§ Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the increasing emphasis on prevention in the fight against crime; believes that the development of closer links between the police, the community and industry has an important part to play in both the prevention and detection of crime, including industrial crime; and calls upon the Government to ensure that the range of sentences available to the courts is sufficient to enable them to deal effectively with those who commit crimes.
I am pleased to have drawn first place in the ballot. It is the first time in my eight years in the House that I have been so fortunate. This is a useful opportunity for me and other colleagues to look at this most important subject. The figures published this week on crime in the statistical document from the Home Office show that it is a subject that is most important to the House and the nation. Most colleagues were as horrified as I was to see the figures that show increases in crimes of all types. I was particularly concerned at the figures for offences against the person. There were 126,000 offences of violence against the person recorded in 1986—3 per cent. more than in 1985.
That constant increase in crimes against the person cannot be laid, as some Opposition Members have suggested, at the door of a simple set of Government policies. It must be illustrating huge changes in society's attitude and in people's attitude towards each other. I believe that there is a need for individuals, for people within a family group, for people and families within the community and for the community itself, in its relationship with the institutions, particularly the police, to take responsibility and to see the need for joint action if we are to see a reduction and improvement in that appalling and unhappy situation.
It would be too simple to try to give any one answer to the question — why have crimes increased? It is important to say at the start that one cannot simplify and say that a single matter such as unemployment is the whole reason for the increasing level of violence. The age of offenders and the number of offenders under working age shows clearly that, although unemployment may be one of the factors involved it is certainly not the only factor and cannot be claimed by anybody, other than somebody so simple-minded as to defy belief, to be the only cause for the increase in crime.
Having said how disturbed I am, I should say that the House will have the opportunity shortly during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill to debate a number of matters. This morning we should look not only at the problem but at some of the solutions. It disturbs me greatly that we do not have a deterrent in the form of capital punishment, which would be seen by deliberate, evil wrongdoers as a sufficient deterrent to prevent crimes. I would like to recall the words said to me by the Reverend Robert Bradford, who, before his murder at his advice bureau in Belfast, was a Member of this honourable House.
As an ordained Methodist minister his view and advice to me was that there were people of deliberate evil intent and that society had to accept the fact that some people were evil and would commit crimes capriciously and for evil reasons, and that they would be deterred if capital punishment was available to the courts. Since then, I have been firmly convinced that there are people who would be 1147 deterred. There are those who argue that crimes of passion and crimes that happen suddenly and not for evil intent will not be deterred by capital punishment, but some will.
Part of the problem is caused by the wrongdoer thinking that society will let him off and take a lenient attitude towards crime. This atmosphere, aided and abetted by the media, and by television in particular, must lead on some occasions to the potential wrongdoer concluding either that crime is not bad or that there is no real penalty against crime. In the letters column of the Daily Telegraph, a prison chaplain says that inmates had told him,No-one told us it was wrong.
Unless we stress in all our efforts, led by Government and institutions and fostered by the community and most important, by the family, that there is wrong and evil in certain acts, young people will not grow up to understand the nature of such acts. The ultimate act — that of murder—must surely attract a penalty which instils in the minds of those who might be considering such a crime such fear that they do not commit it.
I understand that we shall have an opportunity to debate this matter before long. I have signed the proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill. I hope that we shall be able to vote on it. I shall vote, as I have on each occasion when the matter has been brought before the House, for the return of capital punishment. The amendment proposes that the death penalty should be available to the courts so that a person convicted by the unanimous verdict of a juryof the premeditated killing of another person or of knowingly and intentionally killing another person in a manner, or for a reason, or in circumstances which a reasonable person would consider to be evil, shall suffer death in the manner authorised by law.
I cannot stress enough how important that is in achieving more safety for our citizens. Murder is committed less often than other crimes such as violence, burglary and serious personal injury, but it is that most important example that sets the attitude and the perception of potential wrongdoers about the attitude of society to them. To relinquish the availability of the death penalty to the courts must, in the minds of many potential wrongdoers, indicate that society is kind and lenient and that it will condone crimes such as murder.
I shall now discuss other serious crimes. The figures show that offences against the person have risen by 3 per cent. to over 100,000 a year. That must give rise to great concern about people's attitudes to each other.
Many of us are anxious about the operation of the Bail Act. Serious crimes and murder have been committed by those who should have been in prison at the time and would have been, but for the operation of the Bail Act. They have been allowed their freedom as a result of that Act. I am not criticising the technical decisions by the judiciary. I understand that in most cases, including that which was resolved yesterday concerning the murder of PC Blakelock, the Bail Act is used correctly. However, the operation of the Act has caused huge concern in that and many other instances.
The police request that an individual about to be tried should not be allowed to be free on bail, but that person is granted bail and, whilst on bail, is able to commit other serious offences. I ask for a response from the Minister about the Government's attitude to a fundamental review 1148 of the operation of the Bail Act, so that courts are more responsive to requests from the police to keep an accused person in captivity. Such requests should lead to such captivity more often.
Society has a right to expect such crimes as rape to attract penalties that will act as a deterrent. I understand that, statistically, the penalties for rape have increased, but many people believe that penalties for such crimes are too light. In a recent rape case, the sentence imposed was thought to be too lenient and such is the power of our media that that was conveyed to every living room in the country. It resulted in a flood of letters to myself and others. One in a huge pile of letters from constituents says:I should like to ask you if some law could be passed on sentences for criminals who rape women.Another says:I am furious about the way judges act in the courts.Yet another says:Criminals must see the reactions of the courts as much as to say, 'Don't do it again, but you must serve two years or thereabouts if you did not mean to do it.'That is not my grammar but are the words used in heartfelt letters from constituents.
§ Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)
In the light of genuine disquiet by the public about cases such as the Ealing vicarage rape case, has not the time come for the House seriously to consider giving to the prosecution the right to appeal against lenient sentences and to give to the Court of Appeal the right to increase sentences to meet the guidelines laid down for judges in the lower courts?
§ Mr. Mills
My hon. Friend has made the next part of my speech for me. He is right. My hon. Friend's learned knowledge makes him better able to put the point than me. Not to have a mechanism through which lenient sentences can be reviewed is most unhappy.
Another letter from a constituent, using better grammar, states:I wish to express my concern at the leniency of sentences passed by Mr. Justice Leonard at the Old Bailey on 2 February. Five years and three years respectively for rape seems inappropriately short when compared with the five years received for aggravated burglary. Natural justice has been ill served by the justices. I hope that you will use your voice in Parliament to make it plain that at least one of your constituents is unhappy about this leniency.That is a well-written and well-constructed letter. It is just one of many that we received about lenient sentences. That may be just one case, but, because of the widespread nature of the publicity that such cases receive, it has a huge impact on society. Many wrongdoers or potential wrongdoers who plan to rape, when they see the leniency of sentences, must take the mental attitude that, if that is the way in which justice works in our country, that must be the way that society feels and, therefore, that there cannot be anything wrong in doing what he is about to do. That is the burning point.
If the courts' decisions, for whatever reason, are not to he seen by the public to be over-lenient in view of the tragic, awful, unwholesome and unpleasant consequences of rape, the penalties must be high, strict and seen as a real deterrent against crime. If, because of the nature of our judicial system, that will not always happen, it is important to have some mechanism so that wider retrial powers can be available to the Appeal Court. Our democratic society, in trying to be kind and helpful, allows the Appeal Court to reduce sentences.
1149 It has always seemed to me as a layman to be quite odd that the Appeal Court cannot increase sentences. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary expressed some support for the idea. Indeed, I understand that a clause in a Bill that was amended in the House of Lords not so long ago would have given such powers of appeal. I urge the Minister to consider whether wider retrial powers should be part of the Government's future policy. Over-lenient sentences can be corrected by powers being made available to the Home Secretary or Ministers, or, far better, by the Appeal Court having the ability to increase over-lenient sentences in the same way as it can reduce sentences if it believes that it is justified. That is probably one of the most important parts of our debate and discussions today.
According to newspaper and police reports, it seems that, in our constituencies, old people are attacked, often for almost gratuitous reasons, and for very little gain if the intent is to steal money. The tragic attacks upon elderly lady pensioners aged 80—they obviously do not have many hundreds of pounds but only a few pence in their purses—can only mean an extension of the attitude that the weak and the feeble can be exploited and hurt. The only way in which a criminal can be brought to see sense and be deterred from carrying out his ghastly crimes is for him daily to see in the papers and to hear daily from friends and relatives that crime is punished in this country by penalties given by the courts that would make him shudder and think twice before committing crime. It is not just a matter for the courts. In essence, it is a matter for society, and the courts, in representing society's view and interpreting justice for society, must recognise that.
I ask the media — on some occasions they are friendly, on other occasions they are unfriendly, but they are always seen and heard by millions of people—to consider carefully the reports of a number of committees. I have in mind the Wyatt committee report. By and large, the media, in essence, provides the young in particular with immediate access to programmes that they will inevitably copy and will inevitably see as putting forward suggestions for lifestyle and propositions or ideas that they will inevitably—perhaps not always consciously — seek to copy. Although we all enjoy the great heroes of television, equally the purveying of violence can act on the minds of young people who wish not only to be heroes but to copy violence and be criminals.
In my constituency, I have experienced the lack of deterrence among young people in particular, who create social havoc when they carry out social crimes. It has led to a certain attitude, for example, at Chelmsley Wood, a council estate of about 18,000 homes in my constituency. It is a small area of a couple of square miles. The planners, in all their wisdom, decided that the great human race requires old and young people to relate to each other. That is absolutely right. It is a great objective. The only trouble is that the relationship between elderly, frail pensioners, some of whom are in wheelchairs, and agile youngsters on bicycles, motorbikes or even on foot, who rush around narrow walkways in crowded estates, often leads to friction. Many people in my constituency see me to complain about vandalism, and often vandalism with violence. A brick thrown through a window is almost commonplace. The solution is partly police patrolling—police presence—and the growing success of neighbourhood watch and crimewatch groups.
1150 I now refer to the aspect of prevention. I spent rather longer than I intended on the other aspects. The debate has given me a rare opportunity to say some of the things that I would have liked to have said eight years ago.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
The hon. Gentleman talked about some of his constituents who think that deterrence is important in the type of case that he described. I am sure that he must be aware that, at the last police consultative meeting in his area, nobody called for tougher sentences but for more police patrolling in the area and for a far greater provision of youth facilities. The hon. Gentleman's borough, which is a Conservative borough, has the lowest level of such facilities.
§ Mr. Mills
The first part of what the hon. Gentleman said forms the next part of my speech. I shall refer in some detail to the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I have full details. In fact, the police liaison committee is to meet this evening. I shall report to it if I am permitted to leave the debate, which, I suppose, could go on for as long as 10 or 20 hours today, in view of the importance of the subject. With a bit of luck, I may attend the meeting.
The solution to violence and vandalism is partly to do with police on the beat and partly to do with the relationship between the old and the young. On a number of occasions I have said to constituents, "Instead of shouting at the kids why don't you give them a few sweets and make friends with them?" It might seem to be rather odd, but in a few cases that extraordinary technique has worked. Sometimes I have acted as mediator. Perhaps my rather large feet in black shoes may have given rise to a suspicion among children that I was a plain clothes policeman. I have said to youngsters, "Do you realise that, by tormenting this old lady, you are causing her huge concern?" The youngsters are mainly mischievous, but some are not. I can think of two or three solutions that occurred by getting the people to know each other.
On such crowded estates, one of the terrifying problems is that people do no often know who are their neighbours. They may recognise their faces but they do not know them as friends. The prevention of crime is desperately important but the interrelationship of people to combat crimes is vital. That means that parents must take responsibility for the actions of their children. Families who live in streets or blocks of buildings must come together to form neighbourhood watch or crimewatch groups so that they can revive what was originally tribalism.
I am reminded of a young black friend, a solicitor from Zimbabwe, who said to me a couple of years ago that the problem in Europe is that we have lost tribalism. He said that within his tribe people would never be allowed to behave like that, that people were looked after by each other and that the tribal leader was not expected to look after them. He said that, although the members of his tribe are not blood relatives, they nevertheless relate to one another. Therefore, it is most important to encourage people, wherever possible, to form crimewatch and neighbourhood watch groups to help identify potential criminals, to inform the police and therefore help to deter criminals. These groups also help to rebuild the family and the community spirit, leading to cohesion and a feeling of togetherness. The action of these groups leads to criminals 1151 knowing that there are no easy pickings: that elderly and frail people cannot be picked off by them because they are being looked after by their neighbours and friends.
It is important that there should be a spirit of cohesion within our communities so that criminals are deterred from committing crime. It is also important that the police should be able to carry out the tasks that are given to them by society. To carry out those tasks they must be well motivated, by which I mean that they must be well paid, well led and well trained. Great strides have been made by this Government towards ensuring that police pay is adequate. The police provide an extremely high standard of training, leading to the creation of self-disciplined individuals who are capable of dealing with all aspects of crime. I have been out with my local police force in Chelmsley Wood. I admire their training and discipline and on occasions I have also admired their courage. We are not supposed to listen, I understand, on small radios to the radio broadcasts late on a Friday night in Birmingham, but if one does so one hears about various incidents. Recently two young constables had to face a riot of about 40 drunken youths at a pub, and one of them had to be taken to hospital with severe facial injuries.
I welcome the increase in the establishment of the police force nationally. There has been a welcome increase in the number of police officers in the west midlands recently, with an increase of 175 recruits, but it is vital that there should he a further increase in manpower. The matter has been discussed with the Home Secretary. I have written again to him and I have discussed it with the chief constable. I have also discussed it in some detail both with the police liaison committee in Chelmsley Wood and with police officers.
I pay tribute to the superintendent and the police force at Chelmsley Wood police station for their efforts, but it is clear that they have insufficient manpower resources and that, despite the increase in the police establishment, there are a number of problems. The additional posts that were approved by the Home Office in 1980 were in response to an application from the west midlands as a whole for an increase of 1,042 police officers. However, the increase in the police establishment, though welcome, has been offset by the reduction of police overtime in the authority's budget. That reduction is equivalent to 361 police officers.
Although the west midlands police force is now up to its authorised establishment of 6,684, it can be argued that the loss of overtime will lead to a reduction of between 200 and 300 police officers. That is part of the problem to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) referred. On one occasion the police liaison committee met at a police station that controls a huge area. Four or five police officers were on duty. That number was quite inadequate on a Friday night to deal with any problems that might have arisen. I know that police procedures mean that police can be brought in from Birmingham, Coventry, and elsewhere, but we are obviously insufficiently manned. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to speak to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and stress that I and other Members of Parliament, of all the political parties, strongly support the suggestion that there should be an increase in the police establishment in the west midlands.
1152 Also I congratulate the police nationally—although I know more about the west midlands police — on the programme that will lead to police jobs being given to civilians, wherever possible, so that police officers may patrol our streets and undertake other important tasks. It is vital that the police establishment should be increased. Therefore I ask my hon. Friend to listen most sympathetically to what I am saying and also to Mr. Dear, the chief constable of the west midlands, who has requested an increase in the police force. It is vital that these requests should be acted upon quickly because the training programme is arduous. One of the problems in Chelmsley Wood is that although there has been an increase in the police establishment, police training takes two years.
Until a police officer is both trained and has gained experience, he cannot be left on his or her own. There was a period when the police were grossly under-established. The numbers might have looked reasonable, but many people had to be taken through the training process before they could become experienced police officers. Decisions must, therefore, be taken now if there is to be an increase in establishment before too long.
It is vital to look not just at statistics but at people's perceptions of the penalties for wrong doing. Those that hit the headlines are the lenient penalties. Therefore it is vital that there should be consistency and strictness in the penalties for crime and wrong doing. If the penalties are over-lenient, the Court of Appeal or the Home Secretary must have the power to review and, if necessary, to increase them. I look forward to debating and voting upon the clause, which I hope will be passed, that will lead to the return of capital punishment as a penalty for murder and other serious crimes.
You may have wondered, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why I included industrial crime, but I have been interested in this aspect of crime for a number of years. For a number of years I have advised the industrial anti-counterfeiting group, as well as leading groups of trade mark agents who are concerned about the loss to great British companies, due to industrial counterfeiting. We do not talk a great deal about industrial crime, but it is important that all hon. Members should be aware of this problem. Although industrial crime is an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act and can attract penalties, it is not a criminal offence. It has been estimated that more than 100,000 jobs are lost each year because people steal Great British designs, trade marks, names and products and many other products sold in Britain under different brand names. Billions of pounds are lost throughout Europe because of this criminal act.
Counterfeiters take products and replicate them down to the last shade of colour. They include bottles of whisky, perfume, watches and car parts. Safety considerations must be taken into account. Many counterfeited car parts such as brake linings and brake diaphragms are seriously defective. While appearing to be the same as the products that have been counterfeited, they are likely to fail and are thus highly dangerous.
It may be said that this is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. I am sure that my hon. Friend's Department has briefed him. I spoke to the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry yesterday and asked that he should be briefed. It is now a matter for the Home Office, whose officials are discussing it with a working group from the Department of Trade and Industry. Both Departments have received copies of the 1153 proposals of the anti-counterfeiting group. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree to make counterfeiting a criminal offence when the appropriate Bill comes along although he may not be able to do so now because the discussions are still taking place.
This serious offence is costing us hundreds of thousands of jobs and is losing British companies good, legitimate profits. But what penalties are available for the wicked criminals who are stealing our industrial property? Officials say that there are severe penalties, but what is actually happening? In a written answer a few months ago, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said:In 1985, the average fine imposed on offenders convicted under section 1 of the Trades Descriptions Act 1968 was £203".—[Official Report, 10 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 169]
What a vicious penalty! We spoke earlier about stiff penalties and life sentences, and I called for the return of capital punishment. At the other end of the scale, the average fine for stealing intellectual property, which everyone admits is a serious crime, is £203. That is hardly confirmation of the argument that the law is acting justly or adequately. It is not acceptable for the Government to say that it is a matter for the courts that the penalties are available to the courts and they should use them. We are an Administration, and we have a serious problem which has been going on for years, but the penalties are derisory. Any counterfeiter worth his salt will simply build a small amount into his huge profits with which to pay the fine, and say, "Who cares? If it is only £203. Does it really matter?"
It is important that my hon. Friend should respond, either now or later, to the need for strong deterrent policies to deal with industrial and commercial crime. The criminals are in it for the money, and are getting away with the money, having lost the odd £200 if they are caught. A firm of investigators dealing with computer fraud has said that the average amount stolen in that way is 10 times the amount stolen in the average bank robbery. We all agree that bank robberies — particularly those involving violence—should attract strict penalties, but here we are saying that a similar act should attract a fine of £200. That is no deterrent whatever.
We speak of counterfeiting as a crime because it is recognised as such, not only in this country but worldwide, and in other countries is treated as such. Until it is specified as a separate criminal offence here, as it is in the United States, counterfeiting will increase and we shall be out of line with Europe and the United States. The Trade Mark Counterfeiting Act 1984 passed in the United States made counterfeiting a specific criminal offence attracting fines of up to millions of dollars or many years in gaol.
It may have been felt 10 or 15 years ago that there was no need to change the law because not much counterfeiting was taking place. I raise the matter today because many of my hon. Friends may not realise what a rapid increase has taken place in the past 10 years. It is estimated that some $60 billion of world trade is in counterfeit items. That is a particularly serious problem for the more sophisticated western democracies, because counterfeiters in developing countries find heavily branded and trade mark protected goods easier to copy. It is an almost inevitable cycle that, as countries develop an industrial capability, they will ask themselves whether they should spend millions of pounds on research and development, advertising, branding, marking and naming products, or 1154 whether they should counterfeit some well-known and popular product. Until we ensure domestically that the penalties are sufficiently tight, the practice will continue — not only in such countries as Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and Hong Kong, but in all the developing countries. Many of their Governments have acted, but the commercial entrepreneurs will continue to commit the crime. Counterfeiters weigh up the profit against the risk of prosecution and punishment and often decide that the risk is worth taking. One well-known counterfeiter has done it time and time again, and, with the fine at £200, can we wonder? That is why it is so important for my hon. Friend and his Department to obtain a full report from the Director of Public Prosecutions to confirm the level of penalties.
We must act quickly. The action taken in the Criminal Justice Bill on conspiracy to defraud is welcome, but although it deals adequately with parts of the problem, it does not face the need to make counterfeiting a criminal act. As a convinced European, I feel that we should not be seen yet again to be reacting to a request from the European Commission by imposing stronger penalties. It is time that we got our act together and did what is right before being requested to do so.
In reply to a question asked by Dame Shelagh Roberts, the European Commission replied:The US Trade Mark Counterfeiting Act 1984 makes it a felony for a person to traffic or attempt to traffic in goods or services bearing a counterfeit trademark. As far as the Community is concerned, after the recent adoption by the Council on 1 December 1986 of Regulation (EEC) No. 3842/86—that is an excellent move—laying down measures to prohibit the release for free circulation of counterfeit goods, the Commission intends to examine the adoption of appropriate measures to combat the manufacturing of counterfeit goods and trade therein within the Community's frontiers.This examination will, at the request of the Honourable Member, be extended to include the penal legislation of the Member States.
It is pretty clear from that answer to a Member of the European Parliament's question that the European Commission will look at our domestic penalties for those crimes. If one compares those penalties with other countries in Europe, one finds that a fine of £203, in practical terms, will hardly act as a deterrent. So rather than be pushed by Europe, surely we should act now. If the Minister cannot give me the answer yes today, I ask him to make sure that Home Office officials respond to Department of Trade and Industry officials, and give us a clear time scale so that we can achieve some advances on counterfeiting.
The R. v. Ayres case—House of Lords 1984—which created a loophole on conspiracy to defraud, involved some £5 million of Chanel perfume. The counterfeiters got off—I am not sure whether one should say scot-free or perfume-free—but they certainly got off free. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm today that clause 12 of the Criminal Justice Bill will rectify that matter and ensure that the defence under conspiracy to defraud is now covered by his Department.
I should like to quote a few myths and facts on counterfeiting. Most hon. Members tend to think of it in terms of £5 notes or, if they are richer, £50 notes, or that it is a problem, with jeans, or, because they have read about the Chanel case, with perfume, or, because they have heard about the watch case, with watches. However, 1155 I remind the House that all industries are vulnerable, including the manufacturers of car parts and drugs. In the pharmaceutical industry, the counterfeiting of drugs not only affects the jobs and profits in British companies, but it can be dangerous. Even if it is not dangerous, the drugs can be misapplied or misdirected. They might not even be the proper product. We are all simple and innocent when we buy from a reputable chemist a drug on prescription.
If the box looks right, we believe that the little pill inside, or the powder, is all right. But if it is counterfeit, it might not be. The chemist or pharmacist might be reputable, but goods might come in through his supplier that are not right.
When someone buys a well-known brand of brake linings or replaces the disc pads, he has full confidence that the next time he is, perhaps, driving to the House of Commons on the M1 and has to brake at 70 mph, the car will stop. But he might find that a counterfeit part has been sold, perhaps unwittingly, by the local garage or shop, and the car goes straight on, with the result that there is a terrible accident. Not only have the lads in Birmingham lost their jobs because somebody has stolen their design but the driver is endangered.
One of the myths is that such an incident happens only with goods produced abroad. The United Kingdom has always had domestic counterfeits manufacture, and now it is increasing. Exactly the same arguments apply as to other crimes—the penalties are not sufficient to prevent that counterfeiting. If the Minister says that the Department of Trade and Industry told him that under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 the penalties can be severe, my question is: if they are, why are they not being applied? It is exactly the same argument for other crimes, the figure of £203 given as the average in the Home Office answer shows that whether it is under the Trade Descriptions Act or not, courts could have recourse to stricter penalties, but they are not doing so.
Part of my motion was about the relationship between the community and the police. I talked about that in tremendous detail in relation to other crimes. It is most important to examine it in the context of industrial crime. As I said, we need more police. People will be sympathetic to the view that in Chelmsley Wood the police should be patrolling the beat, preventing violence and vandalism. But the time that the police have to investigate industrial crimes is limited. It is therefore important that there is a relationship between the trading standards departments, trading standards officers and the police. I have some interesting examples.
In the perfume case, the police involvement came about only because they stumbled across counterfeiting while they were doing another investigation. It is apparently a matter of policy that the police will normally decline to become involved in counterfeiting cases on the grounds that trading standards officers should deal with them in the absence of any substantive serious offence. Investigators' experience in anti-counterfeiting work confirmed that, while at local level the police are often helpful and co-operative, the policy that they have to enforce is that counterfeiting is a matter for the trading standards officers. The criminals know that. It is interesting that an investigator reported that while he was working under cover he was told that a consignment of 20,000 to 30,000 watches was about to be processed, and 1156 that there was no need to worry because the matter involved only trading standards. He was told, "The police don't want to know."
In 1986 a large quantity of counterfeit watches was seized by the police in Hatton Garden. The police found it difficult to believe that that was happening. They were anxious to bring charges, but it was apparent that there was no clear offence with which the man who was counterfeiting the watches could be charged. After some consideration, the charge of being equipped to cheat was brought under section 25 of the Theft Act 1968. I believe that the case is still to come before the court.
Another example is in the Manchester area. In early 1986, 100,000 bottles of counterfeit perfume were found. Apparently the packaging as well as the perfume had been obtained, and the counterfeiters were ready to put them together and make a profit. That was known to the police, but no action could be taken because no offence had been committed at that stage. Eventually the perfume was sold and retailed, and action was then taken. Had criminal action against the counterfeiters been possible at an early stage, the problem would have been prevented at the start.
We must recognise that trading standards officers are not seen by criminals to be the instruments of the law. The level of penalties is seen to be abysmal. We see Europe looking into the matter and being likely to suggest that we should have stronger penalties in the United Kingdom. That is vital. My hon. Friend the Minister and the Department of Trade and Industry will know that the Bill prepared by the Anti-Counterfeiting Group is available and could be made law at any time the Government should wish. I have been pressing and campaigning for it, and welcome the support of any colleagues on both sides of the House.
I hope that the Home Office will respond to the Department of Trade and Industry. I agree with the view expressed by the commercial interests, that the amount of time taken by the Home Office to consider its view on the level of penalties and respond to the request to make counterfeiting a specific offence is far too long. I have much correspondence, but I should not speak for much longer. I think that I have covered most of the points.
The motion has been a welcome opportunity. I have mentioned industrial crime as well as other crimes because it is a serious matter. I look for a detailed response. My last word is that no hon. Member can say today that the level of crime, which is rising, is due to one simple factor. One cannot say that one party or one type of political philosophy is responsible. There are great changes in society. They have taken place elsewhere. We have seen changes take place in America.
If we ignore the family, the individual and the community in the prevention of crime, we are ignoring the very basis of what was once so important to our community—the spirit of dependence on each other and the relationship with each other. By acting together, I am sure that we can start to stop those crimes. It is vital that we have penalties that will help to deter and prevent them.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I must first offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) not only on his speech but also on the extremely appropriate timing of his choice of subject. We are debating law and order, crime, and the relationships between the police and the community this 1157 morning in the light of the tragic and disturbing crime figures that were issued earlier this week. That fact makes our debate peculiarly appropriate.
I want to take up first one of the final remarks made by the hon. Member. He said, rightly, that there was no one single cause of the rise in crime and no one single answer or party political answer. I hope that that message will get home to the Prime Minister. Twice this week at Prime Minister's Question time the Prime Minister shut her eyes to some—not all—of the root causes and the social upheavals that are scarring too many of our inner cities at the moment as part of the cause of the rise in crime.
We cannot ignore the rise in unemployment, the extent of poverty, the dereliction of our inner cities, the extent of homelessness and the lack of facilities for young people in particular. We cannot ignore those as inevitable factors leading to lawlessness and crime.
There are some areas in which really good work has been done. I will consider in a moment how they begin to roll back the tide of crime. When I claim that unemployment, lack of youth facilities, and poverty, are part of the root cause of crime. I do not say that as an excuse for those who take to crime. That is no excuse at all. However, we must understand the linkages between poverty, unemployment and crime if we are to begin to tackle the problems of crime effectively. We should be redoubling our determination to begin to tackle some of those underlying social problems.
There is not only an erroneous assumption on the part of the Prime Minister that unemployment has nothing whatsoever to do with the rise in crime; there is also an erroneous assumption on the Prime Minister's part that policing is in some way the only answer to rising crime. Time and again over the past three to four years, when we have been pressing the Prime Minister in the House on issues of law and order and rising crime, her only answer has been that her Government have spent more on the police, have recruited more police officers and have provided the police with more weapons.
Policing is part of the answer to rising crime. However, it is not the only answer. We must recognise the fact that policing must, if it is to be effective, be policing in the community and with the community. In that again the hon. Member for Meriden was absolutely correct. That means that a number of things must happen. I am sure that most hon. Members who talk to ordinary people about their fear of crime will agree that we must ensure that more police officers are on foot, on the beat going around the streets and estates in our constituencies.
When I raised with the Home Secretary at a meeting with London Labour Members a week ago the question of the extra complement that he has recently announced for the Metropolitan police — a very welcome extra complement—I asked specifically how many of the extra officers will actually end up on the beat in my constituency. Every time I talk to the local chief superintendent about the need for home beat patrolling around the estates in the southern parts of Islington, I am told that the police are terribly stretched for manpower and that it is difficult to devote the resources to home beat patrolling that should be there.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that part of encouraging the home beat officer on to the streets and to feel welcome in 1158 the community should involve him feeling that he has a welcome in London schools and that the schools should make every effort always to have an open door for their local home beat police officer?
§ Mr. Smith
I entirely agree that a sensible relationship between the police and schools is extremely important. I am pleased to say that the schools in my constituency have traditionally invited the police in to meet children and discuss their work. It is absolutely right that that should happen.
The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General about the funding and cost of the Metropolitan police published a year or so ago reveals some worrying figures. It shows that only 25 per cent. of police time is spent on patrol. That covers not just patrolling on foot but patrolling in cars as well. The conclusion that we must draw from that is that police time is not spent as well as it could be at the moment. We must get police officers, whose skilled job should be out on the streets relating to people, out of the police stations and away from the paper work. We must ensure that there are more civilians in the police stations carrying out the administrative tasks to release skilled policing work for the streets so that more officers can be on foot, patrolling the beat.
Another requirement for good policing is that the police must tackle the crimes that people want them to tackle. In Islington a year and a half ago, a thorough crime survey was carried out and 2,000 households within my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) were interviewed in depth about the priorities that they felt should attach to policing in the area. The figures that emerged from the survey make very interesting reading indeed.
Out of 17 types of offences ranging from burglary, racist attacks, vandalism and sexual assaults, householders were asked which five were, in their view, the crimes deserving the greatest police priority. For anyone taking a common-sense view of what people are worried about, and anyone talking to ordinary people about the things that they fear most about crime, the results of that survey should come as no surprise. Top of the list of priorities was robbery with violence in the street; second was sexual assaults on women; third was the use of heroin or hard drugs; fourth was burglary of people's houses; fifth was drunken driving; sixth was racist attacks; seventh was vandalism. The bottom of the list shows those offences which deserve priority in those people's eyes: such crimes as shop lifting, company fraud, prostitution, burglary of shops, theft of motor cars, rowdyism in the street and the use of cannabis. Although the people did not believe that those crimes should be ignored, they thought that they should have less priority than other, more important crimes.
Those priorities have been thrown up in many surveys, not just in Islington but in the Policy Studies Institute survey and the Merseyside crime survey. Interestingly, when those surveys have asked the police which are the most important crimes that they should be tackling, the answers are not always the same. We must make sure that police priorities match the priorities of the people in areas which those officers must police.
The third point is that the police must work with local people. In my constituency, there has been great success in rolling back the tide of crime on some council estates. One example is the Barnsbury estate in the middle of my 1159 constituency. About three years ago, there was much vandalism on the estate. People were frightened to go out at night and some were terrified to go to the community centre, perhaps for the luncheon club, during the day.
At the initiative of the tenants, a meeting was set up between tenants, the police and the local authority to try to discover what was needed to improve crime prevention on the estate. The tenants told the police how they wanted their estate to be patrolled. They told the council what improvements were needed in lighting and in entry phones and what facilities should be made available. The transformation has been remarkable.
That is an example of the direction in which we should go. Local people should be able to sit down with the police and the public authorities to make sure that their neighbourhoods and estates are policed as they want them to be policed and that, simultaneously, the essential work of crime prevention to make those neighbourhoods safer and more secure is carried out.
§ Mr. Hind
Although I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, does he agree that in some areas, especially those with large ethnic communities, a larger proportion of police officers should be recruited from among those communities to build confidence between the community and the police? Is that not the way forward?
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman will know from our discussions in the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice Bill that I do not always agree with everything he says, but on this occasion he is right. We must try to resolve the catch-22 problem that people from the ethnic minority communities, especially in London, are reluctant to join the police force because they regard it as not being interested in their concerns and as not containing many members of their communities. We must ensure that there are more black and Asian police officers on the streets, because that is one way of ensuring good policing in concert with the community, rather than rubbing up against the community.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
The hon. Gentleman says that we must build confidence in the police and good relations between the police and the community. Is he happy about the relations between police liaison committees in inner London and the police in the Metropolis? In some cases, that relationship is very bad. Outside London, is he happy about the relationship between some police committees and the police forces? how can those relations be improved?
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Gentleman has, unusually perceptively, anticipated what I was about to say. On some occasions, criticism of the police is justified. I remind the House that, in June this year, several officers will be tried in connection with an assault three and a half to four years ago just off the Holloway road on five youngsters who are my constituents. As the matter is sub judice, I shall not discuss it in detail, but there was undoubtedly an incident that brought discredit on the police force and in the interests of good policing, it is important to resolve the matter.
There will be many more occasions when working closely with the police is justified and necessary. It is important to get the balance right. I am pleased to say that, 1160 in Islington, the right balance has been struck. There is a police consultative committee on which I, representatives of the borough and many representatives of the community sit, and it does a constructive job. Relations between the local authority and the police are good. It does not always praise the police, but it works well with the police and has developed several initiatives and multi-agency projects on estates, including the provision of a victim examination suite for the victims of rape. Some good work is being done in Islington between a local authority, which some Conservative Members wrongly try to characterise as being beyond the realms of reason, and the police who do the work on the streets.
In Brighton, the Labour authority, which, sadly, has been rate-capped by the Government, is working with the constabulary in crime prevention. There are many good examples of Labour-controlled authorities working closely with the police. It is not always an entirely adulatory relationship on either side — indeed, it should not be adulatory — but they are working well and constructively. That is the way forward. I would accept criticism from Conservative Members about some Labour authorities more easily if they also mentioned the constructive work that is being done.
Policing is not the only answer to crime. We should explore the many other solutions. I welcome the Government's new-found commitment to crime prevention, but we should consider the improvements that are desperately needed in most of our inner cities. For example, street lighting must be improved so that there are fewer dark corners and the streets are made safer, especially for women and elderly people. We need entryphones in blocks of flats on council estates. We need not just physical barriers, but caretakers, porters and concierges to ensure that there is a human presence controlling entry.
We need stronger doors for flats — at the moment such flats have flimsy doors that can be booted in all too easily. There should be window locks to prevent people gaining entry to carry out burglaries. There should be railings around basement areas to make access more difficult. There should be more youth facilities for young people so that they have something to do, especially during the evening, instead of simply hanging around street corners or gathering at the bottom of blocks of flats.
Those are the sort of things that are desperately needed and they would make a massive contribution to the prevention of crime in inner city areas.
§ Mr. Smith
No, I have given way too often and I must get on.
What have the Government done in the past eight years about precisely those measures that would aid crime prevention? We inevitably come to the conclusion that they have been making it more rather than less difficult for local authorities to carry out their work.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Before he runs away completely with the idea that his party can claim credit for crime prevention and that the Conservatives are against such work, will he take 1161 the opportunity to dissociate himself from the remarks made by the chairman of Lambeth police committee, who said that he disapproved of neighbourhood watch schemes because they tended to divide the community? I believe that that is a more accurate reflection of his colleagues' views on crime prevention.
§ Mr. Smith
I knew that I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman—his point is totally unrelated to the basic work of crime prevention. However, I shall answer. Many neighbourhood watch schemes do much good work, hut, in my view, a neighbourhood watch scheme that simply calls on people within an area to keep a lookout for crime is not the best approach to crime prevention in that area. A neighbourhood watch scheme should also include an awareness of the physical needs of the area. It is also important that all authorities in the area—the local authority, social services and the police — assist in improving crime prevention in that area.
Many neighbourhood watch schemes have developed in that way; and I welcome that. However, some have not, and that is sad. To say that all neighbourhood watch schemes should be immediately welcomed is a simplistic approach. The neighbourhood watch scheme is potentially a good development, but it must encompass the entire physical fabric of an area as well as the residents' actions in that area. That is an important point and one which I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept.
We should consider the support that is given to local authorities to improve the physical fabric of their area. The Government's record is not a good one. My local authority, which is currently rate-capped, has struggled to find £150,000 in this financial year to upgrade street lighting in the area. I have been pressing the authority to devote as much of its resources as possible to that extremely important work. I would dearly love the authority to be able to double that figure, but that is impossible because of the Government's financial constraints upon that local authority.
We must consider the balance of the Government's priorities over the past eight years. The Government are now spending 30 per cent. more, in real terms, on the forces of crime control—the police, the courts and the judiciary. The Government are also spending 70 per cent. less, in real terms, on housing. Housing improvement in most of our inner-city areas represents the best way of preventing crime. That is the path the Government should follow.
The Government's priorities are entirely wrong. We need more crime prevention and we need more support from the Government for the essential crime prevention work that local authorities wish to carry out. If the Government put their money where their mouth is, we might see a dent in the horrible, appalling crime figures published earlier this week.
§ Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak after the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). Although he would not expect me to agree with certain of his concluding remarks I agreed with a great deal of the earlier part of his speech. I agree especially with his welcome to the motion put down for debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills). It is an extremely topical debate, and I believe that it is right to draw attention to 1162 the need for greater emphasis on crime prevention measures and for greater emphasis on the relationship between the police and the community.
Obviously, I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that the crime figures produced this week are depressing, disappointing, serious and disturbing. At the beginning of his speech the hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that he would get across to the Prime Minister his message that the causes of crime are complex. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he addresses a similar message to the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and points out to him, in exactly the same way as he has attempted to point out to the Prime Minister, that the causes of crime are complex. It was ridiculous for the right hon. Gentleman to imply, as he attempted to do earlier this week, that, somehow or other, the crime figures were wholly the fault of the present Government.
Yesterday I looked back at the crime figures during the period that I have been a member of this House. Comparing the figures for 1964 with the present figures reveals a rise of about 350 per cent. In that period crime figures show a rise from just under 1,200,000 to about 3,800,000. The period between 1964 and 1987 has been divided almost equally between periods of Labour and Conservative Government. The 1986 figures are serious and disappointing but over the past 30 years recorded crime has been rising by about 6 per cent. a year.
We are all aware that recorded crime is not an accurate portrayal of the amount of actual crime. The figures for burglary leave no doubt — both sides of the House would agree on this—that reports of such crime have grown because of the wider use of insurance and because of people's' greater concern to report matters that they believe represent offences against their property. It is significant to note that of the reported burglary figures, 9 per cent. represent attempted burglary. Having said that, however, the rapid rise in crime over this period is serious, depressing and something to which the House must address itself.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
If I understand the case that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making, does he not think it highly regrettable that, in 1979, before the election, the present Prime Minister tried to imply that the rising crime figures were the fault of the Labour Government and that her Government would be able to deal with the matter much more effectively. Does he not agree that the Prime Minister should withdraw those remarks? It would assist the position.
§ Mr. Carlisle
I do not agree that my right hon. Friend should withdraw those remarks. What my right hon. Friend said at that stage was true—I shall develop that argument later. My right hon. Friend intended that the Government should put greater emphasis on certain aspects of the fight against crime. Nevertheless, crime has continued to increase.
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman's intervention has rather thrown me off the line that I was pursuing in my speech—
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Perhaps I can assist in bringing the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to the point that he was making, as that was the point that concerned me. He said that there was a higher incidence of reporting of crimes, especially burglary. A 1163 recent Harris opinion poll in Newham showed that only one in 20 instances of racial harassment was reported to the police, so in that context there is substantial underreporting of a very serious crime.
§ Mr. Carlisle
No one doubts that there is a great area of hidden, unreported crime. It has always been accepted that recorded crime figures do not reflect the total incidence of crime. I was simply saying that over a 30-year period the willingness to report crime has increased, but the total volume of crime has also risen continuously throughout the period.
To respond to the comments of the former Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), we must recognise that there are no easy solutions to crime and that the Government's role in the fight against crime, though extremely important, is limited because, as the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, the causes of crime are extremely complex.
In my view, the role that the Government can and should play is threefold. First, they must ensure that adequate resources, power and manpower are available to the police. Secondly, they must ensure that the sentences available to the courts are adequate. Thirdly, they must ensure that adequate resources are put into the whole fight against crime, including not only the prison building programme but the probation service, social services, and so on.
To answer the question posed by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's comments in 1979, I believe that the Government have done well in those three limited areas and have increased resources in the way that I have described. I have seen and heard nothing from the Labour Front Bench to suggest that a Labour Government would have done better. Indeed, it is clear from many of their statements and attitudes that they would have given these matters lower priority. As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, there are more policemen about today than there were in 1979 — 15,700 more, if one includes ancillaries — and the powers available to the police have been strengthened over the period.
I firmly believe that the Government's reviews and the maximum penalties now available to the courts show that Parliament has carried out its duty to ensure that adequate penalties are available to the courts. It is vital to remember, however, that although it is Parliament's duty to ensure that the penalties available are adequate, the passing of individual sentences is a matter for the judiciary and not for Ministers. My hon. Friend the member for Meriden said at one stage that he favoured powers to allow the Home Secretary to review over-lenient sentences, but I am sure that that was a slip of the tongue as it would clearly be disastrous if the Executive ever became involved in sentencing.
I am becoming increasingly concerned at the constant calls from some areas of society for ever longer sentences and the frequent attempts to lay all the blame on the judiciary in individual cases. I am concerned about this, not just because it is wrong, but because it is counterproductive. I accept that part of the purpose of punishment is to deter people from committing crime, but calling for ever longer sentences gives the impression that the courts are weak on serious crime and pass derisory 1164 sentences for serious crimes of violence. I simply do not accept that. Perhaps I should declare an interest as one who practises in the criminal courts and sits as a Recorder. Statistics for the past two years show that the length of sentences is increasing and it is nonsense to suggest that crimes of violence are not treated seriously by the higher courts.
Those who constantly criticise the judiciary and claim that sentences are derisory undermine the deterrent effect of the courts. The allegation is often not just unfair to the individual member of the judiciary concerned, but it attacks the system and people's perception of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden is right that perception is important. If people go around saying that one can get away with serious crime and nothing will happen, people will begin to believe it. In fact, the sentences passed by the higher courts for serious offences of violence are generally longer in this country than in any other European country and they are still increasing somewhat.
§ Mr. Hickmet
How important a role does my right hon. and learned Friend think that diminished respect for the rule of law or for the police plays in the amount of crime committed? Secondly, if judges are constantly attacked for their decisions and sentences, will this not further diminish respect for the rule of law and further promote crime?
§ Mr. Carlisle
My hon. Friend has, in far more felicitous language, repeated the argument that I was trying to make. I make no political point about this, but we must remember that it is this House which lays down the law and sets the penalties, and that it was this House which passed the Bail Act. It is the responsibility of judges to exercise discretion within the powers given to them by Parliament and in accordance with the wishes expressed by Parliament. Sentencing is a very difficult task. I believe that in the vast majority of cases it is approached with responsibility by members of the judiciary, who rightly seek to reflect what they believe to be their responsibilities both to society and to the individual before them.
I end this part of my speech on a purely personal note. As a junior Minister in the Home Office, I was responsible for giving approval that led to the release of someone from Broadmoor — I shall not mention the name — who committed several further murders. Am I asked to take the responsibility for that decision? Should it rest on my conscience? I have heard that phrase used recently.
As one would, I went back and reconsidered the papers. I found that that decision had been reached after much care and thought, and after taking the best possible professional advice that one could receive. The scandal would have been to have rejected that advice and those recommendations, and to have used one's own hunch against all the evidence that was provided about that man's condition.
With hindsight, it was tragic that that man was ever released, and with hindsight it is easy to criticise the individuals concerned. However one must remember that the responsibility of those who sit in our courts is to use their experience and professionalism, on the basis of their knowledge at that time. I confirm the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) that continual criticism of the individuals involved in such cases undermines respect for the rule of the land.
I turn now to the resources that are available in the fight against crime. I refer to the prison building programme 1165 and to the other resources that are provided for fighting crime within society. I have no doubt that we all accept that those who commit serious crimes should go to prison and serve long sentences. We must have an adequate prison service that can deal with those whom the courts sentence.
We must keep the facts in perspective. In 1970, there were just under 40,000 people in prison. One of the first papers that I received as a junior Home Office Minister in 1970 was a Home Office projection of what was likely to happen to the prison population during the next decade and the next 20 years if no action was taken. If the pattern of the graph had continued, it was predicted that there would have been a far higher prison population than we in fact have today.
We did two things about that. We brought in the Criminal Justice Act 1982. which widened the opportunities for alternatives to imprisonment, especially the community service order and, under the late Mr. Reginald Maudling, we started a substantial prison-building programme. I regret to say that the incoming Labour Government killed that programme. Therefore, Opposition Members should not criticise the overcrowding that now exists.
The 1971 annual prison report stated:The Prison Department is now embarked on a very large building programme. The primary aim of the programme is to produce the large number of additional places needed in the system to meet the expected rise in the prison population during the I 970s and, so far as may be predictable, depending on the future size of the population, to reduce or eliminate overcrowding.That building programme continued. I refer now to the 1975 annual prison report, which stated:The general strategy developed in 1970 of providing more adult training prisons and young offenders accommodation by building new purpose-built establishments, by adapting former service camps and by making additions to existing establishments, continued during 1975.But in the next paragraph it said:As a result of the 1975 Public Expenditure Survey the estimated expenditure for the prison building programme for the years 1975/76 to 1978/79 was reduced by over £40 million. This has meant the indefinite deferment …The report refers to three major schemes that would have produced 1,600 new places by 1979, and to five further schemes that would have produced another 1,700 places. The ending of that prison building programme, started in 1970 when Mr. Maudling was Home Secretary, was largely responsible for the degree of overcrowding that we have in our prisons today.
In 1970, there were just under 40,000 people in prison. That figure dropped and only reached 40,000 again in 1975. From 1975 — 1984, it gradually increased. As I have already said, during the past two years it has suddenly and dramatically started to rise again.
There is a problem of overcrowding, and we must recognise that its only solution is an adequate prison building programme. We must approach crime on the basis that we must try to keep out of prison those who could be dealt with in other ways. However, one must have an adequate prison system to provide imprisonment for those whom society and the courts believe should go to prison.
§ Mr. Soley
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that he has presented only half of the argument. He knows that the Government's projections show that, even with the full building programme, there will be acute 1166 overcrowding into the next century. He also knows that the Criminal Justice Act 1982 introduced the concept of executive release because they know that the only way in which they will keep down prison numbers is to use executive release. A far better way would be to use a conditional release scheme, similar to the one operating in Northern Ireland for non-serious non-violent offenders.
§ Mr. Carlisle
The hon. Gentleman has completely missed my point. Of course, the Government are aware that there is still serious overcrowding. That is the reason for the size of their building programme. However, if in 1975 the Labour Government had not substantially reduced the prison building programme, and the projected building programme that they inherited from the previous Conservative Government, there would have been considerably more places available now and the overcrowding would have been less. However, as it happens it would not have kept up with the total increase in the number of crimes. One accepts that.
The hon. Gentleman should also be aware that when people say, "Look how the prison population has increased", they should be aware that until 1984 the increase in the prison population was much less than the increase in the level of crime over those years because emphasis has been placed on other resources. I welcome and am glad not only that the Government have set about a major prison-building programme but welcome also the resources that they are putting into community service. Where possible, we can and must deal with non-violent criminals outside imprisonment.
I must not go on too long, but I should like to refer to the comments made by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury about the causes of crime. I have tried to relate my comments to the three areas in which the Government have a responsibility. The causes of crime are complex and I do not pretend to deny that the devil makes. work for idle hands. But there is no significant evidence of a connection between crime and unemployment. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is important to tackle the problem of resources and to occupy young people's time. Surely the answer to his suggestion of a link between the rate of crime and unemployment is the fact that the highest rate of offending is among 15-year-olds. A reduction in truancy rates in schools would have the greatest impact on the amount of crime being committed.
Clearly, opportunities for crime have increased and a tremendous amount of crime is opportunistic.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the statistic which is the Prime Minister's favourite refrain, namely, that the peak of crime appears to be around the 15-year-old age range. Does he accept that a child of that age will be affected if his parents are unemployed and by the prospect of unemployment on leaving school?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I thought that I had conceded to the hon. Gentleman that, generally, a lack of occupation, whether work or making use of facilities, can have an effect on the level of crime among people of all ages, especially the young. It is a fact that the peak year of crime is 15. A reduction in truancy may have the greatest effect of all on the volume of crime.
There are more opportunities for crime today. In many ways crime is a by-product of affluence, rather than of poverty. The only answer to opportunist crime is a greater 1167 emphasis on crime prevention. That is why I welcome the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden and what the Government are doing. I believe that the neighbourhood watch is a good scheme and so, I believe, does the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. With great respect, he did not answer my hon. Friend's question because he did not want to, and I do not blame him for that. Neighbourhood watch involves the community in helping itself protect itself, and it discourages opportunistic crime.
There are other causes of crime. Clearly one must accept that probably the major cause is the breakdown of the traditional barriers against crime — what others in the community would feel about it. The degree of violence to which people are exposed in various ways today is a partial cause of crime, and the growth of drugs and of pornography are also causes of crime. I cannot believe that those powerful forces do not influence the minds of young people and of those who may be susceptible to committing crime. We must deal with those causes.
The last part of the motion refers to the importance of the relationship between the public and the police. It is vital that we restore respect and understanding for the police. As my hon. Friend said in an intervention, we must encourage the police to explain to children of school age what they do, so that the children realise the problems that the police face and the police are regarded as allies in providing a secure society rather than as enemies of the young. It is a great pity that certain quarters heap criticism on the police when direct encouragement should be given for a closer relationship between the police and the community.
That, together with the great initiative which the Prime Minister has taken over crime prevention in the seminar that she called and in the follow-up under the Home Secretary, provide our greatest hope for containing the level of crime. They are far more important than some of the solutions that are being offered these days.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) on giving the House a chance to discuss this important topic. The right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) stoutly defended the judiciary and said that it was wrong for us to condemn it for carrying out Parliament's orders. Nevertheless, it would be inappropriate for the House to disregard public disquiet, although I do not think that he was suggesting that. In this context the hon. Member for Meriden pointed to the use of the Bail Act 1976 in the case of the murder of PC Blakelock. The public are quite understandably worried about the way it has been used. I endorse his request for a review of the Bail Act.
I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) that there is no single cause of the complex problem of crime. I also agree that it is necessary to involve ethnic minorities more in the policing of our communities. He is also right that the police cannot be above criticism. There is a great need for a fully independent police complaints procedure. Too often the watchdog is over-identified with the burglar.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that forces at work within society create the climate for crime. I agree, 1168 and I believe that, in particular, television violence and real life violence have a complicated, but real relationship. Techniques of violence on television can often seem admirable to and be imitated by young people. Children are strongly affected by realistic events close to their world. We have not yet taken the intrusion of television into our lives fully into account.
For six years I taught disturbed children on Merseyside and I saw how violence on television created the wrong kind of images and anti-hero figures in their lives. Those children were often seriously and badly influenced by programmes. The impression should not be given on television that violence does not lead to injury, as it often is. Similarly, dangerous situations which children could easily imitate should be avoided.
In too many television programmes violence has become the norm and that has de-sensitised children. Some 700 pieces of published research show a link between watching violence on television and enhanced aggressiveness among viewers. Channel 4 provides a red triangle against programmes to warn viewers that the programme could contain distressing sequences. Perhaps, that could be emulated by other television stations.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the red triangle has increased the viewing of those programmes? Does he not think that it is a light-hearted gimmick and that it is having unitended consequences?
§ Mr. Alton
Some sections of the community are more inclined to watch those programmes as a result. However, most parents care what their children see and determine what their children watch. If they know that a programme will be unsuitable, I am sure that the average, responsible parent will switch off the television. I also accept the hon. Lady's implicit point that television producers should keep a careful eye on some of the material produced in our television programmes.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a large part of the problem is not so much programmes where the impact of violence is obvious, but programmes where violence is sanitised, such as "The A-Team"? It does not carry a red triangle, is broadcast in the middle of the afternoon and is watched by many children. Violence there has no detrimental effect on the recipients of the violence and that is the problem.
§ Mr. Spearing
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point about which there is a great deal of public concern. Does he admit that two other factors are involved? Is not pressure from peer groups undermining parental decisions about programmes such as those that bear the red triangle? Secondly, do not television plots too often show violence as the resolution of a problem, whereas in real life we know that it is not?
§ Mr. Alton
Criminal techniques should not be used by television producers as a legitimate way of achieving objectives. Far too often that is the case in television 1169 programmes. Violence on television is simply a part of the complex picture that right hon. and hon. Members have been trying to paint during the course of the Debate. Clearly the problems of crime and the breakdown of law and order are not caused by only one factor.
I would not try to argue that television programmes are the only problem, but they are one factor that has not yet been discussed in the debate. The right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South referred to the staggering crime figures, which perhaps bear repetition and presentation in a different way.
§ Mr. Alton
Many hon. Members have been trying to get into the debate; I do not want to hog all the time and must make progress.
Seven crimes are now committed every minute; a total of 3.8. million crimes a year. Since 1979 recorded crime has risen by a staggering 51 per cent. and there has been a rise of 97 per cent. during the same period in recorded cases of domestic burglary. One reason for that is that techniques for recording crime have been changed and improved. However, detection rate—another important indicator shows that two out of three burglars get away with their crime. That demonstrates that in some instances crime seems to pay.
There has also been a 127 per cent. increase in robberies and muggings. Simultaneously during the past seven years scenes have taken place that most people had thought gone for ever. Although the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington. South claimed that there had been a steady increase in crime during the past 30 years, the traumatic and violent events witnessed at St. Pauls, Toxteth and Brixton changed all our previous perceptions of one-nation harmony and of the police who had to uphold the law during those riots.
Nevertheless, those scenes do not seem to have shocked the Government out of their complacency towards the problems of policing and rising lawlessness. That complacency is best illustrated in the Tory manifesto of 1983, which, just two years after the riots of 1981, stated:Already street crime is being reduced and public confidence improved in some of the worst inner city areas.
Obviously, that manifesto was not widely read in Broadwater Farm. Figures can be repeated ad nauseam. Falling clear-up rates and the increased number of attacks on police men and women are further illustrations. Since 1981, 63 police officers have been killed on duty. There has been a massive rise in drug-related offences in contemporary Britain. The self-styled party of law and order has become the party of riot and disorder. The Government's response has been predictable and pathetic. There has been the short, sharp shock, "bring back hanging," the birch, the packing of prisons and the erosion of civil liberties. Such policies more and more resemble crisis management and their approach shows too much reaction and not enough imagination.
We face a choice. First, we can continue to allow things to drift. We can watch the police being spat on and despised in many communities. We can watch certain elements trying to paralyse the police by grabbing control of their day-to-day operations. We can watch the police shrink back to their garrisoned fortresses, only to venture out in armoured cars—in the future—with dogs, troops or guns. We can watch while the crime figures shoot through the roof—or we can do something about it.
1170 As the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, we must recognise that we need more police on the beat rather than behind the desk. We should recognise the social and economic causes of crime. More attention needs to be paid to crime prevention and the relationship between the police and the community must be strengthened. We need an approach more similar to that of "Dixon of Dock Green" than that of the 1960s television programme, "Z Cars." We need more police on the beat, the reopening of neighbourhood police stations and more police living in the communities that they police. However, there is more to the alliance policy than a call for more bobbies on the beat.
Since 1979 the number of police officers has increased, yet that has had no effect on the crime statistics. The recruitment of more police cannot, in itself, bring about a fall in crime figures. More importantly, the increase in establishment has largely been absorbed by special demands on police time: for example, the extra administration resulting from the police and criminal evidence legislation, the policing of riots, strikes and terrorism. There have also been day-to-day changes in the working week, with more time off and more desk-bound officers.
There is a need for an increased level in the establishment. Among other benefits, an increase in the number of police would allow more time to be spent on training. That would give young police men and women the opportunity to get to grips with the new and complex legislation passed by the House, and the special skills that are required to handle people in our multicultural, multiracial society. The increase in manpower should lead also to the reopening of neighbourhood police stations. It would mean that administrative staff could share the burdens of administration which result in police men being locked to their desks.
A survey on Merseyside showed that about 3 per cent. of the Merseyside police force is on the beat at any one time. On Merseyside, some 66 per cent. of police time is spent inside police stations. Merseyside has about 4,600 police officers, of whom 1,900 are allocated to patrol work, but on average a mere 185 divisional patrol officers will be on patrol at any one time. As some of these officers will be interviewing criminal suspects, attending court hearings or answering calls, the number of police officers on the street is reduced further to about 2.7 per cent. of the force. In other words, the greatest number of bobbies on the beat at any one time 'will be 126. That includes traffic and operational support divisions. That is a long way from the "Dixon of Dock Green" approach.
The public say that they want more police on the beat, but less than 3 per cent. of the local force is used for that purpose in my area. The public want more time spent on answering emergency calls, but only 3 per cent. of police time is used for that, compared with 6 per cent. for interviewing informants, witnesses and suspects. All told, some 56 per cent. of police time is spent inside police premises, and a quarter of it is spent on paperwork and administration. Surely it must be possible to reduce that percentage and to put the police back on to foot patrols.
There is a link between crime and economic conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) asked on Tuesday whether the Prime Minister rejected the old adage that the devil finds 1171 work for idle hands. The truth of that maxim is so self-evident that it does not require any academic research to support it.
Unemployment leads to despair, and that can lead a man to do many things. I often see young people hanging around on street corners with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Criminals misuse, abuse and take advantage of such people, dragging them into vice and crime and using them in burglaries and robberies. Moreover, the consumer boom serves to remind the have-nots of how little they have. It is no wonder that petty theft often leads to more serious offences. It was Winston Churchill—not exactly a poor man, and the grandson of a duke—who once said that to have a little freedom, one must have a little money. Many young people today are constantly beguiled by television advertisements for new pairs of jeans and other new products that they are told they must have to keep up with their contemporaries. If they cannot earn money honestly, it is not surprising that sometimes — albeit unforgivably — some of them turn to crime. Conservative Members must recognise the social roots of crime, and until we agree that people can be driven to crime by their circumstances, there will be no opportunity to raise the law and order debate on to a more constructive plain.
§ Mr. Alton
I shall come on to some of those points later if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. There are many positive initiatives on which we can agree across the Chamber.
Another factor that I recognise in my community to be a force in increasing crime is the powerful link between crime and drugs. On the streets of Liverpool and in other cities drug addiction bites deeper and deeper into the personalities of the addicts, who then steal more to finance their habit. The likelihood of people lapsing into crime is self-evident. The heroin addict steals to pay the pusher. I hope that the Government will bear this in mind, do more to help drug rehabilitation centres and recognise that they must tackle the heroin problem. Stopping the inflow of heroin is one way of protecting young people from coming under this evil and powerful pressure to turn to crime.
For too long there has been a knee-jerk reaction to crime. The emphasis has never been on the investigation of the social roots of crime. As The Guardian pointed out on Monday, crime is rising becauseagencies and individuals who can have a preventive effect on crime are not pulling together.The editorial rightly pointed the finger of blame at the Government, who are content to let mass unemployment continue as a way of life, councils which prefer to hinder the police, architects who design exposed and indefensible buildings, parents who fail to take an interest in the preoccupations of their teenage children, and householders who sit and moan rather than do anything positive to help. There are signs that the Home Office is beginning to recognise the need to turn its attention to prevention. It is a pity that eight years of rising crime, eight 1172 years of reaction and ranting, have been wasted. Let us now welcome the positive moves that the Government are making.
Prevention can be brought about only through cooperation. That brings me to the point about which the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) was asking me. It concerns the relationship between the police and the wider community. The neighbourhood watch scheme is proving successful. As well as reducing the incidence of burglary in areas operating the scheme, it has recreated a sense of mutual responsibility and care. This has to be extended. The police must recognise that the public have a genuine need, even a duty, to involve themselves in their work. I am talking not about political accountability but about the need for the police to embrace their community and for the community to respond by embracing the police.
I was dumbfounded when a colleague of mine, Councillor Gerry Scott in Liverpool, a justice of the peace, who tried to establish a neighbourhood watch scheme in his community and was successful in getting the co-operation of the police, was then threatened with prosecution by the local authority because he had put up carefully manufactured signs on the local lamp posts. We can do without such ludicrous responses. What is required is a more commonsense approach, and real encouragement of these effective neighbourhood watch schemes that involve the community. That is going back to the old Peelite idea of policing by consent.
Liaison committees, which have been mentioned in the debate, have done great work, and it is a shame that there have been attempts to scupper them. There is no excuse for councils such as Lambeth opposing them. Prevention panels that draw the community into decision-making on such subjects as the provision of safety measures to secure the homes of the elderly and of the designs of estates complement the work of police liaison committees. Local councils should work hand in hand with such committees.
The need for such community-based policing is so important that it must transcend formal committees and structures. The police should be welcomed back into our schools and into our voluntary organisations, especially those representing the ethnic minorities. The massive rise in petty crime means that the police cannot possibly do their job without the support of the community.
As well as neighbourhood watch schemes and liaison committees, the Home Office should also be supporting victim support schemes. In the area from which the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South and I come there is an effective victim support network, notable for the work of Mrs. Joan Jonker, whose name may be familiar to many hon. Members. We should be encouraging the growth of such victim support schemes. Often, the role of the victim is ignored in the law and order debate. Several years ago I brought before the House a Bill on victims of violence which attempted to redress that balance, and I hope that more attention will be given to that issue.
Political accountability is a vexed question. We in the alliance have no intention of imposing political control on the police. We have no desire or need to control operational decision-making. Those questions are rightly the preserve of the chief constables. However, wider strategic questions are not free from the oversight of those who are responsible for public policy. National policy guidelines are required and inspectors of constabulary 1173 should be given greater powers to report on the development of regional and national responses to crime. The Select Committee on Home Affairs should take an interest in regional and national aspects of policing. Guidelines should be issued by the Home Secretary to police authorities about responsibilities that are currently deemed to be beyond their control. Police accountability should be considered by a Royal Commission.
We must avoid a further knee-jerk reaction to the real problems thrown up by the latest crime figures. Britain has a police force of which it can be proud, but it can succeed only when it is in close collaboration with the community that it exists to preserve and protect. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Meriden for giving the House an opportunity to discuss these complex issues.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)
Much has been made of the rising crime figures that we, along with other Western countries, have faced for over 30 years. The variables behind them have been discussed — the increase in police numbers and telephone use, the insistence of insurance companies that crimes are reported and so on. Another factor is the increase in motor vehicle ownership. Nearly a third of the crimes in London last year involved motor vehicles; that statistic helps to put some of the emotional but understandable arguments in their proper perspective.
Fear of crime and violent crime is widespread in the country, and in my constituency, although it is remarkably rare. Only one in 20, fortunately, of crimes are those against the person. In 1984, there were 1,400 murders in New York, which is more than double the number of murders we have annually here. For the most part, fortunately, violent crime is not common, although I agree that it is feared. The advice to most families should be, "Lock up your sons," not "Lock up your daughters," because young men are most often the victims of violent crime.
I am fortunate to represent an area that has the lowest recorded crime rate for any police area in the country. There is a high standard of policing and the police officers are well trained, well motivated and well respected by the community. There is an excellent crime prevention programme, with local seminars chaired by local public people co-ordinating local government officers, industry and commerce, the construction industry and many others against crime.
I welcome the motion from my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) and many of the themes that he has identified, above all the vital need to work with the community. Although I represent a Surrey constituency, before that I was closely involved in the difficulties of Brixton and Peckham over 10 years. The breakdown of relations between the community and the police meant that when difficulties arose, there were not the necessary mechanisms and channels of communication. I have visited my police liaison committee and have seen how much time and effort local police are prepared to spend in meeting local representatives and discussing priorities. Priorities may differ according to perspective but they are all important.
I welcome all that the Government have done since the Scarman report to promote and encourage police liaison committees. Recently I accompanied a police officer on his beat in Farnham. It is not an area in which there are major 1174 difficulties about law and order, but it was an experience during which I was able to see at first hand some of the equivocal responses that a police officer receives and his need for diplomacy and tact. Every situation that confronts him has to be handled sensitively. It certainly reminded me again of the importance of good training for our police forces.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) mentioned victim support schemes. Like him, I believe that this is a practical way in which we can have a partnership between the police and local volunteers which will, above all, give support to that far too often overlooked group in the criminal justice system. For generations, we hardly regarded the victim because we were so preoccupied with the crime and the criminal and the processes of law and order. The victim was too easily disregarded.
The Government can claim great credit for all that they have done to enhance the compensation powers of criminal courts and for generally highlighting the needs of the victim. The extra £9 million recently allocated to local victim support schemes is extremely welcome. There has been a remarkable growth in such schemes and there are now almost 300. I have one in my constituency, the Waverley victims' support scheme which has 35 trained volunteers. I have met them and seen the professionalism and the careful commitment that they give to this important work.
Many hon. Members spoke about neighbourhood watch schemes. There are now 18,000 such schemes, which are a working partnership between local citizens and the police, and a timely reminder that, no matter how many police officers there are, we cannot expect every house, every road and every motor vehicle to be observed and safe. Neighbourhood watch schemes rely on what people see from behind the net curtains and on those people being prepared to follow up and report and give information.
One of the most alarming aspects of the ghastly murder of Police Constable Blakelock was the intimidation of local people, who felt that they could not report or give information without recrimination. Encouraging neighbourhood watch schemes so that people understand their responsibility to have a sensible working partnership with the police is an important step forward.
Much has been made of the social causes of crime; we could debate those causes for ever. I should like to say something about the inner-city areas. What do hon. Members think is behind the great range of projects in inner cities if it is not precisely to draw attention to their needs? We have the urban programme, derelict land grants, housing improvement grants and the urban housing investment programme — many different schemes which encourage people in inner-city housing areas to feel a greater sense of involvement in their estates. Damage has been caused by the totalitarian nature of many inner-city areas, where there is a reluctance to sell council houses or to bring in private owners and private schemes for housing. Anyone who read the work on defensible space or the work by Alice Coleman on the need to feel a sense of ownership and involvement in the community and not just to have an alien sense that it all belongs to a local authority, will recognise that that is the way to reinvigorate our inner-cities.
The inner-city initiative by the Department of Employment encourages enterprise and initiative. People who care about law and order should do all that they can 1175 to support and welcome those programmes. The community programme schemes of crime prevention operate in many areas.
Why is it that the scheme for visiting the elderly by 15 people from the community programme in north Peckham, for example, has met nothing but resistance and a lack of co-operation from the local authority? Why are so many of the areas that complain most about their crime figures so reluctant to support and welcome open-handed Government in a great range of schemes? They seem to resent practical proposals like introducing tokens for gas and electricity meters. Such schemes are not rhetoric or ideology or marks of a class war: they are practical, sensible schemes about building up community spirit and about giving people the practical assistance that they want.
Work in our schools is most important. What is the purpose of the city technology colleges if it is not to give people a ray of hope, a vehicle of mobility which will help them to get on and improve their chances in life? What is the purpose of bringing parents on to school governing bodies if it is not to give them more of a say in the life of a school? What is the sense of blocking the door against police officers? The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) shows the acceptable face of the Labour party, but I am afraid that too many inner-London teachers show an unacceptable face in a lack of co-operation with police officers.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) talked about the link between truancy and crime. It has been well said that the peak age for criminal activity is 15. That is the time when such people are the responsibility of the school. I worked for 10 years trying to persuade youngsters in many of these areas to attend school regularly. That was before we had the difficulties of unemployment. How do they and their parents feel about teachers in inner-city areas who take strike action and shut the door in the faces of pupils? They may be making a point about their negotiating rights, but I should like to make a point on behalf of the many children for whom it is hard enough to attend school regularly. How do they feel about that rejection and about the teachers' denial of their responsibility?
§ Mr. Soley
Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to give a little thought and attention to why her Government have cut public expenditure of the type which would have solved many of the problems that she is talking about. Have the Government no responsibility in this? Apparently it is all the fault of teachers and other people somewhere else. What is the responsibility of the Government?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman well knows that his point is a travesty of my remarks. I have enumerated a long list of sensible and practical projects on housing, employment and education that are aimed strategically and not just globally. [Interruption.] I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to intervene again.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Lady is misleading the House by saying that the Government have increased expenditure. They have decreased it right across the board. They take money away from the local authorities and then pat a little bit back in certain specific projects and claim that they are doing something for crime prevention. Almost all the local 1176 authorities have had money for crime prevention and victim support schemes cut by millions, and the hon. Lady knows it.
§ Mrs. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman's party believes that the answer to everything is to hold all the power in the town hall. Labour has a totalitarian approach to these matters. I have enumerated a list of projects from different Departments. We need co-operation with the private sector and with local employers. Letting them have a say and a bit of autonomy and co-operating with the private sector in housing and not always thinking that the source of all action and all control must be in the town hall is the right way forward. In many of the inner-city areas there are great difficulties for the normal citizen. Are the actions of Brent and Lambeth and the words of their councillors a help to any of those citizens who deserve a better deal?
§ Mr. Hind
Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to look at early-day motion 784 that has been tabled by myself and several of my hon. Friends? Does my hon. Friend not agree that as long as teachers in our inner-London schools and city schools actively discourage the intervention of the police bringing in videos on molestation of children or by perverting good relationships between school children and the police, we are going to create barriers that will destroy good community relations whether in immigrant areas or white areas?
§ Mr. Hind
Perhaps my hon. Friend will look at the comments made by some of the teachers representing the Inner London Teachers Association condemning the police and accusing them of criminalising our community and youth. Does she not feel that such comments are a travesty and cause friction between the police and the communities rather than encouraging good policing methods?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the House that interventions are made only at the expense of the time for speeches of other hon. Members. That is something that I shall have to take into account when hon. Members seek to catch my eye.
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I appreciate the remarks made by my hon. Friend. However, I remind the House that not all teachers behave in the way of inner-London teachers. In my constituency there is a long tradition of mutual respect and co-operation between schools and the police. There is a danger that one can generalise from the particular to other areas.
I remind the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that it was the Lambeth local authority which expelled the police community committee from the Town Hall because it endorsed the use of plastic bullets as a last resort. We are told today that during the difficulties of the Broadwater Farm estate, that was an option and a last resort that the police might legitimately and properly have used. There are many other examples. I prefer the response of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) who was much more open about the importance and the need to co-operate.
As I said, the peak age of crime is 15. There are fashions and trends in explaining criminal behaviour. Currently, unemployment and its relevance or otherwise is much debated. Over many years, we have discussed whether it 1177 was single-parent families or other social characteristics. I have always felt that many people who may have all the variables—they may be unemployed, disavantaged and a single parent—still keep their children on the straight and narrow, leading law-abiding lives. Harriet Wilson did some important work in Birmingham which demonstrated that parental commitment and supervision can get children over some of the difficulties they face. I find patronising the idea that because one has one or other social characterisics, almost inevitably one will go down the slippery slope. There are many parents from all walks of life and backgrounds who know the difference between right and wrong.
I urge the Under-Secretary of State, who is going to reply, to consider whether there could be a family consultation on family courts. The variable that has not been raised today affecting youngsters getting into trouble is the background of family break-up and disruption. We do not yet have a proper and adequate way of safeguarding the interests and the care and control of children whose parents are going through family disruption and divorce. This is often a key variable. In my time as a chairman of the juvenilee court, it was difficult to find children coming before the court who had not been through a most disrupted and disturbed family life. It is the breakdown of control at home, often leading to the lack of supervision, that predisposes youngsters to criminal activities. I urge the Under-Secretary of State to take that further.
I appreciate the remarks of those who have talked about the impact of television. I believe strongly, and have done for many years, that if independent television can earn its living by persuading people that what one sees on a commercial will influence people's behaviour, it cannot be argued that what one sees on programmes does not influence people's behaviour. For the most part people tend to leave when commercials are on the television, so one would have thought that their impact would not be so great.
One cannot sustain an argument that does not stress the impact of what one sees on programmes. It is no good saying that television is a window on the world. By the age of 16, the average American has seen 200,000 violent attacks and 50.000 attempted murders; that is watching an average of three hours television a day — which, regrettably, is where we are now.
I warmly endorse the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South about the great danger in the light of the dreadful crime of the murder of Police Constable Blakelock. Others have talked about the deeply offensive sentencing in the Ealing rape case. There is an appalling danger that people will react to that emotion by demanding fiercer and higher sentences for all manner of crimes. The evidence is that we should go the other way.
We imprison a greater percentage of our civilian population than any European country except Turkey. We have full and crowded prisons. No one can challenge the Government's remarkable commitment to increased manpower and increased spending on the prison service. Since this Government came to power, the prison population has risen by 12 per cent., but the prison officer population has risen by 18 per cent. The onus is upon the Prison Officers Association to talk responsibly and constructively about the fresh start proposals.
1178 We must continue to fight for public and judicial support for non-custodial sentences, but that is a slow and laborious process. Community service, probation and intermediate treatment orders are methods of punishing people legitimately but without incarcerating them. Imprisonment almost inevitably leads to a criminal or delinquent career. The peak age for offenders is 15. We must ensure that debates about law and order stress the importance of incarcerating violent offenders who are a danger to the public, as distinct from the group of other criminals who require the public's disapproval but should be dealt with by alternative methods.
It is clear that we all have a great concern for the need to maintain law and order. A prerequisite to a democratic society is that it establishes and maintains the rule of law. The Government have taken many steps forward in terms of resources and manpower to maintain law and order. Above all, we have in recent years identified the crucial role of the community and its responsibility to work with the police to ensure the long-term freedom and safety of our citizens.
§ 12.7 pm
§ Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) that prisons, in terms of criminals and officers, is a major growth industry in Britain today. The hon. Lady supported the views expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) about sentencing. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that that must be left to the judiciary, without interference from the Executive. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) made a sinister remark and I am glad that it has been corrected by other Conservative Members.
I particularly liked the speech by the right hon. and learned Member. It was more moderate, realistic and modest than some speeches made by Conservatives when in Opposition. They are more defensive now than they were then.
Lord Whitelaw, when he was Shadow Home Secretary in 1978, said that the blame for the crime rate should rest with the then Labour Government. In those days the Tories had very simple solutions. Lord Whitelaw said:If boys and girls do not obtain jobs when they leave school, they feel that society has no need of them. If they feel that, they do not see any reason why they should take part in that society and comply with its rules." [Official Report, 27 February 1978, Vol. 945, c. 40.]
That is what the Conservative party said in the run-up to the 1979 election. My fundamental objection is that Conservative Members are asserting that it was as true in 1978 as it is now. We are discussing an extremely complex problem. It was not so complex then. It was all due to the wickedness and the softness of the Labour party and the Labour Government. We all know that the Prime Minister blamed us then. She is now seeking to blame people other than herself and her Government. The hon. Member for Surrey, South-West fell into that trap today. She blamed. Lambeth, Ealing, Brent and other democratically elected. Labour councils all over the country—anybody but the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) was quite right to remind her that if the money that had been spent on prisons had been spent on housing and the environment in inner cities, we would probably not have the crime rates that we have 1179 today. We live in an increasingly violent society, largely because of the social and economic deprivation of large sections of the community.
The Prime Minister and her Government have created a climate of selfishness and greed and have widened the gap between the rich and the poor. There is a suburb of London, not 10 miles from here, in which I have seen a frightening slogan which states, "Why work when you can rob?" That is the consequence of the Government's policies in dealing with education, housing and environmental problems. The Government boast that they have thrown hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money at the problem in terms of police pay, the number of police, prisons and so on. Of course, we would not deny them that boast. As crime figures and expenditure increase remorselessly, they seek to blame all kinds of people and organisations. The hon. Member for Meriden talked about reintroducing capital punishment. No doubt, he will vote for it. There is not a scintilla of evidence anywhere in the world that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder. Indeed, by and large, murders are not premeditated. They often occur within families. They are often caused by alchohol abuse and other matters that are not susceptible to the deterrent that the hon. Gentleman suggested.
Various arguments have been put about stiffer prison penalties. The right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South answered that point. The House decides the generality of the law. We create maximum penalties, but we quite properly leave the imposition of penalties to the discretion of the judiciary. Lord Whitelaw, when he was in Opposition, talked about simplified solutions and the short, sharp shock. What happened to that?
It was a crushing failure. It solved a political problem for the Tory party at the time. No doubt we shall hear more from Conservative Members when they get back into Opposition after the next election.
Last November the Government published a 50 page defence of their law and order record, called "Criminal Justice: A Working Paper". They carefully selected their statistics for the decade 1975 to 1985 and cleverly bridged the lifetime of the Labour Government and the first five years of their own Government. In that way they did not compare the figures for the lifetime of the Labour Government from 1974 to 1979 with the figures of the Conservative Government between 1979 and 1986. Last November's report omitted to say that in the categories of crime that are of most concern to ordinary people—robbery, theft and burglary—the rate of increase in the last six or seven years has been far greater than it was when the Labour Government were in power. For example, between 1974 and 1979 the number of robberies increased by about 50 per cent. Between 1979 and 1985 robberies doubled; they increased by 100 per cent. And they increased by another 9 per cent. in 1986.
There have also been great differences in the rate at which theft and burglary crimes have risen in the last six years. Between 1974 and 1979, the number of thefts increased by 20 per cent., but between 1979 and 1986 they increased by 60 per cent. There was a greater rise still in burglary crimes. Between 1974 and 1979, under a Labour Government, there was a 10 per cent. increase in the 1180 number of burglaries, but between 1979 and 1985 there was an 81 per cent. increase. And there was a further 7 per cent. increase in 1986.
Another point that has not yet been remarked on in this debate but which it is worth pointing out is that the Government pretend that the Conservative party is the party of law and order. Many Conservative Members are company directors and company shareholders. Companies are legally obliged to file annual accounts and annual reports with Company House. The House of Commons Library has this very morning provided for me the number of companies that have defaulted in their returns of both annual accounts and annual reports. They amount to over 230,000. More than one in four of companies in Britain are in breach of the law. These figures are subject to modification but they are basically in line. However, the number of prosecutions of those 230,000 companies is fewer than 5,000. Fewer than one in 50 of company law breakers are being prosecuted.
In proportion to their numbers, the greatest law breakers in our country sit on the Treasury Bench. In 1985 alone the figures show that the Secretary of State for the Environment was twice found guilty by the courts of breaking the law, that the Secretary of State for Social Services was found guilty three times of breaking the law and that the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Education and Science were each found guilty once. Therefore on at least seven occasions in 1985 Ministers of the Crown broke the law and were taken to court. However, in the five years of the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 there were only four occasions on which Labour Ministers were taken to court. It was pointed out by Lord Denning that the Secretary of State for the Environment was taking powers in the Rate Support Grants Bill to exonerate himself from breaking the law. That was an amazing proposition. Then there is the enormous amount of City fraud—for example, the Guinness takeover and the Johnson Matthey Bankers scandal. All that comes from a Government who pretend to be the Government of law and order.
Now, in the run-up to the general election, early-day motion No. 735 calls for a national morality day. It is signed by five Conservative Members, led by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who supports the South African Government — the most evil and immoral Government that the world has ever seen. The motion is signed by the hon. Gentleman, his wife—the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) — and three others.
That sort of thing makes us sick. I think that the Tory party can do even better: it should set up a committee to draw attention to the decline of our national morals and the consequent increase in crime. The chairman should be the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson); the vice-chairman should be the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn); the members should be the hon. Members for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill), for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) and for Winchester (Mr. Browne), and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont); and the chief whip should be the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Proctor). The morals of those Members of Parliament make the behaviour of torn cats appear almost respectable. For them to criticise us for being soft—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will want either to withdraw that remark or to rephrase it in a way that is more acceptable to the House.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I did not say that, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I said that their morals made the behaviour of tom cats seem almost respectable.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall withdraw anything that disturbs you, because you are a good friend of mine.
I am making a very simple point. We refuse to take any lectures from Conservative Members about morals, behaviour or attitudes to criminal activities. We know very well that the people who suffer the most from criminal behaviour are those whom we largely represent — ordinary working men and women. They are subjected to all kinds of deprivation and they now feel a sense of hopelessness. That cannot be divorced from the problem that we are discussing today — the remorseless increase in all types of crime.
It is no good taking the attitude that I suspect has been taken by one or two Conservative Members, and demanding revenge through increased penalties and harder and harder punishments. Those are not the answers to the problem. Most Labour Members believe the answer to be increased provision of housing, jobs and educational opportunities for the underprivileged. Such deprivation among the underprivileged, the feeling that they are not wanted and that they are somehow inferior to the people at the top, when they see the scandals and the vast amounts of wealth and profit that are being made illegally in the City; such a division in our society has created the violence that we are seeing increasingly, every day of the week.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I shall not refer to the vitriolic nonsense that has been offered to the House by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), but I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) on his initiative. It is not always appreciated outside the House how much quite work my hon. Friend does behind the scenes as a PPS for a Minister. It is not always easy for such a colleague to spend time making speeches in the House. Some credit should he given to my hon. Friend for that and for his initiative.
For anyone to deny that the Government have been other than an outstanding success in their handling of the economy and in most spheres of their activity in advancing the welfare of the people, would be absurd and mere party political nonsense. However, in the struggle against crime, one of the highest responsibilities of any Government, one must honestly admit that the Government have not been manifestly winning the battle. That has certainly not been due to lack of concern or inactivity because no Government in history could have been so preoccupied with legislation, administrative decision, the expenditure of money, the setting up of inquiries, and the involvement 1182 of the people, with almost desperate hyperactivity on law and order, in an effort to control the relentless rise in crime.
Therefore, we must ask what is going wrong. Why are we not winning? Are we doing the right things, and could we realistically do more?
It is some comfort to know that the rise in crime is not peculiar to Britain — it is happening in every industrialised, civilised country to a greater or lesser extent. With all the publicity of crimes of violence and the fear that media reports engender in the minds of the people, particularly the elderly, it is still nine or 10 times more likely that a person will be murdered in New York than in London. The rise in crime has not happened only during the Thatcher Government, which is another source of some comfort. There has been a steady rise of between 5 per cent. and 7 per cent. every year for the past 30 years. It may be some comfort to realise that the greater tendency to record or report crime, which comes from the wider use of the telephone, the more extensive insurance of property, and even the increase in the number of police, to some extent misleads us into supposing that the increase in the crime statistics is all due to the actual increase in crime. It is also some consolation to know, particularly as the Labour party is being party political about the matter, that violence against the person, which apparently has risen by one third since 1979, increased by one half under the previous Labour Government. So it would be mere party political claptrap to blame the Government for the rise in crime. Because it would be mere party political claptrap, we hear that allegation made, although with absolutely no conviction, by Opposition parties.
Are we doing enough, and are we doing enough of the right things? There are seven sorts of activity that any Government could engage in; seven steps by which crime could be reduced. First, a Government must encourage people in society to be more respectful of other people's rights — whether to property or to personal security. That is difficult for a Government to achieve, but a society that is more self-reliant and more self-responsible is likely to have more respect for others than if people are dependent on the nanny state for absolutely everything.
In response to that requirement, the Government have taken many steps on many fronts to hasten self-responsibility. We are bringing down the level of unemployment. There is a reduction in income tax, which allows people more readily to spend their own money in their own way and according to their own choice. There has been an introduction of trade union democracy and more people own shares and their own homes. We are trying to raise the standards of education in our schools and there is more parental involvement in education. People can choose private medicine and to some extent we have been doing nearly all that we can to reduce pornography and obscenity in our society. It is difficult to claim that a Government could do much more to make the climate of society better and encourage self-responsibility, though I will in a moment suggest further actions.
The second step in the reduction of crime would be to encourage the availability of crime prevention measures because 96 per cent. of crime is against property and much of that is opportunistic because we leave our car doors open and the windows of our homes unlocked.
The Government's response has been substantial. There are 15,000 more police officers and auxiliaries. We are returning policemen to the beat. The setting up of a 1183 crime prevention unit in the Home Office and a crime prevention centre at Stafford are useful steps in the prevention of crime and are anti-crime measures. There are 18,000 neighbourhood watch schemes which have resulted in fewer burglaries. Crime prevention projects are encouraged and paid for under the community programme. The Prime Minister's initiative, to which reference has already been made, has produced more publicity and money for inner-city areas, more discounts on insurance policies and better anti-theft standards in cars and so on. The Government have not been found wanting in taking the second step in the reduction of crime.
The third step that must be taken by any Government to reduce crime is to provide an adequate armoury of offences to deal with activities that ought to be stigmatised as criminal. The Government have introduced or simplified new legislation wherever necessary, for example, through the Video Recordings Act 1984. They have made an effort to fulfil some of the recommendations of the Roskill committee report on fraud in the Criminal Justice Bill, and have redefined riot, affray and violent disorder and introduced the new offence of disorderly conduct in the Public Order Act 1986. The Government have also supported my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) in passing the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981. The Government have been very active with regard to the third step for the reduction of crime, which is the provision of an adequate armoury of offences.
The fourth step for the reduction of crime involves catching the offender. Again, Government action through having many more policemen detecting crime has been impressive. The Government have also passed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which strengthens the powers of criminal investigation particularly through stop and search. The Public Order Act 1986 strengthens the powers to prevent street violence and to deal with violent picketing. The Government have provided more money for equipment and have encouraged better training of the police forces. The Government have improved the approach to rape victims and there is a proposal in the Criminal Justice Bill to remove an unnecessarily deterrent anomaly to the reporting of rape offences. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 has enabled the arrest and ultimate conviction of the Brighton bombers. Perhaps even more effective police action could have taken place if our police forces had been even smaller and more local than we have over the past few years encouraged them to be.
The fifth step necessary for the reduction of crime, the offender having been caught, is to convict him. Again, the Government have taken a whole range of steps to improve that position. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 improves the powers of the police to investigate and interrogate. Tape-recorded interviews have been introduced in pilot schemes which are soon to become a national scheme. That will do more than almost anything else to speed up criminal trials, ensure that the guilty are convicted and that the innocent are not charged. We have seen more efficient use of court time, more courts, more judges and more consideration for victims, whether they be women victims of rape or victims of child abuse.
The Government have taken many steps to improve the chances of convicting genuine criminals, but it is no use catching them and convicting them if, at the end of the 1184 day, they are given a pat on the head and tuppence out of the poor box and are not properly punished. The Government have introduced the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, which will deprive drug pushers of their ill-gotten gains. They have changed the parole system to ensure that those who murder prison officers or police officers do not get parole, or that those who commit offences which attract sentences of more than five years, or violent or drugs offences have reduced chances of parole.
I am not sure whether we should extend to life the sentences for people who are in possession of firearms; I have already told the Government that I am very lukewarm about that matter. There are improved regimes in detention centres. There is more use of non-custodial sentences, which have been effective, especially with community service orders. We have attached more conditions to probation orders and increased the number of probation officers. In that area, too, the Government have been almost frenetic in their activity.
I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Sir M. Carlisle) that too much criticism is directed at judges for imposing inadequate sentences and that that criticism is often misguided. After all, Parliament cannot influence or interfere with the judicial process of sentencing because that would be to corrupt the system. Sentences are getting longer, and Opposition Members are always complaining that those of us who call for stronger and more severe sentences are running counter to what is happening in the rest of the world. But the rule of our courts is that someone who commits a serious act of violence must go to prison and that someone who burgles a dwelling house can expect to go to prison. The trouble is that, hitherto, we have not provided enough decent prison places to which to send people. That often deters the judiciary from sending people to prison. Now we have the biggest prison-building programme of the century, with three new ones opened in 1985 and 17 on the way.
The seventh and final step which Governments must take requires genuine and positive concern for victims of crime. The Government have helped by setting up 279 victim support schemes. They are giving statutory effect to Criminal Injuries Compensation Board awards under the Criminal Justice Bill, and the Criminal Justice Act 1982 gave higher importance to the compensation of victims.
No one can fairly say that the Government have done little or nothing to curb the growth of crime along those seven routes which must be pursued by any Government. Yet still the crime rate swells, and we have not been winning. Can anyone do anything more?
I believe that the Government could do more to improve the climate of society and to widen sentencing powers. Although I agree that unemployment is not the root cause of lawlessness, as the Prime Minister said, because there was less crime when there was more unemployment and most crime is committed by juveniles who are not yet eligible for work, I believe that homelessness plays a significant role. We must deal with that, not by building more council houses, but by realising that there are more empty houses than there are homeless families and that the private rented sector has almost been eliminated and must be restored. The Government must make haste in their reform of the Rent Acts to get the homeless back into decent accommodation where there children will be less tempted to resort to crime.
1185 The Government must show more awareness of the power of television. That power is so great that violence and sexual violence on television have become worrying factors influencing crime. As the broadcasting authorities have fallen down on their obligations to conform to their self-governing guidelines, is it not time that Parliament legislated to control television and broadcasting of violence along the lines suggested in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth)?
I am sure that the climate of our society would improve and be less conducive to crime if those who have important roles to play in society — Members of Parliament, Ministers, Judges and teachers—were to act responsibly and give a better example. I do not accept what the hon. Member for Fife, Central had to say about the unlawful actions of the Government. That represents a terrible confusion. It is one thing to break the criminal law—everyone knows that that involves activities of moral turpitude, and the code of criminal law is clear—it is quite another to discover, in the civil sphere of law, that a Government have taken a decision that, subsequently a court, somewhere along the line, says is ultra vires. There is no comparison between those two kinds of unlawful behaviour — [Interruption.] If hon. Members on the Labour Benches laugh about that, it shows that they do not understand the matter.
I do not criticise judges for granting bail in proper cases. I do not believe that it is a wise proposal to refer cases to the Court of Appeal to consider the adequacy of sentences and I shall not support the Government in the Lobby when that matter is discussed in the House. However, some of the sentences imposed by some of the courts on some offenders are more of an encouragement to crime than a deterrent.
I believe that some hon. Members appear to support violence on the picket lines and violence against the police. That is an appalling example for us to give our children. Teachers who take industrial action or strike for more money while they pretend to care about children and their education are giving another shocking example to young people. It is shocking that, when they are offered a 25 per cent. increase, over 18 months, they continue to take industrial action—for no better reason than that their trade unions cannot agree among themselves as to what wage negotiation procedure to adopt—and thus make the Government, against their wishes, take steps to keep the education system going. I have no doubt that that type of action, taken by people to whom students and pupils are supposed to look up to, is such an awful example that it encourages rather than discourages crime.
The effect that a bad home life and bad teaching have upon crime is manifest from the statistics. It goes a long way to explain the alarming fact that the peak age for criminal activity is 15—children of school age. They are also at an age when they are most susceptible to what they see on television.
I believe that the Government could do more to deter crime by strengthening the deterrent effect of sentencing — by restoring capital punishment for the most evil types of murder and killing. When we had capital punishment, we did not have such a high incidence of murder. We did not have such a high incidence of crimes violence; in fact, we did not have such a high incidence of crime, full stop. Everybody was aware that there was a perimeter around human activity in society beyond which 1186 nobody could go. Everybody understood that society had a system of law and order which would be imposed. Everybody knew where they stood and had more respect for other people. Whatever the hon. Member for Fife, Central may say, there is no doubt in my mind that capital punishment would deter some offenders.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, in the course of my career as a barrister, I frequently spoke to the sort of people who engaged in violent activity and they told me that they were deterred from taking weapons with them to carry out their violent crimes when they had the fear of the rope to contend with.
The vast majority of people in this country want capital punishment restored. I believe that the vast majority of people expect Parliament to do that and I believe that this Government should satisfy their wish. The restoration of capital punishment would represent a necessary last resort of punishment and deterrence in our criminal system.
There is more that we could do as individuals and there is also more that the Government could do. However, I believe that the Government have a good record and it would be utterly churlish to deny it. If the Government had not increased spending on law and order by 50 per cent., if they had not taken the measures that I have outlined—no doubt the Minister will remind us of them more fully when he comes to speak — the situation would be far worse.
It would be very much worse if law and order were starved of resources and the police utterly demoralised, as they were under the Labour Government. As I recall it, the police came close to strike action in 1977. It would also be very much worse if local authorities led by people such as Bernie Grant had political control over the police and if the Government were represented in Parliament by people who thought that it was right to indulge in violent picketing and opposed measures on the statute book directed towards the reduction of crime.
The Labour party has consistently, voted against the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. The Opposition also voted against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the Public Order Act and many other manifestations of the Government's attempt to reduce lawlessness in our society. There is no doubt that, the Government have done and will continue to do almost as much as they can to reduce crime and that the one step that would produce the greatest increase in crime would be the return of a Labour Government, with or without the support of the alliance.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
The Opposition are delighted that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) won the ballot and decided to debate this motion. My only anxiety was that when he disappeared from the Chamber for so long he had been taken to the Home Office by the Home Secretary and asked to explain why he was so intent on embarrassing the Government by debating law and order in a week which has seen the most appalling crime figures ever released by any Government, Labour, Tory or anything else. It is no wonder that the Conservatives are trotting out tired old speeches such as that of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) who seems to believe that if he says the same thing often enough it will somehow become true. That is simply not so.
1187 The hon. Member for Meriden referred in his closing remarks to certain types of fraud and copying in some industries. That is an important and under-debated subject which deserves further attention, but it is not the issue before us today. In the earlier part of his speech, the hon. Gentleman made all the mistakes that the Government and the Conservatives generally make about law and order by assuming that simply throwing police officers at the problem will solve it and that trotting out words of support for the police will somehow cope with the consequences of the breakdown of law and order in this country. That is a strong phrase, but with riots in inner cities and country areas in relation to industrial disputes and in our prisons such as this country has not seen since the mid-19th century, we are coming so dangerously close to a real breakdown in law and order that unless the Government addresses the situation more seriously than they have done recently we shall be heading for trouble.
I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for Meriden align himself with those who wish to reintroduce capital punishment. I hope that he will consider the number of people convicted in the past five or 10 years for crimes of the type for which he would like capital punishment to be reintroduced. About one third of those cases are being reviewed or have already been reviewed and the defendants found to have been wrongly convicted. If the hon. Gentleman had his way, all those people would have been hanged.
In view of today's news, it is important to put on record how much we respect a lady such as Mrs. Blakelock who, having been through the most appalling time in recent months, has had the courage and humanity to say that she does not have hatred in her heart but pity and that she opposes the reintroduction of capital punishment.
Today in this debate, we should say how much our hearts and thoughts go out to Mrs. Blakelock and her family and to Cynthia Jarret's family. If we do that, in some small way we can add to the reconciliation that should be taking place. Therefore, I ask the hon. Member for Meriden to consider the stature of the people who can make comments such as those made by Mrs. Blakelock, before he joins in what I agree is the majority view in the United Kingdom that capital punishment should be reintroduced.
We are here as leaders and must answer to the people who elect us. We should duck out of our responsibilities if we did not look at the underlying arguments in considerable depth and know why we do not fall for those arguments, however persuasive they may seem on a superficial level.
Today we are debating the abysmal failure of the so-called law and order party to deal with the consequences of crime. The crime rate increased in 1986 by 7 per cent. In 1985 that figure was 3 per cent. There are seven crimes every minute and only one third are cleared up. Therefore, it is nonsense and pointless to talk about tougher deterrents. If criminals are not caught, deterrents cannot work; we cannot deter criminals because we cannot catch them.
The fundamental failure of the Government's policy is deeper than has been realised in much of the press. There has not only been an increase in the crime rate but a dramatic fall in the clear-up rate. We are used to the percentage clear-up rate falling. What is now unique and 1188 new is that the number of crimes that are cleared up is also falling. I challenge the Minister to inform the House of the last time that there was a fall in the number of cases cleared up. That is an important question, to which we need an answer today.
Deterrents cannot work if the criminals are not caught, nor can they work when people are so desperate that they pursue a particular course of action, or when they are so disturbed that they do not take account of the consequences of their actions. Other common factors are drugs and alcohol.
If one visits a court and talks to people who are either waiting for their case to be heard or who have come out of the court after their case, the first question that one often hears is "what will my sentence be? What will happen to me?" Even when they have been sentenced, they often do not know the full meaning of that sentence. How on earth can we believe that the argument about deterrence is effective? I shall return to that in relation to some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Meriden about his area.
The figures for burglary, robbery, murder and rape have risen dramatically. I accept that the figures for rape are distorted because the police have improved the way in which they handle such cases and publicity has led to a greater increase in the reporting of rape. I welcome that. I shall not make too much of the rape figures because they are difficult to identify fully.
In 1978 the clear-up rate was 42 per cent., which was dangerously low. However, now, under the party of law and order, it is 32 per cent., or less than one third of all crimes. That is the measure of the Government's failure. Crime has risen faster under the Tory Government than under any previous Government. There has not only been an increase in crime, but it has risen more rapidly than under any other Government. That is the imporant point. From 1979–86, theft increased by 40 per cent. Under the Labour Government, it had increased by 20 per cent. Robbery rose by a massive 140 per cent. under this Government, compared with the figure under the previous Labour Government. Burglary increased by 100 per cent., compared to only 20 per cent. under the Labour Government.
I do not want to make too much of what one party can and another cannot do on crime, but the Tory party chose to fight the 1979 and 1983 general elections with law and order as the major issue. It told the British public that it would get tough with crime and do something about it. That is why I stated those figures. It asked the British electorate to judge it on its performance on crime. By any standard the Tories have failed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) so effectively pointed out, the Tories were quick to criticise the Labour Government. They display appalling double standards.
The Government have no right to be surprised about the increase in crime and they have every right to be ashamed. The problem is difficult for any Government and crime has been increasing under successive Governments and in countries similar to Britain. The charge against this Government is that they have made a difficult position far worse by their general policies.
The underlying problem for western countries is the change in the population structure, particularly the move back to the country from city areas, reversing a historical process which has continued for 200 years. That is having a dramatic effect, particularly on our inner city areas. Any 1189 Government must face that problem. Time prevents me from going into detail, but that movement has meant that previously well-structured, well-developed, close-knit communities, which used to protect themselves against crime have broken down.
The Government have exacerbated that problem by increasing unemployment, which has an effect on the crime rate, alienating large groups from the police and, most seriously, demoralising the police by pretending that the police have an answer to the crime problem when the police acknowledge much more readily than in 1979 that alone they cannot deal with crime. The most devastating way in which the Government have made the position worse is by cutting public expenditure which was used to prevent crime. The massive, dramatic cuts in services, from education, through housing to inner city grants, have made a difficult position infinitely worse.
The destruction of communities has produced a problem which in some areas is getting dangerously out of control. I shall give some examples of the Government's public expenditure cuts and their effect. This relates to some of the comments of the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), who, I know, has had to leave the debate.
Recently I watched the installation of special double glazing at Brighton. The council has installed strengthened windows, with extra locks. The windows can be left partly open but prevent an intruder from breaking in. They are a useful design. But the council cannot install any more because the Government have rate-capped it.
Edinburgh needs £11 million to provide hard doors, which cannot be easily kicked in, for flats and houses in high crime areas. The council have £10,000 available for that task and the Government have rate-capped it. As I pointed out in an intervention, in Meriden — the constituency of the hon. Gentleman who tabled the motion — people recently attending the police consultative committee asked, not for more deterrent sentences —indeed, that was not even mentioned—but for more police officers on the beat, and, above all, more facilities for young people. Why? The crime rate in Chelmsley Wood has increased by 73 per cent. since 1978. Yet, the hon. Gentleman wonders why he is in trouble with the Home Secretary for introducing a debate on law and order. The Conservative council in that area spends only half as much as nearby local authorities on youth facilities. That is the damning indictment of what the Government have done to crime prevention by cutting the spending of local authorities.
Nottingham could improve only 800 housing units this year, but needs to tackle 5,100. Renovation and repair involves introducing stronger doors, locks and windows, for example, and above all replacing windows around which the putty is giving out. We all know the scenario: run the chisel around the frame, take out the pane, put the hand through, slip the latch and the burglar is in. Alternatively, kick in the door because the panel is weak, grab the television and get out. Televisions and video sets sell quickly and cheaply. It happened to me only a few weeks ago — it took a brick to break through the double-glazed window. Sad to say, most people have had a similar experience.
Birmingham introduced a pilot concierge scheme for its tower blocks. In some of the run-down, vandalised tower blocks it is not enough to instal entryphone systems. They are vandalised too. A 24-hour caretaking system, known 1190 as the concierge system, is needed, and Birmingham would love to have one. It has introduced 12 such schemes, but it probably needs almost 200 to make the system effective. The Government have cut the money that goes to Birmingham and that has prevented it from implementing its plans.
Leicester is also planning a concierge system hut the Government withdrew some of its housing subsidy. It has only £20,000 available for the system, compared with the £100,000 that is needed.
Last Tuesday, the Government had a golden opportunity to put many unemployed people into useful work in a way that would not have sucked in imports from overseas. They could have put them to work in high crime areas on crime prevention schemes of the type that I have described. However, the Government thought that that was not important enough to mention in the Budget. That shows how much the Government care about crime prevention.
The massive cuts in public expenditure are not the only reason for pointing the finger at the way in which the Government have made the problem so much worse. I have mentioned the board and lodging allowance, which forces young people into homelessness, but it was said this morning that there were plenty of empty houses around. Do not Conservative Members know that young people are leaving their homes in the north to come south looking for jobs? The jobs are here, but the houses are not. Do they not know about the distorted housing vacancy rate in the country?
Young people come south and find that they cannot stay in board and lodging for more than a few weeks before losing their supplementary benefit; so what do they do? A few turn to crime, but the real danger is that they will drift into homelessness through no wicked intent, and drugs and alcohol abuse provide a way of coping with stress.
These youngsters become more vulnerable to true homelessness, and, as the Home Office knows from its own research, there is a close link between crime, homelessness, and drug and alcohol abuse. The Government's policies, particularly on young people, have increased the chances of that happening to them.
Nursery education is an area on which money should be spent to bring us into line with the normal level of expenditure in Europe. Many young children who live in high-rise estates have to play indoors all day with their parents. Others are sent outside to play unsupervised in the streets, and many of them drift into scrawling graffiti, vandalism and crime. Those children could be catered for in a way that would take them away from crime. That was another opportunity that the Government passed up.
Hon. Members have argued about whether unemployment and crime are linked, and, of course, they are. What we cannot do is show a clear statistical link between a person being unemployed and committing a crime. That comes as no surprise. There is, however, a statistical link between joblessness, homelessness and going to prison: people in those categories have a greater chance of going to prison than others of similar background, committing the same offence, who have a job and a house in which to live. There is not a direct link, but, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, and others such as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) have said today, the link is such that it is a measure of the breakdown in society.
1191 I regret that the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West has had to leave. She is a psychiatric social worker and must know from her training and work that in these situations a family that is just about coping with the problems of parenting and bringing up children — although perhaps the children are on the edges of lawbreaking — when faced with unemployment and dramatically reduced income, is faced with a crisis.
The so-called party of law and order also likes to present itself as the party of the family. Despite that, it has done more to make it difficult for families at the margin to cope. Parenting can make all the difference between whether a youngster gets into trouble with the law, but if one makes it more difficult for a family that is already struggling to cope with social, emotional and economic problems, one will increase the chance of the children, or the parents, getting into trouble.
There are other similar analogies. The psychiatric breakdown rate for women is a mirror image of the rate for men who get into trouble with the law. In other words, the figures are reversed. Men are more likely to offend and women are more likely to get psychiatric problems. This happens as a result of economic and social strains and there is a link with unemployment and the way in which the Government have undermined our social fabric. When we talk about the country being torn in two by the Government, we are talking not only in terms of the north-south divide, but about the divide between those who live in deprived, run-down areas with far fewer opportunities, and those who live in better areas.
The hon. Member for Surrey, South-West said that she was lucky enough to live in the area with the lowest crime rate. I could not help saying to myself, "Does she not understand that that is something to do with the income levels and standard of services in that area?" One could probably take out half of the police force from Surrey, South-West without making much difference to the crime rate, unless, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central said, it was an increase in tax evasion and fraud. However, crimes that hurt people personally, such as burglary, street robberies, muggings and so on, all the crimes that frighten people, would not be affected.
Such a move in a high-crime area, where a community is already splintered, would make all the difference in the world. When the Government put all their hopes on the neighbourhood watch schemes and launched them with a great fanfare, saying that they would solve all the problems, the Labour party said something that we were attacked for saying. We now know from recent reports that we were right to say that while the neighbourhood watch schemes were a good enough idea, their benefit is greatly overstated. We know that they tend to displace crime from the areas where they are successful into the neighbouring areas.
The problem is that neighbourhood watch schemes will not work well in a high-crime area because the community is already splintered. The usefulness of such schemes is that they bring the community together, but one needs to do other things. One needs to have tenant associations, resident associations, youth clubs and other facilities in the neighbourhood watch area if it is to work properly. By putting all their eggs into that basket, the Government failed.
1192 Let us look at the way in which the Tories have dealt with the police. They present themselves as the party of the police. There are more police officers. There is now one police officer to every 395 citizens—20 years ago, it was one to every 602 — but the crime rate has still gone through the roof. That policy of the Government is not working because, as I said at the start of my speech, there is no point in throwing police officers at the problem.
Police officers have a deterrent effect if they are on the streets and they make an important contribution in addressing the crime when it is committed. A recent survey shows that about 7 per cent. of a police officer's time is spent dealing either with the victim or a witness and that about 50 per cent. is spent in the police station on paperwork. We know from Home Office figures that 95 per cent. of all crimes are cleared up by witnesses giving evidence to the police. We can see why the police are getting into difficulty.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton said that the Labour party is opposed to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That is quite correct. Let me bring in a supporter of the Labour party on that — the Police Foundation. That is an independent body which finds, in accordance with what we say, that the Act is bureaucratic and an administrative problem for the police. When the Royal Commission reported it said that we needed an Act which gave the police a clear definition of their powers and the citizen a clear definition of his rights. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 does neither. It is blurred and is neither a clear statement of police powers nor of citizens' rights and has added to the burdens of the police force.
Public order has been discussed in the debate. What other Government, Tory or Labour, would have allowed a foreign citizen, Mr. Murdoch, to go on creating mayhem in our streets by refusing to negotiate?
No other Government, Labour or Tory, would have allowed that to happen. The Tory party talks about people demonstrating in the streets. What do the Tories want to do about that? Do they want to abolish the right to demonstrate? We have mass unemployment and economic distress and whether the Tories like it or not or whether I like it or not, people will demonstrate and express anger and fear about the loss of jobs. Unless we ban that right we shall have to do one of two things. We can do what the Government have done and use the police as the Tory party's private army to try to cope with the social and economic consequences of the Government's policies, or we can do what previous Labour and Tory Governments have done—get the employers and the work force into negotiations through organisations that previous Labour Governments successfully set up for that purpose.
The Tory party attacks Labour councillors. I do not mind when it criticises Labour councillors for something that they have said. As I did yesterday, I shall give another clear warning to the Tory party. When it says that a Labour party member or councillor or someone like that is undermining the law by expressing a view, it is really saying that those people are undermining the law because they are exercising their democratic rights. If somebody is undermining the law by breaking it, that is a different matter.
I want to fight this issue on the issue itself. I do not want to sink to the level of The Sun and the Daily Mail because there is no advantage in using the invective and the labels that they use. I warn the Tory party that if it wants us to take the gloves off we will do just that. Many people in the 1193 Tory party and at its edges give us ammunition to use if we have to use it. The Tories should keep to the issue. They may be in trouble on the issue of law and order, but, if we fight it on the issue itself, we will do our people a service.
There is a strong reason for having law and order as part of the political debate. I have never complained about it being part of the party political debate. It ought to be, because that is the way which we resolve issues in a democratic country. However, we should not accuse people of undermining the law when they are not actually breaking it or challenging it in the way that the Tory party has tried to suggest.
Let us look at some of the excellent schemes going on in London. Southwark has a mediation scheme for victims and Newham has co-operation between the police and the local authority on racial attacks. Haringey, Lambeth and other councils co-operate with the police on the recruitment of ethnic minorities to the police. All those things are happening, but we do not hear about them from the Tory party. All we hear from the Tories are attacks. In Islington there is the joint initiative on recruitment and safety on council estates. The Association of London Authorities, dominated by Labour but with some Conservative members, was commended by the Metropolitan police because we showed it how to do its accountancy in a way that resulted in a lowering of the rate for Londoners by, if I remember rightly, about 8 per cent. We hear nothing about that from the Conservative party.
If the Government go on attacking the various people who disagree with them, we should notice who the scapegoats are. The teachers and the Labour party are to blame as are certain councils and parents. Everyone is to blame except the Government.
There is one other thing we need to do. In certain areas of high crime rates we ought to look again at the special constabulary scheme. There is a real possibility that if we increase recruitment to that, perhaps with a commitment for guaranteed entry into the police force after, for example, a two-year period and subject to the person having met the minimum standards during that time, we could break through the barrier of recruitment in the inner cities. That is not just a problem with ethnic minorities. The hard fact is that 80 per cent. of the police officers who police London come from outside London and the figures are not that different in other city areas. Therefore, the special constabulary needs to be looked at again. It is already working well but we could make it work better.
If we have the debate at this level and not the debate that the Daily Mail and The Sun would like everybody to have, we can do a lot to improve the safety, happiness and security of the citizens of our country. If we deal with it in the way in which the Tory party has tried to deal with it from time to time, we will fail and we will be judged to have failed, quite rightly, by the people of this country.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
I wish to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) on prompting such an important and interesting debate. He has raised a number of issues, some of a general character, some of a narrow character and all of them significant.
I shall begin by referring to the problem of industrial counterfeiting, a subject on which my hon. Friend has considerable experience and which he has made very much 1194 his own. My hon. Friend is right to stress the essentially fraudulent character of that activity. Industrial counterfeiting is certainly a form of fraud. He was also right to emphasise that industrial counterfeiting imposes a real burden on legitimate industry. In drawing attention to those things, he has done a great service to the House.
Many aspects of industrial counterfeiting are already caught by the existing law. For example, there are provisions in the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and in the Theft Act 1968. There is the patent legislation and the common law tort of passing off and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden said, there is a provision in clause 12 of the Criminal Justice Bill which is designed to cure precisely the problem to which he referred.
My hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to what may be a weakness in the law. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology is now in the process of consulting the prosecuting authorities so as to determine and identify any gaps that there may be in the existing legislation. I cannot pre-empt what he is going to say but I can tell my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend will approach the matter with considerable sympathy and will take account of the important points he made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden referred to sentencing. Some of the penalties imposed for industrial counterfeiting are low, but I think that he will recognise that the legislation that the House has passed provides for substantial sentences. For example, under section I of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 there is a maximum penalty on indictment for an unlimited fine and for a term of two years' imprisonment. What the courts choose to impose is a matter for them. All that Parliament can do is to lay down the framework of law.
I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) in stressing the fundamental distinction between Parliament's role and that of the judiciary. Although I accept that there is a great deal in what my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden said about industrial counterfeiting, it is wrong to suppose that the law does not already take what he said into account. Certainly the Government will approach the matter in the context of what my hon. Friend so usefully said.
I turn to the more general question of crime. The crime figures are of profound concern to the House and to the country. I agree with what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South said about these matters. We are deeply concerned about rising crime and about the decline in clear up rates. However, if we are not to mislead our constituents or to delude ourselves, it is essential that we try to place the figures in proper perspective and to understand the facts that lie behind the figures.
It is an undoubted fact that recorded crime is increasing. For 1986, the increase in recorded crime was 7 per cent. This is an increase which, though larger than that for 1985, is very much in line with the annual increases which have occurred since 1955. Figures show that recorded crime increased at an average rate of 6 per cent. between 1980 and 1986, which is very much the same as the annual long-term rate of increase since 1955.
To keep the matter in perspective, I must make some further points. Not all classes of crime have risen at the same rate. Offences of violence against the person increased in 1986 by only 3 per cent. There was, indeed, a small increase in the clear-up rate for violent offences.
1195 It is also important to look closer at the nature of offences committed. That is because the fear of crime, though real and understandable, is not perhaps a true reflection of the character of crimes committed.
Most crimes are crimes against property and do not involve violence. Theft accounts for more than half of all notifiable offences. Crimes of violence against the person account for only 3 per cent. of notifiable crimes and I am glad to say that the elderly are the least likely to be the victims. The worst types of crime—homicide, offences endangering life, and rape—account for less than one third of one per cent. of all offences.
Statistics can be presented in a variety of ways. A burglary a minute sounds, and is, alarming, but that statistic implies a burglary only once in 35 years for the average person of 16 years of age. Such a person could expect a robbery once every 450 years and an assault resulting in injury once a century. Britain remains one of the safest countries in the world. Moroever—this point has been touched on by other hon. Members—it is a bizarre paradox that the more police we have and the more efficient and sensitive their methods, the more the public will report to them the offences of which they have become aware.
§ Mr. Alton
The people listening to the debate might be somewhat mystified by the statistics that the hon. Gentleman has given. Surely he would accept that to give that kind of average figure belies a certain complacency in the inner city areas. I was burgled three times in one year. That is not a unfamiliar experience for people living in inner-city areas.
§ Mr. Hogg
First, it is essential that we present the facts fairly and clearly. That is what I sought to do. Secondly, it is simply unacceptable for the hon. Gentleman, who voted against the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 to criticise the Government's record on law and order.
Let us consider the raw facts. Today, the clear-up rate is about 5 per cent. down on that for 1985. However, the raw figures do not reveal the whole story. Thus, for example, there is a high clear-up rate for serious crimes of violence. The rate of clear-up for homicide is around 92 per cent. The rate of clear-up for offences against the person and sexual offences is around 70 per cent. Moreover, it is interesting to note that, in the last quarter of 1986, there was evidence of a recovery in the clear-up rate. What is the cause of the decline of the clear-up rate? I shall suggest some causes.
First, there has been a change in the crime profile for 1986. About one quarter of the overall fall in detection rates can be attributed to a change in the composition of recorded offences. Thus, for example. there has been a fall of 12 per cent. in the number of recorded cases of shoplifting. Shoplifting is a self-detecting crime. If one knows of a case of shoplifting, one almost certainly knows the offender. As a consequence, the fall in the number of recorded shoplifting offences has greatly reduced the proportion of clear-ups. That has been associated with a 1196 larger than average increase in the recorded number of thefts of and from cars, which also have a particularly low level of clear-up. That goes a long way to explain the decline in the clear-up rate.
We need to face two other important points. First, the introduction of the Crown prosecution service may have had a temporary impact on the figures. The introduction of the Crown prosecution service has been almost universally acclaimed — certainly in the House. Its introduction may have had an impact on the clear-up rates because we have brought new people, new procedures and new methods into play. It would not be in the least surprising if, for a short time, that had an effect on clear-up rates. But it goes further than that.
Parliament has decided — in my view, rightly — to introduce a range of measures designed to enhance civil liberties and to protect the offender against injustice. Those measures have been widely acclaimed and were certainly supported in part by Opposition Members.
Those measures could have had an impact on clear-up rates. For example, the right of an offender to have his solicitor present early in an investigation was called for by Opposition Members. But solicitors say to their clients, "Don't you say anything to the police." That leads to a fall in the clear-up rate. Another example is the requirement that is imposed on the police to take verbatim contemporary notes. That was called for by the Opposition, but undoubtedly it reduces the flow and the style of the interview.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, not at the moment.
Yet another example is the restriction that is placed on the time that police officers can hold an offender for questioning. That has an effect on the clear-up rate and that, too, was called for by the Opposition. To some extent, these problems may bed down and resolve themselves.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, not at the moment. We have embarked on a comprehensive programme that is designed to introduce the tape recording of interviews. There are certain features that will militate against that programme, but measures that are designed to improve civil liberties may have a price. It is unacceptable for the Labour party to call for such measures and then to say that it is not ready to pay that price.
§ Mr. Soley
This is the most complacent speech that I have ever heard on a Friday. The hon. Gentleman's example concerning civil liberties is particularly bad. I said that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act is a problem for the police, and the examples that the hon. Gentleman has chosen are precisely those that I gave. The Royal Commission wanted an absolute right for an offender to see a solicitor. The Government — only after pressure from the Opposition — introduced a limited right that makes it difficult for the citizen to know what his rights are and also makes it difficult for the police to know whether or not they have got it right. Therefore, the amount of time that police officers have to spend working out that and similar problems relating to the code of conduct, is ridiculously long.
§ Mr. Hogg
In his convoluted and difficult-tounderstand manner, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he 1197 supports measures that would have an even more disastrous effect on the clear-up rate. I should not have thought that even he would want to advocate such measures.
That takes me to another matter—the Labour party. I should like to make it clear that neither the country nor Parliament will be lectured by the Labour party on law and order policies. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is an expert in weasel words, an example of which he gave this morning when he referred to Wapping, and he made the curious suggestion that he was going to take off the gloves. Was that a reference to the question that he asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday, for which he was called to order by Mr. Speaker and rebuked—a curiously humiliating experience for a Front Bench Spokesman, even of the Labour party?
Despite that, I do not point the finger at the hon. Member for Hammersmith; he is by no means as bad as might be made out. But what the hon. Members for Hammersmith and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) must realise is that in far too many cases far too many people who hold responsible positions in the Labour party have associated themselves with actions that have tended to destroy the cohesive nature of society and that have done real damage to the police service and to the concept of public order.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman says, "Name some." I intend to do so. I would not allow this opportunity to pass without naming some. I begin by naming Mr. Livingstone, the prospective Labour candidate for Brent, East. He argued that two convicted IRA bombers should not be extradited from the Netherlands, and described them as political refugees. Let me also name Linda Bellos, who I understand is the Labour leader of Lambeth. She has accused the police of deliberately creating tension in Brixton. She said "The people of Brixton only want peace, but I think that the police are bent on war." A third example is Mr. Bernie Grant, the Labour leader of Haringey council and prospective parliamentary candidate for Tottenham, North. He justified the murder of PC Blakelock and the riot that preceded it by saying, "The police got a bloody good hiding."
§ Mr. Hogg
There was nothing inaccurate about any of the remarks that I quoted. The Labour party may be 1198 embarrassed and anxious to conceal the facts, but the House will hear them, and nothing that the hon. Member for Hammersmith does can stop it from doing so.
Let us examine some of the actions and policies of the Labour party. There are the frequent appearances of leading Labour supporters on picket lines when they know, or ought to know, that violence is likely. There is also the decision of the Labour-dominated Lambeth borough council to expel police consultative group members from the town hall — and for why? Because that group endorsed the use of baton rounds as "weapons of last resort". But most bizarre of all is the decision of the Labour-controlled Haringey council to issue 25,000 of what it is pleased to call "bust passes" to school children in the borough, advising them not to co-operate with the police should they be stopped or questioned by them. if I had the time, I could give a myriad other examples.
Before I leave the subject, let me refer to a few Labour party publications. Happily, Labour is not slow to publish its views. For example, Police Watch, which is published in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) with public money, is full of virulently anti-police material. Let us take, for instance, "How to make a complaint against the police'', published by the London strategic policy unit, a Labour-controlled body. It begins:Police misconduct ranges from the relatively minor incident such as rudeness, to dishonesty, racial prejudice, assault and causing death.It goes on in that vein. There are also endless violently anti-police cartoons published in this document. I also have a picture, published by the Forest ward Labour party, showing a policeman holding a sledgehammer and grabbing a coloured man, — a virulent attack on the police.
What kind of party are we dealing with? The truth is, as we have come to realise, that far too many people within the Labour party are unfit to exercise any high authority in such matters. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith has been foolish enough to talk about the police, I shall. talk about the Labour party's policy on the police in 1977 and 1978. At that time the police were 10,000 men below establishment. In December 1977 and 1978, there was an average deficiency of 8.5 per cent. on police establishment. Lord Edmund-Davies reported that police officers were grossly underpaid and that the police were deserting the force in droves. The fact that the Labour party is seeking to pretend that it is either willing or able to fund an adequate police service is simply to fly in the face of history.
I now refer to the very positive action that the Government have adopted—[Laughter.] I recommend that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, whom I rather like, should be careful because sometimes he does himself an injustice by treating serious matters frivolously.
Firstly, we have greatly increased the police service and the resources that are devoted to it. The facts are impressive. Total strength in England and Wales now stands at 122,100 men, which is the highest figure ever achieved. Since May 1979, total manpower available to the police service in England and Wales has increased by 16,391 men. In 1987–88 we expect to spend on the police service about 50 per cent. more in real terms than was spent in 1978–79. That is an achievement for which the Government can claim full credit.
1199 The progress will continue. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary stressed in May 1986, over the next three years or so we plan to recruit an additional 3,200 police officers and over 2,000 civilians. No other party could or would have attempted to bring about that transformation in the police service.
The second aspect of Government policy has been to ensure that the courts and the police have more than adequate powers to punish the offender. Frequently the Labour party, and sometimes its erstwhile supporters on Liberal Benches, has voted against the measures designed to enhance police and court powers, but fortunately the Conservative view prevailed.
Let me give some examples. We have created new offences, for example in the Public Order Act 1986. We have established higher maximum sentences for serious crime — for example, life for attempted rape and for carrying a firearm in the course of committing an offence. We have given, and we are now extending, the powers that the courts have to confiscate the proceeds of crime from convicted criminals. We are setting up the serious fraud office to challenge and contain serious incidents of fraud. In the Criminal Justice Bill we have done much to improve the procedure of the criminal courts and their ability to handle serious criminal cases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden rightly referred to serious offences, particularly homicide. He said that there is to be a full debate on that subject later this month. It would be wrong for me to try to preclude that debate by expressing views now, but I am sure that my hon. Friend would be the first to recognise that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it wholly plain that for serious cases of murder, the murder of prison officers, the murder of police officers, murder in the course of committing a robbery, the sadistic or sexual murder of children and so on, there will be no early release of people so convicted. My hon. Friend will know that it is the Home Secretary's policy to ensure that people convicted of that class of offence will serve at least 20 years and may never emerge. That is the Government's policy.
As other hon. Members have said, the struggle against crime cannot be fought exclusively by the formal institutions of society. Nor should we neglect the policies that are designed to prevent crime. Much of crime is indeed preventable. Some 25 per cent. of burglaries are entirely opportunistic, in the sense that properties are not secured. Some 20 per cent. or so of vehicles are wholly unprotected and their doors are left unlocked. Therefore, we have recognised that we should place enormous emphasis on crime prevention. We have brought forward the most coherent crime prevention programme ever contemplated by any Government. We are in the process of fashioning a partnership in this war against crime. It is a partnership between the formal institutions of society, the Government, the police, the public utilities and local authorities on the one hand, and on the other, the multitude of individuals and organisations which form our society.
As a Government, we believe in arousing public awareness of what can and should be done to protect individual property. Hence our greatly expanded programme of crime prevention advertising. We believe in identifying practical crime prevention programmes and projects. Hence, for example, the standing conference on 1200 crime prevention and its working parties, which have come forward with reports containing suggestions of much practical worth.
We believe in local action and close co-operation between local communities and the police. hence the explosion in the number of neighbourhood watch schemes that are doing so much to reduce the fear of crime and, at the same time, are enhancing the security of local residents.
We believe in using public money to improve the security of buildings to reduce their vulnerability to the criminal, and that relates to a point raised by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. Thus, in 1987–88, we anticipate spending some £32 million within the community programme so as to finance some 7,000 places committed to crime prevention schemes, notably improving the security of homes lived in by the elderly and disadvantaged.
Some £30 million is likely to be spent in 1987–88 by the Department of the Environment on crime prevention measures that form part of the Department's urban programme. Some £7.5 million is likely to be spent by the Department of Transport to improve security on the London underground system. The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury called for entryphones, improved lighting, concierges, railings, window locks, facilities for the young, and stronger doors. All of those are already being provided within projects for which the Government, or agencies supported by the Government, are responsible.
§ Mr. Hogg
There is no point in the hon. Member saying, "No." That simply shows ignorance. I am recounting the facts. He may not like them, he may not know about them, but let him regard this as an instructive experience.
Finally, I want to return to my main theme. Of course there is a problem of growing crime. That problem exists in almost every country. It has developed consistently and persistently for more than 30 years. There is no single solution. The causes of crime are rooted deep in society and will be difficult to eradicate. However, with total confidence I can claim that this Government's policies are much more likely to be effective than those on offer elsewhere. Those who assert the contrary are certainly deceiving the country, are probably deluding themselves, and most assuredly will not be believed.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau, Gwent)
I have listened to almost every word of this extremely interesting debate. Although I did not agree with every passage in the Minister's speech, that was the only exception in a most constructive discussion. I hope that the Government will study the proposals that have come from many quarters.
I hope that the debate will also influence the comments that the Prime Minister may make on the subject. I intervened in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) to explain our criticisms of the Prime Minister in relation to this matter. The more that he and the Minister argue that there has been a consistent increase in violent and other crimes, the more that is a damaging attack on what the Prime Minister said in 1979, when she gave no recognition of the steady increase in crime in Britain and abroad. In her 1201 aggressive, demagogic manner she tried to pretend that the increase in crime before 1979 was due to the Labour Government. She heaped all the abuse upon us and, indeed, did something similar in 1983. As her remarks on the subject attract such little criticism in most newspapers, no attention has been paid to them.
After the steady increase of crime during the entire period in which the right hon. Lady has been Prime Minister, and recalling her prophecies of how she would deal with the problems much better than the Labour Government could, I hope that it is not too much to ask for a little humility from the Prime Minister and that before she speaks on the subject again she will listen to the views of those who have tried to study the real causes of crime in their communities and the real causes of the dangers that were discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), to which the Minister and other members of the Government have not applied their minds. That is the danger of the disease of riot spreading in a big way.
Hundreds of years ago, riots broke out and historians spent years afterwards examining the causes. Does anyone imagine that, in five, 10 or 20 years' time historians examining the causes of the disturbances in London, Birmingham or Bristol will come to the conclusion that mass unemployment on a scale unknown since the end of the war and unemployment among young people on a scale that we have never known had no effect on the rates of crime? Of course, they will not come to that conclusion. No Opposition Member says that unemployment is the sole cause, but it is a major factor in the background.
The Under-Secretary of State talked of crime prevention as the cause to which we should all give allegiance and the course which we should follow. I strongly support what he said. I thought for a moment that he would go on to quote the motion which I tabled, but which we shall be unable to debate, which reads:That this House expresses its disgust and alarm at the crisis in British universities arising from the parsimony and philistinism of Her Majesty's Government; calls for strong resistence from all universities and polytechnics and colleges throughout the country against the effects of indiscriminate monetarism; and cites in particular one development requiring immediate remedy, the curtailment in the purchase of books for schools, public libraries and the universities themselves.Does anyone claim that those matters have no connection with crime?
Good schools and good universities are places where young people can learn how to play their full part in the community throughout the rest of their lives. Those are the most necessary requirements for dealing with crime prevention, as described by the Minister a few moments ago.
On all the matters connected with crime prevention the Government have shown something worse than delinquency — they have flown in the face of the recommendations and warnings from all the scholastic authorities. The Government have an utterly disreputable record with regard to universities, schools and their attempt to sustain places where we could combat this appalling rise in crime. A rise that has been greater than anything known for generations.
After six or seven years of, what I believe is called "Thatcher-Lawson prosperity" we have the worst crime 1202 rate in history. After six or seven years of "Thatcher-Lawson prosperity" we have unemployment of a still horrific and historic scale.
§ Mr. Foot
Even if that level continues to fall for the next few years at the present rate it will not approach the level of unemployment that the Prime Minister inherited when she came to office in 1979. The present unemployment level remains of historic proportion.
After six or seven years of "Thatcher-Lawson prosperity" we have the worst threatened scientific brain drain in modern times. If anyone has any doubt about that they should study the headline in The Daily Telegraph today—I am sure that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) will confirm it—Universities fear greatest ever brain drain
We should have the brains in this country to assist us to deal with these problems. However, the report from a highly-respected, independent scientific body has said that the universities fear the loss of their scientists.
After six or seven years of "Thatcher-Lawson prosperity" morale in our universities is at rock bottom. If anyone thinks that is an exaggeration they should read yesterday's debate in the other place. That debate was initiated by Lord Swann. He described not only the effects on our universities, but the effects on our society if this type of deterioration is permitted. Nobody could read that debate without being ashamed about what is being done and about how the massive cuts in expenditure for universities have imposed a separate, but common, problem on pretty well all universities. I would be very surprised if anyone told me that has had no influence whatever on the level of crime in this country.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
To keep tentatively in order may I point out that the crime rate in Cambridge has fallen in the past year. I fully share the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the decision of the Science and Engineering research council. Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that the reason for the problem is that although we have increased university salaries by £167 million, we must do more?
§ Mr. Foot
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, as he speaks with great knowledge about these matters. He has illustrated what the Government should do to deal with the problem.
If the Government intended to deal fairly with the universities when they, belatedly, agreed to the increase in salaries they should also have agreed an extra amount that could be afforded to enable those salaries to be paid without causing other deprivations. It is not possible for anyone to read the debate in the other place without reaching the conclusion that a serious burden has been imposed on our universities—no policy could be more absurd.
Any Government who had considered the dangers of mass unemployment and the social consequences of allowing it to continue year after year would have realised that to prevent the crime wave extending across the whole country they must ensure that more young people have the chance to go to good schools and to go on to university. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) would agree with that, but he knows better than anyone else that the Government have approved a policy of putting such pressure on universities that the whole 1203 programme for the extension of university education will be curtailed, but every university will suffer in terms of variety of courses and facilities. That is the Government's policy as explained by Lord Swann and others yesterday. No one can suggest that such a policy will not have social consequences in the very areas that we are discussing today.
We should have regular debates on crime when there is a Conservative Administration because such debates illustrate some of the consequences of their neglect of other areas. Morale in the universities is at its lowest in modern times and this is strictly relevant to the subject under debate. The situation has taken different forms in different areas. Oxford, for example, has recently seen the effects of the massive cuts. The same is true in Northern Ireland. I visited the university of Northern Ireland the other day. There is record unemployment in Northern Ireland and various sectarian organisations are seeking to drag young people into various forms of crime. Yet it is Government policy to cut the money available to the universities there. Queen's university provides a splendid service to the whole of Ireland, as does the university at Coleraine. I invite hon. Members to visit either of those universities. People there spoke of the consequences to be expected if cuts continue to be imposed.
Special considerations apply in Northern Ireland and I hope that the whole House is concerned about the situation there. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who is Opposition Front Bench spokesman in this debate, has a special interest in the matter. We all know that to deal with crime and social problems in Northern Ireland we must encourage those institutions that set their faces against all forms of sectarian violence. Yet the universities and museums face constant cuts when they are the very institutions that should be encouraged if young people are to have the chance of obtaining proper training and a decent livelihood. In some respects—this is scarcely credible, but the figures show that it is true — university allowances and book provision in Northern Ireland face greater cuts than in other parts of the United Kingdom.
All these matters are strictly relevant to today's debate. It is a shame and a scandal that after seven years of so-called economic advance the Government are still squeezing the very institutions that have the best chance of providing a common bond between north and south.
There are only two institutions in Northern Ireland—one cannot include the Church—which try to overcome the sectarian madness and horror. Nobody can deny that trade unions do their job. They try to deal with and to face the problem where it hurts. The universities also have a good reputation in this area. However, this Government have rewarded the universities in the North with cuts and, in some repsects, they have been cut even more than other universities.
§ Mr. Rhodes James
The right hon. Gentleman must realise that this Government saved the university of Coleraine. My contribution to that was one of the most important things that I have ever done. I am grateful to my right hon. Friends for having rejected the Chilver report and saved Coleraine. If one is to take an example of the Government's alleged attack on higher education, the right hon. Gentleman has chosen the worst example.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will continue to relate his remarks to the debate, which is about law and order.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you will have been following closely how exactly I have related my comments to the debate. I am most gratified by your commendation. The hon. Member for Cambridge, has been in absolute conformity with the other matters that we are discussing. He naturally interrupts because he had a special part in ensuring that Coleraine should be preserved. I congratulate him on that. However, he should go there now, talk to people and listen to what they have to say about the cuts. He should talk first to the principals, the dons and the tutors because they have a case. He should talk to the students who also have to face cuts.
One of the reasons why more people will be potential criminals is that student grants are being cut to such an extent that there will be fewer students. I do not know whether other hon. Members have understood the matter, but it seems common sense that more people go to university, take longer courses and enjoy ease in the way in which they carry through their scholastic affairs, one would make a big contribution towards dealing with crime.
One of the things that is most odious in this House—in this Parliament there is strong competition on this—is that some hon. Members—I do not refer to the hon. Member for Cambridge, who has always fought for his university and constituency in such matters — but to other hon. Members, some of whom sit on the Front Bench, have been the beneficiaries of our university education system but are responsible for the heavy cuts that are being proposed. Those cuts will mean that fewer of the coming generation will be able to go to university or to choose the varied courses that should be available to them. That is an outrage which should be brought home to each of those hon. Members specifically.
The same applies, only more so, to the Open University. When we are facing heavy unemployment and when the crime rate is rising on an unprecedented scale, I should have thought that the obvious and easiest thing for the Government to do—it would not be very costly—would be to ensure that more people can take up an Open University course. Quite a number of people in my constituency, who have been thrown out of the steelworks, or who have lost jobs in other places at the age of 30 or 40 have taken advantage of Open University courses. People of all ages, including younger people, can apply. It is a great credit to those, such as Jennie Lee, who established the Open University, that today more university places are provided by the Open University than by pretty well all the other universities put together. Surely a Government who want to deal with these social problems can learn the lesson and say, "We shall encourage that." Instead, the Government have discouraged it and forced an increase in fees for the Open University. That has meant that many thousands of people who would have qualified for Open University courses in 1986, 1987 and 1988 are being denied the opportunity. That is a deep offence against the individuals concerned and against society.
If anybody tries to contest what I am saying and thinks that I am exaggerating, let him read what the House of 1205 Lords had to say and answer those who spoke on behalf of all universities. Their comments confirm everything that I have said.
The curtailment of the provision of books in our schools, libraries and universities is a national scandal. When we try to raise that with the Government, they brush it aside and will not face facts, but certain people know the facts. Publishers who are interested in selling their books know the facts and have the figures. Some figures published in the past few days confirm that in this so-called prosperous country of ours less money is being spent on books for libraries, universities and schools. I would have thought that when those facts were brought to the attention of any Government, they would put it right.
Both the crime rate and the injury to our education system that the Government are prepared to tolerate are due to the type of society that the Government seek to sustain. The Government seek to breed a seedy, shoddy, moneygrabbing, insider-trading mentality which helps to purvey the spirit in which many other activities are conducted in our community.
References have been made to the effect of television. The nature of it is sometimes mistaken. If increasing numbers of men and women, denied the right to work and to decent jobs, sit before television sets and hear the values that are spilt out night after night, it has an effect: it enforces, enlarges and illustrates the division in our society more than anything else. I hope that the Government will look at those matters afresh.
The Government have inflicted that injury on our young people and have permitted the crime wave to rise on a scale that was never conceived of previously. Certainly, it was not conceived of by the Prime Minister and those in 1979 and 1983 who pretended that they had the best ways of dealing with crime. The Government's policies are injuring many other areas, such as those I have illustrated, especially the universities.
The Government are injuring something that is more precious than North sea oil and more precious even than the huge mass of manufacturing industries that they have driven out of business. They injure something that the universities seek to protect, but deny the universities the circumstances, possibilities and means of doing so. By far our most valuable asset is the English language, even reckoned in purely commercial terms. Over the past 30 years the most beneficent conquest that the world has ever seen is our possession of the English language which has enabled us to open doors and perform feats in the post-war world which would not have been available to us previously. Although it is our greatest treasure the Government have gone to every university — Cardiff, London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Coleraine—and said, "You must make cuts and we don't care if you have to cut English teaching." We have never understood what that was about.
There are multitudes of reasons why the Government should be thrown out with contempt. One is the fact that they promised to check the crime wave, but have allowed it to rise to a level unprecedented in our history. Another is the way in which, despite all their pious exclamations, they have injured an entire new generation. That generation has been hit harder in some parts of the country than in others, but the country's unity and effectiveness have been injured by the Government's policies.
If we did not have many good reasons for kicking out the Government, we have heard several today.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) in opening our debate expressed the arguments in favour of the courts having the right to impose capital punishment. I am sure that, on both sides of the House, he is respected for his sincerity and consistency on that issue. I would like to take the opportunity, briefly of expressing another point of view.
I concede that some people contemplating murder will be deterred by the risk that it might lead to capital punishment; but let me deal, if I may, with some of the other arguments. The first is one that was suggested this morning, that is, that public opinion requires a return to capital punishment so hon. Members must vote for it whether their consciences agree with it or not. That is a totally wrong conception of the responsibilities of hon. Members.
If one chose 650 people in our country at random, the majority, at first unthinkingly, might express themselves in favour of the reintroduction of hanging. But if they gave the subject as much study as many hon. Members have done, sometimes over a period of years in debate after debate, I believe that they would then vote very much as the House has voted time and again.
Secondly, I should like to comment on the pressure on hon. Members of party opinion inside the House, in constituency associations or by other means. Hon. Members should have the humility to concede on many issues of the day that their party colleagues know better than they do themselves; but, on a matter of life and death, each hon. Member is entitled to insist on a totally free vote. On such a matter, where a human life or perhaps a number of lives may depend on the outcome of our vote, it would be a crime, and, indeed, itself a form of calculated killing, if any single hon. Member were to put his parliamentary career or electoral advantage ahead of his conscience.
On the last occasion, the House decided to consider murder as part of a terrorist campaign as a separate issue. Some Members who opposed capital punishment for other crimes were prepared to vote in favour of it as a punishment for terrorism. I recognise that some people engaged in terrorist activities would be deterred by the risk of capital punishment, but I think that others would become even more detemined, particularly where religious fanaticism is the guiding motive.
How do I, personally, approach the matter? I have a strong personal conviction that taking human life, except in combat or in self-defence, is wholly wrong. Calculated killing of another human being is totally inadmissible, whether for motives of greed or jealousy or for revenge, whether racial, personal or judicial. Killing in cold blood is wrong: two wrongs do not make a right.
I should like also to say a few words about the subject of corporal punishment, which is often linked with the claim that we should be returning to capital punishment, as well. Most men of my age, in the course of their education, became accustomed to corporal punishment, It was often very severe, and sometimes quite undeserved; but we regarded it as a matter of course.
But in the army I had the privilege of serving in a regiment with very high morale. Nobody had to flog us to win our loyalty and co-operation, instantaneous obedience and life-long commitment to the ideals of the regiment. 1207 Discipline was imposed in another way. I have now concluded that the return of corporal punishment would be undesirable in schools and unacceptable, and probably on balance counter-productive, for adults.
I believe that we should be striving to establish in Britain a sense of belonging to a community with rules of mutual respect amd support, and of obedience to law, which are wholly in accordance with our personal ideals as citizens. That is a job for all of us as citizens. I welcome neighbourhood watch as an example of a helpful initiative which should be warmly welcomed on both sides of the House.
In dealing with the growth in crime, I think that the House should recognise the dangers of creating a secondary community. We are indeed in danger of doing that—of creating a subculture within the nation. We made the mistake of segregating people in council estates and that, I think, is evidenced in the crime figures. I think, too, that we are making a mistake by our over-reliance on means-tested benefits for the relief of need. The Government quite rightly advertise the work ethos and recommend thrift for every citizen as the source of their self-respect. It is quite wrong that these principles should be undermined for the millions of our people who are regularly dependent on supplementary benefit—or other means-tested benefits — in order to maintain a decent standard of life. We now have 14 million people who are dependent in one way or another on means-tested benefits. They are bound to see themselves as second-rate citizens economically and therefore they are likely in the end to drop out of the moral consensus as well. I think that we have to recognise that that is an element in the problems that we are seeing.
I think, too, that the House should recognise the dangers of our failure to integrate the immigrant communities. In Kensington I am happy to say that we have very long familiarity with people from other races and I would like to claim Kensington as a racism-free zone. But more often than I am prepared to condone I have seen examples, I regret to say, of prejudice, lack of consideration and even of sheer bloody-mindedness on the part of officials responsible to the Home Secretary for dealing with immigrants and visitors.
I realise the difficulties of their work. I do not oppose the policy of restricting the numbers of immigrants to this country. But we have read with horror of the way in which administrators in the southern states of America before the civil war used to take it as a matter of course that they were entitled to separate parents and children and to break up the marriages of established couples in the subordinate population. Sadly, I have to tell the House that this can and does still happen in Kensington.
Some years ago I was also troubled by the evidence that the Home Office was too lax in its control of the conduct of the Metropolitan police, particularly in regard to the treatment of suspects and people held under arrest. There are still grounds for anxiety in this respect, but not I believe in Kensington, where the attitude of senior police officers appears to me to be exemplary. Their influence on the junior ranks has made for a very demonstrable improvement and a much better relationship with minority groups in recent times. Perhaps if the same degree of attention had been given in other parts of the country to 1208 relationships between the public authorities and the immigrant communities as is given in Kensington, there might have been fewer tragic and outrageous incidents.
The figures of crime are increasing and there is a very widespread public demand for better protection, particularly in regard to street violence and rape. These are matters where the return of capital punishment would, in my opinion, be irrelevant. I strongly support the request from the Metropolitan police for an increase in their establishment, and I would like there to be more local accommodation for police officers so that they did not have to start and end their working time with long and tiring journeys.
There is also a strong public demand for longer prison sentences. We already have a very large prison population and there is not much evidence that a prison sentence, short or long, has a really deterrent or curative effect in very many cases.
In the course of my time as a Member of Parliament I have visited, I think, all the London prisons and more than one prison outside. Quite candidly, I am not surprised that imprisonment does not have the desired effect. Longer prison sentences would seem to me to be very likely to be counter-productive in many cases. I think that members of the prison service whom I have met, many of whom are extremely sincere and responsible people, do not know precisely what it is they are supposed to be doing. We should give the prison service clear guidance as to whether its role is punitive or curative.
I accept that prisoners should never be deprived of hope or self-respect, but that does not imply that a stay in prison should be like a long holiday in a very low-grade hotel. I believe that a prison sentence should be divided clearly into a primary and secondary period and that the courts should be entitled to specify the minimum length of the primary sentence. The purpose of the primary sentence should be punitive, deterrent and strictly corrective. It should involve clockwork routine and instant obedience in an austere though never degrading environmental— on the contrary, there should be the strongest emphasis on hygiene and personal cleanliness. That of course is almost impossible in some of our extant institutions.
It should be normal, when prisoners have completed the primary sentence imposed by the courts, to be able to bring this part of their sentence to an end by their own conduct and response to discipline. The secondary prison sentence should constitute a well-planned course of personal improvement, involving the learning of useful skills, academic study and attention to physical and mental health. I am convinced that if we made better use of prison terms imposed by the courts, we would not need to lengthen them. There is a need for the Home Office to provide a clear lead to the prison service which for many years it has not given, as to the purpose of a prison sentence.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams
Yes. I hope that Home Office officials will listen to what the hon. Gentleman has said in that respect. I notice that they have not stayed to listen to our speeches just now.
1209 The House owes a debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden for giving us the opportunity at this highly topical moment to discuss these issues. Hon. Members who have spoken on both sides have spoken with absolute sincerity and the Home Office now should pay particular note to the course of the debate. I am grateful and should like to express my appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden for initiating this debate.
§ Mr. Iain Mills
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak for the second time. Obviously, in the time remaining I cannot respond to all the many kind and some unkind comments. Instead I shall make a few short remarks.
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who led for the Opposition, did not take the opportunity to consider this issue on a more fundamental basis. His point about local authority expenditure ignored the fact that many of the councils about which he spoke have the simple recourse, as is done elsewhere, of cutting some of the programmes that some of their ratepayers find offensive. The money saved could then be spent on the important subject of protecting tower blocks. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the installation in Solihull and certainly in Chelmsley Wood of entry phones and secure systems, although not perfect, is a great step forward. I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for their kind words. We had excellent contributions from hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I commend the motion to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the increasing emphasis on prevention in the fight against crime; believes that the development of closer links between the police, the community and industry has an important part to play in both the prevention and detection of crime, including industrial crime; and calls upon the Government to ensure that the range of sentences available to the courts is sufficient to enable them to deal effectively with those who commit crimes.