HC Deb 10 March 1989 vol 148 cc1137-200 9.35 am
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

I beg to move, That this House notes that lawlessness in Great Britain has increased steadily over the last 30 years and that its causes are many and varied, not least among which is that there has been a lack of moral leadership from important opinion formers for young people, such as parents, teachers, broadcasters, church leaders and political leaders; believes that the general public needs to be more involved in the fight against crime; and urges the Government to continue to seek all effective means of combating lawlessness. I am delighted to be here so early on a Friday morning. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) will be delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the debate, and we look forward to hearing from them. Clearly, I have chosen a very popular subject for debate, judging from the low turnout this morning, at least among the Opposition.

As politicians, we spend a great deal of time fending off complaints and grumbles from our constituents, and talking to them about current issues. One issue that is a constant source of concern throughout the country, and certainly among my constituents, is law and order. That is a bad start. The only Opposition Back-Bench Member, the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has left. She is obviously impressed by the eloquence of my argument.

Elderly people in particular worry about the rise in crime. The number of offences recorded by the police in England and Wales rose from 500,000 in the 1950s to 1 million by the mid-1960s, 2 million by the mid-1970s and more than 3.l5 million in 1985.

Having won first place in the ballot, I felt it would be particularly apt and useful to have a debate on the problems of lawlessness, examining some of its causes and considering some of the ways of tackling the problem. I do not pretend to have all the answers to those complex issues, but it is useful to examine them.

One thing that is common to much of the material I have read and the conversations I have held in preparing for the debate, which back up my feelings on the subject, is the decline of family stability over the past 20 or 30 years. The divorce rate has increased dramatically, as have the numbers of illegitimate children, and the intitutions of marriage and the family have been questioned more seriously than before. Yet during childhood, and in particular the difficult years of adolescence, young people need a loving discipline and a stable environment. If one does not experience discipline when one is young, how can one possibly be expected to exercise self-discipline when one grows up? Many would say that we are now reaping the whirlwind of the permissive sixties, when responsibility and discipline were thoroughly undermined. The number of teenagers aged 15 to 19 who have been found guilty of, or cautioned for, offences trebled between 1961 and 1987.

However, it is not only parents who show a lack of leadership. All too often one hears parents complaining about the lack of discipline in schools, which is not surprising when self-expression seems to be the fashion of the day, rather than learning the three Rs. There is no doubt that young people will follow the example of their seniors—in this case their teachers—which is why it is important that teachers demonstrate high standards of morality, discipline, general behaviour and—for heaven's sake—dress. Pupils in schools that pursue anti-racist policies would be better off if they were taught to treat everybody with respect and kindness, regardless of skin colour. It will be interesting to know the views of the Elton commission on that.

I am confident that the Education Reform Bill, which represents a far greater opportunity for parents to participate in the running of their children's schools, will help to instil further into children the values of tolerance, self-discipline and respect for others.

I cannot believe that the increasing violence shown on television has not played its part in increasing crime. Not only does British television show many programmes that mock authority and knock the establishment, but there is more violence and bad language on television today then ever before. The BBC itself accepts that violence can affect children psychologically and has issued guidelines stating that, because of their violent nature, certain programmes cannot be shown before 9 o'clock in the evening—the hour at which our children are supposedly tucked up in bed. However, I recently visited a primary school in my constituency and talked to a class of 9 and 10-year-olds. I asked them what time they got to bed, and the consensus was between 10 and 11 o'clock at night, which surprised me. Things have obviously changed since my day.

Back in 1986, The Star newspaper conducted a survey of television programmes shown before 9 o'clock in the evening in just one week. The findings were startling and horrifying and showed a catalogue of violence of 131 killings, 22 shootings, 10 bombings, 13 riots, four cases of arson, two knifings, 15 threats of violence, 18 fights, two kidnappings, and one hanging. I stress that that catalogue of violence was shown in just one week on television—before 9 o'clock.

The fact that advertisers spend millions of pounds advertising their products on television gives the lie to those who say that there is no connection between what people see on their television screens and how they behave. Even I have been shocked by some of the scenes of violence that I have seen on television, for example on "Miami Vice"—and I have never regarded myself as a shrinking or timid violet.

It is to the shame of the broadcasters and a clear demonstration of their lack of leadership that it has been necessary for the Government to set up the Broadcasting Standards Council. However, it is only fair to the BBC to point out that a new leadership might be emerging. Only last week the BBC announced a new code of practice and new guidelines on sex and violence on television. However, there is no way in which the broadcasters can ignore the influence of scenes of sex and violence or even that of bad language when portrayed on television—a mass medium of enormous influence and importance.

When are we going to get some real leadership from the Church? If Church leaders want to pronounce on all aspects of Government policy, we shall have to put up with that, but I should like to hear Church leaders speak about the need for individuals to exercise responsibility over the way in which they run their lives. When are we going to hear Archbishops of Canterbury and of York calling for a moral regeneration of the country and telling us what is right and what is wrong, and urging parents to exercise more responsibility and discipline over their children?

I was horrified to hear the Archbishop of York being interviewed on the BBC programme "On the Record" last December. The presenter, Jonathan Dimbleby, started the interview by pointing out that the charge of a failure of leadership had been made against the Church and asked Dr. Hapgood how he pleaded to that charge. I shall quote Dr. Hapgood's full reply to the question: it depends on in what direction people are expecting a moral lead to come. Now I personally believe that one of the great evils of our age is stereotyping, over-simplification, the rushing into decisions which have been ill thought out and therefore for me to give a clear moral lead may well be to say to people, pause, think, reflect that you may be wrong, realise that we are sinful human beings, that we are all fallible, so let us consider together, let us try to explore the truth together and try to reach consensus. Now that seems to be clear moral leading". Well, to me it seems muddy and feeble, prevaricating and a clear demonstration of poor leadership. If the Archbishop of York cannot give a clear moral lead, and cannot tell us what is right and what is wrong, who can?

What about the leadership of politicians? Surely we in this place have a responsibility to show respect for the law, but even now some politicians—members of the Opposition—advocate breaking the law on the community charge by a policy of non-payment in Scotland. However much those hon. Members disagree with the policy, they have a duty to urge their supporters and people generally to support the law. The way to change the law is through the ballot box and that is what they should be seeking—they should not urge people to break the law.

Some Opposition Members were ambivalent about the law-breaking tactics of some of the miners during the miners' strike. Back in 1977 there was the appalling scene of a Labour Minister, now a senior member of the Social, Liberal and Democratic party, being arrested on the picket lines at Grunwick amid scenes of the most violent disorder imaginable.

The worst case of sabotage by supporters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was probably when some Greenham women cut hydraulic pipes on construction equipment, thus endangering the lives of site workers. After consulting the CND executive committee, the then chairman, now the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) refused to condemn such activity and was instructed merely to express surprise that anyone connected with the campaign could be involved in anything that could reasonably be so interpreted". However, perhaps the most appalling example of a politician supporting law-breaking when it suits was when the former leader of Hackney council, now the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) was moved to say that the police had been given "a bloody good hiding" in the appalling Broadwater farm riot, which led to the unspeakable murder of PC Blakelock.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be totally fair and deal with his hon. Friends' encouragement for breaking the law—but in different ways. I remind him of the comments made by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in relation to insider trading and also of the comments of several of his hon. Friends—perhaps even of himself—about urging people to trade on Sundays when everyone knows that it is against the law of the land.

Mr. Riddick

That intervention shows just how feeble is the Labour party response to these matters. This Government, through the Financial Services Act 1986 and other legislation, has done more to crack down on law breaking in the City than the Labour party has ever done. The Labour party has done nothing in that respect. The hon. Member for Huddersfield is on very thin ice with his argument.

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

He has gone through the ice.

Mr. Riddick

As my hon. Friend the Minister has said, the hon. Member for Huddersfield has gone through the ice.

There are also examples of Labour-controlled local councils attempting to undermine the police in their fight against crime. For example, Lambeth council effectively banned the police from council offices. Many of my hon. Friends will remember the GLC video which was produced when that appalling organisation was still in being. I think that that video was entitled "Policing London." It undermined the police in every possible way. It portrayed them as anti-working class and racist, and it was distributed to many schools and youth clubs throughout London. I am sure it has played a significant part in undermining the respect of young people for the police.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham)

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, does he accept that it is very important for him to remind the House that the Inner London education authority seemed to condone some of its schools banning police coming in to talk to pupils on road safety? That must engender in the pupils an antagonistic attitude towards the police.

Mr. Riddick

My hon. Friend's intervention simply supports my points. It is disgraceful that some schools are adopting that approach, which is being encouraged by ILEA. Who is to say that we are not right to abolish that organisation?

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the appalling insult which he has offered to the people of London when he called the Greater London council "an appalling organisation"? Has he forgotten that it was an elected local authority and the expression of the political will of London's people? The only way in which the Conservative party could deal with it was to misuse governmental power to abolish it.

Mr. Riddick

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to correct myself. She is absolutely right. The GLC was not an appalling organisation: it became one when it was taken over by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). The way in which he completely undermined the authority and the good work which the GLC had done in the past was appalling. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to clarify my earlier comments.

Mrs. Wise

The hon. Gentleman used a rather odd term which comes easily to his lips and to the lips of his hon. Friends, because they often engage in it. He talked about a takeover. The word that he was really looking for was "elected". My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) was an elected member of the Greater London council, as were all his colleagues. The hon. Gentleman is still insulting the will of the people of London.

Mr. Riddick

It must be said that, had the people of London known that the far-Left policies of the hon. Member for Brent, East, as he is now, were to be implemented, I have no doubt that they would not have elected a Labour administration to power in the GLC. The hon. Member for Brent, East effected a takeover. There was a coup the very day after the elections were announced.

Mr. Carrington

As my hon. Friend has rightly said, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) effected a coup against Lord McIntosh, who fronted the whole election campaign for the GLC on a very moderate platform. Mr. McIntosh, as he was then, was the GLC member for Haringey, an area with which I was associated. During his election campaign, I remember that he flatly denied that there was any chance that the policies of the present hon. Member for Brent, East would be implemented by the GLC under his control. He was horrified and mortified by the takeover that occurred in the GLC and the putsch—there is no other word for it—by the hard Left against the moderates in the London Labour party.

Mr. Riddick

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to expand on that whole unfortunate episode. I was simply looking down on what was happening from Yorkshire with some interest—

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

And astonishment.

Mr. Riddick

Yes, and with astonishment, as my hon. Friend says. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) had to suffer the results of that appalling putsch, as he described it.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that democracy is not simply about a specific election putting various people into office, that it involves a continuing process, part of which is the principle that there should be elections in future to hold politicians in check? The only restraint on the obsessive nature of the work of this Government is the worry about an election in future. That restraint was taken from the GLC and democracy was removed.

The points which Conservative Members have made were not put to the test. If my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and the leadership of the GLC were doing things which the people of London did not want, why were Londoners not given the opportunity to determine that in elections?

Mr. Riddick

I do not want to take lessons from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), one of the strongest advocates of that extreme loony Left council in Derbyshire, whose main purpose seems to be to ensure that the majorities of Conservative Members in Derbyshire increase dramatically at election times.

Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is suspicious that the Labour Whips did not allocate a room to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)? Were they afraid that if he had a room, he might launch a coup similar to that which he achieved on the GLC?

Mr. Riddick

Yes, I suppose that there might well be some truth in that. If such a putsch had taken place, the leadership of the Labour party would certainly have been improved.

Mr. Harry Barnes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Riddick

No, we have covered this matter pretty well. Perhaps we should move on.

Is it any wonder that young people should be so contemptuous of the law when they see national and local politicians, people who are supposed to be community leaders, openly flouting or advocating the flouting of the laws of the land? Leadership and the setting of good examples are crucial factors in any debate on lawlessness.

How can we try to arrest the rise in crime and bring about an improvement? First, we clearly need to reverse the trend of poor leadership to which I have referred. The opinion formers have a duty to show respect for the law, demonstrate self-restraint and self-discipline and get across to young people the message that they are responsible for their own actions and behaviour.

The time has come for the law to be changed to establish a direct link between parents and the crimes committed by juveniles. If youngsters will not behave themselves, we must make it clear that parents must see that they do.

The Criminal Justice Act 1982 allowed courts to order parents to pay fines imposed on their children. I believe that the time has now come to make parents directly and legally responsible for the behaviour of their children. I am encouraged by the fact that recent newspaper leaks have suggested that the Government are thinking along those lines. I would certainly urge Ministers to be brave in this respect and make a change in the law that could have a dramatic effect on juvenile crime.

I believe that the time has come for the Government to examine why 85 per cent. of men who have left their wives fail to keep up the maintenance payments for their children. That is a scandal, and a clear example of fathers being allowed to abdicate entirely their responsibilities towards the children who, after all, they helped to bring into the world. I believe that there is some evidence, although it is somewhat scant, that the parents—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene I shall be happy to give way, but I do not think he should make noises from a sedentary position.

Mr. Sheerman

What I said from a sedentary position, I shall say standing up. Values in public life do not only pertain to those politicians who are members of the Opposition. All politicians should set examples of good standards in public and in private life.

Mr. Riddick

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. If, however, the hon. Gentleman is making some sort of accusation against an individual, he should tell the House which politician—on whatever side of the House—is failing to keep up his maintenance payments.

There is some evidence, although perhaps it is scant, that suggests that the Asian population actually commit fewer crimes than other sections of the population. That is interesting, because one of the factors which impresses me enormously about Asians—I have a number in my constituency—is their strong family ties, and the fact that church leaders are still very much respected by Asian families, including the children.

The fight against crime will never be successful unless the people of Britain are involved in that fight against crime and support the efforts made by the Government and by the police in that fight. I believe that the neighbourhood watch schemes play a marvellous part in helping to reduce crime not only because they are a significant deterrent to the burglar and the vandal, but because they get ordinary members of the public involved in the battle for law and order.

I cannot understand why the Government have been so negative towards the appearance of the Guardian Angels on the London Underground. I accept that such groups must be properly controlled and run, but again they represent an example of the ordinary citizen getting involved in policing his own community, which is surely to be welcomed. The Sunday Times last weekend carried an article showing the success of vigilante patrols in various parts of the country. In Gosforth and in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, citizens' patrols have cut the number of burglaries dramatically. The same has happened in Grimethorpe in South Yorkshire. Such groups should be encouraged and properly advised by the people, not regarded as a threat by them.

Why have we allowed the number of special constables to dwindle from 62,000 in 1952 to approximately 16,000 today? Just as the territorials do a splendid job in supplementing the armed forces, so, too, the special constables have a contribution to make in increasing the police presence on the streets. I realise, of course, that there are those within the Police Federation of England and Wales who are far from keen on an increase in the number of special constables. Then, of course, what trade union does not like to defend its own little cartel? We must get the ordinary citizen as involved as possible in law and order. We cannot expect the police to do everything. We all have a role to play in the fight against crime.

It is not just a question of involving the community in the battle against crime; it is vital that the population as a whole are broadly in agreement with the national policies being followed by the Government and being implemented by the police and the criminal justice system.

It is important that violent criminals and rapists have been seen to be receiving much stiffer sentences in recent years, because that is what the people want. That is why it is so unfortunate that the House continues to defy the majority of the British people over capital punishment.

I make no apology for raising this issue, because I do not believe that the House can defy for ever the will of the British people on this vital issue. My view is that, if we were to reintroduce capital punishment, it would change entirely the climate of the debate on law and order. It would send the clear unequivocal message to the criminal and to the British public that the country is deadly serious—quite literally—in its attempt to defeat the criminal.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

In fact, the original abolition of capital punishment would never have gone through had the then Labour Government not given that Bill extra time, in the same way that it gave extra time to the then Abortion Bill.

Mr. Riddick

My hon. Friend is in a better position to tell me exactly what happened in those days, because I was a very young lad when capital punishment was abolished.—[Interruption.] Hon. Members only have to look at my hon. Friend and myself to see that, while we are fairly close in age, she has the advantage over me.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Riddick

My hon. Friend certainly has slightly more experience.

Mr. Carrington


Mr. Riddick

My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, who I must say has more grey hairs on his head, would like to intervene, and I shall be happy to give way to him on this vexed point.

Mr. Carrington

I am sure that my hon. Friend, on reflection, would like to rephrase his comments and say that our hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) has greater experience in the House, as he was, unfortunately, trying to observe those events from outside the House at that time.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

From the cradle.

Mr. Carrington

I am sure that my hon. Friend was not in the cradle. I am sure that my hon. Friend was watching those events closely and was dying to participate. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster obviously had a closer and a more direct involvement in those events, and therefore has greater knowledge.

Mr. Riddick

All I can say is that I imagine that that is right. I must say that I cannot remember exactly where I stood on that vital issue at that time. I must look through my diaries to see whether I made a note of it.

The death penalty should not be imposed, obviously, on those who have committed murder as a crime of passion. I believe, however, that it would act as a deterrent to the robber, for example, who was intent on robbing a bank, and would affect his decision whether or not to commit that crime armed. For what it is worth, I believe that, unless there is a radical reduction in the amount of violent crime—I sincerely hope that that does happen—that the House will vote in favour of the re-introduction of capital punishment in the next 20 years.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Up to now, I and my hon. Friends have been delighted to encourage and support my hon. Friend, but we are reaching a point in his speech where I believe the argument has been developed that capital punishment is a deterrent. If that is the case, that is a powerful reason for those of us who have voted against it in the past reconsidering our positions. However, I am not aware of any statistical proof to show that, where capital punishment has been reintroduced, it has had a deterrent effect. If my hon. Friend cannot produce evidence of that, I urge him not to develop that argument any further.

Mr. Riddick

As it happens, I was not about to develop that argument any further, anyway. I do not pretend that I have any statistical information that backs up my claim.

Mr. Sheerman

It is a gut feeling.

Mr. Riddick

As the hon. Gentleman says, it is a gut feeling. It is a gut feeling that is shared by the vast majority of people in this country. I wonder how long the House can continue to defy the will of the majority.

I believe that there is one other aspect of the criminal justice system which needs to he changed. The time has come to abolish the suspect's right of silence. If it is good enough, just enough and fair enough for Northern Ireland, it is good enough for mainland Britain too.

One class of person alone is helped by the right of silence—the guilty. Any policeman would tell the House that it is the guilty man who employs the right of silence to give aim time to put an alibi together or to buy time. If an individual is innocent, he has nothing to fear from telling the police what he was up to or where he was at a given time. If someone has something to hide, the right of silence helps him to hide it. Juries should be allowed to draw their own conclusions from a suspect's refusal to talk.

So far, I have said little about the Government's record on law and order, but I intend to put right that omission. There is no doubt that there are more police now than there have ever been and that the morale of the police has been transformed from the appalling state of despair that existed when the Government took office in 1979. The carrying of weapons for criminal purposes has been made subject to tougher penalties. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 made it an offence to carry a knife in public without good reason.

I congratulate the Government on giving courts the power to confiscate from drug pushers the proceeds of their crimes. I am glad that, later this year, other criminals will also be subject to such confiscation. One of the most significant moves made by the Government has been to give magistrates the power to make convicted burglars pay compensation to their victims.

I congratulate the Government on the firm, and in some cases the far-reaching, measures that they have already taken to combat the rising tide of crime. The Government's record on providing the courts with increased powers, providing the police with increased resources and on heightening the profile of crime prevention is good. I wonder whether I have time to compare that record with the Labour Party's record—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, do."] I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their encouragement. I shall make that comparison brief, as I know that my hon. Friends wish to participate in this debate.

The House will note that, so far, I have ignored the positive record—if there is such a thing—of the Labour party on crime. I have ignored it because the Labour party has nothing to offer. In the early years of this decade, the Labour party said that the rising tide of crime was caused by unemployment. In the latter years it has said that crime has been caused by too much affluence—the yuppie syndrome. That is what the Labour party has had to say about the problems of crime in the 1980s.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman has made some allegations about Labour party policy and perhaps he could give us chapter and verse—

Mr. John Patten

What about the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)?

Mr. Sheerman

It is nice to get help from the Minister.

On what statements does the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) base his allegations?

Mr. Riddick

Such statements have been made. The hon. Gentleman's boss, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has referred to the "loadsamoney economy". If my hon. Friend the Minister has anything further to say, I will happily give way.

Mr. Patten

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for characteristically making the time to give way to me. My hon. Friend entered the House in 1987, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition talking about the "loadsamoney society" and the bad effect that that has had on crime rates. I have been behind the Dispatch Box when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has attributed the rising crime rate to unemployment and to affluence in the same breath. Surely that is schoolboy sociology of the worst kind.

Mr. Riddick

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us the facts, chapter and verse.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield cannot deny that his party has continually voted against the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. The Labour party voted against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which gave the police the tools with which to fight crime. It also voted against the Public Order Act 1986, which helped the police to stop disorder on the streets. When the Labour party left government in 1979, police morale and pay were at rock bottom and the number of police officers was 7,000 below establishment.

We all know that the Labour party has been playing around with the rather unfortunate suggestion that local councillors should have some part to play in the operational duties of the police. The 1985 Labour party conference voted to introduce democratic control of the police authorities by councillors to influence and direct local policing policy and practice. The 1987 Labour party mainfesto also said: Locally elected police authorities will be given clear statutory responsiblity with the police to enforce the law That represents a dangerous and sinister threat to the rights and ability of the police to fight crime unhindered, particularly bearing in mind the examples that I have already given that prove how hostile some sections of the Labour party are to the police.

Crime can be prevented because many crimes are opportunist and are committed on the spur of the moment. Crime prevention is not only practical, but it helps to involve the individual in the fight against crime. Neighbourhood watch schemes are one visible part of crime prevention and improving the physical security and design of existing houses is another. We must actively encourage such developments in new housing. Motor manufacturers must be persuaded to improve the design of their vehicles so that they no longer represent easy pickings for the thief. I also believe that insurance companies should be encouraged to charge lower premiums to those householders who have taken steps to improve security in their homes and in their cars. Street lighting also has an important part to play in the prevention of crime.

I hope that the Chancellor will continue to use the tax system to promote low-alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks and that the police and the courts will come down heavily on those clubs and pubs that are badly managed and which encourage irresponsible drinking.

It is interesting to note that, in Brighton, publicans have introduced an identity card system for drinkers to screen out the under-aged drinker and the trouble-maker. There is no doubt that irresponsible drinking is the cause of much unnecessary and stupid crime. Before Christmas, I spent about six hours with the police in Huddersfield town centre. Practically every incident to which we were called was drink-related. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will continue the good work on which he has already embarked to maximise the opportunities to prevent crime from being committed in the first place.

A Government can do only so much, but this Government have done more than most to combat lawlessness. The thrust of Government policy on education, housing, trade unions, health and the economy has been to give more power back to individual citizens, who now have more responsibility for running their lives. I believe that, if one gives people more responsibility they act in a more responsible manner. The fact that there was a reduction in the number of crimes committed last year surely suggests that there are signs that that policy is beginning to work. At the end of the day, however, the key to controlling the problems of lawlessness lies with every one of us. It is we, along with those who influence us, who must develop and improve our standards of behaviour and our self-discipline.

10.18 am
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The speech by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) was disappointing because his constituency has a great tradition of radicalism, liberalism and radical Socialism. The hon. Gentleman expressed crude, Right-wing, hanging and flogging notions.

The motion calls for moral leadership but there is an omission from it. Broadcasters are mentioned and they tend to be in connection with radio and television, but we also need to mention the press. Questions about moral leadership should be directed to the Murdoch press. It should exercise moral responsibility and take on board the fact that there are different views and values in society that need to be reflected in the press but are not.

The approach of the hon. Member for Colne Valley was simple-minded. He expressed constitutional views for tiny tots and deplored any deviation from the norm to which he adheres. Anything that in any way puts its toe into the water of engaging in struggle on behalf of people in trade unions to act against the measures that he mentioned is beyond acceptance. In that context I want to talk about the poll tax, which is a constitutional monstrosity. It attacks the fundamental rights of British people and even the franchise.

We are told that at all times we have to stay entirely within the law and have to be careful because the courts have a tendency to alter the boundaries of the law and we must not do anything to obstruct them. That means that it is difficult to act effectively against a measure and to show one's opposition beyond formal methods of holding meetings and demonstrating.

Even the right to petition poll tax registrars against the operation of the tax has been turned on its head by a Scottish Minister who said that petitions against the poll tax will be used to register people on the poll tax registers. That is saying to people, "Do not sign petitions, because if you do they will get hold of you and put your name on the register." That is duress against people's formal petitioning rights. That is the most ancient right of ordinary people because it goes back to Anglo-Saxon times when there was no franchise. At that time people had the right to petition the Crown and later to petition Parliament without duress, but even those minimal rights are being offended by the Government.

Some people will begin to think of other methods to keep the pot on the boil and to awaken people to problems so that when the next election occurs the issue of the poll tax will be high on the agenda. People have been involved in a struggle against the tax, and actions which in other circumstances might not be justified can be defended and advocated on democratic and constitutional grounds. That is because the people involved in such actions are democrats who are trying to save democracy and the spirit in which it operates. Other people take the simple-minded attitude that somebody just has to have a mandate. They say, "We shall have a dictatorship for a few years and we need not consider what will happen in future because we will be able to fiddle and manipulate through advertising and get hold of people's minds and push ourselves into office again." That is not the spirit of democracy.

Mr. Wilshire

I was beginning to enjoy the hon. Gentleman's fairy story and trip into wonderland. Earlier in the debate he tried to deliver a lecture to Conservative Members about democracy in Greater London. What is the difference between complaining about one thing half an hour ago and now trying to tell us that when it suits him he does not like the democratically expressed will of the House backed by a general election?

Mr. Barnes

As I said in my intervention, democracy is not merely about having one election by which people are placed in power and can then continue in power. It is about the circumstances for the next election. In London, people were not allowed to decide their own future or to express their support or otherwise for the GLC. If that was democracy, we could say that the election of Adolf Hitler was democratic because he had as many votes as the Thatcher Government when he was elected. He altered the system by due process—admittedly with much force—to get an enabling Act to allow him to continue in power. We know that his system was not democracy because he did away with all the methods and avenues of democracy, and it was his will that operated. As a minimum, democracy must involve future elections. The poll tax seeks to fiddle with the franchise. The argument that there is a nice system that we should stick with and that we should never put a toe into any kind of illegality does not have the strength and moral force that it used to have.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Gentleman spoke about getting hold of people's minds. Is he aware of the absolute filth put about in Manchester public libraries a day or two ago by the Manchester Gay Centre which advertised a meeting by a thing called Nestwork, an organisation for the self-insemination of women?

Mr. Barnes

I do not know about the matter to which the hon. Lady refers, and I would require a great deal of information about it because I have no respect for her views upon that issue. During debate on clause 28 of the Local Government Bill, she said that she supported acts of lawlessness in terms of the burning down of a place run by gays in London. The hon. Lady has never apologised for that.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I never said that, and I made that clear to the Speaker. I said that we should not tolerate evil and that I regarded sodomy as being evil. I still do.

Mr. Barnes

We should not tolerate the evil of a Government who seek to manipulate the political system and to destroy the normal and traditional democratic rights that have been fought for and squeezed out of previous Governments, mainly through the organisation of the working class and movements such as Chartism in the 19th century, trade unionism and the suffragettes, who fought for an extension of the franchise. We represent the political party which emerged from that struggle and which was in its vanguard. Conservative Members belong to a party which at that time tried to batten down the hatches and only gradually gave way to democratic demands. That is occurring in Poland at the moment, where Solidarity has accepted a temporary solution which is rather like the temporary solutions of 1832, 1867 and 1884 which were encapsulated in Reform Acts. Those were democratic advances that were pushed from the bottom to allow a democratic say to ordinary people. That democratic right is now under attack.

Mr. Wilshire

The hon. Gentleman cannot be allowed to get away with this sort of thing. In response to challenges from Conservative Members, he has said that democracy is whatever he says it is, and that elections are fine when he approves of the results. He has made repeated allegations about fiddling the franchise but has not offered one shred of evidence or made one attempt to justify his statements because he knows there is no justification for them.

Mr. Barnes

If I am allowed to develop my theme without being interrupted, right hon. and hon. Members will hear my arguments behind the ten-minute Bill I shall be introducing, the Re-enfrachisement of the People Bill.

The only clear evidence we have of franchise figures was given in a parliamentary answer on the size of the electorate in Scotland and other developments. Since the last election, scotland's registered electorate has fallen by 1.5 per cent. In Glasgow, the loss is nearly 5 per cent., with about 14,000 people missing from the electoral register since last year. I appreciate that changes of a demographic nature have some effect, but it is interesting to note that Scotland's electorate increased through all the early years of the current Government until 1987. I acknowledge that there is a falling birth rate and an aging population, so that those whose names leave the register through death are not replaced by younger electors. But for Glasgow, despite population and housing changes, to lose 20,000 of its population—because to the figure of 14,000 existing electors one must add their children is highly problematic.

Despite the strong arguments that are to be made for not selling one's birthright to the franchise, if people cannot pay the poll tax, they will come to understand that the way to evade it is to avoid not only registering for it but the next obstacle, which is to have one's name recorded on the electoral register. Some people will still be traced, because draconian powers in the legislation allow the registrar to attack all manner of civil liberties. Theoretically, it is possible that people recorded on the poll tax register will also find themselves reinstated on the electoral register at a later stage. Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to register for elections, as well as the development of facilities and resources that will enable electoral registration officers to do their jobs properly and ensure the maximum possible franchise. The poll tax legislation tells against that happening.

Initial figures for Scotland illustrate what is likely to happen. I have been unable to obtain any figures yet for England and Wales, because my inquiries in the Library show that those electoral figures have not yet been published. However, I know from speaking to other right hon. and hon. Members that they are seriously worried about the size of the electorate in areas such as Liverpool. I hope that I shall be able to produce further information on that aspect when I introduce my ten-minute Bill.

It is clear that the franchise is under threat because of the Government's attempt to perpetuate their term of office. Democracy is about the spirit in which the electoral system operates, not just about a technical electorate arrangement, however essential that mechanism may be. That spirit of democracy embraces civil liberties and the rights of the individual. We are not supposed to elect dictatorships for five-year periods. Ours is supposed to be a pluralist democracy that sustains different interests and different power sources. Although the Executive have the right to govern, they must also take into account other pressures. Even Hobbes, in "The Leviathan", written in the 17th century, emphasised that, to avoid anarchy, the monarchy would be wise to listen to the interests of others, otherwise there could be rebellion. He felt that, although citizens did not have the right to rebel, rebellion was likely to occur if a Government, however dictatorial, failed to be sensitive to and to acknowledge other views and values in society.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that the Government's community charge proposals were clearly spelt out in the last general election. Throughout the country—and in Derbyshire very markedly—the electorate voted for the return of a Conservative Government, knowing full well that they would introduce the community charge. We encourage the hon. Gentleman's efforts to ensure that everyone registers for the franchise, because there is no wish on these Benches to denigrate the franchise. Nor do we need measures to help perpetuate a Conservative Government, because the public are persuaded by our arguments. I am sure that they will re-elect us again.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. This is a wide-ranging debate on lawlessness, but I should like to hear that word mentioned a little more often.

Mr. John Patten

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) is advocating law breaking.

Mr. Barnes

I adopt the position that I do in respect of the poll tax because of the Government's attack on democracy and constitutional provisions. In those circumstances, action might be justified that would be described by the Government as being lawlessness.

Mr. Hind

What kind of action?

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Action by the IRA?

Mr. Barnes

I refer to the mobilisation of forces so that people can defend their democratic rights. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) asked me what kind of action could be taken. The legislation is draconian, making vast attacks on civil liberties, removing local government authority, and placing control in the hands of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who in this respect will act as a municipal Mussolini in order to run the whole system. The public may advocate, as they do in Scotland, mass non-payment, non-implementation campaigns, but to me that is not a feasible course of action. Although I understand the depth of feeling, it is unlikely that such a line can be held. When it is broken, many people who have not paid their poll tax will find themselves in considerable debt. Their earnings can be attached—and if they receive benefits, even those can be attached.

Many poor people in Scotland rely on credit to pay for their clothing and furniture. If their earnings or benefits are attached, they are likely to lose credit facilities, and their future livelihoods will be in jeopardy. I do not gaily seek widespread support for non-payment among people who could find themselves in such circumstances, however hideous it may be for them to pay the poll tax. However, selective non-payment by people who wish to give a political lead, for example—I shall not pay the poll tax and will have an attachment of earnings levelled against me—is needed. It will soon he needed in Scotland, whereas England and Wales still have one year before the full force of the law applies.

I refer only to non-violent acts of civil disobedience, which are not to be likened to action of the type taken by the IRA. I speak of an entirely different sphere of activity—legitimate civil disobedience, behind which are principles that should be understood by anyone who has read world history and of the actions of people such as Gandhi who fought against oppressive systems. Civil disobedience need not even be the immediate course of action. Legitimate avenues can be explored, such as demonstration and petitioning—if that is allowed. The approaching county council elections will also provide an oppportunity for people to argue their case, adding to the Government's growing unpopularity.

After a while those who involve themselves in campaigns against the poll tax in England and Wales may begin to ask, "What do we do now? The poll tax is still there; should we just do more of the same?", and the campaign will begin to decline. A lead will need to be taken—as principled a lead as possible. Groups will need to be set up to take part in selective non-payment. Many committees of 100, such as have been established in Scotland, could be spread across England and Wales. The mutual respect, despite differences of attitudes and approach, that exists among CND's committees of 100 is what is needed here. This highly centralised system will attack civil liberties and smash local government, forcing it to act on the whim of central Government. It even seeks to fiddle local election results. A recent Conservative party political broadcast presented the Tories' views on the poll tax rather well for propaganda purposes, It showed someone receiving his poll tax demand, screwing it up and throwing it into the waste paper basket. He knew what to do: vote Conservative.

The measure is intended to manipulate the electoral system. It will alter not only the number of people on the franchise but the number who will vote. People will be pushed into a Hobson's choice. Either the Labour council cuts services to survive, hurting its people in the process, or it hurts them with a high poll tax because it is they who must pay to provide their own services. When the people become depressed because they cannot pay, in come the Conservatives and poll tax organisations like the ratepayers' organisations of the past.

In a democracy Governments are entitled to take action that attracts votes. They are not entitled to fiddle the system to further their own political interests.

Mr. John Patten

May I ask the hon. Gentleman two short questions? First, will he confirm that he is advocating that certain groups, to make their protest known, should not pay the community charge? Secondly, what action will the hon. Gentleman be taking? Will he not pay the charge?

Mr. Barnes

I shall advocate selective non-payment as part of a general campaign of civil disobedience, and I shall be involved in that action. The poll tax legislation provides in cases of non-payment for attachment of earnings, sending in the bailiffs or imprisonment. In my case it would be attachment of earnings, because I am fortunate enough to have reasonable earnings that can be easily attached. [HoN. MEMBERS: "The hon. Member will break the law."] I will break the law, and will gladly suffer the consequences, as a legitimate means of protest against an unjust measure. That is an entirely respectable and justifiable position. The hon. Member for Colne Valley represents a seat once occupied by men such as Victor Grayson, who expressed views entirely in line with mine. The hon. Gentleman should be proud to follow such men rather than presenting us with such nonsense as today's motion.

Mr. Hind

If the hon. Gentleman's party were in power and introduced a tax that I, as a Conservative Member, did not like, what would he think if I deliberately refused to pay it?

Mr. Barnes

If the tax fiddled the franchise, attacked civil liberties, centralised Government power and was so unfair as to constitute an abuse of the norms of any Western democratic system, the hon. Gentleman would be justified in taking such action; but he would have to stand up in Parliament and argue his case, as I am doing.

I agree that if someone decides to buck the system in a small way—and I am talking about doing it in quite a small way—the onus will be on him, especially if he is a parliamentarian, to prove his case. It will not be a matter of mathematical proof; the case will not be so easy to establish. Balanced argument will be necessary. I am putting forward a balanced argument, and I hope that if our circumstances were reversed the hon. Member for Colne Valley would do the same, in defence of parliamentary democracy.

Mr. James Cran (Beverley)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that he is giving youngsters outside the House an appalling example? They will look to him and then decide that if a Member of Parliament can say in the House that he will break the law, they can do the same. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that his remarks will lead to anarchy and the destruction of democracy, which is exactly what he is pontificating about today?

Mr. Barnes

I do not take such action lightly: I think carefully about the likely consequences. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about young people, he should read the poll tax legislation more carefully. Many young people will leave their homes because they have become an extra tax burden. Finding that they cannot afford to pay the charges imposed by this and other measures forced on them by the present Government, they will get on their bikes—if they happen to have them—and move from place to place, trying to survive in a culture of lawlessness. The Government are forcing such action on them. They should take responsibility for what they are doing.

I am by no means an anarchist. I am arguing for the norms and traditions of democratic pluralism for which people have struggled and fought, sometimes involving themselves in civil disobedience. Presumably hon. Members believe that in the 19th century people were justified in taking action to extend the franchise. The argument seems to be that, once a democratic pluralist system is in place, people should stick to it because it can be adjusted to accommodate their wishes.

Some Conservative Members may not understand the nature of a massive campaign to fiddle the system. Perhaps only the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment understand it fully. Those with political nous realise that the way to achieve objectives—such as the sinking of the Belgrano—is not through a democratic system but by using any method that is to hand. Those who defend democracy but who use such crude methods as this dangerous poll tax to further their interests should be condemned. The poll tax is unfair. It is a tax on voting. It merits the types of response to which I have referred.

An attack has been made on the Derbyshire county council. The members of the Derbyshire county council have been described as loonies.

Mr. Hind

They are.

Mr. Barnes

They are perfectly respectable people. What they are doing needs to be considered properly and fully. Crude, misleading arguments should not be used against them. They are all being lumped together and. described as people who are not politically responsible. If one goes to a meeting of the Derbyshire county council, one finds that its leadership—David Bookbinder, Geoff Lennox and others, including my agent, Harry Seddons, who is a county councillor—wipe the floor with the Conservative opposition in debates. The leader of the Conservatives on the council—Mr. Marshall—then grunts a few things which later appear in local newspapers as headlines. There is a manipulation of the media in that area that puts Rupert Murdoch to shame.

Mr. Hind

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. My hon. Friends and I have come here to debate lawlessness, not to listen to a party political broadcast on behalf of the Derbyshire Labour party. I think that we are straying away from the subject of the motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As the debate continues, I am beginning to realise that lawlessness is a very wide subject. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (M r. Barnes) is in fact addressing himself to the motion before the House.

Mr. Barnes

The Derbyshire county council is not involved in acts of lawlessness. Its members are trying to act within the framework of the law, to be as responsible as possible and to provide a massive range of services for the county. The Derbyshire county council's education record is one of the proudest. It heads the shire counties in terms of its teacher-pupil ratio. It is top in special education and in secondary education. Its primary education is a hair's breadth behind that in Nottinghamshire—another Labour-controlled council. It can be very proud of its education record.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I defended the hon. Gentleman a moment ago, but he is now beginning to stray outside the terms of the motion.

Mr. Barnes

I was trying to point out that the criticisms levelled at the Derbyshire county council are irrelevant to the discussion. I have tried to correct the record and to show that the Derbyshire county council is a fine authority that keeps within the constraints that the Government have placed upon it. Those constraints will be made even worse by the poll tax.

It has been argued that the Labour party's policy on the prevention of terrorism in Northern Ireland and other issues is immoral and has encouraged lawlessness. We need to tackle the unemployment, the homelessness and the difficulties encountered by the Health Service in Northern Ireland if we are to overcome lawlessness and disruption. Working class people in Protestant and Catholic areas have a common interest in overcoming the problems, but they are solidly divided against each other on sectarian grounds.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive can be proud of the new homes that it has provided, but as soon as they are erected the gable ends are covered with sectarian paintings. As soon as a struggle takes place, barriers are put up. Northern Ireland politicians demand the erection of barriers as soon as trouble breaks out between the Catholic end of a street and the Protestant end of a street, instead of trying to get the people together to find out whether they could co-operate with one another.

Working people in Northern Ireland have more interests in common, because of the increasing plight in which they are being placed by the Government, than issues that divide them. Government assistance to build up the economic and social structure of Northern Ireland would far more effectively deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland than the present policies. The people of Northern Ireland need to be given some hope that their problems can be solved.

If I advocate civil disobedience because of the poll tax, it is not right that I should then be linked with people who advocate other forms of lawlessness and with those who use techniques that are abhorrent in any type of society and that are entirely counter-productive. I have talked about peaceful civil disobedience and about people being willing to face up to the consequences of their actions. I shall follow that course as strongly as I can. Some of us would be willing to be imprisoned rather than be faced with attachment of earnings. I feel so strongly about the poll tax that I believe that stronger measures ought to be taken against me. However, the Government will not allow such people to be imprisoned. They realise that that would result in a martyrs' charter. We are entitled to use the law when we are struggling against the poll tax. Utter disrespect for the law is not involved; the aim is to advance democracy.

The pluralist nature of democracy that existed before the Government came to power was limited and restricted. I do not advocate its mere continuance. I am critical of many of the procedures in the House. These buildings should be turned into a museum. Parliamentary buildings should be erected elsewhere. A modern legislative chamber should be built in the middle of the country to which people could gain easy access. Then they could make full use of it. I should like more people to be involved in our democratic procedures, which would result in an extension of worker control and democracy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will return to the subject of the motion.

Mr. Barnes

My point is that, although our democratic rights are imperfect, they should be held on to, re-established, nurtured and developed. As a Democratic Socialist, I want our democracy to be extended.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak in this important debate and that time is moving on fast.

10.59 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I find myself in an incredibly difficult position, following what I consider to be one of the most outrageous and dreadful speeches that I have ever had to listen to. If I were to give vent to what I feel privately, I fear that I might bring myself and the House into disrepute. It stirred in me all my deep beliefs, why I wanted to come to the House in the first place and defend what it stands for, and why I am absolutely determined, as are virtually all hon. Members of whatever political persuasion, to hand on to my son and our children that democratic heritage which until now has flourished. In those circumstances I shall leave until later some detailed observations. I may then be somewhat calmer, more rational and more able to put a clear argument to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).

When I asked whether it would be possible for me to speak in the debate I made it clear that, unfortunately, I would not be able to stay for the end and I apologise for that. I have a lunchtime engagement and setting the example of reliability is relevant to what I want to say.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) on a stimulating introduction to the debate and a comprehensive review of matters that worry the overwhelming majority of British people and on giving most of us a chance to address these issues rather than to ramble around revolutionary Left-wing politics.

Normally debates on lawlessness do not take the form that we have just heard. They tend to start from the premise that we are living through an epidemic of lawlessness, and statistics can be produced to suggest that that is the case. They then tend to focus on the shortcomings of the young which leads sooner or later—usually sooner—to calls for stiffer punishments, better deterrents and more police. I support those calls in principle, but, as I had to make clear in an intervention in my hon. Friend's speech, while we can support the principle of those calls, there is a limit beyond which I, at least, cannot go.

That sort of approach strikes a chord with the electorate. It is high profile on action. It describes the world in which we live, but simply to opt for those high profile, instant responses does not explain in detail why the troubles happened in the first place. If I dare say so, that approach has not produced as much improvement as we should have liked.

My purpose in speaking, therefore, is not to add to the catalogue of woe or to make further calls for instant action, but to suggest where we might look for the real explanations and the lasting cure to the problem of lawlessness. The weakness in the familiar approach of instant action is that it describes the symptoms of lawlessness rather than the disease itself. It urges action to suppress those symptoms rather than suggesting how we may achieve a lasting cure. To suppress the symptoms is no bad thing, which is why I support stiffer punishments, more deterrents and more police, but those actions are all essentially reactive and short term. We must look at how we might plan for the long-term future and ensure that the disease itself is tackled.

Clearly, lawlessness has an infinite number of forms and my hon. Friend surveyed the scene well. In a short debate individual speeches can focus on only one aspect of lawlessness, and, as I feel most strongly about lawlessness among the young, I shall concentrate on that.

We are all too familiar with many of the symptoms: truancy from school, vandalism, the antics of the lager louts and attacks on passers-by. Huge numbers of people are desperately busy addressing each of those symptoms. The Government, charities and many others are investing huge sums in trying to tackle them. Progress, however, is slow and certainly does not appear to be getting much faster.

What is it that ultimately causes lawlessness among the young? I do not accept any of the fashionable theories. I am not impressed by the argument that it is deprivation or by the argument that it is affluence. It is too simple to blame Churches or materialism, or to take that sort of approach. All of us as adults are to blame—each and every one of us and society at large. If I am right, it means that the cure lies with us rather than with the young. Carl Jung in "Psychological Reflections" puts it better than I can when he says: If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. There are some things that we must change in ourselves if we are to cure lawlessness in the young. The first is the role models that we provide for them. The second is the attitudes to authority that we encourage among ourselves

and that we have heard encouraged today. The third is the anti-social behaviour that we occasionally condone. I shall suggest how we should respond to each.

Should not many of the role models that we provide for the young give rise to great anxiety? The most powerful model is undoubtedly the parent, and my hon. Friend touched on that. I wish I knew whether family life is not what it was. That is often asserted, but sometimes I suspect that our historic image is based more on a misunderstanding of the life of a privileged minority and that if it existed, it was an untypical, brief period in our history. Yet there are statistics to show that family life is changing, even if it is not getting worse.

All too often we see latch-key children going home to empty houses, and statistics suggest that more children grow up in broken homes. Whatever we make of the statistics, the children involved face an uphill struggle. To be left alone and not to grow up in a natural family unit takes its toll. It is high time that we started to question the wisdom of making it ever easier and more fashionable for mothers to leave their children all day. We should question whether the time has come to reverse the trends of the divorce statistics and the break-up of people living together. Until we tackle those problems, the role model of the family will not lead to a reduction in lawlessness.

Parents are not the only role models that we should think about. Society's fictional heroes and community leaders have an enormously powerful influence on young people. We need look no further than Iran or the programmes any night on television for examples of that. As my hon. Friend touched on teachers as role models, I can leave them to one side.

We parade fictional heroes before the young and my hon. Friend produced appalling statistics from one night's viewing of television. Until he said that they came from one night, l thought that he was going to say that they came from one episode of "EastEnders". The facts are there for all to see. The fictional hero that we glorify is violent, often a criminal and generally uncaring of those around him. Therefore, should we be surprised when children seek to follow that example?

All too often today's community leaders present one of two role models. They are aggressive, assertive and demanding; they set the example that if we throw our weight about we shall get what we want. At the other extreme, there are community leaders who are apologists for virtually everything and excuse even the worst behaviour. They deride the values and standards of today's society. Is it any wonder that, confronted with those role models in their community leaders, young people are only too willing to trample on, abuse and decry the values of those with whom they live?

How do we tackle the problem? We must take a number of practical steps. First, we in this House should tackle, once and for all, television and cinema violence in a firmer way. It is time that we, as leaders, reasserted the importance of holding for ourselves clear values and standards for other people to see.

Secondly, we must change attitudes to authority and the way in which we encourage others to mock the examples that we set them. Lawlessness will not improve while we glorify sports personalities who bend the rules or defy the referee. It will not improve while we adults tolerate schools that deny the need for discipline. Yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph carried the headline: '"Clip round the ear' governor is sacked. The article continued A school governor was sacked yesterday for suggesting that naughty children deserve a clip round the ear. Mr. Bob Wheeler, retired schoolmaster and SLD councillor, made his remark at a meeting of the governors of Knowsley junior school, Springhead, Oldham, Lancs.… Mr. Wheeler, who retired from secondary school teaching two years ago, was unavailable for comment yesterday. But he had earlier defended his views, saying: 'Clearly, one does not bash or clobber a child round the head. But I am very much a firm believer in the chastisement of a child. He said his remarks followed complaints of pupils using bad language to school dinner ladies. 'I was not advocating corporal punishment, or the use of the cane. strap or slipper. I was only suggesting the sort of reaction a child could expect if he or she stepped out of line with a parent. Some deterrent must be seen to be available'. That is merely one example of the hundreds that all of us could cite about the position that we have allowed to develop in our schools.

Another aspect of our attitude to authority is the way in which we allow and encourage the abuse of police and the undermining of what they stand for. That was summed up by an officer who recently said to me that, all too often, he finds that he is the first person to say no to a teenager, and to mean it. If that is so, it is hardly surprising that it leads to confrontation. How often do adults condone what a young person does and side with him or her against the police, who are trying to uphold authority on our behalf? Until we tackle that attitude, we shall not make progress.

Thirdly, adult society must face up to the fact that for too long it has too regularly shown a willingness to excuse anti-social behaviour, which is carried out in the name of either achieving change or responding to cultural differences in society. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley touched on the trade union problems. I still think that, because of the period in which they took place, they provide the best example of what can happen if a society allows such behaviour to develop.

When we were undergoing trade union disputes—as it seemed, every day—we were witnessing the use of lawlessness to achieve change. If we preach that unity equals strength, and, the more united we are and the more muscle we have, the more we can achieve, it is not surprising if the young follow our lead. If we argue that solidarity is all about manning picket lines, demonstrations, riots and seeing off the police, should we really be surprised if the young people who watch these things on television night after night decide that it will be a good idea to follow that example?

We must accept that if any hon. Member or anyone else wants change, they must seek it within the law. I was going to cite another example from the clause 28 debate, in which I was involved and which I feel strongly about. Instead, I shall take the example of seeking revolutionary change, about which we have heard this morning from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East, and describe where such action will lead. He used words such as "smash", "fight", and "struggle". That is the language and image of violence and when children hear it they will think that it would be good to take such action if they want change. The hon. Gentleman's argument was founded on nonsense—the idea that the franchise was under threat. Despite my requests for examples, he could not produce one shred of evidence.

We should have heard it said that we are talking about freedom of choice and of the individual—freedom to vote and to register to vote must be equalled by the freedom not to vote and not to register. There is no evidence to suggest that people have been refused admission to the electoral register or have been forcibly taken off, so that argument collapses.

What worried me most in the context of lawlessness—

Mr. Harry Barnes

The hon. Gentleman used the argument that everyone should have the right to put his or her name on the franchise or not to do so. The current legal position is that we are obliged to register and if we do not, we could be fined. As an advocate of pure law and order, the hon. Gentleman should recognise that.

Mr. Wilshire

The hon. Gentleman's intervention takes my argument even further. There is no attack on our freedom to register or vote, and he made that case admirably. What concerns me most about lawlessness is the sort of language and issues that we heard suggested as ways of advancing the society in which the hon. Gentleman believes. The phase "non-violent civil disobedience" trips off the tongue rather well and sounds respectable, but there is a simple word for it in the dictionary—"lawlessness". The rule of law is absolutely fundamental to a civilised society, because the only alternative to it is the rule of the jungle.

We have heard today about the abandonment of the principles that matter—civilised standards, courts and judges—and about the undermining of the police and everything for which they stand. We heard a call for lawlessness and selfishness, and the argument that non-payment is a means of proving something. It is not. Non-payment is a means of making someone else pay for our services, which is intolerable in a civilised society.

In the hon. Gentleman's party-political propaganda we also heard that to vote Labour in Derbyshire was to vote for a lawless Derbyshire, and to vote to be trampled on by those who no longer respect the rule of law in this country. What the hon. Gentleman said was a disgrace and when he comes to write his autobiography he may find that, singlehandedly this morning, he has achieved a great deal more than he knows to ensure a fourth term for the Conservatives.

I was also concerned about excusing anti-social behaviour, which leads to increases in lawlessness, in the name of multi-cultural harmony. My experience in local government in the west of England involved me in the St. Paul's riots, when I saw at first hand that riots are all too often triggered by demands from minorities for exemption from the laws of the majority; when the majority tries to enforce the rule of law on a minority, riots break out. It is often the young people in the community who take the lead in such riots. The elderly people stoke up the flames and then encourage lawlessness in the young.

The episode of "The Satanic Verses" is another case in point. Many crucial international issues have been raised by it, but one or two connected issues have not yet been debated. Where cultural ghettos exist, there follow demands, sometimes with menaces, for special treatment for those ghettos. The burning of books has awful echoes of the burning of people-and in the protests that follow, young people of these communities are frequently in the vanguard.

Mr. Sheerman

I am a little concerned about the expression "cultural ghetto". Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the cultural entities in this country do not have the right to pursue their own religions and culture within the rule of law? Like him, I condemn book burning and censorship, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going on to say that these cultural entities have no right to a viable existence in this country.

Mr. Wilshire

History bears out the fact that the ghetto mentality leads—some might say for justifiable reasons—to violence and lawlessness.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. Is he suggesting that a group of people with a distinct character, tradition and religion encourages violence in the host community by its very existence? This sounds very dangerous. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify exactly what he means?

Mr. Wilshire

The hon. Gentleman and I have been picking our words carefully. I have not been saying what the hon. Gentleman fears I might have been saying. I say that a cultural ghetto can all too readily lead to requests and demands for special treatment and exemption from the laws of the country. If that is allowed to continue, I draw from it the lesson that we must tell people who come here of their own free will—we are pleased to have them—that the law-abiding future lies not in multicultural separation but in cultural integration. Those who come here with every right to their beliefs, cultures and languages must accept the lesson of history, which is that when people move to an alien culture they must adapt. The history books are littered with examples of the lawlessness and violence that ensue if they do not—

Mr. Sheerman

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. I also thank him for his words of clarification.

There has been immigration to this country for the past 20 or 30 years, and the people who have come from the Indian sub-continent and the West Indies have distinguished themselves by their willingness to adapt. I praise the members of those communities who have adapted, and the vast majority of them who live within the law. Ethnic and cultural minorities have every right to pursue their religions and cultural differences as long as they obey the law, and that is what ethnic minorities have done in this country for hundreds of years.

Mr. Wilshire

The hon. Gentleman makes my case for me. When communities have adapted, changed and integrated, peaceful co-existence has resulted. The trouble comes when people seek separation.

The challenges that I have discussed must be faced up to if we are to find a lasting cure for lawlessness. These challenges are daunting, inherently controversial and unavoidably long term. Reliance—dare I say it?—on the short sharp shock highlights the wrong target. Adults, not the young, are to blame—if we are seeking to apportion blame. All of us in adult society set the examples for young people to follow. The rising tide of lawlessness will be turned only when we all commit ourselves to self-discipline and the rule of law. Only then can we hope successfully to impose discipline on the young and bring them up to a better world.

11.25 am
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has raised an important subject for debate today. When most people think about lawlessness, they are concerned about the lawlessness that makes women feel unsafe to go about after dark and that makes them stay at home from early in the day during the winter. They think of the lawlessness that makes them worried when they go on holiday that they will find their homes broken into when they return. They think of the violence of drunken people hanging around outside their estates at weekends. These things are important to the quality of everyday life. I shall seek to show that it is Government policies that are causing the increase in this sort of lawlessness.

Before doing so, I must point out the large scale lawlessness about which the average person does not think and often does not know. It was only earlier this week in a debate in the House that I realised the involvement of the Mafia in massive fraud in the EEC. Most people do not know about the carousel of lorry-loads of food that are taken from one country to another to obtain grants from the EEC until the food reaches a state of putrefaction. This country loses billions of pounds because of the multi-millionaire firms which sail close to the law with the help of legal advisers. They keep within the letter of the law, but not within its spirit. The ordinary working person has tax deducted from his wages, but these huge conglomerates get away with paying no tax to the country by registering abroad and other devious devices.

The blame for everyday lawlessness is often not put on its originators. The press conspire in this. There has been much talk about lawlessness on the football terraces. After the Heysel stadium incident, it was left to the Belgian press to reveal the role of the National Front; only then did our papers mention—it and they soon stopped doing so. We read of crowds of Germans—the Nazi salute is banned in Germany—standing in amazement while English football fans raised their arms in Nazi salutes in small German towns.

Incitement to racial hatred on the football terraces has been a major cause of violence. The Race Relations Act 1976 should be enforced rigidly. We need a new Act that will deal more severely with people who perpetrate incitement to racial hatred. That would go a long way to clearing up the problems on the football terraces. The Government's proposals for identity cards are not the answer. This is a political problem to which a political solution is needed to tackle the people who encourage this form of violence.

The motion states that the causes of the increase of lawlessness are many and varied, and it seeks to blame teachers, church leaders and politicians. It might well blame politicians because it was the Prime Minister who said that society does not exist, and this Government spread the idea that everyone must stand on their own feet, and that everyone must look after himself and look out for himself. That is surely a continuation of the "I'm all right, Jack" attitude of the Macmillan Government that society does not exist and the weakest go to the wall. It is regarded almost as a crime to be unfortunate and unsuccessful. The punishment for being unfortunate, unsuccessful, disabled, having a large number of children or losing the race for jobs is to live in abject misery.

Government policy has caused the increase in lawlessness. The cuts to local authorities have led to a deterioration in the provision of street lighting. I spoke in the debate on the safety of women on London Transport and mentioned that the cuts in the number of guards in the Underground system and the lack of frequency of bus services have led to increased attacks upon women. What I said in that debate holds true throughout the country. Lawlessness is made easier when the money for services which improve the environment and social conditions is cut.

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) spoke about latch-key children. I taught children for many years and I know how awful it is for them to come home to an empty house. Children and mothers do not want that. The Government should be paying for carers to enable men and women to care for the old, the disabled and children in peace without worrying about every penny or being driven to the breadline, yet the Government have frozen child benefit, the only money that goes directly to mothers. They have introduced new social security provisions whereby women seeking unemployment benefit have to fill in a questionnaire to prove that they are ready for work. immediately, even if they have to arrange for the care of babies. If they give the wrong answers, they are not eligible for benefit. Those measures are putting the squeeze on family life and increasing lawlessness.

The cuts in rate support in my area mean that swimming pools have closed down, there is less money for grants to youth clubs and play centres where children can go after school so that if mothers have to go out to de waged work their children are well taken care of. More children are roaming the streets looking for excitement and getting into trouble. The cuts that the Government have imposed are causing the situation to deteriorate.

The Government's new laws are criminalising many poor people. Ministers say a great deal about the virtue of family life, but the horrendous unemployment created by their monetary policy has done more than anything else to cause the break up of families. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) told people to get on their bikes and look for jobs. Young people in particular have to move around the country to look for jobs and some of them are getting into trouble. There is nothing wrong with mobility and young people leaving their families and seeking independence, provided that society provides a safety net so that they do not get into trouble. The Government are tearing away that safety net.

When 16 to 18-year-olds are thrown out of home, they can claim no money and there are often no places on training schemes, so they sleep rough and try to find food. When they sleep rough, they meet rough people and often have no alternative but to break the law or to starve. Not every child between 16 and 18 can go back home. They are not always wanted. They come from homes which may have all sorts of pressures and difficulties. Sometimes they go to big towns to seek work, or simply to seek excitement and adventure. There should be a safety net. They should be able to claim social security until they find their feet. Young people seeking jobs should not be forced to move from town to town every few weeks because of the bed-and-breakfast rules. This has led to hardship and trouble and to increased conflict with the law.

The Department of Social Security seems to believe that all people under 25 live at home with their parents. It may pretend that that is the case, but in the real world that is not what happens. In 1986 young people who needed money to enable them to look for jobs received £30 a week, but now they receive only £26. At the same time, the law has been changed so that supermarkets can sell beer. That is no small matter. I believe that the sale of spirits and beer in supermarkets has been a major cause of the increase in drunkenness and lawlessness. A licensee would be quite experienced in assessing who is under 18, but everything is done in a hurry at the cash desk in a supermarket and no one cares. Something should be done about that as it is part of the cause of the increase in lawlessness. Will the Government, who work in the interests of profit, do anything about it? Is it more important that supermarkets make hugh profits or that we do something to stop teenage drunkenness?

Mr. Sheerman

Does my hon. Friend agree that over the past 10 years there has been almost total neglect of the enforcement of the law relating to young people and alcohol? In the United States laws have been introduced to prevent young people from drinking until the age of 21.

Mr. John Patten

Is that Labour party policy?

Mr. Sheerman

It is not Labour party policy. The Labour party policy is that the Government should throw off the shackles of its great friendships in the brewing industry and enforce the law relating to drinking under the age of 18.

Ms. Gordon

I agree with my hon. Friend that the law needs enforcing more rigorously to ensure that people under the age of 18 do not drink alcohol, especially in large quantities. The fact that alcohol is sold in supermarkets makes it impossible to enforce that law, so it should be stopped.

Mrs. Wise

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an excessive amount of advertising of alcohol which pressurises people?

Ms. Gordon

Yes. In the interests of the mighty god profit, lives are ruined by over-consumption of alcohol as it is made to seem glamorous.

Because of rising prices and the lack of facilities because local authorities are so hard pressed, there is no cheap way for young people to spend an evening except to go to the pub and have a pint. If there were viable alternatives and if the threatres, groups and concerts that used to be funded by local authorities had not dried up because of lack of funds and rate capping, young people would not be turning to pubs as the only way to spend an evening out that they can afford. If more young people had well-paid jobs and were not so poor, they would not be so restricted in their recreational activities. The hon. Member for Colne Valley suggested more repression as a solution to increased crime but nothing could be more false.

In the 1960s—I know that it is a long time ago, but the principle remains the same—I was a visiting teacher at Holloway prison. My first surprise was that, because of the regulations in those days, the women I taught preferred to receive a two-year sentence to an 18-month sentence because if they got two years they could spend their last nine months in a hostel in the prison grounds. They could go to work and part of their wages was banked so that they had some money on leaving the prison. They had to be in by 10 pm and could go home at weekends. They were happy to be supported on that scheme and preferred it to a shorter sentence.

Most of those women were recidivists. On coming out of prison, their furniture would come out of store, they would pay off their debts and their children would come out of care, but because they could not get a decent job or because they had several children and could not work they could not manage on their small amount of money. Those women could not withstand the pressures of life or manage money as well as most. On the whole, they were inadequate, unfortunate people who needed help. If there had been a safety net or some help available they would not have continually been in trouble, ending up in prison over and over again. Indeed, although they were bad at the crooked things that they did and were always being caught, they had no alternative because they could not manage in any other way, and, once they left prison, society did not give them the help that they required.

Child abuse is a form of lawlessness that I fear society will rapidly try to sweep under the carpet. It has become horribly clear in the past few months that that form of lawlessness—the physical and sexual abuse of tiny children—is happening on an enormous scale. When society saw that it was something with which it did not know how to cope, its reaction was to put the frighteners on the doctors so that they would not reveal the truth. I do not want to go into the dispute about the doctors involved and whether their methods were as good as they might have been—the main point is that the frighteners have been put on doctors so that they will not continue to disclose the extent of that problem. That will not solve anything. Such abuse is a major form of lawlessness that society must face up to and do something about.

Many of the women in Holloway to whom I have referred and, indeed, other offenders—I am not saying "all" because there will always be some people who will be in trouble no matter what help they receive—have no alternative but to offend. However, if being poor were not made a crime, if poor people were not criminalised and if many ordinary law-abiding people who had kept within the law all their lives were not forced to do a job on the side while taking social security because otherwise they would starve, much of the lawlessness would stop.

In my surgery I see a continual procession of old-age pensioners. Sometimes the men weep, saying "I was in the Army and have worked hard all my life, but now my rent has been put up and I cannot manage. What am I going to do?" I also see a continual procession of women who are now desperate. Those women have brought up their families through hard times and depression and have sometimes gone out to work for wages as well as doing their unpaid work of keeping house. The Government are driving people to desperation and criminalising the poor. They are cutting to the bone the money for local authorities and increasing lawlessness through their savage policies.

11.43 am
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) for the opportunity to debate lawlessness—this most important subject on today's Order Paper. In the past few years, the Government have been driving forward a major radical reform programme in all aspects of government. It is important that we continue that momentum when dealing with the problems of lawlessness that we face in our streets, homes and schools as we try to create a much more ordered society.

Conservative Members are bursting with ideas and initiatives to try to deal with the problem. However, we feel that the responsibility for ensuring law and order and for dealing with lawlessness rests first and foremost with the individual and, not least, Members of Parliament. Yet this morning we have been treated to an extraordinary exhibition of lack of responsibility from one of our colleagues, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). As a Member of Parliament, he advocated for the rest of the community an example that most of us would totally reject—that we should break the law by non-payment of the community charge. If we follow the logic of his argument, we would say, I do not like income tax, so I will not pay it." If that argument were extended to its logical conclusion, the whole fabric of our society would crumble and there would be anarchy.

Conservative Members believe in democracy. If a Labour Government were elected, we would oppose their proposals in the Chamber. Perhaps they would propose a new tax, but we would honour the democratic views of the population of this country by paying that tax, should it be passed through the House. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East should show the same responsibility in relation to the problem of lawlessness by recognising that the community charge was part of our manifesto, that it was supported by the public during the election and has accordingly passed through the House. He should respect the democratic view of the House and of the people of this country and pay that tax. It is astonishing that an elected representative can flout the rule of law in that way and bring the House and the views of the public into such disrepute.

One matter that is of grave concern to me is the issue of sentencing on which we should take a major initiative to attack the problem of lawlessness. In the past few years there has been a growth in our prison population. In 1969 it was 32,400; in 1978 it was 41,800 and today it is 50,000. If we project it forward to the year 2000, it will be 70,000, with the attendant need for more prison places and more prison officers.

A major reason for that increase is our ladder system of sentencing offenders. When a young man or a young girl appears before the juvenile court for the first time, he or she will probably be told off, given an absolute or conditional discharge and allowed to go his or her way. On returning on several occaions, such young people receive conditional discharges, supervision orders, care orders and fines. Often they will appear five, six or seven times before a court says, "Enough is enough. We must now deprive you of your liberty to stem the tide of your criminal behaviour." However, during that period we have established in the mind of the offender the idea that he or she can get away with what has been done. The offenders develop contempt for our court institutions for the police and for the institutions of law and order generally. We must face that problem sooner or later. I advise my hon. Friend the Minister of State that the way to deal with that problem is to sort out those offenders much earlier. We should not allow offenders to climb the ladder of offending in the way that they have been doing in the past. So many of our non-custodial sentences constitute a minor form of punishment and offenders believe that they are getting away with it. That can only breed contempt.

I call for an entirely different approach and I suggest that it will take about 10 years to deal with the problem. If someone is a first offender and the offence is relatively serious, that person should be deprived of his liberty immediately, but for a very short period. Many judges subscribe to my view that often a few days spent in an elderly prison, of which we have many, like Armley, Strangeways, Lincoln or Wandsworth here in London, would be sufficient to deal with the problem. Before that offender becomes used to the regime, he is released. He carries burning in his mind the memory of the unpleasantness of an old Victorian prison. I advocate that for adults who offend for the first time.

A similar approach should be taken towards younger people who offend for the first time. We could use old detention centres or youth custody for a short time. If we closed the door of the cell behind the offender for about two weeks that would burn into his mind the knowledge that he will find himself in a similar environment if he appears in court again.

The sentence should have two aspects. First, it should act as punishment, for which I have advocated the short sentence. Secondly, there should be rehabilitation and involve many of the good ideas set out in the Green Paper "Punishment Custody and the Community" produced by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. The probation service, social workers and supervision should help the offender through the few months after the end of his sentence and so help him in the community.

It is most important that we stop offenders in their tracks early. If we do that, we will build respect for the police and our institutions. However, that will take a long time and it might take 10 years to roll back the contempt which has been built into our society.

As a criminal practitioner with years of experience in the law, I know that many of my clients with records have received non-custodial sentences. They have walked away from court and their parting words to me have often been, "But I got away with it." To a certain extent, we must rethink the process.

A programme such as that which I have described, will involve the prison service. I respect the point made in the Green Paper that we need to build more prisons, and we are in the process of doing so. However, my hon. Friend the Minister should consider the type of prisons which should be built. I believe that we should be building remand centres. I advocate that we separate our remand population from our prison population. Prisons should be reserved for people who have been sentenced. We should. in no way cross pollinate the remand centres with prisons. We are dealing with people on remand who are innocent until proven guilty. We should deal with those people differently. The major problem in our prison service lies with the remand population, not with prisoners. If we removed the remand population, there would be no problem.

Where should we locate the remand centres? The major problem with the courts involves transportation from the remand centre to the courts. There are also problems with consultation involving lawyers and with visits from relatives, which avoid alienation. Therefore, remand centres should be built in town centres, as close to the courts as possible. We should draw on the American experience. The Americans have remand centres which look more like condominiums or tower blocks than old-fashioned prisons. Those centres work on a different principle from ours. We move the prison population around. Our prisoners move towards the dining hall and other services. In the remand centre system in the United States, the services go to the population. With different types of offender on different floors, a young offender who may be a first offender having been refused bail, is not mixed with old lags who might influence him adversely. Offenders are separated. That is a better way to deal with the remand centre population, as it removes adverse influences.

All that might take time. In the meantime we should recognise the anxieties felt by the public. Some people are allowed bail in circumstances which many of us would question. Therefore, a tagging system must be introduced, particularly as it safeguards the interests of the public. It would also reassure magistrates who worry about the size of the prison population.

Sometimes magistrates wonder whether they should let someone go into custody and deny bail. In those circumstances magistrates often err on the side of caution and release that person. A tagging system would give the public confidence, because many offences are committed by people who are on bail. It is astounding to consider the number of burglaries that an accused person commits while on bail and which he asks at his trial to be taken into consideration. Tagging would be a very good way to deal with that.

Some of my hon. Friends have raised the matter of right of silence in police stations. It is time that the right of silence for people in custody was abolished. It was introduced at a time before the accused person could give evidence in court on his own behalf. In 1972, the Criminal Law Commission advocated in a report by Lord Justice Lawton that the right of silence should be scrapped. We should really consider that now.

In rape cases in which I have been involved in the defence, I have known the accused man's defence and I have seen a girl enter the witness box six months after the allegation was made and for the first time face the proposition that she consented to the sexual act which led to the charge of rape. That was the first time that that was put to her, because when the accused was interviewed in the police station, he exercised his right to silence. We must stop the ambush defence and create a situation in which, if the accused enters the witness box, he can be asked why he remained silent in the police station when he had the opportunity to provide an explanation. The jury has a right to know.

The accused would still have the right to remain silent in the system that I advocate. However, he has the responsibility, if he gives evidence in the witness box, to explain to the jury why he elected to remain silent. The jury will have to decide whether that explanation was appropriate, and that can be weighed in the balance of guilt or innocence.

When dealing with lawlessness, we must not forget the legal profession. The administration of justice is of the essence. Many hon. Members, particularly those of us in the legal profession, welcome the proposals in the Lord Chancellor's Green Paper on the legal profession as a breath of fresh air into a profession which has been protected for many years by what can only be described as restrictive practices.

I must say to my colleagues at the Bar, in the House of Commons, in the Lords and in the community that, if they are specialised advocates and their work is of a sufficiently high quality, they will have nothing to fear from competition. I believe that in the future there will be a specialised independent Bar, especially in relation to criminal matters, that will be able more than adequately to deal with the problems of the British public.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Did my hon. Friend notice any similarity between the way in which the barristers in the Bar Council were squealing about the excellent suggestions put forward by the Lord Chancellor and the way in which solicitors generally became very worked up and started shouting when the idea was proposed, with equal justification, to demolish the conveyancing monopoly?

Mr. Hind

My hon. Friend made a good point. It is a sad sight to see a profession defending its corner against principles that we in the House believe in—protecting the consumer and open competition. I see it, sadly, in my own profession.

I believe that the Green Papers will open the door to that specialised criminal advocate among solicitors who wants to come into the Crown court and has an expertise to offer, and who will improve the service that is offered to the public. In the same way, a specialised advocate at the Bar, who is a criminal specialist, has nothing to fear from competition.

I regret that I must leave the House, so I shall not be able to hear the reply of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) or the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), and I apologise for that. However, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that much of what he is doing is vital if we are to drive forward radical reforms in the area of lawlessness. I advocate that he continues his work, and he has my wholehearted support. I hope that he will take on board some of the thoughts of both myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, which were put forward in the most charitable way, to assist him in his task.

12.1 pm

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

We live in a violent society, and not all the violence is illegal. We live in a society where the state spends a considerable amount of its resources on weapons which threaten the survival not only of the entire human race, but of our very planet. The society in which people grow up nowadays is an extremely violent one. The concept of lawlessness does not go far enough in considering the seriousness of the matter.

I believe that it is quite impossible for young people to grow up with the respect for humanity and human life that they should have, when they are set such examples by a society that is in possession of nuclear weapons and that has made a deliberate threat to use those weapons. Of course, hon. Members are aware that the NATO Alliance, of which we are part, is committed to using nuclear weapons first if there is any outbreak of what are euphemistically called hostilities. A violent society is a bad setting in which to live. Not all the violence is illegal, as I have said, but it should all be remedied.

I notice that the motion calls for moral leadership, and lists a number of people and bodies from whom that leadership should come. However, it conspicuously omits the Government. I believe that the Government have a great responsibility to give moral leadership, to show how much they respect other people, how much they understand their problems and how much they seek to help them and to provide a society in which it is easier for people to help one another. I may wish to develop that theme a little more later.

I deplore a violent society and the images of violence which constantly assail people—whether those images are of the real world or whether they are of so-called entertainment. There has been quite a bit said so far about the role of television and I agreed with many of the comments made. I believe that television has shown much irresponsibility, which has nothing to do with artistry or with freedom of expression, but is more a gloating over images of violence. However, not much has been said about the press. I want to draw attention to the images of women which are carried day by day in the popular press—supported and honoured by Conservative Members—which degrade women and which amount to an incitement to rape. As a member of Parliament, I feel that I should read all the newspapers. Of course, they are all provided for us, so that is easy. We do not even have to use our own money to pay for the trash.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman


Mrs. Wise

I find it a difficult task to read the so-called popular press. When I do read the tabloids, at the end of the process I feel soiled and degraded. I think to myself that this is what is happening to people every day. The images that people are picking up of what is news or even what is entertainment are absolutely degrading.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does the hon. Lady not regard this awful pamplet as degrading to women? It refers to alternative insemination and a public meeting to be held on 16 March in Manchester. It has been advertised by the Manchester gay centre. It is a pamphlet that was on display in Manchester public library. Is that not degrading to women?

Mrs. Wise

The hon. Lady has already used an intervention to make that point. It has already been explained to her that much more information would be needed than the fact of the hon. Lady standing up and saying that she possesses a leaflet. I know nothing about the issue, so I have no opinion about it. It is my practice to have opinions only on matters that I can back up with knowledge. It is an abuse of the House for the hon. Lady to make the same intervention twice. She is using up the time of the House unnecessarily.

She has not, of course, done what I hoped she would, which was to reinforce my statements about the images of women which are contained not in an obscure leaflet, but are contained every day in a newspaper with a mass circulation. The hon. Lady has refrained from giving us her valuable opinion on that matter. I take it that she approves of what is put forward, for example, in The Sun. I take it that she believes that that is an admirable picture of womanhood, and very helpful to women. I take it that the hon. Lady approves of the constant imagery used in advertisements, which portrays women either as brainless or as sex objects.

In fact, not even whole women are portrayed, but just bits of women are constantly shown on the advertising hoardings, which suggests that we are not real people at all. We never see a man displayed without a head. We never see the occasional man's leg around. However, that is the way in which women are portrayed. Such advertisements are extremely damaging. It is up to all a us, including Conservative Members, to tell the popular press that it has some responsibility and should not bring this country into disrepute by giving us the worst popular press in the world.

Much has been said about crime but not, funnily enough, about the victim. I want to draw the House's attention to the fact that the people who suffer the most from crime are people who live in the poorest areas and already have more than enough problems to cope with. The people in those areas often say to me that they want a type of policing with which they can identify and have confidence in, rather than a type of policing which suggests that, somehow, they deserve the problems they face. People who live in leafy suburbia do not have the most to fear from crime.

In common with most women, I am anxious to have a lawful society. People should be able to go about their business quietly in peace and in confidence. I do not believe that the present Government's activities contribute towards that feeling. The Government's concepts about crime are repressive, but singularly ineffective. The same can be said about their views on punishment. The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) spoke about locking doors and "burning into people" and he used a particular tone of voice which was rather chilling. He was advocating a type of punishment which is ineffective.

We have a much higher proportion of custodial sentences than the rest of Europe, but that method is not working. I have no particular sympathy for the criminal and, in general, I have a considerable hostility towards him. Even when I understand why some of them take to crime, I am still hostile towards them because I believe that they should find other ways in which to sort out their problems. I do not take my stance out of sympathy for criminals, but because of my concern for the effective protection of society.

The present methods adopted to combat crime are not working and the rate of re-offending, re-conviction, re-sentencing and return to prison is enormous. We should look at the statistics and learn some lessons from them. We should listen to what the prison officers are telling us. Those officers, by definition, have no love of criminals. The other day I attended a meeting Upstairs where I heard a serious description from a prison officer about what is currently happening in our prisons.

Mr. Hind


Mrs. Wise

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman but I hope that his intervention is relevant.

Mr. Hind

The hon. Lady and I agree that the present system is failing. Does she agree that one possible way in which to approach the problem is to deal with people much earlier, before they develop a contempt for the law and become recidivists? That is what I was advocating, and that approach could solve many of the problems that the hon. Lady has outlined.

Mrs. Wise

What struck me about the hon. Gentleman's speech was what he said about tagging as a means of dealing with people. There was a notable omission in his speech about prevention; rather, he dwelt on punishment.

Prison officers have no love, affection or softness towards convicted criminals, but they have said that, because of the circumstances, people are being treated like animals. There is no adequate sanitation in prisons, and people are locked up for many hours of the day without any privacy or facilities for the normal functions of life. I have always been an opponent of "slopping out" as it is called, but, before the meeting I attended recently, I had not considered it from the point of view of the prison officer. He described vividly what the absence of proper facilities in prisons meant to him. When the slopping out is done, a good deal of the slop finds its way on to the prison officer, but he just has to bear it.

We are asking prison officers to cope in prisons without providing the conditions in which they can do constructive work. In addition to the loss of liberty—the punishment intended—people suffer a total loss of dignity. If one treats people like animals it may well make them like animals. That is no way in which to protect society.

The prison officers could tell us a good deal of useful information. I was surprised to discover their anxiety to do more constructive rehabilitation work. I realise that I have not been disposed to listen sufficiently in the past, but perhaps a Back-Bench Member has more excuse than the Government.

The hon. Member for Lancashire, West spoke about the tagging system, but he should listen to the probation officers who also have the job of trying to rehabilitate people so that they do not commit crime in the future—they are bitterly opposed to tagging. The Government appear to consider anything except constructive solutions.

The Government are also using the prison system as yet a further test of their doctrinaire desire to privatise everything in sight. I was stunned to hear that we are to have private remand centres and private security facilities for escorting people to and from prison. It appears that people will make profits out of another person's loss of liberty. Society has a right to protect itself, but it does not have the right to give private companies the opportunity to make profits out of people's loss of liberty.

The example set by the Government is appalling. As well as the obvious types of violent crime, there is the quieter lawlessness, which receives a good deal of equally quiet, tacit approval from Conservative Members. Lawlessness is inherent, for instance, in the practice of some employers of ignoring the minimum wages laid down by the wages councils. Those minimum wages are not—

Mr. John Patten

Order. This is the subject of the next debate.

Mrs. Wise

I am drawing attention to an aspect of lawlessness. If the Minister wants to make an intervention or a point of order, I suggest that he does so, rather than harry me from a sedentary position, but I warn him that I am not easily harried, so he might as well be quiet.

The quiet, but none the less important, lawlessness to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is the widespread practice of ignoring the statutory minimum rates of pay that are laid down by the wages councils for 2.5 million workers in this country. I regret to say that many employers flout the laws, but those laws affect people's purses. When people are deprived of their legal entitlement to wages laid down by law, it is robbery. It might be quiet, but it is robbery just as much as it would be if the employer went to the handbag or the pocket of his employee and took the money.

Mr. Dykes

As a responsible legislator, the hon. Lady must be extremely concerned about such breaches of the law, especially as she suggests that it is on a large scale. It is her duty to notify the authorities and to give them all detailed information so that they can take out the necessary prosecutions. Has she done so?

Mrs. Wise

For once, I am grateful for a helpful intervention. Later I shall describe how the Government can find out about this widespread flouting of the law. The Government claim that there is very little such law-breaking, but that illustrates their failure to read their own statistics. Perhaps that is part of the reason why they tend to reduce the amount of statistics available to us. Luckily, we still have the new earnings survey, which shows that 10 per cent. of female shop assistants are paid less than £2.10 per hour. The wages council legal minimum rate for shop assistants is £2.33 per hour, which means that more than 10 per cent. of female shop assistants are being robbed. My example is generous because, clearly, the proportion on lower rates is higher than 10 per cent, if we add those getting between £2.10 and the legal minimum of £2.33.

Hon. Members do not need to act as private detectives for the Government, because the Government should be aware of this widespread law-breaking. It is illustrated in their own statistics, yet they deny it. In so far as the Government can be said to be at all embarrassed about such law-breaking, they propose that the best way to proceed is not to tackle the law breaker but simply to remove the law. That is an odd attitude to lawlessness. The Government also have the mechanism of inspection to discover law-breaking, and trade unions are eager to draw the Government's attention to specific cases of flouting of the law. However, the Government are simply not interested in that, because it is merely low-paid, hard-working people who are robbed. We never hear anything about that from Conservative Members.

There is another form of law-breaking in employment; it relates to those employers who neglect to ensure that working conditions are safe even though they have a legal responsibility to do so. Perhaps I had better rephrase that. It is their legal duty to do so "as far as is reasonably practicable", but employers tend to interpret that as meaning, provided it does not cost them very much.

There are far too many accidents at work, but what was the Government's reaction to that? Was it to make sure that breaches of the law which frequently lead to death and disability were found? That was certainly not their reaction. They reduced the number of factory inspectors, although numbers were already inadequate. Even the Government realised that they were going too far, and they have started to move timidly in the other direction slightly to improve once again the number of factory inspectors. However, the number remains substantially below that which existed before the Government came to office. That is quite scandalous and shows a lack of moral leadership by the Government to employers to ensure that there are no avoidable deaths and disabilities at work. However we hear nothing about that, because Conservative Members are not interested.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) would have done the House a bigger service if he had taken the opportunity to draw to the attention of his Government the matters that I have raised. I have not even touched on the large-scale fraud, the technical robbery, frequently perpetrated by the friends of Conservatism in the City of London. I shall leave it to other hon. Members to deal with that. Perhaps even Conservative Members, who know more than I do about the workings of the City, would care to say something about it. Somehow I doubt it.

I reiterate my view that the best way to prevent crime, lawlessness and violence is to provide people with an environment in which there is no institutional and state violence and in which the Government are working for a peaceful world instead of brandishing weapons which could destroy it. That is the first step towards prevention.

The second step is for everyone, including the Government and hon. Members to use their influence on those whose money has given them power to control the press.

The press is not controlled by people who are particularly good at writing or particularly interested in freedom of expression. It is controlled by those few people who have the money to do it. By using their money in this way they have degraded the term "freedom of the press" and the profession of journalism. The attention of such people should be drawn to their responsibility for providing an environment that does not glorify crime, which does not incite people to commit crime by implication, and which treats everybody with respect. They could play an important role, but at the moment their role is wholly disreputable.

The Government could choose to show compassion and encourage other people to show it. They could provide an environment in which hostels for homeless people, battered wives and mentally disturbed people could be helped. Instead, many such hostels will be compelled to close their doors after April. The Government could ensure that such places, which do useful work, could be financially helped, instead of being financially choked.

The Government could provide young people with help, instead of waging war on them. They could draw attention to the quieter but no less obnoxious crimes that lead to workers being robbed through their wage packets and being placed in unnecessarily dangerous working conditions. If the Government did that, we would live in a better society and there would be no need to concern ourselves so much with lawlessness, because it would be of much smaller proportions.

12.28 pm
Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

The debate has revealed an enormous gulf between the two sides of the House on the question of lawlessness. I, for one, am particularly pleased that I sit on this side of the Chamber.

Mrs. Wise

So are we.

Mr. Amess

I believe that the general public are also pleased that we, rather than the Opposition, are in power.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) on the eloquence of his speech. Those right hon. and hon. Members who heard it will clearly understand how it was that he wrested his seat from the hands of Socialists after 102 years.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman cannot get even that right. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) took the seat from a Liberal. I hope that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) will wake up, and that his speech will improve as it goes on.

Mr. Amess

I am glad that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) intervened, but I know perfectly well that it was a Liberal seat. I just happen to believe that all right hon. and hon. Members who sit on Opposition Benches, with the exception of the Ulster Unionists, are Socialists. I do not understand why the hon. Member for Huddersfield is sensitive about Liberals being regarded as Socialists. I thought that he would be very proud of that. There are not even any Liberals in the Chamber to hear the debate—that is how much they care about lawlessness.

I congratulate also our team of excellent Home Office Ministers. I applaud them on all their initiatives of the past few years. The only matter of disagreement between us is the restoration of capital punishment. That is a topic on which right hon. Members decide as individuals, but I for one believe that life has become very cheap these days, and that the restoration of capital punishment—though I would never wish to see it carried out—would serve as an effective deterrent. I believe also that my view has the overwhelming support of the people of this country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley was right to mention the concern that people feel about lawlessness. However, the public should not imagine that right hon. and hon. Members are unaware of what is going on in our country. Three years ago, my cousin's wife was murdered in broad daylight. Only three weeks ago, my own flat was broken into. It was a violent attack, with an axe being used to gain entry. The thieves were not particularly bright, because there is nothing of value in my flat other than some pictures, which the burglars left while taking other items that I regard as being rubbish. My right hon. and hon. Friends are well aware of what is going on in the country, but, judging by the disgraceful speeches made by Opposition Members this morning, nothing is being done by them to improve the situation. Rather they are undermining efforts to do so.

Since 1979, the Government have increased police manpower by 21,300 officers. Police pay, training and equipment have also been improved. I do not agree with those people who believe that more police, and more officers on the beat, are needed. In my county of Essex, the Government recently increased the police establishment by 70, which I welcome. Also important is the way in which police are deployed, for we must make the best use of the limited resources at our disposal.

Government spending on the police has risen by 52 per cent. after inflation since 1979, and no other public service has enjoyed such a large increase. More officers are being put back on the beat. Since 1983, about 3,300 officers in forces outside London have been released for street duties by engaging civilians to do desk jobs. There are now 750 more officers on street duty in London than there were 12 months ago, and I applaud the Government for that improvement.

As to crime prevention, I am delighted that 64,000 neighbourhood watch schemes are now in existence, including an excellent one in my constituency. The police believe that they help to prevent some of the 19 in every 20 crimes against property. The latest figures show an 8 per cent. drop in the number of domestic burglaries. I am delighted—I know that the public feel strongly on the subject—that the Criminal Justice Act provides for a right of appeal against excessively lenient sentences.

We have the biggest prison building programme of the century. By the mid-1990s, 28 new prisons will have been built since 1979. The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) spoke of the state of our prisons, but the Liberal-Labour Government that we had to endure between 1974 and 1979 did very little in that regard.

I wish that hon. Members who have spoken this morning had expressed some sympathy for the victims of crime. As constructive Members of Parliament, we should display much more sympathy for them. That is why I am delighted that the Government are making available £3.7 million in 1989ߝ90 for local victim support schemes. More than 300,000 crime victims were referred to the schemes last year, and I applaud the one now operating in Basildon.

When I was sent to the House six years ago it soon came to my notice that many people had a poor view of Basildon. They assumed—a typical assumption—that it was full of rough east enders and was a lawless area. As an east ender myself, I was not going to let people cast aspersions, and I am pleased to say that Basildon's image has improved dramatically over the past few years. My hon. Friend the Minister has been to see the excellent work being achieved by the local community. Six years ago we had one police station. We now have three—one in Pitsea, one in the town centre, and one in Laindon. The public's response has been wonderful: people feel much more confident that there is a local point of contact.

Six years ago we also had the highest lawlessness figures in the county; the latest figures show a decrease of some 11 per cent. in recorded offences. The number of reported burglaries and vehicle crimes has fallen by 13 per cent. Let me quote from the latest statement issued by the chief superintendent: our current strategy of creating greater awareness of crime by the public together with specific target operations appears to have had a considerable effect. The overall detection of 30 per cent. over the past 12 months is just below the county rate of 32 per cent. Unfortunately, however, crimes of violence continue to cause concern, with an increase of 19 per cent. across the county.

All Members of Parliament observe the aggressiveness of a minority of members of the general public. We see it on the tube and in the streets, and particularly in the way in which people drive their cars. A total of 72,453 offences have been reported in Essex over the past 12 months, of which 12,342 have occurred within the Basildon division. Last year we launched a campaign called "I love Basildon". Car stickers were issued, and there has been a wonderful response to the campaign—the burden of which is that we are creating a fine town and wish to keep it that way.

The schools in Basildon have responded marvellously, rallying round to assist our campaign to solve the litter problem. I regard litter as an important subject, and I very much hope that the Home Office and the Department of the Environment will take careful note at the successful project that has been launched in Westminster. One of my constituents is working with the ZIP patrol in Westminster. He says that within a very short time Westminster council has been able to do something about litter. I commend to the House the ten-minute Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has introduced, which would lead to on-the-spot litter fines.

Basildon is conducting a campaign to discover why young people are standing on street corners and causing annoyance to the general public. It is not because there are no leisure facilities in Basildon. The 52 per cent. rates increase announced by Basildon has nothing to do with health, education or welfare; it has all to do with expenditure on leisure facilities. There is no earthly reason why some young people stand on street corners and cause annoyance to members of the general public in Basildon.

The "I love Basildon" campaign is all about involving the community in improving law and order. No hon. Member has a simple or complete answer to the difficult problems with which we are trying to cope. It is all about people's personal behaviour; it has nothing to do with unemployment, or low pay, or with the Government's policies. I applaud their policies. I hope that all hon. Members will help to take the political heat out of the issue by supporting the Government. Then I am sure that lawlessness will be greatly reduced.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Sir William Shelton.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that hon. Members are called according to the rules, but, before Tory newspapers or the media generally refer to the fact that two Tory Members of Parliament were called in succession because no Labour Members were on their feet, I want to put it on record that there was at least one Labour Member standing at that time. The point that I am making has nothing to do with the Chair.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The point of order that he has made has nothing at all to do with the Chair.

12.42 pm
Sir William Shelton (Streatham)

I apologise to the House for arriving here shortly after I I o'clock. I have been here ever since. I was unable to arrive before then because I was attending a press conference in Lambeth town hail that was addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. It was a very successful press conference. Many people who have been trying to buy their council houses from Lambeth for up to three years were present. The good news for them was that from midnight last night the law allows them to put their rent against the price that they have to pay for their council house, if they suffer undue delay.

I believe, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), that the Home Office has got it about right. the chief superintendent in Brixton, to whom I was talking the other day, thinks that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 has many advantages and that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 covering sharp instruments is very good and is working well. He thinks that a period of consolidation is needed, together with a continuation of what I call community-style policing.

The results of community-style policing can already be seen in Brixton The police tell me that there is little or no tension in that very sensitive area. That is quite different from the position several years ago. I am told that burglaries are down on last year, that auto-thefts are down on last year and that street robberies are 40 per cent. down over the last two years. However, drugs are still very much a problem. That is because successful drug dealers make money from them and because drugs unfortunately provide them with power and status in the local community. This leads to murder, shootings and all sorts of difficulties.

The position is also improving in Streatham. We have the difficulty of prostitution and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who was here a moment ago, kindly answered my recent Adjournment debate on that, so I shall not talk about prostitution now. Street robbery, or what we may call muggings with violence, is falling. The numbers are still much too high, but at least they are falling. The chief superintendent in Streatham is greatly worried about the type of weapons used. In February there were 15 attacks, involving 12 knives, a baseball bat, a hand gun and an air pistol. At least the use of knives has fallen and, as far as we can tell, is continuing to fall.

There is great anxiety about gratuitous violence, which is often drink related. It is the type of violence that we see at football matches. Incidentally. I welcome the introduction of identity cards for club members. Drink-related, gratuitous violence does not seem to be consequent upon the relaxation of drinking hours during the morning. It usually takes place late at night after the pubs shut. Those involved are usually young men between the ages of 17 and 26.

Another worrying aspect that may appear trivial, but is certainly not trivial to those involved, is the increasing number of attacks on the top deck of buses that go through my constituency late at night. They have become prevalent on four routes. I must ask the Minister, and I shall ask London Buses, why we cannot have video recorders on top decks filming the occupants and a notice saying that a recorder is in action. That would do much to reduce that unpleasant problem.

The victims of those various attacks are mainly schoolboys between 10 and 16 and women between 16 and 30. In the past month there have been only four attacks on people over 60. That means not that youngsters and women are the chosen victims, but that elderly people are not prepared to go out at night because of lawlessness.

Burglaries are decreasing in Streatham. There were 369 in December compared with 247 in February. The fall is due to a big effort by the police after Christmas which produced extraordinarily good results. Between 20 January and 19 February 23 officers were put in a special burglary squad. They made 62 arrests and cleared up more than 100 offences. That is excellent. A major problem is that it is difficult to apprehend villians. Autocrime is at a consistent level. The drug problem seems to be slightly more under control. In 1977 there were fewer than 100 arrests and in 1978 there were only 60 arrests for possession.

The excellent chief superintendent tells me that he feels like a juggler keeping balls in the air all the time, catching this one here and that one there. As problems arise he has to switch his forces to cope with them and he cannot give the service wanted on all sides all the time. His force is more or less at full complement, which is a great credit to the Home Office. However, he has suggested, and I entirely agree, that more thought and resources should be diverted to stop youngsters offending. He has been doing precisely that, and I congratulate him.

Last August, the Streatham police, led by Roger Street, launched the Gipsy Hill initiative. The police borrowed or rented a hall and encouraged youngsters from problem estates to come to meetings at which the police played and talked with them. Activities ranged from volleyball to talks on how to look after pets. The police took them in a bus to Crystal Palace, where they practised archery and football. Four hundred youngsters were involved in the initiative and, as a result, there was a significant decrease in crime in the area compared with the rest of the division.

The cry will go up: "Who paid for the scheme?" It was paid for by local businesses and charities who contributed some £4,000. In the last few days the police have sent out 200 letters to local businesses so that the initiative may be repeated this year. It is to be called "South Lambeth Summer Capers." A committee of members of the community and the police has been formed to raise money which will be allocated to this year's community and police projects. I regret that Lambeth council did not see its way to collaborating with us. To what extent are other police forces throughout the country kept informed of initiatives that take place in other areas?

Mr. John Patten

In the Home Office, we do our best to transfer information about excellent schemes such as that in Lambeth. I hope that my hon. Friend will pass on the congratulations of the Home Office to the police in that division. Counties such as Staffordshire have set up schemes, and we try to ensure that police authorities learn what is going on in different parts of the country. My hon. Friend's report to the House is important because it shows the close co-operation between business, the community and the police force. The lack of encouragement of any sort from Lambeth council is disappointing.

Sir William Shelton

My hon. Friend's remarks were reassuring. The police force has an internal news sheet called The Job. I have I have never seen it and I do not know whether it spreads the word about good practices. It is certainly true that any major international company, such as ICI, has an active system to keep each managing director in each country informed about what is happening, what has been tried, and whether it has failed or succeeded. I am delighted to hear that such a system is very much in the minds of Home Office Ministers. I urge my hon. Friend to consider the experience of international companies, although, in the light of his response, I am sure that I do not need to do so.

When more funds are available, it is surely better to use all the resources not to catch offenders but to try to prevent the offences from happening. The small initiative in Lambeth must have the support of us all and I am sure that, over the next 20 years, such initiatives will be the way forward. Our police force should not be continually rushing round putting out fires while spending little or no time on preventing them. I am sure that such initiatives present the way forward and I commend them to the House.

12.53 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I welcome the debate on lawlessness which has been initiated by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick). Those of us who know the hon. Gentleman well heard what we anticipated from him—the voice of the Conservative party conference. We clearly heard the engine that drives the Home Secretary and his team of Ministers; we heard all the prejudices and the gut reactions expressed without reference to the facts or to in-depth investigations of the problem. The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the articulate way in which he summed up all the prejudices of the Conservative party on this issue.

I was astonished to hear Conservative Member after Conservative Member failing to refer to the crime statistics since 1979. Usually they are happy to talk about the record of the past 10, five or three years, but, given the facts, I am not surprised that they did not do so this morning. We heard only one or two references to statistics.

Let us examine the facts. A Scottish newspaper this morning spoke of the terror of the knife men and the growing nightmare of the violent use of knives in Strathclyde. What has happened in this country since the so-called party of law and order became the Government in 1979? There has been a rising tide of lawlessness. The hard statistics show that, between 1979 and the most recent figures, violence against the person increased by 48 per cent., robbery by 160.8 per cent., burglary by 65.6 per cent., criminal damage and vandalism by 83.8 per cent. and sexual offences by 15.6 per cent. That catalogue of misery for many citizens is presided over by a Government who repeatedly claim on television that they are doing a grand job.

Some people back in 1979 were naive enough to believe that the Conservatives were the party of law and order. Any such pretension now looks hollow after 10 years of decline into lawlessness. It has become increasingly clear as time has gone on that the Government who claimed to be the party of law and order espouse a philosophy, ideology and policy that have brought about the crumbling of law and order of the past 10 years.

The Government's attitudes, values and beliefs are fundamental, because law and order and a safe society are based on certain principles that I want to discuss this morning. The Government have reacted to the incontrovertible evidence of soaring crime by introducing disastrously misconceived policies which have exacerbated, not eased matters.

Let us examine some of these policies. The Government have poured money into the criminal justice system. They have commenced an historic prison building programme as a remedy for lawlessness. Yesterday I visited one of the new prisons near Doncaster. It is an old RAF camp, now housing more than 1,000 men. When it was opened, it was supposed to be for category C and category D prisoners and to take the pressure off the prison system. But every time there has been an expansion of the prison capacity in Britain, the Government have found a way to fill it. They have embarked on a prison-building programme on which they plan to spend £1.25 billion.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said, we now send more people to prison than any other major western European country—55,729 people as of 1 February this year. The Government used to be able to say that Turkey sent a greater percentage per head of population to prison, but this year, as the Minister will know, even Turkey does not commit as many people to custodial sentences as we do. The recent statement by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders underlines that dramatically.

The Government's policy of having more people in prison and more prison capacity goes hand in hand with their policy of stiffer sentencing. That was one of the planks of the 1979 Conservative manifesto which promised tougher sentencing policy, more prisons and more prisoners as a deterrent, but it has not worked and there has been some squirming among Conservative Members.

Today's debate seemed so dismal and the Conservative party seemed to have learnt so little over the years, but it gave us a lift when we heard the brave voice of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) taking to task the hon. Member for Colne Valley on his facts about the deterrent value of capital punishment. That was a small glimmer of light.

Mr. Riddick

Will the hon. Gentleman read out the statement from NACRO to which he referred as I am not familiar with it?

Mr. Sheerman

The statement gave some facts and figures on imprisonment in western Europe. Ms. Vivien Stern, the director, said: It is shameful that this country now has a higher proportion of its citizens in prison than any other major West European country. These disturbing figures reinforce the case for a greater use of non-custodial penalties for non-violent offenders. That is what NACRO said, and more power to its elbow for bringing that to the Government's attention.

The other side of the picture is that the Government's policy has not worked. There are more prisons and they get filled. We have a tougher sentencing policy which does not deter. There has been a massive increase in the prison population and a great increase in crime, criminality and the number of victims affected by crime. The policy has been bankrupt for a long time; it does not work. But the Government, terrified of the Secretary of State's next appearance at the Tory party conference, plough on with a policy that they know is bankrupt and does not work. The result of high spending and toughness is that, in 10 years, recorded crime has risen by 53 per cent.

I am sure that the Minister will grasp at one small straw. Unless I am wrong, or unless he edits it out, the Minister will say that up to June 1988 there had been a 1 per cent. drop in crime. That is a pretty small straw to grasp. Violent crime has still been increasing rapidly. In the past year violence against the person and sex offences have risen by 17 per cent. That is the reality. This morning my hon. Friends talked about the vulnerability of women in society. They are absolutely right. The Government have presided over a doubling in reported cases of rape—we know that sexual offences are under-reported. In 1978, there were 1,243 reported cases, but in 1987 the figure had risen to 2,473. Those figures are a disgrace in a civilised nation, and they should be a disgrace to a Government who pretend to be interested in law and order.

All the evidence shows that violence is all around us. There is violence around football matches, although the proposed system of identity cards will do little about that other than to push violence outside the ground and harm football clubs and decent football supporters and stop them from getting to the games that they want to see. Evidence shows that violence does not take place only in urban areas—although the Government have ignored the fact that most crime occurs on the large council estates and in inner city areas. There is crime in rural areas, too. It also happens on all forms of public transport. Indeed, it has given us a new vocabulary. Who would have known what a "steamer" or a "lager lout" was a few months ago? That vocabulary is a symptom of the new wave of criminality in our country.

Although the violence is there for all to see, the Government are embarking on a new tack and saying that there is not really much violence or crime in this country, but that the perception or fear of crime is the problem. Indeed, the Government have gone as far as appointing Michael Grade, for whom I have great respect as a television producer and programmer, to head a working party in the Home Office to persuade people that they should not be fearful of crime. It is astounding that the Government are taking one of our top media people— goodness knows what he wants to do it for; I cannot understand it, hut perhaps he is after a knighthood.—

Mr. John Patten

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that among the membership of the steering committee that suggested that the fear of crime should be a topic for next year's standing conference on crime prevention is the director of NACRO, Vivien Stern, the chief constable of the Northumbrian constabulary and others from all spheres of interest, not just the Home Office?

Mr. Sheerman

Yes; I have seen the membership of the committee and I understand that point well. I was not talking about the people who will inject enthusiasm into the working party. I was saying that once again it is the Government's intention to give the impression of doing something about the problem without actually doing anything that would have any effect. The fact is that there is rising lawlessness in this country, and we have a Home Office committee—[Interruption.] If the Minister of State wants to intervene again, he may do so. We have a Home Office committee that will tell the world that the problem is fear of crime, not the real criminality that is shown by the rising crime statistics.

I bring to the Minister's attention the second phase of the Islington crime survey. The figures for our capital do not show that the problem is people's fear of crime as something distant that will probably not happen to them. The survey showed that the real fear of crime bears a close correlation to violence or criminal activity that has impinged on the person interviewed, a member of his household or his peer group in the past five years. There is a direct correlation. People are not affraid because of fancy things that they have read in the newspapers about muggings; they are afraid because such crimes have happened to them or to someone in their close circle. That is the fact of living in an inner city today. The Government will not get off the hook on that.

Why is there greater lawlessness in our society? Opposition Members have rehearsed familiar but important arguments and have referred to the fact that poverty and unemployment have risen in the past 10 years, affecting particular groups and causing criminality. Research evidence is available, not from the Tory party conference, but from universities, NACRO, independent foundations and all-party foundations which shows that poverty and unemployment breed criminality. There has been much poverty and unemployment under this. Government.

The Government's economic and social policies flow from their ideology. The hon. Member for Colne Valley referred to amateur sociologists. We do not need to be amateurs to consider Conservative party ideology as it emanates from the Prime Minister and from the party generally. Conservatives are not ashamed of their ideology of applauding the notion of the rugged individual entrepreneur in society. That ideology considers the individual to be most important. In his concluding remarks, the hon. Member for Colne Valley referred to the individual. He did not talk about the community, society or group effort; he referred to the individual. That reveals the core of the Government's misunderstanding of the problems of tackling crime, criminality and lawlessness.

We can solve criminality and lawlessness only by working together as a community and a society and by believing that society is more important than the individual. We must believe that something holds us together which is more important than personal greed, personal selfishness and getting one's own way in the world.

Greed and selfishness are at the heart of the present Conservative ideology. Once that ideology is imposed on society, it breeds crime and criminality like nothing else. People who have nothing are not impervious to that ideology. They want everything yesterday, just like the £100,000-a-year young stockbroker in the City. Because they cannot get it, they commit crime. However, that is a result of the culture produced and underpinned by the Government.

The Government's ideology breeds crime in the deprived inner cities and on large council estates where poverty has increased. It also breeds crime in the rural areas. It breeds crime among unemployed young people and also among young people who are in employment and are at the bottom end of the wage scale. The notion of an envious society and the widening gap between incomes breeds discontent which often leads to crime.

Very little activity is provided for young people in so many areas. Some hon. Members today referred to ways to stop crime before it occurs. The Government seem to be obsessed with catching criminals. The Opposition are far more interested in preventing criminality in the first place. The Government have done precious little about the growing area of criminality among our young people.

More enlightened Governments have acted quickly. For example, the French Government witnessed a rising tide of criminality, urban disturbances and riots in major cities. They implemented a major programme to allow young people proper access to productive leisure of all kinds. Unfortunately, those large programmes meant real resources from central Government. However, the French Government acted and already they are getting very good results and are reducing crime among young French people.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

The hon. Gentleman has referred to acquisitiveness and its effect on young people. There may be a degree of truth in what he says. On the other hand, we must also consider, as the hon. Gentleman was beginning to imply, the question of individual responsibility, which is learnt when one is very young. Will he consider the problem caused by many schools in areas run by Labour local authorities where the police have been discouraged from working with the schools?

Mr. Sheerman

It is a very tiny minority of authorities that have banned police from schools. I do not approve of that, and nor does the Labour party. Of course, Labour local authorities have a democratic right to make their decisions, but that is not the official Labour party line. We believe that a partnership in the town, in the vilage and in the city between local authorities, the police, local businesses, voluntary groups and the resident associations is the kernel of getting a safer community.

In so many of the areas that I have been considering in the past few minutes few leisure activities are provided for young people. We have seen time and again that one of the ways into criminality and crime is the abuse of alcohol and, indeed, drugs. Many underprivileged young people who do not have constructive alternatives drift into the use of alcohol. I do not approve of that, but it is a known fact that they drift into heavy drinking, drug taking and solvent abuse and, to keep the habit going, they drift into crime. That is a sad state of affairs. That is why I intervened to say that we should have creative alternatives for young people. Of course, I want to stop young people drinking before they are 18ߞthat is the law. It is a good law and one which we should take seriously. On the other hand, I believe that we should make creative alternatives.

Young people in my town say to me, "What is there but the pub?" What is provided for young people over 15 years? There is very little when one considers the matter. So much of our community has closed down. How many churches have closed down? People of my generation went to youth clubs and found them quite enjoyable, but they do no longer exist. Little is provided so that young people may spend their leisure time in a creative and interesting way, especially in areas of greatest urban stress.

What Government policies have there been to enhance realistic attractive leisure activities? The Government have taken £20 billion from the rate support grant. They are starving local government of any initiative of this sort. The Government are even moving towards the selling off of leisure centres to private operators. Private operators will not provide the sort of low-cost deals for young people that we want to encourage.

The Minister knows that the peak age for offenders of both sexes is 15 years. One half of all recorded offences and three quarters of all recorded burglaries are committed by young people under 21. The relationship between youth and criminality is staring the Government in the face. All they have come up with over the past 10 years is the short, sharp shock—and what a disaster that was.

France has a positive policy. It is spending money. It has a commitment to do something about a perceived problem. At the heart of the problem in this country is the individualistic philosophy of the Government—the "me" society that wants everything yesterday. That leads to the rejection of society and of the community and, ironically, to the rejection of the family. There is only one concept in Tory philosophy today, and that is the individual. The Opposition believe that that is the core of the problem of lawlessness today, because the foundations of a lawful society have always rested on the community and society working together.

The Minister will say that, typically, the hon. Member for Huddersfield has not said what his party would do. I shall tell him what we would do. The answer for those of us who yearn for a return to a lawful and safe society lies in a rejection of a selfish society and its values and a reversal of the Government's key policies that stem from it. Of course, we shall have to wait until the next general election to get it. We have started, however, in our efforts to achieve that reversal.

We must recognise that the Government's criminal justice policy has got it wrong. There are alternatives. Vast sums of money have been spent on dealing with the problem after the offence has been committed, on prison building and on imposing stiffer sentences. That has been done at a high cost to the taxpayer who is faced with a poor return. We believe that we should concentrate on the prevention of crime. The Government are involved in some crime prevention, but their efforts and the expenditure on it are pitifully small.

The Government have taken £20 billion of rate support grant away from our impoverished towns and cities, but at the same time—it is reported in The Guardian today—the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has responsibility for the inner cities, has announced the extension of the Home Office's Safer Cities crime prevention scheme to the Wirral and Hull That is all well and good, but that scheme means the expenditure of £250,000 and a lot of publicity. That money will convert the entrances to about five blocks of flats—that is how far the Government's commitment goes towards safer cities.

We believe that the Government have got themselves into a terrible twist, because the only way to tackle lawlessness is to work with local government. I not' that the Minister curls his lip, but that is the truth. The Government have a pathological hatred of local democracy and therefore they are unable to use society's most effective weapon against lawlessness—a democratically organised and supported community. The Government do not believe in that, and for the past 10 years they have waged outright war against local democracy.

We believe that, if crime prevention and safer communities are to mean anything, there must be a partnership based on democratic consent between local councils, the police, neighbourhood and resident associations and local businesses. That partnership, based on democratic leadership, is the way forward, but the Government will not accept that.

Local councils must have a prime role as they could provide valuable leadership in so many areas. They could provide sensible housing management policies, home security policies and better street lighting. They could improve neighbourhood estate management and set up crime prevention community safety committees. They could raise the awareness of their staff about crime and improve staff training. They could develop crime monitoring schemes and introduce crime audits. They could raise public awareness and introduce minimum standards of security for all their properties. They could address the particular needs of groups who are vulnerable to crime. They could influence public transport policies and assist low-income owner-occupiers to secure their homes properly. They could improve recreational and youth provision. If the Government gave the resources and the backing to local government, it could get on with those exciting things. My goodness, we could do something about lawlessness if the Government would throw off their prejudice against local government and give local democracy a chance to work.

If local democracy was given a chance, the great bonus would be that there would be no need for vigilantes or for residents taking the law into their own hands. We are, of course, in favour of neighbourhood watch, which is a good thing, and of residents taking an active interest in the security of their neighbourhood. But at the end of the day there must be a proper chain of responsibility, and that is why so many of us are worried about the importation of vigilantes and the growth of that mentality. We are worried about the proliferation of private security facilities. That problem is increasing because the Government have allowed it to grow unsupervised and disaster is looming.

If local government is involved in the fight against crime, a chain of responsibility is provided which makes sense and brings order to disorder. The essential thrust of my remarks is that that involves local democratic leadership and public expenditure. The Government will not countenance those two matters.

We need real action, not the illusion of activity. If there is anything in the epitaph of Conservative government over the past 10 years it will be that they were masters of creating the illusion of activity without actually doing anything. We need real action, but that costs money which has to come from taxpayers and ratepayers. We believe that people are willing to pay for a safer society, but we do not expect to persuade the Government about that.

Mrs. Wise

Before my hon. Friend leaves the issue of local democracy and the importance of local government, may I ask him whether he agrees that if we had better street lighting and better public transport it would be easier for people in general and women in particular to get out and about at night? Going out to meetings and other such democratic participation keeps democracy alive, whereas at the moment there is almost a self-imposed curfew and people stay in their own little boxes and become more and more afraid.

Mr. Sheerman

My hon. Friend is right. Those of us who travel in London have seen over the last 10 years during which I have been in the House a steady decline in security on public transport. That is because for 10 years the Government have exerted pressure on public expenditure. That is why we never see a member of London Regional Transport staff on platforms or in the trains. They used to be there for security purposes, but that is no longer the case. We all know that their absence leads to tragedies. Such people can stop crime on the tubes and buses. What Government would have thought of taking the conductor off the traditional London bus? He prevented clogging of the system and was a means of protecting the citizen. Why have we not had ministerial activity to stop the ridiculous policy of one-man buses?

Mr. Bowls

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about increasing security on public transport. He said that we have too many custodial sentences and his policy appears to be not to have so many people in prison. What would he do with all the people who are arrested for violent crimes? Will the women of London who wish to travel at night feel more secure when they know that Labour party policy is to put violent people back on the streets?

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting matter with which I propose to deal later. We want to prevent crime, because if that can be done fewer people will need to be sentenced. We want a sentencing commission and a proper attitude to sentencing.

Most of the people in our prisons are not violent criminals. They have not been involved with drugs and are not sex offenders. Only about 18,000 people have been convicted of such offences and many of the other 55,000 should not be serving custodial sentences. They are in prison for non-payment of fines and other such trivial offences. Women have been snatched from their families before Christmas and we have seen two-week-old children snatched from their mothers' arms so that the mothers could be sent down for Christmas. That is not the sort of society that we want, but it is the sort that we have under this Government. The examples that I have given occurred in London in December.

The majority of people in prison are not violent criminals, nor, as I have said, were they involved in drugs or sex crimes. Many people outside Britain misunderstand that, and the Conservative party and the Government mislead people. Mr. Michael Grade is an honourable man and he and Vivien Stern should demand a broadening of the terms of reference so that people may have real information about the fear of crime. Such fear can be exaggerated and it frightens some old people. Let us tell people the truth about why people are sent to prison and about what life is like in our ghastly prisons. Let us expand the remit of the Home Office advisory committee on the fear of crime.

The Government do not want to admit the close correlation between reductions in public spending and increased lawlessness. That link was not mentioned in the speech of the hon. Member for Colne Valley. Every day people can see on the tube and on other public transport that lack of staff leads to disorderly conduct and the lawlessness that we all want to stop. We know that the vulnerability of the public increases the more that one ceases to pay for good public services. Good street lighting and other services, properly designed communities and good housing cost money, but they are much more effective than a good press release or television advertising.

I reiterate that we must give close scrutiny to the question of youth criminality and base our policies and answers on facts, not emotions. If one listens perceptively, one finds that good arguments come from both sides of the House. Government action should be based not on emotion, not on the latest spasm at the Tory party conference, but on facts. There are many experts around who know the answers—but the answers are complex, and the Government too often go for the quick fix, the gimmick, which they can sell to the public but which does not achieve anything. This morning we saw paraded the ultimate quick fix of capital punishment.

If policies are to succeed, they must have the consent of local people, which is something that the Government do not understand. If one is to achieve a lawful and safe society, one must involve local people in the community through democratic procedures. Tougher sentencing and a higher prison population have been shown not to work. That is not surprising because, according to the Carlisle report, only 7 per cent. at most of offences reach the courts. Of those who are in prison, 60 per cent. reoffend within two years. One must draw the conclusion that Government policies of the past 10 years and the philosophies from which those policies spring must be rejected. Policies must be based instead on specific changes to the criminal justice system that will be known to work.

Neither the Home Secretary nor the Prime Minister needs to wear a red nose today to look ridiculous, because their policies for ensuring protection of the citizen and safety on our streets and in our cities are ridiculous in themselves. Tragically, the real victims of their policies are the victims of crime, those disturbed by the prospect of crime who live in fear, and, last but not least, the criminals whose lives are distorted and ruined by the crimes that they commit.

1.33 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who, as always, put his points forcefully and clearly. There is some agreement between us, particularly on the importance of preventing young people from falling into criminal activity. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir W. Shelton) gave the wonderful example of a local scheme that is doing just that. However, there is much that separates the hon. Member for Huddersfield and myself—notably, his great concern for the offender. We should all be concerned about offenders, but the hon. Gentleman demonstrated precious little concern for their victims, which is characteristic of most speeches of the past decade made by Labour Front Bench spokesmen.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) on having given the House an opportunity to debate a subject of widespread concern. There is no one with whom I would rather spend a Friday morning in the House debating lawlessness. I am grateful to him for making it possible for me to participate. His speech will bear careful reading by us in the Home Office and by everyone who is interested in law and order. We also heard some notable speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind), for Basildon (Mr. Amess)—he reminded us of the "I love Basildon" campaign—and for Streatham.

I hope that all hon. Members believe that in this country we are and should remain subject to the rule of law. Our laws are made by Parliament or have evolved over centuries in our independent courts. I wonder what those independent courts think of the Labour pledges that we have heard today to introduce a sentencing commission. The Labour party is now beginning to say what it is going to do, which takes us into some interesting territory. Intervening in the independence of the courts is clearly one of the things that the new Labour party wants to do.

Our laws exist to ensure that we can go about our lawful business. We are all subject to the law and, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said recently, we cannot choose to obey some laws but disobey others—a line that did not strike a resonant chord with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), to whose disgraceful speech I shall return. It is against the background of the rule of law that individual freedom and parliamentary democracy have developed.

As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley and others on both sides of the House, hon. Members and members of the public are rightly concerned at the decline in standards over the past three or four decades. There seems to be less respect for the law and for lawful authority; there is more indiscipline and violence. We see the manifestations all around us. The smashed park bench, the graffiti on public buildings, the stench in public subways and the state of the lifts in high-rise blocks are all stark evidence of a change in individual attitudes to self-discipline.

I do not think that a few years ago we lived in a golden age; I am sure that 50 years ago young men got drunk on Saturday night and brawled in the streets and market squares. No doubt they did so 500 years ago, and will do so in 50 years' time. But the knife culture of some of London's streets was yet to be born 50 years ago. Violent crime, like crime in general, has been rising for more than three decades under Governments of both political colours, in times of high and low unemployment, of prosperity and economic difficulty, of feast and famine. If we are to understand why crime has risen, some deep analysis is necessary.

I certainly agree that the fear of violence can have a corrosive effect on people's lives, especially in our large cities, and no politician can be complacent while people fear crime. That is why I was so interested to hear the hon. Member for Huddersfield say—and it will be in the Official Report for us to read on Monday—that he appreciated that from time to time individuals' fear of crime was much greater than the reality. I agree with him. Often, however, the fear outruns the danger.

The Home Office research and planning unit is an independent body which produces research of worldwide standards, universally praised. Its findings do not always make comfortable reading for the Government of the day, but such work is rightly praised by Vivien Stern of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. Some new research from the unit tells us that, for example, while one third of women over 60 say that they feel very unsafe to go out at night, only 0.5 per cent. have experienced any sort of street crime in the last year for which we have records.

In general, the fear of becoming a victim of crime tends to increase with age, while the actual chance of becoming a victim of crime diminishes very sharply with age. I say that not to attempt to divert public opinion and debate from the central core of what we are seeking to do, which is to turn back the tide of crime of the last three decades, but to point to an additional aspect that needs to be considered and which the hon. Member for Huddersfield generously recognised—that sometimes the fear of crime can outweigh the actuality of crime.

Mr. Sheerman

To put my remarks in context—I want them to be regarded not as prejudiced but as balanced remarks—the Islington crime survey, an independent survey, suggests that the fear of crime is linked to real experience. Even on the figures that the Minister has just quoted, in any community there is a one in 200 chance of knowing someone or of being someone who has been the victim of crime. I was saying that we do not need yet another Government campaign to try to take people's eyes off the fact that violent crime is on the increase by suggesting that there is no reality to their fears.

Mr. Patten

In no sense are the Government seeking to do that. They are seeking to deal with the crime problem at large—both the reality of crime and the perception of crime.

When I visited Leeds, not Huddersfied, last Wednesday, the soon-to-retire chief constable of the West Yorkshire constabulary, Colin Sampson, said in a speech that he felt that the most important task facing us today is to transfer the fear of crime, whether real or false, from the innocent to the people who might be tempted to become criminals. The chief constable's remarks should be remembered by us all. We must transfer the fear from the threatened to the threatener. That is why we need to obtain the fullest possible view of the reality of crime. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Huddersfield decided to launch an attack on Mr. Michael Grade and those who support the new inquiry into the fear of crime. When he reads what he said in Hansard—it may also be reported by some newspapers—he may be rather ashamed.

Just as there is a relationship between the actuality of crime and the fear of crime, so also is there a relationship between the media and the fear of crime. Those who are listening to the debate can rest easy; I am not about to mount an attack on the media. It would be wrong as well as fruitless to suggest that the media should not report violent crime. Part of the positive duty of the broadcasting and written media in this country is to report violent crime and to bring home the facts. It is also important that, from time to time, violence should be portrayed in television drama, because violence is part of everyday life.

However, alongside reports of the rise in crime or of violence in television drama, I should like to see stories on television and in the newspapers of estates that were previously ridden with crime pulling themselves together by means of active tenants' associations. I should like to hear about improvements in design, about neighbourhood watch schemes that are leading to a reduction in the crime rate and street violence and about the efforts being made by the police to deploy their forces more effectively. It is up to us all to ensure that we supply good news to the media so that the media can decide independently, with their editorial freedom, whether they want to promote it.

We must also show the public that it is false to think that, inevitably and irresistibly, crime is on the increase. It would be wrong if people shaped their lives on a false premise. Equally, while it is right for violence to be portrayed in the media and in television drama, I sometimes wish that producers would show us the consequences of violent acts. Often they show us the violent acts and the knife or gun. I watch some television, particularly at the weekends, and it is rare to see the consequences of the violent action portrayed.

Mr. Skinner

That was done with Dirty Den.

Mr. Patten

I do not want to go into Dirty Den. I must be one of the few people in the House never to have watched "EastEnders", and I do not intend to break my record. I understand that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, may have similar good taste and the whole House recognises it.

It is critical for part of the story line sometimes to be about how awful it is to be stabbed or in a wheelchair for the rest of one's life. It is important to take the audience into the minds of the grieving parents or the sorrowing wife or husband. I hope that there can be all-party agreement at least on that.

Mr. Sheerman

I should like to agree, Dirty Den notwithstanding, but the American presidential commission on violence and the media, which must be 15 or 18 years old by now, claimed that when the great director, Sam Peckinpah, depicted violence horrifically in "The Wild Bunch" and other Westerns, it was the greatest stimulant to emulation, rather than the type of violence that the Minister is describing. I urge a little caution and more thought about whether gory details of the results of a shooting or stabbing would have the effect that he suggests. I can understand the thrust of the emotional response, but I do not think that scientific work would back him up.

Mr. Patten

I was not suggesting that we show gory details. I have rather a weak stomach for such portrayals on screen. I was saying that the consequences of grief and human suffering can make just as good drama as the gory details of the actions. Mr. Grade and his committee will have a chance to look at these issues and to report back on them in December, and we wish that committee well.

The problems cannot be solved by the Government alone. My hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley and for Basildon and others referred to the fact that the presence of more police officers on our streets helps to reassure people. That is why the Government have increased police manpower and there are 13,500 more police in England and Wales and more than 7,600 civilian staff now than in 1979. A further 1,100 police are to come in 1989–90.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the potential growth—it is hardly there—of vigilantism and the Guardian Angels. We want the public to support the police. They do that in neighbourhood watch schemes and crime prevention panels. We want them to be the eyes and ears of the police. If they wish to give practical support, and be the arms and legs of the police, they should join the special constables. We are in favour of active citizens becoming special constables. We do not approve of private forces roaming the country on underground railways or elsewhere.

Several hon. Members have shown their interest in being special constables. For many years, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) was a special constable, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, until he had to put on plain clothes in the Government Whips Office later in his career.

Mr. Skinner

What is the hon. Gentleman now then?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is now putting the excellent experience that he gained as a special constable on the streets of the capital to good use as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. He is the only one of us in the Home Office who can speak with certainty about what it is like to put a hand on the shoulder and take someone down to the station. We are a deeply experienced Government.

The roots of crime, which the police and the special constables who help them, have to deal with begin with the young. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley suggested, in his complex and interesting remarks, that the media, schools, Churches and, in particular, families, had a special responsibility to prevent youngsters from offending. I agree but I remind him of the powers that the courts already have to make parents responsible for their children, which was one of the themes of his speech.

First, when juveniles—those under 17—are charged, their parents can be required to attend court, which is good because they will be confronted with the fact that their children have offended and with the consequences of that. Secondly, if children are convicted, their parents can be required by the court to pay the fines, costs or compensation which are imposed on their children. Thirdly, although, rightly, children under 10 in this country cannot be prosecuted for criminal offences, juveniles can be taken to court for care proceedings, when there are grounds for doing so. One such ground is when the child is beyond the care of his or her parents.

It is clear that a formidable range of powers already exist and we should make fuller use of them to make parents face up to their responsibilities. For example, in 1987, only about 20 to 25 per cent. of parents were ordered to pay their children's fines. It is essential that courts should use that and other powers more extensively. The Government are considering whether there are other ways in which parents can be encouraged to take their responsibilities more seriously and to be more effective in carrying them out—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley is very concerned about that. This is a difficult matter which involves personal freedom and complex issues but, if we wish to reduce crime, it is crucial to pay special attention to it.

In particular, it is important to do all that we can to divert young people from crime. That is why I was very pleased to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said about what was happening in Lambeth, where local businesses, the community, the police and the voluntary sector were all putting their hands in their pockets, their organisational abilities to the plough and their time to the needs of children by producing schemes to divert youngsters from crime. I was shocked at Lambeth council's refusal to support those efforts.

If the hon. Member for Huddersfield is so keen on facts and says that only a few Labour councils do not support such activities, he has only to go two and half miles down the road to Lambeth town hall to persuade the brothers and sisters to support them. He will be allowed on the premises—unlike the police who, until recently, were not allowed on council property without the permission of the local authority.

Mr. Sheerman

Like other hon. Members, I like to check my facts before I make a statement about any council. Why have hon. Members and the Minister constantly picked on one particular authority which is carrying out activities that they do not like? What about the dozens of Labour authorities that want to participate in the safer cities schemes and have been waiting for months to hear whether they have been chosen? Of those chosen, there is a distinct bias towards Conservative-held cities rather than Labour-held ones.

Mr. Patten

I do not understand the hon. Gentleman. A little earlier he said that he did not much care for safer cities schemes and described them as some sort of gimmick, but he now says that he wants Labour councils up and down the land to have them. A week or 10 days ago I received a generous letter from the Labour leader of Hull council saying how delighted he was that a safer cities scheme was to be operated there, as these schemes were beginning to work extremely well in Labour-controlled areas such as Wolverhampton, Nottingham, Coventry, Birmingham and a host of others.

I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House—as the hon. Member for Huddersfield did. We want children to grow up respecting the law. It was clear to me that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East does not particularly want children to grow up respecting the law. He stood in this Chamber, in which the laws of the land are made, and encouraged lawlessness. I note that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government is on the Front Bench to hear my remarks.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East hinted that there should be what he termed civil disobedience—in other words, breaking of the law—and that committees of 100 should be formed all over the country to enable people not to pay the community charge when it falls due. He seemed to offer himself as a leader of this great national movement. Because his speech was a little unclear, I intervened in it for the sake of greater clarity, and the hon. Gentleman agreeably and decently gave way. I asked him whether he thought that people should break the law, and whether he was going to break it. He answered, "Yes" to both questions.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield speaks with the full authority of a Labour Front Bench spokesman. He is extremely honest and always talks straight in the Chamber. Today, he must tell us whether it is official Labour party policy to promote lawlessness by non-payment of the community charge. If he says that it is not, I hope that he will make it clear to his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East that he condemns his stance.

Mr. Sheerman

The Minister knows very well what the Labour party view of non-payment of the poll tax is: we believe that citizens should remain within the law. I was not in the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East ( Mr. Barnes) spoke, so I cannot comment on what he said.

Mr. Patten

I invite the hon. Gentleman to return to the Dispatch Box and tell his hon. Friend to behave himself and stop inviting people to break the law.

Mr. Sheerman

We are not a Gestapo in the Labour party. We are a democratic party in which members express their opinions. My hon. Friend can make his own view clear if the Minister gives way to him.

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I have never heard such a pathetic performance by a Labour Front Bench spokesman in all my 10 years in this place. The hon. Member for Huddersfield shows no care or consideration for what the general public want, which is high standards of public leadership from both parties. They want the law to be obeyed—

Mr. Harry Barnes


Mr. Patten

I give way to the allegedly law-breaking—or law breaker to be—hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East, the leader of this great national movement.

Mr. Harry Barnes

The Minister's remarks to the effect that I was inciting young people to lawlessness were a disgrace. I am not involved in forcing young people into difficult circumstances. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), I serve on the Standing Committee examining the Employment Bill. We have been trying in that Committee to protect 16 to 18-year-olds who are being attacked by having protection removed from them.

I tried very carefully to explain my non-payment of the poll tax, and my willingness to associate with people who, having thought about it carefully, were prepared to take action together. I deliberately said that mass non-payment would cause problems as it would place certain people in difficulty. However, I have respect for people who believe that the poll tax is so unjust that mass non-payment is a possibility, just as I have respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, (Mr. Sheerman) who wants to fight against it entirely within the legal system. There are differences over what should be done about it, but there is no dispute about the obnoxious nature of the legislation. I was stressing that it is democratically and constitutionally unjust and therefore it might be possible to use acts of civil disobedience in the Gandhian tradition against it.

Mr. Patten

It is pushing analogy a bit far to suggest that the hon. Gentleman and Gandhi could bat in the same league. But I respect the hon. Gentleman, who always makes his views known. He is now on record as thinking that the law should be broken. He is doubtless one of a number of would-be martyrs who will spring up all over the Opposition Benches when the community charge is in operation for the first time, who represent not the loony Left, but the law-breaking Left who do not wish to obey the laws in this country.

Lambeth has been mentioned a great deal in the debate. It would he wrong not to reply to a debate, and I have always done so, so I shall say something about Lambeth. I recently received an object lesson in the effects that local authorities can have on crime. The hon. Member for Huddersfield said that we should get together with local authorities and use them as a vehicle for crime prevention. I co-operate happily with Labour authorities, with hung authorities and with Conservative authorities throughout the country and provide money for crime prevention.

Thanks to a kind invitation, I was taken to visit tower blocks in two randomly chosen boroughs—Lambeth and Wandsworth. The comparison was extremely interesting. They are two or three miles away from the House and separated by only a couple of miles. Both are inner city boroughs with a similar social profile and flow of incomes from central Government and from their rate base, yet the contrast in the contribution that a local authority can make to fighting lawlessness was startling, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham pointed out.

In Lambeth I visited a tower block where the tenants told me that they feared burglary and vandalism, and where police figures show that in 1988 one in 10 residents was burgled—a shameful record. There was no control over who was allowed to enter the buildings, there were no entry phones, no caretakers and no care for the tenants. The tenants told me that they never saw local councillors. It made me laugh—but the laughter was pretty hollow—that there was no lighting on the back stairs of the fire exit because there were no light bulbs. I asked, "Where are the light bulbs?", and the tenants replied that they had rung Lambeth town hall that week and had been told, "There are no light bulbs in Lambeth". I have heard of light bulb free zones, but it is an absurd suggestion that a council cannot provide its tenants with adequate lighting.

Lambeth is the most classic case and the closest example to the Palace of Westminster of a local authority which cannot run its own housing or clean its own borough. Its inability to deal with litter has made Lambeth one of the urban dustbins of western Europe.

How different it is in Wandsworth, which has a similar social profile, a similar flow of income into the borough, and, until three years ago, had a similar crime profile. I was pleased to see entry phones in the tower blocks in Wandsworth, and housing patrols to watch out for trouble makers on the council estates. There were also the improvements in street lighting that the hon. Member for Huddersfield wanted. There is also a Crimewatch scheme in Wandsworth which pulls together the crime prevention efforts of the different council departments. Wandsworth makes effective use of ratepayers' funds and national taxation. So, before Opposition Members lecture us on the need to fight crime or to co-operate with local authorities, they should have a word with Lambeth.

Mrs. Wise


Mr. Patten

No, I shall not give way because this is my penultimate point and I should like to give my hon. Friends who wish to speak the opportunity to do so before 2.30 pm.

My penultimate point relates to crime figures. The hon. Member for Huddersfield used grossly inadequate statistics about recent changes in the crime rate. In the first three quarters of 1988, there were considerable falls in crime. Instead of using his outdated figures, the hon. Gentleman should have said that in the 12 months to the end of September last year, there was a 3 per cent. fall in recorded crime generally, and falls in recorded crime in all the metropolitan areas. Merseyside, for example, saw a considerable fall of 10 per cent. and Greater Manchester, which is not far from where the hon. Member for Huddersfield lives, had a fall of 6 per cent.

We are pursuing vigorously our policies to combat crime and to protect our citizens, but we are not helped by the Labour party's official policy. When I first became a Member in 1979, in our first period of office, we were told by the Labour party that unemployment caused crime. What an insult that was to law-abiding unemployed people in this country. That point was repeated again this morning—[Interruption.] Well, "unemployment" was the word that the hon. Member for Huddersfield used. In our second term, we were told that affluence somehow caused crime. I know what the next argument will be. When we see what I hope we shall all see—a continuing fall in crime—I expect that we shall be told that the reduction in the number of young people is causing that fall in crime, but that is not the case either.

The Labour party's analysis of crime is consistent only with its naivety. Instead of the schoolroom sociology that we have heard from the Opposition, they should have listened to the close analysis of the subject by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, who opened the debate so excellently by directing the attention of the House to the root causes of crime. The Opposition should have listened more closely to my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on initiating the debate.

2.7 pm

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Minister said that when he became a Member he had one view about crime but that he now has a different one. I remind him that when the Prime Minister came to power in 1979, as well as saying that Labour was not working, when just over 1 million people were on the dole, she said that a main feature of her campaign was to clear up crime. I remember a phrase trotted out by the Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister at the time. They spoke about introducing a "short sharp shock". We do not hear a great deal about that now. The offenders were going to be put inside, with the result that crime would fall dramatically under the new, never-had-it-so-good materialism of the Prime Minister.

I am curious about why the Minister did not refer to the short sharp shock. Did it not work? After a short time the Government realised that it was just a slogan, like so many other things. It was a palliative which meant nothing. Now the Government have come up with another. It is called "electronic tagging". That is how the Government say that they will resolve the problem of lawlessness. We all know how that was invented. When Mark Thatcher got lost in the desert, somebody said, "Here's a good idea. We'll tag the offenders." The Government then dropped the idea of the short sharp shock and moved on to electronic tagging. They must now wish that they had put two on the mouth of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). Such things are only slogans.

Today another Tory Back Bencher has come along trying to impress the Prime Minister so that when she has a reshuffle in the autumn he might take the Minister of State's job because the Minister has probably not been as dry as he should have been. The Prime Minister did not give any special favours to the Minister of State such as she gave the other night to the Secretary of State for the Environment who is one of the driest members of the Cabinet.

We will have such debates from time to time and the Government will still slag off local authorities. I am informed that in Derbyshire, as a result of the rate support grant being withheld and grant capping, despite all the efforts of the county council, the authority has been deprived of £15 million for the police. The authority's police bill is £15 million short as a result of the Government's attacks on that county council. I believe that the same attacks have been made on many other shire counties.

Not content with that, the Government have told the Police Federation, "Oh, by the way, we are going to take some of your jobs away. We are going to dilute the police force. We are going to allow certain sections to be privatised. We are going to change the system whereby people are on remand. We are going to use Avis rental cars instead of the police to bring prisoners in." No doubt the Government will also use Trusthouse Forte to provide the meals and will use the Guardian Angels to look after people on the Underground. It is no wonder that the Police Federation is fed up to the back teeth with the Government with all their slogans and promises over the past 10 years. In the face of all that, there is this motion on the Order Paper about lawlessness.

This debate implies that during the past 10 years under this Government and various Conservative Home Secretaries, somehow lawlessness has not been cleared up. Is there any wonder that the fabric of this Government is beginning to crack? Many of the Tory party's supporters in the media are now writing hostile editorials about the Prime Minister and about the end of this Government.

If the Minister of State is worried about anything at all, he should not have attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) about the poll tax. If he had any guts, instead of crawling to the Prime Minister, he would say to her, "Why don't you drop that poll tax, because we're going to lose votes? Why don't you drop water privatisation and one or two more of those things?" Instead, the Minister comes to the Chamber and trots out the usual parrot fashion stuff about Left-wing councils in and around London and elsewhere.

Mr. Riddick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Skinner

No. The hon. Gentleman will be able to wind up, so I am told, if there is any time left, That is the usual practice. He will be able to have his say. I believe that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) also wants to speak.

Apart from the short sharp shock, when the Conservative party came to power, they also promised to set the people free. More prisoners have escaped and there have been more prison officer strikes under this Government than in the whole of my time in politics at this level or in local government. I have never known so many break-outs. Half a dozen films could be made every year based on the different plots and ruses for prison break-outs.

All this has happened under a Government who talk about lawlessness while we understand from books, some written by Tory Back Benchers, that spies have been engaged in breaking and entering for donkeys' years. In the Bill to reform the Official Secrets Act 1911 which the Government are trying to get through the House, the Government will legalise such actions. People will be able to do it willy-nilly and there will be no protection against it.

The Government have done nothing about City fraud. Some people may make £10 from social security while an army of inspectors is hounding women who are supposed to have been cohabiting. An army of inspectors is trying to round up those people, but what are the Government doing about the City of London, the Lloyd's insurance market, insider trading and insider dealing? They are doing very little.

The Minister did not mention fraud in the City of London. We have heard nothing about the fact that just over five years ago Peter Cameron-Webb and his mate Peter Dixon defrauded the insurance market of £40 million. That is well known to hon. Members on both sides of the House and I have not picked that figure out of the blue. I am not talking about someone who has pinched a tin of pilchards from Marks and Spencers. I am talking about massive crime.

What happened to Cameron-Webb and Dixon? They went to America and no one felt their collars, not even the Minister who was a special constable. Why did they not send him over? Nobody went. They got away with 40 million quid. The Government have the cheek to lecture Labour authorities about lawlessness. I am not prepared to take it from the Government when those people have got away with it. What is the Tory Attorney-General saying about it? He has said that we cannot extradite them because they have been in America for more than five years. The Government talk about extraditing Paddy Ryan, when there are those people who have made money hand over fist. Every time we pick up the Financial Times we can see fraud oozing out of its pages.

Then, of course, there is the more topical subject—the Common Market fraud. When the House of Lord's Committee gets together from the sleepy den down the road and uncovers £6,000 million of fraud, we know that something is wrong. Those people have managed to find £6 billion of fraud. It is in all the papers today. It is in the Wapping press—the press that has backed the Prime Minister through thick and thin in the past 10 years. It now says: Governments blamed for failure over EEC frauds. The report cites lack of exchange of information, insufficient powers to pursue fraud, few prosecutions, lack of proper auditing and administration and lack of publicity. All those lorries are going backwards and forwards over the Northern Ireland border and the cattle are following them. A report in one of the papers said that the cattle had now been driven over the border between Northern and Southern Ireland so often that they knew the way themselves. Every time they go over someone makes more money.

Another Tory paper says: Pigs and cattle smuggled across the Irish border and re-exported to qualify for refunds … invoices for grapes and wine were manipulated and wine strengths were understated. That must have been Roy Jenkins doctoring the claret.

Then the Government come along with pettifogging little arguments about people who are prepared to stand up for their rights in Britain. They attack people who are trying to undermine the poll tax. When April comes there will probably be half a million people in Scotland who will not pay the poll tax according to information that is coming from somewhere not far from Tory party central office.

Mr. Riddick

What would the hon. Gentleman do about it?

Mr. Skinner

That is the scale of opinion and feeling against—

Mr. John Patten

Will the hon. Gentleman pay?

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentlemen will find out when it comes to England and Wales—if it ever gets there.

I do not want any lectures from Tories about our people. They should not only expose Labour councils. Why do they not start on Westminster city council down the road? That is run by Lady Porter, who sold off three cemeteries at 15p, and now they are valued at well over £3 million. There is no surcharge there. No one has been feeling Lady Porter's collar. The council has now sacked the chief executive and given him a £1 million handout so that he will not spill the beans.

Lawlessness and crime come in all sorts of disguises. The Tory party cannot lecture the Opposition about them, because the very ethos of capitalism is based on pinching money. Throughout the ages workers have been exploited. Industry has not paid wages council rates. Throughout the years the profiteers—the entrepreneurs—have trampled over working-class people, breaking laws left, right and centre. Millions of old-age people and the chronically sick and disabled are unable to have what is due to them—such as a telephone. The law is being broken because the Government will not pay the proper rate support grant. I am not prepared to have lectures from the Conservative Government about crime and lawlessness. They have practiced it all their lives. It is time that we saw the back of them.

2.19 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

The speech of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was Parliament's contributiion to Comic Relief. As hon. Members leave, there will be a retiring collection. As usual, we enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's contribution.

The definitions of lawlessness that the hon. Gentleman discovered were interesting and, of course, "lawlessness" is an interesting term. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) used that term when he began this debate rather than that usually distinguished lady, Laura Norden. Lawlessness can mean the abuse of the law—that is how we tend to think of it—but it can also mean that no law is available or that people are practising outside the law. In "Childe Harold" Lord Byron, or was it Bobby Robson, referred to: Albania's chief-whose dread command is lawless law". One can appreciate the dangers that could arise, if one was not careful. I would stick to Beachcomber's definition: Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be believed. Any hon. Member speaking to his constituents on their doorstep will think of that phrase because they tend to be worried about the safety of the individual—"I do not feel safe"—and the safety of property—"I am concerned about my motor car, my house and so on". They are also worried about the enforcement of the law—"Where are the police?". There is a general tendency to say, "What are they doing about this?" We should be concerned not about "them" but about "us". As a community we have a responsibility to solve the problem and work together to combat crime.

The Government are doing a tremendous amount and my hon. Friend the Minister outlined some of the actions of which the Government are rightly proud. Such policies are evident in my borough of Wandsworth where there is co-operation between my Government, my local council and my local community to solve some of the problems.

I was interested to note that many of the things that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) listed as what should be happening are happening. We could always ask for more, but the hon. Gentleman only suggested something entirely different regarding custodial sentences. It is important to remember that custodial sentences not only deal with the person who attacked or robbed Mrs. Jones, but protect the many other Mrs. Joneses who have not been attacked or robbed. Them and us equals cause and effect.

Many of my hon. Friends have outlined the need to study the causes of crime and to consider parental influences. We must consider what we can do to encourage parents to set a good example. Every time a parent throws a cigarette packet out of a car window he is encouraging his children in the back seat to asume that that is the pattern of behaviour to follow. Those children will go on to throw their sweet wrappers and McDonalds wrappers on the streets. They will become the litter bugs, the graffiti experts and the fly tippers of the future. We must communicate to parents the extraordinary importance of their role of bringing up the next generation. Schools must play their part, too.

It is also important to consider the role of churches, which sometimes forgive the sinner, but forget to condemn the sin. One needs to do both. The new versionof the Good Samaritan is "Stop! Stop! You need help", but it appears to offer help to the man who has perpetrated the crime rather than the victim. The churches must consider their teachings to see whether they can also contribute to a better society.

My hon. Friends have referred to violence on television, and it is also important to consider the way in which television glamourises petty crime. Often the characters in soap operas are petty criminals—the shoplifter or the fellow who drinks too much and half assaults his girl friend. Those images are as bad as examples of serious violent crime. Television must consider its responsibilities.

Local councils, which have been referred to many times in the debate, have an important role to play in supporting crime prevention and in planning their estates. If estates are properly planned, they present fewer opportunities for crime. Many authorities, of which mine is one, are removing some of the walkways by which villains escape, putting in lights and removing some of the dark corners.

I take seriously the point made about providing play areas. Perhaps in the past we have underestimated that matter. When we give children the challenge of adventure playgrounds and other play areas to suit their age, we are providing them with a challenge within society, and that discourages them from looking for challenges outside society. Perhaps we should look more closely at that. Shops have a role to play. The shopkeeper who sells drink to the under-age customer cannot complain when that customer consumes too much of it and breaks into the shopkeeper's premises. The same reasoning applies to other forms of illegal sales to minors.

We are looking for co-operative effort. I used to be in insurance broking, and I worked closely with the police in crime prevention campaigns. At that time the figures showed that there was a house burglary every two minutes, the average burglary took 90 seconds, and most of them happened between 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The police alone cannot combat a 90-second burglary because, whether they are on the beat or even in fast cars, they cannot get there quickly enough.

Householders must take precautions, and we must get that message across. By all means they should take out insurance, but they should also fit solid doors, locks on accessible windows, door bolts and door viewers and chains. Householders should mark their property so that if it is stolen it can be retrieved. Above all, they should join neighbourhood watch schemes which bring down the crime rate. If we all work co-operatively, we can reduce crime.

We want to see the law enforced, and nowhere is that clearer than in the context of the enforcement of traffic laws in London. Police or council operatives should be around to ensure that "no waiting" restrictions are obeyed. People otherwise find their own ways to dodge the law, and that leads to a pattern of law breaking.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley on raising this important issue, and I also congratulate hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I hope that the message will be heard by the Government, and that even more action along the present excellent lines will be taken.

2.27 pm
Mr. Riddick

One of the articles that I read when preparing for the debate started by referring to a minute that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office sent to his Home Office officials when he went to the Department. It asked the simple question, "Please, what causes crime?" I do not know whether the debate has enlightened him on the causes of crime, but from his comments it seems that he and I may well be in agreement about many of the basic underlying causes.

The debate had two purposes. The first was to raise in the House the fears of ordinary people about the breakdown of law and order. Secondly, it has provided a useful opportunity to examine some of the underlying reasons for the growth in lawlessness. Opposition Members should not be allowed to get away with suggesting that crime is rising inexorably. As my hon. Friends have said, crime has come down over the past year, and we are beginning to see a turning point as the efforts of the Government begin to bite.

If it has done only one thing, the debate has dug out the lawbreakers in the Opposition. I did not expect the title of the debate to be so abused. I suggested that the problems of lawlessness should be the title of the debate. In his speech the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) outlined to the British people the advantages of lawlessness. He advocated breaking the law. I complained earlier about the lack of leadership among opinion formers and among politicians. We have had two appalling examples of that—the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East advocated that people should break the law, and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, refused to condemn his hon. Friend for advocating that action. I accept the reassurances of the hon. Member for Huddersfield that he believes that the law should not be broken but respected, but he has, without question, a duty to condemn his hon. Friend for advocating that the law should be broken. I have no doubt that those chickens will come home to roost in future years.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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