HC Deb 16 July 1987 vol 119 cc1265-6
4. Mr. Patnick

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what figures he has available which allow a comparison to be made between the levels of serious violent crime in England and Wales, France and Germany.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

International crime statistics are published periodically by Interpol. As my right hon. Friend said on 30 June, the latest figures show that there were fewer than two homicides per 100,000 population in England and Wales in 1984. The figures for France and West Germany were twice as high.

Mr. Patnick

I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I do not wish to sound complacent, but it proves that it is contrary to the widely-held belief. Can my hon. Friend comment on the figures for petty crime, such as car thefts, break-ins and similar crimes, and, if so, will he elaborate?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right to say that the vast majority of crimes that inflate crime figures in this country are eminently avoidable. For example, 25 per cent. of indictable crime in this country is theft of or from cars, and about 20 per cent. of that takes place when cars are left unlocked.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Minister aware that in Sheffield, parts of which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) and I represent, city centre pubs have been operating a system of early warning for the past five years in an attempt to stem the increase in violence? In spite of that, pub landlords and managers now face a dramatic increase in assaults. How will the Minister respond to the call of the vice president of the local Licensed Victuallers Association for harsher penalties?

Mr. Patten

I understand that it is a problem for inner-city pubs. I heard the vice president of the local Licensed Victuallers Association, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, on the "Today" programme recently making that very point. It is an inner-city problem and it is best dealt with largely by prevention and warning.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Has my hon. Friend any comparisons on statistics for street crimes between this country and France and Germany, especially in view of the new crime that appears to be gaining prevalence in south London, called steaming, where gangs of 30 of more attack people on buses and in shops and rob everybody in sight?

Mr. Patten

I do not have the figures on street crime at my fingertips because the lock on my Red Box jammed and it was only with the help of the policeman behind the Chair and a screwdriver that I was able to open it for 2.30 pm. I shall write to my hon. Friend with those details. I know that one of the main aims of the Metropolitan police force is to stamp out as vigorously as possible those forms of violent crime, and the courts have available an equally vigorous range of penalties to punish those who are convicted.

Mr. Corbett

I welcome the Minister to his new job. Will he confirm that in the matter of non-violent crime England and Wales are somewhere near the top of the international league? For example, does he know that there is a burglary every 34 seconds and an act of theft or of handling stolen goods every 16 seconds? What is he going to do about that?

Mr. Patten

I must begin by reciprocating the welcome. I am delighted to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his important post. I had not read about it. I hope that we have the same—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is indicating that it may be only temporary.

It is undoubtedly the case that the majority of crime in this country lends itself not to police detection hut to public prevention. Indeed, about 20 per cent. of all burglaries take place in houses which have unlocked doors or unfastened windows.

Mr. Favell

Is it not high time that we introduced legislation to prevent the sale of knives to under 18-yearolds? Does my hon. Friend recall that at one time there was great concern about the sale and use of flick-knives? That was abolished with great success. We cannot sell cigarettes to under 16-year-olds, we cannot sell liquor to under 18-year-olds, so why should they be able to buy knives?

Mr. Patten

I appreciate my hon. Friend's strong concern, which I know is shared on both sides of the House. It is something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering at the moment.