HC Deb 25 February 1992 vol 204 cc813-27 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

The number of those who commit an offence while on bail has risen. We estimate that, of the nearly 500,000 people granted court bail last year, about 50,000 were convicted of an offence committed while on bail. Five years ago, the figure was about 35,000. That represents a serious problem, especially for the police.

The offender who commits an offence while on bail is likely to be a male aged between 17 and 20, and charged with property crime, usually car crime and burglary. We must crack down on those bail bandits.

The Government are determined that the courts and the police should have the powers that they need. I am, therefore, announcing a package of six measures today.

We intend to change the law in two ways. First, it is right that a person who commits an offence while on bail should normally receive a more severe penalty. We will introduce legislation to require courts to consider offending on bail as an aggravating factor when passing sentence. Secondly, the police need clear statutory power to arrest people immediately who breach police bail. We will introduce legislation to secure that.

Those measures taken together represent a considerable toughening of the existing law, but we intend to go further to deal with the hard core who persistently reoffend.

Our third measure, therefore, is to ensure that people who are granted bail are left in no doubt of the risks that they run if they break their bail conditions or offend while on bail. We are asking all magistrates courts to ensure that the bail notices issued to all defendants make it crystal clear that if they fail to answer bail, or fail to comply with the conditions imposed, or if they commit an offence while on bail, they risk being remanded in custody. The courts have extensive powers to impose stringent conditions on bail. I am confident that they will make full use of them and that they will tighten up the arrangements for supervision.

Fourthly, we need to ensure that the courts have the fullest information when they decide whether to grant bail so that they can pick out more accurately the bad risks. We therefore intend this year to set up in selected local areas —including the inner cities—bail information projects which will ensure that information from the police, from the Crown prosecution service and from the probation service is collated and available to the courts. That builds on the bail information schemes which we have in 113 courts and 13 prisons, and which in due course will be backed up by a new computerised criminal record system.

Fifthly, magistrates have the difficult task of taking decisions each day of the week in this complex area of risk assessment. The Judicial Studies Board has therefore agreed to review the training of magistrates in the criteria set out in the Bail Act 1976.

Sixthly, experience shows that some defendants will behave on bail if, and only if, they are properly supervised. We will provide £8 million over the next three years for bail accommodation and support.

Well-run bail hostels reduce the risk of offending. There are 29 such hostels with 600 places, and a further 82 approved probation bail hostels providing 1,800 places. An additional 800 places will be provided by April 1995. This programme will also include innovative schemes aimed at keeping defendants out of crime.

I am grateful for the efforts police forces have made to bring information to bear on this subject. We shall work closely with them to provide regular and reliable information about offending on bail.

I am asking my officials as a matter of urgency to consult fully with the police, the Crown prosecution service, the magistrates courts service, the social services departments and the probation service to implement the steps I have announced this afternoon. Together they will make a direct impact on the problem of offending while on bail.

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

In order to put his statement in perspective, will the Home Secretary confirm that the document prepared by his Department a month ago made clear that 82 per cent. of all offenders remanded on bail do not commit a second offence, and that the essential requirement for reforming the system is better ways of selecting those who should receive bail and those who should not? It would be helpful if the Home Secretary endorsed the view of his Department that errors are made in both directions.

There is much in the Home Secretary's statement which we are glad to welcome. It is right that the courts should be helped to distinguish between good and bad risks, and that defendants granted bail should be left in no doubt of the risk they take if they offend a second time or break their bail conditions. It is equally right that the police be provided with a statutory right to arrest offenders who are in breach of their bail conditions.

We also welcome the announcement of additional bail hostel places. Indeed, we have been advocating that for some time. We note with particular pleasure the introduction of what the Home Secretary called innovative schemes aimed at keeping defendants out of crime". Such schemes have been advocated in Labour party policy documents and have previously been dismissed by Government spokesmen as an indication that we are soft on crime.

Before I ask the Home Secretary specific questions about the legislation, may we be told why the Government have belatedly changed their mind on the issue? Last August, in Sunderland, the Minister of State said that he doubted very much that an additional prosecution for having committed an offence while on bail would have any deterrent effect at all. What has happened to change the Secretary of State's mind?

While the Home Secretary ponders that, I will ask him two specific questions on legislation. First, if a defendant is charged while on bail, has he committed an aggravated offence even if he is found not guilty on the original charge? Secondly, will a defendant who is charged with a second offence have to wait for sentencing on the first offence until the trial for the other offence has been completed? Would it not have been much simpler in every way if the Home Secretary had taken action to ensure that offences committed while on bail simply attracted more severe sentences?

Why have the Government waited so long, and until so late, to introduce these measures? What we see today is another attempt—wholly characteristic of the Home Secretary—to influence headlines rather than to reduce crime. Had he been serious about the task, he would have announced today the implementation of the Morgan report, his own report prepared for him and presented to him, giving ways in which crime could be reduced. He has chosen not to take action on that report because he does not regard it as sufficiently publicity worthy. That is no way for a Home Secretary to behave.

Mr. Baker

On the last point, the Morgan report is out for consultation, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I have searched carefully for references in the right hon. Gentleman's recent speeches urging me to take action on reoffending on bail, and I cannot find anything at all.

The right hon. Gentleman began by referring to research. I see that, in his remarks this morning, he intimated that some of the research might have been exaggerated. I can only say to him that, only a fortnight ago, I had a meeting with northern Labour Members led by the Labour Chief Whip, who urged me to take on board the research—the 40 per cent. figure that the right hon. Gentleman condemned utterly this morning—and to introduce measures. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to his Chief Whip and that they will sort out exactly what their combined approach is.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me some specific questions. As regards sentencing for the aggravated offence, the law will have to be changed. The courts will have available to them the possibility of imposing a further and higher sentence as a result of the changes that we are making. I repeat that that will require a change in the law. The extra sentence will be added, as it were, when the second offence has been clarified; if the defendant is found not guilty of the second offence, there clearly cannot be an additional sentence.

The right hon. Gentleman's other question was about sentencing.

Mr. Hattersley

Why has the Minister of State changed his mind?

Mr. Baker

We have not changed our minds. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to remind himself of what we have said today. What we have done is to bring forward a series of measures to identify those who have the greatest risk of reoffending on bail. It has always been our intention under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to ensure that society is protected from those who reoffend. As I have said, 50,000 defendants reoffend while on bail. That represents a substantial increase in recent years, and the measures announced today address that problem. I do not believe that, if the right hon. Gentleman had responsibility for my office, he would have introduced such measures at all. As I have said, he has a capacity to talk strongly and act weakly.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we will be subject to a timetable motion later this afternoon. I will allow questions to continue until 4.15 pm, then there will be a ten-minute Bill and then we must move on to the main debate. May I ask for questions that are brief and to the point?

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

My right hon. Friend is quite right to respond to the genuine concern of the police about reoffending on bail because the true number of people who offend on bail is unknown. My right hon. Freind's commitment to bail hostels and bail information schemes is particularly important because that will enable the magistrates, who have the most difficult administrative duty to perform in making the decision, to be better informed in deciding who should be held in custody and who on remand.

Mr. Baker

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend who, in his previous responsibilities, had direct experience of the matter. The important impact of the measures that I have announced is that the information available to the courts will be improved considerably, and that includes information from the Crown prosecution service, the police, the probation service and social workers, so that those most likely to reoffend and those who have a record of reoffending can be identified and action can be taken. They can be remanded in custody certainly but they can also be remanded in bail hostels. That is an important alternative because offenders who are likely to reoffend on bail will have some supervision if they are committed to a bail hostel.

The record of bail hostels is very successful. The rate of absconding or reoffending on the part of those committed to bail hostels is very low. I am glad that we are committed to a major programme of expansion—some 800 places over the next three years.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Although the measures announced by the Home Secretary are welcome, does he accept that they are also extremely modest and that their impact upon the 50,000 reoffenders is not likely in a year's time to attract the headline to the effect that the so-called crackdown on bail bandits has produced the result that the Home Secretary will no doubt wish to trumpet? The bail hostels programme that the right hon. Gentleman has described will provide only an additional 800 places, although he seeks to catch some 50,000 offenders. Is he satisfied that the magistrates will accept his views about how they should exercise their discretion? Has he in fact consulted magistrates at all?

Mr. Baker

I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are 600 bail hostel places, 1,800 probation bail places, and there will be a further 800 bail hostel places—a substantial increase. The measures that I announced this afternoon are not modest: they are a substantial change. It requires a change in the law, introducing the consideration of the court to take in as an aggravating circumstance the fact that someone has reoffended on bail. That is a substantial and significant change, and I have been pressed by the police forces for some time to introduce it.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed by the federated ranks of the police, particularly the power to deal with those who breach police bail and the powers of the courts to award additional sentences? Will the tightening of the custody rules, for example, enable the police to detain a suspect in police cells and then bring that suspect forward at the first available court sitting? That problem has caused great concern within the police for many months. If that procedure could be arranged, it would be very welcome.

Will my right hon. Friend look at the problem of absconding from bail hostels at night? There is some evidence to suggest that those who are confined in bail hostels are able to go out rather too easily after the hours of darkness and commit further offences.

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend's second point is a matter for the managers of bail hostels and the local probation committees. Certainly the ones that I have visited—and I have visited several in the country—are very well managed. As I have said, they have very little trouble with absconding or reoffending.

As to police bail, after arrest, if they do not give a defendant bail to appear before a court, the police may give him bail to return to a police station at a given date, after which he may be dealt with by charge, by formal caution, or there may be no further action. That is prior, of course, to the court bail. If he fails to return to the police station, it is an offence, but the police have no power to arrest him for it. We propose to bring in legislation so that the police have such a power, and the police have pressed us to do that.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

Are not the bail information provisions which the right hon. Gentleman has just announced a dismal confession of failure? If the probation service, the Crown prosecution service, the police and the courts were adequately resourced, would there be a problem of providing the courts with information?

Mr. Baker

There has been a substantial increase in the funding of courts and of the Crown prosecution service over the years. Indeed, we have appointed an additional 160 judges and opened more than 180 additional court rooms over the past 12 years. At the same time we have improved bail information schemes. As I have said, we have 113 such schemes, and 13 operating in prisons. I am keen to improve even further the flow of information and the exchange of information between the various agencies involved. That is why we are setting up projects, some in the inner cities, later this year.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Does my right hon. Friend regard the comments of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) as supportive of his proposals, or will the Opposition face both ways again on crime prevention? Will my right hon. Friend cast his mind back to the time when I was practising in the magistrates courts? Magistrates then required sureties and recognisances from other people before a defendant was allowed bail, and if the defendant broke bail they were forfeited. Could my right hon. Friend extend that practice to those who break bail and deal with the problem in that way?

Mr. Baker

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I have said that the Judicial Studies Board will review the training of magistrates and the Bail Act 1976. Such points will be covered by the review.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does the Home Secretary accept that it is somewhat unrealistic to talk of remand in custody for people who commit further offences on bail when we have a massive shortage of accommodation and policies such as "Operation Container" and the problems associated with that? Do we not need to do more to ensure that those who are remanded in custody are brought to trial much more quickly than they are at present, because they are innocent until proved guilty in court?

Mr. Baker

Yes. I have considerable sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I am worried about court delays. A working group was set up by the Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor and myself to find ways of streamlining pre-trail procedures. The working group, which reported just before Christmas, recommended 200 or so changes in procedure. Some are fairly small, but cumulatively they will have a significant effect on court delays. They are being implemented now. I have in mind target time limits. Targets have been established by the Crown prosecution service for the various processes of a case.

Tomorrow the Lord Chancellor and I will publish a report on a White Paper which reviews the future management of magistrates court services. Pre-trial reviews are taking place on an experimental basis in selected magistrates courts. The introduction of remand for 28 days should reduce unnecessary court hearings and encourage effective case management.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, to the law-abiding public, it flies in the face of all reason that someone who commits an offence while on bail does not receive a severe penalty? Given the facts that he has put to us today on the disturbing number of extra people who commit offences, will my right hon. Friend say roughly what percentage of those people did not incur another penalty?

Mr. Baker

It is difficult to give my hon. Friend the exact figure that he requires. But I agree entirely about people who are given bail and commit an offence. There is plenty of evidence from the police forces to show that that happens. We have had evidence from Northumbria police force and Avon and Somerset police force. The police become frustrated when they arrest someone, bring him to court—I say "he" because it is usually a young male—and find that he is released on bail.

The proposal that I have announced today will, first, improve the flow of information so that a bad risk can be more precisely identified. Secondly, there will be changes in the law so that people who offend on bail know that they could be subject to a longer sentence than would otherwise be the case. I believe that in many cases that will act as a deterrent to offending on bail. I am glad to say that the package that I have announced today has been widely discussed with the police and has their strongest support.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens South)

Does the Home Secretary agree that if someone who is arrested, charged with an offence and granted bail commits an offence while on bail, the magistrates have the power to remand that person in custody? Perhaps they ought to be reminded that they have that power. But the other point, which is more important, is that when an offender comes to be sentenced by the court it will sentence for count 1, the first offence, and then for count 2, which happens to be consecutive and is therefore added on. The thrust behind all this is gently to remind the judiciary that it has the power to make consecutive sentences. We do not need any more legislation because the judges are capable of taking care of the situation anyway.

Mr. Baker

I noticed that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was nodding when the hon. Gentleman said that we did not need the measure. I assure him that we do. Again I have been pressed by the chief constables to bring in a change in the law about the aggravating offence. I believe that it will have an effect on the attitude of young men who are likely to reoffend on hail. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the present arrangements are satisfactory. He is in a small minority if he does.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

May I reassure my right hon. Friend that my constituents in Elworth in Sandbach will be reassured by the proposals that he has announced today? Can he tell us within what time scale they will be implemented? Will he say a little more about bail hostels? One is to be opened in Sandbach later this year. A vital matter to local residents is that the selection of those who are to stay in the hostel should ensure that they are the least likely to reoffend. Another is that the hostels should be run rigorously. That will reassure local people about the safety of themselves, their properties and their cars.

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I receive a fair amount of correspondence from both Conservative and Opposition Members about the location of bail hostels. They must be run properly and, indeed, effectively and strongly. That is what my hon. Friend was saying, and I accept it. She asked about the timing of the measures. The four measures that do not require legislation are already in hand. The two measures that require legislation will be introduced immediately after the election and we shall give them high priority. As I understand it, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, by nodding in approval of what his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said a moment ago, showed that he does not support one of the measures. So presumably the Labour party will not put that measure in its manifesto.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Is the Home Secretary aware that what we needed today was not a statement but a confession as to why, after all the Government's massive spending on the police, courts and prisons, crime has doubled during the lifetime of the Government? People outside this place are not conned into thinking that the talk of toughening laws and filling up the prisons two weeks before an election will deal with the conditions that breed crime. What we need is a majority Labour Government with, at the very least, a programme of full employment.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman is trying to find every reason and excuse for crime other than the individual responsibility of the criminal. I do not agree. He says that we are producing tough measures at the end of this Parliament. We have introduced tougher penalties during our years in office and the Labour party has voted against them. When we introduced the Criminal Justice Bill in 1991 the Labour party voted against the proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, we did not."] Yes, the Labour party voted against proposals to take into account the record of convicted prisoners. It is on the record. It also put forward proposals to reduce the length of time served by serious criminals in prison. We shall put all that before the country during the next few weeks.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to compliment Avon and Somerset police, who were one of the first to identify the problem and the scale of the problem in Bristol and surrounding areas? Does he have any idea of where resources are likely to be allocated? If not, could some of those resources be directed towards Bristol, in Avon and Somerset?

Mr. Baker

I have heard what my hon. Friend has said about further resources in Bristol and I shall bear his request in mind when it comes to the bail information schemes. I pay tribute to the Avon and Somerset police. I met with them at the end of last week. They have done a great deal of work on reoffending while on bail, and the research which they produced has helped us considerably in formulating the package.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Does the Home Secretary accept that his proposals mean that more people will be sent to prison and that many of Britain's prisons are a disgrace? Will he accept from someone who visited Brixton a few weeks ago that the number of mentally ill people in prison is unacceptable? Does he accept the view that Dr. Andrew Coyle—a distinguished governor, who is served by excellent staff in Brixton—said on the BBC documentary about what is going on there that those people should not be there? In a civilised society, what proposals does the Home Secretary have to deal with those important matters?

Mr. Baker

I agree that Dr. Coyle is a distinguished prison governor. The programme of refurbishment at Brixton is one of our largest refurbishment programmes and will extend to the hospital wing.

We do not expect a significant increase in the prison population as a result of the proposals. There will be a more accurate identification of those people who present a risk of reoffending while on bail. As a result of the better information services which will he available to the courts it may be possible to release some of the people remanded in custody, where the risk is much less, possibly to a bail hostel, or to tighter supervision within the community.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Will my right hon. Friend elaborate on the answer that he gave to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and explain how the Government have improved the flow of court cases, is planning to improve it further and therefore will diminish the number of people who fall into that category?

Mr. Baker

I refer my hon. Friend to the written answer given by the Attorney-General before Christmas. A working party, involving officials from the Home Department, the Crown prosecution service and the Lord Chancellor's Department, has been established to find ways to speed court processes. As I have said, most of the changes are modest but cumulatively they make a great difference. For example, the Crown prosecution service can now state time limits on the progress of a case through the courts. That great improvement is now being implemented.

I attach great importance to this package of measures. They are not dramatic or headline stuff, but they represent good court administration. If we can speed up the court process and cut court delays, justice and efficiency will be served.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Does the Home Secretary accept that there has been an almighty row between the Lord Chancellor's Department and legal aid lawyers about the cost of representing people in cases of this sort? Will the Lord Chancellor take note of the extra work involved if there is a more thorough examination of people's antecedents before bail is granted? Will the Home Secretary tell us what will happen to a person who has been sentenced and convicted for a first offence after a second offence, which aggravates the first, is committed? How will the courts deal with that?

Mr. Baker

The person will be sentenced only after the second offence. That question would be more properly directed to my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor because it refers to legal aid and green form aid. I hope that the solicitors representing defendants in such cases—it is important to recognise that they are defendants because they are not guilty until convicted—will benefit enormously from the improved flow of information. The solicitors may not incur extra costs, and they may welcome some of the cost savings that result.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

With regard to juvenile offenders, the courts often find that they are not given reports by social services and, therefore, they cannot provide secure accommodation. In such cases, cannot the courts decide, at their own discretion, whether the juvenile offender should be remanded?

Mr. Baker

Money has been secured for building more accommodation for juveniles. I attach priority to that. That responsibility is shared with the Department of Health. I want those proposals, which are shortly to be announced, to go ahead as quickly as possible.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Is it not simpler and more constructive for the Government to create an economic climate in which jobs are available for the majority of the young men we have been discussing this afternoon?

Mr. Baker

When it comes to the causes of crime, it serves no purpose to blame anyone but the criminal. Criminals have individual responsibility. That point is important. We have taken initiatives which deal with the problem of young offenders in order to divert them from a life of crime. It is important that we do that and there are positive ideas in the proposals that I have announced this afternoon to achieve that.

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

My right hon. Friend's package of measures will be warmly welcomed by the victims of crime and the police who find it difficult to recapture them as fast as the courts release them on bail. I urge my right hon. Friend to go further and remove the courts' discretion to allow further bail to those who commit offences when they are already on bail. Will he make it mandatory for such people to be remanded in custody or in bail hostels?

Mr. Baker

I do not wish to limit the discretion of the courts in that way. Judges and magistrates will be provided with additional powers to consider aggravated consequences. I do not wish to oblige them mandatorily to assign reoffenders on bail to custody automatically. Perhaps the best arrangement would be to send such offenders to bail hostels, or to put them under tighter supervision through curfew orders, or to require them to attend police stations. However, it depends on the offender, and the court should continue to have that discretion.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

The Government must accept some responsibility for creating the conditions in which crime can flourish. The right hon. Gentleman gloats about the increased amount of bail hostel accommodation. He must appreciate that the need for such accommodation was mentioned in the Woolf report. How can he claim that his policy has been successful when the number of people in detention continues to increase?

Mr. Baker

I am well aware of the problems of prisoners in police cells. That is one reason why I have decided to keep active in the prison estate six prisons that were scheduled to be closed, and why we have pressed ahead with our prison building programme. In the next 12 months, six new prisons will be opened, providing 4,500 new prison places. It represents the largest prison building programme this century.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

One part of my right hon. Friend's welcome statement will not need legislation, and that is the section dealing with magistrates courts. While not wishing to anticipate tomorrow's report, may I ask my right hon. Friend to persuade magistrates courts committees not to close smaller courts, as is being attempted in my constituency?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend raises what is, for the most part, a contentious local matter. Reviews of the administration of magistrates courts are taking place all the time. My hon. Friend will recall that, as from 1 April, the Lord Chancellor will take responsibility for magistrates courts. I regard it as a sensible transfer that the Lord Chancellor's Department should be responsible for Crown and magistrates courts, and I know that he will address the problem of which my hon. Friend has spoken. Indeed, I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to his attention.

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that nothing in his statement will allay the fears of my constituents? Is he further aware that it is no good tinkering at the edges and that we must look at the underlying causes of the escalation of crime? Considering the various policies that the Government have introduced but which have failed, may I ask him to consider establishing a royal commission to examine the underlying causes and to make recommendations?

Mr. Baker

No, I do not believe that we need a royal commission. I have set up a royal commission to look into the criminal justice system because I am sure that it needs that type of attention, but I do not believe that a royal commission would contribute to this issue. We need positive action to deal with the problem of reoffending, and I have this afternoon produced a positive package which many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, on reflection, will welcome.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Given that the incidence of offending while on bail is higher in places where delays and court adjournments are at their highest, would it not be more sensible to examine the distribution of stipendiary magistrates throughout the country? Is my right hon. Friend aware that areas with the longest delays —such as Bristol, Teesside and Northumberland—do not have stipendiary magistrates?

Mr. Baker

I shall draw that proposal to the attention of the Lord Chancellor. The number of stipendiary magistrates has increased slightly since we came to power. An advantage of such a large prison building programme is that it has been possible in some cases to build courts alongside prisons. That has eased considerably the passage and process of justice. It has happened at Belmarsh, in London, for example. There is a tremendous movement every day from prisons to courts in respect of remand. That is why we have introduced the possibility of a 28-day remand. I believe that the Opposition oppose that, though it would be a sensible change. It would reduce the number of court appearances and would help to reduce court delays.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Home Secretary pay tribute to the Gwent police force, which has been highly efficient and has one of the highest clear-up rates in Britain? Will he show his appreciation by for once allowing that police force to have the number of constables it needs? Year after year the right hon. Gentleman denies the police authority and the chief constable the number of policemen the force requires. Is it not a fact that the Home Secretary stands at the Dispatch Box judged guilty as charged of 13 years of incompetence, of rising crime and of anarchy on the streets, and that his sentence should include political exile for a long time?

Mr. Baker

If the hon. Gentleman intends to try to persuade the electorate that the Labour party has effective policies on law and order, he will be pushing a stone uphill. In the latest Gallup poll, the Conservatives had a 22 point lead over Labour on the issue of law and order. That is not surprising because when Labour Members were in office they cut the amount of money available to the police, to the courts, and to the prisons.

Mr. Gwilym Jones (Cardiff, North)

In welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I remind him that half of all crimes in south Wales are car related and that approximately half those crimes are committed by a small number of young offenders, usually awaiting sentence for a first offence? Most appropriately, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has made proposals for secure accommodation, which would be the best way to contain those offenders and stop them reoffending. Amazingly, however, Labour-controlled South Glamorgan council is trying to thwart that proposal. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will brook no such opposition, thereby demonstrating that the Government are on the side of the victim, not of the criminal?

Mr. Baker

What my hon. Friend says about South Glamorgan council is true and it does not surprise me. Too much attention is paid to the criminal and not enough is paid to the victim, which is why we now have the most generous system of criminal compensation in the western world, why we published the victims' charter some 18 months ago—and it is being implemented—and why we have a network of 7,500 volunteers to help victims. None of that would have happened had the Labour party been in office for the past few years.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Does the Home Secretary agree that the guilty should be punished? Is he aware that in Greater Manchester now, two years after the Strangeways incident, more than 600 prisoners are being held in police cells, either convicted or on remand? On many weekends, because those people are being held in police cells, the police find it difficult to place prisoners anywhere within Greater Manchester, so the pressure on the police to give police bail is extremely high. As the Home Secretary is directly responsible for that appalling situation and is hamstringing the police in Greater Manchester, is not it time that he resigned?

Mr. Baker

I have given considerable support to the police in Manchester. Indeed, the increase in standard spending assessments for police forces across the country this coming year is between 15 per cent. and 17 per cent., which shows our commitment to police forces. It allows all police forces to recruit up to establishment, which they could not do when the Labour Government were in office because they left the police forces 8,000 under establishment.

I am aware of the problems in the Manchester area. The consequences of Strangeways still exist, but a substantial investment programme is going ahead in prisons in the north-west, and I hope that that problem will be contained in the coming months.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Each of the six measures that my right hon. Friend proposed is to be welcomed. Hopefully, this time the Labour party will support them. May I suggest a seventh measure? My right hon. Friend will remember that during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in 1988 I proposed a new clause that provided that, for a serious indictable offence, a court would have to explain why it had given bail against police advice. Although the Home Office decided to accept the principle, it would not go as far as I wanted and implemented the measure only for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, rape and attempted rape. Is not it about time that, for all serious indictable offences, the courts gave their reasons publicly for granting bail against police advice?

Mr. Baker

If a court decides to give bail against police advice, it owes it to the police to explain the reasons. It is statutorily required to do so, as my hon. Friend accurately described, in serious cases—in cases of murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, rape or attempted rape. We are continuing our discussions with the police and the other agencies, including the magistracy, in the coming months, and I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion. If a magistrate decides to give bail after considerable pressure from the police, it is fair to suggest that the reasons should be stated. With the growing co-operation between the agencies—the Crown prosecution service, the magistracy and the polic—that is the sort of spirit that we are trying to generate.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

Does the Home Secretary understand my surprise and disappointment that in his presentation he did not give credit to Northumbria police and the research carried out in Newcastle university which has played such an important part in highlighting the problem? Does that mean that he also intends to leave Newcastle and Northumbria out of his proposals on bail information and extra bail hostels? Does he recognise that, throughout the recent difficult period, Newcastle police have been attending to many overflow prisoners in police cells, so they are less able to deal with good order on the streets as they are coping with bad order in prisons? Will he ensure that juvenile secure accommodation is made available to the Newcastle and Northumbria police and that they do not have to travel 20 to 25 miles to find it?

Mr. Baker

On the issue of juvenile secure accommodation, I refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson).

I pay tribute to the work done by Northumbria police. They prepared their figures on a different statistical basis from that used by other forces and the Home Office, but they identified many incidents of reoffending on bail, particularly in north Tyneside. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to be reminded of the fact that, this year, the Northumbrian police have benefited from the urban crime fund—an extra £3.6 million was made available to the Northumbrian police. There was also a substantial increase in standard spending assessment of 16 per cent. for that police force, and a substantial payment was made as a result of the riot damage last September.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Will my hon. Friend continue to give the measures urgent attention, particularly in relation to juvenile offenders? It is simply unacceptable for 16-year-olds to appear in court and plead guilty to as many as 20 offences, most of which were committed on bail after the offender had been arrested. One such offence involved killing a woman in Filey in an accident that involved a stolen vehicle. The young person had been released by Scarborough magistrates court only four days previously as there was no secure accommodation to which to send him. The public expect the Government to do something. The utterly disgraceful response of the Labour party shows that it is incapable of doing anything about the problem.

Mr. Baker

Of course, we are committed to increasing secure accommodation. The cumulative effect of the measures that I have announced this afternoon will help considerably in identifying the young men who pose a bad risk and are liable to reoffend on bail. Positive action must be taken to ensure that reoffending is curbed.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Why has crime doubled under this Government?

Mr. Baker

I have answered various questions during the past few days on that subject. Since the war, the level of crime in Britain has increased regularly by about 5 per cent. a year. The increased spate of crime in the past 18 months is largely due to the rapid increase in car crime, which represents 30 per cent. of all crime. Many of the reoffenders of whom we are talking today are engaged in car crime. I hope that the measures that I have introduced today will have some impact on the level of car crime.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

In connection with this welcome statement and the serious level of shocking crime committed by offenders on bail in Norwich, will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the work of the crime prevention panel in Norwich? Together with the police, that organisation has been calling for such measures for some considerable time. Will my right hon. Friend address the issue of secure accommodation for young offenders in Norfolk and Suffolk, which also poses a serious problem?

Mr. Baker

I re-emphasise what I have said about secure accommodation. I met the crime prevention panel in Norwich when I visited the constabulary there, and know that it does valuable work. It does particularly important work in relation to protecting vulnerable women as they go around the city centre—an effective example of a crime prevention panel co-operating with the police.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Is the Home Secretary aware that the men and women of this country desperately want the ability to live in peace and security in their own homes without fear of burglary, having their car stolen or smashed open and having the radio taken? Would those same men and women share with me, and police men and women up and down the country, a sense of cynicism that, today, the Home Secretary, like a latter-day Rip Van Winkle, has suddenly been woken up by the news that the Conservatives are likely to lose the next election, and so is now about to introduce a measure to do something about the crime wave in our country?

Opposition Members have always supported positive measures to combat crime, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has said, we support most of the measures announced by the Home Secretary. We ask the Government, however, why they do not go further. Why did they not grasp the nettle and tackle the causes of crime years ago? There have been 13 wasted years. Why did the Government not act?

Mr. Baker

I am delighted to accept converts. Over the past year, the hon. Gentleman has not supported measures —tough measures—that we have introduced. He voted against the joyriding Bill—

Mr. Sheerman

I did not.

Mr. Baker

Oh yes, he did. He voted against the Committee stage—

Mr. Sheerman

That is a lie.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Sheerman

The Home Secretary is a liar.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but we cannot have that. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw it.

Mr. Sheerman

What does an hon. Member do, Mr. Speaker, when he has been slandered in the House? I did not not vote against that Bill, as the Home Secretary has alleged quite falsely. No Opposition Member voted against it. The Home Secretary has lied to the House. What am I supposed to do?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is compounding the problem. He must not ascribe—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]

Mr. Sheerman

I will withdraw what I said, but, as someone who has been slandered by the Home Secretary, I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has made his position clear. Now let us hear the Home Secretary.

Mr. Baker

I wanted to say—[Interruption.] May I just say exactly what happened with the joyriding Bill? In crucial votes during the Committee stage, Opposition Members voted against the principle of the Bill—

Mr. Sheerman


Mr. Baker

They were weasel words. In Committee, the Opposition voted against the principle of a Bill that extended culpability to all the passengers in a car. They voted against that, and they voted against the burden of proof. That is what they voted against. They have also voted against other measures. If the House wants an example of how soft they are on crime, let me point out that they voted against renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act last night.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am genuinely sorry that I have not been able to call all the hon. Members who wished to speak, but I shall certainly bear them in mind if and when we return to this subject.