HC Deb 10 November 1976 vol 919 cc391-3
4. Mr. Fairbairn

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the latest increases in crimes of violence and dishonesty in Scotland; and what steps he proposes to take to combat the rise of crimes of violence and dishonesty in Scotland.

Mr. Harry Ewing

First indications for the early part of 1976 suggest that the upward trend for 1975 which the former Secretary of State announced on 9th March has continued, largely in the area of crimes of dishonesty. We are in regular contact with chief constables about crime prevention measures and have studied with them what further measures can be taken to improve public co-operation and support for the police in crime prevention measures, such as the present publicity campaign on crime prevention including vandalism.

Mr. Fairbairn

I am obliged to the Minister for his reply, but does it not demonstrate complete complacency? Is he surprised that there are so many failures in education? Is there not demonstrated a degree of complacency towards a major and growing social evil? Will the hon. Gentleman announce some measures that demonstrate that the Government mind about the crime rate and that they are willing to assist society in preventing the increasing difficulties which are brought about by crime by assisting the police to prevent it by, if necessary, taking measures through the Lord Advocate's Department?

Mr. Ewing

I realise the difficulties that the hon. and learned Gentleman faced today of all days and the difficulty he obviously had in preparing that supplementary question. We have announced various measures to assist the police in combating crimes of violence and crimes of dishonesty. I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that the strength of the police force in Scotland is now higher than it has ever been. However, the police require the public's co-operation. It is in that area of public co-operation that we are desperately anxious to enlist the aid of both hon. Members and members of the public.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Is my hon. Friend aware that Scotland already has the highest prison population per head in the Western world? As we still have a distressingly high criminal incidence rate, will he examine alternative forms of sentencing which would not only be cheaper but might even be more effective?

Mr. Ewing

We are at present examining alternative forms of sentencing, such as community work. We have asked four regional authorities in Scotland to consider that possibility. We are in discussions with the regional authorities at the moment.

I must correct a wrong impression that appears to have been given. We have in Scotland the highest male population prison rate in Western Europe, but it must be said at this time of women's lib that we have the lowest female prison population in Western Europe.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Minister realise that half the men admitted to Scottish prisons in any one year are admitted for non-payment of fines and other minor offences? Instead of being complacent about experimenting with community service orders, will he appreciate that such orders have been tried out successfully during the last four years south of the border? Will he speed up the implementation of these proposals in Scotland in order that the prisons can deal with the real problem of hardened prisoners in our society?

Mr. Ewing

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has realised the true facts. I understood that in recent weeks he and some of his hon. Friends were saying tha half the prison population were held because of the non-payment of fines. The true daily position is that only 8 per cent, of the prison population are held because of non-payment of fines. It requires some consultation—I thought that the Opposition were in favour of consultation—with regional authorities to introduce and implement community service orders.

Mrs. Bain

Specifically as regards juvenile crime, will the Minister indicate when he expects the various steering committees to report and when we can expect intermediate powers to be awarded to children's panels to fulfil their useful rôle in Scottish society?

Mr. Ewing

That is a matter for the social work departments. I cannot say when the various steering committees dealing with that aspect of the problem will report. Serious consideration is now being given to the possibility of giving children's panels wider powers and ranges of treatment.