§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]4.47 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
Crime and the fear of crime are of deep concern to many, perhaps all, of our constituents. I hope, therefore, that the House will welcome this chance to discuss crime prevention. Of course, crime prevention cannot replace the police or the processes of justice. But if we make good use of our opportunities it can make the lives and property of our constituents more secure and help to relieve their anxieties.
Recorded crime in Britain has risen relentlessly for more than 30 years. This is a trend common throughout the Western world. I stress the word "recorded" because with more telephones, more police on the streets and greater use of insurance, the proportion of crimes notified to the police would seem to have risen substantially over the years. This is confirmed by the British crime survey. It means that the actual increase in crime is less than the recorded figures suggest because the proportion of recorded crime has increased. But however one looks at the facts and figures, the reality is bleak and the effort required is great.
The figures show that the vast majority, or some 95 per cent., of offences are against property. Some 81 per cent. of all recorded crime is acquisitive. Much of this is opportunist, and a substantial proportion is made easier by carelessness. That is why the Government have encouraged a wider debate about how we as a society can tackle crime before it happens. Crime prevention should be the starting point of a well-founded law and order policy because it is a good practical first response to the concerns of the community.
One in five car owners still regularly leaves the vehicle unlocked. Only one in 10 homes has what the police regard as good security arrangements—mortice locks on doors and window locks on at least downstairs windows. Some 80 per cent. of theft of and from cars is estimated to be opportunist. More than a quarter of burglaries do not involve forced entry because a door or window is open. Most of us still make it too easy for crime to be committed.
I shall run briefly through our various initiatives, touch on one or two broader considerations and, finally, talk a little about the creation of a climate of opinion which rejects crime and lawlessness.
The most visible means of preventing crime is the police service. We have shown our commitment to it by increasing expenditure in real terms by more than a third, and by providing additional manpower of some 14,500. That has contributed to putting more officers back on the beat, to building closer links between the police and the community, and to many forces being able to put more resources into crime prevention initiatives. The stimulating diversity which we get by having 43 different police forces shines through, particularly in crime prevention When I visit different forces I almost always hear of some fresh local thinking and some new local initiatives. Obviously, we need to spread good practice and to marry those initiatives together. That is a reason why my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks 279 (Mr. Brittan) set up the crime prevention unit, which is at the centre of the web of initiatives which I shall outline this afternoon.
Police training is crucial, both for those who specialise in crime prevention work and for others. A joint working party of the Home Office and the police has recently produced a report, recommending a much expanded role for our Home Office crime prevention centre, which is based at Stafford. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office and I have accepted those recommendations and are considering how to take them forward. Today I can announce that I have decided that the post of director of the crime prevention centre should be upgraded from the rank of chief superintendent to that of assistant chief constable.
Two initiatives being pursued throughout the country are property marking schemes and neighbourhood or home watch. Neighbourhood watch has caught the public imagination. There are more than 9,500 such schemes now working in England and Wales—a figure which has nearly trebled in just over a year. That is striking and significant. This is a voluntary partnership between the police and the community against crime such as we have been unable to mobilise previously. It is not imposed by Whitehall. It springs up spontaneously from the neighbourhood. Its strength stems from its ability to bring together good physical security to protect homes and an element of watchfulness. Such schemes help to bring communities together, and they build up attitudes and habits hostile to crime. We shall ensure that the momentum is sustained.
§ Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)
Will my right hon. Friend be interested to know that during the past three years in the Norbury area of Croydon the number of neighbourhood watch schemes has almost trebled? It is no accident that during the same period the number of burglaries has fallen dramatically.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that illustration of the point that I seek to make. A London Member in particular would emphasise that neighbourhood watch works only where there is close police involvement, and that that requires policemen, sometimes more policemen than are at present available. I accept that there have been difficulties in establishing neighbourhood watch in parts of some of our cities, partly for that reason. However, I hope that those difficulties can be overcome, because it is in such areas that the schemes are needed most as crime is at its highest.
I can add to my hon. Friend's illustration of the success of the schemes when they are well thought out and properly established. On the Davis estate in Chatham—I visited the town recently—the scheme attracted support from 90 per cent. of the 1,250 dwellings, and crime is reported to have fallen by 50 per cent. during the first nine months of its operation. Soundly based schemes can help people to cope with problems, such as the fear of crime, and can reduce their sense of powerlessness at being unable to do anything about it.
Last October, I announced the establishment of five local crime prevention projects in Croydon, Wellingborough, Swansea, Bolton and north Tyneside. In 280 each a locally led steering group is developing a crime profile of the area's problems and a range of specially tailored crime prevention measures.
Last month, I visited the north Tyneside project and was much impressed with what I saw. I hope that the five local programmes will receive support from everyone, regardless of politics. I was sad to see the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young) describe our initiative in Bolton as being "a load of codswallop". I think he is a little out of date, and does not realise that the party line has changed. His attitude is not typical of the local authorities and voluntary groups in the areas concerned, and I hope that their enthusiasm will help to win him round.
§ Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Bolton are extremely grateful that Bolton has been selected for the crime prevention initiative, that the director of the initiative has now taken up his post, and that there are high hopes of its considerable contribution to the fight against crime in the town?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend's zeal in this matter has been extremely encouraging to me from the beginning. I hope that, regardless of party, the citizens of Bolton will rally round the initiative.
Local authorities can make a major contribution to crime prevention. We have just sent chief constables and local authority chief executives a dossier produced by the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. It summarises a wide range of information on good practice, and gives examples of crime prevention work which is proving its worth. In the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, where my Conservative colleagues deserve, on their record, to hold control today—I am glad that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is present and not doing mischief at the polling station—a booklet giving sound practical advice on crime prevention has been distributed free of charge to some 64,000 residents. The council is helping tenants through the provision of grants for security purposes.
In some areas, far from receiving support and cooperation, the police have experienced consistent hostility and obstruction in introducing crime prevention initiatives. In some areas where the police and the community have tried to work out a scheme, councils have refused permission for the erection of neighbourhood watch signs. When the police have sought to talk to young people in schools about issues, such as road safety, drugs and crime prevention, some schools have prevented them and echoed the anti-police stances of a number of hard Left local authorities.
The potential of police work in schools has been shown clearly in Avon and Somerset, where the police have one officer permanently seconded to one of two schools in the St. Pauls area of Bristol. In one of those schools a reduction of 50 per cent. in referrals to the juvenile bureau has been achieved.
Significant resources are coming from central Government to fund crime prevention schemes. As a result of the expansion of the community programme, there are now 5,087 places approved. Of those, 4,000 have been filled, involving 134 crime prevention projects around the country.
281 In the Consett and Stanley areas of Derwentside, a scheme established in January employs a team of 13 to disseminate advice to the community, particularly to the elderly. The team, under the community programme. has fitted more than 350 window locks and 50 door chains. A scheme in Kirkby on Merseyside provides a 24-hour door porter service at a tower block. The efforts of the team of 15 have largely eliminated criminal damage there. Some £18 million is being provided for crime prevention through the community programme and in addition under the urban programme £6 million is available for the prevention or the alleviation of crime.
We are concerned that everyone, regardless of income, should be protected against crime. Local authorities can use the housing investment resources available to them for crime prevention and security measures. This is one of the features that the Department of the Environment's urban housing renewal unit is considering when allocating the £50 million of resources that it has for projects to improve local authority estates. I think that the House would agree that grants of this type, if they are to be cost effective, should be properly targeted. I notice that the Opposition have recently produced, in a bit of a hurry, some as yet unspecific and uncosted pledges to give everybody home security grants. If the hon. Member for Hammersmith would like to rill in the details of what the Labour party is proposing, I shall gladly get it costed for him. We can add it to the £24 billion of promises already made.
The truth is—this is general thought and advice—that, by pretending to give priority to everything, the Labour party is in effect giving priority to nothing. Any promises connected with law and order have to be judged by the record and by the record, if it ever came to the point, those promises would sink to the bottom of the pile and be quickly forgotten.
Crime prevention thrives on publicity. Many hon. Members will, I hope, be familiar with the Magpies advertising campaign launched under my right hon. Friend's aegis in 1984. The results have been encouraging. One could never prove from the statistics what the direct effect of a campaign like that was. However, domestic burglary in the regions covered by the campaign fell significantly compared with the rest of the country. Therefore, we have extended the campaign to cover Granada, Tyne Tees, Yorkshire, Border, London and Central ITV regions.
I can also announce that, starting now and running through the summer, we are launching a new leaflet and poster campaign targeted against auto crime. Through every police force in England and Wales leaflets will be available at petrol stations, motorway service areas and accessory shops to bring home to motorists what they can—indeed, should—do to reduce the opportunities that they present to thieves.
The House will see that the notion of partnership runs like a thread through crime prevention—partnership between the police and the community, between Government and commerce, between voluntary and statutory agencies and partnership across the political divide. That was a key theme of the seminar on crime prevention that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister held in January. It brought together a wide range of people—industry, trade unions, education, banks, insurance, local government and voluntary groups.
It was rather sour of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in the earlier phase of 282 his approach to the subject to describe this coming together of such a wide range of interests as a publicity stunt and gimmick. Anyone who was there, I think, was struck by the very practical and serious concern about crime and the need for a response by all sections of society. If it is true, as I read from the press, that the right hon. Gentleman and the Opposition are changing their tune about crime prevention, I think that we on this side of the House can very reasonably say, "Welcome aboard; better late than never".
Much work has flowed from the seminar at No. 10. It has been carried forward by many of the organisations that attended. To keep up the momentum, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has invited me to hold a second seminar at 10 Downing street on 23 June to take stock of the progress that has been made. We shall see where any obstacles to progress exist, and consider how to remove them. The scale of the activities already under way is impressive.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I am getting a little tired of the right hon. Gentleman's rhetoric, because we were in the crime prevention argument long before he was, and have the documents to prove it. More importantly, will the right hon. Gentleman be going to that second seminar with the intention of asking the Prime Minister for the money that even they in the document produced before December agreed was necessary to target-harden the 1.25 million vulnerable properties in the country?
§ Mr. Hurd
I have listed all the different areas from which crime prevention schemes can draw their resources from the taxpayer. I have also dealt with the suggestion that everybody—duke or dustman—should get a handout from the Government, regardless of need, practicality or expense, to make their homes safer. I leave the House to judge between those two approaches. Our approach, which involves substantial sums of public money but is carefully worked out and targeted, is very much preferable to what we have so far heard—the hon. Gentleman may be able to refine it—from the Opposition.
I was going to refer to the overall direction of this multitude of efforts, mainly spontaneous, but obviously requiring some co-ordination so that good practice can be spread. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) has taken the chair at a newly-established ministerial group on crime prevention which consists of Ministers and officials from 12 Government Departments. It has been established for just about a month, and has already held two good meetings.
I accept, of course, that the main work going on in this field so far has been on the easier side of the crime question. Violent crime accounts for only some 3 per cent. of total offences, but it is violent crime that causes the greatest public concern.
§ Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West)
Will my right hon. Friend agree that the banning or licensing of the sale of crossbows would have a great effect on the prevention of violent crime?
§ Mr. Hurd
We are looking at crossbows and airguns because the two have some similarities. They both have quite legitimate followers. Crossbows, as my hon. Friend probably knows, are used in a growing number of perfectly legitimate sporting clubs. I am anxious to find an answer 283 to this which does not involve the police in a whole new layer of bureaucracy through a licensing system but which meets the concern that my hon. Friend is not alone in expressing. We are, as it were, looking at this from the beginning, and it will not be long before we can reach some conclusion.
The clear-up rates for offences of violence against the person and sexual offences remain high, I am glad to say, at 73 per cent. and 72 per cent. respectively. I acknowledge that we have a long way to go before our crime prevention strategy is sufficiently developed to deal with crimes of violence. Much of the action is under way. For example, in designing estates, architects and developers need to consider, among other things, the security of those who will live there. They have to avoid, for example, creating great pools of darkness and opportunities for crime as a result of the street lighting being in the wrong place.
A study in Newcastle has shown that phasing pub closing hours and making more transport available at the crucial time when they close in itself can reduce the violence in city centres. The Department of Transport is about to produce proposals on measures to prevent assaults on bus crews. At the Prime Minister's seminar the unions concerned were particularly anxious to emphasise that point to us. Good progress is being made with a study of crime on the London Underground. A team drawn from the Department of Transport, London Regional Transport, the Home Office, British Transport police and the Metropolitan police are looking at it.
Other initiatives in this area of violent crime will be developed throught the working groups chaired by people from outside the realms of officialdom. They are studying commercial robbery and violence associated with pubs, and will report later this year. I list these as important contributions, although I accept that they are only a beginning. Crime will not be beaten by rhetoric, and neither my predecessor nor I has ever pretended otherwise. It will be edged back only by a considered and comprehensive strategy. The other elements of that strategy—the police, the powers of the courts, the prisons and victim support—will be covered in the House on other days, and I will not go into those in detail.
I should like to stress the broad scope of work needed if crime prevention is to be effective. We must concentrate not just on fear of the law but on the strength of the values and standards of behaviour that hold society together. Crime prevention is about a lot more than locks and bolts.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
On the subject of victim support, is the Home Secretary satisfied with the progress that is being made in the criminal investigation of rape, particularly the interviewing of the victims by police officers?
§ Mr. Hurd
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the police have given a great deal of thought to that. In the Metropolitan area, where the problem is deepest, they have transformed the way in which they interview rape victims. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, while that transformation may increase the number of rapes recorded by the police, it will transform the willingness of victims to come forward and, therefore, the ability of the police to catch rapists. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The psychological approach of the police to 284 the rape victim has turned out to be of crucial importance. The police realise that and have been adapting their approach accordingly.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Will my right hon. Friend refer to the anonymity of the rapist? Has the Home Office now agreed to bring forward legislation to remove that anonymity?
§ Mr. Hurd
We are still considering exactly how to do that. The exchanges in the House in the past on that point showed that, on the whole, the House felt that a mistake had been made in earlier legislation which should be corrected. I should prefer it if my hon. Friend did not press that point today. I shall make sure that, before long, the House is informed of how we mean to proceed.
No Government have the power to defeat crime singlehanded. We can ensure that the various parts of the criminal justice system are in good repair and well resourced. We have a duty to seek to create a climate that rejects crime and in which individual discipline and responsibility are emphasised. That duty is shared by everyone in the House and by all responsible politicians. That leads me to a matter which I know some right hon. and hon. Members want to raise during the debate.
The responsibility for creating a climate that rejects violence extends to offences committed in situations of mass disorder. There have been a number of occasions in recent years when industrial disputes have degenerated into disorder. The miners' strike provides an example. More recently, there has been and continues to be the dispute at Wapping. Over 350,000 police man hours have been absorbed at Wapping. Last Saturday over 1,700 police officers had to be made available. Police operations on that scale inevitably affect the service that the police are able to provide elsewhere.
We all know that passions can run high in industrial disputes. The role of the police is to prevent and deal with breaches of the peace and criminal offences, and to uphold the rights and safety of those threatened by intimidation. They are not there to take one side or the other in an industrial dispute. The Metropolitan police are neither pro-Murdoch nor anti-Murdoch. It is not their job to be either. If complaints are made against the police, Parliament has provided the means for those complaints to be investigated and dealt with.
Several distingushed Labour Members from the trade union group of Members of Parliament came to see me three weeks ago about the police operation at Wapping. We had a good discussion, and they presented their concerns in a balanced way. I pursued their concerns with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and on 2 May wrote to the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), who led that delegation. I have told him of my intention, in view of the public interest, to put a copy of my reply in the Library, because the letter gives a clear analysis of how the commissioner told me he is handling the police operation and the pattern of response to violence that he believes is necessary. It is right for police action to come under careful scrutiny in that way. However, phrases that I have read in the past few days such as "police riot" or, as one hon. Member did outside the House, accusing the police of beingall that is rotten in our societyare not only untrue but deeply offensive, not least to the 175 police officers who suffered injuries last Saturday.
285 It is right for the police to keep their operations under continuing review. It is right for those who have complaints about the actions of police officers to use the remedy that Parliament has provided for that purpose. But it is also right for the trade unions themselves to look again at what is being done in their name. Within the trade union movement there is a long and honourable tradition of peaceful protest and action within the law. No one doubts the strength of feeling of the print workers involved in the dispute with News International. I hope that a settlement of that dispute can soon be reached. But it is clear, and it is not denied, that those demonstrations and pickets are attracting to the scene people who are prepared to resort to violence and who come intending violence. Disorder of the sort that we have seen in recent weeks does no credit to the cause of the print workers. It does not enhance their public support. Therefore, I hope that the union leaders will reconsider their tactics and seek to maintain their arguments and attempts at persuasion in ways that are less likely to cause disorder.
At the request of the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), my hon. Friend the Minister of State met a delegation from the union at the Home Office today. As a result, I understand that there will be a meeting between the print union leaders and the deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police to discuss the future handling of affairs at Wapping. I welcome that development. It is exactly the way in which those matters should be handled.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
In what I say, I am not seeking to argue the case of what happened on Saturday night from the point of view of someone who was there throughout. The police say that 175 policemen were injured, 1,700 police were involved, there were 10,000 demonstrators, which is generally agreed, and on the other side there were 83 casualties, some of which were serious. That occurred within two miles of the Palace of Westminster. The Home Secretary is the responsible Minister. Will he explain why he did not come at once to the House and make a statement, when he would be held answerable for the actions of the police there? The responsibility rests first with the commissioner and then with the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman abdicated his duty to the police as well as the people of London by failing to make it clear to the House of Commons what. in his opinion, happened, so that hon. Members could say what they had seen on that site that night.
§ Mr. Hurd
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. He and I have differing views about how the responsibility for the policing of London should be organised. Although I think the right hon. Gentleman wishes to change it, the present position is that the commissioner has operational independence. I have explained to the House rather carefully this afternoon the steps that I have taken as a result of representations that I have received to satisfy myself about the nature of the policing of the operation.
I have also taken advantage of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, in an exchange with Mr. Speaker, asked whether it would be in order for him to raise the matter in the debate. That was a useful and entirely proper move on his part. I have tried to respond to it in what I have said. Late yesterday evening, I received from the right hon. 286 Gentleman a list of detailed questions about the injuries sustained by the police at Wapping. I had hoped to have the full answers for the right hon. Gentleman in time for the debate, but the necessary research is still proceeding. I shall let him have those answers as soon as I can.
I believe that the desire to see an improvement in the way in which we deal with crime and law and order is so deep-rooted among our constituents and of such fundamental importance to our society that the greater agreement we can sustain in the House, the better our constituents will be served, provided that that agreement is based on support for a disciplined police force and for the law. I hope very much that, despite the disagreements that will occur from time to time on particular matters, we can keep that aim in view.
The Labour party has not sustained that claim by the way in which its Members have cast their votes on recent legislative proposals such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Bill or. most important of all, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. The Labour party has sought to deprive not just me or the Government but the police of a tool for dealing with terrorism which I regard, unfortunately, as essential. As the right hon. Member for Gorton is not here, I shall refrain from developing that point with illustrations of his recent activities or lack of activities, but I hope that the Labour party will give a clear lead in this matter and will either discipline or disown those within its ranks who continually obstruct and vilify the police, all too often at the ratepayers' expense.
The nation has a right to expect a clear stance on this issue from hon. Members on both sides of the House. All responsible parties in Parliament have a contribution to make to buttressing the rule of law. For our part, we are pursuing and intend to continue an honest, vigorous and coherent policy for the protection of the public, and in this, crime prevention—the main subject of the debate—forms an important part.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I regret that the debate was not held a couple of days earlier partly because I could be in Hammersmith getting rid of that wretched combination of Liberals and Tories who have been ripping apart the social fabric of Hammersmith in much the same way as the Government are ripping apart the social fabric of the nation. It would also have given the people an opportunity to judge the Government's words by their actions on crime prevention, but unfortunately the debate will not reach the newspapers until after people have voted. If people wish to do one small thing today to help prevent crime, they could make sure that they vote Labour and do not elect Tory administrations, because the Government have done more to increase the crime rate than any recent Government.
The Government came to office on a "get tough'' policy, and they got tough. We send more people to prison than does any other country in western Europe except Turkey. We have more young people in prison than any country in western Europe except Turkey. We now have a faster rising crime rate than we have had for years. In addition, we have had riots in our streets of a nature, frequency and intensity that we have not seen for at least 100 years and probably 150 years. Now we even have riots in prisons. This is supposed to be a successful policy. 287 The Government's failure on crime prevention is almost as great as their failure on unemployment. In terms of law and order, they have been disastrous for the British people. We heard the Home Secretary say in his concluding remarks, "Let us keep law and order out of politics." That is an amazing change from 1979, when the Conservative party put full-page advertisements in the newspapers backing the Police Federation and saying that there would be a vote on capital punishment. The previous Home Secretary was not sure whether he was in favour of capital punishment. He wanted to hang terrorists, but no one else. What an abysmal, miserable record. The "get tough", simplistic approach did not work, could not work, and was bound to produce such a disastrous failure because the Government linked it with other deadly policies which ripped apart our social fabric.
Perhaps we should consider why the increase in crime has been so rapid, especially under this Government, but under several Governments in recent years. The first cause, which applies to all Governments since the 1960s, has been the move from the cities back to the country. It would take too long to develop that argument in detail. Anyone who wishes to examine the evidence should read the reports from the metropolitan counties, universities and Government Departments, which show how the move from the inner cities has distorted their population by concentrating there people who are either affluent and tending to move through or those who have severe problems, especially in housing.
Bad housing has much to do with crime, not just because of target hardening but because of the distribution of the population. If people cannot afford to buy and are unable to rent in either the private or public sectors, they are squeezed to the wall in the inner cities. For many years, there has been a major problem in our inner cities, and it would have been a law and order problem for any Government. I absolve the Government, to some extent, in that area, although they have made the position much worse.
The Government have introduced a new factor called economic distress. In even finer terms, it is called mass unemployment and especially youth unemployment. At times of economic distress, people become more authoritarian and more frightened and the community begins to break down. That did not happen in quite the same way in the 1930s for several reasons, which I should be happy to discuss if the Minister wished to pursue it. It has happened dramatically recently in our inner cities and the Goverment made it far worse by pulling off the sticking plaster of public expenditure, which at least gave some opportunity to the community to hold together the community links. The one sure way of preventing crime is to ensure that the community fabric—the links between groups and individuals in the community—is strong, good and growing. That cannot be the case at times of mass unemployment or when the Government are cutting public expenditure, thus aggravating the lack of housing and leisure and educational activities that normally exist in any community.
The Government introduced another all-important factor. They pushed young people, many of whom had been unemployed for many years, on the margins of relevance. The problem for hon. Members on both sides of the House is that many youngsters, black and white, 288 employed and unemployed, consider places such as Parliament to be irrelevant to their needs because we do not address their problems. At times of mass unemployment, they turn to what is called the black economy. I prefer to call it the alternative economy precisely because that is what it is—an alternative to living on the dole. It ranges from doing some work on the side while collecting unemployment benefit to running drugs. The latter is a good way of obtaining money and they can use the drugs to deal with their inner feelings of deprivation, depression and anxiety.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to say. Can he provide any evidence that those who are unemployed commit more crimes than those who are in work? I have been unable to find that statistical correlation. I do not believe that it exists.
§ Mr. Soley
There is some evidence of a connection between youth unemployment and crime. It is hard to prove a direct link, and I do not argue that such a direct link exists—[Interruption.] If hon. Members would listen, they might understand the force of my argument even if they do not agree with it. I said that long-term youth unemployment pushes young people into activities that are on the margins of the law. That is when they become a problem to the rest of the community in public order terms. If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) will bear with me for a moment—he will know the direction of my thoughts—he will see what I mean.
In such an explosive atmosphere in our inner cities, all that is needed to trigger anger is insensitive, bad or grossly mistaken policing. The Government have never addressed that problem seriously. Before I mention what we must do about the problem, I wish to discuss policing. The Home Secretary rightly mentioned Wapping. One or two hotheads in the Conservative party were quick to condemn the demonstrators as a crowd of hooligans. The Home Secretary slipped into the trap of calling it mass disorder when what happened was rather different. It is worth saying to those hot heads on the other side of the House who sought to condemn that, before they condemn, they should talk to people on all sides of the dispute and, if possible, be present at any demonstrations. I recognise that not everyone can be present on such occasions. I have been to the printing plant at Wapping twice. I was there for about six hours three weeks ago. On the night of 3 May, I was there for another six hours. I shall describe my view of the incident.
At 11 pm on Saturday 3 May, at the police station in Leman street, I saw the police video of the outbreak of trouble at Wapping. I met and talked to most of the senior police officers involved. I also saw police, demonstrators and the ambulancemen outside News International between midnight and 4 am. The video showed about six people throwing objects which might have been staves, bricks and smoke bombs, from behind a line of demonstrators. One or two police officers collapsed, possibly as a result of the impact of the missiles or the pressure of the crowd. The police clearly had a problem at that stage. It was then that the mounted police officers charged the crowd. The video did not show what happened afterwards, as the events took place outside the range of the camera.
289 However, on speaking to police officers, demonstrators, trade union officials and Members of Parliament who were present, I reached the following conclusions: a small number of people, possibly acting together and possibly acting with the intention of making the police attack demonstrators, threw missiles in an attack on the police which caused an immediate and serious public order problem for the police. The action by the police was seen universally as a gross over-reaction by the demonstrators, most of whom felt that they had been attacked and some of whom fought back. If the group of people who threw missiles had the intention of creating hostility between police and demonstrators, they were successful.
The trade union leaders concerned have made it clear that they utterly condemn any missile throwing or attacks on the police. The police stated that the trade union leadership had been very responsible and that the mass of demonstrators—I direct those remaks to the Home Secretary', in view of the words that he chose to use—were exercising their rights peacefully. Once the police charge had taken place, it seems that events got out of control. Officers and demonstrators were fighting and getting injured as a result of the actions of a handful of people who had initiated the trouble.
Once fighting starts, it is difficult to stop it. One police officer described how, even though he was in full uniform and was carrying a stretcher, he was injured by another police officer running back from the crowd in an emotional state and striking him with a truncheon. That is a classic example of the way in which events get out of hand and how the behaviour of individuals can become irrational and dangerous.
We must do everything possible to prevent such an incident from happening again. Although each individual is and must be responsible for his own behaviour, we cannot condemn demonstrators or police officers without taking into account the circumstances at the time.
§ Mr. Soley
In view of those factors, I have, with the full support of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, asked for a meeting with the Home Secretary at which I shall press for a review of the lessons to be learnt and of police tactics. At the very least, there is a case for a warning to be given before a mounted police charge and a need to ensure that any use of riot police is limited to the absolute minimum.
I emphasise that other options were available that night. That is one of the matters that I wish to discuss with the Home Secretary. It has been established that many officers were not wearing numbers on their overalls. The Minister of State, Home Office—the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw)—is present in the Chamber. When the Public Order Bill was before the House, he indicated that he would ensure that all officers had numbers on their overalls. The problem put to me by the senior officer concerned was that, because many pairs of overalls were handed out at Wapping, numbers could not be put on them. I do not accept that we cannot get around that problem. I give the Minister notice of that point. He may wish to pursue it on a future occasion.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The hon. Gentleman has given an assessment of events on that unfortunate day, but it seemed 290 to be almost an excuse—I hesitate to say, "justification". Will he say, quite categorically. that he condemns all violence without any excuse at all'
§ Mr. Soley
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman heard me. I think that he was trying to intervene when I said that each individual is and must be responsible for his own behaviour. We cannot condemn demonstrators or police officers without taking into account the circumstances at the time. I do not have any difficulty in saying to the hon. Gentleman that I condemn the use of violence. What the hon. Gentleman has to take on board is that every human being will resort to violence in certain circumstances. As a former prison governor and magistrate, the hon. Gentleman knows that allowances must be made according to the circumstances at the time. A magistrate is expected to do that. If he did not do so, he would be failing in his job.
If I condemned, as the hon. Gentleman wants me to do, for example, the police officer who hit another police officer during the incident at Wapping, I would be failing to understand the emotional pressure under which that man was at the time. We must understand that. We can say as many times as we like that we condemn violence from wherever it comes. I have no problem in saying that. Unless one tries to understand what happened and tries to prevent it from happening again, one is exercising one's conscience. It is not enough for the hon. Gentleman to do that, because he was not one of those injured. It is cheap to try to pretend that that does not matter; it does, and it makes a world of difference. Let us keep that in perspective when we discuss the issue.
I shall continue to consider the police aspect because it is linked with crime prevention. It is essential to give much more attention to the police than has been given in recent times. The Government have tried to deal with a law and order problem—I use a slightly different phrase from that used by the Prime Minister—by throwing police officers at it. In this country, there is about one police officer for every 394 citizens. Twenty years ago, there was about one police officer for every 602 citizens. Even if 50 per cent. of the population were police officers, the problems would not be solved. We must recognise that there is a crime prevention problem.
Labour Members have been saying for a long time that. for a number of reasons, we want an elected police authority. We believe that it is essential not only to have the police under democratic control—anyone who does not believe in democratic control had better say what he does believe in, because we would have a police state—but to have the police and the local community work closely together to carry out good crime prevention.
Magistrates should not be members of an elected police authority. Magistrates were put on in the first place, 100 years ago, interestingly and relevantly enough, only because the powers that be at the time thought that the elected authority did not have enough political experience. The duty of magistrates is to administer the law. They should not be involved in policing the law and should not be dragged into party political argument on the authority. The authority's duty must be to enforce the law. The minimum standards required would be laid down by the Home Office and there would be a strengthened police inspectorate. That is part of the Labour party's policy. That is a necessary way to go. We also need an independent police complaints authority.
291 I would be remiss if I did not give a little more thought than the Home Secretary did to the issue of police training. The right hon. Gentleman touched on the subject briefly. Let us recognise what we are doing. We are recruiting police officers in their teens, at times, giving them about 20 weeks basic training, a year or two's probationary training on the job—as the Home Secretary knows, supervision is very varied—and asking them to police our inner cities. The recruitment pattern shows that about 80 per cent. of the Metropolitan police in London are recruited from outside London. London is not completely untypical of the rest of the country, but the position is probably more severe in London.
§ Mr. Soley
Of course it has, but that does not make it desirable. We are putting young people with minimal experience and training on the streets of our inner cities in the explosive political and economic atmosphere of our times. That is what is so damaging. That is why I say that, as a minimum, we should aim to increase police training to six months and, eventually, to two years. It is unfair to the police to make them police such areas with only that sort of training.
We need to open up police training so that it takes place not just in police training establishments. Those establishments are important, but, as a number of hon. Members know, and as the Home Secretary probably knows better than most following the Islington case, the problems of police corruption are magnified a hundred times because other police officers cover up for those involved. The public can accept that there are some bad apples in the barrel, but they are right not to accept it when other police officers say nothing about those bad apples, whether it is the bad apple of corruption, of beating people up in the streets, or of racism. We must create in the police force an atmosphere that gives it a high professional status, values and moral standards which will not place the Home Secretary in the invidious position in which he found himself in the Islington case. We can do that partly by changing the nature and extent of police training.
More must be done about community policing. The Home Secretary said that it was necessary to have police officers on the streets, and he was right. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will direct a little more of his attention to the schemes put forward by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and the all-party penal policy group on alternatives such as safe neighbourhood units and priority estate projects. To do that, we need community police officers who stay in the area. The link between an area, the people in it and the elected representatives is vital. At the moment, police officers do not stay in the area because the Government, who are supposed to care so much for police officers, have never thought it necessary, despite the breakdown in law and order in recent years, to negotiate with the Police Federation on the establishment of a proper career structure for community police officers which would give them a financial and professional reward for staying in the job and in that place and for developing the links with the community that are necessary for good crime prevention.
We should consider also the support that we give the police and their families when members of the police force are killed or injured. I am not satisfied at all with the 292 Government's response on the Public Order Bill when they chucked out our amendment which proposed to set up a way to compensate police officers, their relatives and families when police were killed or injured in the course of their duty. The police and their families still have to rely on the complete inadequacy of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and on private insurance.
So much more is linked with the breakdown in law and order under the Government that we could spend a great deal of time considering it, but I must address myself also to crime prevention and to victim support. The Labour party has a long history of supporting crime prevention policies. I should be the first to say that the Labour party has not always described those policies in that way. We have done so only in the past five years. I can say that confidently, because I know, as the former chairman of the Labour Campaign for Criminal Justice, that we were putting forward those policies five years ago. They have been our policies in at least the last two Labour party conferences. I do not want the Home Secretary to pretend that we have stolen his clothes. The previous Home Secretary did nothing about this. He merely boasted about his ability to use the police as a way of enforcing the Government's industrial relations policy, and that is what he did. He left it to this Home Secretary to pick up the bits. The right hon. Gentleman suddenly had to start talking about crime prevention when the Government found only how disastrously they were beginning to lose an argument that they thought they had in their pockets.
I intervened during the Home Secretary's speech, because I knew that the Government would not put their money where their mouth was when it came to crime prevention. The Prime Minister's statement from No. 10 Downing street about that charade of a conference on crime prevention contained no significant mention of money. The Home Secretary referred to the Hammersmith and Fulham scheme in my area. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I support it and that it will continue to be supported when Labour wins the council election today. However, funding for the scheme is still grossly inadequate. It is £50 a council flat. It is interesting that the Home Office does not fund such schemes. It wants the Department of the Environment to do so. The Home Secretary runs around saying, "Fund all these schemes", but we are not told from where all the money will come. The Department of the Environment goes around rate capping local authorities, cutting their money and saying to the Home Office, "We shall not do that." Unless the Home Secretary takes on board some of the responsibility, his desire for good works will be undone by other Ministers. The Government are not putting their money where their mouth is.
The Home Secretary asked me about the money for these measures. The Government constantly duck the fact that their economic policies have been a disastrous failure. If more is done to repair and renovate our older public and private properties, we decrease the chances of burglary. If we spend more on public lighting, clearing up graffiti and stopping vandalism, we do something to prevent crime and, more importantly, we expand that part of the economy that does not suck in imports. The Government are trying to get around such problems by giving tax handouts to the rich which are spent on imports which do not help in this country. We need to expand those aspects 293 that do not suck in imports and cause other problems. It is precisely those aspects that we can expand without too much difficulty.
The Government have done much damage with respect to crime prevention by cutting employment in the public sector. The Home Secretary will know from NACRO research that the number of fights on one-person operated buses is greater than on two-person operated buses.
We know that cutting the number of caretakers, as the Government and numerous Conservative councils have done, results in increased vandalism and crime. It is not enough to put in entryphone systems in some blocks of flats, because they are simply vandalised or left open for a variety of reasons. We need resident caretakers. The NACRO survey and the all-party penal policy group have made that clear. Do the Government want to come up with such a policy? No way. Even more important is the fact that they have cut back. That is one way in which they have made the problems worse. That is what I mean when I use the shorthand term of "tearing apart the social fabric" and refer to undermining and destabilising the community which are important considerations in crime prevention. NACRO has referred to many of those situational and social policies.
We cannot talk effectively about crime prevention if families with young children are put into high-rise flats, cuts are made in one o'clock clubs and nursery education and education generally is undervalued. The result is that children either stay in the flats all day, causing increased family tension, or play outside, often unsupervised, and quickly drift into vandalism and crime. It is no good coming along afterwards to probation officers, teachers and social workers and asking them to pick up the pieces. To some extent, the pieces can be picked up; but the problems need never have happened in the first place. The Government, especially the chairman of the Conservative party, who have spent so much time blaming teachers and parents for the crime wave, should look at what they have done in tearing apart the fabric of society.
Recently, the Government have taken one step which I guarantee will do more to increase crime than any other single factor of its type, although I am not saying that crime will increase just because of it. I refer to the board and lodging allowance. The Home Office study and virtually every other study demonstrates clearly that there is a link between homelessness, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and crime. By changing the board and lodging allowance, the Government have increased the crime rate and turned more young people to alcohol and drug abuse and to crime.
§ Mr. Soley
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has remembered it now. The link is very clear, and it should not surprise him. What does a young person do if, after six weeks, he is turned out of the place where he is staying? He might find accommodation on the floor of a friend's flat, or in a hostel, or he might turn to drink or drugs. That is an easy way to blot out the problem and the pain. It might also be a way of getting money. Anybody who does not think this through does not deserve to be considering crime prevention.
294 I have already written to the Home Secretary about firearms. Does the Home Secretary intend to make a statement to the House about the work of the committee that investigates the use of firearms by the police? I sent evidence to that committee. There is a strong case for setting up a committee of the type that I described in my evidence to consider the availability and the licensing of firearms. I am not convinced that the police are the best authority to deal with licensing. There is a strong case for the creation of a separate licensing authority The paramilitary training that is now becoming so popular also needs to be investigated. This is an important area, to which much more attention must be given.
What this country is desperately crying out for—the Labour party has been putting this policy before the electorate for a number of years—is a well-resourced crime prevention and victim support scheme. A criminal justice system is needed that takes more account of the victim and of those who are brought into contact with the criminal justice system, often as witnesses. Alienation from that system and from the police is dangerously high. A proper system of police accountability is needed in which the police and the public have confidence. A fully independent police complaints authority is also needed.
A few years ago the Government were baying, at their highest level of decibels, that this was unacceptable. The Police Federation also said that it was unacceptable. However, the Police Federation is now 100 per cent. with the Labour party. It wants a fully independent police complaints authority for precisely the same reasons as the Labour party. It knows that the public will not have confidence in anything other than a properly accountable system. Significant progress could then be made.
I remind the House of the programme "Newsnight" that was shown last night. A police officer was interviewed. He said that as the crime rate is so high in Notting Hill he is being asked by the residents to do more about it. That sums up the problem. As the crime rate continues to increase in the inner city areas, various groups are found to be most vulnerable to certain types of policing. At the same time, the public want something to be done about crime. They shout, "Do something about crime". Understandably, therefore, the police feel that they are under pressure to do something about it.
The vast majority of crimes are cleared up after information has been given by the public to the police. When the relationship between the police and the public breaks down, the problem grows worse. When the police are under pressure to do something about crime they fall back on two measures that are likely to make it worse. They rely upon stop and search. They also rely upon breaking into houses and flats in order to get the evidence that they believe is there. In many cases, that triggers off the problems in our inner cities. The police find that they are screwing down the lid on a socially explosive situation.
The police are being used by the Government. I emphasise that the police are being used by the Government to deal with industrial relations and public order. If that continues, the police will continue to give the bird to the Home Secretary when he speaks to them. They have got wise to the way in which they have been used by this Government—hence the article in the Police Federation's magazine during the miners' strike which pointed out that the police must ask themselves whether they are being used to maintain law and order or whether they were being used by the Government to enforce their 295 industrial relations policy. That was a good question to ask. The Government have never used their industrial relations legislation, even though they said they would do so
This Government's policy on law and order has been a disastrous failure. They know from the opinion polls and also from the Fulham by-election, where we were neck and neck with them, that they are losing this argument. Soon we shall be so far in front of the Government that they will not know what the argument was about. It is no use the Government coming crying to me about taking law and order out of politics. They have put that issue well and truly into politics. The Government will have to carry the can for their policy.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his speech and for his description of what the Government are doing. I thank him in particular for the advancement in the status of the post at the crime prevention centre at Stafford from the rank of chief superintendent to that of assistant chief constable. My right hon. Friend knows that I have advocated that development for a very long time in order to enhance the status of crime prevention within the police service. It is a most welcome development.
For many people, the fear of crime, if not the actuality of it, is a major concern. It is not surprising, therefore, that the public relations efforts of the Labour party are now geared to attracting the sympathy of the public, arising from their concern. But has the leopard changed its spots?
When the Labour party was last in government, its treatment of the police service and the criminal justice system was scandalous. Police morale over pay and conditions hit rock bottom. There was even talk of a police strike in 1977. Police morale was so low that 9,000 men left the service. In May 1979, force strengths in England and Wales were 7,710 below establishment. This included a shortfall of 16 per cent. in the Metropolitan police. The "bobby" disappeared from the beat and the police took to Panda cars because of their lack of manpower. That was the record of the Opposition when in government.
We are now told that the Labour party wishes to see the "bobby" return to the beat, but this is purely PR propaganda designed to pacify the electorate, or does it have any basis of reality? The intention of the Labour party to interfere with the police remains as strong as ever.
In 1981, under the title of "A Socialist Policy for the GLC", the London Labour party proposed that there should be a police authority in London consisting solely of elected members to have control over the Metropolitan and City of London police forces. It was proposed that this authority would have power to survey day-to-day police operations, allocate financial resources and appoint officers to the rank of chief superintendent and above. The authority would work in close liaison with Scotland Yard and would have overriding control of the capital's police recruitment training and contribution of mutual aid from one district to another. The House may consider that that was a very sinister proposal. In other words, there would be total political control of police operations, and political decisions would be made as to which demonstrations were to be controlled through policing and, indeed, which crimes were to be investigated, or not, as the case may be.
296 In those awful, corrupt years of the Labour party's control of the GLC from 1981 to 1986, millions of pounds of ratepayers' money were spent on anti-police propaganda. I shall give to the House but a few examples of this lavish expenditure. The Newham monitoring project received £240,755. The so-called Haringey independent police committee received £214,245. Police Accountability for Community Enlightenment, Islington—whatever that may be—received a modest £188,424. There are many other examples.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
Does my hon. Friend recall the GLC video called, "Policing London" which cost the ratepayers £35,000? It was geared towards schoolchildren and incited violence. It ended with the words, "Communities must rebel."
§ Mr. Wheeler
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He draws attention to a most scandalous piece of publicity. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) claimed that he is concerned about crime prevention. However, that belies the actuality of what the Labour party has done when it has been in power.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) has made an especially shabby point. I think we should be more precise and I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman has actually seen the video. The words which the hon. Gentleman referred to were those used by a poet in the video. The words came from a poem which was read out by one person who was a member of that community. To suggest, therefore, that the GLC thought that the community should rebel is like saying that because Shakespeare put the words:To be or not to beinto the mouth of Hamlet, Shakespeare was toying with the idea of becoming an existentialist.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The hon. Gentleman should not deceive the House on that point. He knows perfectly well why the video was crafted and presented in the way that it was. The video was a deliberate attack on the Metropolitan police and an incitement to young people to rebel against the police.
It might be claimed that the video and the other expenditure to which I have referred were merely the isolated work of the London Labour party and that such actions are untypical of Labour party policy. However, a motion was passed at the 1985 Labour party conference which sought to put the police and the courts under more direct political control. The motion stated that the new-styled democratic control—whatever that might mean—would have theauthority to influence and direct local policing policy and practice.That is a direct interference in the operational duties of the police. The Labour party cannot evade the consequences of that resolution.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I would like to consider the work of that conference in detail. One delegate claimed, and again I quote from the record, that the policehave become the enemy in whole areas.That remark was greeted with sustained applause. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) accused some chief constables of making "party political interventions." The right hon. Member for Gorton 297 appeared to side with those in the conference who were against the police. The evidence of the Labour party's thinking about the police is limitless in its venom. Mr. Kenneth Livingstone was reported in the Daily Mail on 3 March 1984 as saying:I know a large proportion of the metropolitan police is clearly racist and should be pensioned off".Louise Christian of the Streatham Labour party, and a member of the former GLC police committee, said at the party conference in 1984:You cannot condemn all violence without fear or favour, because the violence of the State is not comparable to the attempts of the provoked to fight back…Mr. Kinnock said that the police are the meat in the sandwich. They are the salmonella poisoning in the sandwich. Neil says that you should not break the law, because the Labour party needs legality. As a lawyer I say to you it is absolute rubbish.Some lawyer! That seems to sum up the true thinking of the Labour party as against its PR efforts of today.
If the Labour party is really to convince the British public that it now believes in a citizen police force working with the community to prevent crime and offences, it will have to be more convincing. For example, the Labour party has consistently voted against the annual renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. Yet the evidence from the police is that that Act greatly contributed to preventing terrorist acts in London during the summer of 1985.
If the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) is to repeal that Act, he must answer four key questions: will he allow unopposed membership of the provisional IRA and/or the Irish National Liberation Army? Will he permit displays of support for such groups in public in the cities of the United Kingdom? Will he allow contributions towards acts of terrorism? Will he regard the failure to disclose information about terrorism as no longer an offence?
These days, the whole country has been appalled at the extent of the premeditated and organised violence at Wapping to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith referred. The hon. Member for Hammersmith gave his version of the events at Wapping. However, no one can doubt the degree of organisation behind that violence, nor the determination to attack the police. Many of us saw the newsreels on televison and witnessed what happened. Yet the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said in an interview on a news programme on 4 May that the police were "drunken thugs". So much for the attitude of the Labour party. What matters to the British people is the growth in crime and the strategy for dealing with it.
The Government have rightly recognised that since 95 per cent. of all crime relates to property and roughly breaks down into the categories of 30 per cent. auto crime—thefts of or from motor vehicles—25 per cent. burglary and the rest minor thefts and vandalism, any strategy for the containment of crime must involve the whole community, local authorities and Government Departments. It is nonsense to pretend that that overwhelming amount of property crime can be stopped only by the police and courts.
The greatest mistake this century has been to suppose that the responsibility for crime was solely a matter for the police and the courts. We all welcome the return of the police officer on the beat. The uniformed police officer patrolling on foot is a contact point and a reassurance. I 298 do not underestimate the value of that exercise, yet the overwhelming bulk of crime takes place on private property out of sight and reach of the public.
One piece of research has shown that a patrolling police officer would stumble on a crime being committed only once in 15 years. Thus, the strategy of the Government to promote the concept of crime prevention involving the whole community must be right.
Of course, the Opposition seek to make political capital out of the reported rising crime rates. It must be said firmly that the problem of property crime affects all western countries. We have the lowest crime rate for violence among western countries and most of our crime—95 per cent.—relates to property. It is also clear why the crime problem predominantly relates to property.
In 1948 there were 2 million private cars licensed for use in the United Kingdom. By 1978 that figure had reached 14.5 million. Today there are more than 17.25 million. The crime statistics show that the incidence of auto crime exactly matches the growth and availability of the motor vehicle.
The same is true of property crime, and especially of residential burglary. In 1948, at current prices, the people of Britain had £8.7 billion available as personal disposable income. In 1978 they had just over £114 billion and today they have more than £237 billion. The growth in burglary rates exactly matches the growth in the goods and money available in people's homes to steal.
It is also interesting to consider who commits crime. Young males, aged between 10 and 17—and many of these are not close to employable age—are disproportionately responsible for the amount of crime committed. Fifteen is the peak age for offenders among boys and some 30 per cent. of persons found guilty of or cautioned for indictable offences in 1984 were in the 10 to 17 year age bracket. If we add on the 24 per cent. who commit crimes between the ages of 17 and 21. we find that more than half of those brought before the courts were aged between 10 and 21.
Property crime is essentially committed by young men, often immature, who see the opportunity for the commission of the offence and the certainty that they will not be caught. It is also a fact that in inner city areas, particularly in inner London, the truancy rate for boys in the 14 to 15-year-old group can vary between 20 and 30 per cent. In his review of the social causes of crime, the hon. Member for Hammersmith omitted that point. We must look at the role of education, and consider why it is failing those young teenagers.
Yet the opportunity to prevent crime is immense. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the Home Office has established a crime prevention unit. There is a standing conference on crime prevention and a great deal of work is being done, not only to reduce the fear of crime, which is very important, but to provide ordinary people with opportunities to prevent crime. The motor manufacturers are being encouraged to design more effective crime-free cars to stop the opportunist youngster stealing from the vehicle or driving it away. After all, that accounts for 30 per cent. of our crime problem.
The neighbourhood watch schemes have captured the imagination of the public to such a degree that there is mounting evidence that, where the public work together and with the police, the number of opportunist burglaries, largely committed by teenagers in our cities, can be dramatically reduced. The Commissioner of Police of the 299 Metropolis reported that the number of burglaries had dropped by 11 per cent., from more than 109,000 in 1984 to just over 97,000 in 1985, and he readily acknowledges the joint effort made by the police, through crime prevention measures, and the public, through neighbourhood watch schemes, in achieving this desirable result.
There is, of course, much more to be done, but the welcome initiatives to which the Home Office is now committed suggest that the containment of crime is realisable. However, the reporting of crimes is likely to continue to show a rising number of offences, as more people now report offences and there are 10,000 more police officers to receive those reports. Crime prevention means encouraging the reporting of crimes that would otherwise go unrecorded.
It is sometimes thought that those who suffer most from crime are the people who live in the plush suburbs or who have evidence of wealth or consumer goods. That is not necessarily true. Following field work that was carried out in 1984, the British crime survey showed that over 45 per cent. of losses resulting from burglaries involved sums of £25 or less. Only 10 per cent. of those losses involved £500 or more.
Many hon. Members know of the distress caused to the elderly or to those on low incomes who are plagued by the teenage burglars who operate on inner city council estates. Their losses and fears are every bit as real and important to the Government and the crime prevention strategy as those who lose substantial amounts. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), has asked me, as a member of the Home Office steering committee on crime prevention, to look at the problem of residential burglary. One of the tasks of that group is to produce an inner city crime prevention package that is usable by everyone.
For example, the fitting of a decent mortice lock to a door might cost as little as £18. It would give peace of mind, as well as effective crime prevention, to many households in inner city areas. Possibly 25 per cent. of those living in inner London or other cities are drawing housing or supplementary benefit, and they are just as entitled to protection from burglary as any other group.
§ Mr. Wheeler
If the hon. Gentleman allows me to continue, I may cover the point that he has in mind.
Ultimately, I believe that there should be a formula to provide some financial support either through the municipal landlord or the private landlord—or, indeed, the individual home owner—to enable crime prevention products to be fitted to the home. It is certainly an attractive idea. What I do not think is necessary is a wasteful blanket approach of a grant available to everybody, with the bureaucratic expense that that entails. I very much hope that the working group that I am associated with will be able to produce a formula that both the Home Office and the Department of the Environment find acceptable.
Property crime is of great concern to most people. It is preventable. Some strategies require the direct involvement of the local authority. Examples of that have already been given. Some strategies require dramatic action to be taken by local authorities, such as the removal of walkways and the creation of what are called "defensible 300 areas". All of that is achievable. But I am glad that this Government's strategy is increasingly making an impact. If the Opposition are genuine about wanting the same successes, I hope that they will change their attitude to the police and encourage the public to work with the police for the overall prevention of crime.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for making it clear that it is in order to raise the events at Wapping in this debate. Indeed, those events have already been referred to by the Home Secretary and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley).
I spent four or five hours at Wapping on Saturday night, and I saw scenes taking place within two miles of the House that I have never seen before in this country and that I hope not to live to see again. Ten thousand demonstrators were there in order to greet marchers from Scotland. There were 1,700 police officers present. According to Home Office figures, there were 175 police casualties. As the Home Secretary knows, I have written to him, asking for four things: the names of the police officers injured at Wapping; the nature of their injuries; the names and addresses of the hospitals at which they were treated; and the dates on which each officer returned to duty. There were more than 80 casualties among those present at the meeting. I could list many of them, but they are recorded in the many photographs taken and in a video taken that night.
Whatever the Home Secretary may say, he is responsible for the Metropolitan police. He found it unnecessary to make a statement to the House, and has chosen instead to shield himself behind the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Kenneth Newman. If he thinks that the demand for control of the police by the London elected body is something new, I should tell him that in 1892 my grandfather moved that the police in London should be under the control of the new London county council. The reason given for opposing it then was that the Home Secretary had to preserve control over the London police because of the risk of Irish terrorism. Thus, I hope that no one tells us that demands for the democratic control of the police are a product of the hard Left or of some new breed of extremism.
I was struck by the fact that running through the speech of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) was the fear that the people might have an opportunity to determine the nature of policing through the ballot box. I have always believed—and the GLC's abolition confirms it—that the Conservative party is afraid not of the rhetoric that may be engaged in by Socialists at public meetings but of democracy.
Like every citizen in Britain, I want a strong and effective police force. I readily agreed to give lectures at the Derbyshire police college in Butterly Park, Ripley. Those who have attended the lectures will know that I turned my mind as best I could to the way in which an effective police force could enjoy the public's confidence. But it is impossible to preserve law and order if there is the sort of suspicion between the public and the police that was released by the events at Wapping.
The hon. Member for Westminster, North seemed to think that he had just discovered that crime occurs on council estates. But I get many complaints from my constituents about the failure to provide proper local 301 policing on council estates where there are problems of vandalism and mugging. or where young people are running round out of control.
One of the reasons why the police do not police these areas properly is that they are diverting their efforts to other matters. Another reason is that local police chiefs have no responsibility to the communities they police. They do not have to take a blind bit of notice of them. They are supported in that by the hon. Member for Westminster, North, who believes that they should be wholly exempt from any democratic control. If one applied that to the Army and said, "Surely no one will say that the Army should be under democratic control," the next question would be, "Why should the Government be under democratic control?"
§ Mr. Benn
I shall give way in a moment but I wish to give the full weight of my argument.
In a democracy, the police are under democratic control. It is that control which does, or should, distinguish this country from a police state. It may be that, for practical reasons and sensibly so, operational responsibilities rest with the policeman on the spot, but the use made of that discretion must be as answerable afterwards as is the Army if, under the orders of the Ministry of Defence, it engages in conflict. Just as the Civil Service, the Treasury and any other department responsible to Parliament through a Ministry has to answer for what it does, so must the police. In the absence of that, the hon. Member for Westminster, North is advocating nothing less than a police state.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to respond. He has totally misrepresented my position. I believe, and the law at present believes, that the police are accountable. Ultimately, the police are accountable to the Chamber. They are accountable for their actions to the courts of law and the magistrates. The police should decide their operational priorities. It is that which divides the right hon. Gentleman from me and other Conservative Members. He would wish to direct police operations.
§ Mr. Benn
No, that is absolutely false. I have made it clear that, for the purpose of operational activities, the police have to take decisions, but they must be answerable for what they do and they must be answerable to the people over whom they exercise their powers. To put it in a nutshell, the police are there to protect us and not to control us; they are there to defend us and not to attack us. That is the issue I wish to deal with arising from the scenes at Wapping.
I must give the House the background to what happened on Saturday night. Mr. Rupert Murdoch, who made £47 million out of News International in the past year, sacked 5,500 print workers, with no compensation whatever. Those print workers—I might add that over the years they have printed stories not very helpful to the causes which I espouse—have been treated in a shabby, rotten way. Since the decision to sack them, the print workers have been meeting outside the Wapping works. I have attended meetings there before and, on Saturday night, they planned to receive a group of marchers from all over the country who had marched through Britain telling people what Rupert Murdoch had done.
302 The marchers were given a civic send-off at Glasgow. They came through Chesterfield and I marched in with them. At Chesterfield, they were given a reception and there was a meeting in the market square the following day. The marchers arrived at Wapping on Saturday night with 10,000 people because the justice of their cause required it. When they reached Wapping they met the police.
I should like to say a word about the difference between this and the miners' strike. In the case of the miners' strike, Ministers said that the police were there to guarantee the right of people to go to work. In Wapping, the police are there to prevent 5,500 people from going to work. In the miners' strike, we were told that the dismissals were due to the fact that the pits were uneconomic, but Murdoch has made £47 million out of the labour of those whom he has sacked. The relationship of the police to the print workers is totally different from that which existed with the miners.
We now know one or two things about the police. The tactical operations manual was forced out of the police under cross-examination in the Orgreave trials. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that, on 22 July last year, I asked for your consent to place this manual in the Library, which you gave. From the manual we learn what instructions are given to the police, with the authority of the Home Secretary, although the instructions were drafted by the Association of Chief Police Officers. That body has no authority whatever in this country other than the fact that it is a sort of trade union or club for chief constables.
I have explained the background for the print workers and Murdoch's background, but what was the background for the police who attended in Wapping on Saturday night? They had the tactical operations manual. Sub-heading e.deals with the functions of the mounted police which concern:Dispersing a crowd using impetus to create fear and a scatter effect".Manoeuvre No. 10 states:Mounted officers advance on a crowd in a way indicating that they do not intend to stop".Let us not be told that these scenes were necessarily triggered by missiles being thrown. Manoeuvre No. 10 states the instructions given to the police and we could see the police lined up outside the plant ready to follow them. Manoeuvre No. 6 refers to the short shield baton team deployed into the crowd. It states:They disperse the crowd and incapacitate missile throwers and ring leaders by striking in a controlled manner with batons about the arms and legs or torso so as not to cause serious injuryManoeuvre No. 7 states:This unit will initially be protected by long-shield officers or personnel carriers and on the command will run at the crowd in pairs to disperse and/or incapacitate".These are the police instructions. There is no question about it. They were prepared by the police. The ordinary decent constables—many of whom I know—thoroughly dislike what they are asked or ordered to do. We must not let anyone say that those instructions, which were given to the police, were necessarily the wishes of the constables at Wapping on Saturday night.
§ Mr. Benn
No, I shall not give way. This is a very important matter.
When the incidents at Wapping were raised in the House on Tuesday, the Leader of the House said that it 303 proved the value of trade union legislation. What has trade union legislation got to do with releasing mounted police into those who attend a public meeting? From the Home Secretary's language today it is implied that those people were rioting. The question of riot came up at the Orgreave trials and I saw some of that riot on television. Every one of those accused was acquitted. Why? When the police video was shown, it was seen that there were six cavalry charges before the stones were thrown.
The BBC bears a heavy responsibility in this. I heard from one of the newsroom people that the director of news on BBC television ordered those preparing that film for the night bulletin to transpose the order of the film to show the missiles and then the police charging. The police video, which was consecutive, showed a very different picture.
§ Mr. Benn
I do not want to be involved in hearsay evidence. I was present and I saw what I saw. The Home Secretary is laughing at the injuries sustained, but he was not present and is trying to shelter behind Sir Kenneth Newman to avoid his responsibility. I saw what I saw with my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith was on site—and Rodney Bickerstaffe, the general secretary of the National Union of Public Employees, and Brenda Dean were also there.
I appealed to the crowd to write to me, and I received 70 letters this morning, which I have not had time to analyse in detail. I also have pictures showing the injuries that were sustained. One is of a photographer who was battered by the police. I have others, and I shall send them to the Home Secretary. Last night, I received a video recording taken by a unit which was on the spot. The matter must be taken seriously.
I shall describe what I saw with my own eyes. I originally positioned myself opposite the plant behind the fence. There was a puff of smoke. I thought that it was tear gas, but it might have been a smoke bomb. No missiles were being thrown. The mounted police advanced out of the plant exactly as the tactical options manual says that they should. They ran into the crowd. They were covered by riot police, who did several things. First, they ran indiscriminately into the crowd and battered people who had had nothing whatever to do with any stones that might 304 have been thrown. It is no good the Home Secretary shaking his head—I saw it with my own eyes. I shall read from only three of the 70 letters, which confirm what I am saying later.
The police did exactly what the tactical options manual said they should. They ran 20 or 30 yards, saw people standing—women, children and grandparents—turned into the crowd and attacked them with their batons. They surrounded the bus that was acting as an ambulance. One man had a heart attack and I appealed over the loudspeaker for the police to withdraw to allow an ambulance to come. None was allowed for 30 minutes. When the man was put on a trestle, a police horse jostled it and the man nearly fell off as he was carried out to the ambulance. The police surrounded the park where the meeting took place. They surrounded the area so that people could not escape. They surrounded the platform where we were trying to hold the meeting. That went on for three or four hours.
I went to Chief Superintendent Goodall and appealed to him to withdraw his men. I appealed to the crowd to stay calm. I was on the platform and relatively safe but there was great anxiety among the people who saw the casualties and how the police were behaving. Two ITN men were hospitalised. Why did ITN not report that? Can hon. Members imagine another incident in the world when a cameraman is hospitalised trying to film a demonstration because he is attacked by the police which is not even referred to on the news bulletin? No wonder Sir Alastair Burnet got his knighthood! A BBC unit had its lights smashed by the police because it was filming what they were doing. That did not appear on the BBC news either. No wonder MI5 vets those who run the major news bulletins and administration on the BBC.
This is a matter which must be dealt with other than by an exchange in the House. If this had occurred in South Africa, Poland or any other country, it would have dominated the headlines and the news bulletins for days and days. I can understand the newspaper proprietors not wanting it to be reported because they hope that Murdoch will beat the print workers so that they can beat their own print workers, but that public service broadcasting stations should deny the public the truth about what happened that night is an utter disgrace and the matter should be raised in the House.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
To prevent the right hon. Gentleman from making more of a fool of himself, may I tell him that there is an objective video recording of the incident?
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
Although I can understand that, from one vantage point, the right hon. Gentleman may have formed certain impressions, which he has described, the objective video of the entire operation is available, timed and does not coincide with his description of events.
§ Mr. Benn
I believe that the hon. Gentleman is a paid employee of the Police Federation. He is entitled to come here and earn his money supporting the Police Federation if he chooses to do so. I have no objection to that because there have always been trade union representatives in the House. I shall quote some of the letters that I have received. One comes from Chelsfield in Kent and says:Printers who bring their mothers, fathers, wives and children to a rally to meet colleagues who had marched from Glasgow and Newcastle do not use the occasion to attack the police.305 It continues:The riot squad then entered the enclosed area from all sides attacking anyone in their path. Within yards of me a man was felled and had a heart attack. He was one of the marchers from Glasgow. We appealed to the police to retreat, but they showed no regard to any of the injured. About 30 minutes passed before an ambulance was able to get through.A woman from Orpington writes:I am the wife of an ex-Sun employee…The shocking behaviour of the riot police who constantly attacked the crowd, many of whom were women and children, was nothing short of barbaric. They were completely out of control and seemed to enjoy what they were doing. The impression that this will leave on the minds of young children is unthinkable.A woman from Shepperton wrote:On Saturday night the BBC lost its camera, knocked out by the riot squad before the horses charged. This is not the first camera they have lost. This also applied to ITN. These are planned attacks by the police.The letter continues:On the second charge of the night—and there were many—that I happened to be involved in, the pickets, including a T.V. cameraman and his crew from Western Germany, were chased by screaming abusing police into a side road which may have been Dock Street.Some people might say that not all of those who went were print workers. I know that that is true. I have here a letter which runs:I am not a print worker, but a middle-aged deputy head teacher of a primary school, who now finds it very difficult to instil into children a respect of the police after my experiences at Wapping.Last Saturday I was not at the main entrance, but at Glamis Road. Everything was calm until about midnight, when with no warning, the police horses were ridden like a cavalry charge from Glamis Road into the crowd. Even when the demonstrators rushed to the pavements for safety, the horses charged on to the pavements knocking people over and against walls.It is no good Conservative Members trying to pretend that it did not happen. It did happen. I was not present, but that deputy head teacher has evidence which should go to a public inquiry.
All of this results from a deliberate attempt by the Government to criminalise dissent in Britain. It has happened at Greenham common, although not as badly. It has happened to the black community. It happened to the miners. It is happening to the print workers. I believe that the Government are guilty of a gross misuse of the police in support of their own political policies. It is a serious threat to civil liberties.
There should be a public inquiry, but I am encouraged by the Home Secretary saying that it is all the responsibility of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to ask the House and the Government to suspend Sir Kenneth Newman as he is responsible for what happened on Saturday night and Sunday morning. We must have elected police authorities.
Police constables are under no obligation to obey unlawful orders. I saw a man with a helmet and a few pips on his shoulder—I do not know whether he was an inspector—instructing them to go into the crowd where they wrought such havoc among innocent people. I believe that that was an unlawful order.
After the Nuremberg trials, police constables should know—they will know better than me—that it is not lawful to be told to attack people and to incapacitate them when they are simply there to attend a meeting. If somebody can be found throwing stones, they are arrested, charged and tried, but they are not incapacitated. One does not use police horses against innocent people. I advised the crowd that night and I advised them again to follow 306 methods of non-violence. Non-violence practised by Mr. Gandhi got the British out of India and non-violence in this country is the best answer. Having said that, I must also say that innocent people, unlawfully attacked, whether by police or anybody else, are entitled to the right of self-defence.
People who are now thinking of organising demonstrations should have doctors present, because they will need them. They should also have nurses and lawyers present. I took a lawyer with me when I tried to see Chief Superintendent Goodall. He said that he did not want to speak to me because I had someone with me. I told him that I was going to raise this matter in the House and I insisted that a lawyer be present. People who are organising demonstrations should also have video cameras there because one will not see the truth on the BBC or ITN and one should have photographers there to know what really happened and have independent witnesses.
The media black-out makes it difficult for those who are not present to understand what I have said, the detail that will be in the letters, which I hope will all be published, and the passion with which I have spoken. Never in my life have I seen anything like that happen in this country.
I believe that the cause of the print workers is just. I believe that people should not buy The Sun, The Times, the Sunday Times or the News of the World or distribute them. If people go to listen to those who have marched the length and breadth of the country, like the Jarrow marchers, to alert people to what is happening, and they gather for a peaceful meeting to be addressed by five people, three of whom are Members of the House, they ought not to be attacked in such a way and systematically batoned by the police. The responsibility ultimately rests with the Home Secretary. Since I do not expect any satisfactory answer, I appeal from this House to the public to see that there is such a wave of protest that such a thing can never happen again.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
For many years, a long time ago, I was a reporter and foreign correspondent and I know how easy it is, standing in the middle of a riot or demonstration or engaged in war, for an individual to form a picture of events that he believes to be the complete one. I have a description written by another observer at the Wapping affair to which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) referred.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I shall come to that. It says:a march of 2,500 pickets had passed peacefully down Fleet Street, but they were joined by members of the Socialist Workers and Communist parties before they reached the plant. At first, there was almost a carnival atmosphere in the streets.Then, at exactly 10 pm—as if pre-arranged—the violence erupted with smoke flares being thrown into the police lines as demonstrators tried to surge into the plant. Scotland Yard described it as 'a major and concerted attack on the police, totally unprovoked and malicious'.The report goes on to say:Two pickets were pulled down by police and arrested as they ran into the plant threatening to 'carve up' the wives and children of the workers inside.The anti-police violence was spurred on by…union leaders haranguing the crowd over loudspeakers…the more moderate Brenda Dean, general secretary of Sogat 82, was booed as she took the platform.307 I no more credit the totality of that report in the Sunday Times than I do the report of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield as both were observers standing in particular places unable to form a judgment of the entire scene.
However, perhaps unknown to the right hon. Gentleman, on a high point overlooking the scene there was a video camera. That camera recorded not all but a large proportion of the events that took place over several hours. I have seen that video. It is, as with all videos taken at night in difficult conditions, in many respects obscure. It is difficult to follow and a great deal of it is rather tedious. However, with the timed clock built into the film one cannot be in any doubt about the order of what happened. The police line was standing firm as the marchers went by and the demonstration got off to a good start. Then, just as the Sunday Times reported, at precisely 10 o'clock a large surge of people comes from the right and the police line starts to buckle. Fighting breaks out. Some police officers fall to the ground. Then visibly, the missiles start to be thrown. Some of them explode as they come to the ground. They may have been smoke grenades or possibly petrol bombs—I cannot be certain because I have only seen the video. However, the smoke rises, more police officers fall, fighting commences and the police line is clearly broken. It was only at that point, several minutes after the missiles were thrown, that the first shield groups went in and the police horses followed. Therefore, it is totally untrue to suggest that the police initiated the violence. On the contrary, they suffered a great deal of violence and many casualties before they responded, as they must, to maintain the rule of law.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman was not there. He has seen a video taken from the roof of a building at night. I was there and the Sunday Times man claims to have been there, perhaps watching it from inside. Surely the matters we are discussing, the differences of opinion and the evidence available are so important that the hon. Gentleman will at least join me in demanding a public inquiry where all these matters can be brought forward by those who are ready to give evidence in an independent assessment of the event. It is wholly wrong that it should be left to the Sunday Times, the representative of the Police Federation and one or two people who were there to settle the matter with the Home Secretary who laughed during much of my speech when I was explaining what happened.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
Of course, there will be the best form of public inquiry that we have. The courts of law will decide this matter. They will not decide it on the partial witness of people such as the right hon. Gentleman, who saw something, or of the gentleman from the Sunday Times who says he saw something else. The courts will take into account and weigh the totality of the evidence. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman not to reach conclusions which are justiciable and evidential at this point. The courts of law will settle this matter, not exchanges in the House. That is why I regret and resent the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to reach decisions on justiciable matters in our national legislature. These are matters for the police to bring before the courts of law and for judges and juries to determine, not Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Benn
When the police numbers were not visible, how can I, who observed the scene and saw the riot police 308 come in, bring an action? The hon. Gentleman knows that he has in mind the police giving evidence against people. He also knows that it would be impossible, given the circumstances, for the people whose letters I read out to take actions which would lead to criminal prosecution against unnumbered police who, in some case, were engaged in criminal assault.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
The right hon. Gentleman who knows many things simply reveals how little he knows about the processes of the law and the processes of complaint against the police. Complaints can and should be made against the police by himself, any other hon. Gentleman or any member of the public who feels aggrieved. There is, quite properly, an independent police complaints authority which will weigh what he has to say. Ultimately, justice rests upon the courts and not upon the intersecting monologues that are thrown around the House.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
How does one identify the police officers when they were not wearing numbers?
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
Because some officers had to put on protective clothing in the face of the missiles that were being thrown, some of them did not have their numbers. I very much regret that. I can see the practical problem. However, it is simply not true to suggest that none of the police officers had their numbers on. I believe that the overwhelming majority did and they could have been identified.
I move from Wapping, which has understandably exercised the House, to the principal subject of this debate and the admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As always, I listened carefully to the thoughtful contribution of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley).
The tide of recorded crime has been rising relentlessly in this country under all Governments every year for the past 41 years. In the late 1940s, about 250,000 crimes were recorded each year; in the early 1950s, it was 500,000; in the early 1960s it passed the 1 million mark; in the early 1970s it passed the 2 million mark; it went up to nearly 3 million by the end of the 1970s; and today it is probably on its way to 4 million.
There are all kinds of reasons for this quantitative explosion in the volume of crime in our country, and very few of them have anything to do with the political complexion of the Government of the day. One reason is that there are many more people—about 12 million more over the past 20 years. We have five or six times more vehicles and many more tourists. Above all, we have more laws, be they simple matters such as construction and use legislation in transport or a variety of other things that this House has passed. We also have more policemen.
Taken together, those things go some way towards explaining why the numbers of crimes reported to the police have increased, yet none of them in any way explains the 16-fold increase in crimes reported to the police over the past generation under Labour and Conservative Governments alike.
I have been involved in this matter for an uncomfortably long time—some 17 years—and my assessment, which coincides with that of the police service, is that today our society is experiencing a new and disturbing phenomenon. We have a greater propensity to 309 break the law and to commit crime. I have asked myself a thousand times why that should be so. But it is not unique to Britain: it is the case throughout the Western world, and no doubt the Eastern world as well.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith laid a great deal of the blame on unemployment and poor social conditions. Of course I see that they must play some part, but I must also say that there is no evidence to suggest that those who are out of work commit more crimes that those who are in work. I must also acknowledge that some of the most violent crimes are committed not by those who live in poor neighbourhoods but by the jeunesse d'orée—the gilded youth. Those who have more money and live in good social conditions are most often the sources of violent crime than the poor.
§ Mr. Soley
Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman misquotes me. I did not say that there is a direct link between crime and unemployment. There is not, and never has been. There is a link between unemployment and imprisonment. The important point is that there is a link between the collapse of the community and community ties and crime, and part of the reason is the issues that I raised. including long-term youth unemployment.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman has already made his speech and does not need to make it again. Perhaps he will allow me to make mine.
I accept that there is some relationship with unemployment and social conditions, but it is by no means direct. Far more important as sources of crime are the moral and social changes that we have seen across society—the breakdown of family life, the vast increase in broken homes, the large number of children who are brought up in one-parent families that either cannot or do not train them to respect other people's property, more money to buy hard liquor and on occasion drugs that youngsters cannot handle. Meanwhile, many of our schools are less inclined to instil in their students what I am not ashamed to describe as old-fashioned values. Classroom discipline in a large minority of our middle and upper schools has deteriorated, while a few teachers set their pupils a poor example. Similarly, in factories and offices, it is the experience of the police that there is today—and I think we all know it—a pretty high volume of casual petty thieving, fiddling and cheating the boss. At a higher economic level, tax evasion has become a national pastime.
The way in which the press and television report crime and violence must also have some effect in normalising dishonesty and conditioning young people to violence. I am convinced that in Tottenham and Brixton we saw examples of imitative violence as a result of unblanced youngsters copying in real life what previously they had seen only on the television screens.
Public figures as well often set the wrong example. While this House was debating the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the GLC issued tens of thousands of leaflets portraying the police as racists and oppressors. While the Committee on the Safety of Medicines was debating whether to allow Depo-Provera—a new contraceptive jab—to be available on the NHS, certain women's organisations, partly financed by Left-wing councils, put out pamphlets that suggested that white doctors, backed by the police, would use this tosolve the immigrant problem by rendering black females infertile".310 Soon afterwards, other militants daubed many of the black areas of south London with vicious propaganda that falsely claimed that it was the police who had set fire to the house in Deptford where a number of black youngsters were burnt.
Against that background, is it really any wonder that some black younsters are prepared to launch themselves, like Zulus, at the police, or that some young people in south Yorkshire were ready to bombard the police with stones, when on their television sets they could see the president of the NUM not only preaching violence but actually leading his mob against the police?
There are two other examples set by politicians that do nothing but harm. One was at Broadwater Farm. Like the hon. Member for Hammersmith, I visited the area soon after the arson and violence, and while the looted shops and burnt-out cars were still disfiguring the neighbour-hood, the leader of Haringey council not only refused to condemn the riots and the killing of a policeman, but, worse, the local Labour candidate for Parliament, councillor Bernie Grant, accused the police of murdering PC Blakelock themselves. He said that the rioters should be congratulated on giving the police a good hiding We have now seen at Wapping language used by hon. Members of this House describing the police as "all that is worst in our society."
These are some of the sources of the increase in lawlessness in Britain, and they help to explain why in my view the propensity to violence is increasing. But there is a second major feature of the contemporary crime map. Crime today is much more violent and complicated than it was in the 1950s.
Far more crime is now committed with the aid of cars, weapons and drugs. Many more very young and very elderly people are involved both as perpetrators as well as victims—for example, the rape of a 9-year-old girl and a child of three with oral gonorrhoea. On the other side of the coin we have a boy of 10 charged with being a rapist, and an 82-year-old woman who was imprisoned in the airing cupboard of her council house until she suffocated and died. At the time of her death she weighed less than five stone. She was imprisoned there by three boys, all of them under 14, who wanted to cash her pension cheques.
Similarly, as crime becomes more violent a also becomes more complex. Computer crime is flourishing and public order crimes take on far more political, ideological, racial and industrial connotations. Meanwhile, Britain has become the scene of international crime, notably Irish and middle east terrorism.
What are the consequences to the police service of these changes in the nature of crime, its increased complexity, its increased ferocity and its ever more international character? The rise in crimes involving firearms not only means many more deaths and serious injuries; it has produced armed policemen. The increase in complex frauds means that the police must train and deploy many more highly specialised fraud squad officers. A single major fraud can now occupy as many as half a million hours of senior detective time before any real progress is made. Public order problems create insatiable demands for more policemen. Not a weekend goes by without the Metropolitan police having half a dozen demonstrations, marches and protest meetings to handle, not to speak of football hooliganism and the increased demand for better and more trained officers to man drug squads, special 311 branch enquiries, anti-terrorist and diplomatic protection squads, and the ever rising demand for more men to guard the Houses of Parliament and indeed Government offices.
I just want to mention one problem that has not, to my surprise, been touched on, namely, the difficulty of policing multi-occupation high rise housing estates. Many of these areas in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow have been turned into the habitat of the lonely, the neglected, the deprived and the single elderly; others, like Broadwater Farm, have become to a large extent ghettos, because the public, and not the police, have made them so. Too often the consequence is a rise in petty crime and juvenile delinquency.
How are the police then to cope in such an environment? To what community do they look for consent as they seek in such non-neighbourhoods to protect the poor, the weak and the innocent? I admit that the police know too little about what goes on in these high-rise concrete jungles. They visit such places only rarely and then only when called on to deal with one, shall we say, out of every three robberies or domestic brawls that take place there every night. I concede that there are occasions when the police intervene, but they arrive mainly in cars and in strength. Especially in immigrant areas, this kind of reactive policing makes for bad police/ public relations. Tottenham, Brixton and Toxteth underline this.
Yet no one is doing more to remedy this problem than the metropolitan police forces themselves. They do this through local consultative committees—my right hon. Friend referred to those. Unfortunately, they are too often boycotted by the Left. They do so too by police visits to schools and youth clubs, although these too are sometimes forbidden by Left-wing teachers, as in Hackney, and by calls on elderly people in the company of social workers, although on occasion some social workers reinforce local antagonisms towards the police service.
Since the Scarman report, every urban police division that I know has been trying—and how they try—to to bridge the gap between the local police and the so-called ghetto dwellers. But bridges need to be built from both sides of a gulf. It is also important to recognise that community policing, to which we all devote ourselves, is not always the answer to the problem. On the face of it, of course, it makes good sense for the police to operate with and through the consent of the community that they serve. But whose consent exactly are the police to obtain? Plainly, not the criminal's. What about the pickets during the miners' strike or at Wapping? Or the black youth leaders in Brixton? Or the Left-wing council in Haringey, or the Protestant majority in Ulster?
I want to put this question to my right hon. Friend quite precisely. When, as in the Broadwater Farm ghetto in Tottenham or in the Nottinghamshire coalfield or in Northern Ireland when the Government decide to ban an Orange day march, the police are caught in the middle of disputes between two sides of the same community, between the older blacks and whites who want to live in peace and the younger ones who enjoy riots, between the print workers who want to work and the print workers who want to stop them, between the Protestant majority which wants to exercise its right to parade and shout, "Hang the Pope", and the Catholic minority that hates this, in these 312 circumstances when the police are caught in the middle, how and from whom are they expected to obtain something called the community's "consent"?
The reality, of course, is that the consent that the police must seek is not to be found in the habits and emotions of any local community at one particular time, although common sense demands that these always be treated by the police with care and respect. The consent that matters most resides in universal standards expressed, as they must be, in the law. The great merit of the law is that it provides the only secure and universal standard that is not subject to the partial standards of particular communities. Nor is it subject to the shifting values of public opinion. Yet all this the notion of policing by parochial consent implicitly undermines.
Local consent is not always even relevant to the nature of the crime that the police must tackle in today's society. I give one example. What is the role of community policing in tackling terrorist crimes? Intelligence is an important factor, and strong links with the community can improve the quality of tip-offs. But when the IRA gang which had detonated bombs in half a dozen west end restaurants, killing and maiming scores of Londoners, was finally cornered in Balcombe street, it was not Dixon of Dock Green, pounding the beat as a community constable in Piccadilly, who identified and gave chase to them, who cornered and besieged them and eventually forced the release of their hostages.
In those circumstances, the police have to be specialised. This kind of operation, like those at the Iranian and Libyan embassy sieges, has to be carried out, for the protection of the public, by the highly trained groups of the CID or by the anti-terrorist or bomb squads. The same goes more and more for perhaps a quarter of all current police operations. As crime becomes more dangerous, more complex and more technically sophisticated, the police response simply cannot always be the bobby on the beat. The police must respond in terms of the threat that they face.
In particular, that goes for their response to the threats against public order. When mobs—I say this bluntly—of drug-crazed youngsters set fire to part of our inner cities, when armies of pickets go roaring round the coalfields with the declared aim of imposing their will by force or intimidation and, in the process, obstruct the highway or threaten people's lives or property, it is no use for the police to attempt to contain these challenges with no more lawful force than is available to the community constable. The riot squad has to go in.
The truth is that community policing, which we all support, is rather like motherhood or the United Nations. It is an unarguable public good. But it can work well only when there is a comparatively settled and homogeneous community. The arsenal of police responses to the challenge of violent crime and public disorder today needs to include a wide range of alternative responses, from accountancy to investigate complex frauds to deadly marksmanship when faced with terrorist murderers that the police may have no choice but to shoot to kill.
I want to indicate how the police react to the choice that they now are offered between the policies of the two Front Benches. The police, as they always do, will stay out of politics. They will form their own opinions and they will keep quiet about them. My suggestion to them is that they make their judgment on the claims of the two main parties to be the policeman's friend by two pragmatic tests.
313 The first is that when hard choices must be made, for example, over street violence, they should ask themselves which politicians can be relied upon to stand four square with the police in upholding the law. The second test is, which party in office is the more likely to provide the necessary resources and support that policemen need to do their job? In my view, the present Government pass both tests.
Ministers—they will not he surprised to hear me say this—have upset the police by failing to consult them on matters that affect the efficiency of the service. They have upset them by surrounding them with paper work and bureaucracy as a result of some of the work that we have all done in the House on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. They have upset them by not moving fast enough to prevent some loss of manpower in nearly every force in response to the Treasury's cash limits and the penalties of the Department of the Environment on local expenditure. But the present Government's copper card is copper-bottomed because they kept faith with the police on two specific issues. They implemented the Edmund Davies pay award over which the Labour party hovered, and ever since since they have honoured that award in full. Secondly, in and out of Parliament Ministers, and in particular the Prime Minister, have stood firm behind the police whenever they have come under attack from violent men.
I turn to the Labour party. I wish the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) were here. Many policemen in my experience at one time had much sympathy for and have probably supported the Labour party.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
Unfortunately, Labour's image in the police service has been badly flawed by its tendency automatically to take sides against the police whenever individual issues arise, and also by its poor record on police issues when in office. Every policeman welcomes the evidence that the Leader of the Opposition is distancing himself from the anti-police brigade in his party. It is deeds, not words, that count, and the Labour party will have to work hard to erase the service's memories of 9,000 of its best men quitting in disgust because Labour in government denied them decent pay and support.
§ Mr. Soley
I am not interested in responding to the hon. Gentleman's homily which I do not think has much bearing in fact. I would rather go by my own contact when I speak at police meetings. I want the hon. Gentleman to explain to the House why, at the last police conference, the Home Secretary was so roundly booed.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
I was there and spoke at considerable length. As I have said, Ministers had upset the police in the ways I have described. We shall see how my right hon. Friend fares in three or four weeks' time in Blackpool. If the hon. Gentleman presses me on the matter, I can only say that I have never been present at a more disturbing and worrying occasion than when a Labour Home Secretary was given the silent treatment by the police. I had never seen a politician treated so harshly before.
314 I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the matter seriously. If the Labour party is to consolidate the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to be seen to support the police, it must do several things. First, the Leader of the Opposition must stop local Labour chieftains mounting attacks on the police that simply are not justified. The hon. Gentleman knows of what I speak. He knows that there is a limit to what his party can do. The Leader of the Opposition should dissociate himself from the violent attacks that are made persistently on the police by Labour councillors up and down the country.
He must denounce and, if possible, remove the block by some Labour councillors on policemen visiting schools. He must dissociate himself from the vast majority of GLC leaflets that depict the police as racists and oppressors of gays. He must get rid of any support in his party for the reggae record which has been sent round many youth clubs and which contains violent language directed against the police.
Above all, what he must do in the House is to withdraw the Labour party's three-line Whip against the prevention of terrorism legislation because without that in present circumstances the police cannot hope to protect any British Government, whatever its complexion, or their visitors from terrorist attack. He should repudiate the Labour party's commitment to disband the special patrol group, without which the Metropolitan police cannot cope with violent mobs. He should get rid of the commitment to dismantle or run down the special branch whose undercover work is indispensable, as he must know. Above all, he should also abandon Labour's policy of placing the police under local political control. What that means in practice the police have already seen at close hand in the attempts of the South Yorkshire Labour party to take away their crowd control horses and of the Manchester Labour party to make the local chief constable give up his force's baton rounds.
If the Labour party will do those things and at the same time call off the vendettas which its local councils pursue against the police, the Government should respond, as my right hon. Friend has already suggested he will do, by resisting the temptation for law and order to become again the battleground of politics. There is nothing the police need more than a truce between the parties on this issue. To have any chance of stemming, much less reversing, the rising tide of crime and violence we need to reconstruct a national consensus on policing. That is the copper card that all parties should be playing.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). I agreed with parts of it and I disagreed with other parts. The assessment, at the end, of the attitude of the ordinary rank and file policeman was not entirely unpredictable and not totally persuasive as an impartial judgment. On the other hand, on the basis of his contribution today I am prepared to accept that the hon. Gentleman spoke at great length when he last spoke to the police conference.
The Home Secretary was right to stress the need to try to create partnership in tackling the problem of crime prevention. There must be a substantial measure of common ground between us that we must have the maximum public and community involvement if we are to do anything about tackling the level of crime.
315 All of us have an interest. We all suffer from crime, some people directly because they are attacked on the streets or their homes are broken into. It is a sad fact that in my constituency some of my neighbours have had their homes broken into two or three times during the last couple of years. My constituency office has been broken into twice in less than a year.
Others suffer crime indirectly, through the fear of crime. On that point, the figures quoted by the commissioner in his 1986 strategy report were extremely frightening. The report suggests that about 68 per cent. of Londoners now fear having their homes broken into, 63 per cent. fear having their homes or property damaged, and 62 per cent. fear being mugged or robbed. That is an indication of the problems that crime presents to many ordinary Londoners.
Other people have to bear the cost of crime through higher insurance premiums and through paying for repairs. All of us are involved and must share the responsibility for tackling crime. We cannot simply say that it is a matter for the police, and they should get on with it.
One vital area of co-operation is between local authorities and the police. From my experience in local government I know that in the past too many council decisions have been taken without any thought for crime prevention. Deck access flats, for example, are a godsend to criminals wanting to make a rapid getaway, and the confusing layout of many council estates makes it all too easy for rapid escapes, especially when the approach of police cars can be seen at some distance. The underpasses probably looked good on architects' drawing boards in the 1960s, but they have become a mugger's delight. Similarly, in the 1960s underground car parking probably seemed a sensible solution to the car park problem, but in many of our urban areas it is a vandal's delight and an opportunity for arsonists. In many areas underground car parks are now completely burnt out or fenced off as being too dangerous to use.
The fittings of many council houses, such as louvred windows and glass-pannelled front doors, are a doddle for young criminals to break through. The latest worrying development in my constituency is related to lofts above the top floor of blocks of flats, where there must be trapdoor access. Criminals are now discovering that they can break in through the trapdoor and smash through the ceilings of the flat below the loft. We must tackle that worrying problem.
Local authorities must accept that they need to repair vandalised property quickly in order to maintain standards and prevent invitations for further criminal activities. To leave property empty is an invitation to criminals both to vandalise the empty property and to use it as a springboard to break into neighbouring flats and maisonettes.
All that leads me to argue that there may well be a case for establishing crime prevention units within the management of major local authorities. They would co-ordinate the planning and decision taking of the various council departments to ensure that we feed into the system the needs and requirements of crime prevention at the right time—when key decisions are being taken—so that we do not discover too late that we have a problem which we did not think about when the decisions were on the drawing board.
316 Crime prevention units could heighten public awareness of the need for crime prevention, and the need to back up police campaigns and offer practical advice and assistance to local people. When anybody suggests a new element in local government, there is immediate suspicion of another gigantic piece of bureaucracy with a great committee structure on top. I see no need for that if we have crime prevention units. I would have thought that they have fewer resource implications than some police units and police committees that have appeared in local government during the past few years, and that have not been so much concerned with crime prevention as with harassing and making life difficult for the police.
Moreover, crime prevention units could be cost-effective. They could reduce the direct costs to an authority of vandalism and of repairing the effects of house-breaking and related crime. At the same time, they may help to reduce insurance premiums. We should consider seriously establishing crime prevention units in local authorities.
I have had some experience of crime prevention panels. They undertake useful and worthwhile initiatives, such as property-marking campaigns. On the whole, I have found that they are not particularly well resourced, they have administrative problems, and, sometimes, appear to lack a clear, decisive, cohesive role. If one had crime prevention units in a local authority, crime prevention panels could be brought under their umbrella and so made more effective.
I endorse what the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said about many of our worrying crime problems being on our council estates. I shall touch on three issues under that heading. The first relates to entryphone systems. They are badly needed, but sometimes people tend to believe that they solve all problems. A great deal depends on the quality of the system, and how the local authority goes about installing it. It is important to explain to tenants how the system works and what part they must play in it. Far too often tenants do not understand it or become sloppy and allow people in, without checking it. Secondly, local authorities have installed highly technical systems which promptly go wrong, and the whole benefit of the arrangement is destroyed. Thirdly, and most important, any entryphone system in council blocks of flats must be sufficiently robust to withstand the vandalism to which it will probably be subjected. If we can do something along those lines, entryphones will have a part to play in improving life for many council tenants.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that resident caretakers are far better than mobile caretakers. No politics is involved because councils of all political persuasions have in the past chosen mobile caretakers. On the whole, my experience is that trade unions prefer mobile caretakers for obvious reasons. If one wants some sort of presence on a council estate, a resident caretaker is essential. We cannot expect caretakers to take on violent criminals, but they must have rapid contact with the police to call on them when they are needed.
One of the most worrying aspects of crime on council estates is the difficulty of persuading people to give evidence. All too often people know who the troublemakers, vandals and burglars are, but are extremely nervous about giving evidence in court. They fear that the criminal will be bound over or will have a fine to pay, and 317 will come back on the streets. They fear for their property and families if they give evidence. I find that deeply worrying.
There is an urgent need to devolve more power to council house tenants. Localised self-management by tenants through bodies such as tenants' co-operatives creates pride in the community and an atmosphere in which crime and criminals are deterred. I agree that a tenants' charter is the right approach. The more power and responsibility we give to council tenants, the more interest they take and the more we create the climate of opinion which many of us want to see.
There are now about 2,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in the Metropolitan police area and the Metropolitan police are evaluating that approach. Even at this stage one can see some clear benefits. Public awareness is certainly increased, the schemes involve more people, and definitely appear to improve relationships between the public and the police. My subjective investigations seem to show that the results are good. People seem to be more comfortable and settled where such a scheme is in operation, and to believe that it has a useful role to play.
The sad but predictable fact is that most of the schemes are well-established in comfortable middle-class owner-occupied nighbourhoods. That is inevitable because that is where they are easiest to run. The sad fact is that the schemes are much more necessary on council estates. If we are to start effective neighbourhood watch schemes on council estates, we need to put more resources and greater effort behind them. Incidentally, I regret the knocking reaction of some Labour authorities to the whole concept. I do not suggest that neighbourhood watch is the answer to all our problems, but it is taking us in the right direction. The more support and pressure that is put behind it, the more effective it will be.
The Home Secretary in opening referred to the fact that a great many householders have totally inadequate protection against crime, including inadequate door locks. Although I am not one of those who support the idea of making general grants available to all householders to improve security, I think that there is a special case for those who are most at risk and have the least resources. I refer specifically to pensioners who are on supplementary benefit. When I have tried to persuade the Department of Health and Social Security that it ought to be prepared to make a single payment for the installation of much needed locks and security equipment in private homes, its attitude has been that single payments are not available for that sort of approach; it is something for which the householder should have saved from supplementary benefit throughout the years.
Anybody who has lived on supplementary benefit will understand how difficult it is to expect someone to save anything. It is certainly not sufficient for the installation of proper, efficient and effective door locks. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will take that issue on board and see whether he can persuade the Department to include sensible security arrangements in the items to be covered by a single payment for those really in need.
I have one other personal comment that arises from something that the Home Secretary said about clear-up rates which, in respect of burglary and housebreaking in the London area, are still depressing. I want to repeat a comment that I have made to the commissioner and certainly to the Home Secretary on more than one 318 occasion. I refer to the problem that is created for many ordinary people who, when they suffer this sad and traumatic experience of having their homes broken into, find that the police response is something less than they had expected. There is sometimes lengthy delay before the police arrive and, when they do, it is a cursory examination and they give the impression that there is very little that can be done. The follow-up is usually nothing at all.
I understand the problems of the police. The sums involved may be comparatively small but to the person concerned this is a desperately sad and depressing experience. I understand the pressure on the police, but some sensible level of concern and an attempt to follow through is crucial in this important area of public-police relationships. If the aim is to encourage confidence in the police, in the matter of training and the attitude of supervisory officers in the force, I hope that we will try to ensure that the ordinary policeman on the beat who is involved in such incidents gives the impression that, even if the matter is a minor one and one of many to have happened that day, he is concerned and regards it as important, because that is what it is to the person who has suffered from the crime.
As I said at the beginning, I think that the Home Secretary is right to try to build a partnership against crime throughout society. I think that the Government are broadly on the right lines. They need more resources, and in some respects their approach would be improved by more adventurous methods and techniques. I hope that the Minister will be open-minded about new suggestions coming forward from whatever source.
The message that we should send out from the House, I believe, is that we are searching for some measure of agreement. We shall disagree on a great many things about policing and crime, but we ought to be searching for some substantial measure of common ground from which we can launch a crime prevention campaign. I am convinced that, for many of our constituents, crime prevention is far too important to become a simple political football.
§ Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate.
I had hoped to speak in the debate on prisons on Tuesday. Having read the report of Tuesday's debate, I notice that very few Back Benchers were successful in speaking, so I imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I would have been unlikely to catch your eye. I had hoped to speak about Northeye prison and the happenings there last week. As it turned out, I could not attend Tuesday's debate because I had a happy duty in my constituency when the Queen Mother came to open a section of the electrified railway line. I am therefore hoping to have the opportunity to dwell at some length on the events last week in Northeye prison. I base that hope on the fact that there has been no outburst of criminal activity in my constituency such as we saw within the perimeter fence of Northeye for many years.
If the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) does not mind, I shall not dwell on what he said beyond agreeing that everybody must be given a sense of responsibility for tackling crime. I agree that one of the real local problems is persuading people to come forward and give evidence not just to the police but in magistrates courts. In conversations with the local police in my 319 constituency, I have been told time and again that they come across people who, after a first experience in a magistrates court, say that too much time has been taken and that the treatment meted out is such that they are reluctant to go back. That is a bad thing, and efforts must be made to correct it.
Any debate on crime prevention must take into account the trend in the past 30 years or more, to which a number of hon. Members have alluded, of a 5 to 7 per cent. annual growth rate in crime. Against that background, the Government have made important progress on a number of fronts in the past seven years in a fashion unmatched by the previous Labour Government. I wish to comment on some aspects of the progress that has been made, apart from prisons, and then turn to the happenings at Northeye.
The first thing that arises in the list of the Government's achievements is crime prevention. We have already heard today about neighbourhood watch schemes. There are already more than 9,000 such schemes. They have achieved wide popularity and, in certain areas, have brought down the local burglary rate. That seems to be the early experience in my constituency where a number of such schemes have been implemented, particularly in Bexhill, and notably at Cooden within Bexhill.
Crime prevention schemes under the community programme are very important, as is the greater emphasis that has been placed on public awareness of the need for security with, for example, insurance companies providing incentives for people to take security measures. It is surprising how few people bother to do so.
Most important in regard to crime prevention, I am sure, is that a greater awareness should be built up in schools. It is essential that the police should continue with the good work that they have begun in schools so that youngsters from the earliest stages realise that they should have a sense of responsibility about crime prevention.
With regard to support for the police, the Government's record speaks for itself. In the past seven years, spending on the police force has risen from £1.1 billion to £2.8 billion. There are 14,000 extra staff in the police, most of whom are police officers. As to court powers, there has been much progress with the Criminal Justice Act 1982 and the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, but I am bound to say that I am one Member of the House who believes that more progress is needed.
I feel that society would be safer and more responsible if capital punishment for murder were reintroduced. I also think that there should be tougher sentences for rape and crimes of violence. I hope that those subjects will not be lost on this Parliament and future Parliaments.
The Government have done a great deal to help victims. It is a sobering fact in a sense that compensation for victims has increased by more than 250 per cent. in the past five years. What the Government have done in tackling the drugs problem is essential to crime prevention, first and foremost, in the education of youngsters who make up the greater part of the potential market for drug traffickers and, secondly, by cracking down on the drug traffickers themselves.
The Government's determination to tackle the problems of law and order contrast sharply with the ambivalent attitude of the Labour party. It is all very well attaching a law and order label to the Labour party's new public relations image, as we have heard this afternoon 320 and in the past week, but that does not fit with many of the remarks made in the past several weeks by Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. It fits even less well with the comments made by some prospective Labour party candidates such as Mr. Livingstone, Mr. Bernie Grant, Mr. Boateng and many others—not to forget examples of other prominent members of the Labour party such as Mr. Scargill and many more.
It is not just the Labour party that falls down in that regard. I heard with interest what the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) said, but I remind him that at the time of the Handsworth riots the president of the Social Democratic party quickly appeared on television and said that South Africa had come to the streets of Britain, as if the Handsworth riots could be excused in the name of social deprivation. That is muddled thinking. There was no social deprivation to speak of in Handsworth. Millions of pounds of Government money had been invested in that suburb of Birmingham in the form of new housing. It is dangerous to attach such notions to the problem of violent crime and riot.
Many Opposition Members say that unemployment is the principal cause of violent crime, but if they look back to the 1930s they will see that the parallel simply is not there. My view is that crime continues to rise because our society has created a climate of permissiveness over the past 30 or 40 years. There is more affluence in our society but also more rootlessness. There is greater freedom, but less of a sense of responsibility at school and in the home, and less of a sense of individual obligation. We know that television glamourises violence. I had great sympathy for the private Member's Bill introduced recently with the object of reducing the amount of violence shown on television.
Most important, however, reliance on the state and at the same time a corresponding resentment against the overwhelming authority that the state represents underlies much of the increase in crime. In the past seven years the Government have done a great deal to change society's attitude by creating opportunities once again, and building individual choice into our way of life. We have seen it in many forms—in council house purchases, matters affecting trade union membership, and many other areas of everyday life. That augurs well for society. In the longer run, that sense of individial responsibility will reinforce the nation's will to play a more responsible part in everyday life and therefore in crime prevention.
I now refer to the part that our prison service should play in the overall scheme of crime prevention, and I should like to talk about Northeye prison. The prison was converted from a Royal Air Force camp in 1968 and opened as a category C prison. Much local anxiety was expressed at the time, as I know full well because my parents lived within a mile of the site then. Originally it was designed for 250 prisoners and later it accommodated up to 450. The prisoners were housed in 28 huts, most of which were wartime billets, and other amenities were developed at the camp. There is a perimeter fence, which has been breached more often than it should have been. Time and again there have been stories in the local press of prisoners getting through or over the fence and away across the Pevensey marshes. It may not seem so funny now in view of the events of last week, but there was wry humour in Bexhill not so long ago when people were apprehended getting into the prison to join a drugs party.
321 Most of the prisoners are serving sentences of six months to three years. Some have served longer sentences elsewhere and have been transferred for the final stages of their term of imprisonment for good conduct.
Northeye prison was not immediately accepted by the Bexhill community, but a great deal of good work was done by the governor for local public relations and by the board of visitors, which continues to be active on the prison's behalf. An excellent sports hall has been developed at Northeye and there was a boost to local trade from the presence of a small community of prison officers.
Nevertheless, four inter-related problems have arisen at Northeye over the past two years. The first is the number of escapes, to which I have alluded, and the second is the drugs problem. In several prisons such as Northeye, no matter how hard the prison officers work, visitors can, do, and have continued to bring drugs into the prison at visiting time. Also, as the perimeter is surrounded by a public footpath, it is not difficult for people to toss drugs over the fence into an area that the prisoners can reach without difficulty.
There has also been a problem of violence, which has been growing mainly because of the large turnover of the prison population. Not all those coming to Northeye are natural candidates for a category C prison. Two hundred were sent back by the governor last year and this year the rate of rejection has been about four a week. The prisoner arrives, and is processed into the prison, and it may take several days before his true nature is revealed. That presents a problem.
The fourth area is undoubtedly staffing ratios. The prison service carried out a manpower survey in June 1984, and in June 1985 it confirmed that the full complement of prison officers at Northeye should be 55, but as there are plenty of demands from other prisons as the prison building programme expanded and more prison places came on stream, Northeye contented itself with a smaller strength. Recently it has been operating satisfactorily with a complement of 37 or 38, of which two officers were sometimes seconded to help at London prisons. A great deal of overtime was worked by those prison officers, and at Northeye it has recently averaged 16 hours a week. When prison officers have been on prolonged sick leave, the prisoners' activities have had to be restricted. That always presents a potential threat.
After the manpower survey was completed, approved and agreed, an inner security fence was promised as a matter of priority. The Government approved the building of that fence in the past financial year. I know that for a fact because I received confirmation in writing from my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. The fence should have been built but it has not been built to this day. The purpose of the fence was to divide the accommodation units from the other units, which were destroyed last week.
Against that background of a staff shortage but a workable arrangement at Northeye, it is worth bearing in mind that there have been several years' progress in the prison service in terms of resources afforded by the Government. Expenditure on the prison service in the past seven years has increased by 85 per cent. In real terms, allowing for inflation, that is an increase of one third. In the current year the budget is about £639 million, which is 8 per cent. up on last year.
As was said in the debate on Tuesday, the number of prison officers has been increasing. There has been an 18 322 per cent. increase since 1979 while the number of prisoners has risen by 12 per cent. Last year about 1,100 new prison officers were taken into the service so that the total is now about 18,700. 'Thanks in part to the overtime that those prison offices are working, they receive on average pay of about £15,000 a year. They are part of a service in which five new prisons were opened in 1985–86, with 15 more earmarked for opening by the early 1990s. In addition, 10,000 existing cells are being refurbished.
What really happened at Northeye last week, and why did it happen? The problem started at 6 pm. It is significant that that is exactly the same time as the prison officers' overtime ban was due to begin. From that point on, there was nothing but chaos, or it would have been chaos but for the prompt action of the prison governor, his staff on duty and the police. I visited the prison at 2.30 am and spent part of the night outside the perimeter fence with the Sussex police and the governor. The following morning, I inspected what was left of Northeye prison as the prisoners had been moved away. I inspected the charred ruins with the governor and senior police officers.
What happened at Northeye was that the chief officer was on duty when the overtime ban took effect with four ordinary prison officers and one senior officer—six men—in charge of 445 people. No sooner had the overtime ban begun than some of the prisoners appeared wearing masks, having taken baseball bats from the sports centre, and began breaking into the canteen. At that point, following a pre-planned strategy, the chief officer got in touch with the governor and courageously secured the release from the detention unit of two prisoners who had been locked up for their safety because they `tad transgressed the inmates' rules about paying for tobacco. He got those two prisoners, who otherwise would have suffered terribly, out of the unit and removed the other prison officers outside the perimeter fence. The police came along rapidly and contained the outbreak.
The prisoners inside Northeye went on the rampage and began to put everything to fire. They left their accommodation units, the chapel and the sports hall intact, but every other building at Northeye was burned and completely destroyed—the workshops, the canteen, the welfare centre with its records, and the hospital after the drugs had been removed and drug cocktails made up to egg the prisoners on. It seems that a hard core of about 30 prisoners were responsible for all that happened. Most of the rest, at a fairly early stage, surrendered to the authorities outside the perimeter fence, and 10 others escaped across the marshes.
Why did it happen? Last week, I said in the House that it was important that the issue should not he prejudged and that there should be an inquiry, but I am bound to raise two points, the first being the focus of media attention on the prison officers' overtime ban. There is no doubt that last week the prisoners at Northeye and other prisoners could gear themselves up for their criminal violence because they knew exactly when the overtime ban was due to start. It must also be said that prison officers, who are experienced men, must have known precisely what could easily happen. It must also be said that, at Northeye, as soon as the prison officers heard that there was trouble, those following the overtime ban immediately returned to work and pledged total support to the governor until the problem had been resolved, but by then the damage had been done.
323 In the face of the excellent Government policy of allocating more resources to prisons such as Northeye, and offering so much support, why did the industrial action arise and the dispute take place that led to so much wanton criminal destruction? My view is that regional and central management in the prison service lacks sufficient management and leadership skills. If we remember that the problem of allowing a mix of prisoners at a category C prison had got out of hand, and that pressure was mounting over escapes and violence—pressures that the board of visitors identified and the governor had long identified, and to which I referred in correspondence with Ministers—we must ask ourselves how the pressure could have arisen, bearing in mind that there are substantial resources in the prison service.
I discussed the issue with the deputy regional director when he visited Bexhill at my request last year, and I also asked about the failure to build the fence that the Government had authorised. In that area, as with negotiations on staffing ratios, the management of the prison service leaves something to be desired. In any industry where people have been earning overtime for a prolonged period and there is a request that the system should change so that less overtime will be earned, there is bound to be tension and misgivings. The position at Northeye and other prisons was not much different from that in comparable industrial situations.
The difference at Northeye is that the orders from regional management tended to be what I described as orders given in a macho climate. They were terse orders. There was little explanation or scope for discussion and debate. Although the Government made the right decisions about allocating resources, the necessary changes, including reductions in overtime, were not implemented smoothly enough because industrial relations were tense. The working environment of the prison officer is an area in which rumours abound and where men are required to appear tough. What was needed was a little more patience, planning and thoroughness in negotiations on the part of regional management.
That being the case, wherever the Government increase resources it is important that the management of the public sector should be watched carefully to ensure that it is up to the challenge of implementing the large-scale improvements that the Government have authorised. I can think of several areas where that has happened. As parliamentary private secretary to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, I am not allowed by custom to talk about that area, but I hope it will not matter if I say that at least in the National Health Service positive steps have been taken to introduce better management. Where large sums of Government money flow into the public sector, it is important that the management does not stand still but that steps are taken to improve it. There is potential for the regional and central management of the prison service to enlarge its skills.
In the debate on Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put his finger on the point when he said:The service faces many problems … but it has two relatively new assets of which we have to make the best possible use. The first is the willingness of the Government to invest substantial resources in the service. The second is the realisation … that by changing to more sensible ways of running prisons further resources can be released.324 In replying to the debate, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said:All that increased expenditure needs to be based on a proper and efficient system in the prisons so that those who work in the prisons do so according to modern and not outdated industrial relations practices. That is what the Government are tackling."—[Official Report, 6 May 1986; Vol. 97, c. 47–73.]Indeed, that is what the Government are tackling. If they concentrate upon the prison service, that is one area in which there will be no repeat of the disorder, violence and lawlessness that occurred last week in several prisons, especially at Northeye. If we get the management of public sector resources right, especially in the prison service, we should have greater value for money. If we apply that principle to the crime prevention effort as a whole, society will be much better off.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) could not speak in the debate on prisons. The moral is not to throw away one's notes since it might be possible to regurgitate them on a subsequent occasion.
We debate a vital matter when we deal with the prevention of crime. The level of crime and, sometimes even more importantly, the fear of crime damages and detracts from the quality of life of those whom we represent. Crime has increased by 40 per cent. since the Government came to office. There are now 10,000 more crimes every day than when Labour left office.
The principal job of the police is combating crime. For whatever reason, in many ways, they are not doing it very well. In London the clear-up rate is only 17 per cent. Fewer than one in five crimes is solved. That is lower than for the rest of the country. The Metropolitan police are at the bottom of the league for crime prevention.
Since 1979, Government spending on the police has increased in real terms by 40 per cent.—that is the same figure as the increase in crime. Police pay, police clothing, police weaponry, police vehicles and police numbers have had favourable attention. Police manpower is larger by 10,400 than it was six years ago. The police are highly paid. For example, an ordinary constable costs more than a Member of Parliament. In return, we are right to expect the highest standards of professional conduct and the police to act strictly within the law.
Effective policing and the solving of crime can be achieved only with public co-operation and consent. That basic truth is accepted by everyone who understands anything about such matters. Recent police actions are damaging, jeopardising and destroying co-operation with and public confidence in the police. The police cannot, as I saw them do, rampage through the streets of Wapping and expect those on the receiving ends of truncheons and horses hooves to co-operate with community policing the next day as if nothing had happened.
Let us understand that those thousands of workers who have been robbed of their jobs by Murdoch—a totally unscrupulous employer who sacked his entire work force without a penny of compensation—have a perfect right to protest and demonstrate. What sort of people do we think they are? Would the House have them do anything else? Would the House expect British people, who stood up to tyrants such as Hitler, to lay down passively and be trampled on by industrial butchers such as Murdoch? Of course not. They will not do so. When those workers, 325 many of whom are women, exercise their freedom to protest and demonstrate, they are not criminals, enemies of the state to be beaten up at will by riot police and trampled on by horses. They are decent, honest citizens who pay rates and taxes. They should have the protection of the House.
In this free country, demonstrating is not a criminal offence. If certain police officers act as though it were, they will, deservedly, lose public support. They will certainly lose mine. If they thus forfeit public support, they will be inhibited in their ability to fight crime. It should be explained to senior police officers that it is a traditional democratic freedom in this country to march through the streets and to hold open air meetings. They should understand that those freedoms serve a vital function in our democracy. They bring issues and grievances to the attention of the public, the media and the authorities. They allow citizens to express their solidarity with one another. They are an accepted form of expression, representing a demand on those in power, and they lead, ideally, to the peaceful resolution of conflict.
I shall tell the House what happened last Saturday night. The main road running past the Murdoch plant at Wapping is The Highway. One parade came along that road from the east and another approached from the west, having come from the embankment. When the parades met, at about 10 pm, there was an incident. The incident lasted only seconds. The police say that some missiles were thrown, as was a smoke bomb. At this, immediately, and, I emphasise, without any warning, the mounted police charged at a gallop up and down The Highway, scattering everyone—men, women and children. The police would be expected to react. One would have hoped for an intelligent response, but, by any standards, that was a wild over-reaction. However, that was just a minor beginning.
The mounted police occupied The Highway. The crowd had moved up Wellclose street, which leads off The Highway and into Wellclose square, both making a cul de sac, and into the adjoining park where there was a speakers' platform. Here they posed no threat to the police or anyone else. Yet after a pause, and completely unnecessarily, there were further cavalry charges. Then, most inexplicably of all, with the people penned into the cul de sac, a large force of riot police, with helmets and visors, short shields and truncheons, appeared opposite Wellclose street. For a few minutes, they did a sort of war dance, rather like footballers coming out on to the field. With absolutely no provocation, and absolutely no warning, they made a charge in a V-formation into the people, knocking everybody flying with truncheons and shields.
There were many injuries. Even more inexplicably, without any justification whatsoever, the police made repeated charges in that manner, at intervals, for hours. I repeat, for hours! I do not understand that. It was a scene of the utmost, sickening brutality. I found it difficult to believe what I was seeing or to believe that it was in England. Despite appeals from speakers on the platform, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), for calm and order, and for the police to withdraw, the charges continued regularly.
There were, inevitably, many casualties. The following day, I received a preliminary list, which I have with me, with the names and addresses of 44 injured persons. There were 24 head injuries, one eye injury, one broken jaw, two 326 leg injuries, two of severe shock, and 13 injuries were unknown. One person collapsed on arrival at work. Another had a heart attack. Since then, I have received another long list of injuries. When the ambulances arrived, they were impeded by police. What is even more difficult to explain is that the police would not let anyone leave.
I left the platform, where I had observed everything, and tried, around midnight, to leave at the back of Wellclose square. I was told by a line of riot police that no one could leave. I asked why and was told that that was their order. After I introduced myself, I spoke to a superior officer. He asked me whether I was alone, and let me out. Had I wanted to take a crowd away from Wapping, I would not have been allowed to do so. Police were keeping people penned in for hours and repeatedly, and Violently, baton charging them without the slightest shred of justification or reason. If that had occurred in Poland or South Africa, it would have been headline news and reported in terms of outrage.
What possible explanation can there be for such appalling behaviour? The only explanation I can think of is that it was an exercise in intimidation—people would be so beaten and assaulted that they would be deterred from going back. When I tell people about that, I get two reactions. First, they can hardly believe that it happened. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield gave his account of events, I noticed that the Home Secretary laughed. The Home Secretary did not believe my right hon. Friend. Hon. Members might not believe that such things happen in England, but I was there and I know what happened. It was a disgrace and scandal.
Secondly, people say, "In future, you should stay away. If that is what it is like, do not go to Wapping" or, in other words, allow the police arbitrarily to abolish the right to demonstrate. That is a dangerous doctrine, because the demonstrators had a perfect right to be there. Parliament has declared no state of emergency and the Riot (Defence) Act 1886 no longer exists. In acting as they did, the police acted outside the law. It was the police who breached public order. Their action led to less, not more, order. The law says that truncheons should be used only in self-defence or to resist violence—neither condition existed. The riot police were breaching the law and the peace, not defending them. Countless people—women and men—were hit on their heads, not their bodies. The riot police in effect declared war on the printers, injuring and taking them prisoner.
At Peterloo 150 years ago, in similar circumstances and with similar motives, the Army sent its cavalry into a peaceful crowd. The press proved capable of outrage then, and so should we in the House today. It was not all that long ago that we saw police at Stonehenge—I was not there but I saw on my television screen what happened—truncheoning men, women and children. Last Saturday's police action was indiscriminate and brutal. It was a scandal and a disgrace and intolerable. We cannot possibly accept or endorse it.
There will be other consequences. The demonstrators have asked me, "Are we expected to remain passive and to allow ourselves to be beaten up? Are we to be used as punch bags or for target practice and not retaliate?" I am not sure what my answer should be. Should we not wear crash helmets for protection if, when we go to meetings, we are to be beaten on the head? That will encourage an escalation of violence and lead to a more violent society.
327 It is now clear that special paramilitary units are available to be deployed against gatherings of civilians whose congregation is disliked by senior police officers—officers who, in practice, are not answerable to anyone. These special units are trained out of the public view and in tactics that have yet to be divulged publicly to anyone. Those tactics obviously include maiming and injuring innocent persons, to disperse them in violation of the law.
The Metropolitan police at Wapping are behaving with intolerable arrogance. They appear to be unanswerable and unaccountable to anyone. They show a cavalier indifference to public concern and seem unrestrained by any democratic process. Because their tactics are evolved privately and in secret, when they go wrong—as they certainly did last Saturday—no one is called to account. The police seem to be an unaccountable law unto themselves. The notional accountability, through the Home Secretary, to Parliament is a farce. The finances of the police are not presented to Parliament. Their accounts are not submitted by independent auditors. Even parliamentary questions are dodged. There is an overweening power within the state that is currently unaccountable, in effect, to anyone and at present is behaving in a way that is totally intolerable to the decent British people whose taxes pay their salaries.
This appalling behaviour must be brought under control. I want to hear less talk about a police force and more about a police service. I want more police on the beat in my constituency tackling crime, stopping burglaries and preventing muggings, not acting as auxiliaries to the unscrupulous industrial mugger, Rupert Murdoch. The present behaviour of the riot police at Wapping does incredible harm to the reputation and credibility of the police. It must be brought under control. The riot squad must be withdrawn completely and permanently. Its presence is extremely damaging and it is singularly inappropriate in an industrial dispute.
I should like to thank the Minister of State, Home Office—the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw)—for this morning receiving me and my trade union friends so courteously. I hope that he will review what we said to him. I hope that he will consider in particular that there is no reason to use the riot police and the tactics that they are trained to use. They are inappropriate in an industrial dispute. Union members would not bring their wives and children on their marches and parades if their object was to cause violence and mayhem. The riot police are therefore inappropriate.
We are told that action should be taken under existing procedures, but how do we take action against riot police who cannot be identified because they cannot be recognised under their helmets and visors? I am told that if a policeman has an overall on he cannot have a number on his shoulder. These days, people just pin on badges. There is no reason why a policeman should not have a badge which shows his number and which he can pin on his overall.
There should be a public inquiry, because this issue will not go away. The television companies and journalists will start looking at the incidents. The Government must realise that Wapping is only two miles down the road and that, next time, there will be television companies and observers of every type. If the riot squad come out again 328 and behave in that frenzied and indiscriminate way, when they beat up even their own policemen, it will be an appalling tragedy and will do incredible damage to the police.
I beg the Minister to believe that we are telling the truth. It is no good laughing as the Home Secretary did when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield explained what happened. I know that we find it difficult to believe that this happened in Britain with British police, but it did, and it must never happen again.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) will forgive me if I do not follow the theme that he eloquently pursued in his speech, much of which reiterated what was said by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I do not deny a worker's right to march or to demonstrate, but I question whether it is altogether wise to bring wives or children to a demonstration and whether it is wise to come to a demonstration with a smoke bomb in one's pocket.
The debate is about crime prevention rather than Wapping, so I shall revert to the general theme. I apologise for not having been present during the opening speeches by the Front-Bench spokesmen. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), I am a governmental fag and was therefore hard at work in my Minister's office when the Front Benchers spoke. I understand that their speeches were entirely predictable, but none the worse for that.
When we consider crime, the old cliché that prevention is better than cure is not only true but shows what a very apt title we have for this debate. Unemployment has already been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. I do not accept the theory that the increase in detected crime in recent years is largely due to higher unemployment, but I believe that there is a relationship between crime and unemployment. Another truism that cannot be ignored is that the devil will find work for idle hands.
Before turning to the main subject of my speech, I should like to leave with the House a few thoughts about how to cope with the impact of forced idleness on crime. If one wants proof that the devil will find work for idle hands, one needs to look only at the Wapping scenario that was described by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East. I acknowledge that there is no quick solution to the unemployment problem. Even if there were to be a radical change in policy, nothing could be done to haul down the unemployment figures quickly. However, something could be done to ensure that there are as few idle hands as possible.
I do not know how many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have heard of the workfare schemes that are being tried out in the United States. A recent television programme graphically described these schemes. A wide variety of such schemes, now in operation in the United States, come under the general heading of workfare. They have in common the aim of enabling welfare benefit recipients to do useful work in return for benefit. Most of the schemes are still at an early or experimental stage and cover only a proportion of welfare benefit recipients. However, they are well received. In nine cases out of 10 the unemployed are happy to take part in the workfare schemes, which are usually to be found in the public sector. The overriding rule is that they are not allowed to 329 take work off regular workers. If redundancies are due, the trade unions in the United States—which otherwise accept workfare—say that the workfare employees must go before employees who are trade union members have to leave. That is fair enough. It is a small price to pay for trade union co-operation.
Workfare surely answers the plea that it is better to make people work than to pay them not to work. Workfare does not cure the unemployment disease, but it goes some way towards killing the pain. It can also help to occupy idle hands, and thereby remove what some people regard as one of the many causes of crime.
I am pleased that the Department of Employment is studying the American experience of workfare schemes to discover whether they have any application in this country. I believe that they have. I should be pleased to know whether the Home Office would be prepared to take on the responsibility, in conjunction with the Department of Employment and the Department of Health and Social Security, of looking at such schemes.
I agree that much crime can be prevented. I applaud what the Government have done to deter criminals. The fact is that 14,000 more policemen, a third more resources and a tougher sentencing policy, particularly for violent crimes, have all played their part. But most crime is against property—95 per cent. of it, I believe. Much of that is opportunist and could be prevented by what I describe as good neighbourliness and community policing. That is what I intend to speak about this evening—and also the effect that such a policy has on manpower, particularly in my county of Hampshire. I should, perhaps, refer to two counties. My police authority encompasses both Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the so-called twin counties.
The crime prevention unit that was set up in 1983 by the Home Secretary has led to new initiatives, such as local crime prevention projects. Five of them are now under way in different areas. It has also led to the greater use of preventive techniques, such as neighbourhood watch. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) on so eloquently singing the praises of neighbourhood watch schemes.
A key element in crime prevention is community policing. Most police forces are trying to forge closer and more co-operative relationships between themselves and the public whom they protect. Some of the community policing schemes are experimental, such as that in Exeter which goes back as far as 1976. However, they are becoming much more commonplace. John Alderson, who was the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall in 1976, described community policing asa 'preventive' and not an 'enforcement' mechanism.I think that he was right. He did not invent community policing, as perhaps he would have us believe. Ever since Peel, British police have been community policemen. Now we want the public whom they protect to be more positively involved in protecting one another through preventing crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) said that the essence of community policing is policing by consent. All hon. Members would agree about that.
I questioned my hon. Friend the Minister of State recently about neighbourhood watch schemes and I was very pleased with his reply. He told us that 3,850 neighbourhood watch schemes are now operated in the shire counties. That is more than double the number that 330 was recorded in January 1985. Indeed, 9,300 neighbourhood watch schemes are now in operation throughout England and Wales. Although there has not been a detailed analysis of their effect upon the crime rate, the first results are very encouraging. I have heard that a scheme in Chatham received the support of 90 per cent. of the 1,250 dwellings on a housing estate and that crime there fell by 50 per cent. during the first nine months of its operation.
Other schemes that have been studied show useful reductions in the level of crime, sometimes as high as 50 per cent. However, chief constables are probably wise to proceed cautiously with neighbourhood watch schemes. Where they have proved to be effective, it has become evident that additional policemen are required to support them. I made that point a fortnight ago at Question Time.
That leads me to the general question of police manpower. I wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister of State last January about the effect that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is likely to have upon my police authority's manpower requirements. I told him that the Hampshire police authority had carried out trial schemes in order to anticipate the manpower needs that the introduction of the Act would involve to meet the greater administrative demand. The Hampshire police authority thought that a considerable number of police officers would be required if the number of "bobbies" on the beat was not to be depleted. On this trial basis, experience shows that the additional administrative burden imposed upon the police authority by the 1984 Act would warrant an increase in the establishment.
A report has been published only this week. I have not read it, but it shows that the policeman's view of himself is that there is nothing that leads to greater stress than sitting at a desk doing paperwork. Uniformed officers like to be out on the beat.
That leads me to the manpower problem that today faces the Hampshire and Isle of Wight constabulary. I ask for the indugence of the House as I shall be rather parochial in what I am about to say, but I am sure that the problems facing my police authority also face other counties in England and Wales. Mr. Robin Hodgson, the clerk to the police authority, has told me that over the past few years his office has made repeated approaches to the Home Office for an increase in the authorised establishment for the police force covering Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. These requests have been turned down despite the rapidly increasing demands being made on the police. All that the authority is asking for is an increase in uniformed police officers from 3,084 to 3,112—another 28 policemen. The justification for that relatively moderate increase in establishment stems from the ever increasing demands of the rapidly growing population.
The population of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight is currently 1,650,000. That figure includes an increase of 50,000 over the past five years, yet in that time there has been no corresponding increase in the police establishment. Certain areas of the county—notably Basingstoke, Chandlers Ford, Hart, Horndean, Fareham and Totton in my constituency—have experienced especially rapid growth.
Between 1981 and 1985 the chief constable, Mr. John Duke, has reported an increase in recorded crime of 20,000 to a total of 90,000 cases. Over that same period violent crimes increased from 2,514 to 2,977. Some of the 331 additional resulting demand for manpower has been met through civilianisation based on the principles set out in the Home Office circular 114/83.
My police authority has carried out a review of its force headquarters organisation, and the proposals contained in its report have been accepted by the council and can be put into effect without delay or additional funding. However, in the current financial year some 30 more uniformed police officers could be released for outside police duties if the county funds the additional cost of civilian staff at £535,000 and a further £230,000 for the following two financial years, so releasing another 15 uniformed police officers for outside duties.
The authority is committed to these and other measures of civilianisation. That is all good news and entirely consistent with Home Office recommendations, but it can only meet part of the demand for extra policemen on the beat. The authority has therefore made a good case for Home Office approval of an increase in establishment of two inspectors, 12 sergeants and 14 constables—28 additional officers in all which will cost an additional £363,000. That sum has already been set aside by the county council in its revenue budget for 1986–87 in anticipation of Home Office approval.
My hon. Friend the Minister will have received a letter from the clerk of the police authority setting out in greater detail than I have had time to do this afternoon the case for the increase in establishment supported by charts showing the major influences on manpower over the past decade and figures showing the demand for uniformed patrol constables and sergeants.
That follows an earlier request in 1984 for a modest increase of three sergeants. Those proposals were also self-financing. When the Home Office turned that application down, it said that the Secretary of State would be prepared to reconsider the matter especially in the light of developing proposals to civilianise posts currently filled by police officers. I believe that Hampshire has now more than met the Home Office requests on civilianisation. The Home Secretary's reluctance to approve an increase in Hampshire's establishment may also have been based on the 20 vacancies that existed at that time. There are now only eight vacancies, so that excuse will no longer wash.
We have in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight a police authority that is doing everything that it is being asked of it by the Home Office and more. As a local authority, Hampshire has continued to honour its obligations to a rapidly expanding county in spite of a cut in the rate support grant this year of 6.6 per cent. Hampshire police force has taken the lead in experimenting to find more cost effective ways of preventing crime and catching criminals. Crime may be rising but detections are also increasing. One of the chief constable's greatest worries is the increase it burglary offences. Burglary is a particularly offensive crime and has been the subject of rigorous countermeasures by specially dedicated officers. That shows the deterrent and preventative effect possible in one area when priorities of manpower and counter-measures can be concentrated as they have been for burglary.
The chief constable has said that he wishes he had a greater capability for similar concentrations of manpower. That is what I now request my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider. I ask him to support my police authority, which has served my county and constituents so well over 332 the years in a continuing climate of expenditure restraint and where the unqualified, unanimous voice of the police and the people they protect demands an enhanced level of service—in other words, more policemen. That is their need, that is my request on their behalf, and that is what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should enable them to provide.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I am a little diffident to take part in what appears to be a southern English debate, but I am encouraged to press on by the expansive presence of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone).
A concern for law and order is not and never will be exclusive to one political party. The people of Great Britain, whether they are supporters of the Tory party, Labour party, of my absent colleague the alliance, Plaid Cymru or of the Scottish National party, seek to live in a peaceful and law-abiding community.
No one in this debate has mentioned the failure of successive Administrations to deal with the problems allied to alcohol abuse. A number of hon. Members have sought to establish correlations between certain social and economic phenomena and the crime rate. No one can deny that there is a pronounced correlation between alcohol abuse and a range of criminal activity. Alcohol-induced criminal activities range from involvement in petty crime to homicide.
I would like to consider three areas of crime prevention. I will not be following the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) in his interesting discussion of police manpower. First, I would like to consider petty crime and how we deal with the petty offender, including the mentally ill and chronically alcoholic.
A week ago I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland what steps the Scottish Office was taking to divert petty offenders, including mentally ill people, from terms of custody. The Under-Secretary of State replied:The Scottish Home and Health Department is monitoring 13 schemes now operating in various sheriff court areas throughout Scotland whereby individuals charged with offences, mainly of a minor nature, who are considered to be likely to benefit from social work help are referred to social work departments as an alternative to prosecution.Incidentally, I am glad that the Minister has joined us. He also spoke about the relevance of the powers contained in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, saying that theyenable a policeman, instead of arresting a drunken person suspected of an offence, to take him to a 'designated place' for the care of drunken persons."—[Official Report, 2 May 1986; Vol. 96, c. 537–38.]By a "designated place", the Minister means a hostel that is manned by trained personnel who can deal with those who are habitually or publicly drunk. The hon. Gentleman may know more about these designated places than I do, but I am given to understand that there is only one, and that is in Aberdeen—although not in Aberdeen, South.
§ Dr. Godman
I am sorry, perhaps it is in Aberdeen, South. However, I believe that two more designated places are planned: one in Peterhead and one in the west of Scotland. I may be wrong about that, but we certainly need more of them.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and am sorry that I missed the beginning of his speech. Another designated place has been announced for Dundee, and I hope that it will be opened later in the year.
§ Dr. Godman
I am pleased to hear that, and I am sure that police officers in Dundee will also welcome that news. Moreover, I am pretty certain that police officers on the beat in Greenock and Port Glasgow would welcome the setting up of another designated place. More places are needed both north and south of the border.
I am aware that other hon. Members have been as patient as I was when I waited to speak, and so I shall be relatively brief. The violent crime of child abuse is far too prevalant today. More resources should be devoted towards preventing, detecting and treating this social evil. I welcome this week's publication of the draft circular of the DHSS entitled, "Child Abuse—Working Together for the Protection of Children".
Paragraph 7 involves the need to improve resources. It says:By ensuring that there is effective child health surveillance for all children in the community and that young parents in particular receive advice and guidance on"—that dreadful word—parenting, much can be done at a primary prevention level to reduce the likelihood of child abuse. If family practitioners, health visitors and other staff in these preventive services are aware also of the signs of possible abuse, cases can be brought to the attention of social services departments earlier and more consistently than otherwise. This awareness is equally important for hospital staff, particularly in accident and emergency departments.Much more needs to be done. Training in the prevention and treatment of child abuse is of the essence. I am talking about paediatricians, and particularly about those who are attached to casualty departments. In many areas of Great Britain training in the detection of, as they are called, NAIs—non-accidental injuries—might benefit from improvements being made. I have been told by paediatricians in Scotland and London that the detection of non-accidental injuries can be very difficult. Consequently, teachers should be trained in detecting possible cases of child abuse. Such abuse may come to light, in various ways, in the classroom or playground. Training could also be given to health visitors, police officers and, just as importantly, to social workers. Members of the abuser's family also have a duty to protect those children from being subjected to such brutality. Equally, those who inflict physical, sexual or psychological harm on children should be encouraged to seek help from statutory agencies and voluntary associations.
I commend the marvellous work done by the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It does valuable work in seeking to care both for the abused child and his parents or "caretakers". The system of children's hearings in Scotland has also played an important part in dealing with this social evil. But that evil is not altogether absent south of the border. More resources must be put into training social workers and others directly and professionally involved with those children who are in danger of suffering sexual or physical abuse. If the system of children's hearings or children's panels is unacceptable south of the border, perhaps family courts should he set up.
334 I turn now to the prevention of that horrendously violent crime—rape. It is essential that the victims of rape and other sexual assaults should be treated as humanely and sympathetically as possible. That sympathetic and sensitive treatment must begin from the moment that the victim or complainant is first interviewed by police officers and must continue until she gives evidence in court. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for acknowledging the need to make the criminal investigation of rape more sensitive to the victim's needs. In the interest of justice, the interests of the accused must also be protected, but that protection should not include anonymity during court proceedings.
I accept that there are immense difficulties about reconciling the need to protect the complainant with the need to protect the interests of the accused. Indeed, that is particularly true when the issue of consent is in dispute. But the criminal investigation of rape must be exhaustively and diligently pursued bearing in mind that the victim will suffer from shock even if she has not been subjected to excessive physical violence. It is not always the case that rape is accompanied by severe physical violence. I believe that the New York police department recently issued a circular which sought to give advice to those women trapped in such appalling circumstances. Part of that advice was not to offer physical resistance.
For my part—no doubt the Minister and his ministerial colleagues will reject this—I would like to see the complainer provided with legal assistance and representation from the moment a complaint is brought to the attention of the police force. I believe that is the case in Denmark where the victim is given that representation right up to, and including, the court proceedings. I would like to see a ban or severe restriction on defence lawyers trawling through complainers' sexual history or experiences. Far too many judges, on both sides of the border, are only too willing to allow this type of fishing operation.
Rape is a vastly under-recorded and under-reported crime. If the victim of sexual assault had confidence in the criminal investigation of this crime, more cases would be reported to the police. The Home Secretary acknowledged that. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those who are found guilty of this crime should receive a condign punishment. A rapist must receive a severe sentence for his crime. The rapist certainly deserves no pity, except perhaps when he is suffering from a mental illness or when a case can be made for diminished responsibility. Too often, English judges impose sentences upon convicted rapists that are foolishly light and inadequate.
I chose to speak about three forms of criminal activity which could be diminished by the application of resources such as for the criminal investigation of rape and sexual assault. There is no doubt that some welcome developments have occurred in Scotland and England. The police force at Strathclyde now have a unit under the control of Chief Inspector Hood which deals with victims of sexual assault in a most compassionate, sensitive and intelligent way. That is a development which is emerging in towns and cities in England.
British people, whatever their political persuasions, seek to live in a peaceful, law-abiding community. The House must acknowledge that.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
We appear to exist in the post-permissive era when certain Victorian values are once again appreciated. But the legacy of that era means that for many, a far greater element of permissiveness is now a part of the fabric of modern society. Running parallel to that development has been the growing tendency to divorce political action from the rule of law and to substitute violence for debate. It is a matter of deep regret that such an approach has yet to be reversed. Even when that reversal occurs, once again, one fears that an element will have been absorbed into contemporary life style.
For the prevention of crime to be successful it is necessary effectively to counter the decline of traditional standards by enthusiastically advocating the importance of law and order as well as positively portraying the benefits of moral behaviour together with respect for our fellow beings and for authority. In that way both the overemphasis on permissive behaviour together with the doctrine of revolutionary tendency rather than persuasive argument may be rebuffed.
However, while the winning of the arguments in the long term is essential, short-term measures to help to gain success over crime perpetrated under the guises of permissiveness or political action are urgently necessary. There must be a greater partnership between the protectors and the protected. People cannot leave everything to the police and the politicians.
The prevention of crime can range from the elementary to the more exotic. Every householder should have a chain on the front door, every parent should have full knowledge of where their children are playing. Might we not combine such basic essentials with more dramatic ideas?
The stocks were used to shame the villain—humiliation can be a most potent weapon. There should be a form of public disgrace for child abusers, rapists and the like, as well as the full rigours of the law. The instant correction of the transgressor by the transgressed was accepted by all—why not a clip around the ear rather than the full rigour of the law?
Perhaps the ultimate areas of unbridled permissiveness and unwarranted political action lie in drugs and terrorism. Both these crimes show an alarming growth and a frightening ability to undermine stability. Neither can be left solely to the local community. International cooperation is essential for the successful prevention of these crimes.
In the matter of drugs, the Council of Europe has been at the forefront of moves to ensure such international cooperation. The Pompidou group, which is chaired by the United Kingdom, conducts studies into the problems of drug abuse and trafficking within Europe. Such initiatives are to be applauded, are to be supported, and are to be followed through urgently.
With regard to terrorism, a new initiative for international co-operation has been put forward by the Western European Union for a European group to coordinate the fight against terrorism under the initials GECLAT. The blindness of the choice of targets masks the optical accuracy in the aims of the terrorist. It is fervently to be hoped that the Government will play a leading role in the fight-back via this proposal. The group, involving the seven member countries, would centralise all information obtained by relevant security services so that 336 threats can be ascertained and assessed. The group would plan, prepare and co-ordinate measures so that frontiers provided no barriers. The group would create an operational unit for rapid intervention against any terrorist threat wherever it might arise.
My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor reminded us recently in a Carlton Club lecture of the words of Edmund Burke on liberty:The only liberty I mean, is a liberty connected with order; that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them.The Government have continually shown their commitment to freedom and the law. They have recognised the need to accept and proclaim the responsibilities that are an essential accompaniment. The successful prevention of crime safeguards those beliefs and it is surely common sense to all but the inherently wicked.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
I regret that I have come into the debate rather late, but the House will appreciate that the local government elections are on and that some of us were forced to be away for the early part of the debate. I also regret that a debate of this importance is taking place when the House is almost empty because I am sure that the subject would command the attention of many hon. Members if the debate were on a different day. I nevertheless welcome the opportunity to speak.
Like other hon. Members, I believe that unemployment is a factor which makes crime prevention more difficult. I say that in full knowledge of the fact that we had high unemployment in the 1930s. There is a difference between the effect of unemployment on crime in the 1930s and its effect today. Today's unemployment is accompanied by affluence for some people. There is a stark contrast between the unemployed who feel alienated and lose self-respect and the affluence that tends to surround them.
It is much more difficult to tell people who feel that they have no part to play in society that they should be lawabiding—of course we tell them that—when there is such affluence. We should try to understand the pressures on unemployed young people in a world of video recorders and advertisements which encourage them to have expensive consumer goods. Their unemployment and poverty in the midst of affluence produces a conflict which we should try to understand before dismissing them by saying that they should know better.
A few weeks ago, I saw a television programme about the City of London. Television programmes often repeat what we already know, but some of the information which emerges in that programme about incomes in the City and what people will earn when the big bang comes left me astonished. People are earning £30,000 or £40,000 within their first few years of work and £100,000 seems almost to be the norm. Some people are earning £1 million a year. Such affluence when 4 million people are unemployed and some school leavers have never had a chance of a job is a contrast that I find hard to accept, and it must be even harder for young people to accept it.
Fear of crime makes many people feel insecure, but we have still tended not to worry about removing people from certain areas. For example, we have taken caretakers away from council estates and we have denuded underground stations of staff. If we leave large areas unpopulated and if there are no bobbies on the beat, we are leaving space where people of criminal intent can have their way. It is 337 all too easy to say that we have saved money by having television monitors instead of caretakers or Underground staff and that we must be careful about how many police officers we have, but the result will be open and vulnerable areas, and villains will tend to exploit them. That is why most of our constituents say that they want more home beat police officers. Home beat officers represent the familiar forces of law and order.
The Minister might well say that more bobbies have been put on the beat. We have pressed for that, but the cover is still pretty thin. Only a few weeks ago, I talked to a local chief superintendent and we discussed how many officers he would need to provide cover for most of the day and the early evening. He said that he would need 20 or 30 more officers. That is for just one police station in Battersea.
It would be helpful if the Home Office increased the number of bobbies on the beat in a few selected areas as an experiment. They should then monitor the feeling of local people and the crime rate to see whether the increase has the desired effect. If we can reduce the level of crime by putting more bobbies on the beat, it might prove to be one of the most cost-effective things we could do in that difficult area.
Racial attacks have been discussed in a number of debates and at Question Time. Nevertheless, it is my sad feeling that there are still too many people from the black and Asian communities who feel excessively vulnerable. All too often there are, sadly, reports of attacks in various parts of London and possibly other parts of the country where people are being attacked, threatened or made to feel vulnerable because of the colour of their skin. I appreciate that the Metropolitan police commissioner has given this matter high priority. Nevertheless, the attacks continue and we must look further at this difficult aspect.
One area of local authority provision which is particularly telling and does not get mentioned enough in debates is intermediate treatment provided by local authority social services departments. On occasion, I have met people working in intermediate treatment in my local authority area of Wandsworth. I cannot help believing that a sensitive and highly professional approach to young people who are liable to become criminals or who have taken the first step or two down that path is still an important preventive service.
I am concerned that the pressure on local authorities to save money all the time is, in a sense, making them reluctant to put the necessary effort, money and resources into a professional type of intermediate treatment. I should like the Home Office to look at that again. There is a difficulty and local authorities are under pressure. However, preventive work with young people must surely be one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing crime. I should like the Home Office to liaise more closely with other Departments to see whether local authorities can be encouraged to develop their intermediate treatment. Some local authorities do it very professionally, as does Wandsworth, but others are less professional. I want good practice to become the norm.
Admittedly, the previous Home Secretary said that he wanted to see more development of reparation. Since then there has been silence. Perhaps things are happening and the Minister may mention that in his reply. I cannot help feeling that one of the most important paths down which we should go would be to build far more into our criminal justice system the idea of reparation. Of course, for certain 338 crimes reparation would not be appropriate and confronting the victim with the criminal would he much too difficult and sensitive. However, interestingly, that has been done in parts of the United States.
It would be effective if criminals could be shown what they had done to the victim, if it is an individual, or to society, if they are charged with vandalism or criminal damage. If there could be a closer relationship between the people who cause criminal damage or distress and reparation, with it featuring more prominently in the punishment inflicted by the courts, I believe that criminals would feel a greater sense of the damage they cause when they commit criminal offences.
I should like a more sweeping approach to be adopted in our criminal justice system to try to encourage the courts to build in reparation. More schemes would have to be available as part of our criminal justice system, but I believe that it would be a productive and rewarding task and would have a better effect upon criminals. It would be more likely to prevent them reoffending than some of the punishments now inflicted. Of course, we have community service orders, but I would like to see more measures of that type and a greater attempt by the courts to link the punishment to a method of reparation so that the criminal is aware of what he or she has done.
I turn briefly to the subject of the design and maintenance of council estates. Having spent much time canvassing and walking up and down stairways, I am more aware of that today than a few weeks ago. I honestly believe that the design of some of our council housing encourages criminal activity. Above all, local authorities are slow to respond when graffiti is painted on the walls and common parts of flats and when there is vandalism and damage to property.
Even the problem of graffiti should be dealt with quickly, because if it seems that no one cares, the areas affected become alien territory. Instead of such areas becoming parts of people's homes, they are regarded as hostile and are attacked. I do not condone that because it should not happen, but unfortunately it does. If local authorities cared more about maintenance and getting rid of graffiti, that would inculcate, especially in young people, a feeling that someone cares, that these things matter, and that places such as corridors and stairways are akin to the homes in which people live. Such an approach would, I believe, discourage the attitude among some young people that leads them from the path of vandalism to the path of crime.
In my own area, asbestos was discovered on the Livingstone estate which had to be cleared for safety reasons. In no way do I blame the local authority for doing that. However, the council sold that estate to a developer, and the Secretary of State for the Environment attended the opening ceremony only a few days ago. On that private house council estate are now all sorts of features such as a jacuzzi simply to make the private purchasers feel that this new private estate matters.
I am not suggesting that there should be jacuzzis on council estates, but we should encourage local authorities to make council tenants feel that their environment matters. By doing so, the people themselves will show more respect and will care for their own environment.
We must develop the idea that local people can be in the lead in the battle against crime by suggesting methods of crime prevention. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders has done useful work in its 339 priority estates and under its safe neighbourhood scheme. We should build on that and encourage more local authorities to go down that path, even if NACRO does not have the resources to help every local authority that wishes to do so.
Local people, through their tenants' associations, should be asked what would make them feel safer in the areas in which they live. We must involve local people. But it is no good simply asking them such questions. There must be a willingness to respond to what they say on the part of the police, the local authority, schools and all the services in the area.
I should like the work done by NACRO to be extended to many other parts of the country. We must tell local people, "You know how crime affects you. Your advice and views are important. We shall listen to your ideas, be they requests for more entryphones, better lighting, different design or more caretakers, because your lives and environment are important." If we are serious about crime prevention, that is something that we should do.
There are many useful ideas that could be developed. I have mentioned a few, and other hon. Members have mentioned others. If we are serious about helping people to prevent crime, which is the surest and best way of reducing the frightening crime wave, we must listen to what people say and act accordingly.
§ Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)
This has been a fascinating and interesting debate. The opening speeches took an hour, Wapping took another hour, Northeye took half an hour, and in the dying moments of the debate we are now getting down to the real issue of crime prevention. I hope that I will have an opportunity in the 10 minutes left to me to make one or two points that will not only encourage the Minister but pay tribute to the Government for the excellent work that they are trying to do in increasing the facilities and opportunities for crime prevention schemes.
Most hon. Members have their postbags filled these days with the horror and misery that their constituents feel about local crime. Just before I came into the Chamber—and I have listened to the whole debate from the very beginning, unlike some—I was reading a letter from constituents, who live on one of our housing association estates. They say that crime is now out of control—and this is in Cheltenham. Items are stolen from the car; gardens are uprooted; nothing is sacred. They say that they live in fear for their three daughters, restricting them to the vicinity of the house. They say that their freedom has gone. They go on to suggest a number of remedies with which I do not agree, but add that they feel that the law should prevent families like theirs thinking that they should take it into their own hands to defend their property and their homes because nobody else seems able to do anything about it.
The former Home Secretary made a significant contribution to crime prevention by setting up the crime prevention unit and supporting crime prevention projects. The Prime Minister's initiative last January, involving motor manufacturers and insurance companies in crime prevention, was another significant step forward. While I welcome these inititatives, I also note that, although we spend £5 billion-plus on apprehending and convicting 340 criminals, only a minute proportion of the budget is spent on crime prevention or on the victim support schemes, which I helped to found. Last year the crime prevention budget was about £25 million.
The victim support schemes have done very much better, and I want, on their behalf, to pay a tribute to the Minister for being sympathetic to them. They have received a considerably enhanced budget and were this year given £136,000 to foster further local schemes. When this expenditure is monitored, I hope that care will be taken to ensure that it goes on local schemes. I am particulary concerned about the application made by Stroud, when no help was forthcoming. We have to see that the funds that are made available go in the right direction.
It is my contention that crime will be prevented only when a significant proportion of the law and order budget is devoted specifically to prevention. One of the most distressing factors about patterns of crime is that the poorest and most disadvantaged communities are also the most vulnerable to criminal activity. The Home Office survey in 1984 showed that the poorest estates have burglary rates five times higher than the national average and that there were similar variations for other offences, including criminal damage, car thefts and thefts from the person.
Against this depressing background, one of the most positive and encouraging developments of the past few years has been the increasing emphasis on effective crime prevention. I have some experience of it. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) was good enough to pay tribute to the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders, of which I was a founder member and of which I have been vice-chairman for many years. I know that the team of splendid people who are supporting NACRO are working very hard on this and, while they care for the offender and his family and the effect that life has on them, they are equally concerned about the victims and are heavily involved in crime prevention schemes.
NACRO's first neighbourhood crime prevention initiative began in Cheshire in 1976. Since then the number of prevention schemes undertaken by NACRO has mushroomed and we have helped to set up projects in over 40 local authorities. Improvements resulting from such schemes have included the introduction of entryphones to reduce opportunities for intruders to burgle or vandalise flats, the installation of new doors, window frames and locks which are more effective in preventing forced entry, improved lighting in streets and communal areas of estates to reduce opportunities for attacks in the dark, the introduction of resident caretakers, the setting up of youth clubs and other activities for those in the crime-prone teenage group, measures to speed up reletting of property to reduce opportunities for vandalism to empty property, the deployment of home-beat police officers and a range of physical improvements to residents' dwellings and to the estates generally.
In areas where the results have been monitored for some time they have been extremely encouraging. As a result of NACRO's first initiative in Cheshire, whereas one third of the residents reported experience of vandalism to their houses in 1976, when the project began, by 1979 the figure had fallen to one in eight. In 1976, 17 per cent. of the residents reported having had a burglary in the previous year but by 1979 the figure had fallen to 8 per cent. and 341 the fall is continuing. Therefore, I impress upon the Minister the immense value of encouraging and investing in such schemes.
More recent monitoring has also been heartening. For example, the work of NACRO's safe neighbourhoods unit recently led to substantial reductions in crime in an estate in Lewisham following a series of improvements. Comparing the nine-month period up to June 1985 with the same period in 1984, we find that burglaries dropped by 54 per cent., thefts of and from cars by 60 per cent. and street crime by 48 per cent.
I mention those things to illustrate what can be done when there is a strong will, commitment and co-operation and when a team of voluntary people are ready to give of their best and spend their time in the best interests of the community. However, I fear that such initiatives may die unless they are supported by a well funded, well coordinated national strategy.
The Stonham housing association, of which I am chairman, provides about 3,000 bed spaces for a variety of people in need. Each year 90,000 ex-offenders are returned to society; a high proportion—roughly 44 per cent.—are homeless. While there is no direct connection between homelessness and crime, about 60 per cent. of homeless ex-offenders are reconvicted within two years. The proportion is higher if those suffering from mental illness are included, which should not happen.
Currently there are only 4,500 bed spaces. The Home Office has refused to fund any new schemes or to extend existing schemes. A few months ago a NACRO deputation had the opportunity of meeting Ministers, with their colleagues in the Department, to discuss the matter. I urge the Minister not to allow this to continue for another year while yet another examination of occupancy capacity takes place. The record of NACRO can be justified and proved.
The Home Office—it is really the taxpayer we are talking about—gets an extremely good financial deal from Stonham. A Stonham bed costs £3,000 a year; a local prison space costs £11,000 per year. Additionally, Stonham achieves 90-plus per cent. rehabilitation success and there is 75 per cent. bed occupancy. If all the hotels that I have had an interest in during my career could be 75 per cent. occupied all the time, I would not be in this House living on a pittance. I should be outside enjoying myself in other ways.
Crime prevention is too serious a matter to be tagged on to the tail end of various departmental budgets. If the Home Office values the schemes run by various groups, it should reverse its short-sighted attitude and support them with manpower and funds.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
I am grateful for this brief chance to speak in the debate, and I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) because it gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the excellent work of NACRO in Norwich and Norfolk. I am delighted to add to what my hon. Friend said about its work.
During the debate it has been repeatedly stated that there is anxiety about the "rising tide" of crime, to use the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), which has gone on under successive Governments. My constituents are worried about the level of crime which is why I am happy to participate, if only briefly, in the debate.
342 Only this evening I had a telephone message from a constituent living in the city of Norwich who is having to call a meeting because of the anxiety about vandalism by young people, and related problems. We must deal with that day in and day out, which is why the debate is so relevant and important. I support hon. Members who have said that it is a pity that the debate had to be held today.
I would put crime prevention under three headings, and, obviously, I shall have time to speak about only one. The first heading is the role of the Government and the Legislature. I support what the Government have done, are doing, and seek to do on crime prevention, and tonight we should pay tribute to their work. The second heading is the work of the police, and the third, in which I take particular interest, is education and parents.
It has already been said that the peak of criminal activity occurs among young people aged about 15. It would be relevant for me to talk at length about education and its connection with crime if time permitted, but I shall make a few comments about police work in Norfolk, and how I see the problems there regarding crime prevention.
Earlier today I had a look at the 1984 report from the chief constable of Norfolk who described crime prevention as a primary objective of the police force in Norfolk. That is equally true today. I pay tribute to the work that is being done in Norwich and Norfolk, through crime prevention panels, home watch and good neighbour schemes. That excellent work is continuing with Government support.
There is some debate in Norfolk and, no doubt, elsewhere about the extent to which the police are overstretched. Early in this Parliament I received a letter from the chief constable of Norfolk which was sent to all local Members of Parliament, expressing anxiety about certain aspects of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and the increased workload and paper work which it might inflict on the police force. I was reminded of that only this week when I saw in the Daily Telegraph the singularly appropriate headline:Policemen fold under pressure of paper work.I hope that the Home Office and my hon. Friend the Minister will look seriously at the burden that they may be placing unwittingly on the police force when they give it additional administrative tasks. We all want the police out on the beat, doing the various tasks which will help to prevent crime. If time allowed. I could develop that theme at great length, but I think I have made the point.
As the debate is concerned with crime prevention, I should like to say how disturbing it was for me, at a time when the police are under attack from revolutionary and unpleasant elements in society, to hear the unbalanced attack on the police from those using the debate as an opportunity to talk about the events at Wapping. Of course, it is right to criticise the police constructively, and we all welcome that. But it saddened me to hear the way in which it was done. There must surely be a more responsible way of going about this. I know that the Government are addressing themselves to the whole question of crime prevention with great seriousness, and I support what what they are doing. I am happy, therefore, to support that work, and to pay tribute to the work of the police in Norwich and Norfolk.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Does the hon. Gentleman have the leave of the House to speak again?
§ Mr. Soley
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is not here today. He is working in a number of by-elections and local elections, which will come as no surprise. A comment was made by the Home Secretary questioning his not being here. The Home Secretary is not here tonight, and I understand why. However, I hope that there was no implication by the Home Secretary in regard to my right hon. Friend, whose absence is understandable. If we are going to go into that area, of course, we would want to look at the presence of the Home Secretary on the Public Order Bill, but I hope that that was not implied.
§ Mr. Soley
If it was not implied, I accept that and withdraw the remarks; if it was, my remarks stand.
We have spent some time on Wapping, and I have no intention of going over the ground again. I wish to make a couple of points. Although it is sad that it had to take up so much time of the debate on crime prevention, it was vital and necessary that views were taken and expressed on this issue, not only because of the question of policing and its link with crime prevention, but because what happened on Saturday night is deeply disturbing to everybody, including the police.
What needs to be understood by this Government more than anything else is that, if they continue with social and economic policies that rip apart the fabric of society, those public order disturbances will get more severe, and they cannot at the end of the day ask or expect the police to be used to contain those troubles.
The House needs to remember what we are doing is allowing one man—a multi-millionaire who is not a British citizen and who controls one third of the British press—to be directly responsible for creating mayhem in our streets, which results in police officers and members of the public getting injured. We need to address the political implications of that.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) also needs to remember the limitations of the video to which he referred. It is the same one that I saw. What the video cannot and does not show, for reasons that I think he will understand, is what was happening in the so-called park out of range of the camera. The senior officers at Leman street station were saying to me at the time, "We know that there is something still happening there, and we don't know what". That is trouble in a sense.
I would say to the Minister that, if he does not want further trouble on Saturday nights at Wapping, the Government need to have a long hard look at the lessons to be learnt from last Saturday and at police tactics. That is one of the matters I shall be meeting the Minister or the Home Secretary to discuss in the near future.
I want to say to the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds and for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) that I find their remarks and comments in the debate to be quite pathetic, frankly. There was a selective use of quotations—this attempt to read homilies to the Labour party or to other people and to imply thereby that something is wrong with questioning or raising discussion about the democratic accountability of the police. The police also want to be democratically accountable. The real shame of Conservative Members is that they do not have any faith 344 in democracy. That was shown clearly when the hon. Member for Westminster, North said dismissively, when giving one of his selective quotes about democracy, "whatever that may mean". If the hon. Gentleman has no idea what democracy means, he should not be in this place, because this place is all about democracy. If the hon. Gentleman does not have the courage, commitment and vision to commit himself to the democracy that we practise here and outside, he certainly should not seek to lecture anyone—police, public demonstrators or anyone else—on the importance of democracy.
§ Mr. Soley
I was addressing my remarks to the hon. Member for Westminster, North. I would give way to the hon. Member for Westminster, North, but he does not want to intervene. I do not want to use up the time available for the Minister to reply.
The statistics demonstrate all too clearly how badly the Government have failed. Their own statistics show that crime rose by 37 per cent. from 1978 to 1984. Violence has risen by 31 per cent., burglary by 59 per cent. and criminal damage by 63 per cent. It is an appalling, abysmal record. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) is an honourable exception to Conservative Members. He has an honourable record in this debate, in his work with the all-party group, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and Victim Support. I take my hat off to much of what he has said and done. But unless he can persuade his Government to put their money where their mouth is, he will not achieve the things that he seeks.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds implied that in some way one-parent families were linked with high crime rates. They are not.
§ Mr. Soley
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record tomorrow, he will find that a clear link is implied between one parent families and crime. The evidence does not prove that.
Indeed, if one is looking at personal and family behaviour, one needs to look at love and consistency in parenthood. That love and consistency can be as good in a one-parent family as in a two-parent family. There is no evidence of a link between crime and broken families. However, there is evidence of a link between crime, depression and other things and unhappy families. It is the lack of love, consistency and so on that creates the problem.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds should know better than to say that blacks were charging the police like Zulus. That is appalling, and he should withdraw those words. They will be utterly misunderstood outside the House. I know what the hon. Gentleman's views are about racism. He has expressed them clearly in the past and has come out strongly against racist organisations. I respect them. But his remark about the blacks charging the police like Zulus is utterly wrong and should be withdrawn.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
If I had said anything that resembled what the hon. Gentleman is alleging, of course I would withdraw it. Let me repeat the point that I was making. If local leaders go round suggesting to black 345 youngsters that the police are racists and oppressors, we cannot be surprised if those youngsters react by charging the police in the manner that they did.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman's words were that blacks were prepared "to launch themselves, like Zulus". I say again that the hon. Gentleman should withdraw that phrase unreservedly. It is a disgraceful comment. It has all the usual implications of blind, unperceived—I emphasise that—racism.
People are not more violent than they used to be. In Britain, we are suffering from a breakdown in community ties. We have a Government who have speeded up that process. It is interesting that the public know what the policing priorities should be. Not just the excellent work by Islington and Merseyside on their crime surveys, but many other studies, including the Home Office study, show that the public, regardless of which group we are talking about, including the ethnic minorities, regard burglary, robbery, attacks on women, racial attacks and drunken driving as the main priorities for the police. We seek to introduce a system to ensure that those things are given the priority that people want, as shown by those studies and surveys.
My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) rightly brought alcohol and drugs into the debate. We have spent too little time on that. I speak as the ex-chairman of the Alcohol Education Centre. It is absolutely right to say that the link between alcohol and crime is strong.
At the end of the day, we shall not combat the wave of crime that we have experienced under the Government unless we have more sensible, intelligent and sensitive policies which, above all, put people back into public places and attempt to clear up the problem of graffiti, vandalism and run-down areas that the Government have so desperately aggravated.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)
The debate, which was started modestly and quietly but in a determined way by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, had a major intermission when the Wapping matter was discussed. We then returned to the topic on the Order Paper—crime prevention. I believe that it would be courteous and correct to make some observations about Wapping, particularly in view of the delegation which the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) brought to see me this morning. Hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), gave various accounts of what happened at Wapping last Saturday night.
There were two marches on Saturday. One march, with about 3,500 people, came from the Temple, I believe, and a march of about 2,000 people came from Butchers row. There was a confluence of the two somewhere near Virginia street, in the midst of the demonstration. I point out to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Newham, North-East that, as I understand it, the march from Butchers row had not been notified in the sense of the organisers having had a discussion with the police. Therefore, the police responded to the march without the due planning which I trust is a normal feature of such marches.
The two marches met somewhere near Virginia street. Part of the Butchers row group split up and worked its way 346 back towards Wellclose square. That group of about 1,000 played a significant role in the ensuing difficulties. It is possible that those people were not connected with the print unions which, on the whole, have conducted themselves with a fair amount of care.
Immediately the two marches met, there were significant disorders. There were missiles, smoke bombs and thunder flashes. It was necessary for the police to restore order. The mounted branch and riot shields were used also.
Significant public disorders took place. The police have a duty to seek to restore order. I do not wish to go any further into the details. I merely wish to lay before the House the fact that there was a significant problem with which the police had to grapple.
§ Mr. Leighton
An incident occurred and was dealt with by what I would have thought was an over-reaction. For the next two or three hours there were repeated baton charges and the use of the riot squad. That was completely unnecessary.
§ Mr. Shaw
Later, I shall make a suggestion to the hon. Gentleman, as I did this morning. What I want to convey to the House now is that words have been put on the record. There is another record, a portion of which is in my mind, and I feel I should describe it.
There were major disorders, including the use of missiles, petrol bombs and thunder flashes. As the hon. Gentleman knows, scaffolding brackets, and so on were used also. Under those conditions, measures had to be taken to protect the police officers. Of the 1,774 police who were on duty at the scene, a small number were on horseback and a number used riot shields. The vast majority were standard, uniformed officers.
To prevent such problems occurring, it is necessary to have a resumption of a proper organising relationship between those who seek to continue the demonstration and dispute at Wapping and the police. Therefore, I was glad when the hon. Member for Newham, North-East brought his delegation this morning. The trade union leaders agreed to my suggestion that there should be a meeting with the deputy assistant commissioner, Mr. Wyn Jones. I understand that he will be available to see them tomorrow. I hope that the meeting takes place. An understanding of limits, number difficulties and a rational arrangement to allow peaceful demonstrations to continue is linked to the crime prevention element of this matter. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will know from our discussions on the Public Order Bill, the peaceful type of demonstrations should not cause any difficulty. The difficulty occurs when the demonstrations deteriorate into violence.
§ Mr. Shaw
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I have now spent considerable time on that matter. It would be right now for me to sum up the debate on crime prevention.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith was not unfair about the position we outlined although, in a rather mean sense, he suggested that we were not tackling the matter correctly and that it was all due to the Government' s economic policies. I hope that he will recognise that we have made some significant advances in manning the police force, providing resources to the police services and 347 increasing the number of crimes detected. The hon. Gentleman always complains about the percentage but he will find that the crime growth rate has continued to increase in times of high unemployment and high employment. There cannot be any simplistic connection between unemployment and crime levels. It is not fair either to say that certain disadvantaged groups are automatically more prone to criminal activities than others, and I know that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to say that.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith was absolutely right to say that there is a big opportunity for change with respect to residential caretakers on housing estates. I am glad to say that, under the Swansea crime prevention scheme, the local authority has put in caretakers. It is interesting that the cost of the caretakers was shared among the tenants at an increase of about 40p a week in their rent. They now have a man back on the premises instead of the automatic security arrangements which applied before. They do not have graffiti and damage. This has created much greater contentment. I hope that the Swansea crime prevention experiment will provide useful information and assistance for other local authorities to help with similar schemes.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said that crime prevention was something in which local people could lead—how right he was. The basis of crime prevention and the type of techniques available is that they should be tailored to community situations. Local authorities have an important role to play. I accept that the crime prevention panels, which at present do not automatically include local authority representation, could probably with advantage do so. I shall be meeting the crime prevention panels and I should like to make that suggestion and ascertain whether we can achieve that broader base for contact in the community. The hon. Member for Battersea rightly said that it was a matter of tailoring crime prevention to the community's policing arrangements and of seeking to reduce fear as well as the level of crime by introducing various techniques suitable to the particular location.
I discovered, when I saw the Wellingborough crime prevention special project, that the local authority was fully involved in the arrangements. Wellingborough, which has a proud record, is a town of 39,000 people with a great amount of motorised shopping. There is, therefore, a big problem with the centre car park, for which no charges are levied. Consequently, no one is on duty, and autocrime in Wellingborough is at a high level. There could be a connection between the two. A scheme was devised to ascertain whether the cost of putting a person in to look after the car park would be more than offset by the reduction in autocrime. That is what crime prevention is all about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) made an incredibly profound contribution to our debate. I very much respected his speech but it was misunderstood by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. My hon. Friend provided a measured response to the problem of crime prevention as shown by crime statistics in different age groups. My hon. Friend rightly said that there had been a fall in the number of burglaries—nationally, 348 a modest decrease of 2 per cent. but domestically, a decrease of 4 per cent. That is an encouraging and useful start.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) made his customary trenchant contribution. He was right to raise the question of the role of consent in the divided community. He illustrated that point vividly by referring to Northern Ireland. However, he knows that when the Ulster constabulary protects a march in Derry, that kind of march is of a very different quality from, say, a march in Downpatrick. The same police service has to seek to protect the community, whatever the divisions within it may be.
If there is an overriding rule in the handling by the police of public disorder it is that the rule of law is paramount and that the law must be maintained so that citizens may go about their lawful business. The public disorders at Wapping have been mentioned. The traditional right of people to demonstrate peacefully is long established and well recognised, but responsibility must accompany a right of that character. We must ensure that the community at large does not suffer as a consequence of such demonstrations.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) referred to the fear of crime and to the importance of the better design of council estates. With that in mind, a greater number of police forces are now offering architect liaison officers to councils throughout the country. They will provide a useful service. The hon. Gentleman referred to crime prevention panels. The Government are open to suggestions. I invite the hon. Gentleman and all other right hon. and hon. Members to take an interest in crime prevention and to bring forward suggestions from their constituents, local authorities or crime prevention panels. We want to encourage the sharing of good practice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) referred to the successful use of neighbourhood watch schemes in his constituency. He attacked the permissiveness in our society. Although it is difficult to determine according to statistics, the scale of this problem has given rise to a reduction in self-discipline and general moral standards, which leads progressively towards criminality. I trust that my hon. friend will make use of any evidence that he has in his report to Sir James Hennessy's inquiry into the problems at Northeye prison. I noted his trenchant observation about management within the prison service. I shall pass it on to my noble Friend the Minister who has responsibility for these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) referred to the application that was made for a substantial increase of 28 officers in the Hampshire constabulary. When the matter was last reviewed in 1984–85 an application was made for three sergeants. The Home Secretary took the view then that the scope for civilianisation was such that he would not approve that application. The current application will be given the most careful consideration in discussions with the relevant inspector of constabulary. I hope that we shall be able to reach a decision in the not too distant future.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) had the remarkable good fortune of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay) being able to intervene from this Dispatch Box and answer the point that he raised. It was a remarkable 349 achievement and I was grateful for it. The hon. Gentleman referred to sensitive treatment for rape victims. How right he is. Police forces are beginning to use methods that encourage more people to come forward and give details of the terrible crime of rape from which they have suffered. Sensitive treatment, yes; confidentiality, yes; and careful arrangements, yes, to ensure that police officers, many of whom are women, are trained to handle this sensitive matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) was in good form. He wants more immediate punishment. He was right to say that crime prevention must include the hazard of international terrorism. That has led this Government to take major international initiatives to try to reduce it.
I have referred to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Battersea. I noted his remarks about racial attacks. I should not be too keen on pressure tests, involving the saturation of an area with large numbers of police. Nevertheless, I recognise that a certain amount of testing is needed. The crime prevention unit is undertaking an assessment of various scales of policing. This might help to shed some light on the problem that he raised. As for intermediate treatment, I understand that a research project is in hand, through our research planning unit. It has been placed with the University of Cambridge.
It was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham refer to the vital support that is given to victims by victim support schemes and how important it is to encourage the voluntary sector. We shall do our best to ensure that the voluntary sector receives its fair share of the resources. The voluntary sector does special work with vulnerable groups. It is absolutely right, knowing how easy it is for criminals to latch on to the most vulnerable sectors of society, that we should encourage the voluntary sector to do more.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) spoke about the importance of education and parents. There can be no better way of ensuring an improving standard of citizenship than to ensure that family life is improving. These two factors must be correlated and it is one of the tragedies of our time that pressures seem to have left so many families unable to sustain their primary duty to ensure that their children are brought up with a certain sense of their rights and responsibilities.
The burden of paperwork is a standard complaint whenever policemen gather or Members of Parliament come together. I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North and I will take due note of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds is rather assiduous in castigating the Home Office if it becomes involved in creating too much paperwork for the police.
I would like to summarise my view of crime prevention. It is not a substitute for a law and order policy. Crime prevention is part of a law and order strategy. It cannot be used on its own but it can be made a creative way of ensuring that the fear of crime and the absolute levels of crime are contained. Crime is perhaps the major social disease of this and many other western countries. It is therefore correct that we should treat the disease in terms 350 of vaccination, inoculation and preventive medicine. The Government's crime prevention policies can therefore fit within such a policy.
We must deal with law and order across the spectrum. On the question of resources, the Government have increased police expenditure from £1.1 billion to £2.8 billion and that level of resource may be increased. More police officers are essential before crime prevention can work. Since 1979, an additional 14,000 officers have been recruited and there is now a civilian strength in support of the police of some 35,000. That figure is important in an employment sense and it releases officers to carry out more effective work.
We must have the correct body of law and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the Public Order Bill are two such measures which will provide an important context for modern policing which, I trust, will stand the test of time. Finally, there must be a full range of sentences available to the courts and a courts procedure which ensures that proper justice is dispensed and that there is a capacity to handle the range of criminality in the judicial system. We have achieved that by making many changes in sentencing and, we should not forget, in non-custodial sentencing.
With these factors, crime prevention can produce important advantages for our citizens. Some schemes are already working and more schemes are being tested and there is a greater public awareness and a willingness to help in crime prevention than in any other aspect of policing. Crime prevention brings the police and the community together and provides a real focus for local issues and problems and allows these problems to receive special treatment and acceptance.
Crime prevention can work only when the police service is in charge. It is not a substitute for some form of vigilante operation. Crime prevention must be properly organised and must be the result of proper training. Crime prevention officers are experts in this area and crime prevention must be police-led. The community and the citizen can at last have the opportunity to play a part to ensure that their homes—whether that is a flat in a city centre or a detached house on the outskirts of a town—and their way of life are better protected against the ravages created by the rise in crime. Clearly, there are limitations.
There has been a modest drop in the number of domestic burglaries but the real problem, which the hon. Member for Hammersmith touched on at the beginning of the debate, is the sheer vastness of opportunist crime against property. Indeed, 95 per cent. of all crime is committed against property, whether that property is a handbag in a car or the contents of a house. It is just not feasible to expect there to be a uniformed police officer on tap round the clock to deal with that sort of crime. We must do more together to battle our way through opportunist crime. Crime prevention is not just a necessary but a leading component in our strategy. Crime prevention techniques are peculiarly effective in dealing with opportunist crime——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.