HC Deb 07 February 1983 vol 36 cc644-62

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

4.28 pm
Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

The new procedure on the Consolidated Fund Bill gives freedom to discuss issues in more general terms, and is less artificially restrictive than the old procedure. My colleagues and I in the Social Democratic Party decided that it would be useful to devote some time to a discussion of the increasingly worrying problem of the intensifying prevalence of crime on our streets and in our housing estates, especially in the inner cities. The most worrying feature is that it is getting worse, and the residents of those areas ask themselves, "Where will it all end?"

There are classes of crimes. It is important to recognise that I am talking about what some people might call "petty crime", although it is better defined as that class of crime that excludes major organised activities such as drugs rings and train robberies.

The term "petty crime" is not a correct description, because muggings in the street and robberies in houses impinge most immediately and most severely on the quality of life of our people. If train robbers manage to walk off with £1 million, that is a terrible thing, but that does not affect the immediate lives of many people. The subjects that I am talking about in this debate affect many people. I am talking of muggings, thefts in the street, burglaries and vandalism.

These days, hundreds of thousands of people live in constant fear. They fear that a knock on the door after dark will be a knock not from a friendly neighbour but from somebody who, once the door is open a fraction, will bash his way in to mug and rob. They fear that, when coming back from the Post Office after picking up their pension, if they are lucky they may not be injured when robbed, but if they are unlucky, they May be robbed and injured. They fear that their windows will be smashed by petty acts of wanton vandalism. They fear that the appalling attacks on usually elderly people by very young boys and girls—evidence of which they have seen in the newspapers and on television—will happen to them. On many of our housing estates, caretakers fear that they will be attacked, whereas in days gone by they were able to control some of the anti-social behaviour of youths.

Several months ago, I visited a housing estate in South London. A resident showed me the inside of his front door. There was the usual array of bolts and chains, but the chains were of a strength that would allow a vehicle to be towed along the road. They were fastened to enormous clamps to the walls and the door—on both sides in case the attacker took out the hinges.

When I was shown this Fort Knox type of prevention, I concluded that that resident must have exaggerated the danger. His next door neighbour showed me the inside of his door, which was festooned with a similar array of protective devices, including two electric bells which, when switched on, were designed to ring sirens inside the flat, in the hope that if something happened, help would come.

That happened, characteristically, on the first floor of a tower block—a location that is particularly subject to this kind of crime. The fear that exists among these people did not exist to anything remotely like the same extent even 20 years ago. I am not suggesting that, compared with the historic past, the level of crime is worse today. Of course it is not, if we go back to 150 years ago, when it was much worse. However, in this century, we now have a level of such crime that is wholly unprecedented and is getting worse. That justifies the House and the Government taking a co-ordinated look at the subject instead of looking at it piecemeal.

Younger and younger youths are taking part in such attacks. Far more girls are now participating in this kind of behaviour than in the past. Many parents are completely unable to control their offspring. In other words, there is an underlying table of this kind of relatively petty crime. That is not only bad in itself, but that pool of crime is the pool from which lifelong major criminals are recruited.

Attitudes and tolerance of crime in what people say is part of the contributory cause. There is too much tolerance of petty crime. I am not talking about penalties but about what people say. There is too much tolerance of anti-social tenants on housing estates. There is an attitude of mind that we should not be too hard particularly, if there are children in the family. Many councils, including the Islington borough council, do not take sufficiently into account the fact that if mildly bad social behaviour is tolerated, other people will imitate it. As a result, we create more anti-social behaviour among people who would otherwise behave properly if we do not come down fairly hard against those who break tenancy conditions.

At the time of the disturbances in Brixton and Bristol, much of the comment was, if not designed, at least calculated to have the effect in the minds of those who took part in the disturbances that the cause was not in themselves but in something in society. I take an old-fashioned view which, nevertheless, is right. If a person mugs someone else, breaks a window or throws a firebomb, that is not the fault of the victim. It is not the fault of the parents of the offender. It is not my fault, nor is it the fault of society. It is the fault of the person who commits the offence. I realise that that is an unfashionable view, but if we could move back towards that attitude, we might cease creating in the mind of the offender, and sustaining in the minds of potential offenders, attitudes that are hostile to the termination of this kind of behaviour.

It goes without saying, and it should normally go without being said, that a large pool of unemployment will lead to more crime, but the unemployment does not justify the crime. It goes without saying that if there is racial prejudice against black youths—and there is—that will result in more crime, but it does not justify the crime. We must first recognise the severity of the problem and the fact that it is getting worse. We must realise that in this sphere it is difficult to achieve anything, but it will at least be easier to stem the trend than to reverse it if it goes even further than it has at present.

Let us compare the United States and Britain. Visitors from the United States frequently express their admiration and envy of the relative peacefulness of British streets. It will be easier to prevent ourselves going as far as the Americans have gone than to reach the condition that the Americans are now in and then to try to scramble back to where we are now. Violence in schools is an example. We in Britain have very little violence within schools, certainly compared with the United States, but over the last three or four months, there have been many stories on this subject. The likelihood is that if present trends continue a larger number of teachers will be afraid of being attacked in the classroom or on the school premises.

If that becomes established, it will be difficult to reverse. Better that we stop, pause, look at the matter and consider what we can do to prevent that further trend than to let it happen and then try to reverse it.

What we do about it is more difficult. The first stage is to diagnose accurately what is wrong. The police are in the front line in the prevention of this kind of behaviour. Too often—all too often in this House—there are two groups of people. There are those who attack the police for transgressions and who say very little on the other side of the argument, and those who invariably support the police and believe that we should do so if only to balance the unbalanced attitude of the others.

It is obvious to everyone outside that there must be a two-handed approach to the police. They are on our side against the criminals, but when the police—given the strength that a police force now has in modern society—transgresses we must come down on it like a ton of bricks, all the more so because of the special position it occupies.

The present strategies of the police for the control of crime are no ideally suited to the kind of crime I have been talking about. The strategies are well directed towards large-scale organised crime and to some of the more melodramatic forms of crime. Street crime, petty burglaries and so on are a much more difficult problem and present police strategy is not directed towards it. It is good that the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis recognises that in his provisional strategy plan. He has taken some steps and intends to take more, to shift the emphasis from the activities with which the police have normally been concerned towards the forms of crime that I have mentioned.

A lot of rubbish is talked about so-called community policing. Those words ought to be banned. They are a substitute for thought rather than an aid to thought. We need more home beat officers, and more home beat officers who stay on a beat for longer. We need more of what, in London, were called for a time protected home beat officers. They are home beat officers who are not removed from their beat to look after a football match or a demonstration.

However, a handful of protected home beat officers could not solve the problem. We need more contact between the local police and organisations such as tenant's associations, schools and social clubs. We need to eradicate the last traces of the reluctance of the police to patrol private estates, including council estates. There are some problems, but they can usually be overcome if the council and the residents are willing to receive the police into those estates. About two thirds of my constituents are council tenants. I have never encountered one who was reluctant to see the police patrolling the estates, although I have encountered many who complained that there was not enough patrolling of council estates by the police. At one time we were daft enough to build our streets up into the air instead of along the ground. Those who live in the vertical streets called tower blocks should not receive less policing than those who live in normal horizontal streets.

On police numbers, I have knowledge only of the Metropolitan police. It is time to review the numbers of that force. In the past few years there has been a significant increase in the strength of the force. The Commissioner himself has recently shown, however, that those additional numbers have gone into central functions and not into patrolling. The number of policemen on the streets has scarcely increased.

There has also been an increase in the number of police who are distracted from such work to do other work, some of which is not police work. I give an illustration from my borough. In Highbury Corner magistrates court there are cells which have to be used for Home Office prisoners. Those prisoners have been before the court and are remanded in custody. In the normal way they would be held in prison, but, because the Prison Officers' Association refuses to take them into prisons, they have to be farmed out all over London and held in one police station or another or, more usually, in one court building or another. In Islington, three sergeants and more than a dozen police constables per day are used exclusively as gaolers for Home Office prisoners. That is not police work, and it is a massive drain on resources. What does the Home Office intend to do about it? It has already been going on for about three years and it cannot continue. We need the police to do police work, not prison warders' work.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I am loth to stop the hon. Gentleman at such an interesting point in his speech. He said that the police have been used in this way for about three years. Have the numbers increased? In other words, is the situation becoming worse or has it remained static?

Mr. Cunningham

I am not sure that it can get worse in any particular district. At Highbury Corner, for instance, only a limited number of cells are available for that purpose, and I imagine that the number of police required is roughly the same whether the cells are being fully used or not. I do not know whether there has been an increase in the number of court buildings being used as temporary prisons, but my impression is that for the past three years a fluctuating number of unaccommodatable remand prisoners have had to be accommodated in that way.

It is argued that the solution to that problem is to send fewer people to prison for shorter periods and I agree entirely that that is a desirable end. In considering why people are sent to prison when we think that they should not be, or go to prison for longer periods than we believe to be right, however, the position is more difficult. Some people, particularly in the Labour party, have the bright notion that a half remission of sentence would solve the problem, but that would create an even greater gulf between what the penal system appears to be doing and what is actually done. For that reason, I am against that view. On the whole, if one says that a person is to be sent to prison for two years that is what the sentence should mean. There should be some possibility of remission, but a two-year sentence should not mean only about eight months in prison.

In this respect, we are too critical of judges and magistrates and we are unfair to them in not providing alternatives. The number of people sent to prison as a percentage of the number of offenders is in fact lower than in the past. It is a smaller percentage of a larger number of offenders. That is the first thing to be said in defence of the benches. Moreover, judges and especially magistrates do not have sufficient bail hostels available. There is also insufficient accommodation for alcoholics and similar offenders to avoid the need to accommodate them in prisons.

The feature of our penal policy to which I especially wish to draw the Minister's attention is what I regard as the serious gap in the spectrum of penalties and treatments available. Judges and magistrates frequently send people to prison because they feel that the most severe non-custodial sentences available are not severe enough. Prison involves complete supervision 24 hours per day and seven days per week, but if the offender does not quite warrant that treatment there is virtually no supervision.

There are community service orders and the facilities of the probation service where they apply. However, there is an enormous gap between any of the non-custodial sentences and the least severe of the custodial sentences. That has happenened because we approach the problem piecemeal. We invent community service orders and we invent other things, but we never look at the whole issue and endeavour to provide a total quiverful—a total spectrum—of penalties from the slight to the severe. Especially, we have never given our attention to how one manages to make fines and other financial penalties work. In other words, how do we get the money from the person against whom the penalty has been awarded?

We need to think of prison for some offenders—especially the offender about whom I am speaking—as a first step in a more prolonged period of supervision. If we had a good penal policy, there would be some people for whom a very short period in prison was no more than a reception into intensive care, which then tailed off into less intensive care outside prison. We do not remotely have the attitude of mind, nor do we have the facilities, to do that. Our prisons are not suited for that. That is one reason why the Home Office must maintain its prison building programme. That is not to say that, instead of 40,000 in prison, we want 80,000 in prison. It is in part to say that we want them not in the present old-fashioned prisons, but in prisons where there can be treatment of the kind that I am suggesting. Therefore, we should go for a more intensive form of supervision outside prison in the community.

There, we hit a problem. With great affection for and respect to the probation service, we must remember that it grew out of the prisoner's friend movement—a role that it believes it should continue to play. It is resistant to the notion of the probation officer being the warder in the community, yet that is exactly what we need—warders in the community who can supervise those outside prison to a greater or lesser degree, according to the circumstances.

That is the aspect of our penal policy about which I hope the Home Office will start to think. It is very difficult for the Home Office because we do not have a proper Department of State looking after that area. The Lord Chancellor's office is partly responsible, as are the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the dear old Home Office. For practical purposes—and we understand that—the Home Office divides responsibility for those spheres between two different Ministers, and we all know that that creates a problem.

There is no one to pull the whole thing together. I am asking the Home Secretary, as the most obvious Minister, to try to pull it all together, especially with regard to penal policy, and that he should try to secure that complete spectrum of penalties that will be more likely to fit the needs.

We need to find ways to apply fines and have them collected. That may mean that some form of custody—not necessarily prison—should have a measurement in money terms so that a person earns the money to pay the fine or to pay compensation, according to the number of days that he spends in custody.

We have a final difficulty, which is the vitiation of the subject by the attitudes of the two main parties. At the moment, the Conservative party attitudes are perhaps the less serious. We are all familiar with the hanging and flogging brigade in the Conservative party. However, a new ingredient in our political scene is the party attitude that people in the Labour party, who should know better, find themselves obliged to adopt. They feel that they must pay at least lip service to the dominant trends within the Labour party.

That is relevant to the business of the control of the police. If the police are to adopt the type of community work to which I have referred, they must have close relations with local authorities. In London and in some other areas at least, that is made extremely difficult for the police while the Labour party argues that county authorities should be in a position to control the police.

The whole business of the post-Scarman links between the police, the local authorities and the community in London is vitiated by the dominance of the Livingstone attitude to the relationship between the police and local authorities. What should happen is terribly obvious. Outside London, local authorities do not control the police. In theory they do to a certain extent, but in practice they do not. When the trouble in Bristol occurred, no one went running to the police authority for that area to say that it must do this or that. They went running to the Home Secretary. When the Northamptonshire police were vetting juries, contrary to the guidelines issued by the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary, nobody went running to the police authority and asked it to correct the problem. They went to the Home Secretary and, with a bit of huffing and puffing in excess of his legal powers, he fixed the chief constable for Northamptonshire. I am glad that he did. That is right.

The police in modern society are too powerful, and the issue is too important, for control to be in the hands of county councils. County councillors do not have the necessary clout. Moreover, if control—in so far as control is in order at all—is in the hands of county councillors, plastic bullets will be permissible in one part of the country, but not in another. There will be one area in which the police will go the whole hog on pornography and another where they will concentrate on petty burglary. That is preposterous.

We need to have a co-ordinated effort and co-ordinated criteria on a national level. We should, therefore, look to control of the police by the Home Secretary and the Home Office, where it will be carried out in a politically restrained manner. That is political not in the bad sense. but in the good sense that it is democratic control. The advice tendered to the Home Secretary will be decent and professional. We do not think all of the time that the advice given to the Home Office is decent and professional, but it is a lot better than the advice tendered by the latest chap recruited by an advertisement in The Guardian by the GLC police committee. Therefore, we should have control of the police by national Government, in so far as there is control at all, and we should have consultation at local level. If one does that elsewhere, it can be done in London also. A common system should apply to the whole country, no doubt with some amendments on the consultation system according to the nature of the area.

Mr. Tom McNally (Stockport, South)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend's fine speech. Does he think that the political balance would be enhanced if individual chief constables saw themselves much more as civil servants rather than as political and media figures? There is a need to get the balance right on that side of the equation also.

Mr. Cunningham

I understand my hon. Friend's difficulties and views on that. Chief constables should see themselves not as television personalities and the like but as statutory figures who are responsible to the courts and, to some extent, to the Home Secretary for their activities. If they were not wholly independent in law of any control such as that, chief constables would revert to their previous behaviour and, some of them would stop behaving as prima donnas.

This sensible development, by which the police could be controlled in consultation with the police, is vitiated by the attitude of the Labour party. The most serious thing about some of the remarks from the Labour party on this subject is not that their spokesmen think that it would be a good idea to hand the Metropolitan police over to Mr. Livingstone. It is much more serious than that. It is that they do not think that it would be sensible to hand it over to Mr. Livingstone, but they feel obliged to say that it would be. That is the nature of the Labour party at the moment. It is no good kidding ourselves. In London, the most important part of this problem—the whole business of tackling crime—is now vitiated by the present attitudes of the Labour party.

To sum up, we have a serious problem. It is getting worse. If we do not stem the prevalence of crime now it will be harder to correct it in future. Present priorities in policing strategy are not directed at that. There is a gap in our range of penal weapons which must now be filled for this type of crime. The Social Democratic party exists to bring common sense to British politics. I suggest that this type of diagnosis and these prescriptions are so common sense that they are obvious to members of the public who do not spend all their time in political meetings. They do not appear to be obvious to the Conservative party, and they are certainly not obvious to the Labour party in its present condition. I hope that the Minister has listened to what I have said and will move in that direction.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Order. I remind the House that this series of debates is taking place under the new procedure for the Consolidated Fund Bill. The effect is that most debates, including this one, are limited to one and a half hours. That means that this debate must finish by 5.56 pm.

5.2 pm

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

The whole House has enjoyed the excellent, intelligent, charming and enjoyable speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), but it was marred by two deplorable sentences at the end. Until he got to that little spoil it was admirable stuff.

I should like to make four points briefly. First, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury touched on violence in schools. I wish to examine another aspect of school life, or non-life, and that is the sharp growth in truancy. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that people—he implied that hon. Members were among them—are too critical of judges, and magistrates, sentencing policy. I agree. I shall criticise magistrates and education authorities for a moment for being dilatory in their pursuit of truants and their parents. A sharper and tougher attitude to truants would instil a better attitude to petty crime at an early age.

Secondly, we are guilty parties in that we churn out Bill after Bill, whether it be on seat belts or something else, which brings the law into disrepute. I am ashamed to say that I have not worn a seat belt much in my life. I do not think that that is clever and I am rather ashamed of it. I do not want to break the law and I do my best to wear one. I am a law-abiding citizen, but sooner or later it is inevitable that I shall forget to wear my seat belt. I shall remain a law-abiding citizen and I shall not regard myself as a miserable sinner. I shall have to apologise to the police officer who will catch me in the crime that I shall inevitably commit but do not wish to perpetrate. The same will probably happen to most other hon. Members. It is an example of bad legislation. There is too much of it.

The House and its agencies should promote attitudes on subjects such as seat belt wearing rather than produce nanny legislation. I know that the medical profession and doctors made a good case for the seat belt legislation. I hear what they say, and I try to conform with it, but we should not make laws that are difficult to enforce and make things that most people do not consider as terrible sins into a crime.

I shall now make a fairly parochial point. I am delighted that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, who shares the garden of England with me with regard to our constituencies, is to reply to the debate. Some people may say that the gipsy problem is insoluble and of no interest to hon. Members from many other parts of the United Kingdom, but it is a real problem.

I remind my hon. and learned Friend of the clergyman in the borders in the 1890s, who was the incumbent of a parish called Kirk Yetholm. He was a tough, autocratic old chap in the way that clergymen could be then. He impounded all the gipsy children and sent them to a school. Their parents could roam around the countryside, but the children were corralled into a boarding school. That may be considered autocratic, high-handed and unacceptable nowadays—and I agree that it is—but unless we can break the vicious circle of gipsy children not attending schools and breeding, I am afraid frequently below the age of consent, they will perpetuate the cycle of non-school attenders and petty criminals.

All too often, offenders, not only gipsies but other modest offenders who are broke, are fined. The fine is then paid by the social security system. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I, the Minister and the shadow Minister and the rest of us pay the fine. That is absurd. We are also called upon to pay court costs and so on. We must pay close attention to what the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said about the need for something that is unpleasant but short of a custodial sentence.

5.7 pm

Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has raised an extremely important subject that deserves careful attention from anyone who is worried about the serious rise in crime. The Social Democratic party policy on law and order has been unveiled, but we do not know whether the Liberal party agrees with it and whether there is a true alliance. No doubt the Liberal party will be present at some future debate and we shall hear then whether the two policies are allied.

As for the Conservative party, there is no evidence to suggest that it has any justification for claiming to be the party of law and order. Under the present Government, burglary and crimes of violence have increased, the detection rate has decreased and the conditions that provide fertile ground for criminal behaviour have flourished. There have been cuts in local authority funds for housing, cuts in social and community services, and cuts in opportunities for training and further education. The cuts will create the environments in which criminal behaviour is most likely to be found.

Homelessness among young people is increasing rapidly. There is clear evidence that that group of people are especially vulnerable to delinquency and that those who leave institutions and have nowhere to live are more likely to commit offences. Yet there is no statutory agency with responsibility to provide for these young people.

Mr. George Cunningham

What does that extraordinary phrase "vulnerable to delinquency" mean? Does the hon. Lady mean that they do it?

Dr. Summerskill

As I shall show in a few minutes, I mean that certain conditions, if they are not the reason for crime, certainly tend to encourage crime.

The most destructive of all the problems is unemployment. Here, the hon. Gentleman will be in agreement with what I shall say. About 52 per cent. of all young people between the ages of 16 and 18 and on the labour market are without work. Unemployment usually leads to monotony, idleness, frustration, family tensions and low income. Therefore, those people have little to lose by committing crime. The chairman of the chief probation officers, Mr. Michael Day, said that the connection between crime and unemployment is beyond any doubt. As the hon. Gentleman said, unemployment is not an excuse or justification for crime, but an explanation for it. The Prime Minister has asserted that there is little or no connection. She said that at the time of the Brixton riots. However, the Home Secretary has wisely agreed that there is. In a much-quoted speech in the House 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 crime of all sorts, violence and vandalism."—[Official Report, 27 February 1978; Vol. 945, c. 40.] The Home Secretary appreciated the clear link between unemployment and crime. Those people get caught up in a vicious circle. Unemployment can lead to criminal activity, and a record of criminal activity can lead to long-term unemployment.

One of the most difficult but essential tasks of the probation officer is to find a job for the person in his charge, which will help to keep him or her from committing further crimes. About 50 per cent. of men imprisoned for over three months commit a serious offence within two years of their discharge. If there is no job available, it is essential that such people should be found some sort of occupation, whether it is a training scheme, a day centre or evening and weekend supervision. Therefore, the role of the probation officer today is more important that it has ever been. The probation service deserves all the support that it can get in the form of finance, and man and woman power. I emphasised that during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill.

The victims of the increase in crime, especially violent crime, are often the elderly, women, low-income families, members of ethnic minorities and vulnerable groups such as transport workers. The effects of crime spread to all those who fear that they will become a victim, when their neighbour or relative has become a victim. They are frightened, not only in the streets, but even in their own homes.

In our preoccupation with finding ways to reduce the crime rate we must not neglect to help its victims, and we must continue to examine ways in which the offender can be required to make reparation for an offence direct to the victim, in the form of money or community service. Perhaps the Minister will say whether the Government have any plans for encouraging victim support schemes.

A more efficient and effective police force is one of the keys to reducing the crime rate. I say "efficient and effective" because I know that the Minister will say, rightly, that the numbers of police have increased. That is all to the good, but it is essential that as well as there being adequate numbers, the police who are in operation should be effective and efficient. Everyone would like to see more police on foot patrol. For the whole town of Halifax—my constituency—the maximum number of policemen on foot patrol in any part of the day is 12. There are only 12 policemen on foot patrol between 6 pm and midnight. That seems to be an inadequate number for a large industrial town with a closely confined population. We would like to see a reduction in the size of police authority areas and a reduction in the incidence of crime through a higher rate of detection, because the greatest deterrent is the fear of being caught.

The control of crime is a social and community problem. Therefore, it should be of concern to every local authority and Government Department, not just the Home Office. Every Government Department such as Environment and Education and Science, should analyse how its duties and responsibilities relate to crime. The control of crime should be the responsibility of every television programme maker, every teacher, every parent and every citizen. Criminals are influenced by the environment in which they live. That is where crime starts. Ordinary members of the public must become far more vigilant, observant and suspicious and not simply mind their own business. They should be on the lookout for potential crime and report to the police if necessary.

There is no evidence that long prison sentences or short, sharp shocks reduce crime or prevent recidivism. It is clear that it is a job not only for the Home Office, the police, the courts and the prisons to tackle crime, but for the whole community to do so. This debate might help to inspire every member of the public to be a crime prevention officer in his daily life.

5.17 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has done the House and and the country a service by choosing this subject in this new-style Consolidated Fund Adjournment debate. I hope that during the next year, probably after the election, it will be possible to have a fuller debate on the Adjournment so that we can bring out ideas and try to hold Ministers to account on the limited things that the Government can do to help to reduce both the amount and the impact of crime and to search for more effective punishments and deterrents for those who are caught.

One of the problems, as was shown in the introductory remarks of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), is the great temptation to drag in irrelevant party political issues. There are some relevant issues. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury about partisan stereotypes. However, the fact remains that even when the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour party he talked the same amount of common sense. I hope that, while I remain a member of the Conservative party, which I suspect will be a long time, I shall do the same thing.

Much as I admire what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) says in other parts of the building, I thought that what he said about seat belts was tosh.

We have learnt a great deal about what is associated with crime. I shall not go along the simple lines that we have just heard. Harriet Wilson carried out studies in Birmingham of what family behaviour tends to be associated with crime. Among families of the same social class and circumstances, it may occur because of different child behaviour and most of all because of different parental behaviour—for example, some parents do not chaperone their younger children. It is as plain as a pikestaff. That is well known among those who give evidence, yet it is not shouted from the rooftops and it is not part of common wisdom in every locality.

We know that most schools and police authorities are aware of the incidence of different types of crime and what numbers of crimes there are for each school, parish and so on. The figures should be published year by year so that people can identify with them locally and work towards improving them. It might be a matter of providing more distractions for children, or by bringing back some "old-fashioned informal control"—I use an expression that Sir Kenneth Newman used at an all-party meeting at the House a month ago.

I believe that two or three other matters are also essential. First, I suggest a review of our magisterial system. It is all very well having as juvenile magistrates the best people that can be found in an area, but there is no substitute, on an estate of 2,000 people or more, for having people from that estate reviewing the behaviour of local people. I know there are problems with so-called people's courts, but people who live among the failures and the crime and who see the opportunities for improvement locally, bring more common sense to the problem than outsiders who come in to dispense justice. Justice could be more immediate, if more informal, and could achieve social disapproval as well as approval within a locality.

It is essential also to learn from the kind of work sponsored by the Church of England Children's Society for the past few years. I declare an association with that society. I should like to mention Bob Holman and his work, which has been published in part in "Kids at the Door". There is also a tracking scheme, which provides chaperonage by probation officers and similar bodies in addition to families. It is a scheme which tries to control those children who are at risk of committing crime. They have to report many times during the day. It reduces the time available during which a child can go missing.

The most important way to reduce crime is to make people aware that they have something to lose when they are found out and also to increase the risk of detection. There are too many people who feel that they have nothing to lose. Too few parents are aware of the impact that slipping into truancy, petty vandalism and more serious crime as they move up the ladder of criminality can have on a child's life. I believe that more people will accept their responsibilities and recognise the influence that they can have on young people when they realise how serious it is for the child, and also that such behaviour is too dangerous for society to tolerate.

I have been associated for some time with Family Forum. It is an organisation which brings together a large number of voluntary bodies which are trying to bring the family perspective into social and economic policy.

I believe that the Home Office should give serious consideration to working with the various voluntary bodies, not just in the area of crime and police, but to see what can be done, possibly with a pilot scheme, to make more parents aware of their potential effectiveness in bringing up their children. I shall not go into issues of morality, values and standards and the fact that people can make such choices for themselves, because I believe that the Minister can do that. I want to emphasise that there is potentially an enormous alliance between those who will benefit from getting crime under control.

Although the hon. Member for Halifax says that increased unemployment is associated with a rise in juvenile crime, and that is statistically correct, it is also correct to say that the incidence of crime per 100,000 people rose more dramatically when this country's standard of living was rising more dramatically. For example, if there are more car radios to steal, more get stolen.

We could reduce the amount of juvenile crime year by year if we started taking the right action. It is how we do things that matters. Perhaps the Minister could at some stage estimate the savings to the community of a reduction in juvenile crime of 10 per cent. a year for five years instead of the increase of 5 per cent. a year that we have had for many years. Will he, perhaps, consider making an extrapolation—not a forecast—of the reduction in crime if crime were to reduce at the same rate as the reduction in numbers of adolescent boys? We know we are moving towards having fewer teenage boys. That reduction should be associated with a reduction in juvenile crime. What can we look forward to if there is in fact an association between the number of teenage boys and the amount of crime? We must then see what we must do to ensure that that reduction occurs.

Enormous benefits can be gained by having a more effective policy. Hon. Members cannot detail all the action that needs to be taken. We should worry away at the Government to persuade them to do the limited things that they can do. We should also draw the problem to the attention of the public to show them that we are more worried about it than we are about new control of the police. We need more control of ourselves and we need to control our children more effectively. If we could achieve that we could pat ourselves on the back and vote ourselves a pay increase.

5.26 pm
Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Thornaby)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) on introducing the debate and raising a most important topic and one about which many people are anxious and upset, particularly in inner city areas. I congratulate him also on his speech, which contained a useful and perceptive analysis of the problem and some good suggestions of how it could be tackled.

I disagree slightly with one thing that he said, but I believe that his comments generally hit the nail on the head. I hope that they will be marked and understood by a great many people in Government and outside.

I agree with much that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) said. There has been plenty of research and evidence into the kernel of the problem that we face. However, before I discuss that I want to deal with his comments on the political problem posed by this subject. The House must face the change to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury referred which has taken place recently in what has effectively been a bipartisan approach to the administration of the police. I refer to developments that have been taking place within the Labour party and its proposals, which I understand have now been adopted by the Front Bench, for substantial changes in police administration. In my view, and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends it would lead to the most damaging politicisation of the police.

I hope that wiser counsels will prevail within the Labour party and that the proposals that are being pressed by Mr. Livingstone and those associated with him will not become the Labour party's nationally adopted policy. If they do, I believe that we shall see increased political interference with the running of the police as well as increased accountability to elected representatives. It could have consequences more disastrous than any we have had to contemplate before.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West referred to the core of the problem that gives rise to crime. During the next few weeks, we shall hear that serious crimes in Britain have risen for the first time above 3 million, as have the unemployment figures. Mugging, burglary and vandalism—crimes that affect people's lives—are increasing and have not been deflected by the policies that have been pursued in recent times. If we are to succeed in reversing the trends, we must go to the core of the problem. Essentially, that means tackling people's attitudes and values and changing public standards and perception. The House has an important role to play in doing that, as do all politicians.

One cause of the decline in public standards has been the behaviour and the utterances of some politicians, not only in Britain but in other countries, during the past two decades. The bear garden that the public hears in the House from time to time does not help to mould public standards and values in the way that hon. Members would wish. It is a terrible influence upon young people to hear hon. Members, and Ministers, shouting and bellowing at each other in such a disreputable way. I hope that the House will soon agree to allow television cameras to record our proceedings, so that the public can see what is going on. That will help them to understand a little better, and it may make some hon. Members who are the cause of some of the noise rather more responsible and responsive to public opinion.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West mentioned the research that has been carried out into deprived families and families who live in poor circumstances, and the circle of deprivation, as it has been called, from which crime seems to grow. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that those circumstances do not excuse the commission of irresponsible and illegal acts, but any one with experience in schools or social agencies can identify those areas and families in which there will almost certainly be crime.

In many of the inner urban areas where such crimes are committed we must introduce policies that will bring about a greater sense of responsibility within the community in which those families live that can be achieved only by decentralising some of the administration and some of the policies that are pursued to a much more local level. I am sure that one reason why people commit the crimes about which the public are so worried is that the community in which they live does not impress upon the individual any sense of responsibility to the community. Many large housing estates are administered remotely. Many facilities and properties apparently do not belong to anyone. There is no sense of belonging to the community.

For about one year, I used a waiting room in a south London railway station. It was much vandalised, but a student at a local art college painted one wall and put up a notice to explain what he was trying to achieve. The painting made the waiting room a personal place, and I was interested to note that there was no graffiti on that wall because one had the feeling that the wall belonged to someone and that it had some character. It was no longer the dirty, impersonal waiting room in which one used to sit. There is an important message in that. If there is a sense of responsibility in communities, where the people care and deplore acts of violence, we can make some progress in reducing acts of crime. All of us in public life, including Ministers, have a responsibility to try to bring that about.

After the experience of the past few years, it is clear that the penal system and the police can play only a limited role in reducing crime. Of course we cannot ignore the penal system or the police. I and my colleagues wish to see the strength of the police maintained and the number of police officers increased, and we do not wish to weaken the role that they play. But, at the end of the day, they will not stop the increase in crime. The community is the only body that can do that.

Recently I visited Japan, where there is a strong sense of community, and I was very interested to note the low incidence of the crimes about which most people in the House and in Britain are worried. One never saw chains fastening radios to the shelves in Japanese electrical shops. That would be almost unthinkable to the Japanese, because public, personal and community standards there are so different. We must try to achieve those standards in Britain.

My hon. Friend made several suggestions about how we might improve the penal system and the police service. My one slight worry about his comments was on the changing role of police administration. I would not go down the road—I am not sure that my hon. Friend suggested it—of having a national police force. However, there must be co-ordination of police activities and we must face up to the modern reality that that will be increasingly necessary. However, if we could change the voting system in local authority elections, we would probably have very different local authorities with less partisan to-ing and fro-ing. It would make local authorities more acceptable. Police authorities have many powers, but very few of them are exercised. If people are worried about the way in which the police are controlled, police authorities as at present constituted have many powers, although they are not used now.

I refute the recent suggestion of the Home Secretary at Question Time that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) was Home Secretary, there was a reduction in the police force. During my right hon. Friend's term of office, police numbers increased more greatly and faster than under any Home Secretary for the past 30 years. It is palpably untrue to suggest that the reverse is the case. My hon. Friends and I firmly believe that there is a need to sustain the numbers of the police and, indeed, to increase them so that they can carry out the type of activities to which my hon. Friend referred.

We are facing a most serious crisis with crimes rising almost certainly during the current period over the 3 million a year figure. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister some suggestions as to how we might improve not only the effectiveness of the penal system and the police service, but also some suggestions and some words that might help to change public values and community standards so that we may all see being brought about the reverse of the trend of recent years.

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

We have enjoyed a very interesting debate, which I thought was all too short. I am grateful, as are all hon. Members who heard his speech, to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), both for the quality of his speech and for the opportunity that it gave us to discuss this pressing and important subject.

We are all agreed that crime has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. More than half the recorded notifiable offences are theft and related offences. Burglaries amount to nearly one quarter; criminal damage to one eighth. The other offences—robbery, sexual offences and offences of violence against the person—are of much smaller proportions.

It is rightly the serious offences involving violence which most alarm people. The recorded increase in serious offences involving violence, although of course it varies from year to year, has been 2 per cent. a year over the past two years. Robbery, whether it be attacks on post offices and the like, or muggings in the streets, is a particularly serious threat to the citizen's ability to go about his business in safety. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the fear in which many people, particularly elderly people, live. Although robberies form less than 1 per cent. of all recorded offences, their volume is serious enough, in all conscience.

So the great mass of crime with which the police have to deal involves the loss of property rather than injury to the person. Sometimes the loss is substantial; often it is very little. Two thirds of recorded property offences involved property valued at less than £100. But in one important respect the value of property taken in a burglary does not matter—the harm that is done is just as great in terms of personal outrage, indignation, fear of recurrence, and, as one so often hears, the feeling that the place has somehow been made unclean by such an invasion of privacy. That is important.

The picture offered by the statistics is pre-eminently one of widespread dishonesty and of rather less—though all too much—violence. Of course the criminal statistics show only what is reported to the police and recorded by them. It is well known that a good deal of petty offending goes unrecorded. One has only to think of shoplifting and expense fiddling to realise that criminal statistics are no measure of the full extent of crime. The British crime survey which we shall be publishing shortly will offer a new light on the extent of crime and its nature from the point of view of individual victims and households. Meanwhile, the Government's record, both in strengthening the police and promoting new legislation, shows their deep determination to protect people from the criminality that is in their midst.

The hon. Gentleman does well to draw attention to the social consequences of crime, and I, too, shall discuss them in a few moments. Most crime intimately and immediately hurts people—whether it be offences against the person or offences against property. Therefore it is a social evil, and one against which, accordingly, society as a whole should be prepared to mobilise its forces and fight. If it did so, crime would be greatly diminished. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have said about the need to mobilise public opinion against crime. The hon. Gentleman said that he held the old-fashioned view that crime was the fault primarily of the person who committed it. I wish to say a word along those lines.

Is it not rather strange that, instead of such a mass movement against crime, there is so much indifference to the need for us individually to help to prevent crime? Are the police, for example, really given sufficient help by the public? We know that they are not. There is almost a fatalistic acceptance that curbing crime is the responsibility of somebody else, and that that somebody is bound to fail. We do not have here that which Hitler feared most about the British people, and described in "Mein Kampf" as that broad spirit of the masses which enables it to carry through to victory any struggle that it once enters upon". That is not to say that there is not widespread fear of crime—of course there is, and it has been discussed already. It is not to say that there is not indignation about crime; there is, especially among those who have witnessed its cruelty—most crime is extremely cruel. It is certainly not to say that there is any lack of determination in the Government or the police service to protect our people from crime and to take such actions and initiatives as are open to them. Huge additional sums are spent on law enforcement, and continuing thought is given to new approaches as well as to old approaches, whether by means of fresh powers for the courts or by new modes of policing. Yet we find that, of all the convictions and cautions recorded for indictable offences in 1981, no less than 54 per cent. were for offences committed by those aged 10 to 21. In other words, they were committed either by children at an age when their parents were still engaged in their upbringing and responsible in law for it, or by those within a year or two of graduation from that status.

Nearly one third of all offenders are under the age of 17. Most are under 21. While the rate of offending for adult men is around 12 per 1,000, for boys and young men under 21 it is more than 70 per 1,000.

I think that a society whose broad mass felt itself personally committed to diminishing the criminality in its midst would have seen a great reduction in the amount of juvenile crime before now. The undoubted rise in juvenile crime coincided with a trend towards permissive tolerance. Some in high places took pride in the permissive society. I wonder whether the rise in crime itself has caused or contributed to this indifference by inducing a weary familiarity with crime in most people. Is it paradoxically one of the social consequences of rising crime that there is individual apathy towards helping to reduce it? I think it is. If so, it is the most serious social consequence of all and must be vigorously corrected.

As the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) said, there is a limit to what judges, magistrates, police officers and Governments can achieve. They must all do their best; Governments to give the police and the courts the powers that are needed; the judiciary to use them with firmness and discretion. The Government have done that. They have improved the morale and pay of the police. They have brought about an increase in the numbers in the police service in England and Wales of more than 9,000 officers. The Metropolitan police force is up by more than 4,000.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury asked about foot patrols. Last year the Commissioner was able to put 1,000 officers on foot patrols—back on to the beat where the public wish to see them. The new Commissioner has said that he will place another 650 officers on the beat in the coming year. The Home Secretary has told the new Commissioner that he can look forward to the establishment of the Metropolitan police being increased to 27,000 by the end of 1983–84. The Metropolitan police is now only 350 officers short of its authorised establishment. It is an enormous achievement.

Dr. Summerskill

With regard to foot patrols, I realise that the Home Secretary does not have control of other police forces outside London, but will he use his influence on chief constables to try to encourage them to act in the same way as the Metropolitan police?

Mr. Mayhew

I noted what the hon. Lady said about Halifax. I know that it is the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers that to bring police officers back on the beat is a desirable objective. However, it is in the family homes, and to a lesser but substantial extent in the schools, of our country that the crucial opportunity lies. There is no stronger social unit than the family. Its influence on its younger members has a far greater potential than any that they will meet outside it.

It cannot cause us much surprise that research establishes a link between criminality in children and indifference on the part of their parents towards discipline, order or supervision in the home. Criminal behaviour by parents, however trivial, is naturally an influential example to their children.

Nor should it cause us much surprise that so many juveniles who get into trouble come from broken homes. The director of social services for Hertfordshire told me only the other day that last year nearly all the children sent from the courts to his assessment centre had homes from which one of the parents had departed, hence leaving their principal responsibility for their children behind them.

Neither of those trends of permissiveness or of ready divorce was established in the 1930s at the height of unemployment, yet the 1930s saw no general increase in recorded crime on any scale comparable to today's. It is hard to resist the conclusion that, although rising juvenile crime has grave social consequences of its own, it is itself substantially a consequence of social changes of the sort that I have mentioned. Whether these are reversed, maintained or exacerbated lies only with ourselves in this community to decide.

Meanwhile, the Government have laid great stress on encouraging parental responsibility. For example, the Criminal Justice Act makes it easier for courts to make parents liable to pay fines and compensation orders imposed on their children. It strengthens the provisions for supervision while working in the community. It produces a night restriction order to keep children at home for a period. We have encourged the use of a formal police caution, which itself adds to the total of criminal statistics.

We are especially concerned for those who fear that they will become the victims of crime. They are naturally concerned about those crimes that are most likely to affect them in their ordinary business. The commissioner has already come in for praise from several hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, and I am grateful for that. In his recent report to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, he made it one of his priorities to improve the performance of the police in dealing with street robbery and burglary. He will be concentrating on improved information gathering, analysis and targeted action to improve the detection of crime. He intends to ensure that areas with a high incidence of street robbery, street disorder and burglary receive priority in the redeployment of manpower. He will also be using the district response units, when on standby, as anti-burglary and anti-rowdyism patrols. Actions of a similar kind to redeploy manpower to the areas where it is most needed, and at times when it is most needed, are being taken by other chief officers.

Many issues to which hon. Members have referred are of great relevance to the problems that we must face. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury spoke of too much tolerance of petty crime. I think that my remarks show my warm approval of what he said. It is very much a problem of the attitude of the community in which young people grow up.

The hon. Member asked about police cells. He has been in recent correspondence with my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and he is aware of the action that is being taken to minimise the use that has to be made of police officers' time in the metropolitan area in acting as gaolers for those who have to be accommodated in police cells. The problem is derived from long-term neglect of the prisons and we hope that before too long we shall be able to reduce it.

The hon. Member asked about the enforcement of fines. In general, enforcement is not inefficient. We were able to make important improvements in the Criminal Justice Act. I parted company with the hon. Gentleman when he said that we lack intensive treatment other than that which is custodial. We can provide supervision that can continue virtually 24 hours a day. This is provided by supervision and probation officers, especially in probation hostels and intensive units such as the Medway unit. I agree that there need to be more of these hostels and units, but supervision is available under the law.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) about the importance of curbing truancy. It seems that the conditions that lead to truancy are the same as those which lead to juvenile crime. Undoubtedly, truancy needs to be vigorously curbed. I agree that there is too much legislation that makes criminals out of those who are not regarded as criminally culpable. As someone who voted consistently against the principle of enforcing the wearing of seat belts, I am sympathetic to what my hon. Friend said. However, that is water under the bridge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone talked about gipsies and said that some of their children are not attending school. I think that we all agree that such children ought to be chivvied into our schools. I am sure that that view is taken by Kent county council.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West suggested that we publish crime figures area by area. It is a most interesting suggestion and one that we shall wish to consider. I very much agree with what he said about the use of voluntary bodies to raise the awareness of parents to the influence that they can have.

The hon. Member for Thornaby spoke about a greater sense of responsibility among those who live in a locality, and I agree with that. I must conclude my remarks in about 50 seconds—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman has finished.