 cc1803-49

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

I am grateful for the opportunity I have of raising the question of the substantial increase which has occurred during the last 12 months in the rate of crime. I will try to be reasonably brief, Mr. Speaker, but you will realise that the House does not get many opportunities to discuss the problems of crime. This is because the Reports of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary are published shortly before the House rises for the Summer Recess. The criminal statistics may or may not be out at that time. The Opposition have probably used all, or nearly all, of their Supply Days. Therefore, there is little Parliamentary opportunity to raise the problems of crime.

Although we had a short debate in February of this year on a Motion moved by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar), and although I was able to raise the question of police manpower in January, 1968 in the debate on the Winter Supplementary Estimates, I believe that the last time that crime as such was debated was on a Motion moved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) as long ago as 8th August, 1966. Yet their is no doubt that crime is a major social problem at this time and is a matter of great concern to the people.

I do not wish to delay or bore the House by reciting many statistics, but I must quote some figures. The most recent Report of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary shows that in 1968 crime rose by as much as 8.54 per cent. over the previous year and that for the first time in living memory more than 1 million indictable crimes were committed. These statistics exclude the Metropolitan area; they are for the rest of the country, excluding London.

A closer study of the figures shows that violence is up by 11¼ per cent. and that robbery is up by nearly 14 per cent. The alarming thing about the figures is that they come after a year—1967—when the rate of increase in crime had fallen to 1.68 per cent. and when it looked for the first time as if the battle against crime was being won.

I do not have to remind the hon. Members for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) that the trend shown by the figures I have quoted for the increase in crime last year is still continuing, because a report last week by the Chief Constable of the Manchester and Salford Combined Police Force shows that in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 1968 crime in that city had risen by 13.9 per cent. and crimes of violence had risen by 40 per cent.

Although the position in the Metropolitan area is slightly better, I do not believe that it gives ground for great confidence. The Report of the Commissioner for 1968 shows that there were over ¼ million indictable crimes in the Metropolitan area. Whereas the actual increase over 1967 is only 0.8 per cent. as against that for the rest of the country of more than 8 per cent., the figure of 0.8 per cent. must be viewed in light of the fact that in 1967 there had been a reduction in crime of just over 3 per cent. in the London area.

So in the Provinces the increase seems to be flattening out as a violent and severe one. In London, although crime had decreased, it is now, although perhaps only marginally, starting to increase again.

I welcome the fact that in the Metropolitan area robbery, perhaps one of the most serious crimes, decreased by as much as 5 per cent. over the previous year.

If we look at the figures disclosed, we must also look at the other side and realise that at the same time the use of firearms has risen by about 17 per cent.

At the same time as these mounting figures have occurred, despite the efforts of the police, the rate of detection still remain abysmally low—in London under 25 per cent., one in four of all offences committed, and in the rest of the country well under 50 per cent., at which level it has been since the beginning of the 1960s. It is a sombre picture. It is a matter of concern to the people. It is a, if not the, major social problem facing us.

It is an interesting but often a fruitless exercise to discuss the causes of crime. Every hon. Member has his own views about the causes. They are not limited to Britain. The increase in crime is seen in other countries, as is the increase in violence. I have always believed that the increase in crime is, in part, a by-product of our very affluence, a by-product of materialism, that it is caused by the greater opportunities that affluence brings for crime, by society's greater mobility and, perhaps most of all, by society's greater impersonality. In part it is caused, obviously, by the breakdown of the many institutions which used to be the main traditional bulwarks against crime and by our failure as a society to put other institutions in their place.

These are long-term problems which are susceptible of solution only by long-term methods. As the Chief Inspector of Constabulary says, a change of attitude is required. I believe that the volume of crime is in itself a major cause of the increase in crime. Because people are getting away with crime to the extent I have shown, because of the amount of undetected crime, because crime is now thought to be worth the candle, we have this great increase. I believe that we have come to the stage that whereas before we could always say with certainty that crime did not pay, we find today that for a growing number of people crime not only pays but pays extremely handsomely.

When one paints that picture, there will be those who say that we should look at the other side of the coin and ask whether our punishments are right. Speaking purely for myself, I do not share that view. I believe that our system of punishment is right at this moment. The House should face the fact that as a result of the increase in violence and in crime there is a demand for such things as a return of capital punishment. I do not believe that that would meet the problem.

If one looks at the figures, although clearly murder has increased, when we compare the figures since the operation of the Homicide Act, 1957, we find that murder has increased very little in comparison to the over-100 per cent. increase in crime which has occurred during that time. The carrying of firearms has, however, increased.

I would like the Under-Secretary to tell us the view of the Government with regard to the long-term sentence and the long-term prisoner. I have no doubt that the abolitionist has to accept that with the present rate of crime and the rate of violence that we see today prison sentences will, as, I believe, they are doing, inevitably become longer. It seems to me that the duty of the Government is to provide an adequate range of punishments for the courts and to provide also adequate institutions in which those sentences can be humanely served.

I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can say what is happening with regard to the maximum security prisons. Are the Government satisfied with what is happening, or have they rejected the Mountbatten proposal, accepted the proposal of the Radzinowicz Committee and yet thrown out an integral part of that proposal concerning maximum perimeter security? If we are in the middle of an era in which long prison sentences not only are expected by society to be passed but are necessary to be passed, we must see that we have in our prisons the means whereby those sentences can be properly carried out.

I believe that there is also something else which in the short term can be done by the Government about the crime problem, and I believe that it is in the short-term solution that the Government are open to criticism for having failed in their duty. I refer to the likelihood or the certainty of arrest and conviction. I have no doubt that the only real deterrent to crime is the likelihood of arrest and the certainty of detection. People do not commit crimes with policemen standing at their shoulders.

In the forefront of the battle against crime are the police forces. I believe that an up-to-strength and adequately equipped police force is the greatest safeguard of the citizen. When we look at the present picture, however, we find that although the equipment of the police is improving they are woefully short in numbers. I regret that. what I believe was the misguided policy of the Government in deliberately limiting recruitment to the police has made the position worse than it need necessarily have been.

This is not a question of speaking merely with hindsight. As I mentioned at the outset, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of raising the question of police manpower in the Winter Supplementary Estimates debate in January 1968. Those who took part in that debate from these benches warned the Government what would happen if they continued with the policy of implementing limitations of recruitment to the police. It is certainly not with pleasure that one finds that one's warnings have proved to be correct.

To take again the forces outside London, whereas in 1967 the strength of the police increased by 3,004, in the following year, far from there being an equivalent increase there was a decrease in the number of men in the provincial police forces. From the figure of 3,004-plus for 1967 we came to a total loss of 237 in 1968. I find it no wonder that with what one might feel was remarkable restraint and understatement, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary is constrained to say in his Report: The second disappointment was that the substantial increase in police strength which we have become accustomed to in the past few years did not take place in 1968. The position today is that the police forces throughout the country are still 11,000 men short.

In the Metropolitan area, as in the figures of crime, we find a situation which is somewhat better but is still certainly not one on which anyone can afford to be complacent. In 1968 the number in the police force went up by 444, but that must be set in contrast against the previous year when the number went up by over 800. One finds from the figures that recruitment to the Metropolitan Police went down during 1968 and that only the fact that there was less wastage made a net increase in the numbers.

The position, therefore, is that in the provincial forces there is a deficiency of 11,000 in the number of the police. In the Metropolitan force there is a deficiency of over 20 per cent., or over 5,000. We find that the policies of the Government in screwing the tap as they did at the beginning of 1968, when recruitment to the police was flowing freely, have to a substantial degree caused the position that now exists.

The maintenance of law and order is one of the main tasks of any Government. In limiting recruitment to the police they have to that degree fallen down on that duty. No one would attempt to be foolish enough to blame the Government for crime as such. Crime grows in society and in environment, which Governments may or may not have something to do with creating. Where, however, I believe that the country will blame the Government is in deliberately choosing to limit the growth of security in the citizen's main arm of protection and his main safeguard against crime, namely, the police. The right of a law-abiding citizen to go his way in safety is one of the rights which any individual looks for from the Government of the day.

I now turn briefly—I will be brief on these remaining matters, and will cut short much of what I intended to say—to the other half of the problem, and that is the certainty of conviction. This is equally important with the likelihood or certainty of arrest. I am at times told that in our clear determination to safeguard the innocent from wrongful conviction, we have so balanced our laws of criminal evidence that we are forgetting that it is equally important for society that the guilty should be rightly convicted.

I am not for a moment asking today for legislation on this matter, and I appreciate that I should be out of order if I were to do so; but I think it is worth comment that in our rules of evidence, such matters as Judges' Rules on the investigation of crime, particularly our rules of evidence within the courts, we are still, nearly in the 1970s, being guided and controlled by rules laid down at the end of the last century, and really one has got to question and raise as a serious subject of debate whether such rules, as, for example, those about the silence of the accused in court, should necessarily be continued in their present form. One has to ask the question whether it is necessary to continue with the administrative Judges' Rules which we have at the moment, and whether, rather than succeeding in safeguarding the innocent, they are in fact being used as a means of manipulation by the guilty to avoid the bringing home of their guilt.

I hope that I have not, Mr. Speaker, trespassed too far against your request that one should not speak at too great length since there are many others who wish to speak. I finish by reiterating what I said at the beginning, that crime is the major social problem. It is one which concerns intimately the lives of many individual people. It is a matter which gives them great concern, and it is a matter upon which both sides of this House should press the Home Office to take whatever measures it can to see that the war against crime is won.

7.32 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) upon introducing this subject, because everyone will agree that, whether we do or do not blame the Government for the rise in crime, there is a rise in crime, and there must be a cause for it.

I want to upset, perhaps, several hon. Members here by saying that I think that all of us present, with the exception of Mr. Speaker, are in part responsible for this rise in crime. I start by bringing in all aspects of our administration. The Under-Secretary of State asked, was I going to get at the police, and I said to him, "Yes", because I think that they are in part responsible for the increase in crime. I will explain why in a moment.

I think that all the authorities generally, the Government, Ministers, perhaps the Home Secretary and his Department particularly, are in part responsible for the increase in crime. I do not say that they are deliberately and with malice aforethought; I do not say that they are consciously responsible for the rise in crime; nevertheless, they are responsible in part.

I start from the premise that if a man commits a petty crime and is allowed to get away with it then he is likely to progress to the next stage in crime, to feel that if he can get away with it it probably means, as the hon. Member for Runcorn said, that crime will pay. The hon. Member is quite right. I want to show that it does pay and is being made to pay by the acquiescence of authority, in general, if I may so call it loosely.

This honourable House—except you, Mr. Speaker—introduces so many rules, regulations and Bills which become Acts of Parliament, when we know that they cannot be enforced—and many are not being enforced. Let me illustrate. There are about 2,000 rules and regulations which affect motorists, and 1,999 of them are never enforced. By a process of what I may term the sorting out of the wheat from the chaff there is enforcement against some people and not others, and thus the law is brought into disrepute.

For instance, I took up with the Home Secretary the fact—and it is a fact—that he and his official cars park in Whitehall beside the Cenotaph on a yellow band. That is quite illegal. They stop there for more than 20 or 25 minutes. Just around the corner are proper parking facilities, and, indeed, right at the back of the Home Office is their own parking ground. Of course, no one troubles the Home Secretary or his staff or civil servants; wardens come along, police come along, but they take no action. But if Mr. Smith, or Mr. Brown, or Mr. Black comes along he immediately is plastered with a ticket.

I could quote a number of illustrations of what one might term, the law for the rich or the law for those who can get away with it, and the law for those who cannot get away with it. Recently, there was a complaint about noise being made at a party. There were 15 ratepayers and taxpayers who complained to the police; there were 15 complaints. Did the police take any action? Not at all. It happened that they knew that there were prominent personages at the party, and even although it went on until 2 or 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning and upset people the police admitted they took no action.

I had a poor coloured man in my constituency who was having a party for his children and the police got an anonymous telephone call, a tip off, that another coloured man was having a party and that it might be "a drunk party." They did not take the trouble to find out, first of all, what the party was. They were off at once. They sent round the speed cops and hundreds of police and the place was forcibly entered into, and then they found it was not "a drunk party", but was a poor children's party. At one time Lady Diana Cooper was also raided and the Assistant Commissioner of Police went along and apologised to her. He does not go along to the poor coloured chap and apologise to him.

The point I am trying to make is that we find that there is a differential in how, in some instances, the law is enforced, and how in other instances, it is not enforced against people.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elysian Morgan)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He appreciates he did not give me notice of the specific cases that he is raising, but he has raised them already with the Home Office. Would he not admit that he has had the fullest and most detailed, specific explanation in each case?

Mr. Lewis

No. I most certainly do not. That is why I am raising these questions. I do not agree that the police can investigate the police and I will certainly go into this in more detail.

However, I was going on to say that all authorities are partly responsible and I was illustrating that by quoting the 2,000 regulations affecting motorists. When one tries to see what is happening one finds that the police do enforce the law against what I may term the legitimate motorist who has done something a little illegal—for instance, a war disabled ex-Serviceman who, as recently happened, stopped on a yellow band for two or three minutes while he went to pay money into the bank. He was given a ticket. Another man can go along and, because he happens to be a representative of a big organisation, he is allowed to get away with it. I could quote a number of instances.

I want to explain what happens when a petty criminal knows he can get away with it. We had recently the question of radio and television licence evaders. The Government know that the B.B.C. is being milked of £10 million on television and radio licences, but no remedial action is taken. Occasionally, someone is caught and summoned. He may perhaps pay a £5 fine. The evasion of road fund licences accounts for even more millions of pounds than the evasion of radio and television licences. I can say quite definitely that crime does pay.

If you and I, Mr. Speaker—I am sure that you would never do such a thing—wished to, we could avoid paying for a radio and television licence and a road fund licence. The chances of being caught are 1,000 to 1. If one was caught, after 18 months or two years, one might be taken to court and might have to pay a £5 or a £10 fine, but the "wide boys" and petty criminals know that they do not have to pay it, so they do not pay it.

There is now a sum of £3½ million outstanding in fines. After three or four years a man may be fined again, and if he does not pay the police give up. There is no point in fining people if they will not pay. They cannot be put into prison. I have been told by senior police officials that the police do not trouble to prosecute; it is not worth the time and effort involved.

We are partly responsible for this because we maintain obsolete laws which cannot be enforced. Sunday trading is another example. Every day of the week cases are reported to the police, but no action is taken because, if they did so, there would be no time for anything else.

There are 2,000 rules and regulations for motorists, yet when one asks how many times action has been taken to enforce them, the answer is that there are no records. Possibly it never happens. I do not know when the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) was last stopped by the police and asked to show his insurance certificate or his road fund licence, or had his tyres and his headlamps inspected. These laws are in complete contempt. Petty criminals say, "We know that we can get away with it, so why should we worry?"

The main reason for the shortage of police is that they are "fed up" with the type of work which they have to do. The way to prevent crime is to change the whole aspect of the police force and to split it up into three, or perhaps more, sections. One section would be concerned with crime detection and report. That could be in three categories, the very serious, the not so serious and the petty. There could be a department for the enforcement of the law, and a department for crime prevention and advice in the prevention of crime, so that the police could say to a person, "If you are not careful, you will find yourself in hot water, because you are committing a petty crime. We give you fair warning that if this continues action might follow."

I would take road traffic offences away from the police and set up a road traffic enforcement department in which there would be traffic wardens and traffic control police, and which could perhaps be manned by ex-police officers who are too old for the more serious job of crime prevention. In this way there could be a better and more highly skilled police force.

I will suggest a way to find the money to do this. There are two or three profitable private enterprise security firms. The members of these firms wear uniforms very like those worn by the police and they carry arms, which is against the law, and the police know this. They park on yellow band areas. They are above the law. This job could be done by a police department which could be well paid by the private firms, and the extra money could be employed in paying a good wage to encourage recruitment to the police force.

I was surprised that the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), who is a lawyer, did not refer to the stage when the culprits are arrested and have to be dealt with. We have been told in recent months about restrictive practices in the trade union movement, and it has been said that there should be productivity agreements. I should like to see productivity agreements in the law courts. If lawyers were paid by results, cases which now take three or four years would be more speedily settled. If a lawyer were unscrupulous—and I am not suggesting that a ay lawyer is—it might possibly pay him to keep a case going longer than necessary because he gets refreshers. Plumbers, bricklayers and carpenters are not paid extra because they keep a job going longer. If they were paid refreshers, they would be "refreshing" themselves every day of the week. There should be a method of speeding up the activity of the courts.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)

Why not spin a coin?

Mr. Lewis

The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone possibly would decide it on that basis, but spinning a coin is not the fairest way of going about matters. Is it fair to keep a man waiting five years before he knows whether he is or is not being taken to court? [Laughter.] The hon. Member laughs, but there is an hon. Member in the House at the moment who has had that hanging over him for five years. I do not think that that is a laughing matter.

It is disgusting to think that a case can be pending for five years. The excuse that is put up for the delay is that it is complicated and difficult and that there are not enough courts or enough judges to deal with the number of cases. Meantime, people are kept waiting. It seems strange to think that we in Britain are considered to have the best justice in the world. I hope that we shall get to the stage of speeding up the whole process of the administration of justice in the courts.

Lastly, I would make a plea that when people in high legal office commit misdemeanours, whether of a serious or minor nature, they should be treated alike when action is taken against them. One reads so often of cases in which a prominent judge or J.P. does something wrong and the Lord Chancellor says that he will take no action. Yet Mrs. Brown, or whatever her name is, in Portsmouth does something which may or may not be so serious, and she is hardly in the prison before she receives a letter saying that she should resign her office as a justice of the peace.

I do not see why there should be this differentiation, but it does happen and is happening. This is why people say that it seems strange that if a person is rich, or is somebody particular, he can get away with it. That is the situation at the moment. There are people who are getting away with it, and they can get away with it. We in this House are partly responsible because we bring in so many rules and regulations which are not enforceable. A few scapegoats are picked upon, the law is brought to bear, and the real culprits get away.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

I wish to turn my attention to one aspect of the rise in crime, a matter which concerns me very much indeed, and which I know concerns many of my constituents. It is the alarming rise in robberies in which firearms are used. The use of firearms too often results in dead or wounded people being left behind at the scene of a crime. Firearms carried by a thief turn him from a common thief into a gangster, with all that implies.

Since my constituency is in the Greater London area, I will contain my remarks to what is set out in the 1968 Report of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I refer, in particular, to his remarks on firearms, and I should like to quote one or two passages from his Report since they are worthy of our close attention. He says, on page 53: Over one-seventh of all robberies and assaults with intent to rob were carried out with the aid of firearms… He is, of course, dealing with the London area. There was a rise of 17 per cent. in the number of indictable crimes in whch firearms were used but in the case of robberies or assaults with intent to rob, the increase was 31 per cent. He adds: The increase is disturbing and shows that, despite efforts to curb the sale of weapons, there are still plenty available for criminal use. How right he is. Guns can be purchased without very much difficulty. It guns can be purchased in that way, individual freedom is once more endangered and the situation could easily flow over into a rash of violence such as is now happening in America, a circumstance which, fortunately, we have kept out of this country.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) said that he thought the security companies should be taken over by the police. I shall not pursue that argument, but I know a little about security companies and, personally, think they are filling a badly-needed rôle in protecting, in particular, cash.

It is interesting to see how those companies have moved openly into the use of armoured vehicles. This is something industry might well have thought about, but did not. It is equally interesting to see that the armour which is being provided is at present considered to be suitable for protection against shotguns. At least one security company to which I have spoken, is thinking of even heavier armament to cope with pistols and rifles. It is extraordinary that we can talk about these things in our country, but we must grasp that the gunman in crime is a reality. The gunman in crime means that, if he is to secure his ends, heavier weapons will be used.

Having mentioned the security companies. I am glad to see that banks are becoming conscious that they, too, have a responsibility to their employees. We have seen the metal grilles in banks to protect their staff when paying out money and most of their cash is carried in armoured vehicles. After all, in London the theft bill amounts to £22 million a year, which is big business by any standards.

I want now to come to the position of post offices and sub-post offices. A sub-postmaster told me recently that the closing of banks at the weekends has meant that sub-post offices are carrying much larger quantities of cash than ever before in their history. With the increase in the amount of cash held in post offices comes an increase in the danger to people who set out to serve the public.

I look upon those who serve in a post office as servants of the State and of the public and demanding of our special attention. Yet, so far, they have been provided with an almost risible amount of money to protect their offices—certainly, a sum nowhere near large enough to give them security for which they have a right to ask. We should consider whether sufficient protection is being given to these people.

I quote the Commissioner once again, since he touches on this point. He says: Young criminals, whose highest ambition was to snatch a purse in the market place, now without hesitation attack elderly sub-postmistresses and ordinary men and women, many so unprepared, taking money to and from the banks. He went on to say that the rise in the proportion of these offences in which firearms were used or thought to be used was 14.6 per cent. in 1968. I suspect that in view of the increasing sums of cash being held, this figure may well rise even more. It will be a great tragedy if we have to wait for an elderly sub-postmistress to be gunned down before we take the matter seriously and spend the money required.

Surely we must now realise that, at least in the matter of firearms, the punishment no longer deters the criminal. There has been a 31 per cent. rise in the use of firearms in robberies in London. Of the £22 million lost by theft, only 10.5 per cent. of that total of property was recovered. We must face the fact that crime is paying and that it is paying more if the criminal carries a gun.

It forces me to ask the question which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle): are our sentences now stiff enough to deter? Is a £200 fine or six months' imprisonment a sufficiently high penalty for having a machine gun on one's premises? Is 14 years in prison really enough for the man who carries a gun during a robbery, presumably with intent to wound? Are we protecting the servants of the State properly, and, in particular, those for whom we are most responsible, like sub-postmistresses and sub-postmasters and those who work in the Post Office proper?

Finally, are we spending enough on the detection and prevention of crime? I hope that the Minister will deal with these points.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) ranged over a wide area in introducing this debate. Hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel indebted to him for providing this opportunity to discuss a matter of such considerable importance. The hon. Gentleman referred to the city of Manchester and to the recent publicity there has been about the growth in crime there, comparing current statistics with those of earlier years. In New York, they say that if anyone is murdered in Central Park after 6 p.m. he has committed suicide because he was crazy to go there at that time. Notwithstanding all the recent publicity, it is not like that in Manchester.

The hon. Member readily appreciates that we must get the whole question of crime statistics into some perspective. What has happened in Manchester in recent months is extremely serious and merits very careful attention by the House. Judge Edward Steel, speaking in the Manchester Crown Court on 4th July, said that 689 cases involving crimes of violence had been committed in Manchester and Salford during the first five months of this year. That was 50 per cent. more than for the same period last year. Moreover, Judge Steel's statement anticipated the statistics which were published for Manchester and Salford last week.

The statement made in the Manchester Crown Court on 4th July was not the only one to have been made by judges in the city recently. Another judge said that the increase in crimes of violence was … bringing disgrace to Manchester. And another judge has said: It is a terrible indictment of our times that people are not allowed to walk in the centre of the city without being attacked and attempts made to rob them. I want to express in this debate the genuine concern of people in Manchester about the increase in the incidence of crimes of violence. I also want to question why we should be faced with this substantial increase. There are those who regard the principal reason as being that the Manchester and Salford constabulary is below strength. Recently, some of my hon. Friends representing the City of Manchester, and myself, had a meeting at the Home Office with the Under-Secretary to discuss this and other possible causes for the increase in crimes of violence.

It is palpably wrong that the police force in Manchester and Salford should be below its permitted strength. I recognise that there are problems in recruiting and retaining policemen. It is not an easy job, especially when crimes of violence are increasing. Other forms of employment are increasingly more attractive. I am glad to see that we have now been joined by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who takes a close interest in these matters on behalf of the Police Federation. He will be interested to know that I am asking whether the increase in crimes of violence is partly due to the difficulty in recruiting and retaining policemen.

I am prepared to defend increases in public expenditure, if necessary, to bring the Manchester and Salford police force up to strength and to bring other constabularies in the country up to strength. I want it to be demonstrated that they are staffed by people who feel that their salaries and conditions of employment are acceptable. There are, of course, those who are always calling for reductions in public expenditure. On a number of occasions hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite attack increases in public expenditure, yet ask for more and more public expenditure in their own constituencies.

I am prepared to stand up and be counted as someone in favour of increasing public expenditure if that is needed to bring our police forces up to strength and to see that the courageous men who serve in these forces have satisfactory conditions of employment. This is but one of the possible reasons for the recent increase in crimes of violence.

Others say that the crime detection rate has improved. There has certainly been an increase in the mobility and efficiency of our police forces, which many of us feel should be recognised and rewarded. A Parliamentary Answer given by the Home Office to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose), is a remarkable tribute to the increased efficiency of the Manchester and Salford force. Anyone who studies the statistics in that reply would find that there has been a marked increase in the efficiency of the force. I hope that my hon. Friend in reply will say something about the increase in the rate of crime detection in recent years.

Again, there are those, including a psychiatrist who recently spoke about the problem in Manchester, who say that the increase in crime is because of the clubs in that swinging city which are open at all hours. The psychiatrist pointed out that this is not conducive to good living and that we should keep a more careful watch on the activities of clubs, especially in the centre of Manchester. But not all crimes committed in Manchester are committed by Mancunians. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), among others, has pointed out to the Home Office that we should take account of that fact.

Magistrates, for their part, have said that lack of parental control is an important factor and that parents should seriously consider the consequences of ignoring their responsibilities. We have heard, and seen in the Manchester Press, criticisms of the permissive society, or the civilised society, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer called it last week-end. But I am concerned about another possible cause which is of concern both to criminologists and sociologists. I refer to the problem of anonymity. In recent years Manchester has had its heart torn out. Slum clearance has gone on at a very rapid rate. Indeed, one would look far to find a city in Britain where slum clearance has taken place at a faster rate.

I suggest, without any political bias—for it is not an opinion but a fact—that slum clearance and house building was better under the former Labour-controlled city council than under a Conservative-controlled city council. Even so, there has been a rapid increase in housing development in recent years.

Some people feel that ripping up the roots of whole communities and seeking to transplant them in other parts of the conurbation is bound to create social problems of the kind that we are now witnessing in Manchester.

Wythenshawe, which I represent, has been called the first new town in this country. It is a place where people from the central and older parts of Manchester have come to live. It is populated in large part by younger families, and there are many thousands of teenagers. I have pressed national and local authorities again and again to improve social amenities for young people in the new areas of Manchester. For we are bound to have crime problems if housing development is out of pace with the provision of social amenities. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has given loan sanction for the building of the Wythenshawe Leisure Centre at a cost of £1,350,000. There has been considerable improvement recently in the provision of social amenities in the new areas of Manchester and I hope that this trend will continue.

My hon. Friend will perform a very useful task if he will consult other Departments of State and the local authorities about the deeper social problem which, as I believe, at least in part, sub-serves the increasing crime rate in Manchester and Salford. I prefer spending money on increasing social amenities than on expanding the grim old gaol at Strangeways.

Of course, I agree with the hon. Member for Runcorn that it is important that there should not only be the likelihood of arrest, but also the certainty of conviction. Here, I pay tribute to the dedication of the Manchester and Salford police force in all that it has done in this respect.

Finally, I press my hon. Friend to let us have an early reply to the representations made by hon. Members representing Manchester constituencies when they went to the Home Office. My hon. Friend is a remarkably civilised man. I know him well enough to appreciate that anything he can do to illuminate the causes of this problem, and to give us the comparative statistics by which to set the problem in perspective, he will be glad to do.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) for initiating this debate. I can think of no subject more important for the House to address its attention to.

The increase in indictable offences last year was disturbing and disappointing after what happened the year before. Particularly disturbing is the increase in crimes of violence. It is of the greatest importance to improve methods of detection and to step up the rate of detection. If we could convince every would-be offender that if he offended he would be caught, we should probably have no offenders. But nobody imagines that in the foreseeable future we will so step up the rate of detection to eliminate this social evil, which has got worse in recent years.

I should like to call attention to another aspect of the problem. What is needed, above all, is a change in public attitudes. This is a sphere in which we can all help. It would be wrong for me to discuss recent events in Havant and Petersfield, which have attracted the attention of the Press. I merely say in vacuo, without passing any comment on the practice of carting people through the streets in handcuffs, that it is not a great thing to ask of a citizen in a responsible position that he or she should be prepared to promise to be of good behaviour for a period.

What worries me is that there seems to be a lack of discipline in society today, a lack of respect for established institutions, and, unfortunately, all too often, an unwillingness to give the police the help which they deserve. If mature people are prepared to make a nuisance of themselves with the police, what are the young and the impressionable to think? I know from experience that the police do not get the co-operation from the public which they deserve. Cases of vandalism have occurred very close to where I live.

People living nearby were very ready to complain about the hardship and inconvenience that they were suffering as a result of this vandalism, but when ques- tioned by the police, and when it was all too apparent that they knew quite well who the offenders were, they were not prepared to say anything. They did not want any trouble with the neighbours. They did not want to start an argument with them if they got little Johnny into trouble, but they knew quite well that it was little Johnny who caused all the trouble.

I must remark upon the trend towards permissiveness in recent years. There is the violence on television, and sex on the stage and in films. I find it difficult to believe that this has not had some influence upon the attitudes and behaviour of young people. I doubt whether we shall see any improvement in criminal statistics until the whole tone of national life is improved. Happily, these things seems to go in cycles, and I believe that at last reaction has set in—and a good thing, too.

But I am more disturbed by the recent trend in the treatment of young offenders. We seem to have been doing our best in recent years to blur entirely in the minds of young people the distinction between right and wrong. We seem to set little store on discipline. I doubt whether we can teach a child self-discipline unless we have first taught him discipline. He must be taught at an early stage that he should obey people older than himself, because the chances are that they are a little wiser than he is. The trend has been the other way. All too often, and with the best intentions, people have, through their reforms, made it increasingly difficult for young people to understand what is expected of them, and what is their duty towards society.

It is a problem for all of us. I am not indicting the Government. There is food for thought for the whole community in these dismal and disturbing figures.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I agree with the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) that this is a serious problem—perhaps the most serious the country faces. I am as perplexed as other hon. Members in trying to put my finger on a solution. All our attempts at solutions are tentative. Before I put forward suggestions that I conceive will be of some assistance in reducing the amount of crime, I want to refer to the speech that we have just heard. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) adverted to the refusal of some people in Portsmouth to be bound over. He was critical of their attitude. It ought to be said, in respect of an issue concerning the attitude of the community towards crime, that it is essential that the administration of our criminal laws is seen to be fair and just in the eyes of the community and that nothing could bring it into greater disrepute than that the law should be exercised in a way that seems flagrantly unjust to the community.

I am concerned not so much that there is a power to bind over even those who have not been convicted. It is a power which I conceive still to be of considerable use in maintaining public order. I do not believe that because a law was passed in 1361, or became part of the common law from time immemorial, that it is useless. The power to bind over, even where there has been no conviction, is a useful and salutary method of dealing with potential disturbance. But this was not such a case. There was no real disturbance. There was a threat to public order, which comes from any assembly of people in large numbers.

I am not criticising the police in this respect; no doubt they were right to make an arrest. Since the case has not been tried I do not wish to prejudge anything that might be said about it. But in my view, in binding over when the question was simply one of remand on bail, the magistrates went beyond their province. They bound over people who believed that they had committed no offence, who pleaded not guilty, and who were resisting the prosecution on the basis that they had a right peacefully to demonstrate. That opinion is now shared by a wide section of the community. Without in any way prejudging the case, I submit that the hon. Member should not be quite so hostile to those involved. They thought that they were acting properly and peacefully and that in the circumstances they were unjustly treated.

Mr. Waddington

I did not think that I was being unduly hostile. I tried to put the case in the most moderate language possible. I thought that I made the point that I was not prepared to become involved in any sort of argument about the merits of the case. I was not condoning all that happened as a result of the refusal to be bound over.

Mr. Lyon

I have adverted to that for long enough. I ought to continue with my speech.

In my view four possibilities are open to us in deciding how to reduce the level of crime. First—and this is adverted to most frequently by every self-styled moralist—there is the question of the moral climate of the community. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne referred to it. Undoubtedly it must be of some significance. One of the purposes of any kind of reasonable education system, and one of the purposes of any kind of religious and moral training, is the hope, which seems to be proved by experience of centuries, that we should create a community where self-discipline becomes part of the fibre of most of the community.

I do not belittle any reference to methods of improving the moral climate of the community; in my off days on Sundays I do what I can to promote a proper moral climate from the pulpit. But I suggest that we should be chary of seeking an easy remedy in this way. The connection between crime and the wider use of sex and violence in films and books is very tenuous. It may exist, but we simply do not know at the moment; our techniques for social observation by sociologists are not sufficiently advanced for us to know how far this has a causative effect on crime. It is to be hoped that such bodies as the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge will ultimately provide us scientifically with some of the answers which so far we do not know.

It is easy to whip up a witch hunt against the foibles and practices of those whom we dislike on the pretence that we are thereby creating a better moral climate in the community. It was on just such a pretence that we manufactured Victorian prudery and the witch hunts which have taken place throughout history. There is much to be said for what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor at the weekend called the civilised society, in which subjects which were normally considered not suitable to be discussed ten, fifteen or twenty years ago are now openly and rationally discussed, because it seems to me that in such a climate we can get at the significant social problems which exist in our community. I should be reluctant to give aid and comfort to any body of public opinion which wanted to reduce the extent of permissiveness on the basis that that would contribute either to a lessening of crime or, even more tenuously, to a general improvement in the social climate in this country. The whole matter is far too speculative.

May I give an example? The Chief Constable of my local area—the York and Yorkshire, North Riding and East Riding, Police Force, which is a gargantuan title applying to the amalgamated police force—in his recent report upon the state of crime in the area spoke of the causes of crime. In so far as he referred to matters directly within police experience, he was obviously right to put them before the public, but he added that in his view part of the reason for the increase in crime was the higher taxation in recent years.

With the greatest respect, in my judgment that is nonsense. There is no connection which can be seen in criminal statistics between the amount of taxation, either in this country or in any other country, and the amount of crime which exists in those countries. If we consider cases of fraud, and even simply tax cases, we find that the number is infinitesimal against the general background of the relationships inside a community. I therefore find this a wholly unacceptable thesis as a cause of crime, and I deeply regret that the Chief Constable thought fit to give publicity to what may be a good talking point in cocktail parties in the North Riding but which seems to me to have no basis in fact.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Would not the hon. Gentleman at least accept that high taxation normally brings with it high levels of tax avoidance and that to the extent to which tax avoidance becomes widespread it reduces the status of the law in the eye of the citizen? Is not that true of racing and many other matters?

Mr. Lyon

If the hon. Member is talking about tax avoidance, then in the technical sense all that one does is to conduct one's affairs within the law in such a way that one does not pay tax. I do not think that that encourages law- lessness. If he is talking about tax evasion, then I agree that that is a criminal instinct which would be encouraged by higher taxation. But if he is saying that because there is an increase in tax evasion—about which he may have some information which I do not possess—that is reflected in wider criminal practices throughout the country, I do not agree with him.

The number of people who are paying Income Tax by P.A.Y.E. represents such a large proportion of the total community that it is highly unlikely that their attitude towards their tax returns will encourage them in crime in other directions. With some slight experience of criminals, from my professional life, I can say that I have found that most of them are on P.A.Y.E. when they are working and that they do not come within those practices of tax evasion which normally fall within Schedule D.

We must be chary on the subject, although sociologists clearly have something to tell us, and the Ministers of religion and the teachers have something to do, to help in reducing the tendency of people to commit crime—in other words, to encourage self-discipline. But if self-discipline is not present, what can be done about applying discipline? It is important not to get the matter out of perspective. Even in 1967, the last full year for which we have figures, only 250,000 people were convicted if indictable offences. Granted the number of offences committed is five times the number of those who are ultimately brought before the court and the number of those who committed such offences may have been twice as large. But that is still only one in 200 of the population, a very small proportion.

How are they to be deterred? One way is punishment, one of the objects of which is to deter the recurrence of the crime, either by the person concerned or others. I accept that it must be sufficiently severe to be a deterrent, but I do not believe that capital punishment comes within that category, for reasons which have been well adumbrated on other occasions. I do not intend to go into them now. It is still true that about two-thirds of murders are committed within the family situation, where there is no question of the murderer being a criminal in any other sense, and no question of a repetition.

Murder is a unique offence, and not really related to the tendency towards crime in other spheres. But there is a case for saying that a man like Richardson or Kray, who is prepared to go to almost any length to extend his criminal empire, is not to be deterred by anything less than the severe sentences of imprisonment which have been passed in recent years.

I recognise all the difficulties of maintaining a human being's fibre during a period of imprisonment that can extend beyond 15 years. This has its difficulties for the Prison Service, but society is entitled to say that for such people there must be some kind of deterrent in punishment.

Fortunately, such people are rare, and the kind of punishment required to deter the ordinary, run-of-the-mill criminal is much less, and our system of punishment is sufficiently comprehensive to deal with everybody who might fall within the net, as is shown by the fact that our present maximum sentences are rarely required in passing deterrent sentences. But we must recognise that where an offence becomes part of the normal ambit of a criminal who is constantly coming before the court the longer sentences have less effect than the certainty of conviction. Detection, and then conviction, are the most important part of reducing the tendency to crime.

A good deal has been said about the police and recruitment. I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to deal with from the figures he has. A great deal can still be done in mobilising the police more efficiently to meet the challenge of criminals who are becoming much more sophisticated and have at their command resources which are not yet matched sufficiently well by the police.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say something about the effect upon crime of new experiments like the Panda cars, the unibeat system of vehicles, introduced recently. I have great hopes of the Accrington system and similar types of unibeat policing, which, in my view, are likely to provide a very effective deterrent to crime by placing the policeman in the locality sufficiently frequently and sufficiently obviously to be a real deterrent. As the hon. Member for Runcorn said, if we had a policeman behind every potential criminal when he was about to commit a crime, we would have no crime. That is self-evident.

I want to come to the point about the certainty of conviction. If we could catch sufficient criminals—as we do not now—and bring them before the courts and they recognised that having been caught they would be convicted whenever they had committed a criminal offence, this would be the greatest deterrent of all. But one of the defects of our legal system is that a man still has a very considerable chance of avoiding the just penalty for his deeds provided that he knows how to set about appearing before the court and how to handle the police when he is in a police station. Provided he keeps silent and does not make a statement his chances of acquittal are very considerable.

When we have a system of law that puts a premium upon deceiving the police, upon playing the game in such a way as to avoid one's just deserts, we should really reconsider it. I agree with the hon. Member for Runcorn that our legal system was fashioned at the end of the last century in relation to the procedures then for dealing with criminal offences. It was fashioned at the time when we were passing away from the notion that the criminal never went into the witness box, that his case had to be proved by other evidence and that he was not allowed to say anything at all.

When the time came to allow the criminal to say something, clearly the community thought that it was wise to put protection around this new right, For people who were largely ignorant, largely uneducated, there clearly was a case for saying that a man should not be compelled to say anything which might incriminate him and that he should be given every opportunity of not saying anything unless he wished to do so. Now we have a different stage of society when everyone—or almost everyone—is educated, when a great many criminals are sophisticated, when frequently the man who commits an offence is the man who is most likely to be able to give satisfactory evidence about what went on and when even the man who is accused, perhaps wrongly, of an offence is best able to explain all the suspicious circumstances that have occurred.

It seems ludicrous that before one can get to the stage of getting that evidence before some impartial body one has to wait right until the end of the trial, often at assizes or quarter sessions, which take place long after the offence has been committed, and after the police have been put to great expense and difficulty in preparing their case against the accused.

I have, therefore, become persuaded—I must confess that I was not persuaded at the time—by the dissenting opinion of the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) in the report of Justice published in 1960. It seems to me that the argument which he there advanced is very cogent—that the time has now come to remove the right to silence from accused people.

At a very early stage, when the police have marshalled sufficient evidence to show some kind of prima facie case, the accused should be asked in the presence of a magistrate, or some other independent person, to give an explanation, and that explanation should be taken down in writing and should be signed there and then. The person asked to give the explanation should not be allowed to say, "I refuse to answer", or, if he does, that should be evidence against him at his trial. In these circumstances, at a very early stage, when all the matters are fresh in people's minds, the explanation given by the suspect would be taken into account.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will not my hon. Friend go one step further than that and say that if a person had to make this confession or statement he would have the right to have his legal representative present so that the statement would not be made just to the police?

Mr. Lyon

I was coming to that very point. The difficulty which I have so far experienced with this proposal is whether an admission or a description of what had happened, a statement of what had happened, made only to the police, should be allowed as evidence in the proceedings. At present, most statements are made only in the presence of police officers. There is much to be said for moving to a situation where only statements made before a magistrate, or some other independent body, would be admissible as evidence at the trial. If we continue to allow statements in the, presence only of police officers, all the present disadvantages of the present system continue.

I do not want to be in any way critical of police officers, but there is no doubt—and all those who have practised in the courts will recognise this—that at times the present rules have to be bent by the police if they are to acquire the evidence they want. Although I do not believe most of the stories that criminals tell about being beaten or tortured by the police—they always seem quite far-fetched—it is right to say that the police create conditions within the police station in which the accused is led to make some statement about what happened. It is partly psychological persuasion, partly the set up which terrifies him and partly because he is sometimes led to believe that it will be good for him to make a statement.

However it is done, it offends against the spirit of the Judges Rules, although not necessarily against the explicit instruction of the Judges Rules. I believe it to be sometimes necessary for this to happen, or there would not otherwise be the number of convictions that there are, but it carries with it the danger that an innocent man can be convicted. After all, in the one clear case that we have of an innocent man who was convicted, Timothy Evans, he made two statements to police officers in circumstances which were criticised at the time, statements which were admissions of guilt.

Therefore, in order to avoid that altogether and to avoid any suggestion by the police that statements in circumstances like that could be helpful to the accused, it would be better to get away from accepting as evidence any statements made when only the police were present. One would use the evidence which the police officers had as a prima facie case of guilt before an investigating magistrate to whom the suspect would be asked to give an explanation. His explanation could then be investigated and become evidence at the trial.

This would be the major step forward towards getting a greater conviction rate and thereby a greater reduction in the number of crimes now committed.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Mark Carlisle) for not being able to hear his speech, but I am grateful to him for having raised this matter. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) made a thoughtful speech, but he under-estimated the practical difficulties which would arise if the police could not use the statements made to them, often in difficult circumstances but always after a caution. Of course there are exceptions, but, usually, any person who is taken to a police station is cautioned before being asked to make a statement. This is a real safeguard.

The hon. Gentleman should be very hesitant in proposing that those statements which are made after a caution should not be admissible in court unless an independent legal adviser had been present.

With much of his speech, however, I agree. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech over the weekend about the civilised society. I thought it was very relevant to that debate, and was in character for the Chancellor, who has given much thought to these questions. I honour him for what he said.

I would, nevertheless, oppose to his ideas of the civilised society, which I support, the notion of a responsible society. Recent legislation may well have increased our social freedom, as I believe it has, but there is a danger of its removing that sense of felt responsibility which an individual has for his family, his community, his country and himself.

This is a large philosophical area into which, perhaps, I should not tread, but I would place alongside the notion of a civilised and permissive society that of a responsible and self-reliant society. Discipline is important as well as permissiveness.

As far as the police are concerned, the House knows that I have an interest. And I start by pointing out that the demands upon the police over the last five or 10 years have multiplied enormously, whether from traffic, from crime, from demonstrations, or through the many laws which we pass and with which they must familiarise themselves. Also, there are the new problems of drugs and violence.

The police are also in the midst of what amounts to a revolution in their methods and organisation. I believe that the recent amalgamations have been generally a useful step forward. There may be more to come. But we should now let the police service have time to settle down. Do not let us have another set of amalgamations and regional reorganisations until we have consolidated the new forces.

There have also been important changes bringing civilianisation to the service, new responsibilities for the traffic wardens. All of these create problems as well as solving problems.

Then there is the new unit beat system. I have had the opportunity of visiting a whole series of forces and observing this system in operation. On the whole, it has been a success. But I hope that the Under-Secretary will accept that it it not yet an entirely demonstrated success. I hope that it will spread across the country and will become more effective, but there is much work still to be done to perfect it. We must ensure for instance that the collator, who is the key to the system, has the training and the backing which are essential to his function.

Then there is the virtual revolution in equipment, in the whole technology of policing. The Research and Planning Branch does excellent work and is a credit to the Home Office and to the country. With the use of the personal radio and, very soon, of the computer and other modern accessories, the police are undergoing a technological revolution. They have taken to it well. In the process they have overtaken the American police in their policing techniques. In broad terms, they are not only the most organised and dedicated police forces in the world, but are becoming the best equipped.

Given these enormous new demands upon the police and the rapid changes in their organisation and technology, there will gradually have to be a new kind of policeman, too. New kinds of policemen already are growing up in the forces. On the whole, they are younger. They have to deal with more sophisticated problem, requiring an increasingly high quality of man. But as we gradually develop more sophisticated and professional police forces, composed of better educated and better trained men, these men must have the rewards that go with a professional and sophisticated service. I do not wish tonight to press the Minister in the direction in which he knows I am going. It is perfectly plain.

The police force of today and tomorrow requires several things. It requires the right rewards, but that is for another moment. It requires, as my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn said, to be backed up by the magistrates. It requires more men on the job.

I echo what has been said by many people when I say that the present absurd situation is that there are three sets of strength in each force. There are the established strength, the permitted strength and the actual strength. It is time that there were only two strengths. We should have the establishment. I realise that all kinds of researches are going on into what an establishment should be. But we should get away from the permitted strength, which arose largely from the financial crisis of two years ago. I hope that it will soon be possible to be done with the whole notion of permitted strength with a financial ceiling and to relate the actual strength to the genuine establishment that the forces should have.

However much the police service may change, at the base of everything it does is the constable. His status is the crucial element within the service. I hope that the Under-Secretary, who is shortly to take the chair of the new working party on rank structure within the service, will accept from me that there are two important points which that working party should consider. First, if rank structure is being considered, the territorial pattern of organisation must also be considered within each force. I do not know whether in future we shall be able to have the division and sub-division arrangement that we have always had. I suspect that the pattern of organisation will have to be considered alongside of rank structure.

My second point concerns the status of the constable. After two years' probation a man may take his examination to become a sergeant. Very often he may be promoted sergeant within three or four years of joining the force, and this is right. We want to encourage the young man to get ahead.

If, however, a man is capable of passing the examination, being promoted sergeant and sent out on the beat, by the same token he should be able to enjoy all the incremental advantages of a constable during the same period. That is to say, if, within four or five years of joining the force, a constable can become a sergeant, he should certainly be able to come on to the top scale of a constable's pay during that same period. At least, that should be the aim towards which we should move.

My last point concerns something for which I give the Government credit. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer started the very useful working parties in the Home Office. He set in train a structural revolution in the service which has been fruitful. He has been succeeded by the Home Secretary, whose knowledge of the police is very great, as I have reason to know. But I hope that present and future Ministers—who may come from this side of the House—will accept that if they want to tackle the problems of crime and to deal with the police they must do so in close consultation with those who are elected to represent the police.

It is vital that the closest consultation should be undertaken between Home Office Ministers and those who represent the police organisations, all of them. I am sure that the Minister has this very much in mind and that this would contribute to dealing with the problems of law and order.

9.2 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) for raising this matter and for some of his observations. His point about deterrents apparently not having great effect and increased deterrents not reducing crime are interesting. I think it is true to say that violent punishment does not necessarily provide the answer to violent crime. I think, too, that the hon. Member's point that because we are an affluent society we are more susceptible to crime is important. There is more money about. More people carry more money and leave it in their houses and go away from their houses for longer periods and leave property and often money inside.

I do not, however, agree with the point made by the hon. Member that we must not consider the long-term causes of crime, because we in this House and local authorities, in our decisions and in our actions, have to consider carefully what will be the effect on crime and other things a number of years hence.

I think it is true to say that the increase in crime is greater in the big cities than elsewhere. We want to know what part of our great cities this applies to. A survey of juvenile delinquency a few years ago in Manchester revealed that it was highly concentrated in those areas around the inner circle of the city where housing was worse and in areas, such as Wythenshawe, where there was new housing but not the amenities to go with it.

I think it is true to say that the solution of some of our problems lies not only with the Home Office but with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and with the local authorities. An unsettled life, particularly in the early years, is a cause of crime. It is significant that when some fairly deep research was undertaken by the Home Office Research Unit and published in a Report entitled "Delinquent Generations", the report stated that a particular generation of children has had unusually heavy delinquency rates. Children born between 1935 and 1942 have been more delinquent over the whole post-war period than those born in any other seven-year period. Moreover, the highest delinquency rates have occurred among those children who were four or five years old during some part of the war and this suggests the possibility that disturbances at such ages may have a particular harmful effect. It went further—and this was in 1955—and said that youths aged between 17 and 21 who would have been expected because of their years of birth to be exceptionally delinquent had been found more delinquent than could have been foretold. This group is now in the age range 31 to 35, and there needs to be some thought about whether this group is providing the leadership of much of the crime which exists today, and not only the leadership but the actual committal of the crimes.

The war caused unsettlement, but unsettlement is now being caused by the urban renewal of our great cities, particularly in those areas which are to become clearance areas where many of the houses are both occupied and unoccupied. Local authorities ought to remember this and get these clearance areas tackled early and rebuilt as soon as possible. The blank, bleak area around the centre of Manchester, with the bright lights at the centre, at the moment provides some cause of crime. We have got to look at city centres. Are clubs an incitement to crime? I believe that many of them, and the circumstances in which they operate can be. We have had a tremendous growth in amusement arcades which are an attraction to the young and take them into city centres where they are affected.

We live in an age when violence is news, and unfortunately it is also "good" entertainment. Television producers and programme controllers have got to consider this aspect particularly carefully. During the years after the war when I taught at school boys changed from people who had fights with fists to young men who put a boot in and carried offensive weapons around, and from the television screen they learned all the tricks of wrestling and violent assault.

The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) mentioned the question of school and discipline. I agree that changes in school can be effected and that schools can be more democratic, but this is only possible if the changes are made within an atmosphere of order. We must not assume from that that schools which have tough discipline where the boys are told, "You do it because we know better" are necessarily the schools which will have the fewest delinquents. The escape from school into the freedom of the outside world, the freedom to do as they like and as they think, can itself be an inducement to lawlessness.

The likelihood of arrest has been described by a number of hon. Members as the best deterrent. I think it is important, in view of what the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) said about the 25 per cent. rate, to look at Manchester and Salford, particularly in this range of indictable offences of violence against the person. Last year in Manchester and Salford there were 1,033 such cases. In 889 cases, 86.1 per cent., they were cleared up. In Lancashire, in the area of the Lancashire constabulary, there were 933 cases of which 892 were cleared up, a 95.6 per cent. clearance rate.

It is important that these figures should be known so that anybody committing such an act in Manchester or Salford should know that the odds against his getting away with it are six to one and in Lancashire 20 to 1. We should give the utmost possible support, and the public should, too, to the police in improving that figure.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I apologise for not having attended the whole debate. I do not intend to go over the same ground as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) but, as a magistrate for many years, I should like to say a word about the police.

One thing which has contributed to the lack of discipline and order among the younger generation is the lack of some form of national service. I am not advocating that young men should serve compulsorily in one of the Armed Forces, but that far greater encouragement should be given to our young people to undertake some form of service, either in their own country or overseas, which will be of benefit to the world. I know from the experience of my own family that this has a steadying effect.

If only we could reduce the number of traffic offences the police would be relieved of the immense amount of work which has resulted from the enormous increase in the number of cars on the road. A person in a car following an elderly gentleman who is trotting down the middle of the road on a Saturday afternoon becomes quite a different person from the person he is when he is walking along the pavement.

An increase in the number of policemen in cars and on motorcycles patrolling the roads would have a great effect on the way in which we drive and behave on the road. There is one section of the road in the Isle of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, where every three or four miles one sees a police car. When I am driving in that part of the country I travel with far more care because I expect to see a white car with the word "Police" painted on it, and so do many other drivers. In contrast, when I travel across my home county to Norwich, which is 48 miles away, even at peak traffic hours I never see a police car on the road.

There is a great shortage of police, and I know the reasons for this. We do not want a huge, privileged police force, but we want the very best. The work of a policeman is tiring and arduous and he should be recompensed accordingly. I am not picking out hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, but many Left wingers attack the police whenever they have the opportunity. This is bad for the morale of the police, as they cannot answer back.

Whereas, in the countryside, there used to be the "bobby" in the village who knew the young men, and women for that matter, in his own village and was able to say to the parents, "For heaven's sake stop the boy from riding a motorbike without a licence", nowadays, that boy goes up to the local town where the "bobby" does not know him, he gets "run in" and there is irritation between the police and the younger generation.

I shall probably be thought quite out of date if I say that I should like to see a return to the "bobby"; in each village; he was a great social help to the area. But perhaps in these days this is something which the police do not want.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My hon. Friend is on a good point, but would he accept that the whole philosophy of the unit beat system is to bring the village "bobby" conception into the towns. The sad thing is that in the process it often reduces the number of police in the villages to the point where one has almost empty police stations.

Mr. Hawkins

That is the point I am trying to emphasise. There are large villages in the Fen areas of my constituency which are five or 10 miles away from a police force and which are without any police constable at all. People say to me how much they miss the man on the spot, ready to help with any sort of problem, whether it be a horse that has got into a dyke, or whatever it may be. He was there ready, willing and able to help, a man who was a leader in his village.

It seems to me that there is too early retirement for policemen. It may be that this has to happen, but many of the inspectors in my district retire between 50 and 55. They surely have many years of first-class service and leadership before them. I have often spoken to inspectors and others in my area who say that they wonder where the leaders will come from. I believe that they will be found, but in these days we cannot afford to lose this standard of man.

I have had experience of sitting on a magistrates' bench, and I hesitate to say it publicly but those occasions are probably the most boring I ever spent. For 90 per cent. of the time one hears traffic cases. At least two magistrates whom I knew and heard traffic cases had never driven a motor car or a motor cycle in their life.

We should think about having specially appointed magistrates to deal only with traffic offences. They could be people who would have a quick understanding of maps and who could get through the business much more expeditiously. They could have a standard of fines which could be applied to traffic offences and I am sure that the whole system would work much more effectively.

In the Home Office at present are Ministers who wish to bring about a great improvement in crime prevention methods. I wish them the best of luck. I hope that they will do all they can to increase the strength of the police force and to give us a force of which we can be proud, as we have been proud of them in the past, a force not so-hard-worked as it is at present.

9.18 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

We have had a wide-ranging and substantial debate. A large number of points have been raised and I will do the best I can to touch on the main issues which have arisen. I, too, would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) for having succeeded in the Ballot and allowed us an opportunity to discuss crime.

The hon. Member described the increase in crime rates as a major social problem, and I know that every hon. Member in the House will accept that this is exactly what it is. It is a problem demanding the intensive and constant interest of the whole of society, a problem of which this House must at all times be cognisant. Nevertheless, I would make the plea that although it is a matter which must always demand the attention of Parliament it is not a political issue. In this matter the interests of all parties are exactly the same.

I trust I do not make the plea in vain that, despite the temptations which results of sophisticated market research might hold out, these temptations will be resisted by all parties in the House. The increase in crime has been made dramatic by the fact that the number of indictable offences known to the police in England and Wales outside of London exceeded the 1 million mark for the first time in 1968. It would be a mistake to think that anything particularly dramatic had occurred this year making it particularly distinctive. In the Metropolitan area the increase in 1968 was only 0.8 per cent. In 1967 the increase in the provinces was negligible, while in the Metropolitan Police area there was a decrease. To see the matter in perspective we have to look over a long period of years.

It is unhappily true that, although there have been fluctuations, crime in England and Wales has been increasing steadily over a number of years. It has roughly doubled since 1958, although the actual annual increase has not been unusual. Last year's increase in England and Wales as a whole was 6.8 per cent. In 1967 it was less than 1 per cent., whereas in 1960 and 1962 it topped 10 per cent. In 1957 the increase was 13.7 per cent. and the following year it was 14.8 per cent. The level of crime has probably been increasing steadily in Britain since the beginning of this century. Differences in recording do not enable an exact comparison to be made.

One factor in the rise of recorded crime is probably that there is an increasing readiness to report crimes to the police. Perhaps as a result of education people are more articulate, and because of a more democratic outlook they are more ready to approach authority. Ironically it is perhaps because they are generally more law-abiding. For example, a tavern brawl would hardly have been reported to the police seven decades ago, but now it is reported and appears in crime statistics.

This increase is also to be seen in the context of a world-wide tendency. It is not an isolated phenomenon peculiar to Britain. Comparisons with other countries are never straightforward, but it is well known that the United States is experiencing a substantial increase in crime. In 1968 the increase was of the order of 19 per cent. In the city of New York in 1968 there were over 1,000 murders as compared with 53 in London during the same period. Another factor to bear in mind is that the distribution of the increase among different types of crime is diverse. In the Metropolitan area there was a disturbing increase of 17 per cent. in the number of indictable crimes in which firearms were used, particularly robberies and assaults with intent to rob, where the increase was 31 per cent. Offences against the person also increased substantially, although it is fair to say that the majority were minor woundings.

We must note with concern the tendency to increased violence in the commission of crime. I want to say a word about the possible causes of this increase and the fact that it is something which should concern the whole community. The House will expect me to say a word about the police and the steps which are being taken within the service, and by Governmental action to equip them to face this rising menace. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Runcorn, for whom I have a high regard, should have attempted to link the increase in the level of crime with any question of manpower. He is far too sound a spokesman on Home Office matters to lend himself to the purveying of political propaganda in that way.

I suggest that there are two good reasons why the hon. Gentleman should not do this. First, there is no foundation for such a contention. If there is no real connection between the two, obviously the hon. Gentleman's argument is wholly misleading.

I put it to him that any examination of the figures for the rise in crime and for the increase or decrease, as the case may be, in the level of recruitment to the police over the last ten years, makes it clear that there is no consistent pattern of connection between those figures.

Mr. Carlisle

How can the hon. Gentleman possibly say that there is no connection between the police force and the rate of crime? Is he seriously saying that the police force being between 15 and 20 per cent. under strength, particularly in the Metropolitan area, has nothing to do with the rate of crime?

Mr. Morgan

If the hon. Gentleman's contention were correct, there would have to be some rough parallel between the two sets of figures.

In 1960 there was a net decrease of 0.6 per cent. in the level of manpower in the police. But that was the year when there was an increase of 10.2 per cent. in the level of crime. Looking at those figures, one could say, "Yes, there is a parallel between the two". But in each of the years 1963 and 1964 there was an increase of 9.2 per cent. in the level of indictable crimes, whereas there was an increase of 2.5 per cent. in police manpower in 1963 and an increase of less than half, or 1.2 per cent. in 1964. There is no connection whatever in figures for the decade that I have mentioned, nor for any other period, as far as I am aware. Unless and until such a connection between the two sets of figures can be shown, any argument founded upon such a supposition would be irresponsible.

Mr. Deedes

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the percentage of crimes cleared up has a bearing on crime and that that figure may depend on the strength of the police?

Mr. Morgan

To some extent it would depend on the strength of the police, but it would also depend on many other factors. It would depend whether there were fewer or more crimes committed. The more crimes that are committed, the tendency is for the crime detection rate to fall, but the totality of crimes that are cleared up would rise.

The second reason why this argument should not be deployed by the hon. Member for Runcorn is because it can be turned back with devastating force upon his own party. He who lives by the numbers game, as it has been called, is likely in debating terms to perish by it.

During our Administration the average net increase in police manpower is about 1,000 men a year more than during the Conservative Administration. The hon. Gentleman will, therefore, clearly see that he has no argument in that respect. In the last four years of Conservative Administration there was an increase of 6,400 in police manpower. In the first four years of Labour Administration there was an increase of 8,400. I am sure that that is one pertinent point that every hon. Member is willing to accept.

We have heard tonight, as we always do in these discussions, of the disparity between establishment and actual strength. It is worth noting that at the moment the strength of the police forces in England and Wales is slightly higher than the establishment figure for 1964. If one thinks in terms of being a certain number of years behind establishment figure, that is probably more realistic than to quote it in percentage terms.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I regret that the hon. Gentleman has got involved in this. The population of this country is rising by one-third of a million per year. Surely this is the relevant point. The important thing about police manpower is the proportion of police per thousand of population.

Mr. Morgan

I should be very happy to accept that, but I do not think that the position is quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests. If the hon. Gentleman works it out in percentage terms in that way, he will find that the percentage shortfall is very different from the actual shortfall of police strength compared with establishment strength. The two are totally different.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that there was a period when police establishments were deliberately not increased because of the shortfall in recruiting? If he makes comparisons over a period between strength and establishment, he must take into account periods when the establishment were not where they should have been.

Mr. Morgan

As far as I know, in 1964 it was not argued that the establishments were unrealistic. That is why I was careful to take that year for the purpose of comparison.

I feel that it would have been proper for the hon. Gentleman to have accepted what was so wisely said by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) in the debate in this House on 24th February: …I think it ill-becomes the partisans in the parties on either side to play what has been called appropriately enough the numbers game and make selective quotations from particular years, trying to make the public believe that from year to year there is more than a marginal effect which any Government of either complexion can have upon the crime figures."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1969; Vol. 778, c. 1149.]

Mr. Carlisle


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that there will not be too many interventions. There are 40 debates ahead of us.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman is being unfair. I went out of my way time and again to say that I was not attempting to suggest that other than marginally the Government had any influence on the rate of crime. My only criticism, and I still believe it is valid, is that the Government deliberately limited recruitment in the last year. I did not play the numbers game. It is the hon. Gentleman who is attempting to play it.

Mr. Morgan

I shall leave it there. I should not have mentioned this aspect at all, were it not necessary to do so by way of rebuttal. Despite the charm exhibited by the hon. Gentleman, he said that the Government were letting the country down in this respect, and the whole tenor of that part of his speech was such as to suggest that this was not any de minimis factor, but a substantial and fundamental one.

The police are, of course, the bulwark of the State against crime, but it is not to be supposed that if, because of the temper of the age, they are not as successful as we would like them to be in preventing the growth of crime, this is due to any fault on their part, or, I claim, on the part of the Government of the day. We have a police service which is second to none in the world. It has been organised with great and improving efficiency. It is growing in manpower. It is increasingly being equipped with modern equipment. and it is well trained and well commanded.

Let me describe briefly some of the steps which have been taken in the past few years to improve the quality of our police service. Without reducing this to the level of partisan politics, it is proper to point out that at the moment we are spending about 60 per cent. more on our police services than was spent in 1963–64. As to organisation, the Government have almost completed the programme of amalgamations inaugurated by the then Home Secretary in May 1966. Under this the number of police forces in England and Wales will, by 1st October next, have been reduced from 117 to 47. This has meant the creation of much larger police forces, and the increase in efficiency brought about by this—as was fairly said by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)—is already beginning to show itself, especially in improved organisation and internal training.

Next, as to manpower, a good deal has been said about the restraints on the growth of police manpower introduced by the Government at the end of last year. This is not a debate on the economic situation, and it is sufficient to say that the Government would have been failing in their duty if, in the economic circumstances which existed, they had not controlled all aspects of public expenditure, including expenditure on the police. Nevertheless, substantial provision has been made for increases in police manpower and in civilian aids and equipment. It is true that in the 15-months period ending 31st March this year the police service was not increased by the number of men we had hoped to get.

There may have been various reasons for this. The fact that wastage during the year proved to exceed that of the previous year by a figure roughly equivalent to the shortfall in the increase was certainly and understandably a contributory factor. The Press publicity given to the policy of restrictions possibly created a mistaken impression in the minds of the public that the police did not need recruits, with the result that the number of applications for recruitment declined. It is probably true to say that police recruiting arrangements throughout the country required time to adjust to conditions of manpower restraints.

We have learned the lessons of this experience. A national publicity drive to secure recruits has just been launched and it will emphasise—what the public perhaps did not realise before—that the police are continually in the market for recruits and need 7,500 this year in order to replace wastage and to secure the increase of 2,000 which we plan to have by the end of March next year. This slight setback of last year must be seen in perspective. In the last four years the strength of the police strength has grown by over 9,500 men and if all goes well it will, by the end of the current financial year, have been increased by a further 2,000.

There has been a vast improvement during the last four years in modern equipment for the police, in the form, among other things, of the provision of 20,000 pocket radio sets and an increase in the number of motor cars in use from 13,000 to about 18,000.

The improvement in organisation of which I have spoken and the increase in manpower and equipment has been accompanied by far-reaching changes in operation techniques, both in the arrangements for beat controlling and in the Criminal Investigation Department. The increase in cars to which I have referred is mainly in the small, brightly painted cars used by beat policemen, which hon. Members who represent urban constituencies will know as panda cars. These cars and the new pocket radios have been used to install a new system of beat patrolling which combines the advantages of mobility with the old virtues of the police officer on foot who knows a certain area of ground very well, and its problems and people intimately, and has added a new factor to the reporting, filing, collating and dissemination of information. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) can therefore be quite certain that the development in this system will mean that a constable will be exercising his traditional function within his bailiwick in a far more effective way than ever before.

This system of unit beat policing, originally devised by the police Research and Development Branch of the Home Office in collaboration with a few police forces, has been introduced very rapidly and it would be surprising if it did not have its teething troubles. My hon. Friend the Member for York touched on that point. This new system was the subject of a seminar last month in which there took part chief constables and assistant chief constables from all forces in the country and representatives of the police committees of the local authority associations. Defects were identified and methods of removing them were studied. But it is already clear that we have here a new system of beat patrolling in advance of that in use in any other country. It is a system which has already substantially increased efficiency and which shows great potential for further improvement.

I turn briefly to the detection of crime. There has been a new policy to combat the threat of the new type of highly organised mobile gangs of criminals who have come into existence in the last 10 years. Regional crime squads, which came into existence in 1964, are this year, after a wide review of their progress and after discussing with police organisations, to remain in principle a permanent feature of policy. This is a tribute to their success in performing their main function which is to investigate and identify major criminals. Their job basically is to detect and apprehend the relatively few master-minds who are at the root of organised crime.

Similar techniques have been adopted by the Metropolitan Police. They found, for example, when investigating the Richardson case, that success came from the formation of a special squad of detectives, drawn from many branches of Scotland Yard, who could concentrate all their efforts on one case. This, in their view, is the right way to tackle the organised gangsters engaged in protection and other rackets on a massive scale. The Metropolitan Police will set up such a "gang squad" in all cases in which patient and relentless pursuit of highly organised and extensive criminal operations are necessary.

Much progress has been made on training. Hon. Members are well aware of the high standing in the police service in this country and throughout the world of the Police College at Bramshill, and its new wing at Dishforth, in Yorkshire, where the higher training of the police service is undertaken. But a great deal of detailed training is undertaken up and down the country. Some idea of its extent can be gained from the number of officers who attended courses during 1968. This included 7,000 recruits at the regional recruit training centres; 2,200 who underwent detective training; over 9,000 who went on driving and traffic control courses; and 15,000 police officers who undertook general police duty courses arranged by police forces themselves.

I said at the start of this survey of the achievement of the police in recent years that it would be a mistake to look only to the police to carry out the war against crime. It is a co-operative effort by police and public. There is one aspect of it which I should like to mention. The message that the war against crime is not simply a fight between the police and the criminal but a contest between society and the criminal is the message of the crime prevention campaigns which have been held in each of the last four years. A high proportion of crimes are preventable. They are crimes in which an element of carelessness or neglect has made it easier for the criminal to operate.

We have not relied merely on exhortations to the public. Over the past six years more than 700 police and crime prevention officers have received training and 50 crime prevention panels have been set up. No one, unless he affects superhuman omniscience or alternatively is possessed of monumental naivete, can explain coherently why it is that most developed countries suffer of late from an almost continuing increase in crime rates. There is probably no single phenomenon of origin and the problem is certainly not defeasible by any single panacea. No doubt in many respects the increase in the volume of crime is one of the unavoidable by-products of modern development.

All manner of diverse factors have their relevance in this connection—environmental deficiencies, the existence of subcultures, the breakdown of old communities, a feeling, described by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) that the individual personality is subsumed and lost in anonymity, greater physical mobility between one area and another, and demographic changes, with large urban conurbations acting as vortexes for large populations drawn from varied backgrounds.

Other factors, are the sheer competitiveness in all modern societies, and what might be described as the corruptive influence of windfall affluence, the feeling that if substantial financial gains can be made almost fortuitously why should painstaking crime not be a source of profit as much as the exploitation of perhaps a mediocre talent by a mere nonentity?

Increases in police expenditure on manpower, civilian staff, equipment and research are now running at a scale wholly unprecedented. We know in our hearts, however, that the basic problem of crime is inextricably bound up with the structure of society itself. Governmental decisions can exercise a minimal influence.

Certainly, there is a great deal that we must cull from the research of sociologists and criminologists. At the end of the day, however, the fact remains that crime is the negation of the social idea. It is a betrayal. It is a denial of that bond of mutual respect and responsibility which must exist in every enlightened community between the individual and society.

The real challenge to crime is not so much the criminal law, the police, the law courts or our prisons. They cannot have the final responsibility. The ultimate burden for combating physical disease lies not with hospitals but with those who handle public hygiene and preventive medicine. Likewise, the answer to crime lies in a metamorphosis of society so as to engender in every constituent part a deeper and much more acute social consciousness.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have completed the third of 46 debates. I have very much in mind those who have drawn a lowly place and still hope some time during the night to have the opportunity of raising grievances. Brief speeches will help.