HC Deb 02 April 1987 vol 113 cc1205-6
5. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to seek to improve the clear-up rate for burglary.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Operational decisions about the investigation of specific offences are a matter for chief constables, but I know that in the case of burglary a number of forces are using screening techniques to try to improve clear-up rates by targeting resources. However, most burglary is opportunistic and there is therefore considerable scope for preventive action—a point which is being enhanced in current crime prevention publicity.

Mr. Fatchett

Given the appalling increase in the number of burglaries since the Government came to office, would it not now be sensible for the Government to reconsider the limitations on spending experienced in the metropolitan counties after the abolition of the metropolitan authorities? That has resulted in problems, such as in the West Yorkshire, where senior police officials have had to spend time persuading the Home Office and the Department of the Environment to spend more money on the police, when the Labour-controlled authorities wanted to spend that money. I suspect that the ratepayers shared that desire. That time would be more effectively spent with additional resources and more police on the ground. That would be a better way of detecting more burglaries and of making sure that we do not get the petty political interference in the police that we have experienced under the Government.

Mr. Hogg

I have heard a number of silly interventions while I have been in my present job, but that is one of the sillier ones. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that, in 1987–88, we intend to spend 46 per cent. more, in real terms, on the police service than was spent in 1978–79. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that, at the moment, the police service strength is about 16,000 more than it was when the Labour party was last in power.

Sir Peter Hordern

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to improve detection rates of crime and burglary is to increase the number of police on the ground? Does he also agree that, because of some unfortunate oversight, the number of police in Sussex is to be reduced to improve the numbers guarding Gatwick airport? Since Gatwick airport is a national responsibility and is separately provided for by the British Airports Authority, can my hon. Friend give us an assurance that the number of police in Sussex will be reconsidered sympathetically?

Mr. Hogg

I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend, who argues his corner with great lucidity. He is always courteous, but not always wholly right. He will appreciate that the process of civilianisation over the past 12 months or so, together with the increase in recruiting in Sussex, has put on to the beat about an extra 100 men.

Mr. Corbett

Will the Minister note that one reported burglary takes place every 34 seconds in England and Wales? Is he aware that the clear-up rate for burglary is only 27 in every 100? Does he accept the chilling view of Mr. Mike Hough, a senior Home Office crime expert, that the police cannot solve everyday crime and that people are now on their own? Does that not mean that our homes and streets are being left to the burglars and muggers?

Mr. Hogg

The Labour party is having a jolly time kicking own goals today, because, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to remember, in 1986 the number of residential burglaries cleared up rose by 5 per cent. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is proposing to clear the prison population by 10,000 in the first year of a Labour Government, and by 20,000 by the end of the Parliament. That would mean liberating into the community a very large number of professional burglars.