§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harper.]
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
It is surely the primary duty of Governments to protect their citizens. Few if any democratic Governments can claim to be discharging that duty successfully today. Certainly we in the United Kingdom are not. We must face the fact that for a good number of years our failure has become increasingly marked. As a result our people are very concerned about the state of lawlessness in present-day society. They tend to blame the Government and everyone in Parliament for failing to carry out their responsibilities to them.
We have chosen this subject for debate today in order to promote a fundamental discussion on all aspects of the problem we face in crime prevention. Unfortunately, other events today mean that this debate will receive less attention and will be less well attended than would have been the case otherwise. This is a great pity because it is a subject which Parliament should debate constructively. Nevertheless, I hope that the debate will be positive and constructive.
Criticism will be made of the way in which the Government are carrying out, or in too many cases failing to carry out, their responsibilities, but we do not intend that this should be a partisan occasion with a vote at the end of the day. Many of us, on both sides of the House I suspect, have come to the conclusion that we have not thought deeply enough about this growing cancer of crime in society, its causes and its possible cures. I want to develop some tentative thoughts about the way we should proceed on a more systematic and intelligent basis.
To deal with crime effectively we must consider the major factors which contribute to the growth of criminal behaviour in individuals and society. We 1731 must look at the social and economic developments of society that are relevant to law enforcement so that we can devise law enforcing and remedial agencies, laws, sentencing policies and the penal institutions which are likely to be most appropriate in a rapidly changing society.
It is worrying that the amount of research which has practical application to the whole area of crime prevention, detection and rehabilitation is so meagre—much more so than that in many other policy areas. Would the Home Secretary consider this aspect urgently and ensure that the Home Office, the police and the law enforcing and remedial agencies liaise closely together on research projects? I hope that he will use the practical advice and expertise of many outside organisations.
No debate on crime prevention in the United Kingdom can be complete without reference to the tragic events in Northern Ireland, where terrorism and crimes of a particularly violent nature highlight the danger in any community when lawlessness gets out of hand. There are circumstances peculiar to the situation in Northern Ireland, and neither the Home Secretary nor I need much reminding of that.
Alas, it does have its effects on the rest of the United Kingdom and serves as a constant reminder that strong and effective action to protect citizens is vital to the health and security of our society. However, Northern Ireland deserves and receives separate consideration, so in the rest of my speech I shall refer to the situation in Great Britain, particularly England and Wales, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) will deal with Scottish aspects when he winds up at the end of the debate.
In England and Wales the bare statistics make very serious reading. In 1975 there were over 2 million indictable offences recorded by the police, and the number of undetected crimes could easily double that figure. There were 71,000 crimes recorded involving violence; more than 500,000 burglaries, and 1¼ million acts involving theft and the handling of stolen goods. Crimes of violence rose by 11 per cent. between 1974 and 1975.
What is worse, more and more young people are becoming enmeshed in crime. 1732 In 1975 more than 6,000 12-year-old boys were found guilty or cautioned on indictable offences. More than 10,000 13years-old boys were found guilty, more than 16,000 14-year-old boys and more than 22,000 15-year-old boys, making a total of more than 100,000 young people under 18 who were found guilty of various crimes.
We are not witnessing a sudden outbreak of crime. Between 1955 and 1975 the number of offences known to the police has trebled while crimes of violence have increased ten-fold. If current trends continue, the present crime rate will have doubled by 1982.
Nor can we forget the human personal tragedies and human fear which inevitably lie behind these figures. We are holding this debate in the aftermath of the tragic incidents in Derbyshire last week, which we shall consider separately on another occasion when the Home Secretary publishes the initial report. We must appreciate the effect of criminal actions on the lives of ordinary people, particularly the elderly.
Many hon. Members will have received a brief from Help the Aged, which tells a serious story of the experiences, anxieties and fears of elderly people. Help the Aged feels that those engaged in looking after the interests of the elderly should meet with the police, representatives of the Home Office and any other affected organisations to find ways in which the elderly can be given extra protection and investigate the root causes of crimes against them. I hope that the Home Secretary will respond positively to this suggestion.
There is a danger that we shall take for granted acts of lawlessness which were once thought almost unthinkable. For example, teachers have been stabbed in their classrooms by pupils, a prison has been seized and wrecked by prisoners—and we shall receive a report on that to consider separately—bombs have been left under cars and hurled at houses, and even football matches have been ruined for innocent spectators by scenes of senseless violence and destruction. Some years ago on hearing of such events in other countries we would have been tempted to say complacently that it could not happen here. It has, it is happening and it will continue to happen unless we take the right steps to stop it.
1733 What are these right steps? As a start they must lie in the treatment and bringing up of children and young people. If we deal with them wrongly, they are first the potential young offenders and then, even worse, the young and older criminals of tomorrow. In any discussion on bringing up children there is a danger of becoming a victim of one's own prejudice. Nor can it be the job of Government or of politicians generally to dictate to parents how they should bring up their children. But we have a duty to give our own views to encourage and to warn.
I am convinced that an ordered life, with parental discipline in the home and discipline in schools, leads to a respect for the rule of law and the rights of others throughout life alone leads to a healthy and free society for all our people. All this starts in the home, and that is where it seems that as a nation we have failed and are failing today. As a result we find that a very common element in the background of many young people who become involved in crime is the presence of an unhappy or unsatisfactory home environment.
Nor are such circumstances confined to one-parent families or broken homes. Sometimes the single parent brings up the children with great dedication and success. The homes I have in mind are mainly those where, through parental failure or neglect, the children grow up developing a sense of hatred or an alienation from the family and so, almost inevitably, from society itself.
It cannot be said, either, that such homes are associated wholly with poor living conditions. Of course, there are many good reasons for dealing with urban deprivation in our big cities, and the likely beneficial effect on crime would certainly be one of them. However, we delude ourselves if we imagine that we can buy successful family backgrounds simply by spending money.
Equally, I am certain that Governments and local authorities can help to promote better backgrounds for young people with unsatisfactory home lives through the education system. The teachers should be encouraged to enforce disciplines and standards which may be lacking in the home, and they deserve far more support than they get from society as a whole 1734 when they do so. In spite of the many pressures on them, teachers also have a responsibility positively to help those children whom they know have difficult and unhappy backgrounds. In this connection we as a community should surely deal far more ruthlessly than we do with the problems of truancy.
The Government and local authorities should give urgent consideration to the best means of encouraging the work of church and other voluntary organisations. Many workers in such organisations complain of their frustration at local authority bureaucracy and at the delay in dealing with their requests. I would therefore ask the Home Secretary to inquire into these problems through the Voluntary Service Unit at the Home Office. I hope that this unit will be used and that efforts will be made to investigate what is happening in the work of many local authorities in dealing with the voluntary organisations in other areas.
The Government and Parliament should exert their own moral authority to dissuade all those who seek to undermine educational, moral and personal disciplines. Some people have gone too far in attempting to justify the destructive and disruptive tendencies in young people, and in actually persuading young people that the society in which they live is so unacceptable that action against it, however criminal, is in some perverted sense morally acceptable. There is surely all the difference in the world between young people being angry and critical at our very imperfect society and being encouraged to become wholly alienated from it. The Government cannot escape the responsibility, through the failure of their economic policies, of leaving many young people on the streets, unemployed.
Even if all these efforts were to be successful, and they would not be, we should still have to develop a strategy for dealing with what will certainly remain as a high rate of crime. That brings me to the law enforcement agencies. Here again the Government have a duty to set an example to the nation through their own attitude to the law. My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Hailsham said in a speech last yearFor the rule of law, more is necessary than impartial judges, and lawyers who are incorrupt. The rule of law demands Governments and civil servants and Parliaments 1735 who use their responsibilities impartially and exercise upon themselves the restraints which they would demand of others in authority.Naturally I shall not refer to the events which have taken place earlier today. These should be properly studied, and it would be right for the House to come back to them when that study has been made.
However, I do not need to refer to them to make my case, for the Government have already to answer for their disgraceful failure over the Clay Cross action. The Home Secretary must be relieved that he personally did not vote in the Division concerned with that matter, but he cannot escape collective responsibility for the sins of his colleagues. In contrast one must applaud the steadfastness of Mr. Roy Jenkins who consistently refused to yield to the pressures of some Labour Members below the Gangway—they are not here today—and of some members of the trade unions to afford preferential treatment to the Shrewsbury pickets.
In considering law enforcement I want to deal first with the treatment of young offenders. Here our basic aim must surely be to deter as many as we can from involvement in further acts of crime. The chances of achieving a measure of success would appear from the evidence available to depend to a very large extent on whether young offenders are caught the first time they commit a crime. This in turn depends on successful police work, to which I shall return.
At present the main piece of legislation dealing with young offenders is the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. Recently a group of my hon. Friends and Conservative lawyers, under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), published a report on its working. Their views reinforced those in the relevant report of the Select Committee on Expenditure. They pointed to serious inadequacies in the Act. In particular they found that the courts were left without sufficient powers to control the hard-core persistent offenders while, due to a lack of resources, they were unable to provide remedial care in certain appropriate cases, which was one of the main intentions of the Act.
1736 The two reports have received widespread support from those who have the duty to operate the Act. Therefore I ask the Home Secretary to comment on the views expressed and to tell the House what the Government intend to do about it. Clearly the present position under the Act is most unsatisfactory.
For all types of offenders sentencing policy is of crucial importance. There are serious doubts whether the sentences prescribed and the penalties laid down in various Acts of Parliament match the magnitude of the crimes. In particular we must surely meet the growth in crimes of violence with tougher sentences than are available at present. In this connection I do not now intend to enter into arguments on capital punishment, a subject which arouses widespread interest and emotion, simply because the decisions have been taken by this House on the appropriate free votes in recent years.
There is also an unsatisfactory position when judges feel that their sentences may be drastically changed by remission policy. It is said that the Home Office is considering an early release scheme as a means of relieving overcrowding in our prisons. I trust that the Home Secretary will give very careful thought to such a scheme before introducing it. There are clear dangers that it would result in an effective curtailment of the powers of the judiciary to determine sentences and in the release of persistent offenders who would soon commit another crime.
There is a particularly heavy risk with prisoners who have records of violence or mental instability. I know that the Home Secretary will consider these points carefully. I fully appreciate the difficulties he faces in this whole matter, and if he is considering such a scheme I understand the reasons for his so doing. However, I hope that he will bear these points in mind.
At the same time, I trust that he will encourage non-custodial sentences in appropriate cases with community service work. The Probation Service seems to have had considerable success in this direction. If it is expanded, such a development could certainly help with the problems to which I now turn.
1737 Mr. Roy Jenkins when he was Home Secretary made it clear that if the prison population reached the figure of 42,000, drastic action would be needed. I do not need to remind the Home Secretary that that figure has now been passed. The situation is particularly bad for the undermanned and over-worked prison officers who are struggling to do what would be even in normal circumstances an immensely difficult and sensitive job. They are deeply anxious and frustrated because they cannot do their job according to the high standards and ideals that they set for themselves. I am told that they have a clear feeling that their views are inadequately considered by the Government. I do not know whether this is fair, but it is the message that I have received.
I therefore ask the Home Secretary to look into the matter personally and carefully. If that feeling were to get abroad, it would be extremely unsatisfactory. In this connection, I particularly hope that the Home Secretary will positively involve the prison officers in the serious examination that he must be conducting of prison strategy and of details of the present administration. As to strategy, I hope that the Home Secretary will seek to involve more voluntary workers, both in visiting prisoners and in helping prisoners' families. Such people can play a very useful rôle in rehabilitation.
We in the Conservative Party believe that while we are in opposition it is our duty to do what we can to study and to help in seeking to improve our prison systems because there is a worrying and in many cases dangerous situation. Accordingly, I asked my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde to set up a study group under his chairmanship for the purpose of making such a study. The announcement that the study group was starting work attracted considerable interest, as I know from the correspondence that I have received. I realise that the Home Secretary recognises the gravity of the problem and I assure him that we Conservatives wish to do everything that we can to help him overcome it.
Lastly, I come to the fundamental problem of our police service. Any strategy to deal with crime that is not based on a contented, fully manned and properly equipped police service is bound 1738 to fail. Furthermore, the police service has the right to expect the wholehearted support of the Government and the public in its task of protecting us. My major criticism of the Government is that they have failed to give the police the distinct impression that the Government are fully behind them.
Unfortunately for the Home Secretary, some of his hon. Friends below the Gangway, who are absent today, seldom fail to show their distrust and even dislike of the police. The Home Secretary has a responsibility to prove to our police officers that the Government really will give them full backing. The hon. Gentleman has begun work at a difficult moment in this relationship and he has much to do if he is to restore police confidence.
I know that important discussions are now going on about the current unfortunate dispute over police pay. As the Home Secretary knows, I have consistently urged him to deal with this as sympathtically as possible and today I shall add only that I trust that a fair compromise will be reached at the earliest possible moment.
The Government should give a number of firm guarantees to the police force. We on this side of the House believe that the pay and conditions of the police must be steadily improved. The police must not be put in a less advantageous position in terms of pay and conditions than other public servants.
Their pay and career structure must be such as to fulfill two objectives. Firstly, chronic undermanning must be quickly and permanently eliminated, particularly in urban areas. Secondly, the service must be able to attract and hold people of calibre from all walks of life. In the years ahead, as crime becomes more complicated and sophisticated, it is vital that the police should be able to recruit increasing numbers of people who have a high degree of intelligence and practical ability. The development of in-service training at Bramshill Police College and the university scholarships associated with that are welcome and will, I hope, be further expanded.
In police work I hope that voluntary work through the special constabulary will be encouraged. It surely has a valuable rôle to play, not in substituting for professional policemen but in complementing them. We in the Conservative 1739 Party are determined to work for the maintenance and development of a police force that will be able fully to meet the challenge in the years ahead. We are resolved as a future Government to provide the necessary resources. I must point out to the Home Secretary that our approach appears to be in marked contrast to that of his Government and of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The Opposition spokesman has made a number of suggestions throughout his speech, but that is the first time that he has mentioned resources. All of us would agree with much that he has suggested, but there are real difficulties in this at a time when resources are scarce and when there are public expenditure cuts. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in future in voting against further public expenditure cuts in order that these dreams can be achieved?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is usually somewhat cunning in his approach. Many of the proposals that I have put forward concern particularly the voluntary services and would not cost more in terms of resources. As to the police, the Conservative Party has made it clear that while it believes in public expenditure cuts and would be determined to carry them out, it would make a clear difference in the instances of the police and the Armed Forces on the ground of protection of the safety of our citizens. That is a matter of priorities, and it is important that any Government or party should set out priorities clearly. We have made clear our priorities for the defence forces and for the police force.
I find it incredible that a Government who can so effortlessly mis-spend thousands of millions of pounds can decide to cut back in an area involving the physical safety of our citizens. The Government are intent on creating a society in which projects for nationalisation will have a higher priority than the safety of our people and their property. The Home Secretary has been urged by Britain's chief police officers that the fast-growing lawlessness is a direct result of cut-backs in public spending. In The Times of 5th January a chief constable was reported as saying:the Government's decision to cut back on local government spending will be tantamount 1740 to a criminal's charter. People will be able literally to help themselves and our manpower will be so weak on the ground that we will be unable to stop them.That statement was made by a chief constable and it must be taken seriously. I trust that the Government will do so.
It is surely madness at a time of rising crime to cut back the forces of law. I hear the Minister of State say that they are not being cut back. I am glad to hear that, but what about the Home Office circular that the Home Secretary put out concerning the cut-back in the numbers of police cadets? What was that if not a cut-back? If the Minister of State can assure me that there is no cutback and that the circular did not mean what it said, I would be delighted to hear it. If the Minister of State can give me that assurance, he may look satisfied and happy and so shall I. That would be a good thing.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that in order to prevent cuts in the police force we should, for example, cut the number of primary school teachers and increase the sizes of classes? Could the right hon. Gentleman be more specific about the areas of public services in which he would make cuts? We know that the Tories want larger cuts in public expenditure than the Labour Party would wish.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Gentleman is an old enough hand in politics to know that all decisions are a matter of priorities. We believe that it is right to give top priority to the defence forces and the police in the interests of protecting our citizens. We happen to believe that it is the first duty of a Government to protect their citizens from threats from both abroad and within.
I suspect that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) shares that view, but he and I both know that some of his hon. Friends do not feel the same way and, sadly, that affects the attitude and policies of the Government. Large sums are being squandered on nationalisation projects simply to appease the same people who are not interested in the defence of this country or in its police force. I could go on for a long time on this subject, but I am seeking to make a constructive and positive speech and I 1741 shall not be drawn further into an argument which, much as I enjoy it, is not appropriate at present.
I come, peacefully I hope, to a conclusion. I hope that today's debate will be just the beginning of a much more determined and thoughtful approach to crime in our society. A society which is riddled with lawlessness demoralises its law-abiding citizens, weakens the social fabric and increasingly exposes its children to the temptations of a criminal life which can lead only to prison and misery. Without a minimum code of discipline and a set of shared standards, children and young people find not freedom but frustration and futility.
The time has come for us to strengthen the social forms and institutions which provide the bulwark of real freedom—the rule of law effectively enforced and the resolute advocacy of those values in the home and school which so many of our people share. The Government and the Home Secretary have the power and the responsibility; they are in a position to give a lead and fight back against increasing crime and lawlessness. Let the right hon. Gentleman show by his response today that they have the necessary will and determination.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
The breadth of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) shows that the prevention of crime can be seen as the primary purpose of the whole system for the administration of justice and as a secondary aim of much else besides.
I shall reply to a number of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, but he will understand that in a debate in which the speech in reply will deal primarily with Scottish affairs—and perhaps some aspects of policy in England and Wales—it will not be possible to deal with all the matters that are raised. Perhaps we could follow the usual pattern of keeping in touch by letter or in other ways.
I shall look at the points that the right hon. Gentleman made about local authority bureaucracy. There are always lessons to be learned in politics, and whenever I am involved in policies that require 1742 structural change I never make the mistake of the last Conservative Government in its reorganisation of local government in the early 1970s. That was the greatest disaster of all time, and I have the example written above my desk to make sure that I do not fall into a similar error. That aberration of the last Conservative Government caused the bureaucracy.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Why did this Government do nothing about checking that bureaucracy? Why did they take no account of the inquiry that was set up just before they came to power? Where has that inquiry's report gone?
§ Mr. Rees
I do not need a rubric on my desk to remind me of the local government disaster; I shall keep a picture of the right hon. Gentleman. That disaster led to the bureaucracy with which I have to cope.
I shall consider the suggestions of the Conservatives' committee. All ideas, whatever their source, should be carefully considered.
We are debating an important subject; the Government and I accept that the level of crime and the steady increase over the past 10 years are a cause for serious concern. It is right that the House should review what is being done and that the Government should continually ask themselves whether the measures over which we have control are being taken in the right direction. I shall concentrate on those matters over which we have control and influence, but this is a wide subject and one over which no democratic Government could ever have absolute control; nor would I want such a Government to have such control.
It is a depressing fact that indictable offences reported to the police have increased in the past 10 years from 1.2 million to 2.1 million. The increase has been steady during that period, with a slight drop in 1973 being cancelled by a steeper than average rise in 1974. I take no comfort from the fact that the upward curve has been levelling off in the past three years. The increase in 1974 was 18 per cent., in 1975, 7 per cent. and in the first nine months of last year, 2 per cent. It is too soon to say whether that levelling off will be permanent, but the level is far too high anyway, and we must guard against any acceptance that such a 1743 high level of crime in our society is unavoidable.
I am particularly concerned that within the overall total, criminal damage and offences of violence against the person have increased in recent years at a faster rate than the total. We should not leave the bare world of statistics without a comment on the limitations of our knowledge. We do not know how accurately they reflect the true level of crime in society or fluctuations in it. Increased public concern about a particular offence, such as criminal damage, may result in a greater proportion of those offences being reported. I am advised that local campaigns may be run to encourage the reporting of such offences to the police. Accordingly, we must avoid the danger of interpreting statistics subjectively. A sensational case often blurs the trend.
Some people seem to suggest that a perfect state existed in 1945, 1939, 1914 or 1900 and that all our problems started suddenly. I was studying the volumes of "Life and Labour in London" recently. They reveal a very different state of affairs in the 1890s. It is wrong for people to believe that there was no violent crime then, and that people could walk the streets of London without fear of being attacked. Some time ago, I was looking at the log books of municipal schools just after they had been set up in 1870. The head teachers had laboriously logged in copper-plate writing some of the things that happened in their schools. They do not happen now.
The idea that an imperfect world, for which we should have a great guilt complex, has suddenly come upon us is wrong. The older I get, the more often I fall into the error of saying that it was all different in my day and that there are simple answers to these problems. There are not. We shall be having similar debates in the House in 40 or 50 years' time.
Although we must take the statistics as the best available yardstick, we must look behind them and interpret them as best we can. We must also ensure that those who are engaged in the prevention of crime are aware of current trends and needs.
Before leaving criminal statistics, I wish to make particular comment about the allocation of offences to categories 1744 for the purposes of the mode of trial. I do it for a purpose. I do it in perhaps a slightly illogical way, but I have been disturbed by some of the letters to responsible newspapers, which in my view have wrongly criticised magistrates. I wish to give my support to the magistracy. Some of the things that have been said about it have been ill-informed.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is responsible for these matters and who, incidentally, did not deserve any strictures from the right hon. Gentleman because he did not open his mouth—but that is another matter——
§ Mr. Whitelaw
If I criticised the Minister of State unfairly, I shall withdraw my criticism. I thought I said that the hon. Gentleman had smiled. I did not know that that was a stricture. I have never had so little sense of humour that I have objected to people smiling.
§ Mr. Rees
There it is. We have talked about these matters and, as I have said, my hon. Friend has responsibility. We decided that it would be worth putting to the House the allocation of offences to categories for the purposes of the mode of trial, it having a bearing on the Criminal Law Bill that will be coming before the House for discussion.
One argument that has been used against some of the proposals is based on a general belief that a jury is more likely to acquit than are magistrates. It is sometimes alleged that magistrates are more prosecution-minded than juries.
I draw attention to a table of figures that appeared in the Order Paper yesterday in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) about the comparative rate of acquittals as between magistrates' courts and Crown courts, where the principal offence, in the sense used in the published criminal statistics, is one of those whose allocation to the trial category is in issue. The figures may surprise some people.
The acquittal rates for drinking and driving offences are about the same in the magistrates' courts and the Crown courts. For thefts, the rates vary according to the type, but for what are described as "other thefts" of under £5 the magistrates' courts acquitted in 64 per cent. of contested cases and juries 1745 acquitted in 61 per cent. For offences in the public order group, in 1975 the magistrates acquitted in 57 per cent. of contested cases as against 28 per cent. acquitted by juries. For assaults on constables, magistrates acquitted in 27 per cent. of cases and juries in 20 per cent.
I hope that those who have criticised the magistrates' courts will reflect on the position. Again, I must give my praise to the voluntary work that is done by the magistrates in the magistrates' courts. It ill became some who wrote to the newspapers to make criticism of the magistrates, some of those letters being written by professional lawyers. I shall not use the letters, but in my postbag there have been letters from some magistrates criticising the calibre of some of the lawyers who operate in their courts. Perhaps we should call it a draw and leave it at that.
Let us discuss the matter objectively. I suspect that whatever praise I give to whatever group may be interpreted as suggesting that some lawyers and some magistrates are not as good as the rest of the lawyers and the rest of the magistrates. I am exempting any hon. Members who are members of the legal profession.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about public expenditure. I shall not go into the issue of nationalisation, how it is financed and what the right hon. Gentleman and I did in different ways in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman spent money on a shipyard when it was private and I spent money on it when it was nationalised. It was, in effect, the same money. The structure did not seem to matter very much. Whether an undertaking is nationalised or private, anyone who is against nationalisation or against private ownership can prove a lot. But the proof is often nonsense. Let us leave it at that. I shall deal with the spending on law and order and protective services, that is, my budget.
The Government have spent £250 million—that is a quarter of a billion pounds at constant prices, which involves nothing about inflation and avoids any need to mess around with the figures—more than was spent by the previous Administration in its last year in office. Next year we shall be spending about the same as this year. I know that it is difficult, 1746 but when talking about cuts we are talking about cuts in increases. The Government are spending about a quarter of a billion pounds more, in constant prices, than were the previous Administration.
A crucial item is policemen and policewomen, as opposed to police cadets. I feel that it is perhaps the most important item. It is the sharp end. I feel that they are at the sharper end than the civilians employed in the police force. We shall be spending more during the next year than this year on policemen and policewomen. I suggest that the facts that I have outlined are sufficient to refute any suggestion that the Government have neglected their responsibilities in this area, although there are various matters that we wish to consider.
I think that we all agree that those in the front line are the police themselves. It has often been said that their raison d'etre is the prevention of crime. Almost all their activities can be so viewed.
Their responsibilities for the maintenance of public order may certainly be so viewed. Indeed, that is how the police view their responsibilities. Breaches of public order are criminal offences. The purpose of the police is, if possible, to prevent the offences from being committed. If that cannot be fully achieved, their purpose is to arrest and charge offenders.
My experience in Northern Ireland—I know that it was the right hon. Gentleman's experience—has convinced me how important it is that the maintenance of public order should be regarded as part of the normal responsibilities of the civil police and how inestimably fortunate we are in Great Britain to live in a country where that is accepted as normal.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom—and that is the way it should be. But it is not until we see the situation in Northern Ireland, until we have to use the Army, and until we learn of the problems of the police in Northern Ireland, that we realise that the situation is different. I know that I carry the right hon. Gentleman with me when I say that every time we come back we have the feeling "Thank God it is different here".
It is the civil policing that is so important. It is very important that the police should be able successfully to discharge their responsibility without recourse to methods that the police and the 1747 public would regard as authoritarian and alien to our traditions. It will certainly be my aim, so long as I am Home Secretary, not just to uphold law and order but to give active support to the police in maintaining it in the manner to which we have become accustomed.
I have special responsibilities for London, where I am the police authority for the Metropolitan District and where the task of maintaining public order is most challenging. I have discussed these matters with the present Commissioner and his successor. Both entirely share my view that the police should rely on traditional methods for maintaining public order, with the support of the general public.
But they, and I, also have a responsibility to the members of the Metropolitan Police. It is clear that we have to reckon with the possibility of incidents involving a degree of violence. For example, an incident involving the throwing of bricks, stones and bottles could give rise to unwarrantable risk of injury to policemen. We owe it to them to provide them with adequate protection if and when they need it.
Therefore, I have approved the Commissioner's proposal that the Metropolitan Police at least should acquire protective shields for use if, and only if, the need arises. The Commissioner and his successor have assured me that they intend to continue with traditional methods of maintaining order whenever possible, that the issue of shields will be authorised only if an incident cannot be maintained by traditional methods without unacceptable risk of injury to policemen, and that they will be used only under the close supervision of senior police officers.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
Do I understand my right hon. Friend to say that he feels that that is a necessary measure to take for London alone and that it is not necessary to institute such measures in other large cities? Does he think that the difference between the maintenance of law and order in London is really that much different from the task in other cities?
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend has raised an important matter. When I was giving approval for the use of shields and discussing the matter, I asked if use could 1748 be made of them, if necessary, outside London.
I am the police authority for the metropolis. There is close co-operation with other police authorities. I have left the matter on the basis that it will be considered. We shall have to see what happens, but if necessary what is available and closely held in London could be made available elsewhere. However, it is the Metropolitan Police for which I have direct responsibility.
In looking at the police service as a whole, the Government have not imposed any limit on police forces to prevent them from recruiting up to authorised establishment. After careful scrutiny we have also authorised some increases in establishment. An extra £11 million has been provided to cover the cost of growth in the next financial year. The results are encouraging.
Someone who was brought up as an economist in the economic free market would start with the premise that recruitment to a labour force is determined by wages, that if wages are not enough, down will go recruitment, and that, given a shortage, recruitment will increase. In a free market one starts on that basis. It does not work that way in practice. Other factors persuade men and women to join a force, to go into a factory, or to go anywhere else.
However, the statistics are interesting and encouraging. Police strength—over 109,000 at the end of 1976—is now nearly 9,000 more than when the present Government came into office in February 1974. In 1976 the bulk of the increases—nearly 2,000 out of about 2,300—went to the large cities, where they were needed most. That is good. I cannot pretend that this was because somebody wrote a circular. I sometimes think that had my predecessor or I written a circular to the effect that recruitment should be in the inner cities, recruitment would have ended up away from those areas. But it has happened that way. I hope that the House will not mind if I claim some credit for it, just as others would have done had it gone the other way.
The police in England and Wales are still 8,625 below the authorised establishment, but the measures that we have taken show the importance that we attach to further increases in strength.
1749 Some restraints elsewhere in the service have been unavoidable. This is a problem at which we must all look. We have had to ask for limits to be placed on the numbers of civilians, traffic wardens and cadets, and on goods and services. When people ask for cuts in public expenditure to help the economic situation, they usually mean cuts in goods and services, unless they want cuts for the sake of them. If there is any argument economically, it is that goods and services shall be sold elsewhere to help the export drive, and so on. Therefore, it is not surprising that such cuts should be made. I suggest that it would be surprising if the measures considered necessary by the Government did not produce difficulties in particular areas.
I have had representations about some of the difficulties from individual chief officers and police authorities. The representations have not been about police manpower. I notice that one reputable newspaper got it wrong. It was a Saturday morning headline that it got wrong, so perhaps one could forgive it.
§ Mr. Rees
The hon. Gentleman may find that I can be helpful here if I give some facts. I hope that these difficulties can be settled locally, in a spirit of cooperation. To some extent, the decisions will reflect locally determined priorities.
I have considered this matter. I have certain powers. Other powers are in the hands of local authorities. We in this place can hardly stand up and talk about local democracy and then, when local authorities do things that we do not like, say that such matters should be determined nationally. Of course, we can say that, but we cannot have it both ways.
I hope that no local authority will seek to oblige its police authority to take measures that would unacceptably reduce the capacity of the police force to do its job. This is a delicate area, involving priorities as seen by local and central government police authorities and the police themselves. Over the years we have talked in the House about this delicate area. It is not surprising that in current circumstances we should be seeing 1750 some signs of strain, but it is right that we should keep a close watch on developments. The point that I am making is that I have powers regarding the numbers of policemen and policewomen, and they are increasing. As for cuts in public expenditure, the rate support grant, and so on, there are variations between different local authorities. The people who run those different local authorities are locally elected. There is a problem regarding what control I should exercise. I am prepared to deal with the point that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) may make. Local authorities are democratically elected locally, and there are delicate problems between myself and them and between them and police authorities.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I have had some experience of dealing with local authorities. How can the Secretary of State say that police manpower is not affected by reductions in the numbers of traffic wardens, civilian clerical aides and, of course, police cadets? Inevitably, if there are fewer civilian aides, more professional police officers will have to be taken off the job to carry out the clerical work. The same point applies to traffic wardens. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can maintain that the cutting of these ancilliary services has no effect on police manpower.
§ Mr. Rees
I agree that if the policeman has to go off his normal job to see children across the road, that must be so. My decision was based on what had to be done in terms of a real increase in my budget. The point that grieved me most concerned police cadets. I believe that they are the seed corn for the future. They receive an excellent education, as right hon. and hon. Members would know if they saw them in training. The judgment that I had to make at the end of the day was that it had to be in favour of policemen and women, and, in a different context, the Specials. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and I know the value of police reserves in Northern Ireland. That is not necessarily the view of the Police Federation, for other reasons. One has to make judgments. I understand the problems. Some policemen have to do paper work. I am sure that what we have said in the House will be noted by local authorities.
1751 I turn now to police pay. With regard to the difficulties over police pay and the pay negotiating machine, I was and am sorry that the Police Federations for England and Wales and Northern Ireland—but not for Scotland—have withdrawn from the Police Council—the body set up by Parliament to negotiate police pay. I emphasise that because, if there is any change, it is a matter for Parliament.
I do not consider that the withdrawal was justified. The official side of the Police Council, without any pressure from the Government, had made an offer of the maxima available under the pay policy. My predecessor and I have met the Police Federation on a number of occasions since the withdrawal, the latest occasion being on 19th January. Another meeting is being arranged for February.
During the phase of pay policy while other workers were limited to an increase of £6 a week, the police, up to the rank of Chief Superintendent, got considerably more. Their settlement amounted, in round figures, to 30 per cent. Special arrangements allowed this settlement, due from 1st September 1975, to stand. But for these arrangements, the police settlement would have been put into suspense. My predecessor, with me—I then being responsible for Northern Ireland—and the Secretary of State for Scotland, played some part in looking after the police interest.
Although I do not regard withdrawal from the Police Council as in any way justified, I recognise that the machinery is not working. In my meetings with the Federation I have been exploring what can be done to find a solution. I have agreed that there should be a review of the police pay negotiating machinery in which all those with an interest would have a right to participate. The precise form of this review is still a matter for consultation. I am also examining a proposal that the constitutional arrangements for the Police Federation should be examined. That will be a matter for this House. The House will recognise that this matter needs very careful consideration, bearing in mind the unique position of the police.
I hope that a settlement can be reached in the pay issue. Obviously I cannot go into this in detail now. But I should deal with one point. The suggestion has been made by some people 1752 that the pay issue should be referred to an independent person or body. That suggestion loses sight of the fact that what is at issue is the interpretation of the Government's pay policy. This is not a matter which lends itself to arbitration or adjudication. But, as I have said, discussions continue, and I hope that a solution will be found. I understand the problems of the police. If I did not before, certainly as Home Secretary I do now.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is being statesmanlike. Does he accept that this is not just another group of wage earners? The Government must take into account that these people are in a wholly different sphere—law and order—and that the strength and happiness of the police are essential if we are to maintain the country's strength on that front.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Therefore, this is surely a wholly different matter and should not be considered only with reference to the cost of living or the Government's incomes policy.
§ Mr. Rees
That was precisely the argument—I know the rules—when the matter was discussed in the Cabinet nearly two years ago. My predecessor said something like that. That is why the police got 30 per cent. instead of the lower figure that everybody else had. Therefore, that matter was taken into account. Recently I talked to someone skilled and older in politics than myself—not a Labour Member. We were discussing this matter the other day. He said "Nothing changes. That is what Home Secretaries have been doing for a long time." I am aware of the problem. We are trying to find our way out of a very difficult situation.
With regard to police matters in general, there are many things that I could say, but time goes on. I should like to pick up one point in which I am particularly interested. In my brief time at the Home Office, I have called together various people—the police, football people, British Rail, and colleagues in other Departments—to study the question of football hooliganism. Without going into the details, I want to get on record the fact that this is another matter 1753 on which nice simple answers seem to abound. Judging by the number of letters that I have received, a great many people have nice simple answers to football hooliganism.
I do not believe that the matter can be dealt with in that way. However, I should like to make this point. Those authorities or groups that arrange for young people—the problem is with those aged about 15 to 18—to arrive in Leeds, Manchester, or wherever the match is, at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning, with nothing to do until 2 p.m. when nowadays supermarkets sell everything from Nigerian riesling to vodka, should realise that it is not surprising that by 2 o'clock problems arise. Problems also arise after the match particularly if the away team loses and the supporters who are on the way home to the station feel that they must show their feelings.
I hope that those who organise the arrival of people for a match in the middle of Leeds—I have a particular interest here—will ensure that they get there at about 10 minutes to 3 o'clock in the afternoon, or 10 minutes before the match starts, and catch the train home at about 5.15 p.m. That would suit us very well, and it would save much police money, and the like. I am sure that many other towns face the same problem.
§ Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
The problem of football hooliganism in the metropolitan areas is also much affected by the times of arrival and departure of coaches.
§ Mr. Rees
I had that in mind as well, and it applies sometimes to places other than the middle of towns after a match. For one horrible moment I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to offer the result of a match that is to take place on Saturday. I should rather not get involved in that matter.
Being conscious of the time available to me, I shall not attempt to do justice to all the things that are being done. However, I want to turn to the treatment of offenders, which is an important matter in which the Government have a major responsibility in the ways in which courts may deal with offenders and the facilities provided to carry out their decisions. Naturally, it is an aim of the various ways in which offenders are dealt with that they 1754 should be deterred from committing further crime, and that those who have not yet offended should be deterred from committing crime at all.
I am satisfied that the penalties now available are sufficient, except that I hope that the proposals in the Criminal Law Bill that is now being considered in another place will be approved. Under the Bill, certain maximum fines and amounts of compensation which offenders may be ordered to pay by magistrates' courts will be increased to £1,000.
It is fair to say that, thanks to the policies of successive Governments over the last 10 years, we now have an imaginative and flexible range of methods available for dealing with offenders. I am not praising my efforts; I am referring to policies of Governments of all political persuasions. I think that that may be out of character with what we are supposed to do in the House, but it is not out of character with what happens in the Home Office. In that respect, it is a rather different Department.
Community service is, for instance, now available in all or part of 53 out of the 56 probation areas in England and Wales. Recently the scheme has extended to a further 24 petty sessions areas. In the year ending April 1976 the Probation Service reports that some 4,900 offenders received community service orders. I met members of the Probation Service the other day. There is no doubt that they feel that this is something important that ought to be developed.
Admittedly, some of the pressures for community service and other new methods of treatment, such as suspended sentence and parole, have come about because of the problem of accommodating increasing numbers of offenders sentenced to imprisonment. The question of overcrowded prisons in the past has prompted change. It has been one of the factors. But that is not the sole, nor even the principal, reason for the development of alternatives to imprisonment. Neither the present Government nor their predecessors have been pushed by the pressure of events into adopting policies which they believed were to soft. The fact is that the development of alternatives in this way has provided sentencers with a more graduated series of responses to meet the varied needs of offenders.
1755 It is unfortunately true—I come back to economics—that in the current economic situation it is difficult to increase resources in any direction. The prisons are overcrowded. The prison population recently rose as high as 42,000. I do not want to get involved in the numbers game. Temporarily the number is 40,400, but I am advised strongly that this always happens in January and that the number is on the way up, so it is no good taking that figure, because it will soon be bigger.
Conditions, particularly in local prisons, including the one in the city part of which I represent, fall far short of the desirable standard, and plans for increasing their capacity have had to be reduced. We now plan to provide about 4,500 extra places in the period up to 1981. Therefore, although 4,500 extra places will be provided, given the numbers that I have mentioned, obviously this will not be enough.
Clearly, however, it would be wrong for me not to continue to maintain a close watch on the situation and to keep under review—especially with regard to the adult population—all possible measures for intervening. I simply say that I am very concerned about the serious overcrowding that exists in our prisons.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border asked about the scheme that I introduced in Northern Ireland. I have not come to the House about that matter, because I have not made up my mind or discussed it sufficiently, although I told someone from the Press that I was considering it. The scheme that I had in Northern Ireland arose because there was no parole system. I do not want anything that I do to interfere with the parole system. In so far as I am considering such a scheme, it is for the shorter sentences, which are not affected by parole. In so doing, I think that I shall not be dealing with those who have been involved in violent crime, unless anyone has been given, perhaps, too short a sentence.
What I have learned with regard to shorter sentences in particular is that we have far more short-sentence people in prison here than has any other country in Western Europe. We have alcoholics and people who are inadequate. When some of them leave prison, they say "We shall 1756 be back very soon." It is a place where there is a regime that they understand.
It is a question not of being soft but of dealing with people of that kind in the best way. For people on shorter sentences—I am speaking of a sentence of 18 months or less, or something like that—there is no doubt that the length of sentence is not a major factor. Many of the people involved in this matter say that for many people sentenced for the first time the major factor is the shock of having a sentence imposed on them at all. Therefore, when I deal with this matter in the House I hope that no one will shout "Softy". It may be that we shall have looked at it for the first time in a more sensible way than we have in the past.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept, nevertheless, that the decision on the length of a sentence should be a matter of sentencing policy by the Judiciary and should not be taken by executive action, as has appeared in the past, by the Executive deciding arbitrarily on a remission, about which the court had no knowledge when it imposed the original sentence?
§ Mr. Rees
I understand that there is a problem. What I inherited was a system in which people got one-third remission anyway. It is not a new idea of mine. Remission is on the basis of behaviour in prison, and so on. It is not a new idea in that respect, and, indeed, parole itself to that extent interferes with the sentencing process.
Perhaps I may deal with the matter of research now, because obviously I shall not have time to follow it up in detail, otherwise I shall be speaking all night.
Quite properly, mention has been made of research. A great deal of research is done in the Home Office and by voluntary organisations, at Cambridge, and so on. What worries me is who reads it all. We should be considering the best way in which to make it available to people, and we should talk about these matters sensibly. This is all related to documentation produced by the Labour Party Research Office, the Conservative Party unit, and other organisations, and we must see that these matters are discussed. The media appear not to be very interested in the subject—probably because it is all too detailed. At present we 1757 appear to be preaching to the converted rather than to those who should be considering these matters.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I wish to reinforce what was said by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). I have three prisons in my constituency. Prison officers feel that their views are not getting through to the Home Office especially when there are disturbances. Will the right hon. Gentleman examine the situation to see whether there is a better form of procedure that could be adopted?
§ Mr. Rees
I shall examine that matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently made his view clear about the promotion of prison officers and their involvement.
There is another aspect to be considered than just sentencing policy. There is a wider aspect, touching penal policy, that must be considered. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall examine that aspect. It is important that we canvass the views of a large number of people on it.
The Executive of the Prison Officers Association carried out a helpful job in Northern Ireland. There is a tendency for prison officers to believe that all these discussions and debates comprise only the thoughts of wet and wishy-washy people, and that their views are of no interest. We must make it clear that we are not soft but are seeking to use our resources properly. Certainly the material that exists should be read more widely.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
On the point raised by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), my right hon. Friend said that these matters in the first instance were the primary responsibility of the Judiciary. To what extent can my right hon. Friend say that the Judiciary, through the Lord Chief Justice's office rather than his own Department, is apprised of these matters and receptive to them? One knows that judges have sentencing conferences, but to what extent are they seized of the information available?
§ Mr. Rees
There are discussions on these topics, and I am always interested 1758 to hear people's views. Before I take a decision as to the direction in which policy should go, I should like to know what people feel about it. I am in something of a dilemma.
In this context I had intended to give some information about young adult offenders. However, if I make that information available, possibly in the form of a Written Answer, it will enable me to devote a little more time to the important topic of children and young persons.
In considering the effect of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, it is not surprising that juvenile offenders should figure so prominently in a debate of this kind. Juvenile offences are matters of serious concern to us all. Some people are very much opposed to the whole approach to the Act. My impression is that much informed opinion agrees that it was, and remains, a great advance, much of which still remains to be worked through, in our methods of dealing with juvenile offenders and other children in trouble. That is the Government's view, and we do not contemplate going back on the principle of the Act.
At the same time we recognise anxiety about the means available to control the small hard core of serious and persistent juvenile offenders. It should not be thought that the courts are powerless to deal with this group. Parts of the Act which would have withdrawn from the courts the power to send juveniles to borstal and detention centres remain—and will remain for the present—unimplemented. Indeed, the juvenile population in these institutions has risen.
I wish to mention the effect of care orders. The Expenditure Committee made recommendations which would substantially have changed the balance of authority and discretion away from the local authority, as the treatment agency, back to the court. In particular the court would be given power to order "secure care" for repeated offenders.
The Government, for reasons given in the White Paper last May, were not persuaded that this was right; instead, they proposed a more modest change which would give the courts a say in the handling of a child committed to care, by authorising them to make a recommendation about his treatment.
1759 The Secretary of State for Social Services and I are well aware of the adverse reaction of magistrates to that proposal. Equally, we are aware of the anxieties of local authorities. We are anxious to find common ground. This is one of the matters that we have discussed with representatives of the magistrates and of the local authorities. We shall be meeting them jointly next week for discussion on these and other issues.
There is much more that could be said, but I think that I have given the House my views on Government policy. Given the uncertainty of much of our knowledge, and also given the fact that we are now in a period of restraint on resources, to what should we now be devoting our energies? We are talking not about spending money but about what resources should be made available. We do not know enough about the effects of any of the things that I have mentioned. Sometimes new ideas—including police patrolling, probation, and wider social policies—have their effect in whole or in part on the level of crime. In the police service there is renewed interest in the effect of varying methods of patrolling, and interesting research has been carried out in the United States.
In respect of offenders, many believe that it is the fact of imprisonment rather than the length of sentence that is the main deterrent. We need to study these questions with open minds and make available to those who need them the conclusions which emerge. I have tried to keep an open mind in this debate this afternoon.
We are all aware of the limitation of resources. The implication to be drawn is that society, too, has a responsibility. It has been said that society sets its own standards. Sometimes we in this House appear to be merely talking to ourselves rather than to any wider audience outside. We should do all we can to make others listen to what we say. People need a lead not only from this House but from the community, the trade unions, teachers, parents and others.
There is one area of concern about which I feel extremely strongly. In general company, sometimes we allow things to go by the board when clearly we are not in favour of them. There is always the dodger in every modern society. Such a person is often greeted 1760 with laughter rather than with criticism. I believe that this is an important matter, which we should have very much in mind.
The system aimed at preventing crime—the police, the courts, the prisons, probation, child care, and all the rest of it—does not exist to act by force against the rest of society; it exists to serve it. To do that it needs the full support and involvement of the community. The Government will give that effort their full support.
The Government believe in the rule of law. There will be no preferential treatment of anybody. I learned a great deal from my experience in Northern Ireland. I was against political status that involved preferential treatment for people in Northern Ireland. There will be no political status for those who go to gaol for terrorism in this country. There is a law, and it must be obeyed, but in interpreting these principles we must have an open mind. For too long there have been closed minds. I have an open mind, though not on principles, not because I am soft but because I believe that it is time that many of the matters discussed amongst a small group should be discussed more widely in the community.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am sure that the House is extremely grateful to the Home Secretary for his interesting and informative speech on this wide subject. His speech justified the Opposition's wisdom in choosing this subject on a Supply Day. The Home Secretary did not meet many of the vital points put forward so well by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), and I wish to concentrate on one aspect that will, no doubt, raise a certain amount of opposition.
The debate on the prevention of crime comes at a time and in the context of a crisis in violent crime. That crisis is that in two score years the number of crimes of violence has increased by 2,500 per cent. Most of that increase has occurred recently. The figure quoted today for crimes of violence known to the police in one year is 71,000.
Looking back in history, when the Cadogan Committee was considering corporal punishment in 1938, there were known to the police 3,000 offences of 1761 violence against the person a year. That figure remained fairly static until soon after the 1948 Act which abolished corporal punishment for crimes of violence, when the figures shot up. By the time the Barry Committee was studying corporal punishment in 1960 the offences known to the police involving violence to the person had risen from 3,000 to 14,000 a year. In recent years the increase has rocketed, until we now have 71,000 crimes of violence against the person known to the police in a year. From 3,000 in 1938, to 14,000 in 1960, to 71,000 now—that is the measure of what I believe to have been the error and the folly of the advice given to the country by the Barry Committee in 1960 that soft methods of dealing with violent crime were the best. They were not, and they have failed.
I want to express the public demand, which I know exists, that the ordinary method of discipline and punishment which most families adopt in their own homes should be restored so as to maintain discipline in public places. I am arrogant enough to say that I know that public demand exists because recently over a very short period a constituent of mine obtained in the North-West 750,000 signatures to a petition to bring back the birch for muggers.
I shall confine my remarks to just that—the birch as a permissible punishment for crimes of physical violence. I am not talking about the cat, nor do I wish to encroach upon the consideration of capital punishment. I am sure that every right hon. and hon. Member—whatever his view—knows that if that simple question were asked in a referendum the public would be overwhelmingly in favour of bringing back the birch. According to those who have studied this subject, at least 80 per cent. of the electorate would be in favour, seeing it as a particularly appropriate punishment and deterrent to the violent young criminals, the 100,000 offenders under 18, mentioned by my right hon. Friend.
The increase in the number of crimes of violence known to the police and called by the Police Superintendents' Associationthe decay in Britain's way of lifecan be attributed in part to the increase in population, the improvement in the 1762 methods of detection, and so on, but the statistics show that crimes of violence are increasing at double the rate of the increase of other crimes. We should, therefore, distinguish between the rate of increase in crime in general and the rate of increase in violent crime.
We must take notice of the reports we receive from hospitals to the effect that in casualty departments broken jaws and teeth, broken ribs, broken noses, stab wounds, kicks in the kidneys and boots in the groin now put the number of mugging victims at the top of the casualty list in hospitals—a place in the list that used to be occupied by road accident victims.
In another context, my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) warned the country that in certain circumstances rivers of blood would flow. In some of our cities, at least, streams of blood are now flowing, the blood of victims of mugging and stabbing. We only need to pick up a provincial newspaper on any day to find item after item about violence in the street. We must do something effective to prevent those streams from becoming rivers.
We now have to add the victim of mobile muggers. Earlier this week, in the Sun newspaper, it was reported that cars containing mobile muggers were parking near post offices and following the elderly who had just collected their pensions. What happened then I will quote from the report:Their car pulls up behind the victim—nearly all have been women—and one of the youths jumps out. He gives the woman a hefty shove, grabs her handbag and jumps back into the car.It is pointed out that serious injuries have occurred in many cases, and the police are afraid that deaths will result from mobile mugging.
It may be said that robbery for money has always been with us, and at times we have hero-worshipped the highwayman, but today we have a more revolting, bestial and sadistic crime than robbery. In my constituency a fortnight ago a man was knocked to the ground by three youths, kicked and seriously injured. He was carrying £30, but none of the money was stolen. That was violence for the sake of violence. That is the sort of crime we face now—hurting and injuring the helpless just 1763 for the sake of it, mugging a fellow human being just for the kick of it.
The Barry Committee is 1960 resulted from the teddy boy troubles at that time. That was gang versus gang, and no figures had emerged in 1960 for the sadist versus the innocent stranger type of crime that occurs today.
Even in those days, the Barry Committee advised against the restoration of corporal punishment. Its advice, if I may fairly summarise the report, was that, although corporal punishment would not substantially reduce crimes of violence, it would reduce those crimes, and that, although corporal punishment would not be an especially effective deterrent, it would be a deterrent. The two words "substantially" and "especially" I quote from the report. In short, the Barry Committee said "Corporal punishment would be a deterrent, but we do not like it". Nor does anyone like it, but the crux of the problem is how to check the increase in crimes of violence. That is what must be done, and it is what our present system is failing to do.
The certainty of detection, which is the primary deterrent, has, of course, increased by improved methods of detection, but we still have an insufficient police force. The courts' powers of imprisonment have been increased, but we have insufficient prison accommodation, so that there is a sort of enforced leniency by the courts. In 1961 great reliance was put on detention centres, but we have very few. We have increased the limits of fines the courts can impose, either on the person convicted or, if it is a young person, on the parents. But the non-payment of fines is a public scandal, and a substantial amount is never paid. As a result, crimes of violence continue to increase.
Those who are opposed to corporal punishment argue that we should not inflict in punishment the very thing which the punishment is intended to deter; but if there is logic in that argument at all we ought not to fine the thief, or imprison those who imprison their victims as did the Balcombe Street gang, which is a topical item at present.
Those who are opposed to corporal punishment also point out that it has been abolished in most of Europe and that we have signed the European Convention 1764 for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Article 3 of that Convention states:No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.It is stretching the meaning of "torture" very far to include in its interpretation a judicial sentence of birching. And what is meant byinhuman or degrading treatmentin the article that I have quoted? Is not imprisonment always degrading and inhuman, and could it come under that description? I am sure that Article 3 of the Convention was intended for administrative action, and not to apply to judicial sentences after genuine and fair trial.
It seems to me that common sense and experience proves that the fear of the sharp physical pain of a birching is indeed a deterrent to the kind of coward who attacks the defenceless, the elderly and the weak. The courts ought now to be given the discretion to impose such a sentence.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
One needs to put the question of crime in its true perspective. While one should not be complacent about the crime figures today, I do not think we should join the chorus which believes that we are, in fact, essentially a criminal society. I think it is quite the reverse. The crime rate of British society is very much less than the crime rates of many other societies, be they non-democratic or democratic.
I would not want anyone to be self-satisfied on the subject of criminal statistics, but amusingly—possibly it is a point against what I have just said—I was recently advising my temporary assistant from the United States what a peaceful and law-abiding society we were. But two days later all her American Express cheques were "knocked off". Perhaps my argument did not seem as impressive to her as it would to other people whom I might seek to convince.
I want to talk about a subject which has received little attention in the House or outside. It is a subject which deserves a great deal more attention and it concerns the growth of the private security industry. The hon. Member for Sutton 1765 Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) introduced a Ten-Minute Bill on this subject in 1972. I shall be introducing a Ten-Minute Bill on the same subject on 8th February.
Far too little attention has been given to this remarkable phenomenon over the last 10 years. We need to look at how the private security industry operates and the ways in which it can be assisted and—this is not paradoxical—controlled. At present it has existed with almost the absence of control. Ironically, the industry itself is clamouring for some form of registration and control, which so far has been denied.
I must declare a non-interest. I have no financial interest whatever in the private security industry. I must confess that originally I had a feeling of trepidation and fear about the growth of the private security industry. We read periodic sensational reports in the newspapers about it. We hear of private security firms in the United States and the terrifying spectacle of men carrying sub-machine guns and rifles and driving around in enormous armoured vehicles. That frightens me and other people as well.
Having looked at the subject in a disinterested but serious way, I feel that the private security industry has a great contribution to play in the prevention of crime. It really deserves much closer scrutiny from this place and, perhaps, from other institutions as well. That is not to say that I have no anxieties about private security firms. I do have anxieties, but they are directed mainly at the smaller companies.
Although the larger companies dominate the industry in terms of the money they transport and turn over, they are only about 5 per cent. of the total number. Most of the companies operating in the private security industry are small. Those are the companies that I express my greatest concern about.
In an ideal world we could do without private security firms. Perhaps the time will come when we shall be able to do so. Perhaps the ideal time will come when we shall be able to do without the ordinary police. Regrettably that is some distance away, if, indeed, it will ever be achieved.
1766 The corollary of what I have been saying about the growth of the industry is that it must come far more within the ambit of the law than at present. Ten years ago the private security industry was very small and consisted often of an aged night-watchman and little else. But over the last 10 years it has witnessed a proliferation of companies and, in many cases, a growing sophistication. It is not just a British phenomenon but a worldwide phenomenon.
I read that in the United States American companies spend $6.6 billion annually on private guards. That amount has grown by 46 per cent. in the last five years. In the United States a total of 800,000 people worked for private security firms as opposed to 450,000 State or local police. I believe that the number of people employed by private security firms in Britain exceeds the number of police that we have in uniform.
One specialist on the private security industry in the United States says that there is only one business better than theirs, and that is crime. As long as it flourishes, they flourish. The reasons for this growth are obvious: the growth of crime and in many cases the slow growth in the numbers of police and people wanting to fill the vacuum by establishing private security firms. In some ways the areas covered by private security firms may duplicate those covered by the police. In most ways, however, they are entering areas which the ordinary police would not want to enter or legally would be prevented from entering.
I estimate that over 100,000people work for private security firms in this country. It is a major industry. It deserves much closer scrutiny than it has so far received This is not to denigrate the larger companies such as Security Express, Securicor or Group Four. I am more concerned about the smaller companies and the ease with which people can form a private security company. It is almost impossible for anyone to set up in competition with, say, Securicor because one would need to spend £30,000 on buying a van and back-up equipment for headquarters staff. It is not the kind of industry that one can easily enter if one is seeking to give protection to money or valuables in transit. It is incredibly easy, however, to set oneself up as a small private security firm offering services to guard 1767 and patrol factories and offices. It has been said that all that is required is headed notepaper, second-hand fire brigade uniforms, a few moth-eaten Alsatians and—bingo!—one is in business.
The matter can be over-dramatised. I am not suggesting that criminals coming out of Pentonville or Wormwood Scrubs instinctively form private security firms straight away. But although the figures perhaps do not suggest that vast numbers of ex-criminals are forming private security firms or working in them, the matter is a cause for concern. In theory known criminals could do so and I suggest that it happens. I am not thinking of people who pinched apples at the age of 14 or have committed minor, or less than minor, indiscretions. With the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act the slate is wiped clean of certain crimes. But there is anxiety about the ease with which people with serious criminal records could penetrate private security firms for their own advantage, either as employees or as employers.
When we talk of the scope of the industry, we should not talk simply about people providing guard facilities or transit facilities, firms such as Securicor. We are talking about the part of the industry providing alarms and the section dealing with safes and locks. We should also consider the industrial police. Many large companies and some medium-size companies have their own police forces. We could include private detectives. When we add up all the different branches, we realise the magnitude of the subject. We should not concentrate in this debate on the rôle of the police and neglect this area of the defence of society against the criminal.
I do not want to exaggerate the sanctity of private property. As a Socialist, I am not as preoccupied with the preservation of private property as others may be. But we are talking, too, about the preservation of public property. Many private security companies are guarding public property. In Cardiff the new Companies House is guarded by a private security firm.
My researches have not been as extensive as I should like, but on a recent visit to the United States I talked to security companies and saw how they operated. In Atlanta, I saw the agency 1768 set up by the State of Georgia to regulate private security firms. I have also had discussions with all the major security firms—this country and their association, the British Security Industry Association. I have spoken to numerous specialists and have read a great deal on the subject. Therefore, I do not approach it simply as one who has read two articles and then rushed in to make a speech.
We should look at foreign examples but we should not be too preoccupied with the United States. Thankfully, our cultures and institutions are very different. I should not like to see security guards armed, and I am sure that the security industry would hate to see that happen. The guards are not even allowed to carry truncheons in this country, which is something that they and I welcome. I would hate to see the kind of ethos in which the private security firms in the United States operate. But the United States can tell us something about licensing. The companies there have to satisfy rigid criteria before they can set up in business, whereas in this country there is an absence of restraint. When I told the Americans how it was possible for a person with no qualifications, and possibly with a criminal record, to set himself up in the business without his financial backing or personnel having to be checked, they fell on the floor laughing.
As well as learning from the Americans about licensing and professionalism, we can learn a great deal about training. I wonder how many private security firms here, even the major ones, have a training programme on a par with that of the police. I suggest that many have no training programme. That is a matter that we should not leave to the industry. The State has a rôle.
There is a great demand for licensing from the industry, the BSIA, many hon. Members and Members of another place, academic and insurance circles and parts of the police force. Unfortunately, the Home Office is obdurate on the matter. Letters that I wrote to the previous Home Secretary, Mr. Roy Jenkins, evoked a less than satisfactory response. One reply was a letter of 29th June 1976, the day it was announced that one of the leading lights in a robbery at Heathrow Airport involving £2 million had a long 1769 criminal record and worked for a private security firm. Mr. Roy Jenkins wrote:I am not at present persuaded … that there is sufficient justification for a stricter form of limitation or control over private security organisations than is provided under the existing law. As you point out, employees of these organisations have no powers or privileges beyond those enjoyed by any citizen under the law of this country. If there was any evidence of an infringement of the law or a threat of a breach of the peace, I am sure the police would not hesitate to take appropriate action. Although I should be prepared to look again at the question if there was more concrete evidence of the need for greater statutory control, I do not think the case is yet made.This is ironic. Industry often expresses the view "Government, get off our backs". We want to remain free of control. The Government often seek to extend their influence—to the detriment of the companies concerned, in the view of those companies. Yet here we see the reverse happening. The Home Office says that the industry can police itself. The BSIA can police its members, but it has only a fraction of the total industry among its members. I do not know how it can control those outside its scope. The security industry is saying "We want some form of regulation", and it should be provided by the Government. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary will reconsider the situation. If he disagrees with me, I shall no doubt hear in good time, but there is a strong case and I hope that the Home Office will give it more favourable consideration.
I do not want to overstate the case. It would be false to assume that everyone working for a small company is a crook of a potential crook. We know full well that even with the strongest vetting of all, in the police service, it is not unknown for a person with a criminal record to join the police or for a person who was honest when he entered to leave the straight and narrow later. I have no intention of criticising the police. My father was a police officer for 29 years, and the last thing I would do is to criticise the police. I would have my father on my back, which is something I do not want.
I have already mentioned the Heathrow robbery. Other examples can be found in newspapers. The Birmingham 1770 Evening Mail of 5th August last year reported:Sentencing a young man at Birmingham Crown Court, Deputy Circuit Judge Griffiths said 'It seems to me to be a strange thing that a man with a record like that should be employed as a security officer'.We often see in the sensational Press exposures of people with criminal records. We should not exaggerate the danger, but it exists.
We must, therefore, be more vigilant. I hope that I have made or will make the case for regulations, and I shall elaborate my case on 8th February in my Ten-Minute Bill.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that his strictures are against those who provide the men and not those who manufacture or install intruder alarm systems?
§ Mr. George
I believe that that section of the industry is well regulated and is no cause for concern, as is the lock and safe side. It is the guarding and transit side which merits closer consideration.
To cut crime, we need greater vigilance. Many people take no precautions. Some think that simply hiring a private security firm solves all their problems. It is no guarantee. Even the major security companies are robbed, and one may get a dud outfit among the smaller firms.
In Walsall, but not in my constituency, thieves rushed a car—not an armoured vehicle—driven by two security guards aged 73 and 69 and stole £20,000. When hordes of armed men descend on a car in that way, it would need a combination of the Bionic Man, Superman and perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) to frighten them off. I have not investigated the background of that firm, but I know that it is asking for trouble to have two men supplementing their old-age pensions by guarding £20,000.
I hope that the Home Office will consider some form of inquiry—I am not being dramatic and asking for a Royal Commission or a commission of inquiry—into the private security industry, the way it operates and its problems and to see whether some form of licensing is needed. There are many models for 1771 such licensing which are worthy of consideration. I should favour the kind of licensing system that we see in other areas of public, professional and business life. I hope that I have made a reasonable case. Because of its size and scope, the industry merits investigation.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) for his reference to the paper on juvenile crime produced by a study group which he set up. I also thank the Home Secretary for accepting my right hon. Friend's invitation to look at that paper. That saves me a great deal of trouble, since I now do not have to mention juvenile crime.
Another subject which is causing mounting concern among hon. Members and people outside is the state of our prisons and what is happening, and, perhaps more important, what is likely to happen in future. I do not know whether the Home Secretary will agree, but I believe that two of the principal reasons for the incipient, if not actual, crisis in our prisons are over-population and under-staffing. In November last year the prison population reached 42,000, which the previous Home Secretary, Mr. Jenkins, described, when anticipating that figure as "intolerable".
Last year, at Hull Prison, there was an outburst of violence and rioting which must have disturbed everyone with an interest in the proper administration of those establishments and the control and discipline of their inmates. If Hull were considered in isolation it would be disturbing enough, but it cannot be examined in isolation. In 1969 there was rioting at Parkhurst, and in 1972 at Gartree. At Hull last year the degree of violence was more serious than in any riots since the Dartmoor mutiny in 1932. I do not want to be a pessimist or to say that this will get worse. It may, but I cannot help feeling that there is some sort of pattern here which should warn us what might happen in future.
On Monday night in the "Panorama" programme the BBC was bold enough to put on a film, with commentary, about the riots at Hull. I admired the caution with which it approached that subject and the warnings which it was careful to give 1772 about accepting as factual some of the so-called evidence given by various people. That was wise, because at the moment, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Mr. Fowler, is investigating what happened in Hull.
There were reports on what happened at Parkhurst in 1969 and Gartree in 1972. The governors, the prison officers and the public are in entire ignorance about what those reports contained. I am sure that we can all understand the need to be careful to do nothing to undermine prison security but, with all the ingenuity and imagination that I can apply, I do not see the sense of having these reports if the governors and the prison officers—I mention them alone— who could learn lessons from the past, are denied all knowledge of what happened. I beg the Home Secretary to consider the publication of the report on the Hull riots when it is produced in the next few weeks.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I have not checked what I said in my parliamentary answer but I will tell the hon. and learned Gentleman what I said should be done. The report is being written with the intention of publishing it. I must leave myself with a certain amount of room for manoeuvre, for reasons I have given previously, but I have asked for the report to be written with the intention of publishing at the end of the day.
§ Mr. Gardner
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for that encouraging news. I shall go one step further and ask him to consider publishing at the same time the reports on the riots at Parkhurst and Gartree, even if they are now outdated. There must be lessons in those reports—it would be remarkable if there were not—which could be used as a guide for the future by those responsible for the administration of our prisons.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Of course I will consider that. My predecessors in both parties took views about why that should not be done, but I will look into the matter. I am responsible for Hull Prison.
§ Mr. Gardner
I think we all agree that prison is the most severe penalty that the law can impose and most people—I am one of them—believe it ought to stay that way, but if a man is entitled to justice outside prison, he is just as entitled to justice inside prison. We are justly proud of taking immense pains to see that 1773 justice is done, and that there is no abuse of the procedures and powers of our courts. Justice should protect the accused during and after his trial, and, if he is convicted and sentenced, justice should not be allowed to desert him as soon as the prison gates close behind him. I think that this simple statement of principle would be supported by everyone who has anything to do with our prisons.
Unhappily, we are in the uncomfortable position of finding that our prison rules have been severely criticised by the European Court of Justice. This is very unfortunate. The court considered Rules Nos. 33, 34 and 37, and was principally concerned with the rule dealing with the right of a prisoner to consult his legal advisers.
I am sure that the Home Secretary will remember the case of a Mr. Golder, who was in Parkhurst Prison during the riots of 1969. At one stage a prison officer wrote a report to the governor indicating that Golder might have been one of those who took part in the riots, but later other evidence suggested strongly that he could not possibly have taken part. Golder therefore attempted to consult his solicitor with a view to taking proceedings against the prison officer, but the Home Secretary of the day refused to allow him to consult a solicitor because at that time the rules prevented a prisoner who was not a party to an action from consulting his solicitor in this way. As a result, Mr. Golder took the case to the European Court of Justice, which found that the Home Secretary's refusal to allow Mr. Golder to consult his solicitor contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.
Since that case the rules have been amended. I do not want to go into tedious details about the rules; it is sufficient to say that now a prisoner who is not a party to proceedings may be allowed to correspond with his solicitor, to instruct his solicitor, or to ask his solicitor for advice.
I ask the Home Secretary to have another look at those rules. I concede that rules are drawn up to improve control and discipline in prisons, and that must have been the only reason why the rules were drawn up in their original form, but I hope that people outside and inside the House, and especially the Home Secretary, will agree that if we 1774 make rules which are over-restrictive we create a cause for increased tension in prisons, and we do not help security, but undermine it. Therefore I ask the Home Secretary to look again at these rules, just as they have been reconsidered in other countries, for example, in various States of the United States and in Ontario. Canada, where rules of this kind have been swept away—or at least the restrictive aspect of the rules. That has been done for the benefit of the prisoners, and for the improvement of discipline and control. The Home Secretary must look again at these rules to be sure they act as a safety valve for justice, to be interfered with only at the risk of an explosion of the kind which affected Hull Prison, and which, if we are not careful, may affect other prisons in this country.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-east)
I very much agree with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), and I hope that in my remarks I shall be able to carry him with me so that we may have some inter-party agreement on this subject. I am delighted that we have been given an opportunity to debate the subject. We should be grateful to the Opposition for giving us that chance, because these debates are very infrequent. This is an area in which there is a great deal of public concern, especially among those involved with penal reform. Such persons are trying to persuade the Home Secretary to relax some of the regulations which cause a great deal of tension within the prison system.
I do not wish to talk tonight about young persons who get into difficulty, although that would be legitimate on this occasion. I want to talk about the way in which we manage our offenders once we put them in prison. I would like to draw on my experience of prisons in other countries which I have visited, ranging from Finland to Mexico and all points in between.
I am concerned about the situation in many of our old prisons. Hon. Members have already referred to the fact that we have passed the crucial figure of 42,000 in our prison population. An increasing number of men are incarcerated three to a cell—a cell originally built for one. 1775 I have visited many of the old prisons in this country, particularly in 1967 when the Estimates Committee went to Leeds, Wakefield, Strangeways and others.
We were horrified on that occasion by the conditions we found. We were particularly horrified by the primitive toilet facilities—one might almost say lack of toilet facilities. Men were having to live three to a cell and perform all their bodily functions in the cell. In those conditions there is no privacy to think or to read. They are never able to get away from other men. These are appalling conditions. I think it is brutal to leave large numbers of men in these conditions. I would hope that we could relieve the situation. If we look at the example of more far-sighted countries we might find ways of doing it.
I do not have time to refer to many countries, so I shall confine my remarks to two. The Dutch have shown that they have far more regard for the principles of John Howard than have his own countrymen. Many of the proposals which he put forward for penal reform have been enacted in Holland. The Dutch have a different approach to offenders.
The probation officer's report in a Dutch court is of more importance and weight than the police officer's report. That is contrary to the position in this country. In Holland lay people are brought into the whole range of treatment and rehabilitation in a way which has been suggested here but never acted upon. About 20,000 lay volunteers work in conjunction with probation officers acting as "friends of offenders", frequently on a one-to-one basis. Sometimes the "friends" are in touch with two or three offenders, but it is done only if the offender agrees to the "friend" nominated. Sometimes he can suggest his own "friend", and sometimes the probation officer will suggest a suitable person. In all cases the offender must accept the person suggested before he is engaged. This is a way in which voluntary workers can build up good relationships with offenders which is essential for success. If the offender is hostile to a voluntary worker the scheme is doomed to failure.
The volunteers are given brief training and they work under the supervision of the probation officer. They have access 1776 to the probation officer for help at all times. This scheme has proved successful in 70 per cent. of all cases, according to the Dutch. "Successful" means that the offences are not repeated and that the offenders have not got into trouble with the police during their probation period, which may be up to two years. That is good. In this country we know that there are frequent repeated offences and that the men are often back in prison in a short time.
In Holland, disturbed offenders are treated in the community wherever possible. In this country we put them in prison. The key to the successful treatment of highly disturbed offenders within the community is the case load of the probation officer and the social worker. In Holland not more than 30 cases are cared for by a team of psychiatrists and social workers acting together. In this country all social workers have very heavy case loads, regardless of the cases they are dealing with, and can give only a small amount of time to each one.
Holland has managed to reduce its prison population in the last decade by one-fifth, which is a considerable reduction. If the number of persons in prison is reduced, the amount of money which has to be spent on them is also reduced. Knowing the cost of keeping an offender in prison in Britain, I would have thought that this was a very powerful argument for pursuing this line and trying to get people out of prison for treatment in the community.
In Holland first offenders are seldom prosecuted, unless they have committed a serious crime. Therefore, the Dutch are actually able to close prisons and there is no agitation for more to be built. This is rather different from the situation in this country.
That is possible only if a new sentencing policy is introduced. The aim of the Dutch judiciary is to keep as many people out of prison for as long as possible. This makes sense because, as is known all over the world, prison is a very good institution for training more criminals. It is a powerful argument that prison should be used only as a last resort.
In 1952, 30 per cent. of all Dutch prison sentences were for less than one month. Today, more than 56 per cent. 1777 are of that duration. A prison sentence of a year or more is regarded as a long one and is given in only 3 per cent. of cases. It is the Dutch attitude that long sentences undermine a sense of responsibility and initiative, and this would appear to be a good guideline. Very dangerous offenders are treated in special clinics, but even there there is a relaxed régime similar to that in other Dutch prisons. Generally, Dutch prisons have a much more relaxed régime than prisons in this country. Prisoners wear their own clothes so that they do not have a feeling of being regimented and all looking alike and being treated alike. Prisoners send and receive as many letters as they like. Each establishment has a prisoners' committee to discuss problems with the governor and staff, and prisoners' letters are not censored.
No one knows better than prison officers that overcrowded prisons are difficult to run and unpleasant to work in. They are counter-productive because they react on prison officers and prisoners alike. Large prisons are particularly unpleasant when they are overcrowded. The largest prison in Holland holds only 150 inmates. That is very different from the situation here. There are many open prisons where prisoners go out to work each day, and Dutch employers tend to be more tolerant and open-minded than employers here. There is little difficulty in getting prisoners placed in jobs. The general public try to co-operate and help in the rehabilitation process. We have a job in this country to try to bring about a more tolerant public opinion which will allow more reforms to take place in the prison régime.
My second example is Sweden, another country in which the number of men in prison is falling and not increasing. In 1973 new legislation was introduced to switch the emphasis to probation and community care, similar to Holland. A considerable number of new posts have been created for case workers, psychologists and probation officers and new training programmes have been introduced. A lot of lay people are being used in the care of offenders within the community. Housewives, youth leaders and retired policemen are paid a nominal monthly sum for the work they do, which is a small recompense for some of the 1778 expenses they incur in meeting the prisoners they are looking after.
Sweden has prison councils and other prisoners' organisations in which all kinds of internal matters can be discussed. There is no control over letters sent or received, and there are coin-operated telephones. Prisoners in open prisons get six home leaves a year and receive special monthly visits from their prison visitors. They also get conjugal visits. We made similar proposals some time ago, but the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister, was unwilling to consider them.
In Sweden, prisoners working in prison workshops get the rate for the job for a 40-hour week. That is quite different from the system here, where we pay prisoners a derisory sum each week with which they can do nothing but buy tobacco. We do not employ them on meaningful work, and in many of our old prisons the amount of time spent in work can be as little as two hours a day simply because of the way in which the prisons are operated and because we use the time of prison officers in unlocking and locking doors and in shepherding prisoners, locking and unlocking doors before and after them. Instead, we should be using them on rehabilitation work within the prisons.
We use a great deal of the money spent on the prison service in a counterproductive and sterile way. In Sweden, with modern workshops, a proper working week and a proper wage, prisoners are able to pay for their board and lodging and their food. They are able to send money to their families, which is tremendously important in terms of self-respect. They are also able to save money for their release, and they take it with them. They pay tax on their prison earnings.
Those who have visited some of our prisons will realise that there is a strong contrast in the conditions which obtain in our prisons. I think that it is a very severe punishment, in addition to the punishment of putting people in prison, to lock them away for long periods. This affects both men and women. Fortunately women are more law-abiding, and there are far fewer women than men in prison. Only a tiny proportion of them are there for long sentences, so that their physical conditions are less severe. But 1779 the effect of keeping prisoners away from their families, separating them from husbands or wives and their children, are just as severe. Anxieties about family, including children, and the sexual deprivation which exists when people are in prison for a long time have an appalling effect on prisoners. Much of the tension ending in riots—in Hull and Parkhurst—stems from bottling up large numbers of men for long periods in grossly overcrowded conditions. Three men to a cell without any privacy and always with others there to see and hear everything is a terrible punishment which should be no part of a humane prison service.
Such methods make no contribution to rehabilitation. I think we need to consider ways in which we can develop contacts for prisoners with the world outside, particularly with their families. In Sweden home leave is frequent, and unsupervised visits in both open and closed prisons are permitted. They have been a normal feature for the past 20 years. Therefore, if my right hon. Friend repeats the excuse of his predecessor that there are acute problems of security which are too difficult to overcome, I urge him to look at what Sweden has been doing, because the Swedes have overcome these difficulties.
Special rooms, which are decently furnished, are available in the prisons. In open prisons, prisoners can receive visitors in their own rooms. They are not described as cells because they are properly furnished rooms. Prisoners are able to lock the door if they wish, thus providing complete privacy for a considerable period. What the prisoner and his visitor do during that time is their business.
In the United States, conjugal visits are allowed in some States. In some States the visitor must be the wife or husband of the prisoner. In Sweden, however, that is not so. It is for the prisoner to nominate his common law wife or whoever he wants to come in. Many prisons in Sweden have visitors' accommodation separate from the prison wings. This is what the Estimates Committee suggested when it said that special accommodation should be provided near to the entrance to the prison so that visitors would not have to go near the prison block. Some prisons in Sweden have flats outside the prison for family 1780 visits. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member thinks that is so funny.
§ Mrs. Short
I am describing a civilised régime within a prison system. If the hon. Member wants anything constructive from the system, in contrast to what we have now, he must accept that we must show an open mind and consider the experience of other countries that have done better than we have.
Wherever unsupervised visits have been introduced, whether in Sweden, the United States or anywhere else, it is interesting to note that the prison governors involved have all reported a considerable improvement in the atmosphere in the prisons. There has been a considerable reduction of tension, and the prisoners are much easier to manage. The prisons have been better places to be in, for both prisoners and staff. In no circumstances would the governors want to go back to the system which existed before unsupervised visits were introduced.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
The hon. Lady said that the atmosphere in the prisons had improved because of these reforms. That may be the case. Is she saying that the crime figures—because this debate is about the prevention of crime—in Sweden and Holland are now lower than they were 10 years ago? If she is saying that, the source of her figures is at variance with all other international statistics on the subject.
§ Mrs. Short
I do not know what statistics the hon. Gentleman has been looking at, but the fact is that more persons are out of prison in Sweden and Holland and there is no public outrage about that. It is accepted by the general public. I think that the hon. Member has omitted to look at the most common offences. For instance, in Sweden the most common are those connected with drinking and driving. They have increased in number. The offences that we regard as serious, however, have not increased. Therefore, the fact that offenders can be treated in a different way means that fewer people are brought within the university of crime—which is prison—and do not get into contact with other prisoners. That is a 1781 good thing, and it is different from the situation here.
We cannot hope to reform men and women by putting them in wretched conditions under severe restraint. If prison is to be in any way positive or rehabilitative, the conditions have to be humane and not degrading. We need to take this on board to see how we can improve the system while probably saving ourselves a great deal of money.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, (Mrs. Short) will not expect me to follow her into the jolly prisons of Sweden or Holland.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I would very much like to congratulate the Home Secretary on his wide-ranging speech. He showed a combination of humanity and firmness which was most attractive. I deal primarily with the subject of crime, and in particular with the police, with whom, as the House knows, I have a special connection.
I start with the dimensions. The Home Secretary quite reasonably said that it is possible to misjudge the situation simply by looking at the statistics, and I agree. But I do not think he would disagree that crime has increased 10 times in this country since 1940. Arrests for indictable offences have gone up from roughly 250,000 in 1939 to 500,000 in 1960, 750,000 in 1965, 1.5 million in 1970 and just over 2 million a year today. By contrast, the numbers of the police have increased by approximately 10 per cent. The other day Sir Robert Mark said:I now have 400 men less than we had in 1921 when the Metropolitan Police area was smaller, the working week was longer and the crime rate was one-twentieth of its current levels.I put it to the Home Secretary that no amount of uncertainty about the figures can alter that basic fact.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman intended to pursue that point, but during the 10 years that I have been 1782 involved with the police I have seen the development of swift and direct means of communication. That is a central point and, without invalidating the argument, it means that we are not comparing like with like.
§ Mr. Griffiths
But 2 million crimes compared with a quarter of a million is enormous growth, and police resources have not increased commensurately. Crimes such as fraud are now far more complex. There is more mobility and sophistication on the part of the criminal. Above all, there is more violence. I need give only two illustrations. One is urban terror with its consequent demands on the police. No one knows better than the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) about urban terror in our country. The most persistently murderous and terrorised portion of the Western world today is part of the United Kingdom. I refer, of course, to Ulster.
The other example is the number of assaults on policemen, which are now running at the rate of about 15,000 a year. Although some assaults are less severe than others, between 25 and 30 policemen suffer assaults during the average working day that are serious enough to win their victims compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. I understand, however, that in order to save money the Board is proposing to raise the minimum figure for damage for which compensation may be paid from £50 to £150. Cuts, bruises, broken noses and contusions suffered by the victims of criminal assault no longer will be compensated unless they happen to cause more than £150 worth of damage. I cannot think of a more miserable and unfeeling economy than that.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I have been involved in the scheme in Northern Ireland, which is slightly different. But this increase was meant to deal with inflationary aspects. One cannot have it both ways. What was worth £50 is now worth £150. This is not meant to be picking on anybody.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Weekly, many injuries are suffered by policemen at football matches that will fall below the new level but ought to be compensated as criminal injuries.
1783 Another element in the problem is juvenile crime, which is arguably our biggest growth industry. A quarter of a million young people are found guilty of criminal offences each year, 25,000 of them under the age of 15. Each year 50,000 juveniles are found guilty of serious offences by higher courts. There is a large proportion of juvenile crime in London, where juveniles are now responsible for half the recorded burglaries, two-fifths of the robberies and motoring offences and over one-third of shoplifting and personal thefts.
So much for the growing threat of crime. I now turn to our defences and, in particular, the police. Police morale is not high today. There is more discontent in the police service now than at any time since the war. This has expressed itself in a number of ways—for example, at meetings of the Police Federation, some of which have been ugly and shown great passion. There has been, and still is, wide talk of industrial action.
Every police force in the country is overworked and undermanned. The Home Secretary has quite reasonably pointed to the substantial increase in expenditure, and I acknowledge what he has done, but I must point out that we are now in a time of cuts. The notorious Home Office Circular 191 of 1976 will have an extremely bad effect. That fact has been underlined by the chief officers of police, and I understand that the Home Secretary is to meet them soon. The House will want to know what will result from the circular.
By 1978, the total number of police cadets will be reduced to just over half of what it was in 1974. This means that the number of cadets will be cut by the end of the financial year to 3,500 compared with 5,000 in 1974. Many forces are faced with the virtual abandonment of cadet training schemes which have been built up over the years and which, as the Home Secretary fairly said, have proved their worth in supplying the service with thousands of excellent young police officers. It is absurd that at the same time as chief constables have been told to emasculate their cadet schemes they have also been told to find work for school leavers under the job creation scheme. This is ludicrous.
1784 There have never been so many youngsters looking to the police for careers as there are today. Last year the Metropolitan Police received more than 5,000 applications from youngsters wanting to join the cadets. Yet because of the cuts there will be no vacancies until January 1978, when, it is hoped, just 40 boys and girls will be accepted. In 1974 there were 1,000 Metropolitan Police cadets. In March next there will be only 413. The Home Secretary said fairly that he regretted the cuts, and so do I, very much.
Traffic wardens will be reduced to 20 per cent. below the establishment level of 1974. I quote Mr. Jardine of the Police Federation, who put it well. He saidFewer traffic wardens on the streets does not mean that there will be fewer vehicles. The only result will be that the police will be diverted from essential tasks to deal with traffic restraint.There will also be cuts in civilian aids to the police. The whole idea of having civilians working in the police force is to release trained and experienced police manpower to deal with the job of fighting crime. Inevitably, as civilian aid is reduced, more policemen will have to be taken off that work and put into clerical support services. The Home Secretary has no doubt fought to avoid such cuts. I accept his points about making judgments and about local authorities, but none of us should try to kid the country that these cuts will do anything other than reduce the level of police manpower involved in tackling crime.
I now turn to police morale and, in particular, the row between the police and the Government. That row is not wholly about pay. There is a great deal more to it than that. But pay is, of course, at the heart of the matter, and I shall outline the bare essentials of the problem to the House.
The heart of the police case is that they want to receive the same £6 pay increase as all other public servants had under phase 1 of the Government's agreement with the TUC. The Government's response is that most policemen had a double-figure increase in 1975 and that special arrangements were made for them to receive it. The Government also point out that this was actually paid during phase 1 while most other workers were limited to £6. On the 1785 other hand, the 1975 police pay settlement was agreed before the £6 limit was introduced and no allowance was made for it. The police also point out that their increase was retrospective in that it allowed the police pay to catch up with the salaries of miners, power workers, railwaymen and teachers—all of whom had received enormous rises during the present Government's first year in office. The police rise also reflected a comprehensive restructuring exercise worked out with Government support to reward the police for the erosion of their pay and conditions over the last 20 years.
The ins and outs of the argument are complex. Essentially it is a conflict of one right with another—the right of the ordinary policeman who was expecting to get £6 and who is now offered £2 or £2.50 for constables or £4.50 for inspectors and, on the other hand, the right of the Government who are desperate to avoid special cases that might wreck their agreement with the TUC. What matters is how we get out of the impasse.
The last thing I want is for the police to collide with the Government's incomes policy as the miners collided with the policy of the Conservative Government in 1974. I welcome the steadfast refusal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border to make party political capital out of the police pay dispute. I cannot say the same for the actions of some Labour Members in the past.
After initial difficulties, which arose because of the insensitivity of some of his officials, the Home Secretary has intervened in the problem and there is now a faint sign of movement. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that the solution lies in a package deal based on the true facts.
The work of the police is unique. They are subjected to frequent personal assaults because they stand between the lawbreaker and those who must be protected. They must accept restrictions on their personal life and they must work where and when they are told, night or day, weekend or bank holidays. They must live where they are told and give up any other form of employment. They 1786 are under discipline, and so, too, are their wives and families. Their oath of office keeps them on call for duty at all times. They must give up their civil liberties, they cannot join a union, take part in politics or take in a lodger without the approval of their chief constable, and in some forces they are not even allowed to grow a beard unless they are on night duty.
Schedule 2 of the Police Regulations states that a policeman must:at all times abstain from any activity which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of his duties or which is likely to give rise to the impression among members of the public that it may so interfere.That is a pretty onerous restriction on a man's personal life.
The police accept these restrictions and the hazards of the job. But what rewards do they receive in return? I am obliged to Professor Nevins, who has done some detailed homework for the federation. I shall send the Home Secretary details of how his comparisons were drawn.
In 1960 the Royal Commission established police pay at 4 per cent. above the average earnings of an adult male in industry. By 1974 police earnings had fallen to 83 per cent. of the average man's earnings in industry. The 1975 award put them back to the 1970 figure of about 93 per cent., but by October 1976 they were down again to 82 per cent. They are now about 80 per cent. So the police now receive about four-fifths of what the average adult male in industry earns. I do not believe that that is good enough.
In order to restore their relative pay to the 1975 level, the police would require an increase of 14 per cent.—about £8 a week—to take their earnings to £63 a week. Under phase 2 they are being offered an average of £3.49 a week.
The second comparison is with prices. Taking September 1969 as 100, real pay in industry remained virtually unchanged between 1975 and 1976. But the real pay of a police constable fell by 12.5 per cent. In real terms, his pay in 1976 was worth slightly less than it was in 1970. During that period the real pay of industrial workers rose by 11.6 per cent.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I am sure that Professor Nevins has done his work correctly in making these comparisons, but can the hon. Gentleman confirm that like is 1787 being compared with like and that the comparisons take into account overtime in the police and in industry?
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes, the comparisons are of actual earnings. I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman on this subject, so I need not weary the House any further with this technical argument. The police are in a unique position because of the nature of their job and the civil liberties which they must give up. Now they find that they are also falling behind in the income race.
We all want a settlement, and I believe that it must be a package deal which has three main elements. One is acceptance by the Government that the Police Federation has taken a fundamental decision that it wants no further part of the Police Council. I know that the Home Secretary has expressed his regret at the decision, and I understand his view, but it is important that in any negotiations the Government start from a position that the federation is out of the Police Council and is not going back.
I welcome the Home Secretary's intention to review the negotiating machinery. This is appreciated by the police, and the sooner it is started the better. However, in the meantime it will be for the Home Secretary to reach an interim settlement with the federation and to bring it here to the House for implementation.
The second ingredient required in the settlement is a long-term review—what I have called a lofty review—of the rôle of the Police Federation. It was set up 58 years ago to meet the circumstances of the post-First World War period when social and political conditions were quite different. The federation must now be let off some of the leading strings to which it has been attached over the years. At a time when there is much talk of industrial democracy and worker directors, it is absurd for the federation to be operating on the basis of a 1920s' constitution.
The third element of a settlement is, I suggest, fringe benefits. There is no reason why the police should not receive the same sympathetic treatment as was awarded to the seamen, the same forward commitments as those offered to some British Leyland workers, or similar concessions on pensions as have been worked out with the miners. There are 1788 a number of areas on which the Home Secretary should concentrate. One is standby duty. Why should a police officer, almost uniquely among public servants, not be compensated when he is required to give up family and social activities in order to be fit and ready for emergency duty?
Another item is annual leave. With the present strains on the service, it is wrong that policemen with up to five or six years' service should receive only the same annual leave as that of men in their position 30 years ago. Police officers are under immense strain. If they lose their cool or their nerve snaps in a riot, all sorts of consequences could follow. It must be right to give them the opportunity to get away from it all for rather longer than is allowed at present. I also see no reason why the police should pay 7 per cent. of their salary towards a pension when civil servants and teachers pay only 6 per cent. of their salary.
There are plenty of ways in which the Home Secretary could cobble together a reasonable and fair pay settlement to meet the reasonable claims of the police without damaging the incomes policy. What is required is a sympathetic and understanding approach, which is one of the Home Secretary's qualities, and, if I may say so, he should also try to limit some of the nit-picking by his Department which too often holds things up.
Turning to other matters, one of the great frustrations of our professional police officers is that they do not have the resources to win on the job. They get immensely frustrated by the fact that in our big cities two out of every three robberies and four out of every five cases of housebreaking are never cleared up. The lesser criminal in London now has three chances out of four of getting away with his crime. The police are the first to feel frustrated and angry about that.
Sometimes fairly and sometimes un- fairly, they also criticise some magistrates who impose lower fines on hooligans who beat up police cadets than on motorists who commit technical offences. The police become especially depressed when violent ruffians—dare I say like the Shrewsbury Two?—are elevated by political idealists into folk heroes and martyrs. The police are appalled by that wrong sort of example.
1789 The disillusionment of the police has recently broken out into some unexpected courses. There has been much talk about the police abandoning their neutrality and moving into the sphere of industrial action. There have been pressures, especially among younger men who perhaps have grown up in a newer generation in which the old loyalties are not so strong. There has been pressure from the younger men in the federation to join the TUC and to take unto itself the power of exerting industrial muscle.
I believe that it would be a disaster for the federation to join the TUC. I say that not because of any opposition to the TUC but because the police ought not to be caught in a situation in which they were called upon to show fraternal solidarity with one side in an industrial dispute. If that were to happen, they would not be able to carry out their oath of office. They would lose their ability impartially to maintain the law. Equally, strike action by the police would be illegal. I hope and so far I believe that the federation will not go down that road.
But I ask the House to recognise that the old constraints and loyalties that have exerted themselves upon the police service for so many years are diminishing rapidly. It may be that the Home Secretary has now moved into this situation personally just in the nick of time and that by his intervention he will be able to stop things getting out of hand. I beg of him to succeed, in the interests of the police service and the prevention of crime.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I find myself in considerable sympathy with a number of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). Perhaps I can supplement them by saying that on a number of occasions, as a practising member of the Bar I have come across cases where police officers have had to come straight off an arduous turn of night duty to give evidence in court, their whole day off being disrupted. That is another example of the many parts of their duties that make their lives much more difficult than those of many other people.
1790 The trouble is that we can make special cases out of so many different categories. I do not say that cynically. I appreciate that a genuine dilemma is involved.
I propose to intervene in the debate, which is naturally wide-ranging—we are grateful to the Opposition for the fact that it is taking place—to draw attention to one or two rather narrow matters of law that, I think, are proper to raise on this occasion.
The first matter is one that will not be unfamiliar to the Home Office coming from me because I have entered into debates upon it on several prior occasions. I refer to the operation of what to my mind is the ill-conceived Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act, which has just taken effect. It has already produced yet one more absurdity. That must be taken in addition to those that I put forward when I fought the measure almost single-handed last year.
We now have had the extraordinary situation illustrated in the case of William Thomas Hughes. By virtue of the fact that he was an alleged rapist, the fact that he was required for other offences could not be mentioned. A blanket of silence and secrecy had therefore to descend. This arose because the outrageous concept of the anonymity of witnesses was not originally extended to defendants as well, and the only way to mitigate that was to extend the provision of anonymity to the defendant as well as the complainant.
The provision has already produced an absurd situation in respect of Hughes, although it did not give rise to any great harm because the man concerned was killed by police marksmen. In a way we can be grateful for that, although that might appear to be a grim remark to make, but I have in mind the damage that he had done. Almost certainly the woman would have been killed if Hughes had not been killed by those marksmen. One appreciates the appalling dilemma that faced the police. One can only commend them for the skill with which they performed what must have been a difficult task.
My particular objection to the Act stems from the fact that, shortly before Christmas, when the measure came back from another place, I asked the Minister of State how we should consider the 1791 position where evidence is sought relating to a women's sexual relations with a third party. The effect of the new legislation is that cross-examination is not permitted of a complainant in respect of her sexual activities other than with the person who is accused. There is provision made where it is not in the interests of justice for exceptions to be admitted.
I thought I obtained from the Home Office an assurance that in due course a practice direction would emanate, no doubt properly routed, from the Lord Chief Justice, that would enable these matters to be evaluated in "a trial within a trial", a procedure that is well known to members of the Bar and probably to others. It is a procedure whereby all the questions that would be put in front of the jury can be put to a witness in the absence of the jury. The judge can then decide whether it is a matter that is pertinent. I have in mind, for example, a situation where a woman has made a false accusation against someone else in the past. That seems to be a highly material matter which a jury should know when weighing whether a witness is to be believed.
The other day, to my considerable surprise, I received a reply from the Attorney-General to the effect that it is not proper for the Lord Chancellor to give directions on these matters. That was the reply from the Attorney-General when I asked whether a decision had been reached. It seems that there has been a lacuna in communications between the Home Office and the Attorney-General. When my hon. Friend replies I want to know whether the matter can be resolved.
I withdrew my opposition, which had been conducted jointly with a Conservative Member, who wanted to divide on the Lords amendment, on the understanding that an assurance would be given and honoured. I ask my hon. Friend to redeem the promise that I understood would be most clearly given. This was well known to the Solicitor-General and well known to the Minister of State.
I now raise a matter of a different nature which has a bearing upon the matters to which I referred at the begining of my remarks, when I spoke of the Derbyshire mass murderer. Some years ago—I think it was in the wake of the terrible murder of three policemen in West London, the Harry Morris Roberts 1792 case—Sir Joseph Simpson, the then Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, made some remarks that in a sense may have been rather ill-advised although, no doubt, they were intended to be helpful to the public. He said that the public had a right to "have a go", meaning to have a go violently at a violent criminal to prevent a crime or, more particularly, to intercept and capture someone after a crime had been committed.
This has been the subject of parliamentary Questions in which I have asked the Home Office to state the law as it stands and to enlarge upon its finer points. Sir Joseph's remarks were criticised at the time, not so much because of the motive behind them but because they were not really practicable as the law stood. The dividing line between the use of force that is permissible and not permissible in respect of the prevention of crime is not so clear as to enable a person to intercept, even supposing that they have the courage, skill and ability to do so. The situation could so easily arise—I mention this because crimes of terrorism and violence are in our minds now—where it would be almost the toss of a coin whether somebody, acting on the principle or precept of having a go, in the course of which the criminal is killed, should be recommended for the George Medal or should face a manslaughter charge.
In the Derbyshire killing, there is no difficulty. I do not suppose that anybody would criticise the police, still less suggest that they were in any sense criminally culpable in relation to that matter. The position there was so extreme and the circumstances so dire that no one could contemplate any other method being used than that of firearms and violence. But there must be a grey area—instances where difficulties are likely to arise.
I have asked the Home Office on a number of occasions to introduce legislation to make clear what just is justifiable homicide. In a number of instances action has had to be taken. For example, there was a shooting incident in West London involving a police officer who was on Special Branch patrol duties. He came upon a violent crime, used the weapon which was legally and justifiably in his possession, and killed the criminal. He was properly exonerated by the inquest that followed. It was held that that was a case of justifiable homicide. Again, 1793 as in the case of the Derbyshire killing, I make no criticism. In fact, the reverse. It was a commendable act to deal with a dangerous and drastic situation.
The law is not clear on these matters. Unfortunately, we face an ever-increasing number—statistically, a small proportion of total crimes, but nevertheless an increasing number—of incidents of violence, particularly with the growth of international terrorism. Such situations present themselves with appalling suddenness to more and more people. The public have a right to know precisely where they stand in law so that, if they are in a situation of this kind, and are brave enough—it takes a very brave person to carry out such acts—have the skill and the opportunity and foresee the necessity for taking drastic action of the kind which I suggest, they will not face the possibility of a criminal charge.
I leave that thought with the Minister. There are other matters which I could raise, but I think that is sufficient. This matter stands by itself. Therefore, I content myself with those remarks.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
The speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and the Secretary of State showed a refreshing awareness of the fact that the area covered by punishment is by no means the whole of the area covered by the prevention of crime.
I think that too often we regard penal reform, for example, as covering the larger part of crime when in fact it is a smaller part than the numbers of cases brought to court, which are themselves a smaller part of the crimes committed. Convictions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said, form a small part of all detected crimes, and detected crimes are a small part of the total of crimes committed.
In dealing with the prevention of crime I think that we must look at the more fundamental, deep-seated causes of crime and the longer rather than the shorter-term remedies which are normally discussed under the heading of penal reform. In this regard what was said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee), who has left the Chamber, was very important. In Parliament 1794 we have often in past years appeared, on the one hand, to have taken steps to deter criminals by, for example, stoking up penalties. On the other hand, we have also passed social legislation which has weakened social discipline and brought about conditions in which crime has continued and almost been encouraged to flourish. The hon. Member for Handsworth gave one example. The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act has by itself contributed to the debit side of the scale.
In considering the deep-seated causes of crime we are entitled to look at all those matters that affect the strength of family life, the bond among members of a family, and the self-discipline which is expected of individuals in a society in which law and order are generally recognised as paramount.
When we do that, we are bound to look at some of the legislation which has gone through this House with some doubt as to its wisdom—for example, the legislation which encourages the mothers of young children under school age to go out to work and, therefore, to neglect their children. I realise that if the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) were in her place she would angrily jump up—she is an old adversary of mine on this subject—and say that parents are assisted by nursery schools, playgroups, and so on, and that the State, the community, and the local authority have an important part to play in the training and education of young children of that age. If family life has a lot to contribute to the stability, order and health of society, then we are weakening it every time we weaken the bond between parents and children, especially mothers and young children. Therefore, I oppose any extension of the concept of nursery education provided simply to enable mothers to get rid of their parental responsibilities and to add to the family income—often unnecessarily. Unfortunately, the ability to do that weakens the social cohesion and discipline which we expect if we are to maintain law and order.
We have a daily diet of violence on television—often in the most realistic setting, the home. That must have some effect upon the tender minds of children. We have not yet found an answer to that 1795 problem. However, it must have some effect on the causes of crime.
In short, we have interfered with and almost abolished altogether the natural restraints on behaviour that we expect of our citizens in relation to the law. In so many cases we have actually legislated for and encouraged conditions that are completely contrary to it.
In our methods of teaching in schools, the idea of self-discovery, for example, seems to assume that no framework of discipline is needed for young children and that they should grow up without feeling that there is a framework of discipline around them. In fact, that is vital for children. They should not feel themselves without the support that they should get from a discipline of some sort, whether in the home or the school. Although the tendency now is to say that some of our present methods of teaching are wrong, perhaps, and should be revised, methods that have received the opinion of expert educationists over the past decade or two, have done a great deal of social damage.
Whereas these long-term causes of crime are very often things that cannot easily be remedied, certainly not in the short run, there are some things that can be identified specifically for which remedial measures can be taken by this House. I am thinking, for example, of easier divorce, which I believe has had a great influence upon family life, upon social cohesion and upon the simple lesson of keeping one's vows and promises. There are, for example, easier abortion and free contraceptives on the National Health Service, both of which must have encouraged sexual irresponsibility. These are measures that have been passed through this Parliament. We have, therefore, condoned them, but we have an opportunity of remedying that and, perhaps, pushing back the frontier of irresponsibility to some extent.
For the same reason, when there is discussion about penal reform, about which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East spoke in humane terms, we have to remember that we can carry it too far, certainly in the mind of the citizen. With due respect to the hon. Lady, prison should be a deterrent. The whole point of imprisonment is that it ought to be a deterrent. Mankind has found 1796 no other method in the last resort of deterring violent criminals from crime. We can experiment with other methods, and we do that all the time, but ultimately there is no remedy save that of removing the individual from society and keeping him confined, isolated from society, and unable to fulfil his normal wishes, likes and tendencies during his period of imprisonment. That is the whole point of imprisonment.
When the hon. Lady talks about the difficulties of prison for married prisoners, and uncomfortable conditions very often, unless she makes it clear that she is not saying that prisons should be comfortable places, she is not contributing to the cause of prevention of crime, because if in the public mind prison is no deterrent, there is less respect for the law and for measures for the prevention of crime. There is contempt for the law, because it appears to condone crime, and not to regard punishment for what it is—a thoroughly disagreeable thing, and rightly disagreeable.
Justice in the administration of our law is, therefore, vital in the cause of crime prevention, but leniency to the wrongdoer is an affront to the innocent. I wish that we could remember that when we talk about penal reform, however much we are impressed by the arguments on behalf of prisoners. Personally, when talking about penal reform I am more concerned about the intolerable conditions that the present overcrowding of prisons imposes upon prison officers, because it is they, surely, who should be encouraged and who deserve our support.
The aspect of the criminal law and the means of prevention of crime to which I want to refer specifically has been touched on already by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds—the police. In this respect the Secretary of State is entitled to credit for the fact that police recruitment has increased in recent years and particularly last year. I am concerned most about London. There the increase has been about 1,000. That is marvellous. It is excellent news. We know that the figure for vacancies overall—it was given by the Secretary of State—is 8,625. Unfortunately, London, with only one-fifth of the total establishment of the British police, still has half of those vacancies. There are still 4,000 vacancies in London.
1797 That leads me to ask how we know that the figure for the establishment, about 25,000, is a valid and appropriate figure for London, with its size and problems and the strength and intensity of the criminal effort in the capital city. We do not know. It was an arbitrary figure when it was fixed in, I think, 1919, shortly after the war. We have gone by that figure ever since then. We have never recruited police in London up to establishment. As has been pointed out, there have been times when the figure has been far greater than it is now. We are still 4,000 short.
It occurs to me that so many of our problems in the capital city are due to this deficiency in police—not just the 4,000 vacancies, but adequate police to serve not merely as a law enforcement agency but as deterrents to crime, and in promoting social harmony and cohesion.
I wonder how many people realise how much race relations—this is most important in London—could be improved with a greater number of police on the beat. One thing that one can say about the coloured population in London and the areas in which they live is that actual person-to-person contact is much more efficacious in producing understanding among them than any other method at all. That is my personal experience, and I do not think that it can be refuted.
If there were more policemen on the beat in areas in which there is a natural distrust of law and order and authority, and, of course, of the police themselves, it would be shown so easily that the London bobby in particular is the friend, not the enemy, of young men and women in the so-called deprived areas of London, because he is an excellent public relations officer when left to himself. However, it is often the case that his division is so short of men that it cannot afford anyone on the beat, and it has to put all its men into motor cars to deal with urgent matters of crime, so they are not just strolling around the streets, as they should be in Notting Hill and Brixton. If they were doing that we would find that relations would improve enormously. No amount of community relations officers in the Metropolitan Police will get at the fundamental problem that arises from the lack of direct person-to-person contact between the coloured community and members of the police force.
1798 That leads me to the subject raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), when he was warning that streams of blood have already begun to run in our city centres. That is perfectly true of London at present. The figures for muggings and the use of knives have unfortunately increased tremendously and alarmingly. One wonders just how we should deal with that problem. One way of dealing with it is by simply having more police, more of them on the beat and available in close contact with the people from whom very often this class of offender is drawn.
I believe it is unfortunate that so many Members of the House who represent inner urban areas in our cities do not live in their constituencies. I believe that to be the case with minor exceptions. That does not put those hon. Members in daily contact with their constituents. If they were to live in those central city areas they would be aware of the fact that many of their neighbours are afraid to go out at night because of the fear of being attacked. In many London inner urban areas—I shall not specify any in particular nor the party of the Members concerned—people are genuinely afraid to go out at night on their own. That applies especially to the elderly, but it is not confined to them. Generally speaking, the back streets of London off the main highways and shopping areas are dangerous at night.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to cast a slur on Members of this House. I must tell him that in regard to South London my hon. Friends the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) and Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) all live in their constituencies. Therefore, London has a very good representation of hon. Members who live in their constituencies. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish his remarks to be qualified by the facts.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
The hon. Gentleman comes from South-East London, as I do, and I exonerate him and the people he mentions, but I know several Members of Parliament who represent inner city areas—not just in London but elsewhere —who do not live in their constituencies and who are not in day-to-day contact with their problems. People in many inner city areas live in daily fear of their 1799 lives. If more hon. Members were in closer contact with their constituents they would know this, and perhaps conditions would improve, because there would be even greater pressure for the police—and I feel that this is the remedy—to be supplemented in those areas and on the beat.
This brings me to the subject of public expenditure cuts. I cannot emphasise too often that it is entirely a question of priorities and of what one puts first. How can one decide whether too much money is being spent in one direction rather than another without having some sort of yardstick? Decisions on Government expenditure are arrived at at different times. Sometimes, when one is overcommitted, one cannot adjust the situation because orders have to be given and they take some time to be processed and delivered. Therefore, it is most important to achieve a rational, objective standard. What is certain is that expenditure on self-preservation, which is the fundamental instinct of human beings, must be the number one priority. This means defence against external aggression and internal attack.
The argument in favour of more expenditure on the police, even in these times and taking those priorities into account, is unanswerable. We do not spend enough on the police, and policemen do not have sufficient equipment or pay. I wish to support what was said on the subject of pay by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. The Secretary of State said a little earlier that the settlement achieved in 1975 was arrived at thanks to pressure from the then Secretary of State. The police were thought to deserve a bigger increment than usual because of their function, not as a group of wage earners, but as an essentially important element in law and order which should be given high priority. If that is so, that situation must be maintained. It is incredible that policemen, instead of now being paid at 105 per cent. of the average industrial wage, are now to be paid only 80 per cent., even with the larger increase achieved in 1975.
The police force deserves far more than it is now being paid. In this respect I do not entirely agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds about pay not 1800 being the whole of the answer, because, in a sense, money comprises most of the answer to the problem. Money has a great bearing on the recruitment figures, and it is obvious that we must recruit more policemen.
Furthermore, I am sure that if the police, especially those in London, could be assured of a five-day week without loss of overall earnings—at the moment they work almost every weekend and regard their overtime as part of their earnings—we should have much less difficulty in increasing the strength of the police and contributing to the happiness of individual policemen.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the machinery for settling terms and conditions in the police force is completely out of date and that it should be reviewed? Does he not also agree that some of the recent difficulties between police and Government have, in part, been due to the fact that pay is decided by a contract arrived at between the Government and the TUC, in which the Police Federation has had no part to play? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's attention and that of the Government could be directed at the question of allowing the police to affiliate to the TUC.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman should have been here earlier when this was mentioned.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am glad to have had that intervention because I agree that the negotiating machinery for the police is very much of a nonsense. It is a ludicrous idea that the police should negotiate as if policemen were another group of wage earners subject to the Government's incomes policy. Equally ludicrous is the idea that they should recognise themselves as such, join the TUC, and then be condemned by everybody as just another group of wage earners. They would be regarded as partisans allied to a political cause and would lose public support on that account. I hope that ludicrous proposal will not be pursued.
1801 At present we have the best police force in the world. We are lucky that the British policeman has a sangfroid and self-discipline that serves him in fair weather and foul, in emergencies and routine jobs as a custodian of the law. The police in this country, in face of a demonstration such as that which occurred in Grosvenor Square, solved the situation by manpower. This involves a large number of policemen using, as it were, brute force, and that is the remedy. On the other hand, police forces on the Continent handle such situations with a whiff of grapeshot. We are fortunate to have the kind of police force that exists in the United Kingdom. We do not praise them often enough in this House. I believe that we should disregard the incomes policy in respect of policemen and pay them what they deserve.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
I originally came to listen to the debate, but I am encouraged to intervene by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). I agree with him that the near certainty of being caught is a strong deterrent. Although there is a good chance of getting away with a crime, most people still abide by the law. Therefore, the minority who commit offences must have some special characteristics which distinguish them from the majority of people who are law-abiding.
The hon. Gentleman said that had my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) been present she would have jumped to her feet at the notion that nursery schools might be connected with crime. There are not enough nursery schools. To say that nursery schools, the absence of which we have been complaining about, are responsible for crime is to stretch credulity too far.
There was a time when children could be hanged for sheep stealing. Only comparatively recently have we raised the age of criminal responsibility. There were no nursery schools in days gone by, family life was deplorable and children lived in unacceptable conditions, as anyone who has read Dickens knows.
I go a little way with the hon. Gentleman, although I draw different conclusions. 1802 Children and young people are living in an age of uncertainty, an age of enormous change. I think I am right in saying that more than half the couples who get divorced have children under the age of 10. I am not saying that divorce is wrong. I can think of nothing worse than children being brought up in a home in which the parents hate each other, whether or not they have taken vows. Nothing has a worse effect on a child than quarrels between parents. Often the child is the butt between the parents.
Children suffer from divorce and a broken home life for many reasons. Often custody orders are not implemented and access is denied. If arrangements are not working properly and the children are suffering, there is a strong case for social workers to have the job of ensuring that proper facilities are available and adequate arrangements are made to protect the children. A broken home life has a shattering effect upon the emotions of children and on the way they regard adults and society in years to come.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) spoke of the need for more police. I do not dissent from that. Some people say that prisons, to be a deterrent, must be unattractive, but we never ask ourselves how we can prevent young people from becoming antisocial in the first place. We all know that a breakdown in family relationships, deprivation and constant change influence enormously the behaviour of a child when it becomes an adult. I have known children in care who have been taken from the institution back to the mother and back to the institution again as many as nine times within one or two years before a final decision is made. That is the sort of experience that leads to young people becoming anti-social in later life.
It is a tragedy that public expenditure cuts are being made in the social services when more social workers and probation workers are needed to prevent problems developing into worse problems which cannot be solved. We hear a great deal about stronger deterrents and harsher prisons, but that is not the answer.
It has been said that people who have come from abroad regard the police as their enemies rather than as their friends. It would be of assistance if more Asians and Indians joined the police force. If work on community relations is not to 1803 be undermined, more money must be spent on it. Last night a committee of Slough Council recommended that the council's contribution to the Community Relations Council should cease to be paid. That will render the CRC immobile, and that is a matter of great regret to me. Community relations, particularly in rural areas, will suffer enormously if financial assistance is not given to the CRC.
Reference has been made to promiscuity and sexual freedom. I was brought up in an age when it was understood that men were promiscuous. They were lads and that was good, but it was not the thing for women. If they were promiscuous they were tarts. I asked myself with whom were the men promiscuous. I accept that there is more sexual freedom today and people talk a great deal more about sex, but I doubt whether the availability of contraception and abortion has caused a rise in the crime rate. In the past there was much hypocrisy. At least today we live in an era of frankness and do not pretend that things are not as they are.
People talk about the breaking of bonds between parents and children, which I accept completely. The bonding of a parent with a child is an important thing for the future development of a child. But the other side of the question must also be put. Some people refer to nursery schools and the fact that mothers wanting to go out to work leave their children, with all the social consequences following from that. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that children from nursery schools have more criminal tendencies than others.
I often wonder why people's hands do not go up in horror when children at the age of seven are sent to boarding school. Many such children have been with nannies since they were a few weeks old. I recently met a girl working in one of the areas of the mass media and I asked whether she had any children. She said that she had a child who was 10 days old. When I asked why she was back at work so soon, she said that she was working full time because she had a nanny. Presumably that is acceptable in our society, but it is not acceptable to me.
I have looked at the history of what is taking place among all classes of children and not at the fact that women are asking 1804 for the opportunities to develop careers or, indeed, have to go to work.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I agree with the hon. Lady when she says that the abandonment of a child by a mother in its early days is reprehensible, whether it is done by someone who can afford it or by someone who has to do it in order to maintain her status.
§ Miss Lestor
I was not saying that it was reprehensible. The point I am making is that many of us get angry when working-class women ask for facilities for their children. They are often told that because they are being neglected their children are likely to become criminal. But there is a whole class of people who can afford to do this, and not a word is said. I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said and that he does not like it in any way.
One of the big problems we face is that if we are to do anything positive about potential crime and people who have been in prison, the after-care service for prisoners must clearly be increased 100, 200 or 300-fold. In addition, the quality of the after-care service has to be enormously improved. We have also to concentrate a great deal more on making provision for the identifying of people who are likely to become antisocial because of the social circumstances surrounding them.
Social workers—probation officers and others—are overworked. Their case loads are far too large. Often they come into a situation when it is almost too late to do anything about it. We need to look more closely, first, at getting agencies set up to try to help young people in particular before they become criminals. Secondly, we need to provide services for those who have been in prison, and who have behaved in an antisocial fashion, in order to offer them enough support and help when they leave 1805 prison so that they do not repeat the pattern which got them there in the first place.
Some of the public care facilities which exist in this country are of very poor quality in terms of the amount of attention that can be given to people who are in real need. The quality is so poor and inadequate that those people get back into the cycle that was responsible for their situation.
I would not pretend to know—no one knows—a great deal about the causes of crime. But if the overwhelming majority of people are not anti-social, and if we are all living in a society where the certainty of detection is perhaps becoming less, there must be special circumstances surrounding individuals who are anti-social. Some of them might be helped and prevented from becoming criminal if only we would put enough resources into finding out why they became anti-social in the first place.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I understand that all hon. Members present who have not already spoken are anxious to do so. That is possible. The winding-up speeches will begin at 9.20 p.m. All that is needed is a little self-denial, the limitation of speeches to five minutes. If hon. Members are not willing to co-operate, they know that all who wish to do so will not be able to take part in the debate.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
The breadth of the two opening speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) and the Home Secretary emphasised the scope of the debate. I want to confine myself to one general comment and two short specific points, in view of what you have just said, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I very much appreciated the approach of my right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary in a complicated situation. Both recognised that there were no short cuts. These are deeply difficult and complex problems. It is extremely valuable that we should maintain the present approach from both sides of the House, although there may be differences in emphasis as 1806 to what we should or should not be doing.
My general point is that if within the next few years we do not manage to cure the rise in violence it will become increasingly difficult, because of public opinion, to avoid the temptation to fall into the ways of those who say that there are short cuts.
I listened with interest, although not with full agreement, to the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). We heard an equally interesting speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) about prisons. The sort of approach that they described is possible only if we manage to eliminate the rise in personal violence, which rose by 11 per cent. between 1974 and 1975. Unless that can be stemmed, we shall be under great pressure, which will not lead to sensible and rational discussion.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and others have emphasised, more police on the ground are undoubtedly the heart of the matter. In Liverpool, for example, where special patrols have been set up, there has been a noticeable diminution in that type of crime.
The Home Secretary said that he had been reading the 18 volumes of "Life and Labour in London". He said that violent crime existed in the last century as well as this century. The most startling reduction ever in such crime came when lighting was introduced into the streets, making it impossible for people to mug. Mugging is a crime of the back streets today, a crime of youth and the early twenties.
I agree with what the hon. Member Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) said about early education. A structured education gives a child a good start, one which he will never have if he is left alone. In the economic circumstances of today, people often have to take two jobs, and such education gives an opportunity for the child from a deprived home to have a start he would not otherwise have.
We must all recognise— although heaven only knows what we do about it— that at the heart of the rise in violence is the difficult situation, not in housing but in jobs, of many young people who are left on the streets and 1807 inevitably get into trouble. I do not believe that better housing, better this and that, will necessarily make people better people, but it would be foolish not to recognise that the unemployment of today is doing nothing to help.
I come now to my two brief special points. The first follows on from what I have been saying about public opinion. On a number of occasions when the House was dealing with the punishment for murder I voted in the way that the House finally decided. But I have always recognised that public opinion has a great part to play in the matter and that if we are to maintain the course we have followed for the past 15 years it is important that public opinion does not become alienated. Many people disagree with the views of the House.
I shall not go into special cases, but it must be made clear that when judges sentence people to specific long terms of imprisonment for murder they really mean those sentences and that life imprisonment really means life. Such sentences should be interfered with only in the most exceptional circumstances. If that is not made clear now, public opinion will veer away from its reluctant acceptance of the present position.
The Home Secretary is rightly considering ways in which he can take people out of the prisons. I was encouraged by his statement that he was considering the short-sentence prisoner and examining ways of dealing with the alcoholic and other problems. I congratulate him on that. I hope that he will not go too far, because there are good grounds for thinking that in many cases prison is the only choice. I hope he will not expand but will try to contract the area in which courts are restricted in what they may do with young people.
I am thinking particularly of sentencing difficulties with people between the ages of 17 and 20. Courts are limited in their sentencing— and the limitations mean that people go to prison rather than stay out. The Court of Appeal has ruled that if a sentence should be nearer three years than six months it must be three years. I believe that the court should be unfettered. That point has been made before, so I shall not weary the House with it again.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
I am looking forward to the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott), who has done a good deal of research, not only in his own constituency but in Newcastle as a whole, which has drawn public attention to the problems in that city. That has some bearing on the matters we are discussing tonight. I am sure that we shall find a good deal of agreement on an approach to a problem that concerns us all.
When discussing crime and its prevention, we must consider the machinery for dealing with it to see whether it is adequate for present social and economic conditions. There are four main processes in dealing with crime— first, the enactment in Parliament of the criminal law; second, its enforcement; third, the trial to determine guilt or innocence; and fourth, dealing with those found guilty. The work in those four categories is the responsibility of, respectively, politicians, police, lawyers and the Prison and Probation Services. The four categories often work separately, and one contribution I can make points to the need to harmonise all four elements with the object of understanding the problems of crime and its prevention.
First, we must understand the problem so as to avoid the extreme views which are endemic in this kind of discussion, even outside the House. Some people who do not understand the problem want extreme penalties. Others, who do not want extreme penalties, want some other form of punishment which is not generally acceptable to most people in this country.
When we consider the prison population, and I take only one example, I agree with my right hon. Friend who said earlier that we should watch carefully how we use statistics. That advice was wise. There is more to the problem than talking about a total prison population of more than 40,000 or talking about a programme to provide a further 5,000 places.
The figures for the prison population at 14th July last year show that in Brixton 1809 the certified establishment was 649 but the actual population was 982. In Durham Prison the establishment was 665 but the population was 1,046. In Liverpool certified accommodation was 1,041 but the population was 1,544. In Manchester Borstal, there were 205 established places and a population of 306. In Wormwood Scrubs there were 1,007 certified places and a population of 1,548. In other words, we have a very serious problem of overcrowding, with many prisoners forced to live with two or three in a cell originally built for one.
In 1969, out of about 10,000 prisoners who were sleeping in overcrowded cells, there were 7,653 sleeping three to a cell and 2,886 sleeping two to a cell. By last year the total number of prisoners sleeping in overcrowded cells had risen to 15,640, of whom 5,298 were sleeping three to a cell and 10,342 were sleeping two to a cell. Those figures are very alarming and show that the problem is serious in any discussion on crime.
Because of shortage of time I must throw away many other observations which would have been useful to the debate but I close with a warning. We must be careful about the way we react to crime. We must not contravene the basic principle which has existed for centuries. I quote an observation which underlines my point:There is, of course, always room for serious and constructive debate about our criminal law procedure. No one would pretend that it is perfect, but it does offer safeguards devised over the centuries for the protection of the innocent individual. We abandon those safeguards at our peril.We must look for ways of harmonising all areas of our criminal law, but we must also refrain from acting so swiftly that we come to the wrong conclusions. We must retain the intrinsic character of the law to ensure that we safeguard and protect the innocent.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Sir William Elliott (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
I thank the hon. Member Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter)—who kept his remarks commendably brief—for his words about my research into crime in the city of Newcastle, to which I intend to refer. I would also have liked to refer to much of what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and 1810 Slough (Miss Lestor), who made a most interesting speech.
Nothing makes me more depressed than to read about a criminal and the crime he has committed, and then to read in the report on him something about his background and to realise that he has come from a broken home—a home in which he has never known love and care and in which the parents were in many cases guilty of criminal offences. I agreed with the hon. Lady when she suggested that any expenditure within the welfare system that helps deprived children from unhappy homes is to be commended. One can only hope that when the economy recovers such services as she suggested will be fully supported.
I draw attention to what I believe to be a major modern problem—crime within metropolitan areas of Britain. It is a new form of crime which we must face up to urgently. I listened with great appreciation to the Home Secretary, who made a comprehensive speech, and I took note of his comments that we all imagine that when we were younger things were not so bad. I have done a lot of research in my city of Newcastle and I shall make a few point about that.
The records show that crime is getting worse. About 150 years ago it was unsafe for an individual to walk through the streets of Newcastle at night. After that it was not so bad. During the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s one could walk through the streets of Newcastle at nights with safety and with some pleasure. It is now unsafe again. I have looked at the problem myself. In recent days I spent two evenings in the centre of Newcastle, where I examined the problem for four or five hours each time. I was appalled at what I discovered.
We have a problem, associated with youth in particular, in the centre of our city conurbations. It is most dangerous to society and it must be arrested as a matter of urgency. I was told by the manager of a new public house that three times in as many weeks fights which involved knives had started in his new and rather splendid pub. Another landlord said that on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights he expected to lose 200 glasses, either broken or stolen. Yet another landlord said that he never served 1811 a bottle over the top of the counter because the bottle might well be used as a weapon later on.
I was also told about a drink called "snake bite". I take a drink myself, but I have never heard of it. Apparently it is a mixture of lager and cider, which sounds innocuous enough but has a disastrous effect on teenagers if they drink a large quantity. Also, there are gangs of young people who go around deliberately causing trouble in places of former entertainment. Everyone I consulted in my city agreed that we had a worsening social problem on our hands. It has become so much worse in recent times and it is now urgent that something should be done. Therefore, I welcome this opportunity to draw attention to it.
The causes of this problem are numerous. We have unemployment, which has been mentioned by several speakers tonight. We have far more unemployment in our region than I want to see, and it is urgent that we get it reduced. Of course it has a bearing on crime; in my area it always has. I do not believe, however, that unemployment has a major bearing on the present problem.
I was told with some amazement by several managers of pubs and clubs that young people often set forth on Friday and Saturday evenings with as much as £30, £40 or £50 in their pockets to spend. That was the amazing information I received. Of course, they spend far too much of it on strong drink. As an example of what the Home Secretary indicated, violence is at its worst when Newcastle United is playing at home, and when the visiting team—including Leeds United—is making its way home the violence is there. But this sort of thing happens every Friday or Saturday night.
Last Saturday night one of my constituents had his throat cut with a piece of broken glass outside a public house in the centre of Newcastle. He now lies ill in an intensive care unit. Last Saturday night an elderly widow in the North-East had the upper half of her glazed front door shattered by a milk bottle. Three youths entered, and their first action was to remove this crippled lady's walking stick and throw it into the road. 1812 They then robbed her and ran off. In addition, an elderly man was stabbed to death in the North-East last week.
I was interested in what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) said about judges' recommendations on sentencing. I am sorry to say that a murderer who was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommendation by the judge that in the public interest he should not be released again was released and has committed another murder in the past few days in the North-East.
We now need, therefore, to face this problem of urban crime in the centres of our major cities. It affects not just Newcastle but Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, and, since my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) is to wind up the debate, from this side, no doubt he will agree that it affects Glasgow as well. I ask the Home Secretary to strengthen our police force and give it every possible support.
In the interests of brevity I shall omit much of what I was going to say about the police because that has been well said, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). My answer, and that, I believe, of society, must be increased penalties. I believe that the young people who go out and terrorise and attack, who are guilty of mugging, robbing and violence and who upset the pleasures of decent people, should be much more heavily fined than they are at present. If they have £30, £40 or £50 of spending money in their pockets, as I am assured they have, let the courts take substantially more from them when they appear before the courts.
Imprisonment must be introduced for the worst cases. I cannot go all the way with my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who wishes to see flogging reintroduced, although in the case of the three youths who robbed the elderly widow last weekend I am very tempted to do so.
We must face the fact that our city centres have a new problem of crime and that it is a considerable one. I want brutality outlawed from the centre of the cities of our country because it is too prevalent.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
If I make certain comments which go against the general trend of remarks from the Opposition side of the House and, to a certain extent, from the Government Benches, it is because I think that in all this discussion of violence and crime, and of the responsibilities of the police, there is another side that must be put. A debate such as this is a proper occasion on which to put it.
It is important to realise the change of atmosphere that has taken place in this House over the years. We have appalling problems in our inner cities. I represent an inner city constituency, and I agree that mugging is one of the worst of those problems, but in spite of that we have not had, even from the Conservative Front Bench, the sort of demands for capital and corporal punishment that, I believe, we would have witnessed 15, 20 or 30 years ago. We have not had them yet, and tribute should be paid at least to the Conservative Front Bench Members for holding out against the pressure that, I know, exists for them to become more tough and violent in the words they use from that Dispatch Box.
I agree that mugging is an appalling problem. I shall say a word or two about drugs later, but the consumption of alcohol by young people is a serious contributory cause to crime and we should consider it more seriously. We have already come round to banning cigarette advertising on television. In many countries, particularly Scandinavian ones, much stricter advertising controls are applied, sometimes to only hard liquor and sometimes to all alcoholic drinks. We should have a closer look at this aspect in this country to discover whether it would be possible to go right to the core of some of these problems in that way.
I would like to ask the Home Secretary a question about the proposed riot shields for the Metropolitan Police. If the Commissioner wants this equipment he should probably be allowed to have it, but it would be a pity for the Metropolitan Police to acquire a tough image in their recruiting that would cut the force off and make it different from police forces in other parts of the country.
I keep in touch with the Commander of my local division of the Metropolitan 1814 Police. He is particularly encouraged not so much by the number of recruits now coming forward, but by the type of recruits. He told me that the other day he interviewed a particularly dishy woman sociology graduate who had applied to join the police force. He said that he would have thought that she would want to become a social worker, but she told him that that was not so. She had considered all the possibilities and wanted to join the police. I hope that since there is this new graduate intake the police will keep up with the times and will not become reactionary.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
If my hon. Friend reads my speech he will find that I spent a long time saying that I feel strongly on the point about riot shields, but I must allow the police to have them rather than allow the police to be put in the position of having to work with dutbin lids. That would be wrong.
§ Mr. Price
I quite agree.
I want to refer to the Confait case and the aftermath of that. A couple of years ago three young constituents of mine, who had been in gaol for three and a half years for murder and arson, were released because the Appeal Court had quashed the earlier verdicts and had found that my constituents had not committed the crimes for which they had been sentenced. As a result, there was a full private inquiry into the case and a report by Sir Henry Fisher will be published soon. Many questions are raised by the case and I want to put some of them to the Home Secretary. Even if he cannot answer them tonight I hope that he will bear them in mind.
How are we progressing with the experiment in tape recording police interviews? It was recommended by a committee that the experiment should not be carried out in a widespread way but that it should be tried in one place to find out whether tape recording would work.
When will my right hon. Friend consolidate the Judges' Rules? I have met many policemen who would like it to be clear to the police and the public what the mutual responsibilities and rights are when a person is arrested. That would be enormously helpful when, for instance, the police come into conflict with black 1815 youngsters in South and South-East London. I asked in a recent Written Question whether my right hon. Friend would publish the general orders of the Metropolitan Police which lay down this sort of thing and which are secret at present. Why can he not publish those orders in detail?
Hon. Members opposite are urging me to conclude, so I shall not speak for too much longer.
The Home Secretary's predecessor issued a circular to all police forces giving instructions on how to interview mentally retarded young people. I hope that these are consolidated in the Judges' Rules as soon as possible. Much of what we call crime in this country is committed by people who are suffering either mental retardation or problems of mental illness such as undisclosed schizophrenia. The more that our police are aware of that the more we shall be able to keep these people out of prisons—where they should not be sent, and to give them the help they need.
I agree that we should take off the police wherever possible those jobs they should not properly be doing. On the whole, they should protect the public, and should inquire into private lives as little as possible. I have been disturbed by instances which have been drawn to my attention by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants and in which the Home Office, when suspecting marriages of convenience among immigrants, use the police to ask unnecessary personal questions to find out whether people are properly living together. That odious job should not be left to the police. They have better things to do. I would develop this point as the Home Secretary is tempting me to do, but hon. Members opposite are pressing me to conclude.
It may be an unpopular thing to say, but I believe that in 20 years' time the way in which we have allowed unlimited amounts of liquor to be sold while making the smoking of marijuana a crime will be considered crazy. Neither the House nor the country is yet in a position to take what I would regard as a sensible attitude towards drug addiction; it would balance tobacco, liquor and marijuana together.
The more that we can relieve the police of investigating this sort of so-called 1816 crime, the more they can get on with the job, for which they are desperately needed, of protecting the public.
I have been asked to keep my speech short, and though I have been tempted to speak on other matters, they are temptations which I shall resist.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
1 hardly know whether to speak at twice my normal speed or to cut my text in half, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of all the subjects that we could be discussing, this is one of the greatest concerns of those whom we represent.
I believe it is no exaggeration to say that the element of fear in our society has returned after an absence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) said, of over 150 years. There is fear on the part of old people, who are hesitant to go out in the evening. There is fear on the part of parents who have to collect their children from school when 30 years or 40 years ago parents would have allowed their children to walk home peaceably. There is fear on the part of householders, who have to take the most excessive precautions to prevent their home—often quite ordinary and humble homes—being broken into and burgled.
Our public parks, sporting events and even libraries and museums are no longer places of solace and pleasure but are subject to the attentions of vandals and hooligans.
It is very easy to ask "What are the Government going to do about this?" I do not think that the problem can be presented in those terms, but I believe that a certain responsibility lies with the Government for the present state of affairs. Certainly it lies with the Labour movement, with its constant encouragement of the undermining of authority. I know that that might have a perfectly respectable doctrinal origin in that the Labour movement associates authority and privilege as one, but the fact is that the Labour movement and the Left, the so-called progressives, are associated with a continuous picking at and undermining of authority in all forms, whether it be parental or that of teachers. They are 1817 responsible for the undermining of two key groups who are responsible for our security—namely, prison officers and the police.
It is not only the pay and conditions of the prison officers and police that are involved. Several of my constituents are in the prison service. They work at Princetown and they compare their own conditions, including heating, food and working conditions, with the circumstances of the prisoners for whose custody they are responsible. It is not only the type of inquiry to which prison officers and the police are now subject, which means that their careers are in suspense for long periods. The fact is that they increasingly feel that the scales are weighted against them. It is not only a question of their personal safety.
There appears to be a tacit understanding in the House this evening that we should not refer to capital punishment. If 76 per cent. of the population now favour a return to capital punishment, or if 81 per cent. now favour it, at what level might hon. Members consider changing their minds? Are they prepared to see the percentage rise to such a level that the only persons who are not in favour of reintroducing capital punishment are those who occupy seats in this Chamber? If we project the graph, it will lead almost to unanimity in the country at large within three to four years.
The time has come when we must consider reviving the deterrent element in our penal code. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who deployed at length the argument that rehabilitation, kindness and a congenial régime are factors that are likely to reduce the incidence of crime. When I intervened and questioned her, she seemed somewhat evasive.
We hear so much today about releasing prisoners before the expiration of their sentences. We hear about weekend sentences and suspended sentences. The murderer Hughes was under a suspended sentence at the time he committed the offence for which he was being taken when he went berserk. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) said that a prison sentence is the most severe penalty to 1818 which criminals are subject. Surely we are entitled to ask "How severe is it?" Most of the discomforts and inconveniences seem to arise out of administrative difficulties which lead, for example, to overcrowding.
I agree that sentences should be shorter, because the accumulation of long-serving prisoners is one of the prime causes of overcrowding in prisons. There is universal agreement that after the first four or five weeks of a prison sentence the effect wears off and the rest of the sentence is simply a degrading, boring but relatively non-deterring experience.
I should like the average length of sentence to be about three months, the maximum—other than for murderers—to be about seven years, and 12 months to be regarded as a very severe sentence. The corollary is that incarceration must be an experience such as would genuinely deter those who have it in prospect.
We must consider the question of communication between prisoners, the question of freedom of assembly and so on. We should also consider—I recognise that Labour Members may find it extraordinary that this should be suggested, but I am echoing some of the recommendations which have been made to me by prison officers who see these things at first hand—the questions of food, diet, heating and light in prisons.
I see a clear case for shorter sentences but sentences which are genuinely disagreeable and deterrent. I know that these views will be regarded by some as somewhat anti-progressive. They may even be regarded as reactionary. However, I am certain—I should like to develop this matter at length, but in deference to your wishes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, 1 shall not do so—that they are rational.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I shall heed your warning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and speak for less than three minutes.
In 1971 I made my maiden speech on the subject of law and order. During that speech I said that we should take a sharper sword to crime. I regret that since that time Parliament has failed to do that and crime has increased, particularly crimes of violence.
1819 My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) referred to streams of blood flowing in the streets. Two weekends ago—in fact, a fortnight tomorrow—blood indeed was spilt and flowed in my constituency. There were bloodstains in the snow when William Thomas Hughes was shot by the police as he viciously attacked his hostage. I have every respect and admiration for the police in the unpleasant but necessary action they took. I pay tribute to the Cheshire and Derbyshire Constabularies for the work they did in running this particular person to ground and saving one life. But we must not forget that four people lost their lives and that perhaps the life of the hostage, Mrs. Moran, which was saved, will be permanently blighted by the fact that her parents, husband and daughter were brutally murdered by William Thomas Hughes.
In the visits which I have paid to the village of Rainow since that date—that tragic Friday—time and again people, some of whom were witnesses to the shooting and the ending of that dramatic saga, asked me to obtain from the Home Secretary a firm assurance that on all future occasions dangerous prisoners or people who are alleged to have committed crimes of physical violence, grievous bodily harm, rape or whatever it may be, will be transported from prison to prison or from prison to court in a police van or proper custodial vehicle, whatever the cost. I believe that that is a vital assurance which must be given to people. If that assurance is not forthcoming they will feel that their best interests are not being safeguarded and represented by Parliament and the Home Secretary. This undertaking is what I require of this debate tonight. I will certainly give way to the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
There are rules about handcuffing which I have carefully looked at. I do not wish to comment on the Leicester incident, because that is what is being investigated. I shall report on that matter to the House. The rules are there.
§ Mr. Winterton
Too often the vocal liberal minority in this country—we have heard one or two offerings from the Labour Benches tonight along this line—have shown more concern for the offender or the prisoner than for the person 1820 against whom an offence has been committed. I believe that Parliament should be concerned about those who have had crimes committed against them and should represent the best interests, therefore, of the majority of law-abiding people in this country.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
In view of the time, I shall touch quickly on only one point. That is the question of juvenile crime. In anticipation of this debate I discussed the whole question with the chief superintendent of police in my area and other responsible people in the locality. They said that juvenile crime there was undoubtedly a major problem. About 47 per cent. of the crime is committed by children between the ages of 11 and 14.
When I spoke to the police about what one could do about what was, after all, the basic problem of our whole criminal situation, they said that there was one positive thing that we could do, and it rather surprised me. They said "If you could really do something to stop the staggering increase in juvenile shoplifting in our stores you would go a long way to stopping young people embarking upon the slippery slope which, because of the ease with which they are able to perpetrate this crime, leads them inevitably to the view that they can commit much more serious crimes later."
I took up this matter with the biggest store in my constituency. The Home Secretary, coming from Harrow, knows it well. That store reported that the increase in juvenile shoplifting had been staggering. We associate shoplifting with middle-aged ladies with problems, but that is not what it is all about. In my constituency the biggest increase in shoplifting has been that by children of the ages of 13 and 14. Only a week or two ago a youngster of 10 was apprehended. It was not just an isolated event. That youngster had indulged in a whole series of crimes in that store. That is the slippery slope.
There is a great responsibility upon people who engage in trade of that nature to play a part themselves by mounting a major drive to stop this initial venture into the world of crime which can lead to so many serious problems later. I do not for a moment suggest that we 1821 should stop the admirable open display of goods, which, after all, is the main reason stores are in business, to attract customers. However, I hope that stores will take this matter very seriously indeed, because it involves much more than merely losing some goods.
The police also inform me that in juvenile violence drink is undoubtedly a major cause. I am the last person to be puritanical in this respect. I get tired of do-gooders telling us that we must not do this and that, and that we must not drink, and so on. Nevertheless, the responsibility lies upon older people and those in positions of responsibility to take this matter very seriously. I am told that most juvenile crime stems from easy access to drink. In that respect I query why brewers and those who run public houses seem to consider it essential to have discos in pubs to attract youngsters into them, and whether they should be in the pub itself or put separately elsewhere. In short, summarising quickly—I am grateful for the time that I have been allowed—the responsibility for juvenile crime goes far beyond the police. We neglect the recruitment of police at our peril. I agree with what has been said about that. However, we are absolutely wrong if we suppose that we can pass the whole problem on to the police and just say that they ought to be able to do something about it, because they cannot.
I believe that the Home Secretary will confirm that, when the system of crime prevention officers came into being, the suggestion was that they ought to be helped by the public. I believe that that is putting it the wrong way round. Crime should be the responsibility of the public, helped by the police. It is the responsibility of all of us, whether we be educationists or Members of Parliament, just as much as that of the police—and certainly if we are parents—to arrest what is a very serious canker within our society. If it is not arrested quickly, I fear that it will destroy society itself.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, in a much-applauded speech, expressed the fear that there is a danger that in these debates we might be speaking to ourselves alone and that 1822 people outside would not listen. It would be a great shame if that were the case.
This debate has been remarkable for a number of reasons. This is the first time for a long time that we have had Front Bench speeches which have been shorter than a number of speeches made by Back Benchers. We have also had a fascinating speech by the Home Secretary outlining his thoughts on Government policy.
Some hon. Members—such as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark)—are desperately worried about the crime situation. Anybody who reads our debates might be a little concerned about whether Parliament and the Government are showing the right sense of urgency over the crime situation in Britain, which is desperately serious. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) was right to say that there appears to be no sense of urgency and no indication that anything of importance is being done about the situation. The sharp increase in crime, violence and vandalism will lead the public to demand much sterner measures—and indeed, sharp, short measures—to meet the serious problem we face.
Many of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), said that the crime situation had worsened. We can all produce our own figures on the subject, and perhaps the Secretary of State was right to say that figures are not everything. Figures can produce some rather freak results. For example, I recently asked a parliamentary Question seeking the percentage increase in the number of murder convictions in Scotland over the past 20 years. I was told that the figure had increased by 3,600 per cent. In fact, the figure had increased from one to 36. That might explain the situation a little more clearly.
Undoubtedly there has been a dramatic upsurge in crime, particularly crimes of violence, and crimes by young people. If we take the five-year period 1960 to 1964 and compare it with the five-year period 1970 to 1974 we see that in Scotland murder convictions rose from 28 to 166; attempted murders from 11 to 138; culpable homicides from 81 to 158. 1823 There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of offences involving vandalism and housebreaking.
If we are looking for remedies I suggest that there are a number of basic causes. First, there is a case for saying—this point was made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook)—that this is part of a general movement associated with the decline in moral standards. There is plenty of evidence that when moral standards fall, respect for the law and authority also fall.
There are others, including Government spokesmen, who say "Let us get to the root of the problem". They advance the view that we need to give more opportunities to young people and to provide more playing fields, youth centres and all the rest of it. That solution is of no use at present because the Government are asking local authorities to cut back on youth projects, playing fields, recreational facilities, when, apparently, they are desperately needed.
A further reason advanced for the increase in crime is the fact that the law has gone soft and that Government and Parliament, as a deliberate policy, have decided that we should have a soft and so-called enlightened policy on crime. When that is put to the Government they reply that such a view is nonsensical. However, it is only fair in a debate such as this that we should at least take account of such a view and not arrogantly dismiss it.
There are many people, such as my hon. Friend for Macclesfield, who suggest that if we employ sterner penalties than we now impose we could reduce the amount of crime because that policy would be an effective deterrent. It is wrong to say that those arguments should be thrown out of the window as unscientific. There is a growing feeling that if one does not express so-called liberal, radical views one is in danger of being accused of being neither scientific nor correct. I was shocked to hear the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Lead-bitter) say that people demanded extreme penalties because they did not understand the problem. That is not a view based on scientific or other evidence. There are many indications flowing from research 1824 work—and no doubt the Home Secretary has studied this material—that sterner penalties have led to a reduction in crime, and thereby to the protection of the general public.
In Glasgow some years ago there was an appalling outbreak of razor-slashing. People were scared to walk through the streets because of the prospect of being slashed with razors. One judge imposed very stiff penalties in a highly publicised way for the crime of razor-slashing, and that crime was virtually eliminated in Glasgow. I could quote many similar examples.
Many agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that the time has come for a debate on corporal punishment, to establish whether it would deter violence and vandalism. There is ample evidence that it would, and there is a case for investigating whether stronger penalties would reduce crime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) referred to the important rôle of the police. The Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot ignore the low morale in the police force. There are many reasons for this, one of which is pay.
There are disturbing indications that, even at a time of high and rising unemployment, far too many policemen leave the service early. The annual report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland stated that, despite a marked improvement in recruitment last year, the number of officers leaving the police, prematurely was causing concern. The Secretary of State for Scotland will recall giving me in an answer yesterday figures showing the number of police officers who had left the service early over the past few years. The numbers were disturbingly high and rising. There is a case for looking into why so many police leave the service early at a time of high and rising unemployment. In 1971 the number of police officers who left before normal retirement age was 269. In 1976 the figure was 446—a disturbing figure, difficult to explain at a time when other jobs are not easy to get.
A second indication of police morale is contained in a booklet entitled "Do you want law and order?" published by 1825 the Scottish Police Federation at the expense of Scottish policemen. In that document the police express their concern at the rising crime rate and the fact that Parliament and the Government are not doing enough about it. When the Police Federation takes trouble to publish documents to be read by the public and Members of Parliament we should be concerned about police affairs. If the Secretary of State would listen to the real experts, the people on the job, and less to other experts, he might find a better solution.
Although the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary say that police manpower is not being cut, when there are cuts in the numbers of traffic wardens, and others who give assistance to the police, inevitably more work has to be done by the police. In my street there used to be a lollipop man who helped children to cross the road. Because of expenditure cuts that work is now being done temporarily by a police officer. Many more examples could be given of the time available to the police for doing important work being reduced because of cuts in ancillary services.
Considerable emphasis has been placed on the need to review penalties. There is ample evidence for this. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North, said that there was a need to reconsider the penalties for murder. Political parties have never taken a view on capital punishment. It is a question on which individuals come to their own decision, but the penalty for murder should be reviewed to see whether the life sentence in its present form is right.
Some hon. Members are not aware that in Scotland we have had a careful review of the whole situation by a committee under the chairmanship of the notable Scottish judge, Lord Emslie. He put forward a good argument in an excellent report calling for mandatory sentences to be given in all but exceptional cases within a life sentence. I think that, wrongly, the Government rejected that proposal. I think there is a case for looking at whether we should have a specified mandatory minimum sentence within a life sentence except in exceptional cases.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that a life sentence is not a life sentence, in that after a time prisoners are released on licence? Rarely is anyone kept in unless he is mentally insane. It would be far better if each crime were measured by the trial judge who heard the case.
§ Mr. Taylor
I agree very much with the hon. Gentleman. There is also a case for looking again at Emslie in view of the increase in the number of killings and murders.
There has also been an increase in the number of offences for the possession of weapons yet, under an out-of-date law of 1953, the penalty for the possession of an offensive weapon is £50 or three months in prison. That must be looked at.
There is no doubt at all that because of the low capture rate we should look again at penalties for housebreaking. There may be a case for mandatory sentences.
Surely, the Secretary of State will accept that because of the congestion in the Glasgow Sheriff Court there is a need to look at the possibility of a specific sentence for driving offences such as speeding and going through red lights. There were 12,000 motoring offences in the Glasgow Sheriff Court last year and an average of four to six witnesses in each case. The result has been quite scandalous delays, and the law is being brought into disrepute. There may even be a case for a separate court for motoring offences.
In Scotland we have a special problem with regard to drink—for all kinds of reasons. It has been suggested that Scotland has a drink problem more than a crime problem. There are ample implications of very close links between drinking and crime in Scotland. To give one simple example, the hospital admission figures for alcoholism in Scotland are six or seven times more than they are south of the border. We have just passed a major licensing reform Bill to extend the hours in Scottish pubs and to allow them to open on a Sunday. It is unfortunate that when we had this major reform, which the Under-Secretary of State piloted through so gracefully, we did not take the opportunity of looking at the link between drink and crime and the 1827 need for more energetic propaganda exercises by the health and education unit of the Scottish Office.
There have been references to juvenile crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) said this was something which was a very important problem. In Scotland we have taken the initiative. Since 1971 we have had a system of children's panels instead of the juvenile courts. I am afraid that after five years the indications are that the experiment has not been a great success. It has not been a success for many reasons.
Because the facilities are not there the panels can either warn the youngster, or place the child under probation or send the youngster to a List D school, where the average cost is over £50 a week for maintenance. The Secretary of State unfortunately has to accept that there is immense pressure on the List D schools. The waiting lists that are published are meaningless, because the panels know that places are simply not available to send the youngsters to List D schools.
We know that the social work departments are under immense pressure, particularly in the cities. In some cases the social work departments can offer what is virtually an emergency service only. There are ample indications, and open admissions by social work convenors, that supervision under the old system is not being done in many cases and that there are enormous gaps between visits, and that brings the whole system into disrepute.
We are concerned about the system because the resources are not there and are unlikely to be there for some time. We have a shortage of social workers. We simply cannot turn on a tap. It takes many years to train a social worker.
There is also the problem of field work replacements. There is also an indication that the social work panels have taken away a lot of the deterrent element from the system. In addition, taking away the whole concept of punishment from the system has not been a step forward. There is a case for a fundamental review of the whole system of social work panels and considering the possibility of reintroducing the concept of punishment, parents being fined for children's offences, and recreating a separate probation system in place of the integrated system.
1828 The time available for debate is very short. We have had many interesting speeches. The one message that my right hon. Friend gave at the beginning of his excellent speech and that I and all my right hon. and hon. Friends would repeat is that the top priority for Government should be defence and security at home and abroad. We believe that sufficient priority is not being given to the battle against crime at home, and that the time has come for higher priority and more attention to be given to a serious and worsening problem.
§ 9.41 p.m.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Milan)
This has been a very interesting debate, but I start with a slight complaint about its nature. It is unfortunate that the Opposition have chosen to make this a Great Britain debate, so that in response to a Scottish speech I am winding up on behalf of the Government, when there have been no speeches by other Scottish Members. This has been an English debate. I hope that English Members—[Interruption.] Not one Scottish Member even tried to enter the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If we do not have peace and quiet, we shall have to impose heavier penalties in the House.
§ Mr. Millan
I had not finished what was saying. I should be happy to give way if I were allowed to finish making the point. We have the extraordinary situation of an English debate being wound up by Scottish speakers on both sides of the House. Many matters raised by English Members I am unable to answer, in the nature of things, but I shall do my best.
I want first to refer to an English case. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would like me to make a comment about the Robinson case, which was raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott). He said that there had been criticism of the fact 1829 that Mr. Robinson was released when, according to newspaper reports, the judge at his trial in 1962 said that he should be detained in prison for the rest of his life.
There is nothing in the Home Office records confirming the remarks that the trial judge, the late Mr. Justice Finnemore, is said to have made. Because Mr. Robinson did not appeal, no transcript of the proceedings at the trial was made. The judge died in 1974 and, therefore, cannot be consulted. The court stenographer is also dead and his notes have been destroyed. The judge did not write to the then Home Secretary after the trial, and no report of any statement by him was made by any official present in court.
§ Mr. Millan
I hope that what I have said has made the position clear. My right hon. Friend was anxious that this story, which is not accurate, should not be allowed to spread.
§ Mr. Millan
I understand that the new arrangements came into operation in 1965. I have explained what is the accurate position. It is as well that it should be put on record.
The debate generally takes place against the background of what everyone agrees to be extremely serious crime figures. There is no simple answer to the problem with which the House, the Government and the country are faced.
I should like to start with a few comments made by the Scottish Council on Crime, a body headed by a senior judge and appointed by a Conservative predecessor of mine. Some of the conclusions in that body's report are apposite to this debate. For instance, the Council said:We have discovered no universal panacea, nor, in our judgement, is there one to be discovered. What is required is action over a wide front.I would simply confirm that.
The Council went on to say, having made some proposals: 1830We trust however that these proposals will not serve to create the totally false impression that the nation's crime problems can be solved by statutory authorities or by legislation.That is an important consideration which we should bear in mind, particularly since, as legislators, we are occasionally tempted to believe that, if only we get the legislation right, somehow we should be able to solve these problems. I do not believe that that is so.
The Council went on to say:It is important therefore that action also be taken to tackle the problems of crime where they have their roots, mainly in the home, the family and the community.That comment, of course, relates to the point made by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw).
In the same report, dealing with the relationship between crime and poverty, the Council said:In the final analysis, the effectiveness of official measures for prevention of crime is likely to be affected as much by the amount of resources the nation can afford to devote to the general social health of its citizens as to those services—the police, the courts, the prisons—which are most directly linked in the public mind with crime and offenders.The report went on to deal with the particular problems of the deprived urban areas.
It is, therefore, a false comparison in terms of priority to talk, as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border did, of cutting back public expendture generally but spending more on the police, the prison service and the rest. That is not a prescription for solving the problems caused by crime. We have to tackle this on a wide front and recognise that, although the simple connection between crime and poverty is perhaps no longer valid as an explanation for the problems in our society, there is still nevertheless a strong connection between crime and many other problems arising from deprivation, particularly urban deprivation.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the constituency of Cambridge, which has virtually no unemployment whatever, our crime statistics have got worse and worse over the last 10 years and that we have per capita one of the highest crime rates in the country? How is that explained?
I accept that. I was saying that there is not a simple link, but it is still true that the most difficult areas for crime are the inner city areas, where there are other considerable social problems as well. We should keep that in mind and not separate the general problems of crime from the general social problems with which we must deal.
I must repudiate immediately the claim of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border that this Government do not support the police in their efforts. There is absolutely no foundation for such an outrageous statement and I repudiate it completely. Of course we recognise that, in the fight against crime, the police have an extremely important —the most important—part to play. Nothing said or done by this Government or by previous Labour Governments can be demonstrated to be in any way detrimental to that proposition, in which we believe not just as a matter of principle but also as a matter of practice.
It is not true, despite the criticisms made, that the number of policemen nas been reduced. That is not true in the case of England and Wales. In Scotland at the end of 1973 there were 11,452 policemen, but there were 12,317 at the end of 1976. That is a substantial increase in a period when many other services have shown no increase at all. Naturally, when we consider our present difficulties concerning public expenditure, the police service as a whole, including civilian workers, cannot wholly escape, but the figures show that there has been a considerable increase in the number of uniformed policemen and in the police service generally in recent years.
I noted what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said about the various problems affecting the Police Federation, and I hope he will appreciate that I cannot go into matters of detail at present. I think that we share common ground about the need for a long-term review of the Police Federation and a review of the negotiating machinery. Some of the other matters that the hon. Member raised pose much more difficult questions. For example, the question of fringe benefits raises very delicate matters connected with the Government's overall pay policy.
I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the last thing he wanted was a 1832 confrontation or collision between the Police Federation and the Government on this issue. He recognises that there are much wider issues involved. I repeat what was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and would point out that I, too, have been involved in the negotiations and the correspondence of recent weeks. We are anxious to defuse the present situation and to get some kind of acceptable solution. The matter is still under active consideration. It is not moribund. I hope that we shall be able to get out of the present impasse as quickly as possible.
If the police are to do their job, they require considerable help from the community. It has been a feature of successive Governments that a good deal of effort has been put into crime prevention campaigns. In Scotland, in every year since 1968 we have financed crime prevention campaigns which have been run with the advice and co-operation of senior police officers. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) that many of the issues involved in crime prevention are simple matters. If most ordinary citizens took simple precautions, they could cut down some of the most disturbing crime increases such as housebreaking and car thefts. When talking about the difficult problem of the treatment of offenders, we must not forget that there are many simple actions that could be taken by the ordinary citizen and could considerably reduce the present crime rate.
In Scotland we launched a special campaign against vandalism two or three years ago. Vandalism is a problem in all our cities. It is an extremely intractable problem, but it is not confined to urban areas. Here again the solution demands a high degree of co-operation between the citizens and the police. Unfortunately, the percentage of vandals arrested and convicted is one of the lowest compared with other crimes. These matters can be improved only if we get citizens helping the police.
We should also consider police involvement with the community. In Scotland we have perhaps a rather better record in respect of community involvement, although there are many other areas where our record is worse. In Scotland there are many examples of policemen becoming involved, not as social workers but in 1833 spheres of activity much more like those of the youth and community service. The policeman, with the special authority that he carries, can achieve things that the community worker or social worker cannot achieve. In my own constituency, for example, in Glasgow, the police Community Division organises a school football competition during the school holidays, a time when the city often suffers an increase in crimes of vandalism and juvenile delinquency. There are many other instances that I could quote. I believe very strongly that the more the police are involved in community liaison work, the better it is for the tackling of these problems at the level at which they must continue to be tackled—that of prevention.
I repudiate the allegation on sentencing policy made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in his winding-up speech. It is not true that the courts, in Scotland at least—and I do not believe it has happened in England either—have got softer over recent years. Nor is it true that legislation has become softer. The maximum fine limits are more than keeping pace with the cost of living, and the other penalties available to the courts generally have increased considerably in recent years.
In Scotland we have a proportionately higher prison population than the rest of Britain. It has risen despite the fact that the severity of sentences has gone up in recent years. The average level of fines in 1975, in constant money value terms, was just about double the average in 1955. The average prison sentence has risen from 100 days in 1955 to 120 days in 1975. Therefore, it is not true that the courts are imposing lesser penalties in Scotland.
§ Mr. Millan
No, I will not give way. The problem in Scotland is not that there are too few people in prison but rather the opposite. We have too large a prison population, and I would like to see many more disposals of offenders which involved work in the community. This would be much better than constantly increasing the prison population.
We are faced with a simple dilemma—namely, in the first instance that to 1834 introduce new community provisions is more expensive than to continue with the traditional system of sending people to prison. Within the financial restraints under which we operate, I hope to see a considerable improvement in Scotland's record in this respect, because this is an area where we are a good deal behind England and Wales.
I disagree completely with the hon. Member for Cathcart about Scotland's record on children's hearings. The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 was welcomed by both sides of the House and was voted for unanimously by the Conservative Opposition of that time. As far as I am aware, they have not changed their minds about this. If the hon. Member's comments were a pronouncement of Conservative policy, I am very interested. I do not believe, however, that Scottish opinion would agree with it. Given the difficulties in which we operate I think that children's hearings have been a considerable success in Scotland.
A number of points were raised by individual Members during the debate. There were many that I would have been happy to answer had there been time. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) raised the matter of the security industry, about which my right hon. Friend may write to him. The points he raised have been considered on other occasions in the past.
We have had an interesting debate, which has ranged very widely and taken in many aspects of the crime problem. This is not a problem which is susceptible to easy solutions, but the more we can discuss it rationally and constructively in the House with the aim of achieving a constructive solution, the better progress we can make.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.