HC Deb 13 December 1990 vol 182 cc1095-6
3. Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new plans he has to reduce the incidence of crime in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.

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

We shall continue to pursue our policies to combat crime and protect the public. In England and Wales, additional people and money will be available to the police next year. The provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill will enhance the courts' powers to deal effectively with offenders. We have a growing and substantial programme of crime prevention measures, but effective action against crime needs the wholehearted support of everyone, as much in England and Wales as in Scotland.

Mr. Kirkwood

Does the Minister recognise that there is concern about the extent to which juvenile crime is increasing? Will he acknowledge that nearly half all recordable offences are committed by persons under the age of 21 and that the peak offending ages are between 15 and 18? Has the Home Office considered looking at the non-judicial tribunal system and the children's hearing system in Scotland, which is child centred and family based and provides a way of breaking into the cycle of recidivism which seems to bedevil criminal statistics?

Mr. Patten

For these purposes, Scotland is a different country with a different criminal code. We are always prepared to listen to what goes on in different countries and learn from it. I have looked at the possibility of introducing children's panels here, but there are successful alternatives, such as the use of cautioning. About 90 per cent. of those aged between 10 and 13 coming into the hands of the police are cautioned rather than proceeding to a court hearing of any sort. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that about half the crimes in England and Wales are committed by those under 21 and that the peak age for offending is in the mid-teens, but over the past 10 years juvenile crime in Britain has been decreasing and that continues to be the case. I hope that that means that we are laying the foundation for lower overall crime figures in the 1990s, as most people who offend as juveniles offend again as adults.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of countering international crime, particularly drug trafficking, is greater sharing of information and co-operation among member countries in the EC? What news is there from the Trevi group of Ministers in relation to greater collaboration among our police forces?

Mr. Patten

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was in Rome at the Trevi meeting last Thursday and Friday. I do not want to slip too much into Foreign Office communiqué language, but there were useful and fruitful discussions. Let me raise the veil to some extent by saying that one possibility is that we may have a Europeanwide drug intelligence unit to share information among all western European countries and, I hope increasingly, the countries of central Europe and the USSR.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the Minister introduce legislation to establish a register of authorised manufac-turers and holders of skeleton keys? Is he aware that one of my constituents received correspondence saying that keys that suit different types of lock and which will open the majority of British and foreign cars are available somewhere within the United Kingdom? Is not it clear that many who buy those keys will commit criminal offences? Can a national register now be set up as a matter of urgency, or is this just part of the enterprise economy?

Mr. Patten

That was a silly ending to what was a rather good and important question.

Mr. Canavan

It is a key question.

Mr. Patten

If that counts as a joke in Scotland, I am glad that I penetrate only as far as the lowlands on my travels there.

The sort of equipment advertised in the letter to which the hon. Gentleman referred does not make it any easier to break into cars than any other material, such as pieces of metal, bent coathangers, and so on. Anyone who goes equipped for crime in possession of such an item—whether it purports to be a skeleton key or anything else that can be used for breaking and entering—can be charged and convicted.