HC Deb 22 May 1986 vol 98 cc513-6
1. Mr. Clelland

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in which police force districts in England and Wales there has been a reduction in the total number of crimes since 1978.

4. Mr. Jim Callaghan

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the increase since 1978 in the number of victims of offences of violence against the person.

5. Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many crimes in England and Wales in 1985 were not cleared up.

11. Mr. Boyes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he wilt publish in the Official Report the police force districts in England and Wales in which the total number of crimes has risen by (a) less than 25 per cent., (b) less than 33 per cent. and (c) more than 50 per cent. since 1978.

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

Crime throughout the country has been rising for more than 30 years. Recorded crime has increased in all police force areas since 1978, and I shall publish in the Official Report a table showing the percentage increase in each force area between 1978 and 1985. The number of offences of violence against the person recorded by the police in England and Wales in 1985 was approximately 122,000; 40 per cent. more than the number recorded in 1978. This compares with an increase of 42 per cent. in offences of violence against the person between 1973 and 1978. It is not possible to provide a figure for the number of offences recorded in a year which are not later cleared up, because some offences are recorded and cleared up in different years. but the difference between the number of notifiable offences reorded by the police and the number of offences cleared up in 1985 was 2.2 million.

Mr. Clelland

In the run up to the last two general elections the Conservative party promised the people of this country security in their homes and safety on their streets. As the Home Secretary has just informed the House that things are substantially worse than when the Conservative party came to office, may we have an assurance that similar false promises will not be made at the next general election?

Mr. Hurd

The Labour party will not get very far if it tries to persuade people that crime was invented in 1979. The number of recorded crimes has been increasing steadily for 30 years. When we came to office we found a demoralised and under-strength police force, a grossly neglected prison service and courts that had inadequate powers. In all those areas, as we have shown again this week, we have steadily strengthened the public's defences against crime.

Mr. Jim Callaghan

In 1979 the Conservative party came to office on a policy of law and order. In the light of the disturbing facts about violent crime that the Secretary of State has just given the House, what practical measures will he take to allay the fears of the public, and of old-age pensioners in particular, who are now virtual prisoners in their own homes in inner city areas? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do?

Mr. Hurd

Hardly a week goes by without us making an announcement or taking measures directed towards that end. This week's announcement is that, once again, we are launching a substantial expansion of the police forces in England and Wales in order to provide better protection for the public.

Mr. Gould

As two thirds of all reported crimes have not been cleared up, may we not conclude that the police, through no fault of their own, are unable to keep pace with the rising tide of crime? Does the Home Secretary admit that the belated and inadequate increase in police resources that has recently been announced merely serves to emphasise the seven wasted years under this Government in the battle against crime?

Mr. Hurd

When we took office we acted at once to remedy the gross deficiencies in the strength of the police service, and there was a long period of police expansion. Now, after a pause and following a thorough study of the proven needs of the police forces, we have announced a new programme.

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Opposition would do more for the police, he must accept that if they continue to say that they will give priority to everything, they will, in fact, give priority to nothing.

Mr. Boyes

Does the Home Secretary's reply not show categorically that Tory policies are not working? Does it not also show that the Government can offer neither hope nor solutions to those living in deprived areas? The Prime Minister may go to the two dozen or so people who voted Conservative in Scotland and utter the words "care" and "caring" 15 times in her speech, but the citizens of this land know that she does not mean it. They are looking towards a Labour victory at the next election, so that the next Labour Government can make the streets and people's homes safer places.

Mr. Hurd

No electorate in its senses, having looked at Labour's past record and at the attitude of so many Labour Members to the police today, would support the Opposition if the priority of the electorate were greater protection against crime.

Mr. Lyell

In addition to strengthening police manpower, increasing and improving police powers and increasing the powers of the courts, do not the public have a role to play in combating crime? Have not our neighbourhood watch schemes, which have been greatly expanded, worked so well in London that last year burglaries fell by 11 per cent.?

Mr. Hurd

That is certainly true in some parts of the country. The House will be pleased to note that burglaries across England and Wales fell by 3 per cent. last year. There are now 9,500 neighbourhood watch schemes—twice the number of a year ago—and they are playing an important part in crime prevention.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Although we all regret the increase in crimes, especially crimes of violence, will my right hon. Friend applaud the work done by victim support schemes, such as the one in Waverley, which have given practical and realistic help to the victims of crime?

Mr. Hurd

Victim support schemes are becoming increasingly important. I am delighted that the Government are able to give substantial help to the National Association of Victims Support Schemes and that, for the first time, we are now also able to give some help to local schemes.

Mr. Gale

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the recently announced increases in police manning will be welcomed by all those with a genuine interest in the reduction of crime? Is he further aware that there has been a dramatic decrease in the incidence of drink-related crimes in Scotland during the past 10 years since Scotland changed its licensing laws? Will he confer a similar benefit on the people of England and Wales?

Mr. Hurd

I think that that is another question. I made the Government's views of principle known to the House earlier this week. I believe that the case for a reform of the licensing laws has been established. Timing is a different matter.

Mr. Alex Carlile

We should all welcome the increases in police manpower announced recently by the Home Secretary, but does he not accept that grudging reality is rather different from the rhetoric of the Prime Minister at last year's Tory party conference? Why has the Home Secretary not accepted the views of Sir Kenneth Newman on the need to increase police manpower in London?

Mr. Hurd

The Metropolitan police, the Police Federation and many others would like a greater increase. At the beginning of last autumn we set in hand two thorough reviews—one for the Metropolitan police and the other for the forces outside London. It was as a result of those reviews of need — precisely the criterion that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister laid down—that we made our careful announcement this week. We look forward to increases in the operational strength of police officers of 2,600 outside London and 1,800 in London.

Sir John Farr

The House must agree that it is important to increase the number of police officers and, if possible, restore the bobby on the beat in those areas where he has disappeared, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is equally important to equip the police with the latest most scientific and modern anti-crime devices available?

Mr. Hurd

I agree. I know that my hon. Friend has an interest in some of those projects. I hope shortly to receive the conclusions of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis about the equipment needs of his force. We have had some proposals from him already. As soon as I receive the considered report we shall move to take decisions as quickly as possible.

Mr. Dubs

Despite the Home Secretary's fine words, is it not true that over the past seven years the Government have utterly failed on law and order? Although the Home Secretary has paid lip-service to crime prevention methods, the Government have done nothing about methods for preventing crime. Is that not one of the reasons why the crime wave is out of control?

Mr. Hurd

That was an amazing statement by the hon. Gentleman, who is usually careful in putting forward matters. The fact of the matter is that under my predecessor, and now, we are giving increasing prominence to crime prevention, as witnessed by the seminar held at No. 10 Downing street in January. That was a thoroughly practical effort, which we are now following up, designed to ensure that the different professions and interests understand what they can do in practice to make our homes, streets and places of work safer. If Opposition Members, instead of conniving and going along with their thoroughly destructive attitudes towards the police, would join in the crime prevention effort, place by place, the cause would be greatly advanced.