HC Deb 02 April 1987 vol 113 cc1200-2
2. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he plans to take any new initiatives following the publication on 16 March of the recorded crime figures for 1986.

4. Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what place crime prevention has in his overall strategy to reduce crime.

8. Mr. Blair

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to seek to diminish the crime rate.

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

The Government plan to intensify their present effort against crime. This includes providing extra resources for the police, prison and probation services, strengthening, where necessary, the powers of the police and the courts, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, and supporting a broad range of crime prevention measures. Crime prevention is an essential element in this strategy.

Mr. Beith

Do not the alarming figures conclusively prove that the Government do not have answers to the law and order problems? Will the Home Secretary enable police forces such as the Northumbria force to recruit up to strength? Will he back community crime prevention schemes, by the greater use of special constables and neighbourhood watch schemes?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman may know that there are now 10,600 more police officers in England and Wales than there were in 1979, and more than 5,000 more civilians working with the police. As part of the phased further expansion of the police I am looking at applications from authorities, one by one, and granting them when it is clear that there are jobs to be done that can be done only by uniformed police officers. There is scope for further use of special constables, for example in helping the police and in helping neighbourhood watch schemes to get off the ground. I am encouraging the spread of good practice in that regard.

Mr. Heddle

I thank my right hon. Friend for increasing the number of policemen on the beat in Staffordshire by 25 in the past few weeks. Does he agree that 95 out of 100 crimes are committed against property rather than against the person? Does he further agree that it is the duty of every individual citizen to endeavour to protect his or her property in the best way that he or she can? What further initiatives does my right hon. Friend plan to take to ensure that that is done?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right. It is not surprising that car thefts are about the fastest growing form of offence, when one in five of us leaves his car unlocked. Of course people need help, and that is why for three years we have been building up a wide range of crime prevention measures, including, for example, funding under the community programmes to the tune of about £35 million. Some 8,000 unemployed people go round helping people like those that my hon. Friend has in mind to make their houses, flats and shops more secure.

Mr. Blair

Is the Home Secretary aware that, for example, in county Durham last year, burglaries rose by over 10 per cent. and that the annual recorded crime over the last six years has risen by 10,000, or over 30 per cent.? Is he also aware that local authorities are hard pressed because of the cuts in block grant, particularly in areas like county Durham? Does he not think that we would be better able to deal with crime and law and order problems if we devoted more resources to law and order and to dealing with the problems of the people at the sharp end, namely, the police and the victims, rather than have the temporary tax cuts of the Budget?

Mr. Hurd

The resources devoted to law and order have increased at a phenomenal rate, starting, admittedly, from the lamentable position that we inherited. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the police. Next year we will spend 50 per cent. more in real terms on the police, including getting more policemen out at the sharp end of policing than we had in 1979. Certainly we need to spend more, and will spend more, on crime prevention. The whole thrust of my answers today and on previous occasions is that if we are serious about reducing the bulk of recorded crime, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) said is crime against property, crime prevention is probably the best way to do it.

Sir Edward Gardner

When my right hon. Friend tries to identify the cause of the increase in recorded crime, especially crime concerning property, will he bear in mind the dreadful effect of the use of drugs that is reflected in the crime figures? Does he agree that, for example, in America 60 per cent. of all crimes against property are attributable to the taking and misuse of hard drugs?

Mr. Hurd

I am quite clear that more and more crimes, including a lot of minor crime, such as petty pilfering, is inspired by the need to finance drug taking. Therefore, as my hon. and learned Friend says, there is a clear link between what we are doing on crime prevention and what my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office and his colleagues are doing in our campaign against drug abuse.

Mr. Duffy

Does the Home Secretary think that the most immediate and urgent contribution that he could make to crime prevention would be to undertake to make representations to the chairman of the IBA about the reported plans of Mr. Jeremy Isaacs for late-night viewing on Channel 4 and an increased output of sex and violence? Can the Home Secretary think of anything that is more likely to assure the continued degradation of our society?

Mr. Hurd

If the hon. Gentleman feels that that is important—and he may well be right—he will have an opportunity tomorrow to vote for the Second Reading of the private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth), which would remove the broadcasting exemption which at the moment puts broadcasters in a different and privileged position in this regard from those who publish books or magazines.

Mr. Nicholls

In so far as my right hon. Friend is looking for new initiatives, is he attracted by the idea of political control of the police as set out in, "These are Liberal Policies 1986"? If it is such a good idea, can my right hon. Friend suggest why the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) did not mention it?

Mr. Hurd

The Liberals are worried about this, as they are worried about many of their policies. I have been in some rather opaque correspondence with Mrs. Shirley Williams on this subject and she seems to be rowing back, if that is the correct phrase, rather fast from the kind of harebrained schemes that the Liberal party espouses. It is only fair to say that last year's proposals by the Liberals are but a pale shadow of folly compared to the official Labour proposals of this year.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any correspondence between him and Mrs. Shirley Williams is the bland leading the bland? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That was not bad.

Mr. Kaufman

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This afternoon the Home Secretary enunciated the new doctrine that crime is the fault of the victim. As there have been 25 million crime victims since the Government took office, and that in the 40 minutes of Home Office Question Time today 330 crimes will have been committed, including— [Hon. Members: "Oh, no."] Yes, hon. Members should groan. Those crimes will include 10 acts of violence against the person, 10 acts of fraud, 46 acts of criminal damage, 70 burglaries and 163 thefts. In view of those facts, when will the Home Secretary stop waffling about crime and at least try to reduce it to the level at which the Labour Government left it in 1979?

Mr. Hurd

What the right hon. Gentleman is doing, although not so far in this House, is setting out to the press his party's plans to reduce the prison population by 20,000 over the lifetime of a Parliament. He can do that only by writing a burglars' charter. There are 10,100 burglars in prison, of whom 3,000 have convictions for II or more offences. The right hon. Gentleman will not achieve his figures for the prison population unless he prevents the courts from sending burglars to prison.

Mr. Hayes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Harlow last year crimes of burglary decreased by 2.2 per cent. and that crime increased overall by 0.3 per cent.? Is he further aware that so far this year crimes of burglary in Harlow have decreased by 5.5 per cent.? Will he take this opportunity to thank the police force in Harlow for looking after my constituents so well, particularly for having the highest detection rate in Essex?

Mr. Hurd

I shall certainly do that, but my hon. Friend is not alone in that experience. For example, in the borough of Wandsworth, part of which is represented by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), residential burglaries decreased by 600 last year. I suspect that that has something to do with the fact that neighbourhood watch schemes in that borough rose from 375 to 558.