HC Deb 15 December 1988 vol 143 cc1071-2
6. Mr. Temple-Morris

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps his Department is considering to reduce violence in rural areas.

Mr. Hurd

We have strengthened the police, tightened the law on under-age drinking, reminded the justices of their powers to prevent disorderly drinking, encouraged the swift hearing of cases of this kind and made it an offence to carry a knife in a public place without good reason. We are preparing further guidance to local services.

Mr. Temple-Morris

My right hon. Friend will be only too well aware of the relative increase in violent crime in rural areas as opposed to their metropolitan counterparts. Will he consider taking action, or tell the House what action he is taking, in two areas: first, the Friday and Saturday evening drinking sessions that involve the young and the under-aged; and, secondly, police manpower? On the latter point, knowing that my right hon. Friend is a charitable man, may I ask him to respond generously to the application by West Mercia police for 40 additional police posts in 1989?

Mr. Hurd

Those are two pertinent questions. On the first one, the Licensing Act 1988 toughened the law against illegal under-age drinking. We have reminded the justices and the police of the powers available under existing laws—for example, to revoke in mid-course the licences of disorderly pubs. I hope that, as a result, the sort of incidents to which my hon. Friend refers will decline.

Rural forces have benefited from the substantial increases in police manpower, with 8,400 more police officers and civilians working with the police in non-metropolitan forces. I hope fairly soon to announce the allocation of the 1,100 additional police officers which I have already said will be the total for next year, and the West Mercia application is well in my mind. After that there will be a further substantial programme of increases.

Mr. Maclennan

How many police authorities are seeking increases in the manpower of their forces? By how much will the right hon. Gentleman's proposed increase fall short of what is being sought?

Mr. Hurd

Most of them are seeking increases, I believe. I am not, of course, responsible for figures in Scotland, but in England and Wales, most are doing so. I have 1,100 places to allocate for next year alone, which is a record on top of a record. Of that, 300 will go to the Metropolitan police and 800 to the provincial forces in England and Wales. Although that total will be a record on top of a record and although it will be a greater increase in real terms than any other public service is receiving, it will not, of course, meet all demands.

Mr. Allason

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the success of the experiment in Bournemouth on the introduction of video surveillance equipment in deterring miscreants and identifying criminals? Is he prepared to consider extending those experiments elsewhere, including my own constituency of Torbay?

Mr. Hurd

It is not for the Home Office to decide; it is a matter for local chief officers to decide, with their local authorities where necessary. I have noted what my hon. Friend has said. Not only in football grounds has such apparatus has been useful.

Mr. Hattersley

Does not the Home Secretary think that there is something incompatible between the complacency of his answers and his own statistics, which show that violent crime has increased by 13 per cent. and 15 per cent. on the past two sets of figures that he produced—a record on a record? That is not conducive to the smugness that he has displayed this afternoon.

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman has the failing that he is always rather anxious to exaggerate the bad news and to explain away the good news. The good news yesterday was that there was a substantial reduction in the total of recorded crime and, in particular, a sharp reduction in the number of burglaries—a crime to which Opposition Members constantly drew my attention when the figures were becoming worse, but on which they are silent when the figures improve. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the figures, he will see that there was a sharp rise in the reported level of violent crime last year and continuing this year, but that as the quarters of this year have proceeded, that rise is levelling out.

Mr. Key

As we approach the winter solstice, will my right hon. Friend comment on the effectiveness of the Public Order Act 1986? Is he aware that there is no desire or intention on the part of the communities in Wiltshire and elsewhere to witness confrontation between summer hippies and the resident population? Will he do all that he can to encourage those who seek trouble at the summer solstice to stay away?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend. I regard him as the joint author of the clause in the Public Order Act that is called the "Hippy clause". I am glad that it has had a good effect in his county and elsewhere. The advice that he has given is sound.