HC Deb 12 December 1991 vol 200 cc1047-68 7.15 pm
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

It is said that fortune smiles alike on the just and the unjust, and I am grateful that in the ballot for this evening's debate, fortune did not make that distinction, because I invite the House to consider the subject of crime and how to reduce it. That subject is a source of great concern to my constituents.

In the industrial black country of the west midlands, we could list many problems. We are never short of topics for conversation these days, but one recurring source of anxiety is the crime wave. I accept that the statistics show that the increase is not uniform across all offences, but no one will persuade the people of Rowley Regis and Oldbury that crime has not been increasing or that it is not continuing to increase. Their experience tells them what the statistics confirm—that between 1980 and 1989, recorded crime rose by 46 per cent. In 1990, the last year for which we have the figures, it increased by a further 17 per cent. And those figures relate only to recorded crime. People increasingly say to me, "I had a break-in but, no, I did not report it. What's the use?" I shall return to what they mean by that observation in a moment.

My constituents sometimes read about massive frauds, and some of them are the victims of what has come to be known as white collar crime. However, when they speak about crime, they have in mind the burglary of people's homes, malicious damage and petty but distressing assaults. They believe that it is a function of Government to do something about it. They have lived for 12 years with a Government who believe that nothing is the legitimate concern of Government. It is all the fault of parents or of the decline in churchgoing or of the break-up of the family. That is a bit rich from a Government whose policies on the poll tax and social benefits are driving children away from home.

"But," the Government say, "it is nothing to do with us." My constituents do not accept that. They believe that Governments can do something about the increase in crime, especially when they see the Home Secretary receiving standing ovations at successive Conservative party conferences for saying that he jolly well will do something about it.

I do not suggest that there is a single simple solution that will restore law and order at a stroke. There are as many ways of reducing crime as there are reasons why people commit crime. Human conduct—whether human virtue or human wickedness—is not reducible to one single motivation. I would not dispute that increasing the penalties that the courts may impose may help to reduce some offences.

As the Minister of State and my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) will recollect —I am encompassed about with a great cloud of witnesses —earlier in the year I was responsible for tabling an amendment in Committee to the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to increase the penalty for badger baiting. To her credit, the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) listened and was persuaded. I believe that increasing the penalty will go some way to reducing that vicious manifestation of cruelty.

My constituents would not dispute with the Home Secretary the part that increased penalties can sometimes play, but they think it reasonable to expect that he should sometimes have some other ideas. Like the old army doctors who thought that the answer to every complaint was a laxative pill, the Home Secretary goes on prescribing the same remedy as he offered last time, while the patient's condition continues to deteriorate. That is despite the fact that the Home Office, even under Tory Governments, has produced some valuable studies of the factors that encourage crime, as the Minister and Opposition Members have agreed more than once.

It is not always necessary to wait until a crime has been committed and then respond to it. It is better, if possible, to prevent a crime from being committed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There seems to be some unanimity about that. In the past few years, a whole science of crime prevention has grown up. No one now argues that medical science is confined to waiting until people fall ill and then curing them. Everyone knows about preventive medicine. If we are wise, we all try to arrange our diet and life style accordingly.

A great deal of work has been done recently on what has come to be called situational crime prevention. I am happy to announce that I did not invent that expression, but it refers to a valuable field of activity. It involves such measures as improved household and car security, property marking, better street lighting, safer pedestrian access and better design for car parks and shopping areas. It includes building security considerations into planning practice and improving the design of public transport systems. It would be sensible to bring together, by greater use of crime prevention committees, all the various groups and bodies that should be involved in taking those measures. Indeed, local authorities could give a better lead if they were not confronted by a Government determined to reduce them financially and funtionally to impotence.

I repeat, perhaps at the risk of being tiresome to some of my hon. Friends and some Conservative Members, what I have said many times before. Of course it is not true that everyone who is unemployed or deprived resorts to crime, nor is poverty an excuse for lawlessness—that is not the argument—but there is such a thing in every locality as a social climate. The greatest single influence on most people, especially in the age groups where, unhappily, crime is most prevalent, is the opinion of a peer group.

A teenager on a deprived estate will not respect the law because the Minister and I say that he ought to do so, but if his friends and associates and other teenagers tell him that the authorities are trying to be fair and trying to build a better environment, and that taking out his frustrations on his neighbours will not help, he may listen to them. Of course, they will not be conned into telling him that if it is manifestly not true.

The Government paid lip service to the Scarman report. They denounced "Faith in the City" without even reading it. No prophetic messages from the Government reach those peer groups. Common sense tells us that three of the factors that are most likely to induce crime are poverty, boredom through enforced idleness, and resentment. The Government would do us all a favour if they did something about those factors and explained what they were trying to do.

I should like to concentrate the remainder of my contribution on one aspect of crime reduction. There is virtually no dispute between academics and the people whom I meet in the clubs, between the two sides of the House, or between social science and common sense that an important factor in reducing crime would be greater activity by the police, giving them a higher profile and in particular putting more officers on the streets.

The West Midlands police force has been addressing that problem. I have an account of its thinking over the past few years. It has considered how to arrange administrative tasks so as to leave the maximum number of officers free for operational duties. It has established administrative support units manned largely by civilians to remove as many administrative tasks as possible from officers who have operational duties. It has saved an average of one hour per officer per day. It is seeking to replace controls at sub-divisional level with single divisional control rooms. It has established a computer and communications system. If time permitted, I could list more of its initiatives.

West Midlands police force then considered carefully how the operational officers who had been made available should be deployed. Some have to be put on specialist tasks. The more we urge the police to undertake a wider range of activity, the more special tasks there will be. The West Midlands police force has a programme of working with schools. The programme is designed to induce more confidence and co-operation with the police and to reduce the number of juvenile offenders. It has set up special domestic violence units.

I suspect that I would be naive if I did not expect some reaction when I mention special units in the West Midlands police force. No one in his right mind would accuse me or any of my hon. Friends of minimising some of their units' less praiseworthy digressions. This is not the occasion to discuss them, except to say that I have learnt that if any group of people have specific duties imposed on them and discover that the burdens placed on them are not matched by the time and resources available, they may be tempted to cut corners.

The West Midlands police have made provision for the various special units. Subject to that, they have tried to arrange that as many officers as possible are out on the streets. Of course, some of them need to be in squad cars so that they can respond quickly to a call. Sometimes they need more squad cars, but the object is to have as many officers as possible on patrol and for residents to have a resident beat officer who is available when they need help.

The chief constable and the police authority in the west midlands calculate each year the number of officers they will need to perform their duties, but it is not left to a police authority to decide what its establishment should be. It must obtain the approval of the the Home Secretary, with or without the advice of the Minister of State. Lest there should be any confusion, let us be clear that police authorities do not come as beggars asking for a gift that will cost them nothing.

When the establishment figures are approved, the police authority has to pay its full share of the cost. The cost is shared between central Government and the police authority, precepting on its constituent councils. The authority consults the councils. Councils know that money for policing has to be raised out of poll tax or by cutting some other service to their residents, but they recognise that, if their residents are to be protected and crime is to be reduced, the money must be found, subject to the amount that the Government have cut by poll tax capping.

In 1988, the West Midlands police authority went to the Home Secretary and said, "Here are our proposals. These are our detailed calculations. We need an increase of 350 officers." Do you know what the Home Secretary said? He said, "You can have 70." In the following year the authority said, "We have looked at it again and we still need 350 officers." The Home Secretary said that it could have 62. The next year the authority asked again for 350 officers. The Home Secretary said that it could have 63. Last year the authority tried to compromise and asked for 148 officers. It was allowed 48. This year it asked for 121 officers and he has allowed it 11.

Those are depressing figures on any showing. They mean, translated into fact, that in Sandwell there are whole estates the doors of which are made of steel because, if they were made of wood, they would have been kicked in on the first night they were put up. People living alone are afraid to go out shopping beause they fear that when they get back they will have been burgled. I know people who park their cars a quarter of a mile from where they live because if they parked them outside their homes the vehicles would be vandalised, and by the next morning they might not be there at all.

Happily, there is some good news from time to time. Recently on one such estate, the CID arrested an entire gang. They were tried, convicted and sent where they belong, and I hope that there will be a period of peace on that estate. But it is all like the Roman empire in its decline, with the forces of law and order too thinly spread, racing to beat the latest threat, only to learn that while they have been away the vandals have broken through somewhere else.

I am somewhat inhibited in telling the House the whole story. If I made all the details public, a welcome signal might be sent to the criminal fraternity, but I know of a sub-divisional station which on some nights is manned by one woman police officer, together with one male officer who has agreed, with no great joy, to do a night's overtime.

If that male officer is out responding to a call and another call comes in, the woman police officer must seek such help as she can get from another sub-division, or close the station and go herself. So people who telephone the police station may or may not see an immediate flurry of activity, depending on whether somebody was available when the phone rang. Hence, sometimes they do not bother to telephone. That is why I say that the recorded crime figures do not tell the whole story. That situation is the despair of local residents and heartbreaking for the police. It is not the way to reduce crime.

Let me add one other matter, on which my hon. Friends who represent Sandwell constituencies and I have written to the Home Secretary seeking a meeting. I shall understand if the Minister of State does not respond tonight to the issue, and I am not inviting him to do so, but it is part of the picture and is well known to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The present headquarters of the West Midlands police is situated in central Birmingham. It is overcrowded and unsuitable in many ways. A number of changes that the police wish to make, which would increase efficiency and save expense, are not possible in that building. The car parking space is too limited for the purpose and, in any event, the whole place requires extensive refurbishment, which would be very expensive. As it is held on a lease, the cost of the refurbishment would virtually be money thrown away.

It would be better—and, over a reasonable time scale, cheaper—to construct a purpose-built headquarters. An ideal site is available in West Bromwich, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). The police authority has decided that it would be common sense to go there.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Archer

I knew that I would not have to try hard to persuade you on that point, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Such a move would offer a bonus, because it would regenerate the appearance, the environment and the economy of the area. The project is wholly supported by Sandwell metropolitan borough council. It would greatly assist the effectiveness of policing, and be value for money, if the Home Secretary looked favourably at that proposal.

That being so, wisdom may suggest that I should abstain from further comment about the Home Secretary, but he should know that my constituents would find the quality of their lives changed if crime were more effectively reduced. They expect more from a Home Secretary than a periodical upgrading of the penalties and a rousing speech at the party conference, followed by a wave of hysteria from pinstripe-suited and blue-hatted lynch mobs. A little thought would be worth a great deal of that kind of reaction.

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

At the last Conservative party conference, which rightly gave a standing ovation to my right hon. Friend, there was only one hat worn by a lady in the audience, and it was grey and knitted.

Mr. Archer

I suppose that even a cosmetic improvement is to be welcomed. Some of us wish that when the leopard changed its spots, it changed its behaviour as well. While perhaps I am responsible for the frivolity, I am making a serious point.

My constituents want some serious thought applied to the problem. That would be worth a lot of shouting. Our constituents deserve better, and we are not asking for the impossible. It is better to spend money on crime prevention than on long criminal trials, prison sentences that could have been avoided and repairing and replacing property which need never have been damaged or lost in the first place. My hon. Friends and I say that a little thought and some resources now would pay a worthwhile dividend.

7.35 pm
Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

It is a particular pleasure for me to speak following the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and to be able to respond to some of the points he made. He must know that much of what he said is well understood and that the general thrust of his argument is supported by my hon. Friends and myself.

I wish at the outset to trespass into the area of his jurisdiction and comment on the methodology of arriving at police establishments in the 43 police forces of England and Wales. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that I have a particular interest and responsibility for the subject, and I comment accordingly.

It is right to say that it is for the chief constable to decide what his police resources should be, both police and civilian, with the increasing emphasis these days on civilian resources, for what they do in support of the police and in the prevention of crime is increasingly recognised and often outstanding. I think, for example, of scene of crime officers. Without their work, the information and necessary evidence would not be available to clear up crime and make arrests.

So the chief constable decides what his establishment ideally should be, and he discusses that with the police authority, which inevitably supports him. But then it is a matter for Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to decide, on an independent basis, what resources should be available. It is on the advice of that body that the Home Secretary makes his decision about police strengths.

We should not just ignore the number of police officers in a constabulary. We should think also of the ways in which they are used, and my recent Select Committee on Home Affairs report, for example, on sick leave was a good example of an analysis of the use of police officers and their time.

Mr. Archer

So that nobody is misled, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to make it clear that the Home Secretary is not bound to act on the advice of the inspectorate of constabulary, and the fact that he has made a decision does not necessarily reflect what the inspectorate said?

Sir J. Wheeler

That is correct. The Home Secretary is not bound to act on the advice of the inspectorate of constabulary, but he must take into account a large number of other factors. For example, he may want to see whether the chief constable has been making use of civilian resources as well as he should, and he might be saying to the inspectorate of constabulary, "If you can demonstrate a better use of money and resources through civilianisation, that might have a bearing on the availability of uniformed police officers."

The Home Affairs Select Committee report, when the Committee looked at sick leave, for example, found that some progress could be made in improving on the sick absence record of police officers. The equivalent of the entire strength of the West Yorkshire constabulary is absent on an annual basis through sick leave, if we use that as a means of illustrating the depth of the problem, and, by improving on that, more police officers, who are expensive, would be available. My right hon. Friend must also take into account the fact that, by one means or another, 90 per cent. of the cost of the police service comes from the Exchequer, the taxpayer, and only 10 per cent. is raised through local government tax.

I was very interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks about crime figures and the extent of crime in Britain today. It is widely believed that the United Kingdom has a rising crime wave, and crime is thought to be more widespread in the United Kingdom than in other western countries. That is simply not the case. Crime levels have been rising throughout the western industrialised world since the 1950s, on average by about 6 per cent. per annum. They have risen everywhere, under Governments of every political complexion, so it has nothing to do with the nature of the politics of a country.

It is widely believed that the United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of crime, whereas it has one of the lowest in the western world. Our society is much less violent than that of north America or of the Commonwealth of Australia, as the 1989 international crime survey showed in the report published in March 1990. The United Kingdom and Germany have the lowest overall crime rates of all the industrialised countries.

Crime statistics, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, are the most commonly used indicators of the level of crime, but they refer to notifiable offences reported to the police. That measure does not show the total crime, only the incidents reported to the police. When these figures show a substantial increase, it is usually assumed that crime, in particular violent crime, has risen dramatically, but, particularly in recent years, other factors have influenced those statistics.

Women have been encouraged to report rape and domestic violence. I was delighted to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman refer to the work of his own police force in setting up a unit to receive that kind of report from women. That is a very desirable objective. Because this is being done, crime statistics are increased and their nature is changed. This is particularly true in this country, where the insurance industry requests that thefts and burglaries are reported so that a claim may be proved.

The increasing ownership of telephones has created a greater inclination to get in touch with the police. Five million more motor cars on the roads since 1980 mean that there is bound to be more damage to, theft from and taking of motor vehicles. Also, of course, 15,500 more police officers are likely to detect and record more crime and, indeed, to be available to receive reports. So a whole host of factors influence the collection of statistics.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Sir John Wheeler

I was going on to give an explanation, which may help the hon. Gentleman. May I do so and see whether he is still of the same mind?

Since 1980, the Home Office has collected its own crime figures through the British crime survey, which attempts to gauge the total number of crimes committed rather than those notified to the police. The survey shows that crime is not rising anywhere near as fast as police figures suggest. For example, the 1988 British crime survey reported a 12 per cent. rise in wounding, the most common form of assault, between 1981 and 1987, whereas police statistics showed a 40 per cent. rise. The increase in robbery was 9 per cent., compared with a police total of 62 per cent.

The fear of violent crime has risen out of all proportion to the actual risk. I am not saying that that is not worrying, and we must address that problem; I shall seek to suggest how in a moment. Interviews with 10,000 people for the survey showed that one in five women felt very unsafe when out walking at night; yet fewer than one in 70 claimed to have been attacked in the past year.

It is very important to get the facts if we are to contemplate what the police should be for controlling and preventing crime.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman must also know that it depends how one selects one's facts and which surveys one looks at. Referring to the point at which I first tried to intervene, he will know that there is under-reporting of crime. At a time when there is more sympathetic treatment of rape cases and domestic violence, there is greater reporting, thank goodness, but all the evidence shows that there is under-reporting of burglary as people become worried about making claims against their insurance policies. We know also that police screening encourages people not to report.

Can I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Islington crime survey, which gives rather different evidence about how much crime is being committed and how much it is rising?

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I suspect that we are not really disagreeing. I am suggesting that the British crime survey is very important. It is independent of Government and is formulated by researchers who are anxious to establish the truth, because without those facts we cannot deploy the resources effectively. I know about the Islington survey, and I also share his concern about under-reporting in some areas of the country of some types of crime in particular, but let me continue with the facts before we begin to look at the solutions.

It is very important to know that less than 6 per cent. of all recorded crime is violent; 94 per cent. of the crime about which most members of the public are concerned relates to property. Rape, for example, accounts for less than 1.5 per cent. of violent crime. In 61 per cent. of cases, rape is by someone known to the victim, so women are not at risk from every man they happen to encounter when they go for a walk on a dark night. Over half the assaults on women are domestic, according to the crime survey of 1986, and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, are now being reported and investigated.

Although women, elderly women in particular, feel at greater risk from violence, it is young men who are by far the main victims of assaults, which occur principally in the middle of the afternoon, not late at night.

Let us begin to look at what is being done to remedy these problems. The Government's initiatives are many and varied and of very great importance. The safer cities programme, for example, has resulted in reductions in burglary on a housing estate in Wolverhampton to the tune of 40 per cent. These are surely the solutions for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is looking. There has been a drop of 35 per cent. in car crime in a central Nottingham car park through the safer cities programme. Crime in central Birmingham is showing a 16 per cent. decrease after the introduction of new security measures. So there are ways forward in difficult inner-city areas which bring real solutions to the lives of ordinary people, which is what we want to see.

Perhaps I can deal now with car crime. Seventy-five per cent. of people are prepared to pay for built-in car security features. At long last, the motor manufacturers are waking up to the reality that they ought to do more and that they too can assist in the reduction of car crime.

I am delighted that the Association of British Insurers, an organisation committed to a reduction in car crime, has recently issued a video aimed at young males, particularly in the 12-to-16 age group. Those are the people who commit most car crime and who take away and drive away most motor vehicles. The video will try to help them understand the misery they cause and what they should do to avoid being tempted down that road.

That is an example of an institution joining the Government to try to provide a solution to a serious problem. The majority of known car crime offenders are males aged 15 to 16. The evidence is overwhelming; we must address crime prevention far more successfully if we are to achieve the reductions referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West.

The other important statistic is that 94 per cent. of crime relates to property, much of it to burglary and breaking into people's homes. Here again, more could be done by ordinary people. A large number of homes lack basic security measures. About half those surveyed said that they had no locks on their windows, and one in four were without mortice locks or deadlocks. People have taken very few sensible precautions to stop young male burglars breaking in. Of those surveyed, 73 per cent. felt that they could do more to protect themselves. Part of the crime prevention initiative which many police forces are following is to assist the public to take more precautions to help themselves.

One other initiative was announced in a written answer to me only today, so it is topical and relevant. I refer to the 16 local drugs prevention teams which are being brought into action to assist in dealing with the problem of drug addiction among the young. Again the emphasis is on primary prevention of the misuse of drugs and on preventing young people from being drawn in.

As to serious and organised crime, in the 1990s we must address the subject of police structure with greater enthusiasm. The common police services must be combined in a central police agency so that we can deal with serious and organised crime, not necessarily crime which immediately affects the lives of constituents but crime which can affect them through the stealing of their pension funds or the misappropriation of their assets and savings.

As we examine the structure of the police in the 1990s, I hope that we shall see the need for a national police agency to deal with national and international crime, while preserving the important links through the local constabularies, because it is through the local police links with the public that crime is prevented.

7.53 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) on initiating the debate. He reflected the view of my constituents when he said that crime and how to reduce it are matters for the Government. The Government have failed to tackle or prevent crime. I want to touch briefly on four areas in which the Government could and must do better, in addition to the initiatives mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend and the preventive programmes, such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) in relation to drug addiction.

I shall rely not just on statistics but on the position in communities which I have known well over many years. The Government's record is not as good as the hon. Member for Westminster, North suggested. For instance, the safer cities campaign has minimal resources and ignores Wales completely. Other worthwhile initiatives do not go to the root of the problem.

I compare the Government's record to the experience I once had of helping to redecorate a pensioner's home to brighten up the dingy gloom. As we tried to attach fresh wallpaper to the wall, we found that the damp had so undermined the structure that the wall fell down. That was not a criticism of the redecoration scheme, any more than my remarks are a criticism of some of the Government initiatives. Rather the criticism is that the basic and structural problems are not being tackled with the vigour that is required.

The Government are not giving the police the tools they need to do the job, certainly in south Wales. Here I reflect very much the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend. In Wales, the Home Secretary cannot distinguish a rural community from an urban community, much less appreciate the different policing needs of each. Let me spell that out.

When the Home Secretary announced the additional numbers for police forces throughout England and Wales, I was shocked to find that Gwent merited only one extra officer and was astounded to find that the South Wales police force was not to have a single extra officer, especially as the chief constable has undertaken a major review to ensure the best use of available manpower, a process which must continue.

In the South Wales police area, the crime level this year will be up some 22 per cent. on last year. I spent a Saturday night recently on patrol with the police in central Cardiff and saw just how thin is the blue line which looks after law and order in the city at night. Weekend availability was frightening, even before the Home Secretary's failure to tackle the issues within Cardiff prison, and other areas put enormous pressure on police time and cells.

My constituency includes part of four divisions, so I have had a unique opportunity to see the problems which the police face in diverse communities. Right hon. and hon. Friends could replicate that experience and express the same concern about urban and rural areas throughout Wales and England. The Home Secretary and the Minister of State must face up to two facts: first, that their party is guilty of creating the conditions for crime and failing to tackle the root causes of crime; and, secondly, that the police do not have the tools for the job.

I set out to find out why no extra police were coming to help our communities. It is not enough for the Minister to pass the buck to the chief inspector of constabulary. I found that part of the reason lay in the formula used to decide the police needs of each area, by which the Home Secretary gives greater weighting per thousand of urban population. Hon. Members might say that that was fair enough, but the Government have gone on to use a bizarre and irrelevant definition of urban and rural.

According to the definition, Cwmbran is not an urban area, nor is Aberdare, Rhondda, Abertillery, Neath, Barry, Penarth, Merthyr, Pontypool or Port Talbot, that well-known steel town; nor is Newport, the third city in south Wales. According to the bizarre method of calculation, the urban population of Gwent is nil. Only Swansea and Cardiff fall into the urban category. It is no wonder the Home Secretary came up with a derisory response to the heartfelt plea for more police to restore a sense of security to our communities. How, a week after that crazy decision, are we to place confidence in Ministers who talk about policing and crime prevention in our urban and rural communities when they cannot tell one from t'other?

It is not as if the Home Secretary had not been warned. If present trends continue, reported crime will have risen by 113 per cent. between 1981 and 1991 in the South Wales police area. Incidents requiring attendance by police officers are up by nearly 80 per cent. since 1984, and 999 calls are up by over 20 per cent. in the same period. I am not sure who is more demoralised by that—the local people, who frequently complain that they do not get a quick response when they need help, or the local police, who attend the crime in an attempt to do the good job that they intended when they entered the police force, knowing that they are likely to be pulled in all directions to answer calls on a blue line that has been pulled far too thin by the Government's demands. In 1990, the number of crime calls per officer in south Wales was more than 42, compared with 29 in Cheshire and 39 in Leicester, to take just two examples. Where is the sense or comparability of that?

In his response to the Home Secretary's manpower announcement, the chief constable of south Wales, Mr. Lawrence, said: I must repeat my warning that the South Wales Constabulary cannot be treated like a sponge and continually expected to absorb an ever-increasing workload without an inevitable decline in the quality of the service we provide". In the light of the facts that I have set out, his conclusion that the Home Office decision is "ill-conceived" is a masterpiece of restrained understatement.

In a number of ways, the police are making positive responses to suggestions of working together to tackle problem areas and undertake inter-agency approaches to the many problems that need a co-operative approach. But they need help from the Home Secretary both to do their basic job properly and to take their share in such initiatives, and I greatly regret that help has not been forthcoming. I understand that the Home Secretary still has some flexibility within this year's resource allocation, and I appeal to the Minister of State who is present for this debate, the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), to undertake to reconsider the needs of the South Wales and Gwent police forces.

I wish that I had time to go more deeply into the Government's failure to tackle the root causes of crime in our communities, but suffice it to say that neither unemployment nor lack of a decent home is an excuse for crime. On that, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). However, failure to tackle the economy, provide relevant training and create long-term prosperity all help to create a second and third generation of young people growing up with despair ever present in their communities. That is not healthy, and it nurtures the likelihood of crime, which damages victim and delinquent alike, as well as their families and the community in which they live.

I worked in the communities that experienced the most painful impact of the first of the Government's recessions in the 1980s. At that time—at least to start with—we could pick up some of those who had been the least successful in their school careers, often because they had turned their backs on the opportunities open to them, and provide the first steps towards training and employment. They often responded positively to being given a chance, but as time went on, the same families ended up with the father on the dole and older brothers and sisters unable to find work. Younger brothers, sisters and cousins approaching working age did so in an atmosphere of discouragement and despair. That experience angered and frustrated me sufficiently to consider coming to this place to try to change the evil which the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was letting loose on decent families in decent communities.

Sadly, largely the same communities felt the burden of crime. Most of the delinquent youngsters with whom I worked—I stress most, not all—did not need to be involved in delinquent activity. There remains truth in the adage, "The devil makes work for idle hands"; and I assert that lack of hope is the greatest recruiting officer for all criminal activity.

The assertion, "If it isn't hurting, it isn't working," shows callous disregard and ignorance of the effects of social problems on individuals, families and communities at the sharp end. As for the economy, when it hurts in this recession, the pain is felt most—in a way that is most unfair—by the same families and communities who felt the worst pain in every other recession. It is felt by the same people who experience the pain of all the other inequalities in our unequal society. It encourages the conditions for crime in communities that already feel more impact from crime because they contain more victims of crime, as well as more offenders.

For many hon. Members, unemployment and criminal activity are one-off experiences. It is often a matter of history repeating itself from generation to generation and, under this Government, even within a single generation. That is the real failure of the Government's approach. They cannot wash their hands of social problems and the incidence of crime by saying, "Let the markets take care of it all". That will not work; it is not responsible, and future generations will pay for the Government's failure.

The Government must recognise that there needs to be a positive approach to young offenders if we are not to encourage them to grow into hardened and repetitive offenders. I served on the Committee which dealt with what is now the Criminal Justice Act 1991, in the hope that I could draw on my own experience as chairman of the Cardiff juvenile bench, and as someone who had worked with young offenders. I found that amendments that sought to divert young people from criminal activity would not fit into the Bill because of what an Officer of the House described as the curious geography of the Bill". Whatever the Bill was about, it was certainly not about preventing crime and diverting young people from it.

Since well before I was elected to this House, I have pressed for the provision of secure accommodation to end the scandal of young offenders and remand prisoners in particular being held in prison accommodation. Others, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), have pursued the matter vigorously in the House in recent years. The Home Office has now decided that places should be provided but that the Department of Health and the Welsh Office must find the money. But it gets worse: the Home Office has now decided that those Departments must find the money to build the places but that local authorities must find the running costs. If the Prime Minister really believed in the principle of subsidiarity, as he said yesterday, that would certainly not be allowed to happen.

Magistrates and others who have called for more secure places want them to be used to contain the activities of young offenders who are not currently kept in prison accommodation, like so-called joyriders and repetitive burglars. The current proposals do not meet that requirement. Indeed, they contain the seed of a massive oak tree of nonsense.

At present, if there is an objection to bail on the ground that the young offender may commit another crime while on bail, there are two alternatives. Either the magistrate refuses bail and says, effectively, that the court orders that the weekly equivalent of £20,000 a year is spent on the offender until his case is heard, or the court grants bail and orders that nothing is spent on the offender until the case is heard. There are many cheaper and constructive ways to contain young offenders, but they ware not being funded by the Government. Custodial sentences and remands prevent immediate offending but increase the likelihood of later and more serious reoffending. That is an area for immediate consideration and actions by the Government if they have the slightest interest in protecting society from the growth in criminal activity over which the Home Secretary and the Government continue to preside.

The Government's actions regarding observance of the law do not escape attention by ordinary people. My constituents are outraged by the fact that Ministers seem to regard themselves as above the law. I shall not refer to wider policy matters, or to matters that are currently subject to argument in the courts or on appeal, but I condemn the Government for running away from their responsibilities on Sunday trading. Ordinary citizens cannot understand why they do that. In their squalid and cowardly decisions announced last week, they spelled out in large letters the message that, in Conservative Britain, there is one law for powerful corporations that have a voice at the heart of the Tory party, and another for ordinary individuals in urban and rural communities of Wales and England.

Sir John Wheeler

The hon. Gentleman is being most unfair. The senior Law Officer of the Crown, the Attorney-General, explained to the House that, on the question of the Shops Act 1950, he had to make a decision based not on party politics but on the law.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman rightly describes the responsibilities of the senior Law Officer. I bow to the knowledge of people like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West on the technicalities of the law, but the Attorney-General's comments satisfied neither me nor my constituents. My constituents saw him as a responsible Government officer who came to the House to say that the Government washed their hands of the matter and would leave it alone. I repeat my view, which is shared by my constituents, that a squalid and cowardly decision was announced last week, spelling out the fact that there is one law for those with a voice in the Tory party and another for the ordinary individual in the urban and rural communities of Wales and England.

Commercial organisations like the Co-operative Retail Society, the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Marks & Spencer and Iceland have expressed their horror that the Government should so abdicate their responsibility as to say, "We shall do nothing if you break the law," and weakly add the unconvincing refrain, as the Home Office Minister did, "But we'd rather like it if you didn't." Organisations that want to keep the law are effectively being invited to watch their competitors steal their trade, which is not on.

As chairman of the Co-operative parliamentary group, I was delighted to see Sir Dennis Landau's comments on behalf of the CWS. As he said, such a retailer must recognise that each family in such hard times will buy only one turkey, one tin of biscuits, and one Christmas pudding, and the retailer which is not open will lose that custom. However, he went on to say that the CWS remains wholly opposed to unrestricted Sunday trading and will continue to seek a sensible reform of the law on the basis of the REST proposals put forward by Keep Sunday Special Campaign. That must be the way forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) will tackle that issue later if we reach his subject for debate. The point that I am making is that the argument is not one of Sunday trading, but one of law and order, with the Conservative party ranged firmly among the enemies of law and order.

We should not be surprised by that. I saw £3 million stolen from my local authorities of Cardiff and South Glamorgan when the Government introduced retrospective legislation to change the rules that they had set and which those councils had followed carefully and obediently. From 1979 to 1987, six Conservative Ministers were found guilty of breaking the law—in their official capacity, I hasten to add; I hate to think what the tally is now. The Conservative party has never been the party of law and order, and during this Parliament it has thrown away the last vestiges of any claim to such a title.

To restore law and order in a way that makes sense to, and works to the benefit of, ordinary people—we have an obligation to ensure that Government actions make sense—we need action to tackle the four issues that I have mentioned. We must address the social ills that are at the root of much crime; we must take action to divert young people into more positive ways of using their time and lives; we need the sort of common-sense and long-term commitment shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and his team. In short, we need a Labour Government as quickly as possible.

8.14 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

This has been a most interesting debate, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) on introducing it. I have enjoyed all the contributions, particularly those that touched on the way that crime affects constituents who live in districts such as Cardiff and Sandwell. I have been to many of those areas and seen the problems. I sympathise with the views expressed. I do not want to cover the whole subject, this evening; I shall focus on what I understand to be the thrust of the debate—tackling the causes of crime.

The speech of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) disappointed me, as usual. He is extremely knowledgeable on the subject, and I am still something of an idealist at heart. I have an ideal picture of a Chairman of a Select Committee who is knowledgeable, takes an overview of the subject and does not hold a strongly party political view, but weighs the evidence in a dispassionate way. In such a debate, he should both praise and criticise the Government. That would give the House the impression of a Chairman of a Select Committee of some stature.

However, every time I hear the hon. Member for Westminster, North, I am disappointed, because he is such an awful Government apologist, and is renowned as such. For example, he reels out evidence that the Government are doing a wonderful job. He mentions Home Office research suggesting that crime is not as bad as everyone thinks, but he does not mention any of the other analyses and carefully toes the party line. He avoids mentioning Home Office research that suggests that there is a relationship between deprivation and crime. That causes me deep disappointment. I hope that, before a Labour Government come to power early next year, the hon. Member will give one speech in the mould of a great Select Committee Chairman.

One of the aspects we should consider in this debate is the necessity of taking a pragmatic rather than an ideological approach. My remarks will follow that line. There is a tidal wave of crime in this country, and it does no good to the people of Cardiff, Sandwell and Westminster to say there is not as much crime there as in Chicago or Sydney. That does not wash. Crime has doubled since 1979 under the so-called party of law and order.

The one sphere of crime that the Government will not consider is its underlying causes. Crime is a complex social phenomenon with no single cause or solution. Research has identified some key factors that affect crime rates. There is a critical link between crime, recession and employment opportunities. Last year, Home Office research showed a clear correlation between recession and levels of property crime. Other research has shown a critical link between crime and employment opportunities.

Only last week, the National Association of Probation Officers issued a report showing that up to 80 per cent. of probation clients are now out of work. The Apex Trust work shows that ex-offenders in employment are three times less likely to offend than those who are unemployed, which is remarkable. I wish that the Minister would respond to a point that I made in a debate last week when I spoke of the tragedy that the employment advisory service—available to prisoners both before and after their release—had been withdrawn by the Government. I wish that it could be restored.

The link between recession, deprivation and crime hardly comes as a surprise—it is a common-sense notion. Moreover, it has been obvious for more than 50 years. As long ago as 1940, Mannheim produced a report on the social aspects of crime in England in the inter-war years. His work showed that crime more than doubled during those years. The idea that the 1930s was a crime-free era is a myth. The same disastrous pattern of crime rising in the wake of recession was seen then as now. In 1940, Mannheim concluded: Where unemployment and crime both stand at a high water mark, it can safely be assumed that the latter is largely due to the former. The second critical factor is the treatment of youth. Anyone wishing to tackle crime rates must pay enormous attention to youth crime because of its sheer scale. The hon. Member for Westminster, North touched on that, but he was not convincing when he spoke of the underlying causes of that crime.

Is it not astounding that half of all crime in Britain is committed by people under the age of 21? Some 73 per cent. of all auto crime is committed by those under 21. Some two thirds to three quarters of all solved burglaries are committed by young men under the age of 21. There is a tidal wave of youth crime, and the Government have not begun to answer it.

Mr. John Patten

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there is something new about a substantial majority of crime being committed by young people—that it is a phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s? If he looks at the statistics, he will see that it has always been like that. Right up to the head waters of time, young men have always been those most inclined to commit crime.

Mr. Sheerman

The right hon. Gentleman is right about the significance of that age group, but I am trying to point out that the age for offending has become very young. The enormous crime rate and the fact that the average age of a young person who takes a car is 15 are new and frightening phenomena.

Mr. Patten

I shall attempt not to intervene again, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way with his characteristic courtesy.

As a student of these matters, surely the hon. Gentleman recognises that in, for example, the past five years, the peak age for offending for a young male has not gone down but gone up. The average peak age for offending was 15 but is now 18.

Mr. Sheerman

We can pick over whether the peak age is 15 or 18, but I am saying that crime has doubled. The youth component of that crime is much more substantial than it was, according to all the figures. Whether or not the peak age has gone from 15 to 18—and specific categories of crime move either way—the average age is 18. That is worrying enough, but we are talking about a category of young criminals up to the age of 21.

Research has shown clear links between the level of crime and number of children brought up in poverty in families in difficulty. I quote from Professor Irving's introductory report to this month's international conference on urban safety, drugs and crime prevention in Paris. I hope that the Minister has read this—it should be engraved on the hearts of the Home Secretary and his Ministers. The report states that rates of child poverty remained constant in the 1980's for most countries, but doubled in the United Kingdom … The results of longitudinal studies suggest that countries that have more child poverty and do not provide universal child care or other programmes to reduce inequalities before the child goes into the school system will have more crime. This is indeed the case. Moreover the rapid increase in child poverty in England, some of which is mitigated"— admittedly— by income transfers, is likely to result in further acceleration in the crime rate in the 1990's". That is a chilling thought.

The Government are pursuing policies that are directly linked to the rise in crime. There is increasing child poverty in our country. The level of unemployment is rising—especially among the young—and we are seeing the creation of what some commentators call an 'underclass'. We see alienated young people with no stake in society and, increasingly, without even a bed. Is not that what we would have expected when the Government take on the 16 to 18-year-olds and perpetuate the myth that that age group is in full-time employment, in full-time training or in full-time education? We all know that that is a myth or a lie.

Many 16 to 18-year olds are living off their wits and on the streets. That is a sad comment on our society. Only a bone-headed Government would not accept that, by taking away young people's ability to claim benefit and housing benefit and the opportunity to receive a decent reward for a training scheme, and by halving the value of the training allowance in the past 12 years, they are picking on young people who, at the same time, are being pushed ever further towards the consumer society. Television advertising tells them that they must have designer trainers, designer clothes and good stereos. It is a sad comment on our society that the Government cannot see what they have done to young people and cannot see the relationship between what they have done and the crime rate.

The Minister said that the peak age for offending has risen to 18 from 15, but he chose the end of the two-year period that I would describe as covering the most vulnerable young people on whom the Government have picked in the past 12 years.

If, with the help of all the civil servants who advise Ministers and who sit under the Gallery and elsewhere, one worked on a policy to create crime, one could not come up with anything better than what the Government have created in the past 12 years. They have done a wonderful job of creating crime, but they will still not recognise the link to which I have referred.

Any Government who are seriously concerned about dealing with the escalating crime rate must begin to tackle crime at its roots. That means a concerted attack on poverty and it means attaching far more importance to early crime prevention measures, such as the development of pre-school provision. How can the Minister be complacent about pre-school provision? Why do not the Government set up—as the Labour party will when it takes office in a few months—a national crime prevention council to co-ordinate the work of all the Departments of state in crime prevention?

I return for a moment to the link between pre-school education and the later propensity towards crime. It has been shown that the development of pre-school provision has a very marked effect on later offending. As I have said, we lag behind our European counterparts. Ninety-five per cent. of pre-school children in France and Belgium receive state-funded education. Furthermore, each child has access to eight hours daily nursery provision in France and five to six hours in Belgium. In Britain, only 44 per cent. of three to five-year-olds receive pre-school education, and a substantial proportion of them have a school day of only two and a half hours.

The knock-on effect is unacceptable to the Government, because it means having a properly resourced training programme, a properly resourced pre-school education programme, proper training opportunities and the development of measures to counter unemployment. It also means providing a range of creative leisure opportunities for young people. They are Labour party policies, which are desperately needed in their own right but which have a vital knock-on effect on offending rates generally.

Other countries saw the need for such policies years ago. Again, the French have been at the forefront. In 1983, the Bonnemaison report brought the issues to the fore. The result was a network of municipal crime prevention councils which co-ordinate social and criminal justice agencies to deal with the circumstances that breed crime and which focus on youth in particular. Our Conservative Government reject that, as they do so many other aspects of the European social programme.

Indeed, one of the most disgraceful things that we have seen in the Chamber this week was the Maastricht agreement which, in terms of social policy, means that the opportunity to do so much to support the family, children and working mothers has been lost. The knock-on effect will be seen in the crime rate and in other aspects of our social life.

The Government have lead the country into the second division in Europe in this aspect as in many others. Their record on crime is a disaster, and it is time they gave way to a Government who have the imagination and policies to tackle crime fundamentally, not at the periphery.

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

I congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), with whom I have debated closely during the past three or four years, on his good fortune in getting this debate at a rather fashionable hour—earlier than the watches of the night—during the Consolidated Fund debate. I think that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) is as pleased as I that the debate started at 7.15 pm rather than at 4.15 am. I also congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the style and content of his speech.

It is a sad loss to this House that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have decided to lay down the burden of representing the electors of Warley, West. He looks, sounds and acts youthful, and it is a great shame when someone like him decides to retire absurdly early. Doubtless he will spend a certain amount of his time enjoying himself. After his retirement, I might try to persuade him to enjoy himself by accompanying me to whatever seaside resort the Conservative party attends for its conference next October—I will ensure his safety of passage into the hall—so that he can see how few pinstripe suits there are, let alone the mythical hats of which he spoke.

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I answer first the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who supported the Government's position, before answering the remarks made by Opposition Members, who took a rather different line.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North characteristically set the record straight about manpower allocations in the police force and about the critical role of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary in objectively advising the Home Secretary on correct force levels and on the identification of posts suitable for civilianisation—for that releases policemen and women from desk jobs and puts them back on the beat, which is what the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West wants. He rightly paid tribute to the West Midlands police for what they have done in this process. Would that other forces had briskly followed the excellent example of the West Midlands force—

Mr. Archer

Perhaps it is churlish of me, after the kind remarks of the Minister, to venture to comment on what he has just said, but at the risk of being tiresome, may I point out that what I said before was that it does not follow that a decision made by the Home Secretary corresponds with the advice that he receives from the chief inspector. Lest anyone be misled, I should be grateful if he would confirm that.

Mr. Patten

I can confirm that the ultimate decision is ministerial. Ministers must accept our responsibility for decisions. But the Home Secretary benefits from the objective advice of HMCIC, a distinguished policeman, and of his colleagues, who are all serving policemen and who can therefore speak from both sides of the fence.

The other important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North concerned looking at English and Welsh crime in the context of the international scene. I agree with Opposition Members that what matters to our electorate is crime in this country. The people in my constituency are concerned about what happens there, not in America or France. Still, it is important to point out that Britain is not a violent country compared with almost every other western European country. Opposition Members like to make great play of comparing our unemployment rates with those in certain west European countries, of course. I do not suggest that, just because Britain is less violent and less prone to crime than most other west European countries, that diminishes the necessity to concentrate on the picture at home, but let us not frighten people unnecessarily by comparisons with the rest of Europe and the United States.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North also mentioned car crime in his short but excellent speech. I agree with what he said about the Association of British Insurers, the insurance industry and the motor car industry, here, in western Europe and increasingly in central Europe—not to mention Japan and Korea. Those industries are scrutinising much more what they can do to make cars more secure and less easily stolen.

Yesterday, the Home Secretary and I saw representatives of car manufacturers and car importers in the United Kingdom for the second in a series of meetings. Considerable progress is being made, and we have agreed a three-point agenda for improvements in car manufacture, not just in this country but in western Europe. Happily, the message is also being carried back to Japanese manufacturers.

The first significant area for improvement concerns visible vehicle identification numbers, which are critical in stopping the international trade in car crime. Secondly, we must continue to work on introducing deadlocking for all cars. Thirdly, we must introduce effective and efficient immobilising devices. We were delighted yesterday to obtain the agreement of the manufacturers to concentrate on these three key areas. I pay tribute to the increasing attention that the industry is giving to these aspects.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West first discussed the causes of crime. Any sensible policy concerned with reducing crime—crime can never be abolished—needs three components. First, we need a tough and hard-edged law and order service. The right hon. and learned Gentleman sits in court and passes sentence himself, so he has seen the issue both from these Benches and from the Bench he adorns when he sits as a recorder. That is the traditional part of British law and order, and it is what people think of when they mention it at Tory or Labour conferences. I do not know what they talk about at Liberal party conferences on law and order, and the party is not represented here this evening.

Secondly, we have added to the traditional approach the new approach of crime prevention. There has been an extraordinary growth in neighbourhood watch schemes. In 1982, there was one such scheme; now there are 92,000—a great tribute to people, for instance, in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency.

There is a great deal of co-operation between the police, the fire service, the social services and South Staffordshire water board, which has devised a crime prevention package which home helps from the social services department distributed to about 5,000 homes in the area. Some of the information was printed in large type so that elderly people could read it. From such little things, considerable advances can accrue. I pay tribute to all who work in these services for what they do.

The third element, on which we have not yet concentrated enough, is criminal prevention—trying to stop people becoming criminals in the first place. Last week I was in the north-west and in Salford, where I toured a number of places, among them a primary school—it would be wrong to name it here—where the head teacher, who was clearly devoted to her inner-city children, told me that there were 260 children in the school.

I asked the sort of questions that visiting Ministers always ask: how many people worked there, what kind of classes they had, what activities and problems there were. She began to talk about the problems. Without my prompting, she said, "I have a lot of people here who I can predict are going to get into trouble." I asked how many. She said, "I have about 30 here who will get into trouble when they reach their teens. They are all right when they are five or six—they are protected then—but between seven and eleven they start becoming"—her phrase is burnt into my memory—"clones of their elder brothers and sisters who have got into trouble before." She was cheerful enough, but she was saddened when identifying those children whom she thought at risk.

It is surely important that we begin to concentrate our efforts on trying to find ways of helping such children before it becomes necessary to punish them, and to prevent them from becoming criminals in the first place. I hope that the Labour party would agree with that.

Mr. Michael

It is hardly our place to agree with something that we have been trying to tell the Minister for a long time. If he is serious in what he is saying now, it is rather like a conversion on the road to Damascus. I hope that the Minister will address seriously the comments that he has just made. Will he now take the sort of steps that people such as myself, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) urged on him before, during and after the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill, or is that apparent conversion just another anecdotal experience? Did he really experience a conversion, and will he now respond to the remarks that he has just made?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman is impertinent, because it was all those who thought like the Opposition who did so much in the 1960s and 1970s to undermine some of the messages which used to come from schools, teachers, park keepers and others who were part of the warp and weft in helping people grow up straight rather than crooked. But that is a debate which will continue.

Mr. Michael


Mr. Patten

I am trying to reply, but I have only five minutes in which to do so.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West that we need more officers on the beat. That is why, when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently announced 1,000 additional officers, he specified that 80 out of every 100 should go straight on to the beat. However, I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend the Earl Ferrers the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views on police manpower in the west midlands.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) drew attention to the lack, as he saw it, of adequate policing in south Wales, and I shall also draw the points that he made to the attention of my noble Friend. He and I also share an interest in obtaining better secure accommodation for youngsters, particularly for those who are awaiting trial, to which the Government have given considerable priority.

I am concerned when I hear reports from the police on a number of things that trouble them. I was concerned about reports of attacks on the police, which is why the Government commissioned research into that problem. I am also concerned that some police forces are reporting apparent large-scale reoffending by those on bail—bail banditry, as it has been called by at least one policeman. The Home Office is conducting in-depth and rapid research into those suggestions, and I hope that we shall be in a position in the not-too-distant future to tell the House what we intend to do about the problem of reoffending on bail.

The speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) reminded me of the late and unlamented Senator Hughie Long at his worst. I have never heard such a rant. His attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North was disgraceful. People not just in this House but worldwide now listen to what my hon. Friend has to say on law and order issues. I wish that my hon. Friend was remotely biddable in the way in which the hon. Gentleman suggested. I still bear the scars of his report on the criminal injuries compensation scheme. It took me a long time to recover from the mauling that he gave me on that. I registered my protests with the Whips, but that has done no good whatever, and my hon. Friend goes from strength to strength.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield provided more equivocal support for the law and order measures which we have debated in the House in recent weeks. We have introduced the Prison Security Bill. That received a welcome from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) which was equivocal in the extreme, and the Labour party does not support it. Earlier this week, we debated the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill, to deal with those youngsters who take vehicles, causing mayhem, injury and damage with them. As always, the Labour party tried to have its cake and eat it by not voting against the Bill on Second Reading but tabling a series of wrecking amendments to destroy the Bill.

Mr. Sheerman

That was for exactly the same reason that I would criticise the right hon. Gentleman's speech tonight. It contained not one word about the fundamental problems that cause crime, but was all peripheral nonsense.

Mr. Patten

Let me end on a cheerful note. The hon. Gentleman must get himself a better brief. His speech was erected on the idea that juvenile offending had increased. Since 1985, the number of known juvenile offenders—that is, those cautioned and found guilty—has declined steadily year by year. If it is to be worth while to deal with the hon. Gentleman's arguments, they must be erected on a sound factual basis. His speech was based on the premise that juvenile offending is increasing, on which the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong, as he was throughout his speech.

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