HC Deb 18 February 1982 vol 18 cc393-4
10. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many indictable offences were committed during 1981; and how this compares with the position in 1976.

Mr. Mayhew

The latest figures show that in the first three quarters of 1981 the number of serious offences recorded by the police in England and Wales was 2-2 million. This total is not directly comparable with the figures for 1976 because of the introduction of a new set of counting rules at the beginning of 1980.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister recall that five years ago Conservative Members made a great fuss about the crime rate and law and order? Will not the full figures for 1981 show that the situation last year would have seemed incredible only four or five years earlier? Does he agree that until there is a change in Government economic policy and less retrenchment in public provision there can be no possibility of advance?

Mr. Mayhew

Of course my right hon. and hon. Friends showed great concern five years ago—as they always have and as they do today—about the increase in crime, because they know how concerned ordinary people are about it. That is why we are doing our very best to deter crime, not least by increasing the police force by more than 8,000 since May 1979. I dare say that unemployment has a bearing on the matter, but nothing can excuse violent crime or indeed any crime.

Sir William Clark

As the last review of corporal punishment was 22 years ago, in 1960, and the number of crimes and indictable offences has risen at an alarming rate, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the reintroduction of corporal punishment should be considered in view of present experience and the crime figures?

Mr. Mayhew

My right hon. Friend set out the Government's position in answer to an earlier question. The Criminal Justice Bill will provide an opportunity to consider this, as an amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for the Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) deals with that very matter. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Minister investigate the relationship between the increase in indictable crime and the growth of the prison population? Can he suggest any reason why the prison population rose by 2,000 in the first five weeks of this year?

Mr. Mayhew

Anyone can speculate when one is close to the event, but I dare say that in time it will be possible to reach an informed opinion. There is always a seasonal decline around Christmas. Nevertheless, there has been a marked drop in the prison population from 45.000 last July. I hope that it will not rise any more, but we shall have to wait and see.

Mrs. Knight

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that, despite the figures that he was unable to give, the crime rate has soared, particularly for offences such as mugging and the raping of even frail and elderly women and young children? Is he aware that there is grave public concern about this? Will he shortly announce measures to counter and reverse this trend, not least by the reintroduction of discipline in schools, the strengthening of the family unit and a greater deterrent effect? Will he bear in mind that the more lightly we treat criminals, the more criminals there will be?

Mr. Mayhew

I have no doubt that the matters to which my hon. Friend refers have considerable bearing on the problem of crime and its increase. I also acknowledge—nobody has sought to conceal it—that there has been a grave increase particularly in violent crime. The Criminal Justice Bill provides the courts with a substantially wider range of penalties, custodial arid otherwise. We believe that that will be a valuable measure.