§ Mr. John Patten
I have received representations from the London and Provincial Antique Dealers Association and from Sir Stanley Bailey, the former chief constable of Northumbria police.
§ Mr. Paice
Despite the short list that my right hon. Friend read out, he will be aware that the problem of ram-raiding is increasing substantially in parts of the country. The difficulty with that type of crime is that, because of the speed with which it is executed, burglar alarms and security systems are relatively ineffective. The only way to protect property is by the construction of bollards and barriers, but that requires the consent of landlords and planning authorities. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to open a dialogue with representatives of landlords and planning authorities so that they can encourage and enable retailers to erect something to protect their property?
§ Mr. Patten
That is a very constructive suggestion and I will certainly discuss it with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. I know that in some parts of the country, notably in the north-east, one or two local authorities have made it rather difficult for protective street furniture to be erected along the sides of roads where there has been ram-raiding. In my hon. Friend's own area in Cambridgeshire there have been no recent incidents. There have been many more incidents in the north-east, in particular, and that is why the recent transfer of Mr. J. A. Stevens from being deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire will doubtless be welcomed in Northumbria. Cambridgeshire's loss is Northumbria's gain.
§ Mr. Bermingham
Does the Minister agree that the next time one of these offenders comes before the courts for sentencing, if the sentence does not contain a deterrent element, bearing in mind the increase in this type of crime, it would be wise for the Home Office to seek the guidance of the Attorney-General so that the sentence can be referred to the Court of Appeal, which could then lay down a guideline sentence for this type of crime which contains a deterrent element?
§ Mr. Patten
Again, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's constructive suggestion. I shall draw his views to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. The decision on whether to lay down guideline sentences is for the Lord Chief Justice, the deputy chief justice and others in the Appeal Court, not for me.
§ Mr. Janman
Although I agree with the sensible suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), does my right hon. Friend agree that we must try to prevent these crimes from happening and that the best way to do that is for him to instruct magistrates courts throughout the country to pass very harsh sentences on those who are convicted of this outrageous abuse of private property?
§ Mr. Patten
I agree entirely that this is an outrageous invasion of private property, but I am sure that the House would not want Ministers to be able to instruct the judiciary to do anything, because we value its independence. A range of serious and severe penalties is available for those who are convicted of ram-raiding—for example, if robbery is involved, up to life imprisonment.