HC Deb 31 March 1977 vol 929 cc552-3
3. Mr. Hodgson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what causes he attributes the rise in the number of crimes of violence, burglary, larceny and housebreaking in the large towns and cities.

Mr. John

Many forms of crime have been increasing, especially in urban areas, for many years. I doubt the value of speculation about the causes: remedial action is more important, and I am encouraged by the indications that the amount of crime does not seem to be increasing at as fast a rate as formerly.

Mr. Hodgson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a major cause of crime is that the police forces in our urban areas are under strength? What plans do the Government have to bring them up to strength and to make our streets safe to walk again?

Mr. John

The strength of the West Midlands police force, for example, increased by about 4 per cent. last year.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that more than one-quarter of all serious crimes involving violence in our cities and large towns and more than half of all burglaries and robberies are committed by children under the age of 17? Now that the Government have these somewhat startling statistics before them, is it not time that the workings of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 should be looked at again and that the possibility of restoring to magistrates the powers taken away from them by that Act should be reconsidered?

Mr. John

The problem of juvenile crime worries many of us, but the hon. and learned Gentleman fails to recognise that we keep the Act under continuous review and that it was brought in because of the thoroughly unsatisfactory situation that existed before 1969 when magistrates had the powers to which he refers.

Mr. Ioan Evans

As juvenile delinquency forms a large part of statistics, would my hon. Friend comment on the success of the community service orders in North London that have had a great effect in solving the problem of young offenders?

Mr. John

I pay tribute to that form of punishment. It has been a first-class innovation.

Mr. Edward Gardner indicated assent.

Mr. John

I see that the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), who helped to pilot it through, is here. The system has been first-class, and it gives us hope that punishment can be achieved in a non-custodial way that will not be thought of as merely soft.

Sir. W Elliott

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the light of the considerable level of crime, particularly violent crimes in some city centres, this is no time to be reducing civilian aid to police forces?

Mr. John

No programme can be exempt at a time of financial stringency, but I am convinced that our programme of spending more on law and order in real terms and increasing the number of police, as has happened in the past two years, is the right course to adopt.