HC Deb 23 January 1986 vol 90 cc433-6
2. Mr. Eastham

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state the increase in the number of crimes for the most recent period of 12 months for which figures are available over the preceding 12 months.

3. Mrs. Clwyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state, for the most recent 12 months for which figures are available, the number of victims of crimes of violence compared with the number in the 12 months ended March 1979.

12. Mr. Patchett

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to publish the crime figures for 1985.

14. Mr. Campbell-Savours

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the percentage increase in crimes of violence against the person in the 12 months ended September 1985; and if he will give similar figures for the 12 months ended March 1979.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

In the 12 months to September 1985 the total number of notifiable offences recorded by the police increased by 5 per cent. Figures for the whole of 1985 will be available in March. The number of offences of violence against the person recorded by the police in the 12 months to September 1985 was 119,400 compared with 88,100 for the 12 months ending 31 March 1979. In percentage terms, the number of offences of violence against the person increased by 6 per cent. during the 12 months to September 1985, compared with an increase of 7 per cent. during the 12 months to March 1979. Information on victims is collected regularly only in relation to homicides.

Mr. Eastham

Do not those figures clearly show the dismal failure of the policies of the Government, who went to the nation promising that they would improve law and order in Britain? Has the Home Secretary taken notice of the petition deposited in the House yesterday on behalf of Chief Inspector Brian Woollard, who has been making inquiries into corruption in London, and makes an allegation that there has been interference by freemasonry? As he has already referred to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, what action is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take?

Mr. Hurd

As the hon. Gentleman certainly knows, recorded crime has been rising at a roughly steady rate for 30 years now. The difference between Conservatives and the Opposition parties is that we have a strategy for dealing with that problem, and Opposition Members have only slogans and divisions. I shall look carefully into the point about freemasonry, which does not arise from this question.

Mrs. Clwyd

does the Secretary of State agree that women are suffering far more under this Government from massive increases in crimes of violence and fear of violence? What will he do about that dreadful situation?

Mr. Hurd

I have already tackled that, as the hon. Lady knows, by increasing the penalties for attempted rape. The Metropolitan police in particular, as well as other police forces, have been devoting a great deal of attention, with our encouragement, to handling with greater sensitivity the crimes to which the hon. Lady refers. I think that that is beginning to have an effect.

Mr. Fatchett

To what extent does the Home Secretary accept that the Government's own policies contribute to those appalling crime figures? Are the Government responsible in any way for the record increase in crime?

Mr. Hurd

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my earlier answer, he would have heard that the rate of increase in recorded crime has been roughly steady for 30 years now, so his question does not arise. Neither we nor the country will take seriously criticisms on that point from the Labour party, which left our police forces in tatters when it left office, with morale at rock bottom. That Labour party still includes in its ranks people who base their activities on a desire to undermine the police and separate the police from the community.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Are not the police complacent about crimes of violence in some parts of the country? Is the Home Secretary aware of a case in my constituency where the home of an elderly couple was broken into? The couple were savagely beaten by the attacker. They suffered bruises and were badly injured. One of them was briefly hospitalised. The charge that was brought was one of actual bodily harm—a minor charge. The police gave bail without referring the matter to the court, and when I tackled the police about the case I was told that the chap had been given bail because of the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Is that not a disgrace, and will the Home Secretary hold the fullest possible inquiries into that case in the county of Cumbria?

Mr. Hurd

It is open to the hon. Gentleman or to his consituents to make a complaint against the police if they feel that they have mishandled that case. In my discussions and visits I have not found among the police any complacency towards crime, especially the attrocious kind of crime that the hon. Gentleman described.

Mr. Malins

Given that there is a great deal of auto-crime in London, will my right hon. Friend say whether motor manuacturers could be encouraged to introduce into new cars extra measures to prevent such crime?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, indeed. That was one of the fruits of my right hon. Friend's seminar at 10 Downing street the other day, when it was agreed that there should be a new British standard which would cover the security of cars. My hon. Friend is correct. The rate of auto-crime is extremely high. It is worth pointing out that 60 per cent. of the offences take place against unlocked cars.

Sir Anthony Grant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the public think that some of the sentences imposed for the most bestial crimes of violence, compared to those for crimes against property, bear no relation to reality? Is he aware also that some of our courts seem to the public to be utterly out of touch with reality?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hurd

I note what my hon. Friend says, and that he has some support from the Benches behind me. It is not for Parliament to lay down how courts should sentence, but to provide them with adequate maximum sentences. That we are doing. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we tried in the last Session to include in the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 a provision which would have helped allay public anxiety about lenient sentences. Unfortunately, that provision was thrown out in another place. We are still considering how to revive that subject.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

In the light of the serious crime figures, and as the Thames valley has the worst police-to-population ratio of any force except Norfolk, will my right hon. Friend guarantee today that he will seriously consider the Thames valley chief constable's request for 200 extra officers as soon a possible?

Mr. Hurd

We have, and there is good news on its way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the Home Secretary realise that in the relatively short time that the exchanges on this question have taken place there will have been a serious assault, a robbery and several burglaries? How does the Secretary of State reconcile that unpalatable fact, and the dramatic increase in the number of offences that have occurred since the Government came into office, with the Prime Minister's assertion that it is the Government's duty to protect its citizens from crime?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman knows about this subject. He knows better than to put that kind of jejune question. We have a coherent and defensible strategy, of which on the whole I believe that the country understands and approves, to deal with crime. It would be substantially more effective if it enjoyed the support from the Opposition that it deserves.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the electorate is becoming increasingly exasperated by the Labour party's attitude towards this matter? At a time of rising crime, surely they should support the Government's policy of putting more police on the streets and more resources into policing rather than criticise and undermine the constabulary, which is the hallmark of what the Opposition Front Bench says?

Mr. Hurd

That is the point which, in my less eloquent way, I was trying to make.

Mr. Kaufman

The Home Secretary spoke about the Government's strategy against crime. Is he aware that, in a war, a general whose strategy resulted in ever more casualties and ever more defeats would be court martialled, if not put up before a firing squad? Will he please explain why, after seven years of this Prime Minister, and after all the hot air and the public relations gimmicks, crime is now worse than it has ever been in the country's modern history?

Mr. Hurd

Prime Ministers, of whatever party, neither create nor abolish crime. I read in the correspondence columns of The Guardian that the Opposition are fumbling their way towards a policy on law and order. Might I suggest that they start by putting their own house in order?

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