HC Deb 22 October 1992 vol 212 cc546-51
2. Mr. David Martin

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new initiatives police forces are being encouraged to take to meet public concern about car crime, street crime and vandalism.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)

Police are playing a full part in car crime prevention year, the development of the safer cities programme and community-based initiatives designed to tackle local street crime.

Mr. Martin

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reply. Will he assure me that he is fully aware of the deep public concern about lawlessness on the streets and of the continuing need for a visible and effective police presence in combating it? Can he give specific examples of action taken and proposed to be taken by Hampshire police to help meet these concerns, which are shared by me and many other residents of Portsmouth?

Mr. Wardle

I entirely understand the public concern that my hon. Friend describes. Hampshire police have taken a special unit to Portsmouth to run a vigorous campaign against street crime and drug-related crime. In the first six months of this year they achieved 167 arrests. They are also involved in the sold secure scheme and the secure car parks project, and with local schools they are fighting vandalism with the ACE detection scheme—A for accident prevention, C for crime prevention and E for environmental awareness.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not unfortunate, to say the least, that at a time of increasing crime we have the added worry of the latest terrorist outrages in London and elsewhere? Should it not be made clear by the entire House that no matter how much terrorism is perpetrated on the mainland and in Northern Ireland the people of Britain will not be intimidated by terror and the terrorists' campaign will certainly not succeed?

Mr. Wardle

I entirely share the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. I am sure that the whole House deplores the activities of the terrorists.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Is my hon. Friend aware of the strong support given by Norfolk police to the Crimestoppers initiative which is funded nationally by the Community Action Trust? Will the Government reaffirm their support for the initiative and encourage chief constables to provide further publicity and support for that good way of fighting crime?

Mr. Wardle

Yes, indeed; the Government adopt a comprehensive approach against crime—not only increased spending but strengthened powers for the courts, more neighbourhood watch schemes, more youth crime prevention panels. It is a partnership against crime involving the police, local authorities, voluntary agencies, business and the whole community.

Mr. Michael

Will the Minister accept that what people want is policemen on the street with the time to deal with the community and with crime? Does he acknowledge that the rising crime of recent years has left the police overstretched and looking for more support from the Government?

Mr. Wardle

What people want is that crime should be tackled most effectively by the police. It is worth bearing it in mind that while crime has been increasing steadily throughout the western world, in the United Kingdom there is far less risk of crimes of violence, although car crime has been on the increase. The hon. Gentleman will wish to recall that there are 16,000 more uniformed police officers than in 1979 and 12,500 more civilian staff working for the police.

3. Mrs. Angela Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what support car crime prevention year has received from car manufacturers.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Jack)

Many car manufacturers have responded very positively to the message of car crime prevention year by contributing or promising support worth more than £3 million; in addition, many more new cars are now being fitted with security systems as standard equipment.

Mrs. Knight

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but is he aware that most thefts from cars take place when the cars are not locked properly or the windows have been left open? What further measures will the Government take to highlight that problem, to ensure that individuals take more care of and responsibility for their cars?

Mr. Jack

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have spent £5 million on car crime prevention year to raise awareness of the precise points that she has raised. The surveys that we have undertaken to see whether that awareness has registered with the public reveal a great appreciation of those issues. In addition, we have tackled the problem of theft from cars and of cars from car parks through our new secured car parks initiative. I am pleased to tell the House that the first awards for that initiative have already been made.

Mr. Corbett

I speak as someone with first-hand experience of car crime, having had one nicked on the way to a crime prevention conference during the general election campaign. Although I welcome the better interest that manufacturers now take in this problem, will the Minister try to persuade them to make it standard in every model now produced that the aerial should be built into the back window and the place where the radio goes is screened? We should try to knock back the temptation to steal because, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, there are people who know their way around security systems.

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman makes some practical points. I hope that he will visit the motor show, as he will find that there has been a considerable improvement in the specification of cars on offer. He may find, as I have done through my research, that nearly all new cars—certainly those manufactured in the United Kingdom—have built-in radio protection devices. The hon. Gentleman has raised vital points which I hope will be noted by manufacturers beyond the walls of the House.

4. Mr. French

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received from the police concerning the fight against crime.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I receive regular representations from chief officers and police authorities about a variety of issues relating to crime and policing.

Mr. French

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in relation to certain crimes there is a public perception that the police have greater powers than they do? Will he try to take steps to ensure that the public fully understand the extent to which the police can investigate certain crimes and the extent to which they cannot?

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The public make ever-increasing demands on the police which often lie somewhat outside the realm of crime detection and crime prevention. There are some limitations on the powers of the police in dealing with crime, but we consistently try to extend those powers which are deficient. Modern aids which flow from the opening of the national criminal intelligence service and the potential introduction of computerised fingerprint matching will greatly improve the ability of the police to obtain more information about crime and to act effectively when investigating it.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Have the police also told the Secretary of State that in areas such as mine in inner-city Manchester a considerable proportion of crimes of violence against people and property are related to drug offences? I am not trying to score a political point, but is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many people in such areas believe that there is no strategy whatever for dealing with the drug problem? I ask the Home Secretary to give the House some confidence that he views that problem with the seriousness that it demands.

Mr. Clarke

I shall be as helpful as I can as I share some of the hon. Gentleman's thoughts. A great deal is being done in this regard. We have 20 local drug abuse prevention teams and within the schools the National Curriculum Council has encouraged a cross-curricular theme in health education to give more information about drug abuse. Many agencies are involved in helping those who are victims of drug abuse as well as increasing awareness of the dangers. I share the hon. Gentleman's belief that there is a need for a better strategy to pull all those things together and I am looking at the very problem now.

Mr. Riddick

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that police officers seem to be spending far too much time doing paperwork inside police stations when they should be on the streets fighting crime? In particular, they seem to spend literally hours transcribing taped interviews with suspects. Has my right hon. and learned Friend any plans to tackle that serious problem?

Mr. Clarke

Again, I am sure that my hon. Friend has a valid point. We have to strike the balance between all the necessary safeguards that we introduce to ensure that the criminal justice system works properly and fairly—for example, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was a great advance on that front, helping good policing and safeguarding suspects—and ensuring that we do not introduce procedures so elaborate that a great deal of time is taken up away from the beat and investigative work. Among other things, improvements in the arrangements between police forces and the Crown prosecution service and a better understanding of what paperwork and preparation are required are leading to some improvements, so that paperwork is kept to the necessary minimum.

Mr. Alton

Pursuing the reply that the Home Secretary gave a few moments ago, does he agree that the easy availability of heroin and Ecstacy is a powerful pressure for crime, especially in our urban and city areas? Does he agree that the sequestration of drug dealers' and pushers' assets is one of the most effective ways to show that drug pushing will not pay? Should not those assets be ploughed back into the communities that have been exploited by drug dealers?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to the hon. Member. As a country, we are always looking for ways to prevent criminality and to get to the causes of crime. The spread of drug abuse should be one of our main targets because many crimes are associated with drugs and with offenders who are abusing drugs. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must tackle it in every way. Sequestering the proceeds of crime and dealing with the laundering of the proceeds of drug trafficking are important and this week we are introducing a Bill in another place to strengthen further our powers to deal with those matters.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that much of the increase in the crime figures is due to increased reporting of crime? In particular, does he agree that many more cases of domestic violence are reported because of the changed attitude of the police, who previously did not want to get involved but who now pursue batterers? They arrest and charge them and ensure that they are brought to justice, which encourages many battered wives to complain to the police.

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The figures reflect the worrying trend in crime, of which we are all aware. One must bear it in mind that reported crime has been increasing for the past 40 years, but much crime is not reported and apparent increases in incidents arise either from the fact that domestic violence is now taken seriously or from the fact that more property owners are insured, which tends to lead to variations in the figures. In the near future my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be making an announcement about the British crime survey and shedding some more light on how we might achieve a more accurate picture of crime and better crime statistics.

Mrs. Ewing

While I welcome the Home Secretary's genuine comments about tackling drug-related offences, can he give a further sign of what he means by looking at that problem very seriously? Has a time scale been laid down by the Government for co-ordination between the various Departments involved—Customs and Excise, the Department for Education, the Scottish Office and a variety of other Departments? Is there a time scale whereby he will lay down a clear strategy, as the issue has consistently been raised with Members of Parliament by representatives of the police, who know that it is one of the greatest threats to society?

Mr. Clarke

I do not have a time scale for producing any statements, but the fact that two Members have shared my view that we need to tackle an overall strategy and to pull the various agencies together will give added urgency to the work that I have in hand. I hope to come back on that as soon as I can.

Mr. Shersby

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the considerable concern felt by the police about the amount of time taken up transcribing audio-taped interviews? Will he consider extending the excellent trials that have already commenced using video cameras, with a view to using that more modern technique for recording interviews?

Mr. Clarke

Personally, I greatly approve of the introduction of audio recordings of interviews and I am anxious for progress with video recordings. I have seen some of the results of the excellent trials that have been conducted so far. As the courts are not yet equipped to deal with video evidence, however, it is likely that any extension of video recording would still give rise to the need for transcripts. Some progress has been made in editing videos in a way that is acceptable to the Crown prosecution service and useful in the courts. I am sure that one day the courts will be able to see the relevant part of a video interview without any paperwork in between, but that depends as much on technology and on changes in court procedure as it does on progress on our front.

Mr. Blair

We know that a crime is committed every six seconds of every day and that crime has increased by more than 50 per cent. in the past few years. We also know that the Home Office standing conference on crime prevention has not met for almost two years. Is the Home Secretary aware that the country is not looking for complacent statements about the situation getting better when it is getting worse but that the country is looking to him, instead of trying to do the jobs of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the President of the Board of Trade, to do his own job as Secretary of State for the Home Department and reduce crime levels?

Mr. Clarke

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. I am glad to see him visible as shadow Home Secretary. I have no doubt that when he gets into the one job he will take an interest in the wider scene.

Nothing that I said was remotely complacent. I did not deny that there is a problem. I do not deny that we have a rising incidence of criminality, but I point to our record of putting resources and manpower into tackling that problem and of reforming the powers of the courts in an attempt to contain it. We all know that in the modern world most developed countries face the problem. It is my determination to press on with improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the police force and all the time to examine the powers of the courts to ensure that we can increase the protection of the public.

Mr. Knapman

Not all crime occurs in the inner cities. For example, there are far too many incidents of crime in the villages of rural Gloucestershire. Last year the county came out very badly in the allocation procedure. Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear that in mind when reaching any future decisions?

Mr. Clarke

Once a year all our police forces make bids through the Home Office for more resources. Overall, I believe that they have been extremely well treated over the past 13 years. Generally, law and order has received greater percentage increases in expenditure than almost any other area of public expenditure. Spending on the police service has increased by 74 per cent. in real terms—that is, over and above inflation. I shall await with interest the submissions of Gloucestershire this year. As for bids for manpower, I am heavily steered by the advice of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary.