HC Deb 18 March 1982 vol 20 cc469-71
10. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, pursuant to his reply to the hon. Member for Macclesfield of 2 March, Official Report, column 82, he is satisfied that the projected increase in police strength in England and Wales is sufficient to deal with the recent increase in crimes of all categories, and particularly with regard to street crimes and disturbances in the inner city areas; and if he will make a statement.

12. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current strength of the police forces in England; and how this figure compares with three years before.

Mr. Whitelaw

Yes, Sir. At the end of January the total strength of the police service in England and Wales was 119, 508. This is an increase of 9, 562 compared with January 1979. This gain, with the further increase in police strength already provided for in the next 12 months, gives chief officers of police more officers than ever before to carry out the many tasks that we expect from our police service.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. Is he aware that violent crime against the person is now as important an issue in people's minds as unemployment? Does he agree that the increase in violent crime, including the setting up of vigilante groups within our inner city areas, is extremely serious? Will he say what further example the House can give to ensure that the courts are able to mete out sentences to fit the serious crimes that are being committed?

Mr. Whitelaw

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I support him in his anxiety about the increase in crime, especially burglaries and street crimes, which are serious and which must be tackled by the House, the police service, the Government and the whole community. Only by a concerted effort shall we succeed against these crimes. For the benefit of those who seem to think that there is something wrong in having a strong police service, I should add that the first priority is to have a strong police service. When the service is strong, it is necessary to make it effective. That is important, and the Government have directed a great deal of effort towards that end. I do not accept that vigilantes have a place in our society. Those who want to help can join the special constabulary. There are many important tasks that they can carry out. The House has the right to provide the power for judges and magistrates to impose appropriate sentences.

Mr. Chapman

I welcome the increase in police strength of 9, 000, which I understand includes an increase of over 3, 000 in the Metropolitan Police force. May I have my right hon. Friend's assurance that that is resulting, and will continue to result, in more policemen patrolling our city streets? Does he agree that that is the best way to get the co-operation and confidence of the public, which is an essential element in tackling the rising crime rate?

Mr. Whitelaw

First, it is the Government's job, which they have fully carried out, to provide the planned additions for the recruitment of police officers in the numbers and of the quality that are needed. Secondly, it is for the police to be thoroughly effective in carrying out their task by using all the equipment that the Government provide. I trust that in carrying out their task they will receive the full help, advice and moral support of the entire community.

Mr. Hattersley

Despite the Home Secretary's very real efforts, the Government have been unable to fulfil their election promise to reduce the level of crime. Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the best way of reducing the crime rate is not by wild talk about more violent punishment but by getting the police out on the streets among the people?

Mr. Whitelaw

I agree entirely that that is the task. I understand the anxieties that are expressed and I fully appreciate the problems. It can be said that the issue is one for the community as a whole. There are many problems—parental discipline, discipline in schools and many other aspects—which contribute to the rising crime rate. The police cannot do it all on their own.

Sir Paul Bryan

As well as the Government's success in recruiting and increasing the police force, which is important, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's continued support of the police has been a major factor in sustaining their morale?

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I hope it can be said that this support will be forthcoming from all sections of our community. Some people are more ready to criticise than to support the police in difficult circumstances.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the Home Secretary find time to read early-day motion 351? Does he agree that, although we are spending more on police numbers, electronic aids, two-way radios, cars, helicopters, computers and God knows what else, we have more crime now than we have ever had in our history? Will the Home Secretary examine why that should be so?

Mr. Whitelaw

The police and the community as a whole need to examine these facts. There are many reasons for them, but no excuses.