HC Deb 06 November 1987 vol 121 cc1175-240

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Boscawen.]

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

I believe that it is often reasonably said that it is the refuge of a bankrupt politician to take as the theme of his speech that, in the end, Government cannot do much because society must ride to the rescue of what Government are trying to do. I do not think that that argument of intellectual bankruptcy applies to the specific case of crime and the prevention of crime, because I believe that the police cannot, and never will be able to, prevent crime without the full co-operation of the public and society, however many police there are and however much money we devote to law and order services in this country. That is one of my arguments and I hope that, on this occasion, the House will find that broadly acceptable, whatever its feelings otherwise regarding the Government's policy towards the law and order services.

If I have anything so grand as a text for what I intend to say this morning it is basically that the police in this country are not imposed on society; they grow out of society. If the police are not imposed on society—I do not believe I see anyone in the Chamber at the moment who would subscribe to that view—it is absolutely clear that the police grow out of the community. After all, the police live in the community in ordinary houses, in common with the ordinary members of society. Indeed, from time to time, their wives or husbands are victims of crime. Meanwhile, the police seek to prevent crime or do what they can to clear it up. We and, I am sure, all hon. Members pay tribute to them. If one at least partly accepts the argument that the police grow out of the community and are not imposed upon it, the logical conclusion of that line of thought is that the community must support the police in crime prevention and detection. The police may not always have to be in the lead in crime prevention efforts in this country. Obviously, they will always play a major part in such efforts, and will always have to be closely inter-related with any crime prevention methods that are being used by the general public. The police themselves recognise that. If one speaks to police audiences on crime prevention topics, as I do from time to time—they are often young policemen on the fast track to promotion—and tells them that they cannot do it all and that they sometimes need the public to be in the lead on crime prevention panels and neighbourhood watch schemes, such remarks do not elicit the kind of sharp intake of breath these days that they used to. There is a clear recognition of the role of the general public and of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department refers to as the active citizen, who is critical in our attempts to mobilise the battle against crime and do all we possibly can to prevent it.

I do not for one second accept—neither do the Government—that there is anything inevitable or inexorable about rising crime in this country. For the past 30 years, in good times and in bad, in times of feast and of famine, and under Governments of both political colours, crime has risen. The figures bear that out. It has risen on average by 6 per cent. a year. No one of any political party can afford to accept that as being inevitable. In the end, the only way in which we shall turn that rising tide of crime is through more police, tougher sentences, more retribution and deterrents and much more prevention than there has been in the past 30 years. Perhaps, if we devoted a little more attention to that—as many have at local and national levels—the rate of crime would not have increased in the way in which it has.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I would not disagree with the list that the hon. Gentleman gave. Would he not add social conditions as being one of the influencing factors on crime rates?

Mr. Patten

Social factors are certainly one of the things that affect crime rates. The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but if he is saying that merely because someone is deprived he will, ipso facto, commit a crime, I could not accept that suggestion. In recent months the rich as well as the poor have committed crime in this country, and those from privileged backgrounds, who should know better, have, from time to time, been just as likely to commit crimes that affect many people in society as those who have suffered from social deprivation.

Wherever I go in western Europe to consider these issues, I find no one who has a simplistic model of crime that correlates social deprivation with rising crime rates. It is significant that there is a European-wide consensus about this. Crime prevention is a specific and important component in our strategy against crime. That is why the Government have given and will continue to give a high priority to it. We intend to make crime prevention an even higher priority. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department mentioned that fact in his response to, and gloss on, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.

Crime prevention is now much broader in scope than many would have thought possible even a year or two ago. It is no longer only about locks on doors and bolts on windows. That is why we are trying to bring forward the most coherent crime prevention programme contemplated by any Government. For too long, crime has been regarded as inevitable and unstoppable. For many crimes that is just not true. I welcome the chance this morning to go into a fairly detailed analysis in support of this argument. Part of our approach to preventing crime consists in convincing people—some of them need convincing—that crime is not just to be accepted and coped with. It can have devastating effects on individuals, families, communities and the very fabric of society. Its effects can be long-lasting, and sometimes crimes that have a small financial value can still be devastating. When a few pounds are stolen from an elderly person, that person's property has been broken into and his possessions disturbed; sometimes mementos of his past life and family are taken, and that can have a devastating long-term effect.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I am sure that we all share the Minister's concern. We know that many elderly people find the loss of a small item, such as a purse, devastating. Will the Minister comment on the reports in today's paper that part of what he has said is that his new crime prevention campaign involves freeing police officers from clearing up petty crimes such as he is describing? Does he not accept that the police will have to give serious attention to problems that individuals treat seriously themselves?

Mr. Patten

I have not seen the article to which the hon. Lady refers, but I shall try to read it. I perceive now that it comes from The Guardian—always an accurate newspaper. What I have consistently said is that I believe the police should not have to waste so much time attempting to clear up minor crime if that crime can be avoided. I am not saying that once a crime has been committed the police should not do all they possibly can in all circumstances to clear it up.

Some 25 per cent. of all burglaries—about 130,000 a year, if memory serves aright—take place because a burglar has found a front or back door unlocked or a window unbolted, and walked in. We must send strong messages to society that it must be more responsible and lock its doors. A locked door will not always necessarily prevent crime, but in the end fewer burglaries will be reported to the police, so they will have to spend less time attempting to clear up burglaries and crimes that could have been avoided.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)

I am especially pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned the great personal loss and trauma that can be caused by an incident of theft or crime. Will he take this opportunity to give credit to the victim support schemes that have grown up so magnificently and addressed themselves to helping people come to terms with the shock of a crime, a shock that can last for a period of many months?

Mr. Patten

Yes, indeed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department made clear our strong support of the association at its recent annual general meeting. We are contributing about £9 million over a period to the victim support schemes in this country. They offer invaluable support and are one of the facets of British society that have all-party support and draw together people from all strands of society. I welcome that.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) gave me the chance to clarify any misapprehensions that may be contained in a newspaper article. I shall have read it by the time that I reply to the debate and will respond in greater detail then. But if any hon. Member believes that we should not point the finger at people who are careless of their property, do not bother to lock their doors and then go to the police to report a crime, and say to them, "Your carelessness is a form of contributory negligence to society as a whole", I wish that he would stand up in the Chamber and say so. No one is doing that, so the line that I have suggested must be generally accepted.

To a considerable extent, the pattern of crime is directly related to the pattern of the society in which it takes place. The types of crimes that are committed bear a direct relationship to the services and goods we produce. That is why reducing and preventing crime is not a matter for the police, the courts, and Government alone. That is how we have all seen it for far too long. But there has been a significant change in the approach to crime prevention and the development of our prevention initiatives.

May I remind the House of some important facts. First, 95 per cent. of crime is against property, not against the person. This includes residential burglary and thefts of and from motor cars. I have already said that about 25 per cent. of domestic burglaries happen because doors and windows are left unlocked, which is a shocking indictment of the way in which we treat our property. Home Office research shows that about 20 per cent. of people commonly leave their cars unlocked or with the windows down, which is another example of contributory negligence.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Does the Minister accept that there is some way to go to persuade people who live in rural areas of the need to lock their houses and their cars? Burglaries are becoming rife in rural areas, but people have never thought it necessary to lock their houses. They have always gone out and left the doors unlocked, because no one ever burgled their houses. Will he give special help to rural areas to encourage people to realise the necessity now?

Mr. Patten

The hon. and learned Gentleman has put his finger on an important point: that, in our efforts to prevent crime, we must not concentrate only on urban areas and the inner cities. Outer city estates are just as prone to crime. It has been a happy facet of British life for many years that in villages and rural areas people have looked after each other's property. There have been eyes on the village street, and people have not bothered to shut their back doors because it has not been necessary. But recent crime statistics from police forces in predominantly rural areas show that thefts and burglaries have increased greatly. The hon. and learned Gentleman has given me food for thought. As we develop our crime prevention strategy during the next few months, we shall make sure that we do not neglect the needs of rural areas.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Patten

I am still on my introduction, but of course I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Banks

I do not wish to divert the Minister too far with too much food for thought so early in the morning, but perhaps I could develop that point. When I was young in South London, we used to leave our doors open, too. In the 1930s, in the east end and all over London, doors were left open and people used to go in and out of each other's houses. The Minister should take that into account when considering the changes in rural areas.

Mr. Patten

To many of us in the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman still looks excessively young. He has worn very well, and his appearance belies his age.

Mr. Banks

It is very nice of the Minister to say so.

Mr. Patten

Yesterday, during Home Office Questions, I agreed with the hon. Gentleman about banning the sale of some offensive weapons. I am all for a bipartisan approach when it can be constructive, and if flattering the hon. Gentleman about his appearance is one way of making crime prevention work, it is a price that we shall pay.

The hon. Gentleman is right. There used to be urban villages as well as rural villages. There were eyes on the street. We remember the archetypal house with its kitchen on the street and with everyone looking into each other's houses. We do not want an introverted society, with people living behind barred windows and locked doors, looking inwards. We need all the hardware to make sure that homes are not broken into, but we also need people looking out from their homes, in villages and towns, with their eyes on the street and helping in crime prevention.

Active neighbourhood watch schemes, such as those in Battersea and Wandsworth which I visited recently, have exactly that effect. I am happy to announce to the House that there are 42,000 neighbourhood watch schemes, compared with a few hundred five years ago. The schemes have not just attempted—sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully—to reduce crime and the fear of crime, but have contributed formidably to recreating a neo-village atmosphere in the areas where they operate. Neighbours are getting together again and talking as they have not done for years about the issues that affect their local communities. That significant feature has been largely disregarded, but it is an important social trend.

Most crime is against property, and it is clear that a substantial amount of property is inadequately protected, with between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. of homes not having enough locks on doors or bolts on windows. We estimate that, for a cost of between £50 and £70, the average semi-detatched house could be made secure against all but the most determined burglar. If the householder does it himself, the cost could be as low as £20 or £30.

Opportunistic crimes—someone coming along, finding an open door, going in, taking the video and walking out again—are more susceptible to prevention that to detection. That is because they are committed quickly and, sadly often by young males of school age. It is worth remembering that the peak age for offending among males is 15 and the peak age among females is 14. Much crime against property is committed by youngsters of 15 or under. That makes me reflect on a theme that I shall develop later: whatever crime prevention is about, it is not purely about locks, bolts and neighbourhood watch schemes. It is about trying to strike at the roots of criminality and prevent young people especially from getting into the habit of committing crime, getting into the criminal justice system and, all too often, returning to detention.

Against that background, we are beginning to see welcome evidence of an interest in, and a commitment to, preventing crime which goes far beyond the Home Office, the police and the criminal justice system. I shall discuss some of the initiatives that we have set up and which we will try to develop. We have a ministerial group on crime prevention, which I now chair. Its principal task is to ensure that the crime prevention potential in all Departments' programmes is recognised and acted on. It is sometimes said in Whitehall that setting up interministerial groups is a mark of complete despair and that they are unlikely to be effective. It is believed that they will simply be talking shops. That is not so. There is much evidence of the beneficial effects so far of the interministerial group on crime prevention. For example, it cannot all be led by the Home Office and by the police. Resources also must be applied to all sorts of other areas, for example, housing. We should look at what is being done by the Department of the Environment's estate action team. Out of the £50 million spent by estate action in 1986–87, approximately £21 million was devoted to crime prevention related measures to improve housing. This year again a substantial amount will be spent out of the £75 million that estate action is spending on helping run-down council estates in inner and outer urban areas. The Department of the Environment urban programme is spending about £10 million this year on various crime prevention activities.

Ministers such as my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning are becoming deeply involved in the: Government's crime prevention work. My hon. Friends in different Departments, such as the Department of Education and Science, realise that it must be a collective effort, which we are spearheading. The Department of Education and Science is funding social responsibility courses in schools, with crime prevention elements, which are going well.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has his Department working with the gas and electricity industries on reducing the numbers of coin-operated meters, often a prime target for the opportunistic thief.

Some two years ago the Home Office and the Manpower Services Commission launched the community programme crime prevention initiative, which has gone from strength to strength. There are now some 300 projects involving almost 8,500 job opportunities. The work ranges from lock fitting for the elderly and the handicapped—it often involves voluntary societies and organisations such as Age Concern—and the development of neighbourhood crime prevention activity on housing estates, to the provision of leisure activities for young people——

Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)


Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)


Mr. Patten

I must have said something provocative. I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey).

Mr. Pawsey

I reassure my hon. Friend that he was not being unduly provocative. He referred to education. Does he, like me, deplore the activities of certain councils that are actively preventing the police from entering schools to discuss with the schools—the authorities and the children—the importance of being properly law-abiding?

Mr. Patten

If councils are doing that, I should deplore it. It is important that schools give access to the police. In my area, the Thames Valley police force makes sure that every classroom is visited once a year by a community policeman to discuss with school children the issues of crime and crime prevention, "stranger danger" and taking care of themselves. That is very important. I give way now to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne).

Mr. Thorne

My hon. Friend rightly said how good it was that elderly people could call upon assistance in introducing security measures into their homes. Is he aware that in many areas, where the elderly live in council-owned accommodation, they cannot get that work done by organisations funded through the MSC because of the resistance of the trade unions? Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to deplore the difference between the elderly who live in the private sector and those who live in council property and who cannot get the same facilities?

Mr. Patten

In many areas councils of all political colours are co-operative, but there have been problems with some councils, as I recall from my days in the Department of the Environment. It is a sad reflection on them, as it is a sad reflection when councils indulge in regrettable and over-vigorous attempts—I choose my words carefully—to monitor the police with journals and newsletters that are circulated quite widely in some but not all cities. There is a big difference between cities. Some in the north under the same political control do it and some do not. It seems to me, as an outside observer, that councils that do it are under the control of the same part of the Labour party. That is a pity. It does not help police-community relations. That is not to say that the police are perfect any more than I am. The police have their role to play as well.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Allegations have now been made by three Conservative Members about the activities of Labour councils. So far, not one Labour council has been mentioned and the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) said that Labour councils are preventing the police from going into schools. I hope that the Minister will obtain information from his hon. Friend. I ask him directly: does he know of any local authority where that is so?

Mr. Pawsey


Mr. Patten

I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, but before I do, and before the hon. Lady thinks that I do not have any recall this early on a Friday morning, let me refer to Manchester. I did my best to work with Manchester council when I was Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction. I tried reasonably successfully, I think, to involve it in several important private and public sector joint funded urban regeneration projects, which are now reaching fruition. But that same council still has its own Police Watch magazine with some virulently anti-police material in it, which is a shame.

Councils should not do that, because it is not the right way to foster good community-police relations. If the city council thinks that the police are doing bad things, it should talk to the police and to us and try to sort it out, not attack the police or try to mould the perception of a generation of young children in schools in that way. However, not every northern city is like that. Newcastle does not do it. I do not know why, but I am glad about it.

Mr. Pawsey


Mr. Patten

I give way to my hon. Friend, who is pregnant with information.

Mr. Pawsey

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. I hesitate to introduce a debate within his debate, but I must tell the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) that she doth protest too much. I did not use the word Labour; she introduced that word. It is significant that she chooses to interpret my remarks in a certain way. Perhaps we should look to the hon. Lady to justify what she has said—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. The Minister has the Floor at the moment. Mr. Patten.

Mr. Patten

I am getting confused about who is giving way to whom, so I propose to move on, I hope with your approval, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the next issue.

The value of community programme places to crime prevention is about £38 million. Another important element in our crime prevention work at national level is the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention, which I also chair. It provides a forum in which representatives of many sectors, including Government Departments, local authorities, industry, commerce, voluntary groups and the police, can work together on crime prevention. The cutting edge of the standing conference, which meets again this year on 24 November, is its working groups, set up to examine specific crime matters and to make recommendations. As my right hon. and hon. Friends will know, those working groups are independent. At the meeting of the standing conference later this month we shall receive reports from working groups on juvenile crime, young people and alcohol, and on the tricky topic of publicity for the prevention of child abuse, a great problem that faces us.

The strength of the standing conference approach is that it embodies a crime prevention partnership. It is a partnership not just for discussion but for action. Let me give an example to show that that, too, is not just a talking shop. Following the report produced by its working group on commercial robbery, the Midland bank has produced a video designed to help banks, retailers and their staff to prevent robbery. The working group on residential burglary, so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), has followed up its work to raise public awareness of the part that everyone can play in preventing burglary.

Raising public awareness is an important part of our approach to crime prevention, because, after all, what is the use of having a lot of expensive anti-burglar kit on one's front door or windows if one does not use it? That is why, through publicity, we must help the whole community to realise that every sector and individual can play their part in preventing crime. That is one of the things that will be at the centre of our new national publicity campaign that will be launched in 1988 and will run for three years.

There is an overriding need to bring home to those who design, build and run our communities the impact of crime on all our lives. We must get crime prevention on the agendas of all those who are influential in the community. We need to create mechanisms that can bring local people together to prevent crime. This has been addressed by the national initiatives that I have mentioned and by others recently undertaken or planned for the future. For example, the last of a series of five crime prevention conferences is being held today. The great thing about those conferences is that they have been joint ventures involving the local authority associations, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives—that powerful and mysterious body that runs our local authorities—the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office. Today the conference is in Coventry, and over the last two and a half weeks the other venues have been Knowsley, London, Cardiff and Scarborough. Not only Home Office Ministers have addressed those conferences or road shows. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning addressed the conference in Scarborough earlier this week. Those conferences have been aimed at senior policy-makers from local authorities, commerce, industry and voluntary bodies throughout England and Wales. Their main purpose has been to emphasise the fact that reducing crime and the fear of crime is a task for the whole community.

On Wednesday of this week, I attended the design against crime conference at Tynemouth. Design is s crucial factor in preventing crime. This has been fully recognised by the National House-Building Council and the British Standards Institution, which have produced excellent, clear guidance for architects, planners and builders on simple inexpensive ways in which a reasonable standard of home security can be incorporated into homes and flats at the design and building stages. For too long even basic security and crime prevention measures have been regarded by too many people as some sort of optional extra that one bolts on rather than something that is fundamental and that should be built in. That attitude is wrong. Architects and firms in our great and successful building industry that still follow that line of thought should change their thinking, and should change it quickly.

On 2 December, together with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning and Mr. Rod Hackney, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, I shall be attending a conference in London which has the express aim of trying to bring about changes in the architects' profession and the building industry to ensure that we get simple security built in at the design stage and not bolted on later. There is no point in having bolts on one's doors if the doors are constructed of flimsy material, as alas they are all too often, so that it does not take a very heavy weight or heavily armed thief to go straight through the door. We see that all too often, not just on council estates but on some of the lower end of the market homes built in the private sector for first-time buyers. There is also no point in having a good lock on a firm door if the door can be pushed out because the door frame has not been set properly into the brickwork or into the concrete. As hon. Members will note, the two years that I spent as Housing Minister were not entirely wasted, as I can remember some of those central issues.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

I do not disagree with the comments that the Minister has made. Does he recognise, when architects design new estates, that they should also avoid the small corners and hideaways that are so inherent in many modern designs as they cause old people, in particular, to have fears? People who commit crimes can hide in such areas. Does he agree that that is another problem that architects should look at and eliminate?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Member is quite right. What demonstrates that we have still got a long way to go in some parts of the building and architects' professions is that it is not just at the bottom end of the market—housing associations and councils—that we see such faults. We often see them in extremely expensive developments where homes cost six-figure sums. There are home layouts that are just designed for burglars and are as burglar-friendly as they could be because they contain areas where cars or individuals can lurk without being seen.

I would not for one second wish the House to believe that I am criticising all architects and builders. I suppose it is as invidious to mention one building firm in the House as it is to mention a private company on the BBC, but this week Bellway plc, which is very active in urban regeneration in the north, announced that it intends to make this a central part of its design philosophy in the future. It also intends to try to give everyone what is called in the trade defensible space—a front or back garden that people can call their own, which can be fenced, so that they are less likely to have intrusions from children or passers-by. In all its new housing developments it has said that it will not just encourage but sponsor the setting up of neighbourhood watch schemes. That is a good example of what can be done, and I congratulate that company.

Companies such as Wimpey are doing a lot to get better security designed into its homes. It would he a good thing if estate agents, as part of their marketing of homes, did not just say that one should buy a home because it is nicely designed or it has security built into it, but because a home is in a nice friendly area that has a neighbourhood watch scheme. They could begin to sell the fact that a house or a flat is in a secure neighbourhood. It is in those sorts of ways that all professionals involved can do their bit to have crime prevention much more on the national agenda.

The underlying feature of all those national initiatives is identifying the crime prevention potential across all sectors and trying to get people to work together. To provide a lead and to demonstrate that crime and the fear of crime can be reduced by local agencies working together, five local crime prevention projects, each of which was to last 18 months, were set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1986. The purpose was to bring together a variety of local agencies to consider the crime problems faced in the local community and to use their expertise and resources to devise measures to tackle those problems. Those projects were set up in diverse areas—Bolton, Croydon, north. Tyneside, Swansea and Wellingborough. Each project was run by a local steering committee that comprised. representatives of various local authority departments, the police, the probation and social services, voluntary organisations, local businesses and local schools. Each project also had a full-time co-ordinator to pull all the effort together. That person provided the steering committee with information about local crime problems, identified areas for action, implemented agreed preventive measures and monitored the success of the project.

It is interesting that the Home Office-funded coordinators were not always policemen. For example, in north Tyneside it was a policeman, Superintendent Hall, while in Croydon it was a lady probation officer, who was terrific in the way that she pulled people together. Each of the projects introduced a range of schemes aimed at tackling target crimes such as criminal damage, residential burglary and thefts from and of cars. As well as employing the traditional preventive measures such as neighbourhood watch schemes and property marking, the projects introduced a number of measures specifically designed to match local needs. For example, in the project area in Bolton it was found that two thirds of all residential burglaries involved thefts from meters. The regional gas and electricity boards got together and are pursuing the replacement of prepayment cash-linked meters. That is practical crime prevention in Bolton.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

I am interested in the Minister's comments about that area. Does he not agree that during this period burglaries and break-ins in Bolton went up by between 12 and 24 per cent.? The actual improvement was in a narrow area.

Mr. Patten

We are monitoring the results. Some schemes have not been as successful as others. These are genuine experiments and I shall come to some successes in a moment to balance the problems that the hon. Lady quite fairly mentions. She could well be right that in some places, although not in all, the concentration of a preventive effort such as the schemes in these five towns or on a smaller scale a neighbourhood watch scheme, gives rise to the possibility of what might be called the displacement effect. That means that the burglars go somewhere else and concentrate on another area. That is why it is so important that neighbourhood watch schemes should give maximum cover in an area as quickly as possible. I shall later give an example of a good case where that has happened.

In north Tyneside juvenile crime prevention panels were set up in a local high school to bring to the attention of teachers, the police and local adult panels the problems perceived by the pupils. The aim was to set up projects that were seen by the pupils to be of value. It was a genuine diversionary activity for young people before they had a chance to become involved in crime.

The project in north Tyneside has been very successful in achieving significant reductions in crime. Over the last 18 months residential burglaries in a big area of north Tyneside went down 23 per cent. Burglaries from commercial premises are down by an amazing 51 per cent. and thefts of vehicles were reduced by 23 per cent. Criminal damage is down by 18 per cent. Those figures are more impressive when viewed in the context of increases in these offences in the area generally. When I was there last Wednesday it was good to see the mayor of north Tyneside, a Labour borough, and the deputy leader of the council very enthusiastic about the results and wanting to broaden the efforts to cover the whole of the borough.

So keen is the Labour council on the results produced in co-operation with the police and the Home Office that on Tuesday week representatives are travelling to the Council of Europe meeting on crime prevention in Barcelona to explain why they think that have got it right. The message is that constructive work of this sort can be useful.

The reduction in crime is important, although as the hon. Member for Dewsbury says it is not uniformly successful everywhere. However, there are many good aspects to the Bolton scheme and the clear message emerging from the projects is that effective local crime prevention activity can be achieved when local agencies and residents work together. It is good to see that these experimental schemes are now being taken up in the local areas and are being funded on an ongoing basis by the private sector, local authorities and others. People are now prepared to put money behind these schemes.

One of the best things that happens is that when one goes to talk to people in those areas one is told about their change of attitude. I was in the Longbenton estate in north Tyneside on Wednesday. I went door-knocking on my own in a street where people had not been primed to expect me. It was a bit like general election days——

Mr. Tony Banks

That must have been a nasty shock.

Mr. Patten

I do not think that it was a nasty shock. I do not think that there are many votes in that street for me or for my party. Two ladies came to the door of a house and said they thought that what was going on was worth it. I asked them why they thought that and they said, "We feel better. We are not so worried any more about crime." To a certain extent the fact that crime rates have come down must be central to that feeling. The other important thing is that people's fear of crime, which is sometimes exaggerated, has also been diminished.

We are determined to give a greater focus to this kind of activity. The Guardian is an accurate and excellent newspaper and I have already given it a plug. I must do the same for Today in which there was a report aboot Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire, which has one of the lowest crime rates in Britain. That is because almost all of its 9,500 inhabitants belong to its neighbourhood watch scheme. In that small town there is almost total involvement in that scheme. The Today newspaper reports that almost every road has its own committee linked by a team of 15 co-ordinators. Mr. Beeching, who is the leader of the scheme, says: One of the most important spin-offs has been to unite the community together against crime … It makes you feel much more part of the town when you are all busy working in the same system. As far as the police are concerned they never have to walk around in pairs here. It is real community policing. I pay tribute to Mr. Beeching and to his scheme. That is a splendid example of the police growing out of the community and the community helping the police and the symbiosis between them.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

The Minister mentioned community policing. One of the reasons for the considerable increase in crime in the United Kingdom is that we have lost community policing. We have lost policemen on the beat. Far too often people have to depend on the occasional glimpse of a police patrol passing through by car. I trust that the Minister will tell his colleagues who serve in Northern Ireland that we are anxious to have neighbourhood watch schemes there. I requested those a long time ago.

Mr. Patten

I listen with considerable interest to the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). When we first met I think he was mayor of Larne and I was a junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. I pay tribute, as do all hon. Members, to the excellent work carried out by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about community policing, beat policing, neighbourhood policing—whatever one calls it. It is the whole drift of policing in Britain. I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Patten

Yes, I was just thinking of getting into my peroration, but I shall relax a moment.

Mr. Marshall

I accept in the context of southern England what the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) has said. Does the Minister accept that there is an increasing need for flexibility in recognising the problems that an airport such as Gatwick creates in terms of drug control in drawing police in? Police are also drawn in for state visits and so on. This calls on the system of community policing and that is why Sussex Members are anxious to have an increase in police numbers in that county.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) makes an important point. I know that there are local issues about policing in Sussex and I do not wish to be drawn too far into that. I know that my hon. Friend does not want me to have any inhibitions and would like to draw me right into this minefield. However, I am not up to date on the numbers in Sussex and on the problems involved. I know that the case for Sussex is very well argued by my hon. Friend and our other right hon. and hon. Friends. Of course the police have extra duties. In Thames Valley in my area they have extra duties because of royal protection work and the protection of others judged to be at risk and who are living in the area. The police are used to that sort of thing and have to be flexible. One must balance special needs against the ways in which better deployment and better operational measures can make sure that the police are used to the best effect.

I assure my hon. Friend that his point has been noted by the Home Office. His constituents can be assured that he and his hon. Friends are continuing to make the demands and needs of Sussex very well known.

In conclusion, let me say that for too long crime prevention has been too low on the agenda. For too long, it has been thought to be about the nuts and bolts—the target hardening of homes or cars. and better bolts and locks on doors and windows. But it is not just about that. It is about human behaviour. It is partly about the fundamental business of trying to persuade more people to bear their share of responsibility for crime prevention by using locks, and partly about the need to persuade more of them to be active citizens in their own areas, whether through neighbourhood watch schemes or through other measures.

However, crime prevention is about more than locks and bolts. It is about more than trying to persuade people to be more responsible, and more responsive, in regard to themselves and their neighbourhoods. We must also turn our attention increasingly to striking at the root of crime and criminality. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) has just come into the Chamber and has not heard the debate, which has been long and full. I wish that he had been here a little earlier; it is uncharacteristic of him to behave like this. I advise him to read the record of the debate, when he will find that we have already dealt with some of the issues that he wishes to discuss.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)


Mr. Patten

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, who has just come into the Chamber. I would not treat him with such discourtesy, and I am surprised that he treats me so discourteously.

Mr. Randall


Mr. Patten

I think that I had better give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not want to upset him.

Mr. Randall

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I accept that I have just come into the Chamber. There are fog problems, but I shall make no excuses.

However, I feel that my point is valid. Those of us who are hard-working constituency Members know that unemployment is a very serious matter. We have only to talk to our local chief constables to realise that Government policy with regard to unemployment, and the sense of despair and hopelessness that it creates among young people, is a source of crime. That consideration must be part of any crime prevention measures.

Mr. Patten

I accept the hon. Gentleman's apology, and I quite understand that he cannot always be in the House. I cannot either. However, I must point out two things. First, we discussed the matter to which he refers earlier; secondly, I said at the outset that one of the country's problems for the past 30 years has been a rising crime rate, in times of feast and of famine, under Governments of both political colours. I would regard it as a positive insult to the unemployed to suggest for one moment that they are more likely to commit crimes.

We must strike at the roots of criminality. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was right to raise the problem of social deprivation as a factor that can contribute to crime, although it does not always do so. But, if we are to strike at the roots, we must return again and again to the fact that the peak age for femal offenders in this country is 14, and the peak age for male offenders is 15. That means that crime prevention must be done in the home. It must be done by families, in the community, in our schools—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is very concerned about that—and by us all.

One of the most effective forms of preventive work, at the other end of the spectrum from locks and bolts, is to prevent young people from offending by cautioning them, or by diversionary activity. We must prevent them from getting into the criminal justice system, getting into detention, becoming stuck in the revolving door of crime.

We are trying, on a national scale, to pull the different strands together. I hope that the new national crime prevention body, of which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will give further details before Christmas, will give increased impetus to crime prevention in the country as a whole, because crime prevention is the focus of the badly needed second front in the battle against crime that we need to promote.

10.35 am
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

The Opposition welcome the chance of a debate on crime prevention. As the Minister said, crime prevention has for some time been too low on the agenda. His earlier tribute to the significant contributions of local authorities, including Labour authorities, adds up to an improved awareness of the need for new crime prevention measures.

We accept the Minister's main point that every individual can make a contribution to crime prevention. Obviously, by locking doors, windows and cars, and by not leaving property about in a way that can lead to opportunistic theft, we can all make a contribution. No one can dispute that. We also welcome the crime prevention conferences and the co-operation of which the Minister has spoken.

A disappointing aspect of the Minister's speech was his concentration on a single aspect of crime prevention, which cannot be the whole answer to the problem. The Minister is extremely foolish if he overestimates the contributions that the measures that he described can make to a reduction in crime. Concern about crime, and about law and order generally, is at a higher level now than for many years. More people are frightened of being personally affected by crime—of being mugged, robbed or worse—and their fears are not without justification. While we should not exaggerate or be alarmist about the likelihood of any one individual being a victim of crime, the simple truth is that under the present Government crime has risen to all-time record levels. Crime has been one of the few consistent growth industries in this country during the past eight years.

The Minister said that the trend had been apparent here before then and that the country had experienced rising crime for many years. I ask him to look at the facts. The increase in crime under his Government is shown in figures of which he has made no mention today. I ask the Minister directly: is he satisfied with his Government's performance on law and order? Is he satisfied with their record?

It may be useful to look at some of the facts about crime over the past few years. The annual number of offences recorded by the police has increased by 41 per cent. Violent crime has increased by 42 per cent., burglaries by 52 per cent. and vandalism and criminal damage by 73 per cent. A crime is now committed every eight seconds—a theft every 15 seconds, a burglary every 30 seconds, and an act of vandalism or criminal damage every minute of the day and night. Each family throughout the country now has a 30 per cent. chance of falling victim to a crime. Some of my colleagues from London will later explain that the capital is particularly badly hit by crime.

Mr. Alex Carlile

There is none present.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

If the hon. Lady looks behind her, she will see that not one Labour Member of Parliament for London is present. That shows how much Labour Members care about crime.

Mrs. Taylor

Some of my colleagues were present earlier and listened to a great deal of the Minister's speech, but they have been slightly worn out by its length. I am sure that many will return to the Chamber.

Mr. John Patten

I hope that the hon. Lady will not be unnecessarily critical. A reason why the debate has lasted as long as it has with only one and a bit speakers is that I gave way to every hon. Member who asked to intervene. We had full and valuable exchanges. Moreover, is it not the case that on Fridays we have the opportunity to debate matters more fully than at other times? That should be welcomed, not sneered at.

Mrs. Taylor

I welcome that, and I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that two of my colleagues who intervened in his speech have had to leave the Chamber for other meetings. I am sure that he will be interested to hear their contributions later. In case they do not manage to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I am sure they will, I shall remind the Minister of some facts about London.

When the Minister replies, will he tell the House whether he is satisfied with the Government's record on law and order in London? A crime is committed every 45 seconds, a violent crime every 26 minutes, a sexual offence every two and a half hours, a burglary every three and a half minutes, and a theft every 18 seconds. I shall be happy to give way to the Minister if he wishes to answer now. This is a serious matter and increases anxiety about the level of crime. We have heard a great deal of rhetoric from Conservative Members about this, yet the facts show that there is more crime in the country than ever before.

While the crime rate has increased—the Minister is not rising to dispute that—the clear-up rate has fallen dramatically from 41 per cent. in 1979 to 32 per cent. this year. That means that two out of three crimes go undetected. In some areas, the prime example being London, the clear-up rate is minute. In London, only 10 per cent. of burglaries and 11 per cent. of criminal damage cases are solved. That is a reason why so many crimes go unreported. The public have lost confidence in the ability of the police to do anything about crime. Even the Home Office research unit said in a bulletin: it would now be agreed by most criminologists that perhaps as little as 10 per cent. of all crime appears in the official statistics. That is a frightening fact, and the Minister must address himself to it if he is to have a comprehensive view of what needs to be done in crime prevention.

We must consider what the Government have done. Today we heard about the Government's initiatives on crime prevention, and I shall not criticise them. The Minister spoke about the co-operation that he has had from many Labour-controlled authorities. Many Labour documents published recently have emphasised the need for stronger attention to crime prevention.

Mr. John Patten

The hon. Lady must not put words into my mouth. I mentioned one Labour-controlled authority that had been co-operative, North Tyneside, and I mentioned other Labour-controlled authorities—alas, Manchester and others—that had not been in the least co-operative. I am trying, as always, to be as balanced in my views as possible, and I wish that the hon. Lady would be a little more balanced herself.

Mrs. Taylor

I thought that I was being extremely balanced in acknowledging that the Minister had recognised the contribution of a Labour-controlled authority. There are many others, and only a short time ago we discussed Bolton. The Minister's knowledge of geography may or may not be extensive, but I am sure that in his travels he has noticed the political contribution——

Mr. John Patten

If I were allowed to say "Damn it all" in this Chamber I would, because I taught geography at Oxford university for 10 years and I have some vague idea of where Bolton is.

Mrs. Taylor

I must resist being drawn into an education debate and showing my views about education at Oxford.

The Minister's comments today about the Government's initiatives on crime prevention are woefully inadequate, mainly because they do not tackle the causes of crime. The Prime Minister has made her views clear. She believes that there is no link between crime and unemployment—a view not universally shared by all on the Government Benches. Indeed, the Minister said little about that this morning, even when tempted to do so by an intervention. All serious research shows that the commonsense view is correct and that the devil makes work for idle hands. Unemployed youngsters living in deprived areas in overcrowded accommodation, those caught up in what a former senior Minister, Sir Keith Joseph, called "a cycle of deprivation" and those without a stake in society, react as society treats them. They are more likely to be alienated from society and to offend.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has given details of the link between social deprivation and crime. Last year the chief constable of Greater Manchester confirmed in his report that the burdens on the police there had grown partly because of the alarming background of unemployment. I hesitate to quote another unlikely source of support, but the Minister cited this newspaper earlier. The Today newspaper of Wednesday 3 June stated: No matter how loudly Mrs. Thatcher shouts about law and order, her ideology and policies create lawlessness and disorder. Crime prevention schemes, important though they are, will not solve our crime problem. They may seek to contain crime and, in some cases, as the Minister acknowledged, to displace crime from one locality to another, but they will not have the impact which they should and which we all want to see if the Government do not come to terms with, acknowledge and tackle the basic causes of crime. If the Government continue to increase the number of people who are deprived and alienated, they will push more people towards crime.

The first plank of any crime prevention programme should be to tackle the causes of crime and to create real jobs, not simply to conscript people into youth training schemes.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

For 10 years I was a teacher in a working class area of Chatham. My experience was that those children who were most involved in crime were not the most deprived materially. Many lack moral education and training in the ethics of looking after other people in the community. Will the hon. Lady take that into account? The "If you are poor you are a criminal" approach is too simplistic.

Mrs. Taylor

I would not suggest for a minute that someone who is poor is a criminal. That is an outrageous suggestion from the hon. Gentleman. However, I agree with him that the general ethos in schools is important. I agree that we should try to teach people to care for the community, but I see very little sign of the Government encouraging teaching in that direction at the moment.

Generally, if we are to combat crime, we must create a better environment for people to live in. We should not cut the housing programme—the Minister knows that that has happened—so that more people live in overcrowded conditions and in squalor. We must create the conditions in which people—in particular young people—can feel that they have a stake in their community and are not just being left on the scrapheap.

That point brings me to the other main problem with the Government's proposals. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has been promoting crime prevention——

Mr. John Patten

I am the Minister of State.

Mrs. Taylor

I must offer my sincere apologies to the Minister. I have done a very good job of insulting him by challenging him over geography and now by demoting him. I offer him my sincere apologies.

The Minister has been promoting crime prevention significantly outside the House for several months, but in all that promotion he has not emphasised the Government's responsibility. Instead, he has shifted the onus on to the public and the individual. I do not know as much as the Minister about the cost of these things, but he is probably correct to say, as he said this morning, that the average house can be thief-proofed against the casual thief for between £50 and £70. The Minister went into that in detail this morning and reminded us that a do-it-yourself expert could do that much cheaper. Surely the Minister is aware that crime hits hardest, and is most prevalent, not in middle-class suburbia, but in rundown areas, often in the inner cities. Those areas display a range of social problems including unemployment, family breakdown, poverty and ill health. They are areas of poor physical environment, and they are often demoralised and lack communal facilities. The most disadvantaged communities are most vulnerable to criminal activity. People in those communities are least able to protect themselves. They cannot afford the amounts of money to protect themselves that the Minister described this morning. More than individual initiatives are required in those areas. Individual initiatives by home owners or tenants in those areas cannot make the difference described by the Minister.

The Opposition agree with the Minister's proposals in one area. He said that the design of many council and private estates is bad and promotes crime. I agree with that. Many people are paying a very high price for the faults caused by the planners in the 1950s and 1960s. Part of that price is the high level of crime. What can we do about that? The Labour party has been proposing for some time that we must design and build in security features in new buildings. The Minister laid a great deal of emphasis on that, and no one would disagree with him. However, what about the millions of homes and the many council estates that have design faults?

I am sure that the Minister will agree that much can be done to improve that position. I am sure he will agree that a whole range of items would make a significant contribution to crime prevention in many areas. I can offer a few suggestions. The increased use of caretakers in blocks of flats, and the increased use of telephone entry systems and television surveillance would be of assistance. In some instances, a change of design leading to the removal of connecting walkways would help. Improved lighting in corridors and stairwells would help. That is a very simple and inexpensive but very effective option. Better play areas for children, strengthening doors and windows, quick attention to necessary repairs and repairs to vandalism would also help. I am sure the Minister will agree that that list, which is included in a Labour party document on long-term crime prevention policy would help. Indeed, the Minister must be familiar with those options.

All those aspects would help to reduce crime. However, they all cost money and local authorities do not have that money. They might have had that money were it not for the £20,000 million lost in rate support grant through the changes made by the Government as part of their attack on local authorities.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

The Minister used to be in the Department of the Environment.

Mrs. Taylor

As my hon. Friend has said, the Minister used to be in the DOE.

Mr. John Patten

As a Minister of State.

Mrs. Taylor

The Minister had a very senior position, and I am sure that he is fully aware of the cuts that were made in housing during that time. The cuts and the ceiling on spending on local authorities mean that local authorities can provide fewer caretakers, that repairs take longer and that vandalism and graffiti cannot be dealt with as quickly as they should be, and more vandalism occurs. The Minister emphasised the problems that occur with crime among young people and the fact that 14 and l5-year-olds are becoming involved in crime. We need more facilities for young people. We need more youth clubs and community centres. How can local authorities afford to provide such facilities against the background of so much pressure and so many cuts by the Government?

The Opposition believe that the Government cannot seriously tackle crime prevention without reversing their attitude to local authorities. Local authorities could do much to help if they were given the resources, because as the Minister acknowledged, the will is there. Many other things could be done. I do not want to detain the House for quite as long as the Minister did, but we have seen some measures from the Government that have done much to promote crime. I urge the Minister to talk to his colleauges in other Government Departments. Many Government policies have made it easier for crime to flourish. For example, cuts in public transport mean that many people, especially women, are afraid to use public transport at night. The irregularity of services and reports of attacks—and more attacks were reported yesterday and women are fearful of using the Piccadilly line at night now—have a direct effect on the lives of many people.

We must also consider the relationship between alcohol and crime. I am sure that the Minister will not deny that there is a connection. Forty-five per cent. of all violent crimes are alcohol-related. I shall not anticipate next Monday's debate, but the Government cannot deny—and the Minister did not mention this—the strong link between crime and alcohol. Nowhere is that clearer than with drink and driving, but the Government are doing nothing to promote crime prevention in that area. They are doing nothing to crack down seriously on that problem. All that we have heard is a Minister at the Department of Transport talking tough about the problem, but he is taking no action. The Home Office should accept the link between alcohol and crime and act now. I suggest that the Minister should consider real crime prevention measures, possibly including random breath tests.

This is obviously a very serious issue. We are all potential victims of crime, and indeed many of us have experienced thefts and burglaries and we understand only too well the impact on victims. We all support any moves to reduce and prevent crime, and some positive action is being taken. The Minister emphasised the neighbourhood watch schemes, and we all accept that they have a role to play. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary mentioned yesterday that he is a member of such a scheme. Many have been set up with help from local authorities. However, many have been set up in middle-class areas, where crime is not always at its highest. We need an answer for crime in other areas in addition to neighbourhood watch schemes.

We often need a different relationship between the police and local communities before progress can be made. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will discuss that further. We want, and need, to see more responsible neighbourhood policing. We believe that effective policing depends upon the consent and co-operation of the local community. One of the best hopes for controlling crime is building more confidence in the police. We need more police back on the beat. I think that that sentiment is echoed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We need community police councils so that local groups and the public can discuss their concerns and ideas.

Mr. John Patten

Will the hon. Lady enlarge on the community police councils? Does she envisage that the councils would have a measure of political control over the police and their operations?

Mrs. Taylor

No. That is not the suggestion. Community police councils, which have operated in some areas, are a good forum in which police, local groups and local elected representatives can discuss local concerns and problems and often make headway towards changes that need to be made in the locality. We are talking not about being in control of the local police, but about a forum for discussion to raise problems about policing in the local area. It will inform the police and the local community about what is happening and provide an important two-way relationship that will help to build confidence in those areas.

Mr. Wheeler

What the hon. Lady has just described is the present formula of the consultative police committee, which is very successful, as I am sure many of my hon. Friends will agree. However, will she explain to the House why the London Labour party will not participate in those bodies?

Mrs. Taylor

Simply because they are not as universally successful as the hon. Gentleman suggests. There has been experience in the past of a lack of willingness to cooperate. Some communities feel that the police have not always been willing to listen, so there is no recipe for communication. We have to get over the problems of the past.

Mr. Wheeler

So the London Labour party boycotts them all.

Mrs. Taylor

There are not all boycotted, and there is no suggestion that they would be. If one is to build better relations between local communities and the police, one must have the right atmosphere. One side alone cannot create that atmosphere.

Mr. Tony Banks

There is only one Labour-controlled council in London that does not have a consultative group. Indeed, discussions are still going on between that borough and the police so that a group can be set up. My borough, the London borough of Newham, established and announced the setting up of its group, after considerable discussion between the police and the local authority, during the course of last week. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said, it is a question of making sure that we set the groups up according to the needs and wishes of the local community but there is no opposition.

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming my point from his experience of being a London Member. It is important that Conservative Members should acknowledge that there is a great deal of co-operation between many Labour councils, Labour-controlled areas and the police. Conservative Members are not usually willing to acknowledge that.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

We have not yet heard a clear view of the Labour party's policy on the matter. Is the Labour party in favour of giving local authorities the right to control police accountability in the sense of operations and other things? May I draw her attention to the words of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who until the election was the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on home affairs? In the document entitled "Protecting our People", published this year, he said that local authorities should be given the power to determine the policing policy, priorities and methods of their force. Is that Labour party policy?

Mrs. Taylor

There has never been any suggestion that there should he political control of the operational aspects of the police.—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) does not know the difference between policies and operational control, perhaps he should go back to Oxford, or wherever he was.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett


Mrs. Taylor

If Conservative Members want to initiate a debate on police accountability, I shall be happy to participate. However, there is a distinct and clear difference between operational matters, which we acknowledge and which we are happy to leave to the police, and the general framework, to which I would have thought all politicians would want to have some input. All hon. Members believe that elected representatives should create the framework in which policing in Britain is carried out.

The Minister mentioned the emphasis that he wants to see on individual initiatives to prevent crime prevention. He wants to see individuals spending their money, taking their own action and joining neighbourhood watch schemes.

The Government's emphasis on the prison building programme is relevant to the debate. The Minister has not dealt with some of the main issues of crime prevention, and it is important that we recall some of the Government's priorities on spending in the Home Department. So far the Government have shown that one of their main priorities for spending is to build more prisons. We have already seen an increase in the number of prisoners since the Home Secretary's emergency actions in July.

The Minister implied yesterday that sentencing policy was nothing to do with him. However, he is responsible for what goes on inside prisons. He is responsible for the atmosphere in our gaols, which for the most part ensure that prisoners only learn how to become better criminals when they are released. If the Minister were to devote as much energy and as many resources to alternatives to prisons as he has to prison buildings, he might do more to reduce recidivism and make a positive contribution to crime prevention.

At present our prisons simply encourage entrenched and bitter re-offenders. It is a fact—I hope that the Minister will acknowledge this—that six out of 10 prisoners re-offend. That figure goes up to eight out of 10 when we are talking about youths who have been inside. One of the reasons why so many re-offend is that they come out of prison and find very little support and have a small chance of finding any work. It is a simple fact, despite what Conservative Members were saying earlier, that unemployed youths are two or three times more likely to re-offend than those who manage to find work. If we are to have job creation, we should create real jobs for those people. It would be a significant measure towards crime prevention, but it is one, alas, to which the Minister has given little attention.

None of the measures that I have described will, by themselves, bring about a dramatic decrease in crime. If we increase public awareness of simple crime prevention, as the Minister is suggesting, it will be a step in the right direction, but it will be a significantly bigger step if it is taken in the right context. To promote crime prevention we must take action on many issues, including unemployment, deprivation and the appalling housing crisis. We cannot expect results from a crime prevention programme if the Government are still creating a grab-what-you-can environment that provides such a fertile breeding ground for crime. Crime prevention programmes would be a bonus if we had a Government who tackled the root causes of crime, allowed local authorities to play their full part in dealing with these problems, who were willing to take on vested interests, and who did more about alcohol abuse and drink and driving. Crime prevention programmes by themselves are a poor substitute for a real policy on law and order.

11.10 pm
Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

I am pleased to follow the perhaps slightly ungenerous and accident-prone speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). All is not well in Lambeth. We have an excellent community police consultative group, which is more or less boycotted by the council and completely boycotted by local Labour Members. The council set up its own police monitoring group, which spends its time publishing antipolice propaganda of which the hon. Lady would not approve. It is also hostile to neighbourhood watch schemes. It is just starting to permit them on council estates, but it has not encouraged them and, for a long time, strongly discouraged them.

I wish to speak today about neighbourhood watch schemes. First, I want to tell my hon. Friend the Minister of State how pleased I was to hear the announcement of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department about the intended legislation to control the carrying and use of knives. My hon. Friend knows that it has been a matter of great concern to me for some time. I have been bombarding him and his colleagues in the Home Office because there has been an epidemic of knife carrying in south London, including parts of my constituency. The proposals of the Secretary of State are exactly as I had hoped and I am grateful for that.

Secondly, I wish to mention another constituency problem—that of prostitutes—about which I have been corresponding with my hon. Friend the Minister of State. Although this is a great problem in part of my constituency and a considerable number of kerb crawlers have been arrested and prosecuted, there is a simple flaw in the Sexual Offences Act 1985 that is inhibiting the police in performing their duties and arresting kerb crawlers. It is that a person must be shown persistently to molest or proposition women. When the case comes to court, it is virtually impossible to prove that somebody has been persistently molesting. I wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister of State asking him whether we could remove the word "persistently" from the Criminal Justice Bill. Unfortunately, that would be outside the scope of the Bill, and I accept that. My hon. Friend said that he might support a private Member's Bill. I hope that the Government will rectify this problem in the law, but, if they do not, I hope that someone fortunate in the ballot will bring forward this issue. I intend to introduce a Ten-minute Bill to test the view of the House on this point.

Thirdly, there are some 30 or 40 neighbourhood watch schemes in my constituency. I was interested to hear the Minister say that there are 45,000 throughout the country. I am told that in London there are some 30,000. I am delighted to hear that. They are of great importance to the community. They vary a great deal in size and effectiveness. Some are very good, and others are moribund. Those which are moribund are more likely to have been imposed from outside by enthusiastic police. I support that, but, like everything else in life, those that work well are the ones run by jolly good people and those that do not work so well are those where no one is deeply involved.

There are many neighbourhood watch schemes in London and our next step should be to improve their quality, raising them to the standard of some of the best. One of the finest, if not the finest, in London—I may be partisan—is in my constituency. It is the Fontaine area neighbourhood watch scheme, the chairman of which, Mr. Richard Clifton, I respect very much. It is a microcosm of a good neighbourhood watch scheme and it covers about 600 houses, of which 90 per cent. are members of the scheme. It is a good model for others, and there are several reasons for its success. It has a good committee which organises regular activities. It has film shows and guest speakers and regularly meets the home beat police officer. It charges 50p per annum and has several hundred pounds in the bank. It has contributed from its funds to the victim support scheme and similar operations. It has a monthly magazine which is paid for entirely by advertising.

There was, for example, an old lady who was conned by a bogus gas board official. The police advised the Fontaine neighbourhood watch scheme and all the residents were quickly warned of the menace, so that, if they saw a gas board official, they asked for his credentials. The scheme is expanding well. A local garage offers discounts, and the local locksmith gives discount on home protection goods to scheme members. We must try to spread this good practice to the other 30,000 London schemes, and bring them closer together. Thanks to the sensitivity and intelligence of the police in south London, the sector working parties are already working extraordinarily well together, and their chairmen meet regularly. However, I want to suggest four steps that we should consider to spread the good practice of the Fontaine scheme, and others like it, to those which are not as alert and active.

First, if the police have not already done so, they should put on to a computer the names and addresses of the chairmen of neighbourhood watch schemes in their district. Secondly, there should be an annual get-together of neighbourhood watch representatives in each district. There are 30,000 schemes in all, so, if they all met together, they would need Hyde park. Who would fund this? We cannot ask the police or the Government to do so. Some of the schemes may have a few hundred pounds in the bank, so perhaps they could fund it, but I believe that such a get-together should be funded by sponsorship. I should be surprised if some of the big security companies—for example, Securicor—were not prepared to organise and sponsor such an annual event.

Thirdly, I should like to see produced a monthly London-wide news sheet specifically on behalf of and for neighbourhood watch. I am aware of the Good Neighbour magazine that is produced by the police. It is an excellent publication, but—I say this without criticism—it is written by the police and it is police-oriented. Unfortunately, only one copy is sent to each chairman of a neighbourhood watch scheme. I am suggesting that there should be something much more ambitious than that. The news sheet that I have in mind would contain articles and contributions from all local neighbourhood watch schemes, which would set out what they are doing. I have in mind, for example, what my friends in Streatham are doing in securing discounts from local stores for members of the scheme.

How would such a news sheet be financed? I do not think that there would be any difficulty in securing London-wide sponsorship from a security company or a newspaper. A local newspaper could well be interested in sponsorship. The police computer, to which I have referred, could be used, and if only 10 copies were sent to each neighbourhood watch scheme—we are talking about 30,000 schemes—there would be a circulation of about 300,000. I cannot believe that that could not be paid for by advertising and the sponsorship of a security company, for example.

What a wonderful way that would be to spread the good practice of the good neighbourhood watch schemes so that the less experienced schemes could learn from them. There are perhaps 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 schemes where members are trying to re-invent the wheel. It is unfortunate that they are not in contact with other schemes that have invented it already.

I should like to see much more media coverage and interest in neighbourhood watch schemes. Very seldom do we read about the schemes in the press or hear about them on television and radio programmes. I was delighted a short while ago when I heard that the police had proposed to the BBC that it should prepare a film on neighbourhood watch for its "Open Space" programme. A video would have been produced that could have been used at meetings of neighbourhood watch schemes. Unhappily, for some reason of which I am not aware, the BBC changed its mind and did not proceed. I hope that it will reconsider its decision and proceed to prepare a programme on neighbourhood watch.

It is a tremendous community resource to have so many people working together and talking to one another. The friendships that are made extend far beyond neighbourhood watch. For example, help is available to old ladies when there are floods. It is very important to get the community together. There is a lack of the sense of community, because our society is now so mobile. That is one of the many reasons for the high crime rate. There are so many who do not know their neighbours and who do not have to worry about them. In days past we used to live in more of a village atmosphere.

Neighbourhood watch schemes have grown quickly in the past few years and we must spread the good practice. It is time that neighbourhood watch came of age with the establishment of good practice throughout.

11.25 am
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I, too, am grateful for the opportunity given to the House this morning to discuss, with perhaps the little extra leisure that Friday mornings give us, an issue of great importance. I accept much of the analysis presented by the Minister of State in his fair opening of the debate. I noticed with some concern, however, that he produced the all too political words "retribution" and "deterrence" during his speech. It is sometimes thought that there is an equation between greed and boredom, and retribution and deterrence. Retribution and deterrence may be the fiercer words, but I strongly suspect, on the basis of all the criminological evidence that is available to us, much of which has come from the Home Office, that retribution and deterrence have a much greater effect on white-collar crime than on the sort of crime that we have largely been discussing this morning. It is important that we should concentrate our efforts on the sort of practical measures that we have heard about from the Minister, as well as on tackling the root causes of crime.

I welcome particularly the success of police liaison committees. I attended recently a meeting of the Montgomeryshire police liaison committee in my constituency. I was delighted to hear—I am sure that the Minister will join me in commending this—of the initiative of the chief constable of Dyfed/Powys in introducing extended community policing. This will lead to us seeing more police officers on foot in the towns and villages of my constituency and throughout the two counties. This may have only a marginal effect in terms of sheer statistical police effectiveness, but it will have a dramatic effect upon the public's confidence and on the way that they feel that they are being policed.

During the meeting of the police liaison committee I welcomed, too, the decision to develop neighbourhood watch schemes, which are more relevant in towns than in rural areas, and the development of farm watch and rural watch. I hope that this latter initiative will reduce the disturbingly high levels of crime against farmers, many of whose losses cannot be insured against economically.

I welcome, too, the measures that have been announced for dealing with the problem of knives and certain other offensive weapons. When responding to Home Office Questions yesterday, the Minister passed a comment with which I agreed when referring to the survivalist industry that is abounding in Britain. I realise that dealing with survivalism represents a difficult legislative problem. It is so important to distinguish between excellent Outward Bound schemes that are available for both juveniles and adults—nothing could be better than a business man going to Ardmore to clear out his brain for the challenge of the rest of the year—and some of the quite astonishingly wicked survivalist courses of which I have heard.

One of these courses was taken up some months ago in the Daily Mirror, it having been attended incognito by a journalist from that newspaper. He described to me how he was trained during that course in a forest clearing, while in a militarist uniform, to charge at sacks hanging from trees with a rifle with a bayonet fixed to it. He was made to believe that he was charging against a human being. Young people paid money to go on the course. They were being trained in activities that must surely be regarded by all reasonable people as thoroughly anti-social.

Mr. John Patten

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I entirely share his concern? Secondly, is he aware that I welcome his support for anything that we can do in this especially difficult area? Thirdly, is he aware that we hope that a start will be made, should the House so decide, by the banning of the importation, advertising or sale of some of the instruments and weapons of damage such as death stars and hand claws, following the enactment of the Criminal Justice Bill that is now in another place. Those devices are some of the sickest manifestations of the survivalist culture, which has little to do with personal survival and much to do with violence against the person.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Carlile

It is something that has practically nothing to do with culture.

Mr. Banks

There is obviously a deal of concern on both sides of the Chamber about the development of survivalism. However, why has there been such growth in the survivalist movement, or whatever it is called'? What are the reasons that have led to this growth? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman bend his mind to assessing the background to survivalism?

Mr. Carlile

I think that the survivalist movement has grown for reasons that the hon. Gentleman might not advance. I think that it is based on the importation of attitudes from other countries where violence has been more acceptable than in Britain, perhaps for decades. I suspect that it is the development of easy communications across national frontiers that has brought survivalism into the United Kingdom.

I turn now to something else. I shall use what is perhaps an old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy phrase as a preface to my remarks—respect for the law. Although it is an unfashionable expression, it is not an aspiration we should abandon. It seems to me that there are two broad bases upon which respect for the law is founded. One is the rather more abstract basis that respect for the law is founded upon respect for the rule of law and the other is the more common practical view that respect for the law is founded upon respect for its fairness and effectiveness. I shall raise two specific issues, one related to the fairness of the law and the other related to its effectiveness, in which there are deficiencies which the Government can and should tackle. I look forward to the Minister's response on these issues.

The first, relating to the fairness of the law, is about bail. Those who are arrested by the police, but who are subsequently not proceeded against or acquitted, are, in many cases, living close to the margin of unlawfulness. They have not actually broken the law, but they are either closely connected with those who have, or they have come close to doing so. It is therefore important that those who come into contact with the police, and are arrested and remanded, but who are not proceeded against or acquitted, should emerge from that experience with their respect for the law enhanced and with the view that the law has been fair to them, even though they have been troubled and inconvenienced by it.

Last Friday, the Minister gave me a written answer about the statistics for people of different racial origins who have been remanded in custody and subsequently acquitted or not proceeded against. Those statistics revealed a disturbing—I do not want to say alarming—state of affairs. They revealed that a black person—that is, someone of Afro-Caribbean descent—who is remanded in custody is twice as likely to be acquitted or not proceeded against as a white person, and that a person of Asian origin is nearly twice as likely not to be proceeded against or to be acquitted. It seems, therefore, that black and Asian people are being remanded in custody in circumstances which would not lead to a white person being so remanded. That is undoubtedly disturbing. It is happening for many complex reasons. It is happening because the court which deals with applications for bail does not have enough information. I know that, and I welcome the initiatives now being taken to place social inquiry reports before the courts for the purpose of bail hearings. That will help, but will the Minister to take account of the view, which is based on some professional experience, that courts are more likely to remand in custody because of the weakness of the provisions of the Bail Act 1976?

There has been a great deal of controversy about people charged with murder, rape or robbery who have been remanded on bail, but in statistical terms that is not terribly important. The issue is how the Bail Act is operating in the vast majority of cases for which people appear before the courts. There is a presumption of bail in the Bail Act, but it is honoured more in its breach than in its observance. Will the Minister ensure that, at training sessions for magistrates, far more emphasis is given than has been in the past to the presumption of bail? Will he say that, if the figures relating to people from non-white ethnic backgrounds are not improved, something will be done to change the Bail Act and therefore improve the results?

The second separate issue is about the effectiveness of the law. Here I turn to the forensic science service, which has been neglected in Britain. The forensic science service, creature of the Home Office, is extremely important and it is increasing in importance because of the new discoveries which are being made. The use of genetic fingerprinting is a recent example for which the Home Office forensic science service has had the funding to get into the lead as compared with other countries. However, in areas of forensic science less glamorous than the development of genetic fingerprinting and other similar discoveries the situation has deteriorated.

It may be that some of the best scientists are going into the forensic science service because of their real interest in the subject. They are certainly not being attracted by the money. Only one forensic scientist employed by the Home Office receives as much as £30,000 per year. If we really want the best professionally qualified scientists to go into the forensic science service and lead that service in the effective detection of crime, thereby increasing public respect for the effectiveness of the law, and the criminals' fear of discovery, we should be operating a scheme which would attract scientists from universities who now go into industry, and some of the best scientists from industry. I now of a number of brilliant forensic scientists who have left the Home Office forensic science service simply because they could not afford to live on the salary, or could earn a great deal more elsewhere. The average Home Office forensic scientist is paid a very low salary indeed.

There is also a problem of the speed with which samples are dealt with in the forensic science service. This may have arisen because there has been a decrease in the number of people employed in that service. Between 1985 and 12 October this year there was a decrease of 8.5 in the number of forensic scientists employed in the Home Office. Between 31 January 1984 and 31 October this year there was a decrease of 15.5 in the number of forensic scientists employed by the Metropolitan Police. That means that as the demand on the service increased the number of forensic scientists decreased, and that seems absurd. As a result, when the police send a sample for examination by the forensic science service, they have to wait longer for the result. A typical situation is when the police interview a person, and they have very little evidence except for a shoe print in the soil outside a window. That has happened from time to time. The suspect's shoes, which are usually trainers with quite complex tread patterns, are sent off to the forensic science laboratory and a comparison is made between the shoe and the pattern of the sample of earth that has been taken and photographed. As a result the scientists can say almost certainly that the shoe was that of the suspect. The police then call in the suspect and re-interview him, but this time they have something to go on. The longer that process takes, the more time the criminal has to fix up a false alibi, sort out his defence, disappear or take all sorts of measures which reduce the effectiveness of the detective process. It is also important that cases go to court as soon as possible after an arrest.

I shall give two statistical examples, one from Wales and the other from London. In Wales in 1984 it took 35 days from the supply of samples to the north-western forensic laboratory at Chorley to the supply of results to the police. In 1986 it took 42 days. The figures relate to crime cases, not to drink-driving cases. The drink-driving figures are good.

In London in 1984, for cases involving chemistry criminalistics, the process took 45 days, but this year 65 days. In biology cases in 1984 it took 28 days but this year 41 days. The most alarming figures of all relate to the possession of drugs. In 1984, 28 days elapsed between the supply of the sample to the laboratory and the result. In 1987 the same process took 140 days—a deterioration of more than 400 per cent. The same process in firearms cases in 1984 took 58 days and in 1987, 70 days.

In the spirit in which the debate is being conducted I must say to the Minister that these statistics simply are not good enough. The delays hamper the police in the detection of crime. They reduce the confidence of the public in the police's ability to detect crime, through no fault of the police and through no fault of the forensic scientists themselves. I pay tribute to the skill and dedication of forensic scientists employed by the Government, but they are not being given a fair chance to make the impact which they could make.

A criminal who is minded to commit a burglary, to rob, or to assault should be made aware that there is a service which can detect fingerprints, match fibres, match footprints, match blood and do some imagination-defying feats in the detection of crime. The criminal should also know that that service operates quickly and ruthlessly to assist the police in detecting him in his crime. If the criminal knows that—particularly the professional or semi-professional criminal—it is at least as much a deterrent as a swingeing sentence.

11.43 am
Miss Emma Nicholson (Devon, West and Torridge)

All hon. Members who have participated in the debate this morning have spoken about rising crime figures. My particular interest is the increased crime in rural areas and the new initiatives that people have to undertake to protect themselves and their property. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) mentioned farmers. I am glad that he raised this matter, because livestock is being taken in my constituency. It is a difficult crime to detect, and the loss to the farmer is incalculable, particularly when he is fighting to go into profit.

Much of the debate has been about crime prevention and personal or community action to deflect the criminal. I want to deal with crime prevention by changing the attitude of those engaged in criminal activity. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) talked about the problems of the second and third offender. I am sorry that the hon. Lady is not in the Chamber and that Opposition Benches are so depleted when we are discussing this enormously important topic. The matter is of grave importance to me, because I represent those who inhabit Dartmoor prison. The prison holds 620 prisoners, 90 per cent. of whom have previous convictions. I remind the House that of those going to prison for the first time about 60 per cent. will return, and that 70 per cent. of those who return will go back for a third term.

I recognise that in many senses this is a small group, first, because police statistics relate only to recorded crime and, secondly, because many people who are convicted face non-custodial sentences. In addition, a proportion of the convicted do not go back to prison. None the less, the group on which I wish to focus attention is of vital significance in crime prevention because such people, if caught for two or three burglaries, might have a string of 25 burglaries behind them. They commit a disproportionate number of crimes from which people suffer.

If we are seriously thinking about crime prevention, we should work out ways of supporting the Government's initiatives to break that cycle of crime. If we can do that, if only in relation to those who commit three, four or five crimes, we shall be on the way to discovering how to deflect criminals before they even begin their criminal activities. We might be able to discover how to stop girls of 14 and boys of 15 from turning to crime initially. Although it might not be within the scope of today's debate, it must be remembered that education has a very important part to play. Perhaps training for parenthood could be brought to school for those aged five and over. Care for people in the community is the secret of a non-criminal life.

The difficulties involved in breaking the cycle of crime are enormous. Most criminals who offend once or twice go on until they either become too old or the prison service somehow manages to break into their cycle of criminality.

I am delighted that one of my female colleagues is in the Chamber, even though there are no hon. Ladies on the Opposition Benches. Hon. Members will have noticed that the word "he" is usually used when describing a criminal. I am at a loss to know whether my sex is less criminal by nature—as I suspect it is, because we are the good sex—or whether it is because we are neater at not being caught.

Mr. Tony Banks

I agree with what the hon. Lady has said. Next Wednesday my Bill to ban the sale of war toys comes before the House. Does the hon. Lady agree that from the earliest years we give our young boys war toys and reproductions of weapons but give our young girls much more peaceful products? I might be stereotyping women, but we start from the very beginning to create violence and latent criminality among males, while we encourage the virtues of the fairer sex.

Miss Nicholson

I am glad to hear of the hon. Gentleman's Bill, because in my constituency there is a school for significantly disturbed boys and girls. Recently those children were subjected to a mail order catalogue for martial arts equipment, which I imagine involves survivalism. The most repugnant material is featured. It is abominable to put that material before mentally and socially deprived children. I think that probably females do not commit as much crime as males because of the innate virtues of the female sex.

I should like to concentrate on how the prison service sometimes manages to break the cycle of crime, why it is successful, and how Government initiatives support that success and should be encouraged and enlarged. Where there are windows of opportunity, we should push them wide open.

When the cycle of crime is broken, it helps the prisoner get into a frame of mind whereby he can, at last, make a much more constructive decision about his life. That is the key. The prisoner himself must understand that it is his life and that it is up to him to make better decisions. The secret is to help the prisoner get into that frame of mind.

There is a whole panoply of activities in the prison service, loosely referred to as rehabilitation. In many ways such initiatives are extremely good. Many things, such as training and education, are very helpful towards rehabilitation. I should like to concentrate on two issues, the first of which is the way in which people can be helped to develop a social awareness.

A particular problem apparent among many prisoners whom I know is their unwillingness to come to terms with their criminality. They cannot face the fact that they have committed, not one, but a string of crimes. They find it extremely difficult to discuss their crimes, and they are wholly resistent to such discussion. They are averse to the therapy available to help them look at their own actions.

An initiative already undertaken by the prison service, which needs greater backing, is the opportunity that it gives to prisoners to work with other groups of disadvantaged people. It is important because, very often, the prisoner can relate more happily and therefore more productively to people who are disadvantaged in different ways from themselves; for example, the physically or mentally handicapped.

In Cardiff prison, for example, there is an excellent initiative whereby prisoners work with disabled people. In Dartmoor there are plans to bring mentally handicapped adults to the prison for physical education. The hope is that an enjoyable time will be had by all and that the prisoner will be engaging in an activity with a disadvantaged group that will help him understand his own actions much better.

In Bristol there is a craft training shop that has links with victims of crime. That shop is providing funding to help those victims. That is an interesting and constructive initiative. It does not necessarily provide funding for the victims of the crimes committed by the prisoners involved in that initiative, but in some cases that is so, and that is even more constructive. Once a prisoner starts work to provide funding for someone whom he has hurt, he quickly develops a perception of what that person felt and therefore why he should not commit crime again. In Dartmoor there is a scheme—it is at its development stage—for linking a craft and hobby shop with a residential home for disabled children.

I do not wish to pour cold water on or undervalue the current rehabilitation exercises in our long-stay prisons. In those prisons there are excellent education programmes and training courses for various trades. I should also like to pay particular tribute to the role of the churches in our long-stay prisons. At Dartmoor, for example, a Salvation Army officer lives just outside the gates and he is always available. Indeed, Dartmoor has a ministry team which includes a Methodist minister, a Church of England vicar and a Roman Catholic priest. The rehabilitation exercises and the presence of the churches are enormously helpful, but might it not be preferable to help develop social awareness in those who lack it?

Crime demonstrates a massive lack of social awareness. Those prisoners who have difficulty in coming to terms with their criminality manage to relate with less advantaged people. There are also practical results. If someone is involved in painting a telephone kiosk, he is 100 times less likely to vandalise a telephone kiosk when he next has the opportunity to do so.

The very experience of prison separates the prisoner from the home community, and that is an enorrmous problem. this is the second issue to which I wish to draw attention, because, although there is a Government initiative to deal with this problem, there is still more to be done. Of course, there is parole, but, with regard to the long-stay, high-security prisons more can be done within the framework of parole. I have one idea that I hope the Minister will consider.

In my home town I know of one prisoner who has recently come out of Dartmoor, a young man of 25. who has told me of the enormous difficulties of not re-offending. He has been a criminal since the age of about 12 and was a long-term, hard-core criminal. He has told me of the enormous difficulties that he and his friends experience when they leave prison. When someone leaves prison, his criminal friends at home are longing to have him back. They are perfectly willing and happy for him to join them in further criminal activities. A prisoner leaves prison with a little bit of money and goes back to his home community and—even though he is under the supervision of a probation officer—back into the arms of his criminal friends. He will spend that cash, and he may not have a job.

The young man told me that his secret was to leave his community and go away to a completely new area of the country. He was immensely fortunate, because he was offered a new home and the community managed to find him a job. However, few people are brave enough, bold enough or aware of their needs to be able to take that huge step. Indeed, we do not wish to see people leaving prison and going away from their home communities, because it is in that community that they have their families and, one hopes, non-criminal friends.

When considering post-release action for prisoners, I believe that there is scope for developing the parole idea. Of course, we should remember that some of the worst offenders do not get access to parole because of the danger that they pose to the community. Therefore, the highest risk prisoners are denied access to parole and are therefore denied the chance to return to their home community. I suggest that, because of that failure, they are even more likely to re-offend because they come straight out of prison with no linking period between prison and the community. I suggest that when dealing with those serving a sentence of over two years we should explore the possibility, during the last part of the sentence, say six months, of their having a job in the home community under instruction, and liable to be recalled, as a structured experience. They should undergo a training service or perhaps work on a community project.

I do not share the passion of Opposition Members for what they call real jobs. By that I suppose they deny the possibility of the reality of work being expressed through community service. I believe that community service is a way of feeding prisoners back into the community and making them understand the concerns and needs of that community. It is that lack of awareness of such needs that has brought them into crime. Therefore, I do not deny the value of someone working on a community project when he comes out of prison.

The benefit of such a scheme is that it would provide a bridge between prison and the home, but that bridge would be structured, under instruction, and the prisoner would know that he was under an obligation to perform properly and to work within the hours that he was told to work. He would still be within the prison service when working out the last six months of his prison sentence, and he would be liable to recall if he offended against the demands placed upon him.

It is nonsense to suggest that the Government have taken no steps to deal with the rehabilitation of persistent offenders. There is an excellent scheme in existence—the probation-sponsored community service orders scheme. I believe that this service, expanded and enlarged, might well provide the route for the rehabilitation of persistent offenders. Indeed, the expansion of that service by the provision of resources and the use of imagination might well provide, in the long term, a much happier solution and result in such prisoners not committing crime again.

That solution would be much more satisfactory to the community, because we could be confident that when criminals came out of prison they were on their way towards a non-criminal life. I do not share the obsession of Opposition Members—few of whom are present for this debate—with expenditure. It is not how much we spend that counts, but the way in which we deploy our resources, and I believe that this would be a much more cost-effective way of rehabilitating the offender into society.

Crime is a multiple problem. Mercifully, we have come far from the idea that prisoners' lives must remain as miserable as possible. We now believe that the loss of liberty is the punishment for crime. We must move ahead and embrace the concept that the task of society is to teach the criminal not to re-offend. We must enhance the much undervalued notion of rehabilitation.

I pay tribute to the important role played in all this by the undervalued prison officers and prison governors. They are in 24-hour contact with prisoners, and we depend largely on their skills to turn the criminal round into a non-criminal life. The 200 prison officers at Dartmoor, which is the only prison that I know in great detail, and its governor—in whom I have great confidence—believe that association with prisoners within the prison and rehabilitation during after the prison sentence represent the way forward. I support that view.

12.1 pm

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)

I greatly appreciate being given the opportunity to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), and I applaud many of her comments. She has one of the most difficult prisons in her constituency, and I was impressed by the depth of knowledge and concern that she displayed.

I shall address many of my remarks to juvenile delinquency, with which I have been involved for some years. I welcome this debate, which reflects a changing attitude towards crime in general. At one time, we were preoccupied with what motivated or would deter the criminal. Those are still important considerations, but we are moving towards a more educated and enlightened understanding of crime. Difficult though it may be to accept much crime is opportunistic. For crime prevention, as in so many other areas, the Government's policy is that the individual has a responsibility. We have the right to education, health care and police services, but in all those areas, as well as in crime prevention, the individual citizen has a responsibility to explore the means at his disposal to improve his position.

We heard alarming figures from my hon. Friend the Minister about the vast number of cars that are left unlocked and houses that are left unsecured. Some of us share the nostalgic memories of leaving our doors wide open and our cars unprotected. In my case, that resulted in 26 break-ins in the London borough of Lambeth in about 15 years. Our house ended up looking like Fort Knox, although it was a little late. If the Minister had launched his initiatives a few years ago, we might have been spared that.

My constituency is served by the Surrey constabulary, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. That enlightened and flexible police force has warmly embraced the initiative of crime prevention. We have had local seminars with representatives of industry, commerce, local government and community groups. We have crime prevention panels. Some time ago, I visited the one in Godalming. We have a remarkable and impressive victim support scheme, which I welcome. It provides the means to consider the poor victims of crime, whose needs were almost entirely disregarded in our traditional juvenile and adult justice system. We welcome the additional £9 million of Government funding for victim support schemes, which will be put to good use. The schemes develop a partnership among the police, the local community and those who wish to become involved in public service.

Similarly, the creation of 42,000 neighbourhood watch schemes is an incredible achievement. It was a clever concept, but no one could have known that it would take off so remarkably. We have made good headway in my constituency. I have great hopes for neighbourhood watch schemes. They should not develop into vigilante groups, but they will help to reintroduce what hon. Members have suggested is a crucial aspect of maintaining law and order and preventing crime: the importance of rural and urban villages and of making people believe that they belong together, that what they do is noticed and that someone else cares. Often people are more afraid of crime than reality warrants. But that is no reason not to take their fears seriously, and by spreading authentic information, neighbourhood watch schemes can help to dispel fear and discourage potential perpetrators of crimes. I hope that the schemes will become more imaginative and will analyse the community needs. Is it a youth club for the wayward young? Is it a shopping scheme to help elderly people who presently live behind barred doors to get out? The scheme has made a dramatic beginning and it has a great future.

We have many more police officers than we had when the Government came to power, and they are now much better paid. The police should deploy their resources intelligently and flexibly, taking into account the areas of particular difficulty. They should have a problem-oriented policy and should encourage local groups to meet special needs.

This is a time when increasing legislation is inevitably putting additional burdens on the police—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Transport Act 1985, the Crown prosecution service, the concentration on drug crimes and the Data Protection Act 1984 all place increasing burdens on the police, as we are all too well aware from our own constituencies. There is no justification for adding to the burdens of the police. Yesterday, I was interested to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) about the number of prisoners held in police cells. Like many others, I deplore the action of the prison officers at a time when important new management initiatives are taking place in the prison service. They are damaging their own reputations and, more importantly, making the job of the hard-pressed police much more difficult.

I do not wish to speak at length about developments in housing; hon. Members have already spoken about the concept of defensible space. We do not want anonymous alleyways and areas of common land—features which, 10 or 20 years ago, were thought to be in the interests of the community. With the wisdom of hindsight, we can now see how so many of those communal walkways and common lands have become a muggers' paradise. Increasingly, we are trying to make people feel a sense of ownership of particular territories. We should not underestimate the extent to which policies such as the sale of council houses create a sense of involvement and belonging because of the resulting supervision of communal land.

The peak age for offending for boys is 15, and for girls, 14. The highest rate of offences for any age group is that for boys between 14 and 16. Two fifths of those in custody are under 21. At present, more than 2,300 youngsters under 18 are in prison institutions. Two thirds of them are awaiting trial. Compared with our European neighbours, we incarcerate many more youngsters. Clearly, education plays an important part. The social responsibility courses that my hon. Friend the Minister plans to introduce through the Department of Education and Science have a part to play, but the matter is much broader than such courses. What is needed is the development of basic skills. How many people have shared the experience of finding it rare for a youngster who appears in court to be able to read the oath? The lack of literacy amongst many juvenile offenders is notorious, despite the fact that youngsters are growing up at a time when more is spent per head than ever before on education and when teacher-pupil ratios are far better than ever before. But we are failing. Youngsters are emerging without the skills or the opportunity to make a contribution. These are the ones who most easily fall prey to crime.

It has been well said that crime is not exclusively to be found among deprived or disadvantaged children. There are many casualties of affluence—many drug and drink-related crimes throughout the country.

However, there is a particularly vulnerable group that does not attend school or get what it needs from the system. Its members have little to do and feel that they have little reputation to protect. They think that nobody values them, and they do not care about themselves, saying, "If I offend, what difference will it make?" The challenge for us all is to create an educational and social environment for those youngsters that will give them a sense of self-esteem and respect.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I have listened with great care to what the hon. Lady is saying. Would she care to consider the long-running experiment in Massachusetts in the United States, where criminality is taken away from the juvenile courts, and the concept of delinquent and rehabilitation is brought into play? Does she agree that there is considerable merit in that system?

Mrs. Bottomley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; I hope to come to that aspect in a moment. Now, however, I want to say a little more about crime prevention among juveniles, even before they have reached the criminal justice system. For instance, there are schemes in France under which increasing attention is given to vulnerable youngsters by trying to get the various agencies to work together. The whole point is that such youngsters slip out of the school system. They often slip through the social services system. Often it is the criminal justice system that picks up the youngsters at the end because somehow they slip through everybody else's net. They are interesting developments in France, many parallel to our experiments here such as estate action and developing inner cities, from which we can learn——

Mr. Wheeler

An example is the Nottingham experiment.

Mrs. Bottomley

Indeed. Many of the voluntary organisations have set up schemes in many parts of the country. I refer in particular to the Children's Society, which has pioneered work in alternatives to custody in various areas, drawing together the different agencies to meet youngsters' needs.

It is too simplistic simply to say that the Government are uncaring because of the failure to produce jobs for those youngsters. The fact is that over the past year we have had the largest fall in unemployment in history. There is growth in employment in every part of the country and opportunities for school leavers have improved dramatically.

When we talk about that vulnerable group, none of us should underestimate the tremendous contribution by the Manpower Services Commission, now to be called the Training Commission, in the development of the two-year youth training scheme, so that many of the youngsters to whom I am referring have the opportunity to do practical work—based training after school age. It is interesting to see many youngsters participate and develop well in those schemes who failed to flourish or get on at all at school. That is crucial to crime prevention. We want people to avoid crime, to grow up with skills, self-esteem and self-respect and to feel that they have a useful part to play.

I now return to the remarks by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) about the Massachusetts concept. I believe strongly that penal custody for juveniles should come to an end. At present, with a troublesome youngster, it is all too easy to make a detention centre or youth custody order. That means that the Home Office kindly pays for an expensive placement at nearly £300 a week. There are no difficulties of allocation for those making the recommendation, the social workers or the probation service. It leads to a distortion in the disposal of youngsters. Often they are a troublesome group of individuals and alternative placements are usually costly. Only when we bring to an end the possibility of penal custody shall we focus our mind on more appropriate, alternative placements. That is not to say that those youngsters, many of whom may have committed serious offences, should be set free in the community. There is nothing against having secure placements, but one does not want to find that there is a financial incentive to starting a young offender on a serious criminal career.

It is extremely worrying that youngsters from detention centres stand a 75 per cent. chance of reoffending. Those in youth custody stand an 80 per cent. chance of reoffending. It must be in the interests of crime prevention, the community and appropriate and efficient use of resources to do all that we can to divert young offenders from the criminal justice system.

There have been many developments. We do a great deal of cautioning, although it is patchy in various parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West referred to a project in her constituency. In Farnham, I have the alternative probation project, taking extremely difficult youngsters and providing an alternative to custody. Near Godalming I have Peperharrow, a famous community home for extremely disturbed youngsters which tries to equip them for life. We have much further to go if we are to reduce the appalling scourge of young offenders and offering them little but criminal careers.

Another aspect is the influence of broadcasting on young people. If we agree that the peak age of offending is in the teens, the other objective evidence we have is that those youngsters spend many hours a day watching television. We do not need to be convinced by the advertising authorities that advertising on television of baked beans, pot plants or whatever affects behaviour. They tell us that that is how they sell their advertising time on television. I would like the social scientists who are so adept at proving that connection to turn their minds to demonstrating the influence on the young of human misery and endless violence on the television. I welcome the suggestion of a broadcasting standards council as the IBA and the BBC governors, as well as protecting the public, are understandably rivals. This is an area in which we have to make progress and it is certainly an aspect of crime prevention that I hope my hon. Friend will be able to encourage.

In short, crime prevention is about punishment. None of us deny the importance of sentencing. It is important for the public to feel that justice is done and it is important for wrong-doers to feel that society will not tolerate their behaviour. Crime prevention is about people. It is about prison officers who deal with difficult and dangerous criminals, and it is about police officers, upon whom spending has already risen dramatically and who increasingly are meeting the challenges. However, above all it is about the practical forms of crime prevention that my hon. Friend has so clearly outlined. It is about housing, education and all of us in our communities taking steps to ensure that all that possibly can be done is done to ensure that opportunistic and situational crime is avoided.

I hope, in addition, that my hon. Friend will find time to look again at the plight of juvenile offenders, as they must be given further attention.

12.22 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) made a thoughtful speech in which she spoke with great authority. She brings a cerebral approach to the subject. I hope that one day it will infiltrate into the affairs and pronouncements of the Department of Transport, but she has an uphill struggle there.

The speech of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) contained a great deal of informed opinion. She spoke with great authority about porridge in Torridge. No doubt she should speak with authority, given the prison that is in her constituency.

Crime figures such as those announced last week are notoriously difficult to interpret. The game that is played when crime rates rise and detection rates fall is that the Government and the police are quick to stress their unreliability as a measure of police performance. When the opposite occurs they want the credit for it, and I suppose that that is rather natural.

Last week's statistics showed no absolute decline in crime figures. They showed that the rate of increase was slowing. In a London context, the 16 per cent. increase in muggings during the year is very worrying. I should like to put to the Minister a number of points about the prevention of that, because the problem cuts across departmental responsibilities, hence the point that I made to the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West. There is a link between crime statistics and one-person operated buses and trains in London, Because criminal acts are perpetrated on London buses and trains.

Recently there has been a great deal of publicity about gangs going up and down through the interconnecting doors in tube trains. One-person operated trains and buses tend to create an atmosphere, a climate, in which passengers feel more frightened about the possibility of criminal attacks, because the opportunity for such attacks increases. When the Minister looks at the crime figures for London, I hope that he will pay some attention to this in his discussions with the Department of Transport.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

I raised this matter with the chairman of London Regional Transport about 10 days ago when he spoke to the Conservative party Back-Bench transport committee. Crime on one-person operated buses is a quarter of the crime on open platform buses. That is one of the main reasons for London Regional Transport going over to closed-door buses.

Mr. Banks

I take that point, but it deals with an aspect of bus design rather than with the person who is driving the bus. Quite clearly, buses with doors that close automatically make it much more difficult, not to say impossible, for someone who has just snatched a necklace from around someone's neck to jump off. The design of the bus, not its staffing, is important in that respect. One finds a big division of opinion here. The chairman of LRT is always saying that OPO, one person operated, buses arc in favour and that it is extending their use throughout London, but the passenger consultative committee set up by the Government is bitterly opposed to the extension of OPO buses.

One-person operated buses cause delays because of the time it takes for people in the queue to board the bus. Buses of course are also subject to traffic delays. Most of my constituents do not like one-person operated buses as much as they like the open buses with two people, a conductor or conductress and a driver. By all means let us improve bus design, but more people responsible for the security and comfort of passengers should be on the buses.

In debates such as this it is easy to be diverted, and I am an easy person to divert. This is not a transport debate. However, transport safety is an important factor. Aircraft operators continually stress how many staff they have to look after the interests of the travelling public. When it comes to more mundane forms of transport, such as buses, we are constantly being told that they must be made more cost-effective and that we must remove people who are there to look after the comfort and safety of passengers. There is a class element there. Class is in everything. The Minister should know that, and I am the one to remind him of it.

Neighbourhood watch schemes have figured largely in the debate. The only independent study of such schemes was commissioned by the Home Office research unit from the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge university. In March 1987, Dr. Trevor Bennett studied the effects of neighbourhood watch schemes in four areas of west London. He found no detectable differences between areas that had neighbourhood watch schemes and those that had not in terms of the prevalence or incidence of crime Clear-up rates for the four crimes on which neighbour-hood watch schemes should have an impact—motor theft, theft from vehicles, domestic burglary and criminal damage—declined. Dr. Bennett concluded his study by stating: Overall, the strongest conclusion that can be drawn on. the basis of the available evidence (taking into account all the problems noted)…is that NW"— that is, neighbourhood watches— had no discernible impact on crime, its reporting or its detection.

Mr. John Patten

I do not wish to cast aspersions on the scholarly quality of the work, for which indeed, the Home Office paid the institute, but does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that that study was limited to one part of west London and to four neighbourhood watch schemes out of a total of 42,000—many of which are extremely successful and have demonstrable success rates?

Mr. Banks

Surely the Minister is not challenging the methodology used by Dr. Bennett. Perhaps, as part of the search for truth, the hon. Gentleman will announce that he is going to commission further studies. I am not trying to pour scorn on neighbourhood watches; I am merely suggesting that we look at them coolly and objectively, in the same way as we have approached the debate. If Dr. Bennett's conclusions are not happy news for the Conservative Benches, let us have further studies.

Mr. John Patten

I appreciate the tone in which the hon. Gentleman is conducting the debate. However, could not giving unnecessary prominence to a single study done of a limited number of neighbourhood watch schemes have the same effect on public perception as did, for instance, a single BBC programme about brain death on the transplantation programme?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to smear the neighbourhood watch movement. In any case, one of the main tasks of the new national crime prevention body that will be set up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be to examine the issues that he has mentioned. Nevertheless for every four neighbourhood watch schemes that the hon. Gentleman may adduce to the House as being not particularly successful, I can produce 40 that are extremely successful.

Mr. Banks

I do not wish to enter the argument too deeply at this stage. I certainly do not wish to talk about the problems of brain death, from which many hon. Members on both sides of the House appear to have been suffering for some years.

I emphasise that the report was commissioned by the Home Office. I am not going to draw any final conclusions from it, but, equally, the Minister should not try to dismiss it. Neighbourhood watches are one aspect of crime prevention, but, in the view of the resources that must be committed to mounting, organising and maintaining them, the Minister must ensure that ratepayers and taxpayers in London and in other parts of the country are obtaining value for money. I could not be more consensus-orientated than to say that to a Conservative Minister across the Floor of the House. The Opposition will not dismiss neighbourhood watch schemes, but nor do we wish to hear grandiloquent phrases about them. On this rare occasion, we are trying to think objectively.

Dr. Bennett concluded that neighbourhood watches had had a favourable effect on the fear of household crime. Several hon. Members have said that they create a feeling of security, although in many instances it may be a false security, and that brings me to one of the Minister's earlier comments. He said that, in the past, London had been a series of interconnected villages. In rural areas, people still leave their doors open. They used to do so in Brixton when I was a child, and in the east end, where I now live and have my constituency. In parts of the east end one can still see old people sitting on a chair in their front door. The only trouble is that every week the newspapers tell of young people attacking pensioners in their homes or beating them up in the streets. Naturally, a great fear then begins to spread throughout the community. All of us who have canvassed in urban areas know how difficult it is to get people to open their doors in the evenings. They are frightened, particularly elderly people.

Despite that, the Minister says that the Government want to restore a sense of community. I agree with him entirely, and I only wish that the Prime Minister also recognised the need to establish a sense of belonging throughout the whole country. I have another newspaper to quote to the Minister, and I hope he agrees that The Observer is as accurate as The Guardian.

Mr. John Patten

It is a fine newspaper. I buy it every Sunday.

Mr. Banks

Splendid. I am glad to hear it. In that case, in The Observer of last Sunday the Minister will have seen under "Sayings of the Week" that the Prime Minister was reported to have said: There is no such thing as Society. There are individual men and women and there are families. If that is not the complete antithesis of arguing for a sense of community and involvement one with another, I do not know what is. The Minister may understand the need to create a sense of belonging and to form relationships, but the Prime Minister certainly does not. She thinks that we are effectively always alone, and the devil take the hindmost. That is the philosophy that unfortunately comes down from the top of this Government, and it is not surprising that it gradually works its way into the attitudes of all people in society.

We in the Labour party do not consider neighbourhood watches to be inherently evil or dangerous. [Interruption.] That is the sort of suggestion that we have heard from Conservative Members. Neighbourhood watches need to be examined carefully to see how effective they have been. We believe them to be a net drain on police resources. They are difficult to organise and maintain in inner-city areas, where the crime rate and the fear of crime are highest, and they fail to address the problems of those most vulnerable to victimisation—the poor, women and ethnic minorities.

The major problem in inner-city areas is that neighbourhood watches tend to grow up in middle-class areas of owner-occupation where people feel that they have invested more in their property and are more at risk. It is much easier to defend one's semi-detached or terraced house than one's flat in a tower block. We have many tower blocks in Newham, and it is possible to make them secure, but only with a great deal of money. Several Labour councils in London have drawn up programmes for stronger doors and windows, better lighting, entry phones and concierge systems in tower blocks, but we need resources from the Government to carry them out. The Minister must realise that Newham, which has about 110 tower blocks, needs a great deal of Government resources.

Ministers come here and talk of how the crime rates have increased and how they are trying to deal with the problem, but they never relate that back to the resources that they have taken from local authorities; resources which could have been used to pay for extensive crime prevention schemes on council estates and local authority areas. The Minister is aware from his days in the DOE and his interest in housing that the housing improvement programme in London has lost about £8 billion since 1979. Much of that money could have been used for the crime prevention measures to which the Minister referred. It is all very well for him to claim that it does not cost a great deal to secure a home. It is difficult to make secure a home in a tower block, but the Minister said that on average a home could be secured by a DIY expert for £20. The Minister is aware that there are many cowboy kits on sale. However, £20 is still beyond the reach of many people in my area. There are 33,000 people on supplementary benefit who cannot spend £20 on a cheap DIY burglary prevention kit.

Returning to my point about the interrelationship between Departments, why will the Minister not ask his colleagues at the DHSS for single payments for locks, bolts and burglar alarms? Can the Minister imagine what would happen if one went to the DHSS office and said "The Government have been encouraging me to go in for crime prevention kits. Can I have £20?" That £20 would not be made available.

Most of the crimes against property are perpetrated against the poorest people in our society. The people who come to may advice surgery to tell me that they have had another break in are those living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, hostels or badly maintained council houses. The poorest people suffer the greatest incidence of crime in terms of property theft and personal attack. Perhaps the Minister should have discussions with the Department of Transport and the DHSS to see what action can be taken.

The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) raised a point about consultative groups. These groups have been established in all but one of the Labour-controlled boroughs in London. However, Opposition Members do not regard consultative groups as a substitute for an elected police authority for London.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett


Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman may well say "Ah". I accept that I may be corrected by my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench, but as far as I am aware that is not one of the policies that have been put to the torch since the election campaign. I know that the police authority for London is very much part of our programme.

For the Home Secretary to continue as the police authority for London is an anachronism that must be ended. The argument that London is a special case cannot be sustained any longer. It is nonsense to talk about political control. Of course there is political control, in the sense that the Home Secretary is the police authority for London. It would be no different if there was local authority control, be that Conservative or Labour control. After all, when Conservative Members say that we cannot have London councils involved with the police, I remind them that the City of London has been a police authority ever since police authorities were set up. That being so, I see no reason why the City of London should be treated differently from any other London borough under Conservative or Labour control.

Mr. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman has reached a very important point which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) did not answer. I quoted the book written by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) called "Protecting our People" in which he refers to policing methods as well as policy. The hon. Gentleman is advocating that a police authority for London should have control over the day-to-day policing——

Mr. Banks


Mr. Bennett

Very well, over the methods. Conservative Members are concerned that if that control were given to local authorities in London, there are many local authority members in Labour boroughs across London who, by their views, attitudes and speeches have made it clear that they are unfit to give instructions to the police on any issue.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Gentleman has merely repeated his earlier mistake.

Mrs. Ann Taylor


Mr. Banks

Indeed, deliberately.

This is a rare occasion. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are clearly trying to approach the debate in a highly objective fashion. I am finding it very difficult to control myself under such circumstances. I am striving "personfully" [Interruption.] Yes, I can get the language right. I hope that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) does not lead me from the path of righteousness. At no stage has anyone in the Labour party argued for day-to-day control over the activities of the police in London or anywhere else. I remind the hon. Member for Pembroke that there are police committees outside London and that the Home Secretary, as the police authority is responsible in London. What makes London local authorities different from any other local authority? We cannot accept that. If there were a police authority for London, its relationship with the police would be precisely the same as the present Home Secretary's relationship with the Metropolitan police.

Mrs. Ann Taylor


Mr. Banks

I think that my hon. Friend wants to tell me that I have got it almost right.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

I want to tell my hon. Friend that he is completely right. Conservative Members are fond of quoting from the book entitled "Protecting Our People", which I am glad to see they have read so carefully. Some of the policies on crime prevention that the Minister is now advocating were first contained in the book. The hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) spoke about the control of police operational matters and day-to-day policing. He claimed to have read the book, but he did not tell the House that it says specifically: The police themselves remain responsible for individual police operational matters. I hope that that closes the unrealistic discussion that the hon. Gentleman was trying to provoke.

Mr. Banks

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making it clear from the Front Bench as well as from the Back Benches that what is being said by Conservative Members is a gross misrepresentation of Labour party policy. We are used to that, but having now put down the matter forcefully I hope that it will not reappear in its ugly form again during the debate.

During questions to the Home Department yesterday I mentioned the matter of lethal weapons. The limited crackdown on burst-fire weapons and the increased shotgun control being proposed by the Government are welcome but we do not think that what is proposed goes far enough. We believe that the Government are afraid to take on the gun industry and the shooting lobbies. We would like to see a similar approach towards combat knives and other similar lethal weapons. I am sure that the Minister will say some things about that that Labour Members will support.

During Question Time yesterday I gave some examples of lethal weapons. Obviously, one cannot read anything during a question in Question Time, and I am not familiar with the terminology included in the magazine Survival and Weaponry for August 1987. Some of the weapons available for sale through retail outlets, or, more worryingly, through credit card or mail order sales, are obscene and frightening, and something should be done. I shall give some examples of the weapons available from Framar Shooting World. I shall not give the address, but it can be found in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I hope that I shall not see many of the weapons sticking out of his back.

The new "buck M9 bayonet"—the new United States army bayonet—is now available for sale to the general public. Why should that be imported into this country, at a cost to our balance of payments, and made available to the general public? For any hon. Members who want to secure for themselves such a bayonet the price is £124.95. Yesterday I mentioned the "cold steel urban skinner". the Minister made a joke that turned out to be more percipient than he thought. He said: I am all in favour of banning `skinners'.".—[Official Report, 5 November 1987; Vol. 121, c. 1053.] he was not to know that shortly after that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would fall foul of Mr. Speaker and be removed from the Chamber. That was merely an unhappy coincidence.

The blurb continues: This superb push dagger is the state of the art in this style of knife. It comes with all sorts of accessories, making it virtually impossible to dislodge. It is something that one holds in the hand and is exactly the sort of nasty weapon that can be used in tight crowds, such as football matches. It would be difficult to detect in someone's hand. It is a filthy, vile weapon and it should be banned.

The cold steel magnum tanto is another example. It is offered in a beautiful leather sheath and at only £155. The description of another weapon reads, "Inconspicuous, solid and sleek". I thought that it was an advertisement for a Back-Bench Tory Member. Instead, it turned out to be a knife that can be folded and put in a top pocket. It is claimed that it is undetectable when placed among a row of pens. That must depend upon whether one is sartorially unwise enough to put pens in a top pocket. I am sure that the Minister would never do such a thing.

Mr. John Patten

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman too often in his preparation for a career on the stage or on the boards. He has offered us some good one-liners this morning. I have not been fortunate enough to be in the Chamber throughout his speech, but there have been some good ones. I hope that help is coming in the Criminal Justice Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is the Government's intention to take power for the Home Secretary to ban, by schedule, the importation, sale or advertisement of as yet to be defined weapons, and that the sort of implement to which he has referred could well come into the schedule? No decisions have been taken yet, but my right hon. Friend and I will be glad of any information that he can supply that will provide evidence of the sorts of things that we should be considering.

Mr. Banks

First, I take it that the Home Office subscribes to the Survival and Weaponry magazine. It is a publication that needs to be read carefully. I consider it to be worse than the worst type of pornographic magazine. I hasten to add that I am not in the habit of reading pornographic material. Magazines such as Survival and Weaponry are obscene. I know that the Minister shares my concern and that of others and, therefore, there is no need for me to send material to him. I am more than willing to do so if the Minister feels that that will be useful, but the advertisements to which I have referred can be seen in Survival and Weaponry every time it is published.

I understand that provisions of the sort that I and others want to see on the statute book are to be a part of the Criminal Justice Bill but, unfortunately, we do not agree with that measure in its entirety. If only the Minister would do what was urged upon him yesterday by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and extract from the Bill provisions that would ban the importation, sale and advertisement of these nasty weapons, I know that I can speak with the authority and sanction of the Opposition Front Bench in saying that he would be given the Opposition's complete support if they were to appear in a separate Bill. If guns can be removed from the Bill in this context, why cannot knives and other weapons?

A Bill that sought a ban on the importation, sale and advertisement of weapons of the sort to which I have referred could be taken through the House as fast as the Government required. We could them all take credit for acting in a responsible and concerted way. I shall be happy to allow the Minister to intervene if he wishes to tell us that he is considering taking that course.

Mr. John Patten

I always feel that I should beware of "Banks bearing gifts" when I am asked questions of that sort. The hon. Gentleman knows that the sanctions that we hope to take against knives and other dangerous weapons being carried by means of the proposed possession offence are an integral part of our attack on a range of crime, as contained in the Criminal Justice Bill. I can only repeat what I said yesterday during a reply to a Home Office question. The Government hope for the cooperation of the Labour party in getting the Criminal Justice Bill, in its entirety, through Committee as quickly as possible so that the necessary measures can be brought into law and implemented. As I have said, we look for cooperation.

Mr. Banks

The Minister knows that he is not offering us a great deal. There are parts of the Criminal Justice Bill that are unacceptable to the Opposition, in common with much legislation. We cannot be in agreement with it all. The Minister should recognise that there is a shared concern on both sides of the House and understand that if he removed from the Bill—it is a controversial measure in many respects—the provision relating to the importation, sale and advertisement of the nasty weapons that we are discussing, and introduced a Bill that contained them that was non-controversial and acceptable to both sides of the House, we could speed it through the parliamentary process.

Why does the Minister not take that course? If he were to do so he would demonstrate how seriously he takes the issue and how ready he is to find willing co-operation from the Opposition when offered it. The Minister should not be saying, "We know that you do not like parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, but if you wish to show your good faith and bona fides you should support it all." The Minister knows that that is an unrealistic proposition. I still hope that with the benefit of further thought the Minister will introduce legislation which we can deal with quickly and which will ban the sale of the equipment that I have described.

Another of the advertisements is for the Tekna security card. Apparently, it is the Winner of the 'Most Effective Use of Design' award at the Accent on Design show in New York. It is no wonder that the United States is so violent if some idiot can give a prize to some other idiot who designs a knife packed into a credit card holder. The advertisement says the knife is so small that it can go where you go, fits into a wallet, breast pocket of a suit, trouser pockets, etc. It is an absolute gift to the mugger on a tube train or the hooligan at a football ground.

It is pointless one Department talking about crime prevention if there are no discussions in other Departments about the impact of such weapons and the problems associated with them. Surely the Department of the Environment, which deals with football hooliganism, would be interested in having discussions with the Home Office about banning the sale of these particularly nasty weapons.

To add a seasonal flavour, the advertisement states: Comes complete with smart presentation case. It makes an Ideal present. It is something that we shall all be looking for in our stockings on 25 December. Let us hope that whoever gives it has closed the blade away before the hand goes down into the bottom of the stocking.

Most of the magazine's advertisements are for realistic reproductions of weapons. They are frightening. I hope that next Wednesday when my Bill to ban the sale of war toys and war games comes up Conservative Back-Benchers will support me.

Why is the sale of offensive weapons about which one reads in the magazine still legal and not subject to regulation when their possession in a public place can be illegal? That dichotomy makes no sense to the Opposition, and I suspect that it makes not much sense to Government Members. I hope that when the legislation is eventually passed that will be reconciled.

The Association of London Authorities takes the view that gun shops and offensive weapons outlets should be licensed by local authorities. They are happy to take that on as part of their environmental health responsibilities, even within their constrained budgets because of constant Government attack. That was put by the ALA to the Home Office working party on firearms in August, but it has received no reply, which seems most discourteous, if nothing else.

Labour-controlled authorities are much concerned about these matters. I know that Conservative-controlled authorities are worried too, but I am referring to the ALA. Local authorities are willing to work with the Government on crime prevention. Labour authorities in London want the Government to recognise the enormous social problems in inner cities. The Minister acknowledges that there is a link between social conditions and crime levels. We want more resources from central Government and a willingness, when we are prepared to co-operate, to accept that co-operation.

The debate so far has been most useful. I have made one of my more temperate contributions, and I hope that I have said at least something with which the Minister can agree.

1 pm

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has said about the absurdities of the documents that he has told us about today. However, I remind him that there are items in the Criminal Justice Bill that should be urgently introduced, not least those that protect children in court. Therefore, if Labour Members would give thought to how they can help to speed that legislation through, I am sure that the public and the Government would be grateful.

The hon. Member has been showering my hon. Friend the Minister with bouquets today, unlike his colleague on the Front Bench. We agree with the hon. Gentleman's actions. I also welcome the presence of my hon. Friend the Minister, not just because of his voluminous knowledge of geography or the eminence of his ministerial status, but because he and the Government have shown considerable commitment to crime prevention. That commitment was shown not least by my hon. Friend's visits to my area of London, for which I am grateful. If my hon. Friend would like another bouquet, I suppose that we should refer to the fact that today is 6 November and I presume that we can give him some credit for the fact that this place went through yesterday safely without any untoward events in the cellars.

Crime has always existed, long before Guy Fawkes or Cain and Abel. The incidence of crime is worldwide and it is increasing in Moscow, Chicago as well as in London and elsewhere in Britain. However, in recent years the crime rate in Britain has become worse and has increased in a particularly nasty way. It is not motivated by need. Indeed, one of the most distasteful accusations is that unemployment and crime go together. I believe that that is a slur on the vast majority of people who, through Tao fault of their own, happen to be out of work. That accusation is false and hurtful and should not be repeated in this place.

Crime is motiveless, mindless and amoral. It is committed by people of all levels of income, all types of background, job and of all ages. The fraudster is almost certainly, by definition, a well-heeled individual, but the football hooligan or the holiday hooligan, who lets us down abroad, is not short of a bob or two either. Their violence is as mindless and moronic as anything perpetrated on the streets of our towns and cities.

Crime is also about the fear felt by the vulnerable. The worst fears are about the mugger, the intruder or the vandal who attacks by day and night and attacks without compunction or pity. Such crime affects each and every one of us. When we speak on this issue in the House, we speak from the heart as well as from the head. We all know the fear that we experience when our wives or our daughters go out late at night. We worry about whether they will get home safely.

When we see the pictures of the scarred, bruised or battered faces of old people in the newspapers, we know that that could easily be the elderly person that we know and care for. Let no one say that crime is an issue that Parliament does not care about. However, Parliament does not cause crime and, alone, it cannot prevent it. Parliament does not solve crime and, alone, it cannot cure it.

Such crimes as mugging and other attacks are the most difficult to prevent, but we must tackle them. We must defeat this hideous form of crime by a combination of measures, by prevention, detection, deterrence and education. I wish to dwell on the question of education. I am aware that education is not my hon. Friend's responsibility, but I hope that he will raise this matter with his colleagues. I appreciate that he will tell me that, in the past, he has been closely involved with education, but in ministerial terms it is not his responsibility now.

The prevention of crime comes down to the education of our children and the upbringing of those children. It involves parents as well as schools. Too often, crime is committed by young people who say, "There goes an old lady with a handbag. There is a window that I can push open. There is a stereo cassette." We need to go back, or perhaps go forward, to a society that is taught to respect other people's rights and other people's properties, and is taught to have self-restraint. The old adage of, "Your fist's freedom ends where my nose begins" should be extended to a new one of, "Your fingers' freedom ends where my purse begins."

We could do much more in our schools to stress that message, and we must ensure that it is not limited to religious education. It should permeate the ethos of the school. We should consider the education of our teachers to ensure that they are equipped to put across the message to children. My hon. Friend the Minister should talk to the Secretary of State for Education and Science about using the education support grant system to do more in schools. We have already used it in relation to drugs.

Education is a long job. We need a partnership between central Government, local government, industry, schools, parents and children to tackle crime now. I commend to the Minister much of the work being done in the borough of Wandsworth, where the partnership between central Government, the council, local industry and the police has brought in central and local government money. One example is the Wandsworth crime watch campaign, which is geared towards changing things which encourage crime: putting lights in dark areas; installing entryphones in buildings; taking down walkways wherever possible; and fencing front door areas. It is also important to improve the aura of estates by removing graffiti and preventing it recurring. On estates where there is no graffiti or general dereliction, residents take more care and will try to stop vandals destroying their environment.

Mr. Wheeler

As in Wandsworth.

Mr. Bowis

Indeed, as in Wandsworth.

Mr. John Patten

The brighter borough.

Mr. Bowis

I thank my hon. Friend. We are advertising today.

That scheme provides help for those who live in public sector housing—in high-rise flats and on estates—but we must also consider the people living in their own homes who may be vulnerable because of their age. Wandsworth has a scheme, which the Minister knows well, called the home safe scheme. It is run jointly by central and local government and by Age Concern and it provides money to put locks on the doors of elderly people who live in their own homes. I hope that we can do much more work on this and on installing alarm systems. There is great anxiety about dispersed alarms. They work well in sheltered accommodation, but someone who lives alone and is separated from other elderly and disabled people may be unable to obtain one. I hope that more can be done on that. Other hon. Members have mentioned what can be done in co-operation with the police and with architects in improving building design.

Hon. Members have mentioned neighbourhood watch and shop watch schemes. If more shops worked together to prevent crime, they would show their sense of responsibility to society, as do individuals in their home environment. The shop watch scheme in Battersea has greatly reduced shoplifting and theft. Neighbourhood watch schemes cover 20 per cent. of homes in my area, and crime has decreased by 28 per cent. It is unfair to criticise the scheme. Some people say that it is ineffectual. Having worked in the insurance industry, I know that actuarial records prove that it is effective. Where a neighbourhood watch scheme is in operation there are fewer crimes and, therefore, fewer claims.

It is not true that crime is just being passed down the road. Although that can happen, the sort of crime that neighbourhood watch schemes often prevent is the opportunistic variety—the type in which a young person sees a door or window open and notices that there is a potential weakness to exploit. It is not a case of his going out in the evening saying, "Where shall we go burgling tonight?"

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

If the figures that the hon. Gentleman has given are correct, are there reductions in insurance premiums for areas covered by neighbourhood watch?

Mr. Bowis

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. I—and, I believe, the Government—believe that insurance companies should give more recognition to the action taken. On the insurance broking side, in which I worked, we put pressure on the insurance companies to do that. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that it could be done by means of no claims bonuses or discounts on the premiums. Whichever way it is done, it must be in the interest of the insurance underwriters, because if there are fewer claims, it is cheaper for them. I sympathise entirely with what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Neighbourhood watch is effective and important, but it is not the whole story. Some crimes cannot be cured by neighbourhood watch, and must be cured by police presence and activity—particularly crimes of violence. Something can be done about lighting, but the police are still needed. To that end, we must ensure that there are more police doing the right sort of jobs, and that more jobs are taken off the backs of the police—jobs that do not need to be done by them. Crime prevention panels have been mentioned in this connection, together with the whole area of crime prevention work. More could be done by civilians so that it would not have to be done by the uniformed branches of the police. There is a tendency in society to say, "We have a problem: let's call the police". The problem may be about untaxed cars in the street, the noise of neighbours and so on. Much of that sort of work, and courtroom, paper and sports ground work, could be done in other ways. Our transport system is not policed by the ordinary police force, so why must sports grounds be? If the police can be released from such duties, more of them will be available to tackle crime.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) said, I referred yesterday to the problem of police being taken off their work to look after prisoners because of the prison officers' action. That, too, needs to be put right. When the police are working in the right areas, experiments have shown a dramatic effect on crime levels. In Battersea police district in the past year there was a conscious attempt to bring in more civilian staff for clerical work, thus releasing police clerical staff for plain clothes duties in the crime areas. The result was that street crime, autocrime, and residential and non-residential burglaries all fell significantly. In the six months before the experiment, offences had risen by 39 per cent. and arrests by 41 per cent., but clear-ups had gone down by 6 per cent. In the subsequent period, offences are down 6 per cent., arrests up 140 per cent. and clear-ups up 55 per cent. THat is stark and convincing evidence that when the police force is used in the most effective way, and other duties are taken off its shoulders, it can work with the community to solve and prevent crime.

The message is clear; it comes down to campaigning and educating against crime. Our communities, councils and local firms must be encouraged to take crime prevention measures, and individuals should be encouraged to join and support neighbourhood watch schemes. It is a matter of recruiting and efficiently using the uniformed police force on the beat, and making the police available when they are needed in a hurry. I come back to where I started, with the Criminal Justice Bill. Ultimately, we need to be certain that when criminals are caught it is criminals who pay and crime that does not.

1.15 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I should like to correct the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on one small point. I am sure that he did not mean to give so much offence to a valuable body such as the British Transport police. They are very much police officers; they are not a different type of police officer. They are specialised police officers. As someone who, in years gone by, once appeared on their behalf in the courts and prosecuted for them, I can put on record the valuable service that that force does.

Mr. Bowis

Of course, I have nothing but admiration for the British Transport police. I was suggesting that they are a separate force from the day-to-day police dealing with street crime and so on. Perhaps we can find an equivalent to help with problems in sport.

Mr. Bermingham

If the hon. Gentleman meant it in that light, I suggest, with great respect, that he should pick his words more carefully in future. There are other specialised bodies that police specialised places.

I did not intend to go down a line of division, because the debate has been most interesting. All those taking part have sought to address the primary problem of how to prevent crime. There are three aspects to preventing crime. The first is to make sure that if a man commits a crime, he is caught. My area is part of the Merseyside police area, and last year the chief constable wrote to me because his funds had been cut. It is an area of high unemployment and social deprivation and the Government decided to cut its funds. That is counter-productive. Why not accept that the greatest deterrent to the petty criminal is the fact that policemen are on the beat and in the vicinity, and the chances of detection and arrest are much higher?

Secondly, one must ask oneself this question: when somebody is caught and punished, what should the purpose of the punishment be? Should it be to rehabilitate or to deter, or a combination of the two? I intervened in the speech by the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), who made a valuable contribution in respect of juvenile crime. There is much that we can learn from the French and the Americans with the Massachusetts experiment, for example. The idea is, if a child shows delinquency at an early age, that one should begin a programme of rehabilitation. I declare an interest as a practising barrister and I believe that the present concept of sending children to detention centres or your h custody is counter-productive. A senior prison officer in a youth custody centre not far from here told me the other day that he sees them come in like lambs and go out like hardened criminals.

What happens to the children? Inevitably, because of staff shortages and so on, they are locked up for up to 23 hours a day two or three to a cell. What do they have to talk about? They talk about the crimes that they have committed and the way in which they committed them. They busily re-educate each other not only in how to commit crime but in how to avoid detection in future.

I begin to wonder what purpose is served, for example with the non-violent criminal, by just sticking him in a cell, often in thoroughly unhygienic conditions. It is no secret that the prisons of this land are a disgrace. There is no real intention of getting rid of the system of slopping out continually before the mid-1990s. No real effort has been made. It is degrading and dehumanising. In some prisons, one of the prize jobs is to patrol in the morning outside the windows to collect the faeces that have been thrown out in pieces of newspaper. However, this is the 20th century. No real effort is being made to remove those conditions.

We ask ourselves why people re-offend and are returned to prison. We begin to wonder what prison sentences do to human beings. The answer is nothing. Prison sentences merely take adults and juveniles out of circulation and educate them in how to avoid detection next time or perhaps introduce them to new sorts of crimes. A safe blower—a Peterman—I know who eventually got caught told me that he had learned all his skills while serving earlier prison sentences. Yet some hon. Members say that prison is the answer. We really have to begin to think again.

At a probation officers conference recently I floated the idea that we should begin to think about constructive sentencing. I used the example of Lester Piggott. I did not go into whether a three-year sentence was merited, as that is irrelevant. What we have effectively done is to take a human being out of circulation for 12 months. Is it not more constructive with a non-violent offender to look at an alternative? It may be that an offender needs to hear the clang of a prison door because that is the bit that hurts. Anybody who has been associated with the prison service knows that it is the first 14 to 28 days that really matters.

Mr. Wheeler

Three days.

Mr. Bermingham

The hon. Gentleman who, has some knowledge of those matters, suggests that it is only three days before a prisoner gets into a routine. Having shown the offender what imprisonment is all about, for the rest of the time that society feels that he ought to pay his or her debt to society, why not put them to some constructive use? In this respect, I would like to develop the ideas mentioned by the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). The constructive use of the talents of human beings for the benefit of society repays society for the offences that were committed. It is time that we began to think about the victims and how to repay them. It is so easy to forget all about the victims, either during court proceedings or when punishment is being considered.

The House should spend a little time considering what it is intended to achieve by punishment. Punishment has been used for so long that it is all too easy to continue locking people up or ordering probation, a conditional discharge or a fine. Sometimes the package concept works. I go back to the example of Mr. Piggott. For a year or two he could have been made to invest his efforts and skills in a community programme, such as helping the handicapped to ride or something like that. Every human being who comes before a court has some talent or asset that could be put to use for society. It would mean that we would need more probation officers to supervise, but the cost in real terms to society would be far less because we would not have the expense of people being incarcerated for long periods or their families having to live on social security. The man or woman would be working not only for their families but for society. It has been costed and there would be a saving to society. We would have made sure that crime did not pay, but in a very different way. Rehabilitation and demonstrating to offenders that if they take from society they have to put back into society would be a deterrent as well as being constructive.

The way to beat crime is to stop people from offending. We not only stop people offending by catching them but by stopping them from re-offending. It is the re-offenders who are the real problem in our society.

1.24 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I have some sympathy for a point of view expressed by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) and I shall come to that later. I am pleased that we are debating crime prevention because there is no doubt that crime was the issue that worried most of my constituents when I met them on doorsteps during the general election campaign. They are alarmed by the all too frequent reports of crime against the person, especially crimes against the elderly, and crimes against property in the home. They feel that they no longer have the freedom to walk safely in the streets or in open spaces without fear of mugging. They cannot understand why we appear to be unable to combat the mindless vandalising of private and public property by young people.

It is helpful to remind people of all the measures that the Government have taken since coming to office in 1979. They have greatly increased police manpower and have strengthened police powers and the powers of the courts. They have also taken action against drugs and on the prison building programme. It is an excellent record and is in stark contrast to the lamentable record of the last Labour Government, and people are grateful for that. However, the suspicion remains that there is more we can and should do.

When people are further pressed about what they want done they mention three things. First, they want to see the return of capital and corporal punishment so that those things are again available to the courts. They feel that those things constitute one of the best crime prevention measures that we could take and cannot understand why successive Parliaments have refused to legislate on them. I agree with that view. They urge a referendum on the issue, but I have to tell them that there is no point in undertaking a costly exercise to find out what we already know—that the vast majority of British people want to see the return of capital and corporal punishment.

Secondly, they want to see punishments that fit the crime and they want an end to sentences that they regard as far too lenient. They are pleased that the Government have responded to those demands with tougher sentences for violent offenders, rapists, murderers, criminals carrying firearms and drug-pushers. We plan to respond still further with powers to appeal against lenient sentences. I agree with the hon. Members for St. Helens, South and for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) about sentence, because I have reservations about the merits of long sentences.

The purpose of imprisonment is punishment, deterrence, protection of society against the criminal and reform of the offender, but it is also to prepare the offender to lead an honest life on release. The psychological effect of loss of freedom of movement even for a few years should not be underestimated. The longer people remain in prison, the more they forget how to live outside and the process of reintegration in society, which should start on the day that people enter prison, becomes that much harder to achieve—if it can be achieved at all.

I question whether we have yet done enough to combat mindless vandalism by young offenders and to make them accept a greater responsibility for the damage that they do to our street furniture, our parks and, in my constituency, the seafront. The cost of such damage is high and so are the costs of measures to combat it.

On 19 April gangs of youths set fire to a pile of 150 deck chairs on the promenade at Bournemouth. Firemen were pelted with stones and 20 police officers were needed to disperse the crowd of 300 people. There were three arrests and the cost of the damage is estimated at £2,000. Bournemouth has seven miles of glorious seafront, and it was in response to the damage that the borough council recently installed cameras to deter and detect. I understand that the early results are encouraging. However, we regret that such measures are necessary, because they are not the hallmarks of a free society.

Many jobs are based on the amenities and facilities that attract visitors to our town, which has a thriving tourist industry. Those amenities must be protected. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me whether he has had any recent discussions with representatives of magistrates about their experiences in applying the powers provided in the Criminal Justice Act 1982. That Act contains powers to deal with young offenders and, in particular, it ensures that they are held responsible for compensating the owners of the property that they have vandalised.

Thirdly, my constituents want a regularly perceived police presence, not just in the high street but in their own neighbourhoods; not just in cars, but on bikes or on foot; and preferably on their own rather than in pairs, for a wider presence and greater personal efficiency. That, they believe, will prove an effective aid to crime prevention because it increases the risk of the criminal being caught.

Here again, the Government have responded magnificently, both nationally and locally. Since 1979, expenditure on the police service has risen by 50 per cent. in real terms, and total police manpower has increased by 17,000. The police are better paid, better resourced, better equipped and better trained. It is no wonder that police morale today is high. What a contrast that is to the Labour years, when morale over pay and conditions was so low that, in 1977, there was even talk of a strike. I remember that well, because it was during my by-election campaign. In that year, 9,000 men left the police force, the bobby disappeared from the beat and the police took to panda cars because of the lack of manpower. Today it is a different story, notably in the case of my police authority in Dorset, where every application to my hon. Friend the Home Secretary for an increase in the authorised establishment—all of them well founded and based on absolute need—has been allowed. We are very grateful to my hon. Friend for that.

I hope that this year will be no different. As my hon. Friend the Minister may know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just received an application from the Dorset police authority for an increase in the authorised establishment by one inspector, 12 sergeants and 27 constables, a total of 40 posts in the 1988–89 financial year. That represents part of an increase in the establishment of 107 posts, which the police authority approved in principle last year, with the remaining 45 posts required in 1989–90.

When my hon. Friend, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary consider that application, will they bear in mind that her Majesty's inspectorate found that Dorset had a significantly higher population per police officer than both the regional and the national averages? Will they also bear in mind that our police-to-population ratio ignores the virtual doubling of the country's population in the summer from 600,000 to over 1,200,000?

Now that the police are so much stronger, and have the resources, training and power to be more effective, they have an even greater responsibility to society to deliver in the war against crime. Fortunately, the figures suggest that the rise in crime is levelling out and, in the case of crimes of violence, modestly falling. However, I should like to suggest a number of improvements.

The police should be more able to refer offences committed by children back to their parents. In areas of high ethnic population, I should like to see more black and coloured police recruits, who, if necessary, should be given special help to obtain the necessary entry qualifications. I should like a greater distinction to be drawn between "real" crime and other offences, mainly motoring offences. I should like a higher age of recruitment for mature officers, with a higher pensionable age to match. Surely we are missing valuable opportunities in allowing experienced officers to retire from the force at the comparatively early age of 50—which they can do if they join the force at a minim um age of 19—when they are willing to continue to serve in a less onerous capacity. We should be using such experienced officers on the essential public relations side of police work. They could also be used—if I may cite a topical issue—to interview those who apply for gun licences, rather than a comparatively inexperienced constable being sent to conduct the interview.

We should be doing even more than we are now with our neighbourhood watch schemes, valuable though they are, to involve the public in drawing up policies to deal with crime nationally and locally. Earlier this year the Prime Minister set an example when she held two seminars on crime prevention. Every policy authority should now have established liaison committees, as recommended by Lord Scarman in his report, to encourage wider public consultation and participation. It is the responsibility or every county councillor as the elected representative of the local police authority to be especially concerned about the crime rates in his ward and to initiate whatever public consultation is appropriate.

A debate on crime prevention should include references to our responsibility for and the cost of the security and protection of our national leaders at party conferences. My hon. Friend the Minister will know of Bournemouth borough council's anxieties at the costs of security that it must bear. Those views are wholly shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) and all those who represent towns with large conference centres. We remain wholly dissatisfied with the Home Secretary's response to the representations that we have made to date.

The protection of our national leaders is paramount. There can be no greater tragedy for any free, democratic nation than the assassination of its leaders. We rightly demand the best possible protection for the royal family and we should demand no less for Ministers and our party leaders. I would say that whatever party was in power.

Mr. Pike

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Lancashire county council and all the Members of Parliament representing Lancashire have expressed exactly the same view as he is expressing with regard to Bournemouth? Bournemouth and other places must bear the cost of these major conferences. This is not a political issue and it does not matter which party is in Government. We accept that security must, regrettably, be provided and we endorse exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Mr. Atkinson

I welcome those comments, which are in stark contrast to early-day motion 202 on the costs of policing the party conferences. It is signed by some Labour Members, and I find it extremely sad and pathetic

The responsibility for policing party conferences and the costs involved have been happily accepted by the local authorities concerned, but the Brighton bomb, which could easily have been more tragic and devastating in its consequences, has changed everything. For us in Dorset, police costs in connection with last year's Conservative party conference amounted to more than £1 million. The Department has been sent the breakdown of those figures. Bournemouth borough council has estimated an additional expenditure of its own of £39,000 on security measures which it felt obliged to. undertake. I have no doubt that the Lancashire police authority, which the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) mentioned, arid the Blackpool borough council incurred similar costs last month and that Brigton will be obliged to do so next year. So it will go on.

It is no longer reasonable to expect local ratepayers to bear those costs. It is not good enough to say that these towns have opted to attract conference business, so must accept the rough with the smooth. It is no good saying that the presence of thousands of delegates means good business. That is debatable, given the time-consuming curtailment of the movements of delegates which effective security dictates and which is at the expense of time to go shopping. But that is not the point. Nor is it reasonable to say, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has said, that in addition to the 51 per cent. police grant a further block grant increases the amount paid by central Government towards policing costs to some 70 per cent.

The cost of maintaining an effective security system to protect our national leaders at large conferences of that nature, must be a national responsibility and must be borne nationally by the Exchequer. That principle was, in effect, accepted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her reply to a parliamentary question from the former right hon. and learned Member for Southport, Sir Ian Percival on 25 July last year. She said that in view of the heavy security costs now incurred by political parties: It is proposed that payments from public funds should be made retrospectively against expenses incurred on specific measures."—[Official Report, 25 July 1986; Vol. 102, c. 614.] I appeal once again to my hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider this matter in preparation for the delegation from right hon. and hon. Members representing conference town constituencies, who will be seeking a meeting with him shortly.

1.40 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) made a number of very good points at the end of his speech. However, at the beginning of his comments he injected an unnecessary partisan element. He referred to the Government's record as "magnificent". As politicians, we all need a little humility when we consider the crime statistics. Nothing annoyed me more during the 1979 election campaign than reading the boasts of the then Conservative party spokesman, Lord Whitelaw, about what the Conservative party would do to combat crime. Those who bothered to consider the figures discovered a steep increase which seemed to be unrelated to which political party was in power. It would have been possible to chart the figures immediately after the campaign. However, some humility would behave us all in this area.

I fully endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) about the alternative sentencing system and his example of Lester Piggott. We all accept the importance of the clang of the door in relation to the initital punishment. However, it is absurd that we in this country imprison a far higher proportion of our population than any comparable civilised country. I am reluctant to infer from that that we are by nature a more evil people. There must be other factors relating to habit and an unwillingness to consider alternatives such as those proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South.

We are dealing with a matter that is of considerable importance for our constituents. Many of us know of the deeply individual hurt of victims and communities that have experienced crime and the fear of crime. We are aware that, even in relatively crime-free areas, elderly people, because of what they read, are unwilling to open their doors, or, as they would have done in the past, go out to community activities. We are also aware of the evidence of vandalism, which shows a lack of social concern. The crime syndrome is related to a number of deep factors, such as the breakdown of the community and, I submit at a deeper level, to a loss of Christian values of caring and sharing, the definition of our neighbour and considering ourselves to be our brothers' keepers.

It is dangerous to look at the whole question of crime prevention in a polarised way. The gut reaction of the Right is to look narrowly at law and order and the expenditure on the police and other forces, and call for heavier sentencing. The gut reation of the Left is to say that essentially it is all due to environment and social conditions, and that is the Officer Krupke syndrome.

I believe that there are evil people in our society, whatever the social conditions. It is difficult to find any possible correlation between social conditions and child abusers, about whom there has been so much publicity lately. However, we obviously cannot ignore social environment and alienation of the most vulnerable group in our society, especially young people.

It is true that unemployment breeds apathy and makes people anti-social. I know of many examples of that, as I am a lawyer. From my experience of murder trials, I know of a young man whose daily life consisted of lying in bed until midday and perhaps kicking a football around a recreation ground in the afternoon. He would perhaps go to a disco and then go to bed early. All the time he would just be collecting his social security cheque. He felt that society had offered him a poor education and had not provided him with a job or reasonable housing. He felt that he had been alienated and that he had no stake in a society that had rejected him. Having met that young man on several occasions, I did not think that he was evil.

We cannot divorce the alienation of young people from the housing and social security policies that certain parties encourage. For example, the current housing proposals in the White Paper will hit the young single homeless. The new social security changes due to come into force in April mean that most claimants will lose some housing benefit and, most seriously, as a result of the Government's announcement last week, 16 and 17-year-olds will no longer be eligible for income support. Therefore, they will receive no money towards the cost of emergency housing in hostels or bed-sits.

Pressures such as the lack of employment and the non-availability of relevant affordable housing are a background within which many young people would revolt. Those who seek refuge in figuratively moated and walled estates, such as some of the estates in south London, be they in Dulwich or the "Sarsons" estate just across the river, are unlikely to feel the front-line reaction of many young people on other estates.

I give credit to certain developments in Government policy such as the measures on the possession of knives, which I am sure should be fully supported. I support the announcements by the Court of Appeal on the increased penalties for those withvolved in drugs, particularly drug pushers, because of the lives that can be destroyed by that evil and the ease with which the drug operators can make massive sums of money at the cost of misery to many young people. However, some aspects of Government policy have to be negatived. I hope to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair on Monday during the debate on the Licensing Bill, so I shall not linger on the subject. However, do we think that the implementation of the provisions in the Licensing Bill——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. During a debate on the Adjournment it is out of order to refer to legislative proposals that are to come before the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue that further.

Mr. Anderson

I just wish to make a general point. If licensing hours were to be increased, would that have a negative, or positive, effect on crime? I make a plea for a total Government across-the-board view on crime prevention. It is certain that there is a correlation between the availability of alcohol and the consumption of alcohol. There is certainly a correlation between the consumption of alcohol and crime levels.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman on the matter of alcohol-related crimes. One of the major problems now is that because public houses are closed between 3 o'clock and 5.30 pm in most places, people who want to consume alcohol buy it from off licences and supermarkets and consume it on the streets. That causes much aggravation. Would it not be better to have that in a controlled environment?

Mr. Anderson

I believe that the evidence in Scotland does not support the contention of the hon. Gentleman. I shall not linger on that point, except to say that there is a considerable degree of alcohol-related crime. Alcohol is involved in 45 per cent. of violent crimes, 4,000 people under the age of 18 were convicted of drunkenness, and in Scotland 52 per cent. of wife assaults resulted from intoxication. Is that likely to be increased, or decreased, as a result in changes in the licensing hours? A Government who enter that area of legislation should be extremely wary of the impulse that they will give to increased consumption and, therefore, to more crime.

I shall not mention neighbourhood watch schemes, because they have been referred to by many other hon. Members. Instead, I shall speak briefly about neighbourhood projects. The Minister will be aware of a most welcome project in my constituency within the housing estate of Penlan, which has received a substantial amount of favourable publicity since it began during the summer of 1986. The estate was chosen because it is typical of many estates in Swansea. It is pretty ordinary in some respects, and it was not selected because of substantial crime rates within it. Resources were made available for the project by several agencies, including the Home Office, the county council, the police and the city council. The personnel are paid for largely by the Manpower Services Commission.

The major problems in the area were easily defined as residential burglary and autocrime. The scheme has involved members of the community in the fight against crime, and apart from the narrow sense of involvement, it has given young people something to do. This has led to quite a substantial effect on crime rates. In south Wales as a whole there were about 100,000 incidents of crime in 1986, an increase of 12.5 per cent. over the previous year. In Swansea the increase was even greater. Over 20,000 crimes were reported, an increase in 1986 over 1985 of 15.5 per cent. However, in the six-month operation, which is relevant in terms of the Penlan project, there was a reduction in the number of crimes reported. Indeed, the number of domestic burglaries was reduced by two thirds.

The scheme involves young people in community projects and embraces a property-marking scheme. People are asked to postcode their property invisibly and to display stickers in their windows. I pay tribute to the Hoover company, which made security fittings, including special windows, locks and door bolts, and agreed to supply the project with these fittings at cost price. There was a free-fitting service for the elderly and the handicapped. Well over 100 houses have been fitted with these devices at an average cost to the householder of only £10. They have had a positive effect in making people in the community more aware of the area in which they live.

There has even been a graffiti-watch project, which has come under the probation service. It involves those who might otherwise be inclined to embark on anti-social activities. It is hoped that through this involvement they will gain a greater pride in their community.

A feature that distresses me is the current image of the police force. For whatever reason, there is considerable suspicion of, and hostility towards, the police in many areas. I helped to run a youth club in north-west London in the early 1970s, and I recall the unwillingness of the young people even to receive into the club the community liaison officer of the local police force, in spite of what I was trying to do. However worthy these schemes, I find all too frequently that when police officers are successful they are promoted, nearly always at the very time when they have achieved a good relationship with the community.

I remember another murder case in which I was involved professionally as a barrister. The local community was unwilling to co-operate with the local police in spite of all entreaties. It was a black person who had been murdered. Those who encourage negative attitudes to the police are involving themselves in the equivalent of the poisoning of our youth.

The police have a major responsibility as well. I have in mind a black friend, a professional man, who, I am convinced, has had a most unfortunate racial confrontation with an individual police officer. The police are like a first cousin of our society. If anything, they are more enlightened, especially in racial terms, than the average citizen.

I urge my contacts in the police force, in their own interests, to accept, for example, the outside investigation' of complaints, and not to reject out of hand increased local authority involvement. One understands the esprit de corps, in the police but they should not shield brother officers whom they know to be involved in something improper. I say that that is in their own interests because it is important for them to act sensitively towards the public. The parents of a black lad assaulted by a policeman might be on a jury next week and so try to have his or her own back. The white motorist who has been abused might be on a jury, or he might see a policeman or policewoman and think twice about going to their aid.

The process is two-way. The police need training in sensitive public relations. We are responsible for encouraging positive views of our police force. The Government also have a responsibility, not in a narrow law and order sense, but in the sense of seeking to integrate all their policies—not just on licensing, but on housing and social security. They should ask whether they are likely to alienate young people by their actions. If we ever come to discuss a Bill that increases licensing hours, I hope: that as in other Bills there will be a little clause——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying on to forbidden territory again.

Mr. Anderson

I hope that when, if ever, we consider licensing hours we will add a clause to the Bill, not to deal with the effects on Civil Service manpower, but to deal with how much the policy will cost in increased crime., increased expenditure and increased misery.

1.57 pm
Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)

I shall be brief because I know that several other hon. Members hope to contribute.

I welcome the tone of the debate. I must say how much I enjoyed the contribution by the hon. and personable Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) whose constituency adjoins mine, but I shall not go too far on those lines.

I wish to cover two areas. The first concerns the Government's aim of preventing crime. This involves not only putting additional locks on cars and houses but deterrents, increasing police powers and increasing the powers of the courts.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act has been particularly successful in respect of tape recording interviews of suspects. Soon after the tape recorder goes on the suspect completely forgets that it is on, begins to become completely natural and to talk to it. That has two benefits. The first benefit is that it tends to make it impossible for the suspect to suggest that he has been "verballed"—that the police have invented his confession. That, in itself, is beneficial.

The second benefit is that tape recording gives the jury a much better feel of the type of man involved in a case and whether he is guilty. If there is a question asked and there is a long pause before the answer, the jury draws its own conclusion from listening to the tape of that evidence.

I do not know whether there is any evidence to show that, as a result of tape recording interviews, more pleas of guilty are lodged than before, but that may well be the case. I suggest that tape recording should be much more widely available because the cost of it is offset by the avoidance of long and expensive trials. I hope that tape recording can be expanded countrywide as quickly as possible.

To take up a point made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) I believe that the speed with which criminals are brought to book is crucial. At the moment the speed of the court system is hampered by various things and one of them is the Crown prosecution service. That service is in its early stages and has resulted in a huge change to the existing system. It would be unfair of me to criticise it too much, but at the moment it is understaffed and problems are arising. The Crown prosecution service tends to lose files and, from time to time, it even loses people. The files tend not to include the full evidence that is needed to secure a conviction. Agents are used for the work as opposed to Crown prosecution staff because there are not enough Crown prosecution staff available, but those agents cost more than the staff.

I appreciate that those matters are being considered, but when the pay of the Crown prosecution service staff is reviewed I ask the Government—I appreciate this is not the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Minister—to consider the court system as a whole. There should be no attempt to try to poach, for example, magistrates' clerks. If that happened, it would lead to a crisis regarding the availability of those clerks. We must consider the court system as a whole and increase the pay available to Crown prosecution service staff.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I am extremely interested in what the hon. Gentleman has said and I agree with every word. Does he agree that the recruiting principle of the Crown prosecution service should be to aim to recruit good, average practitioners from both the solicitors and the bar and that pay must be adjusted accordingly?

Mr. Arbuthnot

Yes. I hope that answer satisifes the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. John Patten

If my hon. Friend will allow me——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot have an intervention on an intervention, whether from a Minister or otherwise. Other Members have sat here all day waiting to take part in this debate.

Mr. Arbuthnot

As long as Peter is not robbed to pay Paul the excellent Crown prosecution service, which is in its early stages, will become even better. I do not want to criticise it too much because it is too early to judge, and indeed, that service is the thrust behind the Government's aim of increasing crime deterrence.

2.3 pm

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

In view of the time I shall keep my remarks brief.

This has been an important debate and the items that I should like to mention are, I believe, just as important. Statistics show that drugs are involved in a great many crimes today. Although I recognise that the Government have done all that they can to tackle this problem, I believe that there is still a long way to go. My regional health authority has made increased provision for drug rehabilitation and other facilities associated with tackling the drug problem but it still needs more resources.

The Minister mentioned the new meters that are being used by the electricity and gas boards. During the summer recess, I visited the Preston headquarters of the electricity board which serves north-east Lancashire to examine the new meters that it is using. Much more publicity should be given to those meters. They are an interesting development. Even if the tokens are stolen before they have been put into the meter, the person who purchased them is credited with the amount that they are worth. There are tremendous advantages in that system, and if time permitted I would discuss it in more detail. It will be a great help to those who find payment by meter a more attractive way of paying their electricity bills.

The Minister said that the offence of breaking into vehicles is on the increase. During the past 12 months, in Lancashire, car theft has been the fastest-growing crime. Indeed, during the recess, my car was broken into three times in the space of 10 days—once in Burnley and twice while travelling through France. It reached the stage where I nearly put a notice on the car saying that there was nothing left to steal. I have now fitted an alarm to the car, at a relatively modest cost, and I believe that we should encourage vehicle manufacturers to instal them as standard equipment. The advantage of an alarm is that not only does it sound when someone tries to break into the car, but if the driver forgets to lock it, the alarm will sound after a few seconds and remind him to lock it.

The Minister mentioned the effects of crime on victims, and victim support schemes. We must ensure that the local authorities and other bodies which support those schemes financially continue to maintain them. The Minister was right to say that victim support schemes have a vital role to play. They must have adequate resources. A few years ago, I chaired a meeting which led to the establishment of a victim support scheme in my area.

I agree with what the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) said about vandalism. We all deplore vandalism, which is a waste of money and resources. We must encourage people in the community to regard buildings and parks as belonging to them. In other countries schoolchildren are involved in the establishment of parks, so that when they grow up they have an interest in and sense of ownership of those parks.

Finally, may I mention policemen on the beat. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that some of their constituents fear leaving their homes at certain times of the day. When I visited the Lancashire police HQ during the summer recess, a senior officer told me that his elderly parents will not go out at all in the evening, and, in the daytime, only one of them dares go out at a time. That is a tragedy in 1987.

I also know that some police officers would argue that having them on the beat is not the best use of police resources and staff. I do not share that view; even if it is true that having officers on the heat does not really deal with crime as effectively as it could be argued that it does, it reassures the public and it is certainly what they want. Policemen on the beat give confidence to the elderly, to women and to others, and for that reason alone it is the direction in which we should be moving.

2.10 pm
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), not only because he made some useful and succinct points, but because he managed to do so in a relatively short time—in contrast to what has happened in the course of the day. The lengths of the speeches made by hon. Members today have gone as follows: 58, 35, 20, 18, 31, 37 and 17 minutes. That is very unfair to the hon. Members on both sides who have been in the Chamber for several hours wanting to make a contribution to an important debate, but who have been prevented from doing so by the length of those speeches. May I commend to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the thought that the ten minutes rule is helpful to all hon. Members and could be usefully applied on Fridays, too?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair has a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said, but the House itself must give the Chair the power to implement the ten minute rule, and so far has been denied that.

Mr. Wheeler

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I deliberately raised the matter in this way because I know that some hon. Members have given up and left the Chamber. I hope that my comments will be borne in mind by those who plan the business of the House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on initiating this important debate on crime prevention. He is right to do so, and to draw attention to the role of the individual in our society in preventing crime. The great bulk—96 per cent.—of crime broadly relates to property and is not prevented by random patrolling by uniformed police officers. It is crime committed in people's homes and on council estates out of sight of the police, and, for perfectly understandable reasons, the police can have little influence over it. About 60 per cent. of car thefts are from unlocked vehicles and about 30 per cent. of burglaries are carried out because of unlocked doors and windows. The need to force an entry deters many thieves. Indeed, that has been the theme of many of the speeches today, and the thrust of my hon. Friend the Minister's remarks. If we can but encourage individuals to take more responsibility for themselves and to be aware of the relatively simple precautions that they can take to protect their own homes or motor vehicles, that will provide a valuable contribution to the containment of crime. It will not eradicate it; other things must be done, besides. But let us at least begin by encouraging the community to do more to protect itself.

The important message is that so much crime is opportunistic and often results in little financial loss. Of the burglaries to which I referred, some 45 per cent. involve less than £25 by way of value of property stolen. Those are the distressing, opportunistic burglaries, often committed against elderly or lonely people, or people living on council estates, who are greatly disturbed by the impact of the burglary, although they may lose little property. Those crimes are preventable. That must be the message of the debate.

The same is true of auto-crime. We must consider the role of the motor car industry in making its contribution to improving car perimeter security and developing strategies that help make the motor vehicle more secure.

Reference has been made to the need to provide Government resources to help the elderly, particularly on council estates. The Home Office steering conference on crime prevention is aware that Hammersmith and Fulham local authority pioneered a pilot scheme funded under the urban programme to provide and fit basic security hardware to the homes of vulnerable households. That scheme was successful and perhaps illustrates how elderly people and those who are disadvantaged might be assisted at minimum cost in a way that I think the House will approve of.

Time has now moved against me. I have been unable to develop the debate in the way that I should have wished. but I conclude on the theme that the debate is about encouraging individuals to do more to help themselves. It is welcome that we should have this debate to make possible that encouragement.

2.16 pm
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

In the game of beat the clock in two minutes, I have time to make only three points.

First, I am lucky that in my area of the Dyfed-Powys police force we have the highest detection rate and the lowest crime rate as well as the lowest insurance premiums, so there is a correlation.

Secondly, the point that I made in an intervention is worth stressing. I referred to moral education in our schools because so many of our young people are led astray at an early age and cannot see that vandalism, crime and the "yob" behaviour that so many of them exhibit is harmful to their fellow citizens.

I raised my third point with my hon. Friend the Minister at Question Time on 16 July. I should like to stress it again, especially as I have a home in south London. There is a new crime of "steaming" committed by "posses" on bus routes, especially the No. 36 set of routes, which still has open platform buses. People are being attacked in broad daylight by gangs of 20 or 30 and that outrageous behaviour is now spreading across south London. I hope that, with the Metropolitan Police, the Government will do everything possible to try to prevent this lawlessness expanding.

2.17 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I am glad to take part in the debate because I represent west Hull in Humberside, which is one of the worst counties for certain types of crime, Particularly burglaries, and sexual and personal attacks. That is worrying. Although I listened today with great interest to the points made on both sides of the House and although there was good intent and plenty of good will in what was said, I have a feeling of despair because I cannot sense that some of the proposals that have been made will have a significant impact on rising crime. I believe that no change of direction will result from those policies.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, that is partly because people's values have declined. We live in a society where greed is promulgated. We seem to have an uncaring society. It is an "I'm all right, Jack" society, a society of moral decline, as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) mentioned, which is a serious matter. There is sex, violence, drugs and alcoholism. Our society is rotten to the core. In the House we must face up to the fact that it is pretty rotten, and we must have policies that address those problems.

Recently, as many hon. Members have done, I toured inner cities. When one meets the people in inner cities who are trying to cope with their problems one realises how serious and distressing it is for those living and working in such communities. I recently asked the deputy director of social services in Birmingham to describe the problems of inner cities in one or two words, and she said, "apathy and no hope". That exists in our inner cities. Unquestionably the problems in our inner cities and in our society generally that are resulting in crime are multifaceted. No simplistic solutions can be found. However, as most Members of Parliament who work hard in their constituencies must concede, I am convinced that unemployment is part of that problem. In my view, it is a major factor.

I recently toured the prison in my city. That was an incredible and moving experience because I thought I would see lots of tattooed big men wearing shirts with arrows on them, but it was more like going to a Methodist youth club. Many young children were in the prison and a prison officer told me that one reason for that was that in Hull crime pays. They can either be on social benefits and get their £35 a week, or they can be on crime and get several hundred pounds a week. They consider crime to be a career. That is how they think about it. They consider it a high-risk job, just like coalmining.

I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). She spoke about breaking the cycle of crime. I accept what she said about the enormity of the problem and the need to educate people so that they can break out of the cycle. Prison staff I have talked to do not even think in those terms. They admit people, bang them up and at the end of it those people leave. The amount of counselling those people receive is extremely limited.

The investment that is needed in inner cities, not only in monetary terms but in other resources, is so incredibly massive that it is difficult to get one's mind around the outside of it. In communities where there are black people it is important for there to be good relations between the police and black or coloured communities because I believe that to be a big factor in crime prevention and detection. Many hon. Members referred to the Criminal Justice Bill. Opposition Members feel that that Bill is getting a bit on the big side. Lots of things have been added to it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind what I said earlier. In the debate on the Adjournment we cannot discuss legislation that is before the House.

Mr. Randall

I do appreciate that. I was going to talk about a matter of procedure rather than the content of the Bill. The Opposition would support the addition in that legislation of measures affecting the carrying of knives, and video techniques for witnesses in child abuse cases. The Opposition would unquestionably support the bringing forward of such small elements of legislation because of their urgency.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) spoke about the way in which our courts seem to place more black people on remand in custody than white people. I understand that the matter came up recently in a MIND report and I think that there have been other reports. It is crucial that we establish quite clearly what is happening, because if our courts are showing racial prejudice by evaluating cases in terms of a person's colour, it must be taken up with a sense of urgency.

The Opposition regard the problems of crime as very serious. Under the Government, crime is at a record level. The Tories can no longer regard themselves as the party of law and order, and that is because of the policies that have, at least partly, led to this massive increase in the level of crime. We support the Minister in a number of areas that he mentioned but they will not make more than a dent in the chronic crime problem in our society.

Mr. John Patten


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the Minister have the leave of the House to speak again?

2.24 pm
Mr. John Patten

This has been a constructive debate and I found it extremely valuable to listen to all hon. Members who have spoken. The debate will help the Government to formulate their policies and will bear a lot of reflective reading by us in the Home Office and by the assiduous civil servants who advise me. There have been some thought-provoking contributions, and I shall mention first the speeches on the Government side.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) gave a comprehensive and thought-provoking speech on his ideas about how we might develop the neighbourhood watch system in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) gave us a lot of food for thought about how to break the cycle of crime. My hon. Friends the Members for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) added much to the debate by their speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) was quite right in his views about the need to deal with young thugs and about the deterrents offered to them. My hon. Friend at the Home Office looks forward to receiving the delegation on the other matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East alluded and which is of such interest to his constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) gave me some messages to pass on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General about the Crown prosecution service. I shall certainly pass those on. There was a brief intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) who knows a great deal about the subject. We in the Home Office have benefited greatly from what he has said in recent years about crime prevention and we appreciate the service that he has given in the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) made a record-breaking one minute 30 second intervention before the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) made his speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke also made some very powerful interventions in the debate and, quite rightly, persecuted one or two hon. Members.

In the two minutes that are available to me I cannot do anything like justice to the three important points made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). With his agreement I hope that I can write to him in detail and place a copy of the letter in the Library so that hon. Members can see what I would have said if I had had the time to do so.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I came dangerously close to becoming hon. Friends, because we agreed with each other for most of the debate. I pinched myself a lot. I regard him as a dangerous and wicked Left-wing radical who is attacking the very fabric of society. I hope that that helps him with his general management committee at his next constituency meeting.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am much obliged to the Minister.

Mr. Patten

The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) is not present in the Chamber. As always, he talked about prisons and prison conditions. I wonder how many chords were struck by the speech by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), at whose feet the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is now suitably kneeling, when the hon. Gentleman talked about the family and Christian values and how much they can give to crime prevention.

"Tail-end Charlie"—the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), speaking from the opposite perspective—gave us a very thought-provoking speech. The hon. Gentleman caused me a lot of thought when I was Housing Minister with his interventions, and what he said today gave us much more food for thought. We shall remember his observations.

Let me make two final points. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who had to go off through the fog to her constituency duties, used an article in The Guardian against me—a most fearful thing for a Tory Minister—and suggested that that excellent, perceptive and highly accurate journalist, James Naughtie——

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

  1. BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 238 words
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