HC Deb 16 July 1987 vol 119 cc1267-9
7. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many notifiable offences were committed during the last month for which figures are available; and what increase this represents compared with the position 10 years earlier.

Mr. John Patten

There were 951,000 notifiable offences recorded by the police in the first quarter of 1987. The number in the first quarter of 1977 was 614,500. This represents an average annual increase of 4.5 per cent.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister agree that those very serious figures do not represent the full picture? Does he accept that an increasing number of crimes are not reported which 10 years ago would have been reported? As the Home Office is given to establishing research programmes for a variety of activities, will the Minister institute a research inquiry into the incidence of non-reporting of offences that the police should certainly know about?

Mr. Patten

The Home Office is doing that all the time. With respect, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The incidence of reported crime has been rising, not falling. Through insurance, consultation with the police and better prevention, we are undoubtedly helping the situation. The hon. Gentleman is held in great respect in the House and in the Labour movement. If he would talk to Labour local authorities which publish material such as "Police Watch" in Manchester and "Policing London" in the metropolitan area which do such damage to public confidence in the police, he would help a great deal more.

Mr. Wheeler

Does my hon. Friend agree that opportunist crime has grown exactly in line with the growth in the availability of goods, money and property to steal? That is 96 per cent. of the crime problem. Does he also agree that there is, indeed, under-reporting, that crime will not be prevented by police patrols on the street, but that it will be stopped by the public working with the police, local authorities and other agencies to prevent it?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the facts and figures. He is also right that so much crime is preventable, especially small-scale burglaries. As he is a London Member, I put it to him that many London local authorities, rather than having nuclear-free or anti-police zones, should try to set up crime prevention zones.

Mr. Chris Smith

In the light of the alarmingly increased figures that the Minister has given, even for reported crime, what real commitment do the Government have to improving crime prevention and what real resources do they intend to put into local authorities to enable them to improve street lighting to make neighbourhoods and estates safer and to carry out the real work of crime prevention that the Government have so far neglected?

Mr. Patten

Alas and alack, many London Labour-controlled authorities are the last places where we would consider putting extra resources for work of this kind. They spend the resources that they have on publishing periodicals such as "Policing London" and seek to damage police and public relations. Since the Government came to power, neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales have increased by 35,000. We also have crime prevention panels. The Government are committed to crime prevention.

Sir Bernard Braine

In view of the known connection between alcohol abuse and the rising tide of crime, what steps are being taken to reduce the huge increase in illegal under-age drinking in public houses?

Mr. Patten

With respect, there is no clear evidence of the connection that my right hon. Friend suggests. Nevertheless, there is clear evidence of problems of alcohol abuse. My Department and the Department of Health and Social Security are looking into this all the time.

Mr. Hattersley

As the Minister is clearly anxious to make this into a political issue, and as the Government refuse to accept that the increased crime rate is the product of unemployment and deprivation, to what does he attribute the rise in crime in the past eight years, which has, been far faster than anywhere else in the Western world.

Mr. Patten

Crime has been rising all over Western Europe for the past 30 years. The rate of growth in this country is considerably less than in France, for example, and very much less than in other countries, such as Spain. One has only to consider a couple of randomly chosen periods. Between 1974 and 1979 violent crime was about 49 per cent. Between 1979 and 1986 it was only 32 per cent. The measures taken by the Government are beginning to work successfully on some elements of the increase in crime.

Mr. Alton

Given, as the Minister has said, that burglaries and break-ins form the largest category of crime and are certainly what the public are most worried about, does he agree that what is needed is not merely the extension of neighbourhood watch schemes, but more policemen on the beat? What is being done to study the relationship between drug abuse among many young people and the number of burglaries and break-ins undertaken by people who steal to feed their addiction?

Mr. Patten

The police are constantly looking at that connection, just as there are more and more police on the beat taking their important share of preventive work in society. The police, however many there were, could never possibly attempt to prevent all crime. It requires public cooperation and co-operation from everyone who wishes to see crime rates reduced.

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