HC Deb 29 March 1979 vol 965 cc603-5
3. Mr. John Ellis

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the figures for indictable offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in 1978, as compared with 1977.

13. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement about the recently published statistics of crime on London.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

In 1978 the number of indictable offences recorded by the police in England and Wales was about 2½ million. I am glad to be able to say that this was 3 per cent. fewer than in 1977, the first year-on-year fall since 1973. The number of indictable offences recorded by the Metropolitan Police in 1978 was about 567,000, which was also fewer than in 1977.

Mr. Ellis

As there are many who are concerned about the state of law and order, will my right hon. Friend explain why the media have not made a great song and dance about the figures? They have been hardly mentioned. Why have not the Opposition and others drawn attention to the figures? Has not my right hon. Friend publicised them to the media? Perhaps I should be criticising him. The figures represent a welcome change and I think that the general public should receive the message that a Labour Administration leads to a happier and more law-abiding society.

Mr. Rees

In some curious fashion the press statement statistical bulletin that I issued some weeks ago was hardly mentioned in the press. When similar figures were issued a year ago the press used them extensively. The newspapers always make a subjective analysis of political matters.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures for London are especially pleasing? East London has many social problems, but the figures indicate that the effectiveness of this area of Government responsibility is considerably greater than many Opposition Members constantly suggest.

Mr. Rees

I agree. I have made special arrangements for Messrs. Saatchi and Saatchi to have the figures in case it uses them in the next few weeks and the Opposition do not get the facts right.

Mr. Whitelaw

For the avoidance of any doubt, does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that anyone with any interest in our country will welcome an reduction in the crime figures? Does he accept that his hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) is wrong? I have already expressed my welcome of the figures publicly. Funnily enough, my welcome of the figures was no more publicised than the right hon. Gentleman's release of them. May I also say to the right hon. Gentleman that when crimes of violence and vandalism are increasing there can be no room for complacency? However, any change for the better is to be welcomed.

Mr. Rees

It is not a matter of complacency. When the overall figure is increasing there are some figures within the total that are falling and some that are rising. My complaint is that when the figures are increasing responsibility is laid firmly at the door of the Labour Government. Nobody considers the figures that lie within the total. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said because I know that he will ensure that this aspect of law and order does not arise during the general election campaign.

Mr. Farr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all Opposition Members welcome the improvement of 3 per cent.? Of course, the figures were not published until about a fortnight ago. Does he agree that the way in which statistics are compiled means that as inflation grips the country the number of reportable offences of criminal damage increases? Does he also agree that if it had not been for inflation the number of reported cases of criminal damage would have been static instead of producing a 13 per cent. rise? Will be look into that?

Mr. Rees

The £20 limit has had an effect on the figures in recent years. That is all the more reason why those who do not understand statistics, such as advertising agents, should be instructed before they say anything about them.