HC Deb 25 March 1982 vol 20 cc1107-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooke.]

Mr. Speaker

During the Adjournment debate that is about to begin I am satisfied that it is appropriate that the occupants of the Chair should exercise the power given to them under Standing Order No. 16 to permit incidental reference to legislative action, and that this power should he reasonably liberally interpreted. I am, however, aware that the Criminal Justice Bill is currently under consideration in Standing Committee A. While, therefore, I would not rule out a general discussion on the particular matters with which that Bill is concerned in so far as they are relevant to the need for effective policing and the consequent reduction in crime, I should most strongly deprecate any attempt to comment in detail on the actual proceedings of the Standing Committee.

4.30 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The facts that underlie today's debate and that prompted the Opposition to devote a Supply day to the subject of effective policing and the consequent reduction in crime are indisputable and I believe undisputed. Since 1979 the number of serious crimes committed in this country has increased year by year. After the reduction in crime recorded and welcomed in 1977 and 1978 the figures rose from 557,000 cases in 1979 to 584,000 in 1980 and 631,000 in 1981. At the same time the numbers of arrests fell, and, more important, there was a massive reduction in what the police call "crimes cleared up", from 119,000 in 1977 to 106,000 in 1981.

I mark 1978 as the turning point, for crimes committed and for crimes detected, as a simple statement of statistical fact. It would be easy to make party political points about the change in those figures, and, remembering the way in which the Conservative Party behaved during the last election, the Home Secretary could hardly complain if I chose to do so. But to refer, as the Prime Minister did in 1978, to the world of the Clockwork Orange and then to announce that here in Britain that world has become visibly nearer does not seem to me to be an intelligent way in which to conduct this debate, so I content myself with saying that if the Prime Minister was right in 1978 to say that the world of the Clockwork Orange was just around the corner, how much nearer is it today after three years of Conservative Government? I content myself with simply asking her that question, without any hope of reply, because I believe that allegations of the sort that she and her hon. Friends made before and during the last election campaign, combined with easy promises and facile solutions, are themselves a major contributory cause of the crisis that we face today.

Simplistic slogans have encouraged the belief that crime can be swiftly reduced and criminals can assuredly he caught by tough penalties and perhaps even simply by tough talk. That view is obviously absurd, not least because punishment becomes an effective deterrent only when the criminal believes that arrest is certain and conviction inevitable. I urge Conservative hon. Members to read a recent speech on the subject by the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler), who has some experience in these matters, and for whose first page of political knock-about I more than forgive him because of the wisdom of the rest of the speech.

What the hon. Gentleman made very clear, and what I believe should be the main theme of our debate today, was that the major problem of crime and the crime figures is the criminals' confidence that they will be neither caught nor punished. If they believe that, arguments about whether their sentence will be seven or 10 years never pass through their minds. The practical necessity for reducing the crime rate is the certainty of detection. The debate about crime should be about not the strength of punishment but the effectiveness of the police.

Calls for the rope and the birch, which in my view are wrong in principle, have another undoubted disadvantage. They are dangerous and facile alternatives to facing the real facts and to taking the practical decisions that will actually reduce the level of crime.

The first fact that I ask the Government to accept is the relationship between increasing crime and increasing unemployment. I know that the Prime Minister constantly asserts that there is little or no connection. I ask her to accept not my judgment but that of her own Home Secretary, who said in February 1978: There has been a dramatic rise in unemployment among boys and girls. That is the responsibility of this Government. Let no one have any doubt about the danger that that has created in terms of crime of all sorts, violence and vandalism. If boys and girls do not obtain jobs when they leave school, they feel that society has no need of them. If they feel that, they do not see any reason why they should take part in that society and comply with its rules. That is what is happening and, wherever we sit in this House, that is what we have to recognise."—[Official Report, 27 February 1978; Vol. 945, c. 40.] Nobody on the Opposition Benches could have put the position better. If that was true in 1978, when there were 1,506,000 unemployed men and women, including the school leavers to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred, how much more true is it today, when the total unemployment figure has risen to over 3 million?

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)


Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)


Mr. Hattersley

I shall give way in a moment, but I hope that in questioning me on this point the two hon. Gentlemen will quote the only true begetter.

Mr. Forman

Does not the right hon. Gentleman also accept that, whereas there is no doubt that there is a connection between levels of unemployment and levels of of irresponsible behaviour or crime, that does not constitute in any shape or form an excuse for such behaviour?

Mr. Hattersley

There are several points to make, one of which demonstrates the error of giving way. It is not I who must accept what the hon. Gentleman says; it is the Prime Minister. I have always accepted it. I have been advocating the relationship between the two factors for some time. But I was going on to say, and I shall say it in a moment, something directly related to the hon. Gentleman's second question.

First, and I think that preventing the House hearing the wisdom of the hon. Member for Luton—[HON. MEMBERS: "Winchester."] I am sure that the wisdom will be as great as I expected, even though I got the constituency wrong. First, I must ask the Home Secretary a specific question. Those of us who are authorities on his replies will understand when I say that it is not a question that he can tell the House will be answered at the end of the day by the Minister of State. It is one that he must answer himself.

Does the right hon. Gentleman still believe in the relationship between unemployment and crime, about which he was so eloquent in 1978? If, as I suspect, the right hon. Gentleman does believe in it—I shall give way at once if he wants to answer now—is it not an obvious fact that the increase in crime that has plagued this country for the past two years is in no small measure the result of the Government's economic policy?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer now, because I want to deal with other matters in my speech. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have never denied that, of course, unemployment is a factor. But I do not and will not accept—and my words do not accept—that it is the sole factor.

Mr. Hattersley

The Prime Minister asserted that it was not a factor on the night of the Brixton riots, and has done so on several subsequent occasions. I am glad that we are making progress, at least with the more enlightened parts of the Government.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

On Tuesday the Prime Minister said that there was no justification for such a simplistic assertion, because of the experience of the 1930s. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the crime rate, which went up by 10 per cent. last year, went up by an average of 14 per cent. a year between 1930 and 1934, and. that in 1932 it went up by 30 per cent? Surely that is the finest indication that there is a clear correlation between unemployment and crime.

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) was kind enough to show me some figures, and I hope that he will develop them during his speech. They show a direct and absolute correlation between inter-war increases in unemployment and inter-war increases in crime. That proves the Prime Minister wrong for the second time.

Mr. John Browne


Mr. Hattersley

I will give way, but I must then get on because I have a long speech to make and I understand that the Home Secretary has a very long speech to make.

Mr. Browne

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the fastest rising categories of crime is among school children? They are equivalent to employed people in terms of crime. Therefore, does he believe that, while crime and unemployment may have risen together, unemployment is a major cause of crime?

Mr. Hattersley

Of course I do, as does the Home Secretary. If I were a young black teenager living in a decaying central area, anticipating unemployment and watching the reduction in social services and the humiliations heaped upon me by the Government's British Nationality Act 1981 and other matters, I would be tempted in those ways. We are hypocritical—I include myself in that—if we pretend anything else.

I must make the best progress I can, but will answer the question put to me by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). To mention the obvious relationship between crime and unemployment immediately provokes the allegation that the young criminal is being excused, his crime condoned and his conduct justified. I am doing none of those things. I am simply stating the cause and relationship. I must tell the hon. Gentleman and others who ask that question that moral judgments may give us all a sanctimonious satisfaction, but do not reduce the rate of crime. For that to happen, we must re-establish the old relationship between the police and the public, and I shall speak about that this afternoon.

I do not propose to sentimentalise about what is commonly called "the bobby on the beat". However, I intend to argue, as many senior policemen argue, that over the past decade the police have become more remote from the communities they serve. They have become less visible among them and less associated with those communities' daily lives. That process began almost 20 years ago when the idea of cost-effective policing became the vogue—police in fast motor cars and police equipped with two-way radios.

I am certain that we now need the re-establishment and retention of the foot patrol, which is familiar with the communities it serves, a tangible deterrent to criminals, reassurance to law-abiding citizens and an essential source of vital information. Of course, the officer in a motor car gets to a burglary, road accident and, indeed, domestic quarrel far more quickly than his old predecessor on foot. However, he is not the same force for protection and deterrence as the beat policeman was and must become again. Perhaps most important is that the general public do not feel the same obligation to talk to that policeman and work with him. We must establish the essential feature of the public working with the police.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

It was Roy Jenkins who put them in the cars.

Mr. Hattersley

I had hoped that we might have a little good manners from the hon. Gentleman's party. After that vain hope, I shall continue.

I do not believe that the relationship we need to reestablish between police and public will come about until there is general acceptance in Britain of the need to get police back among the public, as represented by two major changes in police organisation. The first is the reduction in the size of police authority areas. They were reduced 15 years ago from 123 to 41 forces. Larger but fewer police forces have made them more cost-effective but more remote. The second and perhaps more radical change that needs to come about is the establishment of police committees, both in the provinces and in London, consisting of elected men and women who represent the opinions of the people the police serve and who are responsible for the overall policy of the police in their areas.

I certainly do not want those police committees to have responsibility for day-to-day operational matters. Nor do I want them to have the slightest influence on prosecution policy. Indeed, prosecution policy should be in the hands of a national prosecution service as proposed by the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. However, some decisions ought not to be taken by a chief officer, who is answerable to no one and required to justify his decisions to no one.

A simple example is that last summer, after the Brixton and Toxteth riots, the Home Secretary announced that police forces who chose to do so could be equipped with baton rounds, an alias for rubber bullets, armoured personnel carriers and CS gas. Nobody in his right mind would suggest that if a police force chose to possess such equipment a police committee should be convened to approve its specific use. However, the initial decision to arm the police in this way, whatever its merits or necessity, contributes to a change in the character of the police force. Surely that fundamental decision, affecting the lives of people in an entire police force area, should not be taken by one man alone, no matter how senior or experienced.

Therefore, an elected police authority responsive to and, indeed, dependent on the local community would be a major influence in preserving policy by consent, bringing the police and public closer together, keeping uniformed policemen on the streets and encouraging the right attitude to policing in inner cities.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

The right hon. Gentleman made an important point and I partly concur with it. If an elected police authority were to decide that its local police ought not to have CS gas and the necessary implements to suppress riots, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the people of that area should be exposed to riots, even though a chief officer of police believed that his men ought to have that protection?

Mr. Hattersley

The elected authority would take that decision, right or wrong. If the people of an area thought that the police had made a mistake and that the authority was providing inadequate protection, or that the police were not being adequately supported, come the next May or the May after, they could dispose of their police committee. That is called democracy. The police will not associate with the people they serve until democracy prevails in this area.

I must tell the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) something that he already knows. In some areas, the sort of relationship I seek has already been established. In Birmingham—where what has happened in Handsworth has become famous—the police as a whole make a conscious effort to be identified with and visible within the decaying central areas.

The West Midlands police have no doubt that their determination to preserve policing by consent and avoid aggressive attitudes and actions was a chief reason why peace was maintained in Birmingham last year when the London and Liverpool riots were breaking out. That must be the pattern for the country. I now fear that the Home Secretary is being jostled into action that will alienate the police and public in a way that makes prevention of crime and conviction of criminals much more difficult.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I regard it as nonsense to suggest that the Home Secretary has failed to carry out the policy that he promised three years ago. The main thrust of that policy was an increase in police manpower. It is impossible to argue that the Home Secretary has not achieved what he set out to do. The Government in which I served set up the Edmund-Davies Committee. That committee recommended a revolution in police pay, immediate increases and a completely new pay scale. That Government proposed to implement that report in stages. However, the Home Secretary put it into operation immediately—in May rather than September 1979. As a result, he presided over a very large increase in police manpower.

Critics of the Home Secretary seem to me to fly in the face of that essential central fact. Having achieved that increase, it is essential that the larger police forces are trained and used properly. Yet, while that is so obvious, a massive campaign is being mounted in some newspapers, in some recesses of the 1922 Committee and even in some police forces to convince the Home Secretary that all that is needed is tougher police powers and more stringent punishments.

No doubt today we shall hear the Home Secretary's response to that call. I understand that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, due to various nods and winks that he claims that he has received from the Home Secretary, knows already what the Home Secretary intends. The 1922 Committee was given some encouragement and hints on Monday.

Mr. Alan Clark

We did not meet on Monday.

Mr. Hattersley

I must be precise about such an august institution. The Home Affairs Committee, the intended lynch mob of the 1922 Committee, was given some encouraging hints last Monday.

My hope is that the Home Secretary will turn out to be employing the same political tactics as served him so well after the summer disturbances—tough talk on Monday night, a more reasonable response on Thursday afternoon, and a return to moderation as soon as he is back in the Home Office without any parliamentary debates. Whether or not that is his tactic I must tell him that the Opposition would not support, and he could only introduce after much controversy, new police powers that would detach the police even further from the community. By that I mean powers of the type recommended in the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, which suggested the extension of the power to stop and search, the compulsory finger printing of children, the holding of suspects without charge and the right of the police to arrest anyone who refuses to give a name and address. That would result only in a deterioration in the relationship between the police and the public and a consequent increase, not reduction, in crime.

The Royal Commission claimed to have produced a balanced document that matched increased police powers with additional civil rights safeguards, although, in my view, the safeguards were generally inadequate. Now there is a suggestion, as a result of press leaks or speculation, that the Home Secretary intends to implement only half of the report—the increased powers but riot the safeguards. Such a proposal would be wholly intolerable to thinking opinion everywhere. I hope that the Home Secretary makes it clear today that that is not his intention.

I know very well the strength of the pressure upon him. Some of it I fear comes from unthinking sections of the police service itself. The Metropolitan Police have campaigned publicly and very effectively over the past two years for changes in the law. In a free society, that is their right, but they must understand that if they and the commissioner wish to enter into these public controversies they must expect those who do not agree with them to tell them so and the commissioner must not regard any disagreement with his point of view as something that qualifies for the demand that we "get off his back".

About the speeches of the chief constable of Manchester I say only one thing. I hope that the general public will understand that other chief constables should not be judged by the embarrassing nonsense that emanates from Mr. Anderton. More than that, I am interested in the actions, or at least one action, by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I refer to the publication on 10 March 1982 of figures of offences analysed by the race of the alleged assailant.

Two days before those figures were published, perhaps knowing that they were to be published, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary warned the public to be wary of crime statistics except as providing a broad indication of the situation. Unfortunately, the commissioner did not heed that warning. In his selective presentation of statistics he did not, as he might have done, emphasise that sexual assaults had decreased in London over the year or murders had been reduced. He simply produced an extraordinary table of figures giving recorded offences broken down by victim perception of the appearance of the assailant. The House should be clear what that meant. The commissioner was not listing convictions or the race of a convicted person but simply saying what victims of solved and unsolved crimes believed to be the race of the person who had attacked them. It is difficult to imagine a more phoney set of statistics.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

Neither did he list the racial or ethnic origins of the victims of such crimes.

Mr. Hattersley

That is equally true.

I must again ask the Home Secretary, as he is the police authority for London and told us in the House last week that he was party to the publication of those figures, a specific question. He must know, and if he does not know the statistician in his Department will tell him, that that table is statistical garbage. Why did he choose to have it published? I have no doubt why the commissioner chose to have it published; it was part of his campaign for tougher police penalties in London. Why did the Home Secretary do so, exceptionally, and on a day when his Minister of State, on the same page of the Official Report, announced that it was not the Government's policy to give out Metropolitan Police figures and said that it must be done through the office of the police directly?

Therefore, why did the Home Secretary choose to print this statistical dross in the Official Report which gave papers such as the Daily Mail, with its appalling racist record, the opportunity to say inaccurately on its front page "Black crime: The Alarming Figures"? Those tables prove nothing and, for the third time, the Home Secretary must tell the House this afternoon why he chose to dignify them with a parliamentary answer.

The Home Secretary must do that because I think that he understands, on reflection, the damage that the gratuitous publication of those figures has done to the arguments used by many Labour Members. We tell the ethnic minorities, the black British and the Asian families that, in most cases, the police are on their side. Pursuing that point of view, as we shall and must, has been seriously and tragically undermined by that single action. Thanks to the Metropolitan Police that task is infinitely more difficult.

The Labour Party will continue its attempts to encourage the police and the public to work more closely together. We shall persist in our belief that in recent years the two have drifted apart. That is a view that is not confined simply to radical opinion, blacks or the Labour Party. Mr. Ferdinand Mount of the Spectator, writing in The Standard— a more impeccably reactionary combination than those three factors it is difficult to imagine—said: For the first time in this country, the conduct of the police is being brought into question, not among parts of the working-class who might regard themselves as the hereditary enemies of the constabulary, but among the respectable middle classes.

The Labour Party want to bring an end to that situation by making the police responsive and responsible to the people that they serve, and by making them visible in the pursuit of crime in the places where they are needed most. That is because we want to see a real reduction in the crime rate and we are determined to focus the nation's attention on the practical ways of bringing that reduction about.

4.59 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

The recent parliamentary, public and press debate and comment about crime, law and order, and policing will have served a good purpose if it prompts a measured and realistic response. I hope that this debate will deal with the reality of the problem and address itself to what the Government have done, and will do, in respect of all the parts of the criminal justice system. I intend to deal not only with policing but with the process of trial, prisons and the effectiveness of each. In doing so, I hope to reply to many of the points made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).

The Government inherited a depleted, and therefore demoralised, police service. Rewards for an enormously difficult task were inadequate, and the rapid loss of experienced officers badly threatened police effectiveness. That situation has now been transformed. As one of the very first acts of this Government, in the first week of office, we implemented the Edmund-Davies pay arrangements in full. Police strength in England and Wales has increased by more than 8,000 since May 1979. Almost all forces are now up to their establishment. The Metropolitan Police, for years thousands short, has topped the 25,000 mark and will reach its establishment in the foreseeable future.

The restoration of the basic health of the police service and its rapidly growing strength have enabled crucial steps to be taken. First, increasing numbers of policemen throughout the country are going back on the beat, into the communities they are there to serve, no longer trapped by false economy behind the steering wheel of a panda car. I sometimes read articles or hear speeches that give the impression that so-called community policing is the prerogative of the critics of the police. That is not so. It is increasingly the rule rather than the exception, and it has been made possible, in our innner cities particularly, by the rapid growth of manpower.

Secondly, the new strength of the police service has enabled the police and the Government together to rebuild and remould police effectiveness. We are now engaged in a thorough examination of training and are improving the quality of supervision and management. Moreover, in the past few years, the police have had to tackle a range of new or growing problems. With full Government support, they have developed new organisational, tactical and technical changes which have improved their effectiveness. They have achieved major successes.

There is no more testing modern challenge than that of terrorism. To combat it in all its forms—bombings, assassinations, sieges, hijackings—is highly intensive in terms of resources and has required the rapid development of specialist skills and contingency planning. Skilled protection, painstaking investigation, patient negotiation and tight command and control have brought the police, and therefore the public, the rewards of success. Princes Gate and Stansted were outstanding examples, but so, too, has been the inevitably unpublicised effectiveness of preventive action.

Improvements in planning, command, tactics, training and equipment are also the hallmarks of increased police effectiveness in the face of serious disorder. These have been built not out of some instant reaction but out of careful work on deployment and response, particularly since the events in Bristol in April 1980.

In two areas the impact on effectiveness is clear. The first is the provision of mutual aid—the arrangement by which one force provides assistance to another which is under pressure. The disturbances of last summer called for national co-ordination. This did not just happen. It was planned and arranged by a team directed by the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, an inspector of constabulary, and a senior Home Office official. Assistance was deployed rapidly, through logistical arrangements tailored between forces, and was matched by command and control systems within forces.

Secondly, the equipment now available to the police for their protection has enabled chief officers better to adopt positive tactics to break up violent groups. Earlier this week, at the police staff college at Bramshill, chief officers held a comprehensive seminar to cover all these points and considered together the priority which must be given to preventing disorder, as well as the necessity of reacting swiftly and firmly if it occurs.

The police have also adapted their operational techniques to overcome the methods of the most highly organised criminals operating at national and international level. Worldwide networks of drug importers and distributors have been broken up and large seizures of cocaine, heroin and cannabis have been made. Against major gangs of robbers and burglars, operating across the country, the police are steadily scoring important successes. Such success, against highly sophisticated criminals, can be brought about only by the effective organisation of criminal intelligence, the concentration of effort on to carefully selected target criminals and, often, a high degree of co-operation between officers from regional crime squads and a number of different police forces. Between them, these officers possess an impressive range of detective and specialist skills and the police record of detection of the most serious crimes—which is excellent—bears this out. In 1981, 97 per cent. of the 559 homicides in England and Wales were cleared up by the police. In the same year there were some 6,300 offences involving danger to life, of which 80 per cent. were cleared up.

In relation to terrorism, public order, highly organised crime, and the most serious crime, there is a record of action and success of which the police can be proud and the public reassured. But individual members of the public are more closely affected in their homes and on the street by other crimes, particularly burglary and robbery.

Before I discuss the action being taken to tackle these persistent problems, I should refer to the recent decision by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to publish figures for the racial appearance of people involved in street robberies in London. It has been said by some, and by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook today, that those figures should not have been published because of the harm that they may do to race relations. I disagree. It is better for such problems to be discussed in terms of facts rather than rumour. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I adopted that policy in connection with the recent study carried out by my Department into racial attacks. I believe that giving the facts is the right policy and I stand by the correctness of that course of action.

Mr. Hattersley

Will the Home Secretary turn his attention to the exact point that I made? The tables are not the facts—any statistician in his Department or anywhere else will agree with what I say, which was put to me by a professional statistician—they are statistical garbage. What is the justification for printing things that prove nothing?

Mr. Whitelaw

It is far better to print the statistics than to believe many of the wild allegations and rumours going around. There were many allegations and rumours from all quarters about what was happening. In those circumstances, it is far better to publish the facts honestly. That is what we have done.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

If we really want the facts about black involvement in crime we must surely have ethnic monitoring of crime throughout the country for all types of offences. I am not against that. Surely the right hon. Gentleman sees the difference between a simple partial attempt to qualify crime in London as opposed to the provinces. He will indeed recollect that his own recent Home Office study, in three separate investigations in different parts of the country, showed that whites rather than blacks were responsible for street crime in those areas.

Mr. Whitelaw

I certainly return to the point that I published the facts from the racial attack study at the Department and I think that I was right to do so. I was criticised by some for that, although not by the hon. Gentleman. I believe that it is much better to give the facts. I am asked "Why London?" It is because I believe that there are particular problems in London, which the figures show.

Crimes of burglary, street robbery and vandalism are serious problems rooted often in particular communities. They often require particularly local measures to deal with them. There are four strands of action to be taken and an effective approach must link them.

First, the local community has to see that action is possible and is being taken, both to try to reduce the level of crime and to remove fear of it. This must mean that police are put back on to foot patrol where they build up detailed knowledge of their beat and can be identified more closely with the local community. In addition to men already deployed in that way, 900 more officers have already been returned to beat duty in London and 300 in Greater Manchester, and the story is the same in places as different as Toxteth and Sussex. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has further plans for another 300 men to be put back on the beat. I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Opposition that none of this would be possible but for the remarkable increase in police manpower under the Conservative Government.

Secondly, there needs to be a reappraisal of methods and tactics employed. As I have said, in dealing with highly professional criminals, police success comes from the organisation of criminal intelligence and from focussing attention upon target areas and target criminals. The same principles are being applied with success to operations against more local crimes and criminals. Such operations are not restricted to an occasional show of strength which may briefly send the criminals to ground. They have been, and must be, sustained until the criminals are caught and brought to justice. Special burglary squads for example in Surrey, and street crime squads, too, for example in the West Midlands, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, by applying these techniques in new adapted ways, are achieving encouraging successes. These efforts on the ground are being supported by Home Office research into methods of deployment.

Thirdly, in tackling the problem of local crime, crime prevention has a crucial part to play. It has been undervalued up to now by many householders and business men. It does not cost a great deal to install improved physical defences which make the task of the criminal much more difficult, but the rewards of this outlay can be great in terms of security, losses avoided and peace of mind gained. Crime prevention needs to be operated by local voluntary and Government agencies as well as by individuals. Voluntary crime prevention panels, of which there are now 180 in England and Wales, have for some time been doing good work, mainly by means of schemes to improve physical security. But planning has an important part to play in local crime prevention. For example, street lighting, local housing developments and recreational facilities can be planned and developed so as to limit the opportunities for crime. This is an area in which the Government will look to local authorities and other agencies for an increasing involvement with the police at senior level.

The fourth strand of action in dealing with local crime is the way in which the police, other agencies and the community together take practical steps to tackle particular problems. There is a major task here for new consultative arrangements, as this local approach is the most effective way to deal with particular neighbourhood problems. Such local initiatives are essential, but they require co-ordination, firm encouragement, and the means of spreading good practice.

Thus, a realistic strategy against crime must recognise that it is a problem for all the community and cannot be left to the efforts, determinded though they may be, of the police alone. Nor can it be left to the consciences and good will of individuals.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

The Home Secretary is making a very important point about prevention. Does he accept that this will require resources? If the responsibility is placed on local authorities, they will need to employ people—particularly caretakers, for example, to keep an eye on buildings. If he intends to tell old people to put locks on their doors, will he bear in mind the comments of Age Concern that the DHSS will not help with expenses of that kind?

Mr. Whitelaw

Many of the things that I suggest can be achieved by wiser and better use of existing resources. That is what we should all try to do and what all local authorities should be doing, because a special responsibility rests with all those in positions of authority and all the public services concerned with individuals and communities.

I have discussed these matters with my right hon. Friend the Secretaries of State for the Environment, for Education and Science and for Social Services. We are agreed that there is a large potential area, quite separate from direct police action, for local initiatives to curb crime, to reduce the opportunities for crime and to encourage a sensible climate of opinion and local leadership. I emphasise that these would be local measures. The Government have a national responsibility to encourage, support and guide such efforts, but the problem can only be tackled effectively where it occurs, and that is on the ground, in the localities where the problems are greatest. The education and social services, particularly good schools, are important agencies for the reduction of crime. The urban programme is another source of practical support in the areas where many of the worst problems are found.

My right hon. Friends and I are taking stock of the work now in hand with the aim of identifying further practical proposals which can be developed locally to curb crime. I intend to let the House know what emerges from this work, which must be closely linked with the programme of action on community-police consultation which I have already announced.

In addition, all these actions must be buttressed in another, and crucial, way. We in this House have a duty to ensure that the police are provided with the legal powers that they need to discharge the heavy and difficult responsibilities that we impose upon them. We have a duty also to ensure that these powers are accompanied by due safeguards for the citizen.

The Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure carried out a thorough examination of the existing law on police powers with both these considerations in mind. It made proposals, too, about the initiation of criminal proceedings and, less comprehensively, about the trial process. We debated the Royal Commission's report last November and there was general agreement about the value of the Commission's work and the need for reform. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I were able then to tell the House some of our thinking on the issues raised by the report.

I can say today that I accept the case which the Royal Commission has made for some extension of police powers, in particular by rationalising the existing powers to stop and search for stolen goods, and by introducing powers to stop and search people for offensive weapons, and to search premises for evidence in difficult cases. I intend to bring forward proposals for legislation on these lines.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Does the Home Secretary accept that the indignities associated with stop and search techniques are thoroughly resented by all communities and that by extending those powers he will sacrifice the good will particularly of young black people? If there is any justification for producing statistics separating crime into ethnic categories, all that the figures prove is that, in London particularly, twice as many young black people between the ages of 16 and 25 are unemployed, which co-relates with the figures that he has given for crime. Before sacrificing that good will, will he think again about what is involved in stop and search techniques?

Mr. Whitelaw

I accept that proposals of this nature will not be popular with those who are seeking to commit crime, or to criminals. However, I cannot see why we should sacrifice the good will of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens in this country who want to be protected from crime.

The whole process of improving police effectiveness is neither static nor partial. It requires of chief officers the development of a comprehensive strategy in the allocation of manpower within their forces to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook referred. Nationally I, as Home Secretary, have a responsibility for promoting and stimulating good practice and new lessons I intend to carry it out to the full, with the support of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. In view of the increasingly national dimension of many of our problems, and my responsibility for promoting efficiency, I have asked Sir James Crane and his colleagues to concentrate their attention on the way in which priorities are set, resources managed and good practice promoted. In the Metropolis the commissioner, his senior officers, and the Metropolitan Police Inspectorate will pursue the same approach. One of my major responsibilities as Home Secretary is to ensure that the link between London and the provinces is fully forged, to the benefit of both, and that national policy enables and supports local initiative.

Amidst the focus on crime of recent weeks, there have also been calls for institutional changes, some of them pointing in contrary directions. As far as Lord Scarman's recommendations are concerned, the Opposition—the right hon. Gentleman said it again this afternoon—while allegedly supporting his report, appear neatly to sidestep a principal recommendation that the Home Secretary should remain the police authority for the Metropolis. I do not believe that it would be responsible to set aside the major local and national responsibilities of the Metropolitan Police which prompt its accountability to a senior Cabinet Minister, nor blur this clear line of my accountability to the House. Nor do I believe that outside the Metropolis we should look to major institutional amendment of the Police Act 1964. Its basic structure remains, in my view, a fully adequate framework for developing the proper roles of chief officer, police authority, and Home Secretary, and for enhancing police effectiveness. Within its structure, and separately in London, we shall press forward action to strengthen community consultation.

This is not the occasion for a formal tribute but I should like now, as well as more formally later this year, to thank Sir David McNee for his steadfastness, co-operation and calm professionalism. I hope that despite some of his criticisms, which he is entitled to make, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook will join in that tribute. I am grateful to Sir Kenneth Newman for being ready to put his experience and skill to the service of the people of London and the nation from the beginning of October.

It is time that the sterile debate about hard and soft policing was ended. The range of activities that I have outlined in improving effectiveness, the major successes that the police have achieved, and the complex of problems that they face, cannot be summed up in those terms. Such debate is irrelevant and misleading. Over 99 per cent. of the great increase in police strength since I became Home Secretary has been in the ranks of constable, sergeant and inspector: new men on the ground, and immediate supervision for their effective deployment. They know that effectiveness in tackling crime needs carefully planned vigorous law enforcement and consistently applied community contact and consultation. Neither on its own is sufficient in policy or practice; both are necessary.

However, the effectiveness of the police depends upon, and is inseparable from, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system as a whole. We need, therefore, to concern ourselves also with the working of the courts, and of the services which deal with convicted offenders. As regards the trial process, an issue over which much anxiety has recently been expressed—justifiably in my view—is the integrity of the jury system and the need to exclude from juries people who have themselves been convicted of crime. The present law debars those who, within the past 10 years, have served a prison sentence of three months or more. It is our view that the area of disqualification must be widened to exclude anyone convicted of an imprisonable offence during the past 10 years, even though no immediate sentence of imprisonment was imposed. It is wrong that someone convicted of a serious offence should be allowed to serve on a jury merely because the court dealing with his case found it possible to take a fairly lenient course by imposing, say, a fully suspended sentence of imprisonment, or a community service order. Juries should be representative of the law-abiding community. I intend to bring forward proposals on those lines and to take the earliest suitable legislative opportunity.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

If my right: hon. Friend is considering juries, will he also consider the possibility of abolishing the right of arbitrary challenge?

Mr. Whitelaw

I have read with care the views expressed by various members of the profession to which my hon. Friend belongs. I notice that there is no agreement among them on this issue. However, I will carefully study the points they make. I have always believed that to bring forward proposals to the House on which the hon. and learned Members in the House are divided is a hazardous process.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

If the right hon. Gentleman is waiting for the lawyers to agree, he will never do anything on that basis.

Mr. Whitelaw

That is not quite true. Sometimes lawyers do agree. However, if it is necessary to act despite their divisions, one must do so. I should like to hear more of the argument on this issue before answering my hon. Friend.

The maximum penalties for particular criminal offences are fixed by Parliament. Within those maxima, the individual sentence is decided by the court. The independent role of judges and magistrates in sentencing is vital to maintaining public confidence in the criminal justice system. It would be a bad day for this country if that power were ever to pass to politicians, of any shade of opinion.

For serious offences the existing law already provides maximum penalties higher than most people suppose. The most serious crimes of violence, including manslaughter, rape, robbery, using a firearm to resist arrest, and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life, carry liability to life imprisonment. For other serious offences, including burglary, handling stolen goods and trafficking in certain drugs, the maximum is as high as 14 years. I know that the courts are aware of the feeling of this House and the public at large that violent criminals should expect to receive substantial terms of imprisonment. Hon. Members may recall that, in his judgment in the case of Bibi, the Lord Chief Justice made it clear that for most offences involving serious violence a medium or longer term sentence of imprisonment will generally be appropriate. Right hon. and hon. Members will also have read the important speech yesterday of the Lord Chief Justice in another place.

With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I should like very briefly to mention the Criminal Justice Bill which will help to strengthen, extend and make more flexible the range of sentences available to the courts. It meets, in particular, the widespread concern that the courts are unable to deal effectively with the increasing involvement of young people in crime. The Bill repeals section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 and so restores the power of a judge dealing with a young adult to impose a determinate custodial sentence of any length within the maximum appropriate to the offence.

In relation to all young offenders, the Bill reduces both the minimum and the maximum term of a detention centre order so as to achieve consistency with the new brisker regime which we have already introduced in four detention centres. In relation to juveniles, it strengthens the powers of magistrates when dealing with children subject to care orders. It also contains provisions designed to increase the courts' confidence in the use of supervision orders.

In these ways we are providing the courts with realistic alternatives to committal to detention centre or youth custody, and so enabling them to be more discriminating in their use of custodial sentences. We are also strengthening their powers to bring home to parents, where necessary, their responsibility for their children's wrongdoing. In relation to summary offences by adults, the Bill brings maximum fines up to more realistic levels.

We are enabling a greater number of offenders to be dealt with outside prison by increasing the number of attendance centres and by giving extra resources to the probation service. But, for those offenders whom the courts find it necessary to send to prison, places must be provided. Our policy here is to make the most effective use of our limited resources, under constraints imposed by the neglect of our prison system under previous Governments.

The Government have substantially increased the resources available to the prison system. The present building programme should produce 5,000 new places in the 1980s. The construction of eight new prisons is to start in the period 1981 to 1985. We shall spend over £50 million this year, with more to come, on redevelopment, refurbishing and repairs in existing establishments. That includes 14 major capital projects at existing establishments on which we are spending £23 million in the current financial year, and there are dozens of smaller schemes elsewhere. Major reconstruction projects are planned at over 60 establishments. Through those unprecedented efforts, instead of allowing the deterioration of the fabric of our prisons to continue virtually unchecked, we are ensuring that the capacity of the system is maintained and improved.

We are determined to ensure that there will be room in the prison system for every person whom the judges and magistrates decide should go there, and we shall continue to do whatever is necessary for that purpose.

I welcome the opportunity that the debate provides for hon. Members to voice their concern about crime and how it should be dealt with. I do not underestimate the gravity of the problem, and I shall consider carefully all the views that are expressed. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the opportunity he has given me to restate all that the Government have done and are doing to promote the effectiveness of the police and of the whole criminal justice system, and to pay tribute to the excellent work that is being done by all the services that have to cope with crime and criminals at first hand.

We all have a democratic right to scrutinise the working of our institutions and public services, and their effectiveness in carrying out their tasks, but it is important, most of all for us in this House, that our right of scrutiny should be exercised in a balanced and responsible way. It is our duty to avoid wild exaggeration and merely destructive criticism. Let us remember not only what it is that we are fighting against—against crime, often greedy, sordid and brutal—but what is it that we seek to defend: a decent and humane society, which is able to meet the challenge of crime with a calm and determined resolve, and even in self-defence will preserve, not abandon, its confidence in its own values.

5.34 pm
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

I hope that the message will go out from the House that there is no monopoly of concern for the maintenance of law and order. The subject of the debate is more effective policing and the reduction of crime. All of us, on whichever side of the House we sit, want more effective policing and the reduction of crime.

I listened with care to the Home Secretary's speech. He took pride in the figures for the detection of homicides and serious crimes, and that is to be welcomed, but he did not go into detail on figures for the detection of less serious crimes. Those are the crimes that affect a greater number of people, and I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would want to spend a little time talking about the difficulties of detecting burglaries and those responsible for mugging. Those crimes affect our constituents. I hope that the message will go out from the House that there is unanimity of opinion among hon. Members. All our constituents are affected. The weaker they are, the greater the need for effective policing, so that the young, the old, the fragile and our womenfolk are protected.

I listened with care to the realistic, sober and balanced speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The Home Secretary made an important and wide-ranging speech. He is to seek shortly to introduce new powers for the police, and we shall look at those with great care. The right hon. Gentleman must be exceedingly watchful about not upsetting the balance and creating resentment by the increase of powers without proper safeguards.

What has caused resentment in the past has been the misuse of powers. If one were to ask for increased powers and say at the same time that there was to be a radical change in the police complaints procedure, there would be much greater enthusiasm for the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman must watch with extreme care any new power, to ensure that the balance is not upset and resentment created.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the integrity of the jury had to be safeguarded and that there should be wider powers to exclude people from juries. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. However, the right hon. Gentleman might look at the machinery to ensure that jury men who have convictions know they should not serve on juries. That matter should be properly and fully brought to the attention of those concerned so that people with criminal convictions do not serve on juries.

We are concerned about how we can have more effective policing and how there can be a reduction in crime. My right hon. Friend was right in saying that the concern in the country as a whole is about the issue of detection. If there were higher rates of detection, and if one knew that criminals would be brought to book, there would he less unhappiness.

We do not have either a glib Home Secretary or a glib Shadow Home Secretary. It would be a glib Home Secretary who thought that he had all the answers. There is no complete answer. However, what we can have is a series of ideas that can be tested. I hope that we shall hear some in the debate. We can see how far they carry us along in the basic aim of having more effective policing.

I shall deal with a matter on which many hon. Members unanimously agree—more bobbies on the beat. Everyone wants to see more bobbies on the beat. Although there is an increased number, there is a widespread view that fewer bobbies are seen on the beat. Policemen's hours have properly been decreased over the years. Over a long period their working week—short of overtime, I hope—has been made more reasonable and more in accord with other people's working hours.

We are concerned whether all the modern techniques are being used. One sees in the courts day after day that it is still the practice for policemen to write statements in longhand, taking up hours of their time. Does that mean that we have not availed ourselves of the new techniques, so that while there may be more bobbies, more of their time is being taken up with bureaucracy and paper work? I should like to know the figures. What is the increase in the number of hours that policemen spend on the beat? That matter is crucial in safeguarding our society.

It would be wrong to ignore social conditions, and the Home Secretary has not done so today. Let us kill the idea once and for all that unemployment is an excuse for crime. However, it is a factor that cannot be ignored, and if we ignore it we do so at our peril. When one finds long-term unemployed people, young people without hope, and young long-term unemployed in great concentrations, frequently of one colour, is it surprising to find an adverse reaction? The area that I represent has high unemployment—as high as 20 per cent. in the borough that makes up the greater part of my constituency. No one is suggesting that the overwhelming majority of those unemployed people have any connection with crime. Crime is a minority activity that is carried out by any class of society, whether employed or unemployed. If the Government are complacent and do not realise the danger of having long-term unemployment without hope in the forseeable future, they do so at their peril, because it could seriously affect the quality of our lives.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I have the honour to have many good Welsh people in my constituency. They went there during the 1930s, at the time of the depression and unemployment, and they made good. They say to me "We never threw a bomb or a brick". They always behaved themselves. There is not necessarily a connection between crime and unemployment.

Mr. Morris

I hope that Welshmen keep out of the courts, certainly as defendants. However, my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) produced figures which show that there is correlation. I do not know whether it is a complete correlation, but in areas where there is a concentration of long-term unemployed young people unemployment is a factor that we ignore at our peril. That is as far as I will go.

There have been complaints about the statistics that were given recently by the Metropolitan Police. I do not object to the production of statistics, as a matter of principle, whether they relate to the blacks, the yellows, the Irish, the Welsh, the Scots, the English, the employed or the unemployed. The more facts that we have, the greater chance we have of getting to the root cause of the crime. However, the criticism was made in yesterday's debate, and it has been made on other occasions, that these are not facts, that they are not statistically sound, that they are incomplete, and that they give one crime, and one crime alone, for one part of the country. Thus, there is a danger in producing facts which are not facts in themselves, and are hardly better than a collection of figures which have been challenged as being statistically unsound. That is what causes resentment.

Those that spend some time in the courts, and we hear from others what happens there, know that we need more statistics, certainly about what goes on in juvenile courts. We know that 50 per cent. of crimes are perpetrated by people under 21 years of age. It is important to know where these people come from. Time after time one finds that children in some of the best families in the land commit crimes. The complete answer is not to he found in employment, parental control, and other good factors stabilising families in a community. They do not necessarily provide a safeguard against young people appearing in court. The more statistics that we have, provided that they are acceptable, complete, comprehensive and unchallengeable, the more the Home Secretary will be able to carry out whatever steps he wishes to take, without causing unnecessary resentment.

Unhappily, as the figures show, our streets are becoming more unsafe. As there is no complete answer to the problem, I agree with the Home Secretary in encouraging experiments by the Inspectorate of Constabulary into particular methods of policing. Not all those experiments will come off. He or his policemen may fall flat on their faces in one or other experiments. However, if we can learn from diverse approaches to a problem to which there is no clear solution, I should not complain.

I wish to make a comment in a general sense. Some of our chief constables are far too prone to take to public platforms. One wonders how they manage to do their jobs. One wonders about the others who never appear on the media and who get on with the policing in their areas. In the Principality of Wales we hardly ever see our chief constables on the goggle box or being reported in the papers. They get on with the job. One wonders how some of the super policemen find time, between addressing a host of gatherings from one end of the country to the other, to get on with their job. I think that it was Mr. Attlee who said of Mr. Lash in 1957 that a period of silence would not come amiss. I suggest that the same from some of these gentlemen would not come amiss now.

I want to put one other matter to the Home Secretary. I welcome the decreased period for awaiting trial through the good work that has been done in the courts in the last few years. If a crime can be dealt with speedily in the courts and not come to the courts two or three years later, a lesson is brought home, not only to the individual but to the whole community. The hon. Gentleman might ponder on the best possible use of the time of our High Court judges. I know that he and the Lord Chief Justice are anxious to have shorter sentences.

In the days when I was a young man at the Bar, the first day at the assize was taken up by the red judge dealing with a calendar covering a host of crimes, thus setting precedent and example. It was a means of percolating the general judicial view throughout the community. Now the bulk of crime is dealt with by circuit judges. High Court judges seem to spend most of their time trying murders and rape cases. They hardly ever try long cases. If judges do not appear regularly in each area, and unless they are prepared to take lesser and common-place crime, there is no percolation throughout the judiciary, thereby ensuring that the whole community is aware of the general sentencing policy.

I hope that the message goes out today that the House supports the police in their difficult roles and that we want to ensure that they will be in a position to serve the community as a whole. When I hear ideas that there should be less involvement with the electorate or, as the Home Secretary said today, there should be more community involvement, I believe that our line should be more community involvement and greater association and less remoteness from the electorate.

I fear that in the past we have had too large police forces. The theme was that bigness was good. I do not necessarily believe that small is beautiful, but we should consider the size of police forces—one can always co-ordinate and co-operate and there are new techniques now available that we did not have 10 or 20 years ago—to see how far, because of the enormous range that they cover, we gain or lose effectiveness and the value and importance of response to a community and working close to it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. May I remind the House that we started the debate late because of the statement and that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. Perhaps this is a day for brief speeches.

5.50 pm
Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

The main purpose of my intervening briefly in the debate is to say something on behalf of my constituents. However, before I do so, I wish to comment on one aspect of the speech made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). He rather took my breath away with his enthusiastic espousal of the bobby on the beat, as though he had suddenly discovered and adopted it as official Labour Party policy. I believe that it was directly the result of the running down and demoralising of the police force when the Labour Party was in Government that it had to resort to the police in the panda car. I am thankful that he has come back on all fours to our view on the subject. I welcome him, because it means that there is widespread accord on what must be done and on the proper approach.

The right hon. Gentleman, in the tribute that he fairly paid to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for helping to increase the strength of the police forces, should have followed it through by recognising that the reversal of the manpower crisis of 1977 means that we can now contemplate more foot policemen on the streets and a greater police presence where it is most required and can do most good.

When one considers the range of achievements for which my right hon. Friend has been responsible since he became Home Secretary, perhaps the increase in the strength of the police force is the greatest achievement of all. Hon. Members should agree, looking at my right hon. Friend's record during the past years, that no Home Secretary has given greater moral and practical support to the police than he. Both inside and outside the House, we owe much to him for that.

We also owe my right hon. Friend a considerable debt for his steady leadership in times of special crisis—acts of terrorism, hijacking or even the major riots. As a result of the experience of the riots, the police and everyone concerned with the problems will have learnt a great deal and are no doubt still studying some of the lessons. I am sure that we shall see vastly improved procedures should there be—which heaven forbid—a repetition of those events.

I was especially alarmed by some observations that I read in the press recently that there may be a resurgence of the riot-type violence that we saw last year. I hope that that is not so. However, if it happens it will demonstrate a more sinister element, because rather than the riots conceivably being construed as spontaneous—which may have been the case in the past—it would show that there are forces behind the riots who are planning and preparing for such a development. That must surely be condemned outright by all hon. Members.

There are difficulties in trying to restore confidence where it has been so badly shattered between the police and the community. It is inevitable that it will take time to rebuild the confidence. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) about an emphasis on the need for good communications and understanding. I am sure that he will agree that it must work in both directions—from the community to the police and from the police to the community.

However, I wish to enter a personal caveat. Although I agree that there should be the closest possible co-operation and understanding among the police, the community and community leaders, we must guard against the creation of a special sort of lay person acting as a buffer between the police and the criminal and risking frustrating the police from carrying out their proper duties. Clear lines must be drawn and we must be certain about the difficult job of the police. We should have liaison, but not an abdication of police responsibilities.

The police have a real and difficult duty to cope with the increase in crimes of violence. I was surprised by statistics revealed the other day that even in Dorset, which is largely a rural area and which one would not associate with such incidents, crimes of violence have risen by 112 per cent. in the past ten years. It is even more alarming that criminal damage crimes have increased by 600 per cent.

Earlier this week my constituency daily newspaper carried the headline: OAP fourth victim of mugging". That was the fourth victim of mugging in four days. The case was that of an elderly lady who was attacked by four teenage youths. Understandably, the secretary of the Bournemouth branch of the British Association of Retired Pensioners called for better policing and for more bobbies on the beat. It is wrong that people should be scared to go out at night.

We should know the true position. In that sense, the publication of statistics is essential. If anyone has information that could illuminate an aspect of the problem, it should be made widely available. Therefore, I fully support the publication of statistics by the Metropolitan Police. I shall come to the point of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook in a moment, because I agree with him.

Not only have we had the figures published by the Metropolitan Police but, as my right hon. Friend said, a Home Office research study of such crimes was recently conducted in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. The current issue of New Society has a full report of that study. It makes it clear that in over half the attacks some or all of the muggers were aged 20 or under. In Liverpool and Manchester white people were responsible for a greater proportion of muggings than were black people. Only in Birmingham, where there was the greatest proportion of less serious offences, did blacks predominate.

The point that emerges from all the studies is that we must be careful what interpretation we put upon the figures and statistics. It is clear that they are, as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, the result of the victims' perception in most cases. They are not the result of an arrest. Therefore, careful use must be made of the figures. It is totally wrong that the publication of such statistics should be treated with the sort of banner scare headlines which much of the press adopted in relation to the recent reports from the Metropolitan Police. It does no service at all. We need to know statistics and facts; it would be wrong to conceal them. We must be able to get at the truth. There is no point in pretending that such problems do not exist.

We must recognise that in their fight against violent crime the police are fighting on our behalf in the front line. Like any other body of people engaged in that type of operation, the police need backing up and we must back them up. In those areas where the extremes of violence have been taking place, they need backing up with some form of quick response unit, and with effective sentencing.

I do not believe in judicial corporal punishment, although I support corporal punishment in schools. That does no harm at all and can do a lot of good. I support capital punishment although I would not favour a referendum. I see no point in that. It would not be binding on the House in any event. Most hon. Members know the popular view on the subject and understand that. My own position has always been consistent on this. Much of the argument was resolved years ago when the initial abolition debates were won. They were reconfirmed by the 1979 vote in the House.

I would support a call for the reintroduction of capital punishment for acts of terrorism and the murder of policemen. Without capital punishment there is every likelihood that the threshold of violence will increase and that our police will be increasingly at risk. Before long we would inevitably be led to contemplate arming our police force. I would regard that as a grave setback indeed.

The most important way to back up our police lies with the individual citizen. The general public should he much more committed than they are to supporting the police. Responsibility lies particularly with parents. Parental authority in the home is the key to better behaviour outside it. I know that it is not easy. I have two sons at what I might call the critical age. I understand how difficult it is to exercise that parental authority.

If parents fail to live up to their obligations—whether through laziness, indifference or ignorance, or because they are afraid to assert their authority—they will provide the material from which discontented, unruly or even aggressive behaviour can develop.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)


Sir John Eden

I shall not give way, because I am anxious to continue. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

To some extent we are all troubled—some of us greatly—by the evidence of growing violence in our society. There are many cross-currents at work. It would be foolish to ignore the fact that there are elements—notably those associated with the extreme Left—who care little for our institutions and who seek every opportunity to undermine and even to destroy them.

However, one factor should be considered very seriously. We can only help it by influencing it, because we cannot direct it. I refer to television and to the fact that it seems to have a growing obsession with violence. Indeed, many hon. Members know that often television crews prepare the violent scenes that they then film.

Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)


Sir John Eden

I shall not give way.

Given the enormous influence that television has on impressionable minds, that is grotesquely irresponsible. Television should stop making heroes out of criminals. Unless these things are tackled fairly quickly, television—which, at its best, is a wonderful source of entertainment, information and education—could easily become the vehicle of our destruction.

Many factors are involved in the discussion of crime, but not all of them fall directly within the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. In those areas in which he is responsible, he has clearly acted strongly and well. The description of the debate on the Order Paper calls for effective policing and the consequent reduction in crime". I hope that the debate will make it abundantly clear that all parties in the House are united behind the police in their difficult task.

6.8 pm

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

I welcome this opportunity to contribute to the debate and I am mindful that part of the subject of the debate is effective policing methods. I should like to focus the attention of the House on the situation in my constituency, which embraces an inner city area. In my constituency there is understandable anxiety among the elderly about several recent and distressing mugging incidents. Equally, there is genuine concern about hooliganism, which has been a problem in recent times.

But the issue that has prompted public petitions, meetings and disquiet in my constituency is the manner in which the Greater Manchester police have dealt with the 10-month-old industrial dispute affecting the Laurence Scott company at Openshaw.

I do not need to remind the House that during the dispute to which I have referred—a dispute which arose as a result of a callous asset-stripping exercise to close the factory and put 650 skilled workers out of work—there have been three occasions when a major police presence has been established outside the factory. The first occasion was at 3 o'clock in the morning on Tuesday 18 August 1981, when about 100 policemen were positioned outside the factory after a 17-week sit-in while a sledgehammer-wielding team of bailiffs took legal repossession of the factory.

What was interesting about the ending of the sit-in and the legal repossession of the factory in my constituency was the comment made by the under-sheriff of Lancashire in a report which he made available to the Lord Chancellor and which, in turn, the Lord Chancellor made available to me. On page 14 of the report, referring to the situation that obtained when the bailiffs entered the factory, the under-sheriff of Lancashire said: The interior of the factory had been in fairly good condition and no acts of vandalism appeared to have been carried out by the work force". After 17 weeks of an industrial sit-in—after over four months of occupying the factory—the under-sheriff declared that there was no evidence of vandalism. He was corroborating what everyone in Openshaw recognised—that the workers involved in this industrial dispute were not mindless militants or industrial wreckers. They were decent skilled engineers who had invested a lifetime of skill in the factory and who were demonstrating about being arbitrarily put out of work. That was the first occasion when 100 policemen were positioned around the Laurence Scott factory.

The second occasion was on 4 November 1981, when the House will recall that 100 to 150 mounted and foot policemen were again positioned around the factory while two helicopters came in at rooftop height to land within the precincts of the factory. The helicopters were coming in over a heavily urbanised area over terraced houses which stood cheek by jowl with the factory, and over a primary school which is located within a stone's throw of the factory. The helicopters came in for the purpose of landing six hooded and goggled individuals to airlift machinery out of the factory. I questioned the police at that time about whether they had checked the legality of the helicopter operation before positioning 100 to 150 mounted and foot police around the factory. I was assured that the police had checked.

I then went to the Civil Aviation Authority to check whether there had been any breach of air traffic regulations. The director-general of the operations division of the CAA wrote to me on 18 November-14 days after the incident—and said: it has not yet been established whether or not there appears to have been a breach of the air navigation legislation in the flights conducted by these two aircraft". If the CAA could not give an assurance that there had been no breach of the air regulations, how could the police have been honest and correct in saying that they had checked before positioning 100 to 150 mounted and foot police in support of the operation?

It is incidents such as this, involving grave errors of judgment, which call into question the relationship between the police and the community.

The third occasion on which we saw a massive police operation outside the Laurence Scott factory was on 16 February 1982. The massive operation constituted a police presence of over 300 officers outside the factory at various times over a period of 10 days. In response to telephone calls from my constituency I went up to see the operation myself on the following day, Wednesday 17 February.

In case I might be accused of exaggerating the situation that I saw, and in case I might be confronted by hon. Members who might question my figures, I shall quote from the figures that were made available by the chief constable to the police committee in Manchester. For Wednesday 17 February the chief constable reported that the police presence outside the factory was 300. The number of pickets who were identified outside the factory was given as 30 by the chief constable.

My reaction, when I saw the situation with which I was confronted, was that this was manifestly an "operation overkill" in terms of police presence. What is even more staggering is that when some of the pickets followed the trucks that were carrying the machinery that had been stripped from the factory by the management of the company as far as the motorway, they found that policemen had been positioned on the bridges over the motorway. A police presence on that scale, I believe, should be challenged and questioned.

Mr. Greenway

Was the factory occupied legally or illegally?

Mr. Morris

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not listened as attentively as usual. When I was talking about the repossession of the factory I used the phrase "legal repossession of the factory". When the massive police presence of 300 officers was positioned around the factory there were no pickets within the factory.

There were two major errors of judgment on the part of the Greater Manchester police. Those errors of judgment were bound to have a serious impact on police-community relations not only in my constituency but in Manchester generally. I have referred to the first error—the police co-operation with the Laurence Scott management in the landing of the two helicopters within the precincts of the factory. Police involvement in that operation was taken without a second thought being given to the potential hazard to my constituency nearby, or without checking whether the helicopter flight breached air traffic regulations.

But what is particularly worrying is that my constituents have experienced three major police operations. They had their sleep disturbed when the bailiffs took repossession. They had their children subjected to needless anxiety when the helicopters came in over the local school. They also had the massive police presence on 16 February. Yet those same constituents are the people who will have to meet the bill of £100,000 which the chief constable now calculates will arise from those operations.

That is the factor that is disturbing my constituents and which has provoked the petitions, the public meetings and public disquiet. Some hon. Members might suggest that these are matters that are proper to the police committee of the Greater Manchester council. I can tell the House what happened when a councillor in my constituency sought to raise on the Greater Manchester police committee the police operations in support of the helicopter operations. He was shouted down by the chief constable. He, an elected member, was shouted down by the appointed chief constable. When the chairman and Labour members of the Committee sought to elicit information as to the cost of the massive police presence, the chief constable argued that the questions were irregular: £100,000 of police expenditure and the questions were claimed to be irregular. We now have the figure of £100,000. In the city of Manchester the budget for police operations last year was £120 million, and the rate of serious crime has gone up by 15.7 per cent. These are serious matters.

What is of even greater importance is the friction now manifest between the police committee of the Greater Manchester Council, the police authority and the chief constable. In Manchester at the present time we seem to have a situation that a psychiatrist would describe as a role reversal problem. We have a chief constable who makes speeches which are characteristic of a politician; and elected, earnest politicians who are worried about crime in the city. That is the reality of the situation in the city of Manchester.

I believe that the Home Secretary should consider sending an inspector of constabulary to the city of Manchester to report on the present situation of the police authority and its chief officer. I believe that the police are entitled to support in their role of protecting the community, in identifying and prosecuting those involved in crime.

Equally, I believe that we have a great police force in Manchester, and I speak more in sorrow than in anger in the criticisms which I have made in my speech. I hope that the Minister, in replying to the debate, will give serious consideration to my suggestion that an inspector of constabulary should be despatched to Manchester to report on the situation I have outlined to the House.

6.25 pm
Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

This debate has arisen because of widespread public anxiety over the levels of crime and violence. We should pursue it with a sense of perspective. We have a problem of crime and violence, but we do not have a crisis. I do not believe that it is helpful in any way for anyone to suggest that we are confronted with a crisis, either in police public relations or in the volume or quality of crime and violence that we face.

The reason why there is a problem can be stated simply. There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of crimes committed. There has been a serious decline in t he proportion of crimes cleared up. There has been an important, and in some ways alarming, change in the nature and character of crime.

Crime has become much more violent. Many more firearms are being carried and used, and very many more innocent people and more police officers are being seriously injured.

Crime has also become much more complex. A single fraud case in the City can take as many as 250,000 hours of police time to unravel.

Crime is also involving many more young people, both as victims and as perpetrators, and, sadly, many more old people as victims of violent crime.

We also face an escalation in the threat to public order. This challenge has taken on disturbing dimensions. There is an industrial dimension. We saw it at Grunwick. Perhaps we saw it too in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris). There is certainly a political dimension to some of the threats to public order.

There are people on the extremes of politics, to the Right as well as to the Left, who are anxious to tear down the fabric of public and social order. We have also seen people, who ought to know better, setting an extremely bad example: members of the GLC breaking the law; senior members of trade unions proposing to break the law; and the suggestions that emanate from places from which they ought not to emanate that the police operate as armies of occupation.

There is a racial dimension too, in the latest threats to public order; a racial dimension that is a tragedy for this country. Finally there is an international dimension. which can been seen in the impact of terrorism. I fear—indeed I predict—that we shall have more of that, because there are in the world today—I state it as a fact—a number of evil men who are assassins for hire. They ply their trade across frontiers, and we shall see more of them in Britain.

Why all these things have happened is a subject so vast that it would be wrong to attempt today to detain the House by discussing it. Each hon. Member will have his own view—unemployment, inflation, television and the collapse of discipline in the home and in the school. But of one thing I am sure, and it is that, however this problem escalated, it was not fundamentally caused by the police. But the police are at the sharp end. If they fail, we are all at risk. Therefore, the police are entitled to look to this House and to the Government for help and support.

The best friend of law enforcement that we have had during the period that I have had the good fortune to be connected with the Police Federation—and I have worked with five Home Secretaries fairly intimately—has been the present Home Secretary. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his speech today. I was delighted that he was able to pledge to bring forward some—not all, but some—of the new powers proposed for the police by the Royal Commission. There will have to be safeguards because the Royal Commission document was a balanced proposal. I was also glad to hear what he said about juries. These are welcome steps forward.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)


Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am sure the hon. Member will wish to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, and it would be better if we got on.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has five specific achievements to his credit. He has reversed the disastrous exodus of experienced police officers who, in the late 1970s, were leaving the forces in droves. The right hon. Member for Sparbrook spoke about putting the bobby back on the beat. But it was his Government who took the bobby off the beat; indeed they pushed him out of the service. Labour lost 7,000 policemen. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recruited 9,000 policemen. That is how one puts the bobby back on the beat.

My right hon. Friend has built up the strength of every force in the country, notably our urban forces, which five years ago were one-fifth below their establishement. My right hon. Friend has recruited about 3,000 men to the Metropolitan Police, which is now stronger and better equipped than ever before, as it needs to be. My right hon. Friend has also boosted morale by paying the police very much better and never failing to give them support when they are unfairly attacked.

These are only the visible efforts that the Home Secretary has made on behalf of the police service. Less well known but no less important is his support inside Whitehall for better anti-riot gear, more effective training, co-operation with European police in anti-terrorist work and the provision of more modern equipment, especially in telecommunications.

On the personnel side, policemen are grateful for my right hon. Friend's support over federation representation in national and local policy making on most law enforcement matters, for his backing over the sale of police authority housing to policemen who want to buy houses, and for the never-ending battle that he fights with the Treasury on police pay and conditions. My right hon. Friend has become the personally best-liked Home Secretary that the police, as a whole, have had this generation.

I also believe that we have a first-class Home Secretary. It is not enough, however, to have a good Home Secretary and a supportive House of Commons. What the police need is more powers. I believe that the Royal Commission got the balance right and that the additional power of stop and search, the unified power of arrest and the ability to detain in certain circumstances, for example where there is refusal to give a name and address, are right. I hope that these powers will be provided as soon as possible, if the House agrees.

It is right too that the courts should impose sterner penalties, particularly where violence is involved. I welcome very much what has been stated today about juries.

The police also have a duty to look at the massive increase in money that is now spent on them. When this Government came to office, police and law enforcement budgets were about £1 billion. Now the amount is about £2.25 billion. The police have a duty to make sure that we get value for that money, which brings me immediately to the question of the police use of resources.

The deployment of police officers has attracted a good deal of attention today. The simple cry has gone up—I do not doubt that it will be repeated throughout the press tomorrow—"Put the bobby back on the beat." I was a Member of the House at the time when panda cars were introduced. It is surprising how many hon. Members were saying then that it was time to give up the old-fashioned nonsense of foot patrols and to give the police the modern technology of the two-way radio and panda cars.

Fashions change! But it is far too simple to offer the British public a solution called "bobby on the beat". That is where he needs to be. It is equally important, however, to ensure that when there is a demonstration or a football match, when youngsters in some circumstances use CB radios to bring together a large crowd, the police should be able rapidly to concentrate a large number of officers to maintain the Queen's peace. There needs to be a mobile reserve. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will beware of falling into the trap of suggesting that the bobby on the beat will solve the problem. The bobby on the beat is essential but there needs also to be a rapid reaction force and the whole complex of police powers and abilities without which one cannot fight crime.

I believe that the police can, and should, switch more of their resources from traffic policing to dealing with crime. A large traffic empire has been built in the police. It should not be dismantled, because cars and crime go together. None the less, the experience of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which reduced its traffic division from 800 men to 600 men, while the force itself was expanded from 3,000 to 8,000, has shown that one can handle traffic with fewer cars. The police, as a whole, should examine that experience. I believe that they may be able to redeploy 4 or 5 per cent. of their total resources away from traffic and towards the apprehension of thieves, muggers and vandals.

Another point is training. Lord Scarman was right in saying that six months are required to turn a raw recruit into an officer who can face the challenges that confront policemen. But training is an expensive business. It requires facilities that we do not possess. It requires training officers who will also need to be selected and trained to do the job. I hope that the Minister will have some comments to make on where resources are to be found to increase the length of training of the police.

Far too often individual police forces use different tactics. When there are riots and mutual aid is essential, policemen come from many different forces to contain a major threat to the Queen's peace. But some of them may have one tactical doctrine and another group a different one. It is not always possible to weld them together effectively to control riots. This raises all kinds of problems about compatibility of radio equipment and the willingness of various police authorities to purchase compatible equipment. They are not doing so. It is time that they did. This is one of the jobs that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary should be proceeding with quickly.

A further question is the vulnerability of much police equipment. I can think of nothing worse than large numbers of police being sent to places like Brixton in coaches that have glass windows. More policeman can be injured inside the coach as a result of shattered windows than are injured outside the coach when they have debussed to deploy. The Home Office needs to examine the whole question of vulnerability of police transport and the provision of suitable equipment to those who must protect us against riots.

I should like to refer briefly to chief officers. I have read Mr. Anderton's speech. It is long and detailed. I have read his report on the Moss Side riots. I commend it to the House as an excellent document. I have on numerous occasions read Mr. Anderton's other commentaries on our social and moral conditions. I regard him as a fearless, eloquent and very efficient chief officer. But I am bound to say that it is time that the "Andy and Aldy show" was brought to an end. Chief officers have every right to speak out, but I believe that some of them are rapidly becoming a bore.

I add this further point. All elected politicians, whether Ministers or Back Benchers, have long understood that our future and, indeed, the future of the country is in the hands not only of Parliament and Ministers, but of hundreds of senior civil servants, the chairmen of nationalised industries and powerful figures in other walks of life. I believe that it is only recently, however, that most politicians have tumbled to the fact that the tranquillity of our cities, and the whole question of race relations, industrial relations, and so many other things, are in the hands of about 24 of our urban chief constables. They carry on their backs a grave responsibility.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

If that is right—I accept that it might be—is it not dangerous that 24 men should carry that burden without any duty to be accountable to their locally elected representatives?

Mr. Griffiths

Chief officers do have a large measure of accountability to the local police authorities who appoint them and who can, with the consent of the Home Secretary, sack them.

The question is whether all of our chief police officers are up to the awesome job that we ask them to do on our behalf. I know many of them. Some are excellent and some are very good, but there are a number who, in my judgment, are not adequate to deal with the challenges that we place upon them. The process by which they are selected and trained is badly in need of reform. There is a strong case for requiring all chief officers and their deputies to undergo more in-service training and refresher courses in the law, about whose frequent changes some of them can be distinctly hazy. They need more coaching in police-public relations.

The Association of Chief Police Officers needs a better secretariat. It is the body on which the Government rely mainly for professional advice about policing, yet in terms of research facilities, professional support and political nous ACPO can no longer hold a candle to the Police Federation. It is for that reason that on many occasions, when discussing riot gear, police complaints, age of entry into the service and even pay and conditions, it has shown itself to be a collection of prima donnas. It badly needs improvement.

I end with some of the things that the police do not need. They do not need vigilantes. "Have a go", yes, but "Do-it-yourself policing", absolutely not. I hope that there will be great hesitation before we look for vigilantes. Secondly, the police do not need a new racial offence in their discipline book. A debate is about to take place on this but it would be the rankest discrimination against one occupation if that racial offence were to be imposed upon the police service.

The police do not need the vast machinery of the complaints industry. There must be a fair and proper procedure for dealing with complaints against the police, but I am hopeful that on the basis of the report that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) and his Committee will shortly be making the Home Secretary will put his proposals to the House very quickly. The Government must not leave the police in a state of uncertainty about the complaints procedure.

I believe that the House will agree with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said. I certainly want no quarrel with him. But I hope that he recollects that the police were taken off the beat and put into pandas by the Government of which he was a member, and that the big forces were created by that same Government. I am glad that he now accepts that the approach to policing is now changing. The police require a stability of management and a bipartisan approach to their problems.

I want to raise two points with the right hon. Gentleman. I was sorry indeed—I hope that on reflection he will change his view—when he said that elected police committees should decide on the type of equipment that should be available to the police to enable them to maintain public order. He knows as well as I do that a Left-wing police authority might decide that under no circumstances should there be anti-riot gear, CS gas and things of that kind. But in certain circumstances that could be a recipe for more police casualties and for local people to be terrorised because the police were unable to suppress a riot in their area. It would be a recipe too for an open city, where shops could burn and people could be terrorised because the police had been denied the means of maintaining the Queen's peace. I hope that he did not mean that. I hope he will take it back, but, unfortunately, that is what he said.

One of the great pressures upon us too is terrorism. I believe that it was damaging to the police service when, on the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, the Opposition, whose support for the police is just as important as that of the Government, abstained on the extension of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 the other night. That Act has enabled the police to keep alive people who might otherwise be dead and to catch terrorists who would have bombed and murdered. I believe that it was a sad day when, contrary to the wishes of previous Labour Home Secretaries and a Labour Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Opposition abstained on a crucial means of maintaining public order.

6.48 pm
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

The Home Secretary asked for a more measured and realistic approach to this subject. In his concluding remarks he talked about the need for balance and responsibility and an eschewing of those wild and exaggerated notions that we have had before. That is precisely the kind of attitude that one would expect from any responsible Home Secretary, and one that we would want every Member in the House to accept. It was not always like that. There was a time when Conservative right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, and not least the Police Federation, adopted a far more partisan, hysterical and exaggerated tone than they seem to be able to adopt today. It was the Home Secretary speaking on 15 October 1976, when both crime and unemployment were lower, who said in emotional terms: A Government that cannot protect its own citizens from attack in the streets of its towns and cities, that cannot protect property from damage, or homes from intrusion, has failed to live up to the basic duties of Government". If that were true then, and it was not of course, it is equally true and valid today when the levels both of crime and unemployment have increased considerably.

The Tory Party's attitude to law and order has been littered with a trail of deceptions of the people. If one looks at their attitude prior to and during the last general election and their famous Saatchi & Saatchi advertisements on law and order, the figures were designed to convey the impression that in some peculiar and mysterious way serious crime had increased during the lifetime of the last Labour Government and that, in some equally mysterious way, the Labour Government were responsible for the increase.

Looking back, none of us would wish to make either of those accusations. I think that we would agree that the Labour Government of 1974–79, the present Government—and the 1970–74 Conservative Government—have little to boast about in regard to reducing the level of crime. If we want to play that game and look at the figures, we see that between 1970 and 1974, when a Conservative Government were in power, serious crime rose by over 25 per cent. From 1974 to 1978, the lifetime of the Labour Government, it went up by less—by 22 per cent.—and it declined in the election year of 1979. But during the lifetime of the present Government, from 1979 to 1981, serious crime has increased by 24 per cent. So under the Tories the incidence of crime has increased more in two years than in the entire five years of the last Labour Government. We do not hear many Conservative hon. Members making that point, though they spoke vehemently and vociferously in 1978 and 1979.

The Home Secretary and members of the Government have been responsible for similar deceptions of the public on law and order in other areas. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) goes on a great deal about the ways in which the present Home Secretary has enforced law and order. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has not done very well, on the evidence of the figures. Serious crime has increased by that dramatic 24 per cent. in two years when we have admittedly had more police. They are better paid and have more and better expensive equipment, yet the clear-up rate has declined.

The Metropolitan Police, for example, caught fewer criminals last year than in 1972—3,500 fewer serious offenders. That is not a proud record for the police authority for the Metropolitan area, who happens to be the Home Secretary, to boast about. I notice that not one Conservative right hon. or hon. Member wishes to defend that record.

In the past two years under the present Government the police have clearly been less effective than we are entitled to expect them to be and than they had been previously. That raises serious questions about the relationship between the police and the public. As we know, and as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds will confirm, the police rely heavily on the public providing them with information in order to detect and catch criminals. They rely on public trust and confidence to exact that information. The decline in efficiency of the Metropolitan Police in particular in the past two years may have something to do with the clear, perceptible decline in public confidence in them, and therefore a greater unwillingness to confide in them or to provide them with information about crime.

What is most disturbing about the Conservative Party is the way in which it has misled the public, suggesting that in some way crime is susceptible to easy, simple solutions. The Home Secretary has been as culpable in this respect as the Prime Minister. For example, it was the right hon. Gentleman who told the Tory Party conference that the Government would introduce the "short, sharp, shock". He said in the House on 27 February 1978 that that would be for "hardened … thugs", and gave the impression that the introduction of a new, experimental regime at the two detention centres—now four—would almost at a stroke deal with the incidence of serious violence on our streets, deal with the young muggers and the violent thugs. Those were the words that the right hon. Gentleman used; that was the impression that he conveyed.

As we all know, the experiment had been tried before and had failed. We know now that it is failing again. We know that sending young boys to detention centres in no way reforms or rehabilitates them. To suggest to the public that sending them to detention centres or subjecting them to short, sharp, shocks will reduce the incidence of juvenile or young adult crime, or reduce crime generally, is deliberately and irresponsibly to mislead the public. That is what the Home Secretary has done. The right hon. Gentleman has done it again, reiterating it today with mention of the residential care order, which is provided for in the Criminal Justice Bill, now going through Committee.

Admittedly, the Bill has been watered down substantially compared with the proposal enshrined in the Conservative manifesto, watered down under pressure from a variety of organisations, not least those representing the probation officers and social workers. The Home Secretary has had to recognise that the more brutal methods advocated in the Conservative manifesto cannot be implemented. But here again he is suggesting that giving magistrates the specific power to impose a residential care order on juveniles, to place them in the care of a local authority and in a residential institution, is a major contribution to combating juvenile crime. It is not. The Minister of State knows that it is not. For a start, those juveniles can be fostered out, not kept in a local authority residential institution. They will not be kept off the streets. Indeed, the order will lead to a greater increase in juvenile crime, rather than a decrease, if we are to believe all the experts.

The Home Secretary pretends to the public that he is dealing with crime by building more prisons. He compounded that offence again today by going through the figures of new prison places to be provided as a result of the decisions of his Administration. They are new places, yes, but they are not additional places. They are not additional to what exists already, but are to replace those which are falling into disuse and those which will do so in the next 10 years. I do not want there to be additional places. I want there to be fewer places.

The Home Secretary does his case no good, and does not help to sustain credibility in our penal system or our criminal justice system, by pretending that he is combating crime by increasing the number of prison places. The right hon. Gentleman knows—he has said it often enough, and he has reaffirmed and endorsed what the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said in the other place yesterday—that putting people into prison does not help; it does not rehabilitate or reform them, nor does it reduce the level of crime. If that is so, why is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that the building of extra prison places will in some peculiar way deal with the problem?

Some of the Home Secretary's hon. Friends have resorted to more populist causes, such as whipping and capital punishment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We spent six hours last week debating whipping, in the Committee considering the Criminal Justice Bill, at the behest of hon. Friends of those hon. Members who say "Oh". It was not the Opposition that tabled the amendment. It was not the Opposition that wanted to debate the matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that Mr. Speaker said that he did not want references to be made to what is going on in the Standing Committee.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I heard Mr. Speaker say that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I also heard, as you did not, the Home Secretary spend 10 minutes on all the proposals in the Bill. He mentioned every one to which I have just referred. If the right hon. Gentleman is enabled to give publicity to the provisions that he chooses to select from a Bill that is being considered in Committee, I think it only fair and proper for Opposition hon. Members to comment on those provisions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is in order to refer to the content of the Bill, but there should not be references to the proceedings in Committee.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I shall not press the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it is not important. I merely point out that at the Conservatives' behest, not ours, we spent six hours on a barbaric, gut-reaction irrelevance that would in no way deal with the level of crime. That is the kind of panacea that Tory Members, in their irresponsible, glib fashion, are offering the public, when they know full well that there is no chance of introducing it and that even if it were introduced it would not reduce by one iota the level of serious crime.

The same applies to hanging. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who speaks for the Police Federation so often and at great length, talks about not making exaggerated and hysterical comments. What about the hysterical reaction of the Police Federation and its advertisements in the newspapers, with its suggestion that serious crime can be dealt with by a return to capital punishment? Capital punishment would not be available for mugging, robbery or violence anyway, nor are the supporters of capital punishment suggesting that it should be. It is irresponsible to mislead people and to exploit the public's fear about crime to suggest that these measures can and will be introduced and that they will deal with serious crime.

The Home Secretary has gone still further today by announcing that stop and search powers should be given to the police. He has also announced powers to keep criminals off juries. We will all presumably endorse them. In no conceivable way will they reduce the level of serious crime. They will not do that. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, the stop and search powers will do nothing but further alienate the police from the public, on whose trust and consent effective and efficient policing depends.

If the Home Secretary is serious, as I suspect he is, about reducing crime, he should be restraining his right hon. and hon. Friends—not least the Prime Minister—who seek to make political capital out of law and order. There is no real political capital to be made from it. As the Home Secretary said, we should be talking about this in a measured and realistic fashion. We should attempt to defuse the hysteria generated about law and order and acknowledge that only 3 per cent. of all serious crime is violent. We should also acknowledge that crime is not inexorably increasing. Serious crime declined—admittedly during the previous Labour Government—in 1977, 1978 and 1979. The Home Secretary should also relate what Age Concern said to the Home Office in its research report published today; there is no real objective basis for the fear expressed by the public in some of the most scurrilous newspapers—The Sun, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail—about street crime.

The Home Office research study on so-called "mugging" in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham showed that muggings are infrequent, not generally done by blacks, on the whole not on the elderly and that those who are mugged do not in the main sustain serious physical injuries. The impression created and sustained by Conservative Members and their friends in police services that mugging is a serious threat to every law-abiding citizen does not bear comparison with the facts.

The Home Secretary must acknowledge—as he did not, compared with the forceful and forthright terms used by my right hon. Friend—that the most effective and important deterrent to crime is the certainty of a criminal being detected, caught and convicted. For that, police need the support of the public. Therefore, my right hon. Friend was right to place much emphasis and importance upon community policing.

Community policing is not just restricted to Devon or Cornwall. As my right hon. Friend said, it has worked effectively in Handsworth, Myrtle Gardens in Liverpool, the Grange Estate in Grimsby and, as Lord Scarman said, in the Stockwell Park estate in Lambeth. The police authority chief constable in Lancashire is perhaps one of the best, most efficient and sensible. Therefore, he is never on the television or in the newspapers. The Skelmersdale co-ordinated police experiment, evaluated by John Brown at the department of social policy of the Cranfield Institute of Technology, showed that the community policing introduced in 1977 by the deputy chief constable demonstrated convincingly and clearly that community policing worked in reducing the level of crime. For example, reported crime declined in Skelmersdale by 3.7 per cent. in 1979 whereas, for the rest of the Lancashire police force area, reported crime increased by 5.6 per cent. I hasten to add that Skelmersdale has the highest unemployment rate in the United Kingdom—21.8 per cent. It is a problem area where there are enormous social, educational and unemployment problems. That area is not representative of Lancashire and, therefore, it was chosen for community policing. That policing has reduced the level of crime.

Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)


Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Before giving way, I will give another example that I know the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) is interested in. Breaking and entering offences decreased by a massive 21.6 per cent. in that same year, as opposed to a 4.9 per cent. increase in the rest of Lancashire. Hon. Members can consider other figures from the experiment, However, just those figures clearly demonstrate the importance of reducing the increased rates of crime and the incidence of crime by sensible and constructive community policing.

Mr. Wheeler

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's information carefully. He will agree it demonstrates that the whole concept of preventive policing, which we adopted in Britain as long ago as 1829, is successful. Will he not agree that that is the way to contain crime? Do not his figures also show that crime has little to do with unemployment?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I am grateful for the first part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, which I certainly support and endorse. However, I am not sure about his last point on unemployment on which he presumably wishes to take issue with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Perhaps more important than any other measures, the Home Secretary should be dealing with causes of crime, whatever they may be. The causes of crime have their origins far more in the social inadequacies and inequalities that disfigure society. They have certainly had a great deal to do with our education system and, not least, with unemployment.

If the hon. Member for Paddington and his hon. Friends dispute the correlation between high levels of unemployment and the level of crime, I can only refer them to the Home Secretary's statement on 27 February 1978. He said: There has been a dramatic rise in unemployment among boys and girls. That is the responsibility of this Government. Let no one have any doubt about the danger that that has created in terms of crimes of all sorts, violence and vandalism. If boys and girls do not obtain jobs when they leave school, they feel that society has no need of them. If they feel that, they do not see any reason why they should take part in that society and comply with its rules. That is what is happening, and, wherever we sit in this House, that is what we have to recognise."—[Official Report, 27 February 1978; Vol. 945, c. 40.]

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook also quoted that and I agree with it. The Home Secretary was speaking when unemployment among school leavers was 49,000 in February 1978, and in November 1982, it is 134,000. If unemployment was then attributable in some part to the increase in crime, it is certainly a causal factor today.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds knows well that the Police Federation acknowledged those facts. After all, the Police Federation said that it would be foolish to deny the causal link between youth, crime and unemployment. That federation has said on many occasions that its job is made more difficult by social deprivation, bad housing and, particularly, increases in juvenile and youth unemployment.

The Conservatives made great play at the last election, as they do now, about being the law and order party and wanting to defend essential and fundamental liberties in Britain. They may wish to do that, but they bear a heavy responsibility, first, for deceiving and misleading members of the community that there is a simple, easy and glib solution to the increase in crime, when there is not. They also bear a heavy responsibility for having been largely responsible, through the stoking up of unemployment, poverty and destitution in Britain, for the increase in crime that followed. If the Government are serious in wishing to protect fellow citizens, they should now embark on a massive programme of education, social and welfare help and, above all, putting back to work all those members of our community who are involuntarily and unnecessarily unemployed.

7.9 pm

Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)

It gives me the greatest pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). I rise to his bait because, while he might consider that capital and corporal punishment are not the answers to rising crime figures, I submit that they are. During the past few weeks, it has been rammed down my throat by my constituents and people in the North-West at large that law and order is the key issue today. Their immediate gut reaction is to call for the return of capital punishment.

We heard, in the two opening speeches, need for the public at large and the police to come together. In the past week or ten days, the public at large have called for capital punishment. My local paper, the Lancashire Evening Post, carried out a survey in the past week showing that 96 per cent. of its readers wanted the return of capital punishment. The Police Federation is also calling for its return. Therefore, the public at large and the police want the return of the ultimate deterrent.

Next Monday we shall be debating our nuclear deterrent. How can the Government believe that the nuclear deterrent will stop the Russians from launching a nuclear attack if they do not believe that capital punishment will deter people from carrying out armed robberies, murders and acts of terrorism? I sincerely believe that we need capital punishment if we are to crack down on crime.

We also need corporal punishment. I was brought up in Lancashire in the 1930s and 1940s when the birch was widely used. My school friends lived in fear of it. We heard of the lashings that took place, and we made sure that we never came near that sort of punishment. I think that is the answer to vandalism, muggings and street crimes, particularly by the youth of today. I am disappointed that the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to bring back corporal punishment was not accepted.

I want to kick out of the window the figures quoted during Prime Minister's Question Time last Thursday and by the hon. Member for Ormskirk a few minutes ago. The hon. Gentleman tried to show that in two-and-a half years of Conservative Government crime figures had risen at a higher rate than under the previous Labour Government, or, indeed, the Conservative Government of 1970 to 1974.

I have made a detailed study of all the Home Office statistics going back over the past 12 years. I am sure no right hon. or hon. Member in the Chamber will contradict the footnotes to all those figures and tables. For whatever crime is shown in the tables, there is a footnote that clearly states that the figures from January 1980 onwards cannot be directly related to earlier years. Therefore, I strongly protest about the use or abuse of the figures.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The change in statistics about which the hon. Gentleman speaks was largely concerned with the definition of larceny. On the major issues of crime such as violence, the figures are strictly comparable.

Mr. Dover

I challenge the hon. Gentleman to go immediately to the Library to study the statistics. In every table he will see that footnote. It is not just for larceny.

I object to this misuse of figures. I consider that the Government's record is just as good as that of any previous Administration in the past 12 years.

There is a strong need for adequate deterrents. Magistrates in my area tell me—and I hope that the Minister will contradict this if it is not the case—that they are told "Do not give prison sentences; give suspended sentences. Do not send people to detention centres as there are not the places available." The magistrates want adequate numbers of places in prisons and detention centres. If such guidelines have been issued to magistrates, it is appalling in today's world of rising crime figures. I hope that the Minister will put the record straight.

7.15 pm
Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

No interest group or political party has a complete set of answers for deterring crime or for reforming, treating or rehabilitating offenders. That statement acknowledges that the causes of crime are exceedingly complex and difficult to control.I start with the proposition that crime increases when conviction rates fall. Another way of putting that is that we cannot punish those we cannot catch. The first matter to which we must address ourselves is how we can increase the apprehension rate.

It is obvious that capital punishment is irrelevant to that quest. Capital punishment relates not to the generality of crime, which is on the increase, or to offences of mugging or burglary which particularly disturb most of the population in their day-to-day lives. I think that the police were ill advised to begin a publicity campaign asking for the return of capital punishment for all murders. They know, as does anyone concerned with the law, that most murders are domestic. That is why I was singularly unimpressed by the Home Secretary's figures about the high rates of arrest and conviction of those who have committed murders. It would be surprising if most people who committed murders—husbands, wives, mothers, sons and daughters—were not arrested.

What is alarming about the figures for crime is that crimes such as burglary are being committed more and more successfully and the risk of apprehension becomes less and less.

Quite properly, tribute has been paid to the Home Secretary because of the increase in the number of police by 8,000 or more since 1979. I also pay tribute to the Home Secretary but the truth is that despite that increase the apprehension rate is still falling. I am afraid that that must mean that we have still not enough police. Lord Gardiner, in the House of Lords yesterday, made that very point. Until we can bring up the rate of apprehension for crimes we must try to obtain more police.

However, that does not relieve the police from the efficient use of manpower. There was a criticism in the report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary on the Yorkshire Ripper case that senior police officers were not equipped or trained to deal with major inquiries. They had not been trained in the techniques of management on that scale. Clearly there is something wrong with the training of our police officers. It may be that the police force has not been attractive enough for sufficient people of a high calibre so that we obtain the highest overall quality of senior police officers. Therefore, we must examine how to achieve a high quality of recruits as well as the appropriate number.

It is clear that police pay has to keep up with inflation and has to ensure not only that enough people come forward but enough of high quality. We must be careful to ensure that we do not ever, as Lord Scarman said yesterday, have to turn towards the military and use it against the British people. The police must be able to protect the public and they certainly need our support.

In a multiracial society—indeed, in a society that is not multiracial—consent is required. It has been mentioned today that the Home Secretary proposes to eliminate from juries those who have previous convictions attracting sentences of more than three months. One goes along with that, but when people on juries feel alienated from the police they will listen sympathetically to attacks on the police—for example, in relation to the way that the pace have obtained a confession—and they will be more willing to acquit if they are antagonistic to the police.

I would hazard a guess that more unjust acquittals arise from that sort of attitude by jurors than from the presence on the jury of people with previous convictions. There is no alternative but for the police to seek to win the consent of the community for the way they police, and to have good relations with the community. If they fail to do that, there will be more acquittals of the guilty that should not take place.

There is already a feeling in the courts that certain types of juror are more likely than others to believe a lying story about a confession having been extorted under duress and to acquit the defendant. It is therefore essential for the police to have good community relations.

Ethnic diversity in the community means that there must be ethnic diversity in the police force. It is essential to pursue a strong recruiting campaign to secure a multiracial police force for a multiracial society. Otherwise, the police will be regarded as a white establishment. That would be no good at all. If insufficient suitable recruits come forward from ethnic minorities in London, for example, there should be a strong attempt to recruit in the provinces where more recruits might be obtained who could then be lured to London by suitable incentives.

The statistics published by the Metropolitan Police are an unfortunate phenomenon. If statistics of this kind are published, why are other statistics about other types of offence not published? Why should not statistics be published about types of crime in which ethnic minorities are far less prominent than the indigenous population? The problem with the statistics is that they are read casually and people can gain the impression that many of the Asian community are involved in muggings. I suspect that in reality the percentage of Asians committing that crime is far smaller than that of the white population. Much harm is therefore done. This new concept of selecting only one crime and dividing up responsibility for it on a racial basis is damaging and invidious and causes misconceptions. I hope that it will not happen again.

When I listened to the Home Secretary talk about the statistics and how he authorised them, I could not help thinking of the remarks of Lord Lane, the Lord Chief Justice, yesterday when he said that statistics are "mostly misleading" and "very largely unintelligible." That is a commentary on the course of action pursued by the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary on this occasion. I hope that it will never happen again.

Sensitive and imaginative policing is definitely required, as is a reasonable relationship with the young, especially in inner cities. Probation officers have not been mentioned so far, but there is a role for them and for social workers. There is a definite need for a better environment in the inner city areas, the achievement of which requires more resources. There should be more job training and more jobs. Once again we come back to the effects of unemployment. It must be obvious that idle hands are more likely to find mischievous things to do.

Lord Lane also said yesterday that prison never did anyone any good. That is the view of the Lord Chief Justice of England. He went on to say that people who have committed certain types of offence must, of course, be sent to prison.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is it not clear from the context that the Lord Chief Justice did not intend to say what the hon. and learned Member suggests? The Lord Chief Justice went on to make a comparison with the old idea that short prison sentences were a bad thing and to say how times had changed. Clearly that is either a misprint or it is not what he intended to say. What the Lord Chief Justice appears to have intended to say was that long prison sentences never did anyone any good. If what the hon. and learned Gentleman says had been the Lord Chief Justice's intention, it would make nonsense of the rest of the speech.

Mr. Lyons

I do not agree with a word of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. He should give the Lord Chief Justice credit for knowing what he was about when he made his speech. He said that, although prison sentences did not do anyone any good, there must be sentences—sometimes long sentences—in some situations. He went on to say that often a shorter sentence will achieve the same effect as a longer sentence, so that it is possible on certain cases to dispense with longer sentences. The Lord Chief Justice is quite right. Prisons tend to be schools for crime, especially when prisoners are three to a cell for a long time. The last vestiges of self-respect go and people emerge with increased skills in crime.

The penal system is desperately short of resources. The Lord Chief Justice is an advocate of short sentences. Not all judges agree with him. As it costs £10,000 a year to keep a person in prison, if a judge who shares the standards and views of the Lord Chief Justice is sentencing people, rather than another judge with different views in similar cases, the benefit to the taxpayer during a year could be about £500,000 in savings on extra prison time. That demonstrates the importance of giving judges proper training in sentencing, quite apart from the need to keep out of prison those who can sensibly be kept out.

Mr. Greenway

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that one of the great problems with prisons is that what prisoners who are two, three or four to a cell have in common is crime? Does he further agree that one way of producing something more sensible in common would be an improved programme of education?

Mr. Lyons

No one can disagree with that proposition. I quite agree: there should be more education. But if prisoners are three to a cell 23 hours a day and must slop out and perform all their bodily functions before the others, they have no self-respect at the end of their sentence and are likely to know everything about crime that their fellow prisoners can teach them.

Judges should be more effectively trained in sentencing practice, especially as we now have many part time recorders and part time deputy circuit judges. We must give them more grounding in sentencing. It would be cheap at the price and a more humane and effective approach.

7.27 pm
Mr. John Wheeler (Paddington)

I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He inherited a serious situation. There was a demoralised, underpaid and badly organised police force. The prison service was in chaos. Prison officers were taking part in industrial action of one type or another. It is very much to his credit that within days of taking office he did something about police pay and restored the morale of the police, so that today we enjoy the largest police force ever. Only the Metropolitan Police remains under strength, but it is now within 1,200 of its authorised establishment.

The prison service has also been reorganised. It has been given a new board of management. There is a prison building programme to improve existing facilities and to provide more places. All that is very much to the credit of the Home Secretary. Why, then, does crime continue to increase?

It is worth examining the statistics for a moment. Statistics, like dogs, are apt to get out of control, and when they fall into the hands of the press they are like frenzied dogs. We have heard much recently about the crime rate and crime statistics. That has been part of the substance of the debate.

We learn about the alleged attempt to list mugging crimes according to the presumed colour of the assailant. The Metropolitan Police report for 1981 records that 327 attacks were committed by whites and 1,988 by blacks. Curiously enough, many of the muggings in inner London take place in areas where a large number of black youngsters actually live, so it is perhaps not surprising that some of the figures and conclusions point in that direction.

We should also keep the figures in perspective. The statistics to which I have referred constitute about 3 per cent. of the 18,763 serious crimes, such as robbery and other violent thefts, committed in London. Remarkably few people about 6,000—are involved as victims in street robberies. To those individuals, of course, the crime is of the moment. It may be the most depressing and distressing experience of their lives. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that only about 14 per cent. of the victims were aged over 60. London has a population of 8 million. It is simply not true that every old-age pensioner going out in the evening is liable to be attacked in the streets of London. In fact, 44 per cent. of the victims of muggers were aged between 21 and 40.

The mad dog of statistics made a great deal of emotion and perhaps did a great disservice to the people of London. Despite the problems, London is still a peaceful place. We should address our attention to solving the problems.

The most worrying aspect of this problem is the rate of success in detecting crimes. Research carried out by the Metropolitan Police early in the 1970s confirmed that the amount of crime cleared up by investigation was as low as 3 per cent. Alas, that has not improved in recent times. We have a larger, better paid and better equipped police force and more police officers on the streets. That provides reassurance and prevents crime in the presence of the police officer, but it does not deal with the crimes of stealth—the muggings and burglaries—about which the public are most concerned.

The public should be encouraged to consider developing strategies with the new larger police force to deal with those crimes. One of the most regrettable aspects of the last few weeks' debate has been the diversion of public thinking and the thinking of Members of Parliament away from finding solutions and into the cul de sacs of ayatollah-style punishments and other irrelevancies, which will have no effect at all. One cannot punish people whom one does not catch. We shall not stop crime if we cannot show that the detection rate is high enough to be a real deterrent.

In England and Wales the murder rate is very well contained. There has been no dramatic increase. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, that is because 97 per cent. of all homicides—murders or manslaughters—are cleared up. Everyone knows that if one kills it is almost certain that one will be apprehended and brought before the courts.

That is not so in respect of residential burglary. Out of the 75,000 burglaries in the Metropolitan Police area in 1980, the number cleared up was very small. What are the police tactics to stop burglary? It is a crime of stealth. It happens on private property, on council estates and in mansion blocks. It does not happen in the streets where the well-equipped, well-paid, very desirable young police officer is on patrol. It does not happen in his sight. It happens in out-of-the-way places.

It is distressing to note that out of 26,000 officers in the Metropolitan Police only 78 are employed full-time on crime prevention duties, and 53 others assist on a part-time basis. If the police themselves admit—the facts are all available—that they are unable to detect crimes of burglary, it is surely time that more resources were devoted to preventing such crimes from occurring at all.

That is only one part of the solution. We must also consider the concept of civic responsibility as it is taught in schools and whether the role of the family in bringing up young people is likely to encourage them to keep the peace and to respect the well being of other people in the community.

Some people believe that more police officers on the streets or more Draconian punishments will contain street crimes such as mugging, but the evidence clearly shows that that is not so. Mugging, again, is a crime of stealth. It occurs in a fraction of a moment. A youngster—it is nearly always a youngster—attacks a person, also nearly always a young person, often in daylight, takes the victim's wallet or purse and is away.

Alas, the police have little chance of preventing that. Nevertheless, I suggest that our new, well-paid police force with all its resources should use some of its number to follow the mugger gangs—the relatively small number of individuals who carry out these crimes. I suspect that in Brixton, for example, no more than about 150 or 200 youngsters are actively engaged in mugging. If that is so, why cannot we deploy the police in such a way as to increase the detection rate and thus control, if not eradicate, this crime?

We should devote a great deal more time to those aspects. Indeed, some chief constables are already following these ideas. There is nothing very original about them. When the first paid police force was established in London in 1829, its whole purpose was to prevent crime and to detect those who had broken the law. The term "community police officer" or "community policeman'. is no novelty of this age. It goes back more than 150 years. What is needed is support for the police in the discharge of those duties.

The most distressing aspect of the recent debate on law and order has been the apparent absence of support for the police, particularly from those with some influence in society such as community leaders and local councillors. Even the Commission for Racial Equality, which is known for its ability to issue press releases at the touch of a button, has failed to say "Support the police. Stop crime. Bring peace to our big cities." That is very worrying, because the police cannot achieve what the public want—the control of crime—unless the public and those who seek to serve them openly identify with the cause of peace and law keeping.

I also suggest that my right hon. Friend's proposals to look at the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure and to adopt some of its recommendations are desirable. I shall consider for a moment the growth in crimes of violence. Nearly all those crimes involve the carrying of a weapon, the attack on a sub-post office, a building society office or a milk dairy. They involve the carrying of a firearm, usually a sawn-off shotgun or perhaps a knife.

One of the most important powers to give to the police is not the encouragement of indiscriminate stop and search operations. They know that that alienates them from the public. The police want the public to be united with them. However, there is a case for saying that the police should have the power to stop and search so that they can find the people who carry offensive weapons. There is nothing novel in that. The House has given power to the police to stop and search without warrant when the illegal possession of drugs is suspected. A similar power exists to protect wild birds that have been listed as birds to be protected.

Is it not curious that the police can stop and search for a wild bird's egg if it is a protected bird, thus protecting the interests of the bird, but they cannot protect the interests of the human being if they think that someone may be carrying a weapon? An extension of powers on that common sense basis is much to be desired. As long ago as 1978 the Scottish Council on Crime made such a proposal. There is nothing novel in the idea that the powers of the police should be better written and regulated in that way.

Earlier in the debate the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was kind enough to refer to a speech that I made. I thank him for that reference. I am glad that he finds time to read press releases from the Conservative Central Office. I suspect that that is to his advantage.

If we are to make progress towards the control of the crimes of which the public disapprove most—burglary from the dwelling house, or street crimes when the public's money or possessions are taken from them—we must have the courage and foresight to look beyond merely the penalties and powers of the court, and more to the efficiency and deployment of the police service that we have established and to the relationship of the police with the public. There is no chance of those crimes being contained unless the public are united with the police. The key message that must go out from the debate tonight is that a united community can stop crime. A disunited community can look only to anarchy.

7.44 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) on his speech. Many Conservative Members would do well to reread his past speeches because I know that he has a great deal of understanding of these matters. However, another message will go forth from the House. That is that the Tory Party has failed to maintain law and order.

I remember that at the time of the general election in 1979 the Conservative Party, including the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and numerous Conservative Members, attempted to say that a vote for the Conservative Party was a vote for law and order. Yesterday I looked up the comments made in the election leaflet issued by the Tory candidate for Hammersmith. It said: Criminals beware the next Conservative Government. We will cut crime.

What have we had? We have had riots on our streets and increasing crime rates from the Government. There are good reasons for that, some of which I shall spell out.

In the debate Conservative Members have tried to cover up their responsibilities. When they were grubbing around for votes at the election there was no attempt to say that the matter was complicated, that we should weigh it up or look at the complications in society. However, now, all of a sudden when the Conservatives get frightened by the riots and crime rates, they are rushing around saying "Let us be reasonable and let us try to understand. No Tory Home Secretary can solve the problem." However, that is not what they said in 1979.

Mr. Wheeler

I did not want to intervene too soon in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but did I hear him say that the Government had been responsible for the increase in crime? I hope that he will retract that remark. As far as I know, the Home Secretary does not go around raping and pillaging.

Mr. Soley

The responsibility goes deeper than a direct responsibility. If the hon. Gentleman gives me time, I shall spell out why I believe that the Government must take considerable responsibility for the riots in our streets last year and for the increase in the crime rate this year. That does not happen out of the blue. There is a link to economic forces. I shall talk more about that link because that is a matter upon which we have not dwelt tonight.

The Government have done one thing that they said they would do at the election. They said that they would get tough. They have done so. They have put more people in prisons and there are tougher detention centres. All that we get from tougher detention centres are tougher criminals. They come out fitter. That is a big advantage, is it not? There are more people in our prisons, we are spending more on prisons and on the police, yet there is still a rising crime rate, particularly in street robbery and burglary, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Paddington. It is significant that those two crimes are increasing.

The Conservative Government have failed to maintain law and order and they have undermined it by their policies. What do we get today? More of the same. What the Home Secretary has offered us today is an insult to many people who want law and order. It is an insult precisely because the right hon. Gentleman is asking the police, the prison officers, probation officers and social services to put the lid on a problem that his Government have exacerbated. That is an insult to the professions involved.

What is the answer? Many hon. Members say that we should get tougher still. What should we do now? We could bring back hanging. That word sends the blood coursing through our veins. That makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up. That makes us think of vengeance because vengeance is the only real reason for hanging. I have respect for an hon. Member or someone outside the House who says "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." At least that is a straight statement. We all know that hanging is not a deterrent. Therefore, we are left with vengeance. When one hears the Tory Party talking about that, one sees the thin veneer of civilisation being stripped away. We return to the howls of vengeance.

Where do we go from there? If hanging does not work, what do we do? Perhaps we should have hanging in public or disembowelling. We have not done that for a while. However, that did not work even when we did those things. Where do we go from there? The Conservative Party is offering us more of the same and there is no sign that that will work. It is appealing to the lowest common denominator in human behaviour.

No one in the Opposition or outside the House has ever said that people who are a threat to society, particularly a threat in the form of violence, should not be locked up. However, let us spend a moment considering the double standards of property offences. We could spend a long time on that matter. The hon. Member for Paddington will know what I mean. We can look at the treatment that we mete out to people who fiddle their social security payments and to those who evade income tax. That is a different ball game. Perhaps we should have tax inspectors breathing down the necks of Members of Parliament and checking their expenses. Then we could say "Let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone". However, perhaps I should not bring in Christianity. I understand that it embarrasses some Conservative Members who prefer to preach it rather than practise it.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is not here. There is a crisis in our police force which basically is one of demoralisation, and it has not been helped by the lack of leadership from people such as him. It is no good giving slavish support to the simplistic prejudices that emerge from the Police Federation at a time like this. It is no good joining in the inter-union dispute between the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation. That will not help. That is not the problem. Nor is the problem one of political agitators who rarely get more than half a dozen votes in any election. The problem is that the police are trying to cope with social changes, for none of which they are responsible, in inner city areas, the very areas where they have lost real contact with the people and where there is alienation.

The recruitment pattern in the Metropolitan Police shows that the vast majority are recruited outside the Metropolitan London area. There are many good reasons for that, not least that they have lost the support of many of the groups within the London area. I am not just talking about the ethnic minorities. It has more to do with age and other groupings. The police do not need to be told "We will support you." If anything, that undermines them. That is almost asking the impossible. It is saying to the police "We will back you, no matter what your problems or worries. Just carry on". What the police need is help to change in two respects. One is community policing, about which enough has already been said, and the other is democratic control of the police and police accountability. The police could then win back the very groups that they have lost over recent years. In that way we could get respect for the police. We cannot get it simply by mouthing platitudes about people having respect for the police. We must give a lead. It is the lack of leadership that is doing so much damage.

The police should acknowledge that there is a problem of racialism within their own ranks. It is not total, and of course there are many extremely good police officers. However, if one goes to the police training school one is told "We know that we have a problem of racialism among our police officers. One racialist in the police force is an appalling trouble to us". They want them all out. We do not solve the problem by pretending that the problem does not exist, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds seeks to do, and brush it under the carpet in the hope that it will go away. We solve the problem by first stating the problem honestly and openly, and then examining it.

I come now to the important part of my speech—the way forward through prevention of crime. Clearly community policing and more police are one way. Enough has been said on that subject already. However, here we come to the complicated bit. The Home Secretary gave one or two good examples. He said that we should help elderly people to get locks on their doors, and so on. That is a good idea, but the bulletin issued by Age Concern the other day referred to the difficulty that old people have in getting financial support for that purpose. Perhaps the Minister will tell us where the money is to come from.

Then the Secretary of State said that the local authorities should do more. I have been saying that for years. What should they do? We need many more caretakers on estates, and more park keepers. We need public toilets that are opened and attended. We need to get rid of many of the blind areas in inner cities—the subways, and so on. However, we cannot do that without money. Moreover, when the Secretary of State for the Environment slashes money for services and tells local authorities to cut their employees, what are we to believe? The Home Secretary said that he would do something about this and inform the Secretary of State for the Environment. What will the Secretary of State for the Environment do? Will he cut more? Or will local authorities be given more money to do some of the things that the Home Secretary says that they should do? If so, how much and when?

There is an important link between parenting and the environment in which a person lives. During the past three years, the Conservative Party has attacked the social fabric of our nation. That attack resulted, to a considerable extent, in last year's riots and the increase in crime rate. Riots and crime do not happen without reason. They are not spontaneous in the sense of an unrelated event. They have a cause. Parenting is crucial. No Labour Member would say that unemployment or low income or bad housing by themselves cause criminal behaviour. We say that with confidence, because many of us, like many of our constituents, come from backgrounds like that, and would say "My parents were unemployed, we had low incomes, we were in bad housing, but we did not commit crime". So good parenting can be crucial.

That ignores the link with the environment. Many people are not good parents, and additional financial and environmental pressures reduce their chances of coping with the situation. Let us take the example of a family of poor parents where the father is thrown out of work. They live in a high rise block of flats, dependent on electricity for heating, which has just been increased by the Government, they use gas, which has also gone up, their rents have gone up, and their social security payments have either gone down or been held stable, depending on the group that they are in. The result is increased anxiety and social disintegration. So the parents tell the kids to get out of their way, and when a lot of children wander around the streets statistics show that there will be a higher crime rate. That is no moral statement. It is a simple statement about human behaviour. That is what I mean when I say that this Government have undermined the social fabric of the nation and stripped the mortar from between the bricks that hold the groups together.

Housing is another example. Young people in inner city areas find it difficult to get a house. They cannot get council houses because the lists are too long, no houses are being built, or they are being sold off. They cannot get into the privately rented sector, because it is non-existent or too expensive. They cannot buy, certainly in my area, unless they earn a minimum of £10,000 a year. So they move out. The competent couples move out. Those with problems—they may be emotional problems, problems of low income, or overcrowding—stay. So there is a concentration of problems. Then we ask the police and the probation service to put the lid on the problem and try to hold it down. We put in more police and we try to use them as a shield to defend us, because the Government have failed to deliver the goods in areas of that type.

I remember a good example of the problems both of good parenting and of the environment. A young girl aged about 16 was clouted round the ear by her mother, in a way that she was prone to do, who said to her "Do not lie to me". Minutes later, there was a knock on the door, and the mother said to her daughter "That will be the lent man"—or it might have been the milkman—"Go downstairs and tell him I am not in". Straight away there is a double standard. To show the confusion in the child's mind, she went downstairs, opened the door and said "Mummy is not in and I am a bloody liar".

One can learn three things from such an experience—that lying is wrong, that lying is right but, more important and much more likely, that in certain circumstances lying is all right. Lying to police officers, probation officers and teachers is all right, but, by and large, one does not lie to one's own group.

The two crucial factors in parenting are love and consistency and none of us is too consistent. If those factors break down, they can link up with the social factors that make matters worse. The problem is, of course, low incomes. The reason why the mother told her child to say that she was not at home was that she could not pay the bill. The more that one puts economic pressure on those at the low income end of the scale, the more the problems will manifest themselves. Not everyone will have problems. Many will resist, for which they deserve to be respected. However, we should not kid ourselves that it will not happen because it must happen. Those people are operating on the margn of their ability to cope, and the more that we push them the worse it becomes.

If we consider the minimum taxation relief of £250 given in the Budget to those who earn £15,000 a year, and we see that it is £57 for those who earn under £15,000, we recognise that the pressure that we put on those with low incomes is massive. That will affect the crime rate in exactly the. same way as the other matters.

Single parent families are another favourite scapegoat of Conservative Members. Exactly the same applies as with unemployment, bad housing or low incomes. Some single parent families are happy and good families that bring up marvellous children. Others are not. However, the same principle applies. The more that one undermines the economic and social support system of those individuals, the more people will fall into the trap of getting into financial trouble and either their children or themselves committing offences. There is a close and real link which we ignore at our peril. We cannot deal with it simply by putting more police officers on the streets, building more prisons and sending more criminals to prison.

Let us consider the needs of victims. The National Association of Victims Support Schemes is growing well and has received support from both sides of the House. It should be given greater encouragement. Let us also consider insurance, because we know that those on low incomes who live in council estates often do not insure their property. The loss of a television set, because of a burglary, is to an elderly person living alone who is not insured infinitely greater than the loss to me if my flat is broken into and my property is stolen, because my property can be replaced by insurance.

That is a major problem. Why does not the Home Secretary say that he will give more aid to local authorities and will encourage them to operate low-cost insurance schemes? It is not impossible to do that. I welcome the fact that some Labour-controlled local authorities have taken initiatives on that.

I do not see why the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board should be restricted to dealing with criminal injuries. We should examine the matter much more radically and open it up so that the board can deal not only with criminal injuries but with property loss.

We must also consider the reform of court procedure, because I know too many victims who have been through the court and the police procedures and who have come out feeling more alienated against the forces of law and order than supported by them. People feel that they are distant, cold and uncaring about their crisis, which may have been a major personal crisis whether it was a loss of property or a physical assault.

We must also consider the responsibility of the press. Many people pick on television. If I pick on anyone it would be some newspapers, both local and national, which whip up fears about crime. The Age Concern document should be read by the editors of every local and national newspaper in Britain. It makes the point that elderly people are not as much at risk as they believe and, as a result, they live in fear. That is not a throwaway line—I mean "in fear". It is terrible for a person to live in fear. For an elderly person to live in fear is appalling. He may not go out, he leaves the door locked and if anyone knocks at the door he jumps. He slides the latch back and looks through the peephole. Is that what we wish to have?

In one of my local newspapers, out of 44 news stories, 31 related to crime, which is totally unrepresentative of what is happening in the area. There is also an emphasis on violence. There is nothing like sex and violence for a good headline. For example, if a rape happens there is a headline. When the police catch the person there is another headline. When the case goes to court and the person is convicted there is another headline and, if the newspaper is really lucky, there will be an appeal and a fourth headline into the bargain. I have seen that happen. I asked some constituents a series of questions about a particular story. People thought that there had been four murders whereas there had been four highly publicised reports at different times of the same murder. That is the danger of what I call irresponsible reporting. I do not ask for no reporting, but I ask that journalists and editors should think hard about the irrational fears that they bring ino people's lives.

The Conservative Party has failed the nation by undermining its social fabric, which led to last year's street riots and an increase in the crime rate. The Conservative Party must take a considerable part of the blame for that. If the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) is so keen on shaking his head to that, perhaps he had better reread the election literature that he distributed at the general election and see whether it said what the Conservative Party had in mind. It said that it would cut the crime rate, which by any standards, least of all the hon. Gentleman's, is false. The Conservative Government have failed to cut the crime rate in a significant way.

Perhaps the most dangerous matter of all is that the Government are trying to use the police to deal with the economic and social problems. There is nothing like using the police and giving them more powers in order to solve such a problem to lead us into undemocratic ways. I wish to support the police, but that means reforms in methods of policing. Above all, it means the Government taking their responsibility seriously, tackling some of the urban problems that are causing alienation from the police and causing crime, and stop trying to find scapegoats and using the police or the prison service as their front line of defence when they, and they alone, have failed the nation.

8.8 pm

Mr. Jocelyn Cadbury (Birmingham, Northfield)

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), but I cannot agree with him that the Government have undermined the social fabric of this country. One cannot undermine the social fabric of a country, even if his reasoning is right, in two and a half years. The hon. Gentlemen has been talking complete rubbish.

All politicians are guilty of over-simplification—no doubt Conservative as well as Labour Members—but one of the largest over-simplifications of the Labour Party is that it says that it can solve the country's economic problems by spending £9 billion that has not been earned. We are all guilty of over-simplification.

I agree that the causes of crime and its explanations are not simple, and nor are the solutions. For that reason I do not accept the arguments that have been advanced by Labour Members that one factor—unemployment—is mainly responsible for the increase in criminal acts. In support of that view, I quote Sir Philip Knights, the chief constable of the West Midlands police force. The Secretary of State rightly paid tribute to that force when he opened the debate. Sir Philip Knights said: It is always difficult to positively identify the reason for increased crime, and there is often a temptation to look for easy subjective answers such as, at present, the rising unemployment figures. I do not see any evidence, however, to connect the two.… I believe the answers are being found much more in the way in which old standards of honesty and respect for others and their property and former social controls such as religion, 'what the neighbours think' and parental control and training have become eroded in the face of modern living conditions.

There are many reasons why crime has increased. There is a whole range of cultural factors involved. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) referred to television, and, quite rightly, mention has been made of the press. The press has had a bad effect. I do not know whether any hon. Members listen to the so-called punk rock music. Occasionally, I have tried to decipher some of the words of the songs which come under the heading of punk. It is difficult because the singers usually screech out the lyrics, but when I have been able to understand the message it sometimes seems to propagate an ethos of violence which must have a disturbing effect on the behaviour of young people. Criminologists should study those cultural factors. To some extent, they must influence human behaviour for the worse.

Following other hon. Members, I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the positive measures that he has taken over the last two and a half years to combat the rise in crime. Many hon. Members have already referred to the success in raising police strength. This has been largely the result of the Government's decision to implement in full the Edmund-Davies pay award and subsequently to maintain the relationship between police pay and average earnings elsewhere in the community. That is a step in the right direction.

A most welcome outcome of the success in attracting new recruits is that it has made possible the return of the beat policeman. A great deal of nonsense has been talked about community policing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) said, that is not new. It has been going on for 100 years. It was the Social Democratic Party's candidate for Hillhead, Mr. Roy Jenkins, who took the policemen off the beat and put them into panda cars.

Effective policing, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, is the only way to deter street crime. Policemen who walk the streets will thereby get to know what is happening in the community. I welcome the move back to the beat policeman.

A third area in which the Government are facing up to the need for urgent action is in their prison building programme. It is astonishing that between 1918 and 1959 no new prisons were built in Britain. We have neglected our prison system in a most disgraceful way. Winson Green prison at Birmingham was designed to take 518 prisoners, yet the present prison population is 1,057. That is an overcrowding factor of two. It has led to the appalling situation in which many prisoners are crammed three into a cell.

Such conditions cannot be conducive to reforming the character of prisoners. They must place intolerable burdens on the prison officers and they are bound to lead to outbursts of violent behaviour as nerves become frayed. The worst aspect of overcrowding at Winson Green is that 250 of the inmates have not yet been tried. Some may be innocent, yet they have to endure even worse conditions than convicted prisoners. Therefore, the Government's programme to build eight new prisons and to create 5,000 places by 1990 is to be greatly welcomed. That should have been undertaken many years ago, but it is to the Government's credit that they are getting on with it now.

Although the Government are showing determination in the fight against crime, two points give cause for concern. The whole House will agree that the most serious aspect of the recent growth in crime is the rise in the incidence of violent attacks. In 1977, there were 82,000 such incidents, but last year there were 100,000. That trend has resulted not only in terrible distress for the victims, but in a climate of fear, especially among the elderly. The press may have exaggerated the situation, but there is a basis of fact.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who has made it clear that the perpetrators of violent crimes must expect long prison sentences. However, my constituents have brought some cases to my attention in which violent attackers, whose victims have died, have escaped with absurdly short sentences, or merely with fines. I shall cite one instance. The father of one of my constituents was struck on the head with an iron bar when he resisted two young men who were trying to steal his car. They drove off in the car and left him dying in the road. They were subsequently found guilty of manslaughter—not murder—and were sentenced to seven years, with a recommendation that they serve a minimum of four years.

I can understand the bitterness of the dead man's daughter. Within four years her father's murderers may walk free.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The court decided that the young men were guilty of manslaughter. The hon. Gentleman should not refer to them as murderers. In those circumstances, it is quite wrong to recognise the daughter's feelings in thinking of them as murderers. The court saw the incident as manslaughter and seven years is a substantial sentence for that.

Mr. Cadbury

I accept that the jury decided on a verdict of manslaughter. However, I am trying to point out that there is widespread concern about such crimes in the West Midlands. The daughter is indifferent about how the verdict was reached and the system that brought it about. She has lost her father and those two guilty men will probably serve only four years. That is the point.

My main concern is that there is a belief that, because of the shortage of prison space, courts are restricted in the severity of the sentences that they can impose, even for violent offenders. If that is a false belief, it would help to restore public confidence if the Minister would make it clear that the courts are not constrained by a shortage of prison space. That would remove much of the concern in the West Midlands.

Many hon. Members have referred to the low, and falling, level of crime detection in Britain. According to the Home Office's statistical bulletin, only 38 per cent. of crimes were cleared up by the police last year. The figure for robbery was only 25 per cent. and for burglary 30 per cent. It cannot help public confidence to know that there is only a 30 per cent. chance of a burglary case being cleared up. Part of the explanation for the low level of detection may be that police resources are still stretched, despite our success in increasing the numbers of police. As a result, the police may still have to concentrate on the more serious crimes. If that is so, we should consider the need to increase police numbers still further and to raise the target for establishment strength.

If we are to win the fight against crime, we must first raise the detection rate for all crimes. That means increasing police numbers even further than the Government have already done. Secondly, we must ensure that prison sentences are long enough to deter violent offenders, and that on no account are the courts to be restricted in their sentencing decisions by the lack of prison space.

8.20 pm
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I understand that when the Opposition selected this subject for discussion the Home Secretary was a little miffed. He is under threat from some of his Back Benchers and he felt that we were adding to his troubles. The truth is that we did not intend to seek to bury the Home Secretary. We meant to stiffen his backbone. Judging by his performance earlier today, we had serious cause for concern about his backbone. With his usual flambuoyance he turned tail on many of the things that he had said and espoused over the past two years.

One of the most interesting things about the Conservative Party in office on this occasion has been its abandonment of much of the reactionary nonsense that it used to say in Opposition. At that time we were constantly badgered by the present Home Secretary for allowing crime to increase. However, in the last three years of the Labour Government crime decreased. We used to argue that it did not matter which party was in power, as the capacity of any Government to affect the crime rate is extremely limited.

One of the factors that affects the crime rate considerably is unemployment. That is not because all the unemployed are likely to commit crimes. Conservative Members are entitled to say that there are splendid people who are unemployed who never get involved in serious crime, but with increased unemployment the poverty of an area is increased. It is clear from an analysis of crime statistics that poverty, bad housing, bad conditions and broken families lead to the likelihood of a percentage of those who are affected becoming involved in crime.

Happily, the percentage in Britain is small, and has always been small, but it is a significant factor. The increase in unemployment adds to the increase in poverty and thereby leads to a likelihood of increasing crime. As I said in an earlier intervention, the Prime Minister argued this week that there was no simplistic correlation between unemployment and crime. The right hon. Lady used as her evidence figures from the 1930s. She said that at that time there was much higher unemployment and much less crime. I asked the Library to produce the figures. In 1981 serious crime rose by 10 per cent. It is that figure that is supposed to have sparked off the alarm on this occasion. That 10 per cent. increase has been exceeded in post-war years on only about three occasions, and never has the rate been more than 18 per cent.

In 1930 the rise in serious crime was 9.3 per cent. In 1931 it was 8.3 per cent. and in 1932 it was no less than 30.7 per cent. In 1933 the level sank again to 9.2 per cent. The average over those four years—a time of the most serious unemployment before the war—was about 15 or 16 per cent. That was easily the worst period for increasing crime. The absolute figures were lower, but the percentages were substantially higher than any in the postwar period. That should show that there is some correlation between unemployment and crime.

The Government must take that into consideration when they use unemployment—as they are doing now—as an economic weapon in their approach to solving the problems of the economy.

Mr. Lawrence

Tut, tut.

Mr. Lyon

It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) to say "Tut, tut", but it was manifestly clear from the beginning of the Government's economic policy that they would reduce the level of economic activity, which would lead irresistibly to unemployment. They knew it, and they planned for it.

The background from which crime springs presents problems of immense complexity, and it is extremely difficult for Government actions to have an effect upon them. The Government can perhaps improve the level of employment, do something about improving the level of housing, and do a good deal more about increasing social benefits as part of the campaign against rising crime, but all of that will take time. We can make the greatest impact in the shortest time by improving the capacity of the police to detect crime, because detection is the greatest deterrent. For that reason my right hon. and hon. Friends have been arguing consistently over the past two years that we must improve the capacity of the police by improving their effectiveness in the local community.

The argument of my right hon. and hon. Friends—the evidence is now irresistible—is that the police cannot police without the consent of the community. The community is not the 90 per cent. of the people who never come into contact with the police, but the 10 per cent. who are in fairly close contact with the police, because they live in areas where criminality is highest, and they are part of the community that the police has to police most intensely.

It is that community that is causing concern, not the middle-class families in the shire counties or the community that I represent in this place. On the whole, the people of York are not affected by rising crime, and their problems are not those of rising crime. We find rising crime in the inner cities, and it is in those areas that the police have to recapture the confidence of the law-abiding community.

When the Metropolitan Police issued their ridiculous figures about ethnic attacks, they seemed to say through the screaming headlines that the entire black community was responsible for mugging. On one occasion I heard a BBC interviewer ask one of her guests whether it was true that mugging was a black crime. It is manifest nonsense to take that view when one considers the figures throughout the country. In Brixton, where only 4 per cent. of the black teenage population are involved in any form of street crime, 96 per cent. of the teenage population feel aggrieved, and justifiably, by the slur that is put upon them that they are engaged in street crime. Even worse, they are aggrieved that they should be stopped in the streets and questioned and, as they see it, harassed by the police when they have nothing to do with such offences.

The Home Secretary's reaction to the pressure that has been put upon him is to say that the stop-and-search powers should be used more universally and that the powers should be more easily available to the police. If we were to do that as a reaction to the immediate outcry, there would be a serious setback in the campaign that the Home Secretary has been conducting in the past two years to achieve a more humane penal system and to advance the cause, which the Opposition espouse, of better community policing.

To make the term "community policing" more easily understood, there are many who adopt the alternative description of the bobby on the beat. Community policing is not only the bobby on the beat. Mr. Alderson, who advocates community policing as almost a religion, has made it clear that it would be possible to have community policing without any bobbies on the beat. Community policing means that the police should be an integral part of the community that they serve and that they should be in contact with the decision makers on the local council, the local planning committee, the local housing committee and the local social services committee. It means that they should be in contact with the youth clubs, with the Churches and the schools. It means that they should live in and know the area.

I accept that a further arm of community development is more policemen back on the beat. Unless the totality of the police force is involved with the community, and understanding the community, one will not get the benefit that community policing is supposed to bring. If one merely does as the Metropolitan Police did in Brixton and appoint four people called "community bobbies" who walk about the streets as a public relations exercise, while the real hard policing is done by somebody else in the same over-reactive way, the cynicism of the local community will be increased.

One of the best examples of community policing was in Handsworth, where the police force was put into an area which, at the time, was as sensitive and difficult as Toxteth and Brixton, and where crime seemed likely to erupt into violence on the streets. By introducing community policing in a sensible way street crime was cut by about half in the first year and it has never got back to its previous level. When there were riots in similar black areas throughout the country last spring, there was no serious rioting in Handsworth.

That is not the only successful experiment. Community policing has been tried in a number of other areas. Wherever it has been tried in that way it has been supremely successful, not in just ameliorating the difficulties of the local population, but in improving the detection rate in that area. That is why we argue that community policing is not soft policing. Indeed, I agree with the Home Secretary: the whole concept of hard and soft policing is nonsense. Community policing is effective policing. It is doing the job that the police have to do, but it is doing it better.

If the police would accept that—and Tory Members have said that they are accepting it all over the country—that would be fine. The real difficulty with today's debate is that the police are not accepting that. The way in which this latest bout of law and order discussion has come about is interesting. It started with a discussion on a London Weekend Television programme about two months ago, in which a deputy assistant commissioner questioned the Scarman report and said that it was shackling the hands of the police and putting them in a dilemma when they wanted to react to crime on the streets. That was followed by some leaked information in The Times about muggings throughout the country. That in turn was followed by the explosion designed by the Metropolitan Commissioner in relation to the black statistics for street crimes in London. Then we had the Police Federation campaign on hanging.

Nobody could look at all that and say that it was accidental. It was a planned campaign, and it was planned for one reason and one reason alone. The police were worried that the Scarman approach to policing would be forced on them against their will, and they wanted to stop it. If that is the attitude—and I strongly suspect that it is—it is a serious matter and one with which we shall have to deal. The only way in which we can deal with it is by recapturing control of our police.

When we talk about police accountability, hon. Members complain that we are talking about Ken Livingstone kicking McNee around London. I fail to understand the seriousness of this argument. As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), the spokesman for the Police Federation, said earlier in our debate, there may be about 24 men who are really responsible for our future peace in the inner cities. Those 24 men make decisions which have to be made by somebody. They make decisions which vitally affect the peace of this nation. It is ludicrous that that responsibility should rest on the shoulders of only 24 people. There must be some attempt to bring back democratic control.

That democratic control can be exercised only by local councillors through the police authorities. They have to be able to control policing policy. It is for them to decide how it should be done, in conjuncition with their chief officer. If there is a good relationship between the two, the advice of the chief officer will be accepted. If there is not and there is a continuing dispute, either the chief officer or the police authority has to go. The police authority can be changed by the electorate once every three years, or part of it each year. In that way the electorate keeps a grip on policing in the area.

What the electorate cannot do at the moment is to dismiss a chief officer. This is what causes the anguish and concern. Not only Manchester is affected. It is also true in Merseyside and in South Yorkshire. What happened in South Yorkshire is, however, significant. There, the chairman of the police authority decided that the police had to be brought under control. When he tried to do what the Manchester police authority is trying to do with Mr. Anderton, he got the same kind of response from his chief constable. I advise every chairman of a police authority to examine what he then did. He would not sign the minutes of any police authority meeting. Because he would riot sign, the funds were not available to the police. Within two or three months the chief officer had come into line.

Since that time, anyone who wishes to see what can be achieved by community policing should go to South Yorkshire. Even before the Scarman report, local liaison committees had been set up in every community. There is an intimate involvement between the local community and the police. In South Yorkshire there is no sense of the resistance to the police that is found in Manchester, in Brixton or in Toxteth. There are black communities within South Yorkshire, and there are some difficult communities within South Yorkshire, but the whole experiment has been a magnificent success because the police and the police authority came together. In my submission, that is the approach that should be adopted towards the problem of rising crime. Only in that way shall we succeed.

8.37 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The public discussion of law and order seems to be bedevilled by the apparent helplessness of Governments to do much about the appalling crime rate however one views the statistics. This has led to some defeatist, exaggerated and misjudged statements from various quarters that should know better. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) talked about the lowest common denominator of society backing capital punishment. If the public opinion polls are right and 85 per cent. of society backs capital punishment, the hon. Gentleman must have been elected by a substantial proportion of that lowest denominator of society.

I think that it was the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) who said that crime had decreased during Labour's last three years in office. That is patent nonsense if one looks at the specific crimes. Crimes of violence against the person rose from 77,000 in 1976 to 95,000 in 1979. Crimes of burglary rose from 515,000 in 1976 to 549,000 in 1979. Robberies rose from 11,600 in 1976 to 12,500 in 1979. Theft and handling offences rose from 1,285,000 in 1976 to 1,416,000 in 1979. Whatever else one says, that is not a reduction in serious offences, with which we are mainly concerned.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon


Mr. Lawrence

I am afraid that there is insufficient time for me to give way.

My next example of the misjudged statement is the approach of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who blames the Government for unemployment and then says that he understands why young teenagers should be tempted to commit crime. The effect is to justify, or to appear to justify, the commission of crime as the result of high levels of unemployment. The inevitable effect of justifying crime is to encourage its commission. That reminds me of the modern parable of the good Samaritan who goes across the road to the person lying bleeding in the gutter, shakes his head and says, "Tut, tut, tut, whoever did that to you needs help."

The final example of exaggerated, defeatist and misjudged response had been the attacks on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The rise in crime will not be reduced by hysterical and thoroughly unjustified attacks and calls for his removal. It is not his fault that Parliament decided that there shall be no return to capital punishment or that the European Court and the ambivalence of society have decided that there is to be no corporal punishment even for juvenile offenders.

It is not my right hon. Friend's fault that national service cannot be restored because resources are inadequate. It is not his fault that for 30 years weak Governments, feeble management and bad trade unions have led us into this level of unemployment. It is not his fault that irresponsible parental attitudes over many years both in home and at school and the ineffectiveness of our religions have led to a breakdown in the sense of responsibility in our society which causes so much crime. It is not his fault that courts refuse to impose sentences that are available.

I was particularly delighted by my right hon. Friend's performance today and he has achieved three particularly important successes. First, he has built up the morale of the police. It is difficult to put a specific figure or value on that, but if the front line of the force of law and order is enthusiastic and feels that it is serving a useful and constructive purpose in society then policing—whether it is community policing or whatever else we call it—is likely to be of a higher and more effective standard than if the police force is demoralised as it was under the last Labour Government.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)


Mr. Lawrence

I do not have very much time and there are a number of people who wish to speak. I hope the hon. Gentleman, who has not been here for long, will forgive me.

The second of my right hon. Friend's substantial achievements, for which I do not think he has been given enough credit, is that he has prevented the complete collapse of the prison service, which was under substantial pressure and threat about a year ago. By good judgment and wise direction he has stopped that from happening.

My right hon. Friend's third achievement has been to honour the pledges on law and order in the Conservative Party manifesto. We promised to spend more on crime fighting. The cash spending on the police has risen from £1,150 million to a planned £2,314 million this year. The cash spending on prisons has risen from £252 million to £504 million. He promised a strong police force and he has built up its strength by over 8,000 since he came into power and by over 3,000 in London alone. He promised to implement the Edmund-Davies recommendations and that was done within days.

My right hon. Friend promised to review traffic laws in order to reduce the waste of police time. Changes in the points system were introduced in the Transport Act 1981. The Transport Bill 1982 extends the fixed penalty system. He promised to introduce tough short sentences for violent criminals. Long prison sentences are understood now not to be the best deterrent. He has given complete support to the judges in their implementation of the newer approach to criminal policy. We promised to increase the range of sentences, and that is happening in the Criminal Justice Bill 1982 now going through Parliament, which removes the restrictions of the Criminal Justice Bill 1961 on custodial sentences. That is happening. We promised to introduce residential care orders. That is happening.

My right hon. Friend has made available, as promised, more compulsory attendance centres, and the experimental short, sharp shock treatment promised has been implemented. There is a greater use of community service orders, as promised—I think up by 45 per cent. since we came into office. There are more extensive compensation orders, as promised. We promised to reform the fines system, and a new scale of fines is going through the House in the Criminal Justice Bill. We also promised a free vote on capital punishment, and time was given for that debate. That is an honest Government fulfilling their promises.

One thing is very clear—that the decline in law and order did not just happen as the Conservative Party came to power. It has been happening over a long period. It is no use kidding ourselves that something that has taken that long to happen is capable of a short and easy solution. Nevertheless, action must be taken, and I should like to make one or two observations about the sort of action that I think should be taken.

I have no doubt that capital punishment would make a substantial contribution to the reduction of crime, not only because it would reduce the number of people who carry firearms, and are therefore tempted from time to time to use them, and not only because it reflects the horror that society feels at deliberate killing, and gives limits beyond which people should not transgress. The fact is that there has been an overwhelming response to the Police Federation's advertisement and that response shows that most people, whether the younger people who go to football matches or the older people who are frightened to go out in the evening, would feel safer if there was capital punishment. Our society no longer feels safe. I have no doubt that if capital punishment were introduced people would feel safer and society would be much better for that.

Secondly, I have no doubt that corporal punishment for juvenile offenders would have an immediate effect, although the underlying problem of lack of respect for other people would take much longer to cure. I was interested to hear a bishop say on the radio programme "Thought for the Day" that when he asked a young juvenile why he threw stones and damaged property the answer was "Because I have nothing to lose." If we cannot learn a lesson from that, we should not be here.

Thirdly, I have no doubt that national service—not necessarily military, but certainly with discipline—would make a substantial contribution to the reduction of juvenile crime. Other countries have it, and it is a pity that it was ever stopped in this country. I ask my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to keep an open mind on the matter. I hope that he and his Government colleagues will consider the possibility of reintroducing national service to some extent, and that they will get away from the defeatism of saying that it is impracticable merely beause we have used up all the resources.

Fourthly, because of the importaance of the detection of crime—there are now nearly 750,000 burglaries a year, and the clear-up figure is appallingly low—I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the House who have said that we should have more police and that they should be better equipped. Whether that means that we should have more specials or more permanent police is a matter on which we have often expressed ourselves. That we should have more police, and should ask whether the existing establishments are realistic in the light of the requirements of modern policing, there can be no doubt.

As to police committees, I do not think that there is quite such widespread opposition to democratising the control of the police, as Opposition hon. Members seem to think. What worries us on the Conservative Benches is that the sort of local authorities that are now calling for police democratisation are the sort that are led by extreme Left-wingers, who want to bring down society as we know it, and consider that the police are in their way. If it were the more reasonable and moderate local authorities putting forward the case, I am sure that we would listen to it with much more sympathy.

The fifth action we can take to deal with crime is to improve the process of criminal trial. I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment on implementing parts of the Royal Commission's proposals. Tape-recorded interviews would substantially shorten the criminal process, bring trials on much more quickly and help lead to the conviction of more guilty people if only because witnesses would not have forgotten what they saw, said or heard. I hope that particular attention will be paid to that aspect.

I caution against the interference with the jury system which seemed to be hinted at and which was specifically mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). If we tamper with the right to challenge three members of a jury for no cause, we may in due course have to introduce the sort of system that operates in the United States where one can spend days cross-examining jurymen. That will occupy an immense amount of the criminal process time. Even worse than that is tailoring a jury to the needs of the defendant. That would be a wholly retrograde step if we are concerned with the reduction of crime.

Sixthly, we can do much about punishment. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said—this was repeated time and again throughout the debate—that certainty of conviction was the only real material deterrent. He also said that the amount of punishment does not matter. With the greatest respect, that is manifest rubbish. The lower the punishment, the less the risk the villain or potential villain is likely to run and the more likely it is that he will attempt the crime he was originally tempted to commit. That seems to be manifest common sense. It is not much use detecting a crime if the person who is about to commit it thinks that he will not be convicted or, even if he is convicted, will only receive a pat on the head and twopence out of the poor box. That does not deter anybody.

Therefore, it is the detection of crime, coupled with the certainty of punishment, that is the true deterrent. The Lord Chief Justice was forced in the other place yesterday to make a speech about the judges being more or less restricted by overcrowded prisons. Therefore, it is beholden to us and the Government to untie the judges' hands and ensure that we have more prisons. Although I agree with few of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), I agree that the prison programme for eight new prisons will only replace those that are falling down. That will not be of much use in reducing crime. If we have a better and more effective police force, and criminal and legal system and if we are arresting, convicting and sentencing more villains—as the most constructive gesture towards the reduction of crime—we need more prisons and cannot merely replace those that are now overcrowded and falling down.

The reply may be that we will have difficulty in finding more prison officers. It will be much easier to find them if their working surroundings are decent; where prisoners are not so overcrowded that the life inside is a hell under which nothing useful can be done except to take people out of circulation.

I welcome the introduction of partially suspended sentences, but not for the same reason as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We must establish a system, as quickly as possible whereby we deter offenders at an earlier stage of their offending. That must not mean that they can commit 100 crimes before being caught, another 100 before conviction and another half a dozen before ever going inside a prison. By that time, they are determined and set in their villainous ways. Ideally, we must have a situation where, when somebody begins to be thinking about starting a life of crime, he is taken by the arm and led inside a prison for a few weeks to see what he will be letting himself in for if he continues in his life of crime. Partially suspended sentences could be used for that purpose, if not immediately, when we reduce the pressure on the prison service. Therefore, judges could send people to prison for short periods but at an earlier stage of their offending. That will make a substantial contribution to the reduction in crime.

Seventhly, there are the preventive measures that were well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler). The Government should give massive publicity, perhaps by buying television time, to the dangers of leaving one's house so easily accessible to burglars. Nothing stimulates one to take the necessary precautions as much as seeing a film about how easy it is to happen. Insurance companies should reduce premiums if proper locks and alarms are put on, and we might consider tax allowances for those fitting alarms and preventative devices in their homes.

Finally, in the longer term, we have to do something about the need for respect for others. I welcome what the Government have done and are doing to make parents responsible for the offences of their children in the Bill going through Parliament. The sale of council houses makes people more responsible for their property and children more responsible, as they live in their parents' own home. The measures that the Government have taken to improve parental involvement in education are a substantial factor in improving attitudes of respect for others.

Also, the measures that the Government are taking to try to get the work force more involved and committed to the future of the company for which they work is a step towards responsibility. Everything that the Government are doing to try to win back the amorphous power of the state to individual responsibility in our society will, in the longer run, tend to improve the attitude of individual respect for others. Further, we should do more to restrict the spread of pornography in our society and we should control television displays of violence.

I welcome the debate and the publicity that the argument about crime has brought. I even welcome the publishing of the crime details that have been much criticised today, because they bring the matters into the open light of day. Where the facts are exposed to the public view, there is a greater awareness and understanding. Is that not what Labour Members keep talking about? They say that if only the public could understand more of the problems of the police and the police could understand more of the problems of the public there would be a much more constructive police-public relationship that will reduce the burden of crime.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the action that he has taken to date. I hope that he will do more to strengthen the steps that he has taken along the lines I have suggested. I agree with those on the Opposition Benches who say that public awareness is the most important factor in the end, for the reduction of crime.

8.58 pm
Miss Sheila Wright (Birmingham, Handsworth)

One of the earlier speakers spent a fair amount of time telling us about the gut reactions of his constituents and the public. The problem about any debate of this sort is that it tends, unhappily, to be conducted on the basis of gut reaction, not logic, and the justification of that gut reaction rather than a logical assessment of what we can do to remove the need for those gut reactions.

There is one common concern of all of us in this House, and the vast majority of those outside. There is an overwhelming concern about rising crime rates, particularly burglaries and crimes of violence. It is a matter that is near to all of us, whether we have been personally involved or whether we are concerned about friends, relatives or constituents, or whether it is just a general concern.

Unfortunately for this concern, it is only too easy to make illogical jumps of reasoning in our anxiety and to add to a rising spiral of hysteria on both sides of the argument. That makes its own contribution to a deteriorating atmosphere both in the House and in the country.

It would be much more helpful and useful if we were all able to distance ourselves a little from the immediate reactions to an immediate problem, from statistics which may or may not always be valid and from our own, sometimes facile, solutions.

It is not helpful to have partial statistics relating to a small proportion of crimes taken out of context, without a full analysis of the crimes, and headlined, as these were, in all the tabloids. This leads the public to assume, as most people to whom I have spoken assumed, that they are now being authoritatively told that the majority of crimes in this country are committed by a small part of the community.

Had different questions been asked, I am sure that it would have been equally valid statistically to state that nowadays the majority of violent crimes are committed by people who, if asked, would say that they regarded themselves as members of some branch of the Christian faith. One has only to visit a prison to discover that the vast majority of prisoners state that they are members of some branch of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, that is no reason for headlines to the effect that most violent crime is committed by Christians.

It is also not helpful, understandable though it may be in the aftermath of two deplorable murders of young policeman, for the Police Federation to spend large sums of money advocating the reintroduction of capital punishment. Again, this leads the public to assume, wrongly, that the murder rate in this country has risen when it has not, and, even more wrongly, that draconian punishment for murderers will have any effect on those committing crimes for which no one has suggested capital punishment.

It is not helpful for a senior policeman to suggest that elected police authorities should be replaced by some other body, presumably bureaucratically appointed and with no direct responsibility to the public. So far, there have been no suggestions that there should not be some kind of police authority, but there has been no sensible suggestion as to who its members should be or by whom they should be appointed.

Equally unhelpful is the increasingly acrimonious debate about community policing. Much as I support and am grateful for police policy in my own and neighbouring constituencies in the West Midlands, I should be quite happy if everyone forgot the phrase "community policing" because of the backlash that it is now producing in the police force itself. The debate could then be concentrated by both the police and the public on how the police can gain, or in some cases regain, and retain the support of the vast majority of law-abiding citizens of this country. Without their consent and support, which at present is not forthcoming in large areas of the inner cities, it will be disastrously easy to continue on a downward path of police confrontation with the public, as has happened in the past year in an increasingly large number of cases.

The problem is how to cultivate that consent and support, particularly in areas where there is a wide diversity of cultural background and consequently a wide cultural gap between the police and not only the youngsters but many older, perfectly law-abiding and respectable citizens who are now not prepared to help the police because of that gap. There is a generation and cultural gap between the police and the younger generation, even without the exacerbating effect of unemployment.

In my view, one of the main reasons why there has been less tension and disturbance, more dialogue and a generally better atmoshphere in the area that I represent and in which I live, and in neighbouring areas, is that over the past three or four years senior policemen have been prepared to go in alone to discuss and to argue with, to be slanged by, and—dare I say it—to slang informally themselves groups of alienated young black people, mainly young men, known locally as the "Rastas" or the "Dreads". They have gone into groups both of true Rastafarians—a totally peaceful religious group-and of those who often assume the dress or appearance of Rastafarians as a screen for somewhat illegal activities. I count us lucky that we have senior policemen who have gone unsupported into these groups of alienated young people and that, conversely, one now sees youngsters approach the police and talking to them on the streets and even, on occasion, in the police station.

The police need support, and the public need protection, but perhaps the greatest need is understanding. However, neither the support nor the protection will come without the return of trust between the public and the police. Whether we like it or not, and whatever reasons we may give, that trust has been eroded over the years in many parts of the country. There must be a reinstatement of that trust, without which there cannot be public consent for policing or support for the police, and without which policing itself will not be effective.

However, it is a two-way procedure. We cannot ask the public to help and trust the police without having an equal effort from the police. The House has the right to ask the police, under whatever strain they may be, to adopt a logical, calm and sensible approach in this time-consuming task so that we can once more reinstate that trust and go forward once more to having community policing—a phrase I had not intended to use—and good relations between police and public. Without that, we shall not have a system of justice and policing that is accepted by the community as a whole.

9.6 pm

Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)

The hour is late and we have heard much about vengeance, and calls for sanctions against violence in the form of capital punishment and flogging for crimes that should never incur such sanctions. We have heard very little from Conservative Members about effective policing, and that is what the debate is supposed to be about.

We must remember two cardinal points if we are to have effective policing. The community must trust the police and the police must trust the community. It saddens me that the Home Secretary has considered implementing stop-and-search procedures and giving increased powers for the police to search premises without a warrant. These powers will be used not in the area that I represent—the pleasant suburbs of South London—but in areas such as Brixton, where I worked for six years, Islington, and the inner city areas of Toxteth and St. Paul's, because those areas have the highest crime rates.

Moreover, those powers will have exactly the opposite effect to my two cardinal points. They will not give the community confidence in the police and, I suspect, they will not give the police confidence in the community. Relationships that are already tenuous and fragile will break down at a moment's notice.

It is no coincidence that the Swamp '81 operation last year was the spark that caused the riots. Anyone who was for any length of time in the two streets affected—I walked up and down them every day for three and a half years—will know what I mean. Tension was built up because of an overt and over-active police presence.

Police efficiency depends on being anticipatory, not reactive. That means that we must have—I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Miss Wright) will forgive my using the phrase—community policing. Our policemen must be in the community, on the beat and relating to the community.

Those are the points that we should have been considering today. There has been too much rhetoric from the Conservative Benches in putting the case for capital punishment, corporal punishment and further overt sanctions. That is not what the debate is about. I had hoped that we would learn from the Conservatives how they would produce an effective community-related police force that could get to the bottom of the terrible crime figures in the urban areas. Sadly, we were not fortunate enough to be given that information.

9.9 pm

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

It may be worth saying at the outset what the debate has not been about. It has not been a debate between those who care about law and order and those who are in favour of more crime or who believe that there is virtue in anarchy. It has not been a debate between those who care for the victims and those who are indifferent to them. I am as troubled as any hon. Member that my constituents are reluctant to use the underpass in Oldbury road at night. Those people are not the rich protecting their property. If they were rich they would not be using the underpass, but would be driving past it. And we are not talking about serious professional crimes, of which the Home Secretary initially spoke. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Miss Wright) said, their problem has nothing to do with capital punishment.

I recently read an excellent book by Mr. R. N. Davidson entitled "Crime and Environment". He begins with a salutary warning against deriving any oversimplified conclusion from statistics, but it emerges generally that it is not the affluent areas that are most susceptible to crimes even against property. Geographically, crime takes place mostly in the inner cities and deprived areas.

The Home Secretary spoke of the contribution that could be made to the fight against crime by the installation of anti-burglar devices. It may be worth reminding him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) did, that part of the problem about the elderly population who are afraid of crime in those areas is that they cannot afford such devices. If resources were made available for such anti-burglar devices, if more caretakers in blocks of flats were provided, and if there were a little more lighting in dark places, that might be a more effective use of resources. Lawlessness threatens the most vulnerable, the least articulate and the least privileged in the community. The debate has not been about that subject.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) defined the subject matter of the debate. It is about the most effective way to strengthen law and order. It is a question of fact. And it has nothing to do with moral judgments or excuses for wrongdoers.

It is natural that sometimes we look first to sanctions and penal policy. Those subjects have been debated on other occasions. They have formed a small part of this debate. I can understand why, when people read of a particularly brutal crime, they wish that they could do something effective. It is frustrating when they cannot. They react—sometimes react—by calling for harsher punishments. That makes us feel better. I understand that reaction. But it is harder to forgive the reaction of those who fasten on to that with a demagoguery designed to make it appear that it is an effective method of protecting future victims against crime.

At one stage in the debate I wondered what had become of the Conservative voices that we heard during the election campaign. But they emerged. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) was here after all. He seemed to assert that there were certain remedies, such as the return of capital punishment. He did not argue those remedies. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that his contribution was marginal to the theme of the debate. Most of us agree that what is important is that we should achieve a detection rate which will convince potential criminals that there will be a penalty.

It is important that public sympathy should be with the victims. If there is a feeling that certain categories of wrongdoers are treated too harshly and subjected to inhumane conditions, sympathy is alienated from the victim to the wrongdoer. That has all the effects that we have been talking about tonight. People do not respond to the authorities responsible for law and order. For me, a strong argument is the story of the little girl who, on the morning of the execution, was heard to comment "Poor Dr. Crippen."

I shall now turn to some more constructive matters. One of the most effective controls is the approval or disapproval of the community, friends, neighbours, and the family. That is probably the strongest and most effective factor of all. If the vast majority of those whose views a person respects and for whose approval he cares influence him strongly in the direction of complying with the law, there is no more powerful influence on conduct.

We need a strategy which in each community seeks to build up a collective belief that it is to the benefit of everyone to strengthen law and order. That has three corollaries. First, it would help if unemployment were reduced. That does not mean that everyone who is unemployed immediately commits a crime. It means that if a whole community believes that no one is listening to its grievances, if it believes that it cannot find redress within what is called "the system", that will weaken the collective belief that each of its members has a stake in an orderly community. It does not mean that all its members become criminals, but it does mean that the restraints on the potential criminals are much weaker.

The second corollary is that our strategy should be to maximise the number of people in each group who are on the side of law and order. That will not be achieved if the authorities responsible for law and order are seen as confronting them, as their natural enemies.

In 1980 I was privileged to take the chair at a seminar arranged by the Wyndham Place Trust. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has read the report, but I would be happy to send him a copy. One of the people there was Dr. Alex Dickson, the director of Community Service Volunteers. He spoke of the way in which even delinquent younsters may be brought to believe that they are on the side of those who argue for the community. He spoke of delinquent youngsters in California who are helping with the environment—preserving the woodland, for example. He said that what they were doing was discussed at a conference in New York, where someone said "That is fine in California, but show us the urban equivalent of a forest fire".

There is an urban equivalent of a forest fire. There are parts of the subway in New York which are regarded as unsafe to ride at night because of the danger of being attacked and robbed. There is a group of young volunteers who ride the underground protecting travellers. They come from the district where the robberies take place. They rarely need to use violence because they are known to the potential robbers. They come from the same community and the same ethnic groups, but they are totally dedicated to ensuring the safety of passengers. To mark their commitment and esprit de corps they wear a uniform and a red beret. I believe that there was an article about them recently in one of the Sunday papers. The potential poachers are dedicated gamekeepers.

The third corollary is this. It is important that, when people co-operate, the fact should be recognised. Mia Pringle has set out how many offences were committed by young people who were never noticed at school—they were not noticed in class or on the sports field. They do not know how to attract notice. If they give up a weekend to help the handicapped, no one wants to know, but if they burn down the town hall the media are round in no time, wanting to have an interview with their schoolteacher and their grandmother.

There was a letter in The Times of 16 March this year from the Under-Sheriff of Greater London, Mr. Alistair Black. He wrote about those receiving awards and commendations from judges at the Central Criminal Court for their contributions in enforcing taw and order. On the occasion of which he was speaking they included a black special constable who, when off duty, saw a pickpocket gang at work and secured an arrest; two coloured brothers who were bitten, kicked and spat at in rescuing two ladies from a mugging attack in Seven Sisters Road; a store manager who chased a thief for over a mile before he and a black policeman made the arrest; an Asian shopkeeper and his wife attacked in their bedroom by four men and threatened with death unless the keys to their safe were handed over. He said that 10 of the 24 were coloured Londoners. The press was invited to that distribution, but not one representative came. He began his letter: The black community in London must wonder what they have to do in terms of courage and service to people and police to merit recognition in the national press.

Our strategy should be to ensure that anything which alienates a community and causes it to believe that the law is unfair and which distances it from those who enforce the law should be minimised, because that contributes to the sense of alienation. We must recognise that we live in a society which has a plurality of social groups, ethnic groups and age groups. Each of them can be an influence on its members to conform with the law or to go the other way. If any feel that their legitimate interests have been overlooked, there is a weakening of the social fabric on which law and order depend. I discussed this last week with a member of the West Indian community, who said that the last thing that they wish is to be the butt end of an election campaign.

For example, where there is an attempt to suppress a practice that a community may regard as innocuous, the fabric is weakened. It was silly to try to prevent Sikh bus conductors from wearing turbans. The law had a little more difficulty with the practice of child brides in the Muslim community, but it effectively surmounted those problems. We may have to consider some of the implications of our cultural plurality.

And tolerance is not just a passive attitude—a leaving alone—because in certain areas ethnic minorities believe, rightly or wrongly, that the police are less assiduous in protecting them against crime and less likely to take their complaints seriously than in the case of the indigenous population. If they are right, that is worrying. They are entitled to be taken seriously not when they are indistinguishable from other people, not when they lose their identity in a crowd, but when they are conspicuously but lawfully pursuing their traditions, such as wearing turbans or saris, enjoying their carnivals or congregating in temples.

My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) mentioned community policing in Handsworth. We have had a similar success in Sandwell. The secret was demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth. It was not just a cosmetic appointment of community policemen. Senior police officers discussed with the community where the shoe was pinching. Some of them are on first name terms with members of the local community. The officers responsible for taking policing decisions were those who came and listened. Those who would deny to any minority its legitimate aspirations, and who leave its members with a mutually supportive feeling of injustice and frustration, are the real enemies of law and order.

In that context we should consider not only what the police are really like, but how they are perceived by the public. Again, this is not a debate between those who are in favour of supporting the police and those who wish to see the police unsuccessful in upholding the law. The debate is about the best way to ensure that they are successful in securing the support of the community, of which the Lord Chief Justice spoke last night in another place and which some hon. Members have mentioned.

The Home Secretary was less than fair when he spoke of inheriting a rundown in the police force. The Labour Government of which I was privileged to be a member inherited a rundown in 1974. At the end of their period in office there were 7,000 more policemen than at the beginning. There were more policemen than at any previous time in Britain's history. Of course there were not enough, and we welcome the further recruitment, because, for many reasons, we need continual increases in the police force. But the Home Secretary cannot complain of the rejoinder of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), that if we are really playing party politics, since the Government came to office the crime rate has increased faster than it was increasing be fore and the detection rate has fallen.

Let us return to the principal question of how the police can be supported. Naturally it entails speaking out in their support when they are unfairly attacked or when obstacles are placed in their way. But I do not believe that it is best achieved by pretending that they are totally incapable of making a mistake; that the present methods of policing are beyond improvement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North said, it is sometimes the function of a friend to help someone to change ways which stand in need of change. We all know that there are those in the police force who would welcome that kind of support. It was the Home Secretary who said that the more facts we can publish the better. Of course, they must be facts based on genuine statistics and not what my right hon. Friend called statistical garbage. But we should have as many facts as possible.

The police are in the front line, and for that reason what they do helps to determine whether large sections of the public are prepared to co-operate in the interests of law and order or whether they regard law enforcement authorities with hostility. It is the public who assess whether the police are assiduous in their attempts to detect crime or whether they are indifferent. It is the public who assess whether the police are sympathetic to those in trouble or whether they are insensitive. It is the public who assess whether those who attempt to co-operate with offers of information are appreciated or whether they are brushed off. People who are questioned or searched assess whether the operation was carried out with courtesy and consideration, or arrogantly and inconsiderately.

There is concern about the Home Secretary's attitude to the report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. That report was intended to be a balanced package. If the right hon. Gentleman takes only the parts of that package which operate in one direction, and totally ignores the rest, he must not be surprised if he finds that that is strongly resented and resisted. [Interruption.] I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I apologise for having interrupted from a sedentary position. My impression was that in a public statement the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) condemned the report of the Royal Commission.

Mr. Archer

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. We would not wish to implement the package, but it would be much more strongly resisted if we got only the half of the package which we condemned. Surely even the hon. Gentleman can understand that.

Those of us who wish to help the police, and who have many friends within the police force arguing in the same direction, realise what the public reaction will be if they lose confidence in the integrity of the police. That does not come from me. In an article 18 months ago in Police Review, Lord Devlin suggested that the reason for what the police see as an unduly high rate of acquittals is not necessarily the inadequacy of police powers, but scepticism among juries of the honesty of police evidence.

That is not because the majority of police are dishonest. Lord Devlin said: Public knowledge is now fed not only by the professionals but by a trickle of cases in the newspapers involving wicked and dishonest police officers; a small minority, the good citizen assures himself; and he is right, but it is enough to pollute. Lord Devlin added that it was not a question of the collective level of trustworthiness falling below 100 per cent.

He went on to say: If I were to say that 80 per cent. are absolutely sound in all respects, it might be a substantial under-estimate. But in a system that operates on 100 per cent. with perhaps a small discount for the inevitable failures, a drop to 90 per cent. or, say, 85 per cent., is a catastrophe. To that there is now added a suspicion that not all police begin with a totally open mind and form conclusions objectively on the evidence.

One of my hon. Friends pointed to recent research which suggests that the police force attracts some recruits whose attitudes are conformist rather than tolerant and authoritarian rather than egalitarian. I am not referring to the research of sociology graduates from the mid-1960s. An investigation conducted at Leicester university by Detective Chief Inspector Paul Gorman, in the course of a study in psychology, indicated that police recruits included a higher proportion of illiberal attitudes than were found among a control group chosen from the general community.

Mr. Soley

I see that the Home Secretary disagrees. It would be a pity to miss this point. The Metropolitan Police training school has been good in recognising that problem and in admitting openly that it has to dismiss officers for being too authoritarian. It is open and honest enough to recognise that it is a problem and perhaps we should do so and thus help them.

Mr. Archer

Of course it is commendable that the police should make such research possible and that they should publish the results, but we should not do them a service if we were then to pretend that such facts do not exist. As the Home Secretary said, it is important to have the facts. In that research the responses to questions on race were particularly disturbing. The report quoted one or two of the answers of recruits. One wrote that over 50 per cent. of trouble caused today is either by niggers or because of them. Most of them are just Dirty, Smelly, Backward people who will never change in a month of Sundays.

Of course, many examples of different responses could be given. It is easy to say that the police are a cross-section of the community. But, I am not sure that they should be. That should not be our aim. It would be no answer to say that the illiterate, the physically disabled, the elderly and the mentally handicapped should be represented in the police. And there should not be representation for those whose attitudes disqualify them from acting as the agents of justice. Of course no selection procedures are infallible, but until we reduce the extent of such attitudes we must help the police to change the way in which selection operates.

That is one reason why public confidence in the police complaints procedure must be restored. I shall not go into the details, because we have discussed it many times. Again hon. Members have discussed the extent to which the police should be accountable to an elected authority. Indeed, recent events have highlighted that debate. When the proposal was originally made in June 1980, it evoked a robust response from Mr. James Jardine of the Police Federation. In the Police magazine for that month, he addressed a plea to the Home Secretary entitled: Keep Politics out of the Police Service". The sub-title stated: When critics demand greater police accountability, what they want is more political control. Certainly whether a proposal is described as "political control" or "greater accountability" depends to some extent on one's point of view.

If police officers, particularly senior police officers, make controversial statements, they should not be surprised if they find themselves in the middle of a controversy. That is the case for political accountability. During a discussion on the report of the Royal Commission at the annual conference of the Police Superintendents Association, Chief Superintendent Timothy Hill said: The need to protect the rights of the individual and the provision of assistance that does not give the criminal element opportunity to commit crime with impunity has to be finely balanced"— so far, there can be no complaint— and I believe the police service must be vociferous in trying to ensure that the balance if anything is in favour of the law abiding. He appears to overlook the fact that the very processes under discussion were specifically designed to discover who was and who was not law abiding. The assumption seems to be that, if anything, the balance must be against those suspected by the police because they are, by definition, not law abiding. The case for political accountability is virtually made by the police. They cannot enter the political arena and then complain that they do not want anything to do with politics.

The remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) have indicated a further matter. If the law is to retain the support of public opinion, we must develop a proprietary interest among the public for what they should regard as their legal system. That will be achieved partly by persuading people that the law not only stops them from doing what they would like to do. It exists to help them when they need it. Employees, tenants, and consumers should be persuaded that the law is interested in their problems and that it can offer an effective redress for their grievances. That entails access to competent advice, to law centres, advisory services and legal aid. Those are matters which we shall be discussing soon.

I believe that people will respect the law if they believe that the law respects them. But there is a lack of confidence among many ordinary people that the law can be effective to help them. One often hears questions such as "What chance have I against a big company?" That is frequently the termination of a discussion about a consumer problem. A survey in 1973 by Professors Abel-Smith and Zander and by Miss Rosalind Brook found that a third of those interviewed failed to take advice about substantial problems. In a disturbing number of cases the question "Why?" produced answers such as "It is no good" or "It is a waste of time", or "You do not get anywhere." Even when the system is fully effective there will be a long haul to build up public confidence. But if we can do that, it will be more effective in reducing crime than anything that can be done by excluding people with convictions from juries.

The House is agreed, after a restrained debate, that we are looking for the most effective method of increasing public confidence in the legal system, in the agents of law enforcement and in the importance of law and order. It is a pity that what the Conservative Party was saying during the general election campaign was not similarly restrained. Then the voice was that of the hon. and learned Member for Burton. It is a pity that the Conservative Party does not make it clear that it is not in sympathy with those in its ranks who fasten on to the most hysterical and least constructive bandwagons.

But, perhaps after today we can send an agreed message from the House that we all want to see the protection of the public from crime, the protection of law and order and maximum support for the police. That will be achieved not by turning law and order into an election slogan, not by encouraging hysteria, not by misrepresenting those who urge moderation, but by securing the support of the whole community for law and order.

9.43 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

We have had a serious debate on a serious subject. It is a subject that imposes on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a most onerous responsibility. At the outset, I express my gratitude to the many right hon. and hon. Members who have complimented my right hon. Friend. They include the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), Paddington (Mr. Wheeler), Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Cadbury) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). I am grateful for what they have said about the way in which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has discharged his responsibility in these anxious times.

Not the least of the advantages of the debate has been the focus that has been put on what constitutes effective policing. I agree with what the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said in his thoughtful speech. I agree that we must all seek to achieve the greatest degree of public confidence in our policing arrangements. However, we are entitled to consider the various alternatives that are on offer and to comment on their likely success or lack of success.

When most of our constituents are asked what they regard as effective policing they will say that it means that there are plenty of policemen about, or, in the phrase that has been used, plenty of bobbies on the beat. I noticed that that was the first of the two themes that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) identified. He described it as the old relationship between the police and the public—the re-establishment of foot patrols.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds that that is not the whole of the matter, but it goes a long way. Therefore, I think that our constituents are right in believing that if beats are properly laid out and sufficiently patrolled—not in panda cars but by mature and experienced constables on foot who are properly equipped with radio and backed up by mobile reinforcements and modern technological aids—people and property will be safer as attacks on either side will be more difficult. Of course they are right, not least because the officers will know their districts and the people will know them personally.

Surely that is what is meant, to a great extent. by the rather fashionable phrase "community policing". There is nothing new in that practice. As my hon. Friends the Members for Paddington and Northfield have said, the police have been about it for many years. Yesterday The Standard put it this way: Community policing has become a fashionable phrase. All it means is what most of us took for granted in the old days when the policemen was one of us and not one of them. I think that we all agree on the Government Benches that when a policeman is experienced and has the status of "one of us" rather than of "one of them" more crime is likely to be detected or prevented. I agree that detection rates are a source of anxiety. The police are taking a long time to recover from the haemorrhage of experienced police officers of which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds spoke during the years when police pay fell so far behind that of others.

It is good to see how widely spread the conversion to the doctrine of the bobby on the beat has become. I agree with the reaction of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West to the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. I think that we all on the Government Benches have always believed in that doctrine. We believe that much damage was done by the wholesale conversion to panda car patrolling which was encouraged by the Labour Government in the 1960s when Mr. Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary.

If we are to have bobbies on the beat, as our constituents rightly want, we have to have numbers and we need experienced constables. That was the previous Labour Government's problem and country's misfortune. When the Labour Government left office there were over 8,000 fewer police officers in England and Wales than there are today. Fair and generous tribute has been paid to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his achievement in increasing police numbers. In each of the two years before 1979 police numbers in London fell. The Labour Government either could not or would not recruit more police officers. I think that they believed that they could not do so, but they could have done so had they been prepared to pay the rate for what is a dangerous and difficult job. They tried to get the bobby on the cheap. The consequence was that they failed. Experienced men and women who formed the core of police forces left in droves. Morale was at breaking point and the Home Secretary of the day had to ask someone else to say what the rate for the job should be.

We all know that the then Home Secretary had the good sense to ask Lord Edmund-Davies to determine what the rate should be, and he reported in July 1978 that pay improvements were essential to staunch the then outflow. He said that there should be an increase of 40 per cent. More than that, he said that the increase should be paid in full on 1 September 1978. That, said Lord Edmund-Davies, was the basic assumption of his award. On the next day my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary—he deserves the gratitude of us all for having done this—pledged the Conservative Party to the implementation of the full increase. It is, alas, well known that the then Labour Government in their expiring months held back until a year later one-half of the award.

Happily the nation freed itself from the consequences of the previous Labour Government's mistake and by the end of 1979 numbers in the Metropolitan Police were back to what they had been three years before, and more besides. A year later another 1,000 had been added and by January of this year the Metropolitan Police had gained another 1,700 officers and had topped 25,000. That is how the commissioner has been able to put another 900 officers back on beat. It is planned that another 300 will go on the beat.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West said, that is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's principal achievement. I can bring the matter nearer home, if it needs to be brought nearer home, because both the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West represent constituencies in the West Midlands. Thanks to the policies and the determination of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, their constituencies now have the protection of another 622 police officers.

Important though it is to get more policemen on the beat, other things are needed. We have looked, and rightly, in the course of this debate at the policies put forward by the major political parties. We have to consider whether the other things that are needed to secure effective policing are likely to be obtained if the Labour Party should once again assume power.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

It is obvious that although we are almost up to establishment everywhere we still do not have enough policemen on the beat. Does that not mean, therefore, that we should be revising establishments so that we can recruit more policemen?

Mr. Mayhew

That is a matter for the operational responsibility of the chief constables. It will be recalled that in the case of quite a large number of police forces we have enlarged the establishment, and they are very nearly up to the higher establishment. This does not yet apply in London, but I believe I am right in saying that the Metropolitan Police are still recruiting at the rate of about 300 a month.

Mr. Soley

It is important to consider establishments, but I hope that the Minister will also examine why the Tory Party has so seriously failed to maintain order on our streets leading to the riots and the increasing crime rate.

Mr. Mayhew

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) had a fair run round the course in a lengthy speech, not all of which I was able to hear. The hon. Member will know that all crime stems from evil, and that evil is both eternal and extraordinarily ingenious. The hon. Member will also know that the roots of crime are difficult to get at and that no Government can control the day-by-day measure of evil in the community. What they can do is to seek by means—of which the police are only one—to control the manifestation of crime. That is what we are doing.

Mr. Hattersley

Since the Minister has made the theological point, could he explain why there has been more evil in the last three years than in the previous two?

Mr. Mayhew

Evil derives from a great number of things. Many have spoken today—and many spoke yesterday in another place—of the fairly rapid collapse of those forces of discipline and order that have helped to restrain the basic evil that is always present in any community.

I shall take two of the matters upon which effective policing depends. The police must have those powers which are needed in a free society to bring the criminal to justice. These are certainly matters of judgment, and that is no doubt why the last Government appointed the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. It made proposals for powers of search. It said that the existing powers of the police to stop and search people in public places had developed haphazardly and often anomalously over more than a century. It said that they were contained in more than a score of Acts of Parliament with no common rationale. It said that in some instances the police do not have the legal power to stop and search for stolen goods. They went on to make proposals.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said earlier today: I accept the case…for some extension of police powers, in particular by rationalising the existing powers to stop and search for stolen goods, and by introducing powers to stop and search people for offensive weapons, and to search premises for evidence in difficult cases. I would have thought that that was plainly right and necessary as a matter of principle. Of course, there is a question of balance. The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon made that point. There is room for argument as to the precise balance, but I must point out to the House that a future Labour Government would be bound by the official Labour policy endorsed at their 1981 conference not to implement any of the recommendations of the Royal Commission which seek to give the police additional powers to stop, search, arrest or detain. I think there will be many who will find that inauspicious for the prospects of effective policing should the Labour Party once more come to power.

Effective policing means politically impartial policing. That can only be attained by operational freedom from political control. Again, the next Labour Government would be bound by its conference to abolish the magistrates' seats on the police committees. They would be bound to introduce what is described as effective democratic control through the setting up of police authorities throughout Britain, including London, with stronger powers than those enjoyed by existing police committees…such powers to include the approval of all police policies, the appointment of senior officers, control over resources and manpower, training, disciplinary power, and the development of police/community relations.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked if this meant that if the police committee, thus elected, declined to make provision for protective equipment, the police had to take the brickbats and the casualties and put up with it, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said "Yes. That is called democracy." He said that the people would have their remedy two years later at the next election. I doubt whether that will be thought satisfactory either by the police of the future or by the community that they serve.

The policing arrangements in this country are founded in a statutory framework that hon. Members know well, based upon the Police Act 1964. The Government remain firmly of the view that our present constitutional arrangements, which aim to prevent political interference, are in the best interests of both the public and the police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked me a couple of questions. The points that he rightly raised on the development of common tactics among police forces have been well taken. This was one of the issues discussed at the comprehensive seminar at the police staff college this week to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has referred. The same is true of the provision of protective vehicles for the transportation of police.

My hon. Friend also asked about resources for increased training. I believe that it is sensible, first, to determine what extra training is needed. Then we can come to the question of how much can be met from existing resources and how much will have to be met from other resources. The effect on policing in London of the Labour Party's conference policy may be judged by the fact that the party is also bound by another policy decision to disband the Special Patrol Group of the Metropolitan Police. It is interesting that Lord Scarman's report to which the Opposition frequently refer is forthright in its support of the Special Patrol Group. Lord Scarman says: It was suggested that the Group should be disbanded, or that it should no longer be used in areas such as Brixton. I do not concur with either of these suggestions. It is in my view essential, given modern policng conditions, for the Metropolitan Police to have a small mobile reserve at its disposal and for this to be capable of deployment on general policing duties in any part of the Metropolitan Police district".

I hope that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West will forgive me if I do not follow him into some of the lofty philosophical areas that he penetrated. I prefer to draw attention to the more practical consequences of the policies that his party would follow which I suggest will be of greater importance to the people of London and, indeed, to the people of every district that is to be policed—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Mayhew

I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way. There is very little time.

When the subject of the debate is the need to secure a reduction in the level of crime, this is something upon which all hon. Members can fervently agree. All the effective policing for which we can wish could, to a large extent, be frustrated if there were not sufficient prison places for the dangerous criminals who are caught and whom the courts think it right to send to prison. Otherwise, the police who caught them and secured their conviction would all too soon once more find themselves contending with those customers again, and the public would suffer from their attentions. With insufficient places in the prison system, effective policing will be impossible because once again they will be coping with recidivists who should have been kept in prison—if they are dangerous to the public—for a substantial time, as the Lord Chief Justice made clear yesterday in another place.

That is why it is so important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield and others have pointed out, that we have embarked on what is the most ambitious building programme of the century. We are determined to ensure that there will be room in the prison system for every person whom the judges and magistrates decide should go there. We shall continue to do whatever is necessary for that purpose. I hope that answers the anxieties of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover).

The principal task of the prisons is to hold those whom the courts send there. That is what the public demand and have a right to expect. Despite the indifference of past Governments which have left it woefully under-resourced for carrying out that fundamental responsibility, the prison service has continued to cope with the increase in the prison population in recent years. In particular, it has coped with the vast increase in the number of dangerous and violent offenders who have been rightly given long prison sentences.

It has an outstanding record on security which was praised by the May committee. It is vital for the protection of the public that the prison service should continue to cope but to do so it needs support. The Government have provided that support. We have increased the pay of prison officers and governors in line with the recommendations of the May committee. We have increased the numbers of prison officers and strengthened the management of the prison service. We have substantially increased expenditure on repairing and maintaining the prison estate which was neglected for so long and dramatically during the four years of the last Labour Government when year after year—as I had to point out when we had a debate on the prison service in November—they cut most desperately needed places.

In 1974 the former Government inherited a programme aimed at meeting the shortfall of prison capacity by he 1980s. They immediately cancelled two major prisons which would have provided 1,600 places. A year later it was the same story: three further schemes which would have produced 1,600 places by 1980 were cancelled. Five schemes which would have produced 1,700 places in the early 1980s were deferred. About 5,000 places were lost or deferred as a result of those shortsighted decisions, which we are still paying for together with the prison officers whom we require to serve in those overcrowded and extremely unsatisfactory conditions.

To be effective the police must have the confidence of the public. The public must never feel that they are riot told about the things that it is considered not good for them to know. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary thought it right that those figures should be published by the Metropolitan Police. Equally, the police must never be so remote from the community they serve—from which they themselves come—that they do not know it or are not known by it. That is why the Home Secretary was right to increase their numbers so that they should become known by the community and corn to know the community.

I believe that the contrast in the two opening speeches was very marked. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook placed his faith on enlarging the numbers on the beat and what he describes as a democratic system of control by replacing the existing system of police committees. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in a wide-ranging and practical strategy embracing terrorism, public order, serious and highly organised crime, and the persistent problems of burglary and street robbery, included a properly organised policy of police community support, but did not place all the burden on the police. On the contrary, he brought in those with responsibility for the family, schooling, the environment, and jurors who try those whom our police have brought to the courts. That was a far more comprehensive and realistic strategy. I know what our constituents will prefer.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Lord's Commissioner to the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

    1. c1181
  2. MR. SPEAKER'S ABSENCE 23 words
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