HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc625-7
11. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the latest report from the Metropolitan Police regarding the high crime rate in the Greater London area.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The number of indictable offences recorded as known in the Metropolitan Police District in 1975 was 452,578, an increase of 9 per cent. over the corresponding figure for 1974. The corresponding increase in the whole of England and Wales was 7 per cent. Although these increases are less marked than those in 1974 over 1973, the continual rise in the level of crime, particularly violent crime, and the disturbing involvement of juveniles in certain types of lawbreaking, are matters of profound concern. The preventive and detective work of the police is our first line of defence, and I hope that the encouraging increase in the rate of recruitment to the Metropolitan Police in recent months will in due course make a substantial contribution towards the containment of crime.

Mr. Townsend

Does the Home Secretary agree with the remark by the Assistant Commissioner in charge of crime at New Scotland Yard, that London is heading for the most violent period in its history? If so, what new measures will the Home Secretary put forward to back up the forces of law and order in Greater London and to protect my constituents?

Mr. Jenkins

It is as much as I can do to follow the speeches of the Commissioner, let alone those of all the deputies and assistant commissioners. Although I regard it as right that the Commissioner, in particular, should express himself freely, I do not regard it as right that I should pronounce on every phrase and word used. But, of course, I recognise that a great problem exists here, and I believe that the support that I have given and shall continue to give to the Metropolitan Police is of great importance generally and, indeed, to the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is growing confidence in the ability of the Metropolitan Police in London to tackle what is a very serious problem? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that this confidence would be enhanced if there were greater safeguards over some of the dubious methods shown to have been used in the past? Will he give us some information about the progress of his committee on tape recordings and his advice on the interrogation of the mentally retarded, and say when he hopes to reinstate the Fisher Inquiry?

Mr. Jenkins

I am very glad to have my hon. Friend's first remarks. I attach great value to them, as I believe the Metropolitan Police will do.

Concerning the first of the detailed points, I am not yet in a position to make a statement. If my hon. Friend will put down a Question I shall see what information I can give him.

As the hon. Gentleman should know better than most—he played a notable part in getting the Fisher Inquiry set up—certain circumstances arose that made it essential, in my view and in the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, that the inquiry should be temporarily suspended. I think that was unavoidable. I hope it will be able to proceed at the earliest possible moment, and do a thorough and necessary job.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Is the Home Secretary aware that about 40 per cent. of all violent crime, and nearly half of all the burglaries and robberies, in the Greater London area are being carried out by juveniles—children and young people under the age of 17? What steps is the Home Secretary taking to deal with what he himself has described as a very disturbing problem?

Mr. Jenkins

It is a disturbing problem. I recognise this fully, as have previous Home Secretaries. But it is easier to pose the problem than to provide a complete answer to it. We are taking time to consider the report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons, and we shall respond to that, but I should not convince either the hon. and learned Gentleman or the House if I were to pretend that there was a philosopher's stone which I or any other Home Secretary could rub, enabling this problem to be overcome.

Mr. Whitehead

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, while we all deplore the rise in crime involving juveniles, some juveniles are being sentenced and kept in prison for very trivial offences? Bearing in mind that there are teenagers who have been in prison for six months awaiting sentence on a charge of stealing a bottle of cider, is it not the case that some of the statistics quoted to the House are swollen by cases of this kind?

Mr. Jenkins

I made it clear to the House on previous occasions—in contradiction of the view put earlier by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton)—that I think the prison population is too high in this country at the present time. It is too high in relation to the figures for other countries, and there is no evidence, regrettably, that this high prison population provides protection or deterrence. I am anxious, therefore, in all ways that are open to me, without interfering with the judicial process or in any way preventing the provision of protection to the public, to see that the prison population is reduced and not increased. That is one reason why we are putting through the Bail Bill and why I am willing to consider other matters. Prison, of course, has a rôle to play, but I do not think that there is any evidence that our unusually high prison population in relation to the crime rate brings benefits in the protection of society which are proportionate to its costs.

Mr. Peter Walker

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that major factors in the increase in juvenile crime in London are bad housing, high unemployment and a high truancy rate among young West Indians? Will he see that Government Departments are better co-ordinated to try to tackle this specific problem?

Mr. Jenkins

There is certain disturbing evidence, arising largely out of the factors the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned—I am not sure that it has been thoroughly sifted yet—that crime rates are uncomfortably high among this group. However, in considering this matter and in seeing the issue in perspective it is important to bear in mind also that crime rates amongst those of Asian origin are lower than the average for this country.