HC Deb 02 March 1989 vol 148 cc385-7
6. Mr. Jack

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action his Department is taking to combat violent crime.

Mr. Hurd

Police manpower has been increased substantially, and we will add a further 1,100 officers in 1989–90. We have increased maximum sentences and tightened up the law on the possession of knives and other offensive weapons as well as on under-age drinking. Last month, there came into force a prohibition on the private ownership of certain of the more lethal types of firearms such as the Kalashnikov rifle. Stricter controls on the issue of shotgun certificates and on the safekeeping of licensed firearms will follow later this year. We also introduced last month the new right of reference to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney-General of an over-lenient sentence.

Mr. Jack

Encouraging though that information is, my right hon. Friend would receive a different response from the members of the women's institute in my constituency in particular and from the women of Lancashire in general, who have vigorously campaigned to express their concern about the repugnant and violent crime of rape. What message does he have for them about the strong stand being taken by the Government on this crime? Can he reassure them that he will look again at the figure of eight extra officers in Lancashire next year and perhaps give us some more?

Mr. Hurd

I share the concern of my hon. Friend's constituents about rape. I hope that they will have noticed that in the last three years the sentences passed by the courts on convicted rapists have increased by 63 per cent., so that the average sentence is over six years. My hon. Friend will be aware that the clear-up rate for rape is relatively high at 71 per cent. As for police strength, Lancashire police force has 264 more officers than it had in May 1979, and we shall continue to consider the claims of Lancashire, as of other forces, as part of the substantial programme of further increases on which we are working.

Mr. Heffer

The Government say that we are now doing well, that people are better off than they ever were and that the country is doing better economically. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, if that is the case, there is an increase in violent crime? Is it perhaps because of the nature of the society that has been created by Conservative Administrations in the last 10 years?

Mr. Hurd

There has been a decrease in some quarters in the total of recorded crime, and that decrease applies in Merseyside as well as in the country as a whole. But the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there continues to be an increase in the one in 20 crimes which are violent and which cause the most anxiety and anger. In the old days the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends attributed that—which of course has gone on for 30 years—to unemployment and poverty. Now he is attributing it to affluence and irresponsibility. I do not think that either explanation is right. But whatever is the right explanation, I am perfectly clear that given the drop in the total of recorded crime, we should concentrate increasingly—as the police will be able to do—on violent crime.

Mr. Wheeler

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason why recorded crime is increasing is that we are much better at recording it and more welcoming to women who wish to report rapes? When my right hon. Friend next writes to the 'women's institute, will he explain that women are more at risk within the family, or between known parties, and not so much at risk from strangers outside their own homes?

Mr. Hurd

Both of those points are correct. The police have altered the way in which they handle allegations of rape. They have followed a much more welcoming approach to the rape victim and that, as my hon. Friend says, has probably increased the number of recorded rapes and reduced the number which tragically happened but were not in the past recorded. My hon. Friend is right in the second part of his supplementary question, and the figures we published last week bear that out.

Mr. Randall

Is the Minister aware that while the Home Office has invited my city of Kingston upon Hull to participate in the safer cities initiative, which I support in principle, the Department of the Environment has slashed our inner-city money, which helps to reduce crime, by one third of a million pounds this year? How do the Government justify this Home Office initiative being undermined by the actions of another Government Department?

Mr. Hurd

I do not believe that it will be undermined. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman's city has accepted my invitation to join the safer cities scheme. The whole point is that the schemes are inter-agency and involve different Government Departments, local government and voluntary agencies so that we can identify a local specific profile of crime and then a local specific answer to it.