HC Deb 01 July 1993 vol 227 cc1133-209

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. MacKay.]

4.47 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

I very much welcome this opportunity for a debate on law and order. Five weeks ago today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister invited me to become Home Secretary. It is an office which I feel deeply privileged to hold. It is an office which confers the capacity to touch the life of every citizen in our country. The first duty of any Government is to maintain law and order. I want to do all that I can do to fulfil that duty. It is an immense responsibility. There is much to be done.

The day after I took office, I met the Lord Chief Justice. I went on to see representatives from all parts of the system, the courts, prison and probation service as well, of course, as the police. Within my first few working days, I visited New Scotland Yard where I saw the excellent work that the Commissioner was doing to launch Operation Bumblebee across London. I saw for myself in Croydon how the work would be taken forward in a busy police station. I have been out with police officers on patrol in Brixton. I was also able to attend a meeting of the police community liaison group there. These encounters gave me the opportunity to listen to the concerns of those at the sharp end of the fight against crime and to their views about how we as a Government should respond to those concerns. As long as I remain Home Secretary, I intend to continue to listen and to take whatever action is necessary to deal effectively with crime.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

I know that many people will appreciate my right hon. and learned Friend's vigorous programme of getting out to meet people, listening to what they have to say about their concerns, and responding to them. Will he please take the earliest opportunity to visit Warwickshire and address himself to the question of trespass and new age travellers? As he knows, there have been four utterly scandalous episodes in my constituency. Because of deficiencies in the existing law, the authorities do not have power to take the necessary action to deal promptly with these abuses. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please ensure rapid and energetic Government action to remedy the situation?

Mr. Howard

I am aware of the concern about the activities to which my hon. Friend refers. These are to be found not only in Warwickshire. We have already published consultation documents setting out proposals to deal with such matters. I am re-examining those proposals to ensure that they go far enough and that there is nothing further that we should include in the package that I intend to bring forward as soon as time permits.

What I have heard so far has reinforced much of what I already knew. People feel that they are faced with a seemingly relentless rise in crime. It is true that, this year, recorded crime may be rising less quickly than in some recent years; it is true that it may have risen virtually year in, year out, in all the decades since the war; it is true that it may be rising across the advanced industralised world.

These may be the facts, but we should take little comfort from them. Above all, they offer nothing to the thousands of people up and down this country whose lives are disturbed, and sometimes ruined, by crime.

One of the worst aspects of the remorseless rise in crime is that people start to accept it as inevitable. They feel a sense of helplessness, a belief that nothing can be done about crime. I do not believe that it has to be that way, and, as Home Secretary, I have two very simple and straightforward goals. First, I want to help to create an atmosphere in which it is criminals who are frightened—and not members of the public. Secondly, I want to make local communities feel that we can act together to do something about crime. We will do that by taking a long-term approach to crime, by attacking it from every quarter.

We have to recognise where crime begins. I do not mean that we should listen to woolly-headed theories that society is at fault and criminals are not to blame. Of course not—we can leave that nonsense to others. I mean that we should recognise that we must do more to teach children the difference between right and wrong. We must teach the importance of accepting responsibility for our own actions and of considering the consequences for others. If we do not do so, the services for which I, as Home Secretary, am responsible—police, prisons and probation—will simply be left to pick up the pieces. And picking up the pieces is no substitute for getting things right in the first place.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that people up and down the land are increasingly concerned about the very high proportion of dwelling house burglaries and crimes of violence committed by offenders who are very young indeed? Will he accept that the Government's decision to provide more secure training places will be widely welcomed? We must crack down hard on juveniles who are convicted of serious crimes.

Mr. Howard

I understand the concern that lies behind my hon. Friend's question, and I accept entirely the point that he has made. As he knows, we intend to take action to deal with that problem.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

While we are thinking about the question of juvenile crime, there is a matter to which I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to address his mind. I am told that one of the ways in which young people get launched into crime is through school truancy. People involved in education in my constituency tell me that the existing law is quite inadequate to enable them to deal with the problem. Will my right hon. and learned Friend, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Education, look very carefully into the law on this matter? Once young people think that they can get away with absenting themselves from school, they are on the path to crime.

Mr. Howard

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who has raised an important question which goes right to the heart of the matter. It chimes in exactly with what I have been saying about the influence that can be exerted on children in schools and about the importance of taking the right steps at a very early stage.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The Home Secretary may be aware of the fact that, last Friday, people burst into a public house in my constituency and sprayed machine-gun bullets round the premises. Machine-guns have been used in the constituency on at least two occasions—once in a street and once in a pub. On Tuesday, the body of a young man who had been tortured and then murdered was found. It is highly probable that all these incidents are related to the high level of drugs activity in the constituency.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) made a point about young people. It is with real sincerity and real feelings that I refer to the great importance that the Home Secretary must attach to the link between crime and drugs in areas such as mine. If he is not prepared to look properly into the underlying issues—I refer, for instance, to the massive profits involved in drugs—and take consistent action, he will merely repeat the folly of previous Home Secretaries, who, having said that they intended to deal with the problem, simply allowed the violence to continue to increase.

Mr. Howard

I agree that we must look very carefully at the relationship between drugs and serious criminal offences. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that one piece of legislation that we brought before the House in recent years, which has resulted in increased sentences for drugs offences, was opposed by his party. Perhaps he ought to consider which way he voted on that occasion.

There is no point in politicians or newspapers or anybody else calling for a return to old-fashioned morality and respect for authority if we do not know how it is going to be achieved. It must start at home, and it must also be taught in our schools and by all who work with and care for children and young people. Above all, it must be taught by example. That must be our goal. But however successful we may be in achieving it, the results will be long-term. Meanwhile, we have a duty to do everything we can to tackle crime. The police know this only too well. They meet this challenge bravely and well. As a society, we depend upon them to do so. We must never take them for granted. I will never take them for granted.

We face a formidable agenda for change for the police service. On Monday, I published my proposals for reorganising the police to establish the foundation for the service into the next century. Yesterday, the Sheehy inquiry published its conclusions on police pay and responsibilities. We are consulting on revised police disciplinary arrangements. We expect the report of the Royal Commission on criminal justice to be published very soon. That, too, will have implications for the police and for the way they go about their work.

The police have been striving to do what we ask of them within a 30-year-old system. It cannot be right that chief officers do not have the freedom to manage, to decide whether to spend money on more manpower or more equipment to enable their forces to perform more effectively. It cannot be right that there is no mechanism for properly rewarding the most outstanding officers. Nor can we be confident that the current legislative framework or the way the criminal justice system operates helps the police to do their job well, rather than frustrating their efforts on our behalf.

The proposals set out in our White Paper earlier this week are intended to make it easier for the police to concentrate their efforts on tackling crime in ways that reinforce the mutual reliance of police and public.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that I have been asked by the farmers in the Dover, Deal and Folkestone area to congratulate him on his appointment, express their full support for him on this issue and say that they are concerned that we should have adequate policing in country villages, backed up by tough trespass laws and tougher sentencing?

Mr. Howard

I have already expressed my view on the need for tough trespass laws. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress the importance of rural crime, which has been overlooked much too often in the past.

As I take forward these changes to lay the foundation for all members of the police force to give their best, they can be sure that I will listen to and act on their concerns. I am particularly determined that our police officers should have the necessary protection from the dangers that they face on our behalf day and night.

I will always be ready to listen to positive proposals on action that we can take to reduce the risk of attack or protect the police from injury. That is why I recently announced that we will test the new expandable side-handled baton. If it protects police officers, particularly women police officers, from attack, they will have it. I have also given the go-ahead for trials of three other types of baton in the Metropolitan police.

Above all, we need a total strategy for dealing with crime. I believe it should have four main strands. First, we must do all that we can to prevent crime; secondly, we must do all that we can to help the police to catch criminals; thirdly, we must ensure that when criminals have been caught, they are tried fairly and speedily; fourthly, we must ensure that, if they are convicted, the courts have all the powers that they need to deal with them appropriately and effectively.

The first strand in our approach is crime prevention. We have already done a great deal to develop crime prevention thinking and practice. We have established the safer cities programme and will build on its success by creating up to 40 new projects. Those new projects will aim to engage all the skills and resources of local communities. I have a good deal of sympathy with those who regard crime statistics with deep scepticism. But such statistics afford a basis for comparison. In the first nine months of security improvements on a housing estate by the Bradford safer cities project, there was a 31 per cent. drop in domestic burglary. In Salford, there was an 80 per cent. fall in domestic burglary in 1,000 homes where security improvements, property marking and crime prevention advice were given.

Of course, still more needs to be done not only in our inner cities but in rural areas, such as that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw). which are suffering increasingly from the attention of highly mobile criminals.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

My right hon. and learned Friend has rightly mentioned the problem of crime in the inner cities. One of the reasons why Conservative Members are so delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) promoted to Minister of State in the Home Office is his agricultural knowledge. There is a tremendous problem in the countryside with rustling, stealing farm equipment from farm land and the horrible epidemic of attacks on horses in the south of England. I hope that my hon. Friend will bring his knowledge of agriculture to the Home Office, which will be most useful to those of us who represent agricultural communities.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend is right. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will bring his experience of the countryside and agricultural matters to bear on those problems.

There is a view in some quarters that property crime is not so serious. I believe that that approach is wholly wrong. Burglary is one of the most appalling crimes. To me, it is a crime of violence. It destroys people's sense of security in their own homes. That is why our crime prevention work emphasises the precautions that individuals can take to make the lives of burglars harder. That is why I fully endorse the Metropolitan Commissioner's priority for anti-burglary work through Operation Bumblebee. Operation Bumblebee grew out of a dialogue between the Metropolitan police and the public, who made it clear that burglary was among their prime concerns. I saw that dialogue first hand when I visited Brixton.

Of course, dialogue of itself does not crack crime—action does. As the White Paper on the police emphasises, tackling crime cannot be left only to the police. There needs to be help from the public. The concept of partnership between the public and the police is central to our approach. It is the second strand that I mentioned a moment ago. People must play their part, acting as the eyes and ears of the police, passing information to them and responding to their calls for help. People must also be prepared to give evidence in court.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to give sympathetic consideration to the point about the disclosure of witnesses to the defence? In the specialist area of organised crime, especially drug-related crime, there is a growing feeling that witnesses are afraid—with good reason—to come forward and give evidence.

Mr. Howard

I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. We are trying to make the whole process of giving evidence a less traumatic experience. We will certainly continue to encourage the police to provide protection where it is needed for witnesses who are vulnerable to intimidation.

One obvious way in which people can help is for them to become involved in neighbourhood watch. There are now more than 115,000 of these schemes, covering more than 5 million households. Neighbourhood watch provides a means by which the whole community can become involved in the fight against crime. We shall shortly launch a manual to assist people who want to set up and run these schemes. We are funding pilot work on introducing similar schemes in high crime areas. All too often in those areas, people who face the greatest problems do not have enough support in their own community.

Joining the special constabulary offers the most active way of supporting the police. The name is apt: those volunteers do indeed make a special contribution to maintaining law and order. There are now 19,000 special constables in England and Wales. I want to see that number increased to 30,000. I will soon be launching a new campaign to raise the national profile of the special constabulary and support recruitment.

If the police are to work effectively, and the public are to be motivated to work with them, we must all have confidence in the effectiveness of the criminal justice process. That is the third strand of our approach. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have crucial roles in bringing offenders to court. They must collect and present the evidence that satisfies the burden of proof and enables the guilty to be convicted. If that is not done well, the system as a whole cannot command confidence.

I want to be satisfied that everything that can be done is being done to bring to justice those who break the law. I am determined to make sure that the criminal justice process works effectively as well as efficiently. It must become less of a game of cat and mouse between prosecution and defence and much more of a way of establishing guilt or innocence.

The Royal Commission on criminal justice was set up to see whether we can do better in meeting those twin objectives while improving efficiency. In acting on its report, I shall be looking for recommendations which will make real improvements. I want speedier justice. I want a greater sense of common purpose towards producing the right results. I want to see confidence restored.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I entirely endorse exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend is saying and some of the measures that he is introducing to improve law and order in the United Kingdom. Does he accept that, too often, the police can bring criminals to court, but, unfortunately, the courts, especially with regard to persistent juvenile offenders, do not have suitable punishments available to them?

Too many young people, as in the case in Macclesfield that I raised with my right hon. and learned Friend at Question Time last week, are released into the community, cocking a snook at the community and the police in the process, and continue to carry out their offences. What is he prepared to do to give the courts the opportunity to punish those people appropriately?

With regard to car theft in the countryside, my National Farmers Union is furious that Land-Rovers are being pinched by the score and the police do not have either the manpower or the ability to do anything about it.

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend will know that we are taking measures to ensure that the courts have extra powers to deal with persistent young offenders in the way in which he would want them to be dealt with. We hope to take that matter forward in the next Session.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

My right hon. and learned Friend has instanced how more must be done in our schools to educate young people about the difference between right and wrong. In his response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir. A. Grant), he stated that attention must be given to the problem of truancy. Does he accept that no sanction is available to school teachers in schools today and that, while many school teachers never used the cane when it was available in schools, it was always regarded as a deterrent? Our society believes in deterrents, both in defence and in more prosaic matters such as drinking and driving. Is not it right to have a deterrent in schools?

Mr. Howard

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend, but he will know that there are many practical difficulties in meeting that point. The matter has come before the House previously.

The fourth strand of our approach, which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has just raised, is to ensure that the courts have all the powers that they need to deal with offenders appropriately and effectively. That is the Government's duty and I take it seriously.

I know how strongly people feel about the restoration of capital punishment. I read the recent speech made in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). I understand why he spoke as he did. I understand the rage that people feel when they hear or read about awful crimes. I share those feelings. I set out my position in an article published in March 1991 in the wake of the case of the Birmingham Six. I should like to repeat my position, so the House may know where I stand.

Until 1991, I voted consistently for the return of capital punishment for the murder of police or prison officers, or for murder committed with firearms or explosives. I thought the deterrent effect would be greatest on those categories. I justified that position on the basis that a wide-ranging appeal process in capital cases would effectively eliminate the risk of a miscarriage of justice. Precisely such a procedure was adopted in the case of the Birmingham Six, and failed to identify any irregularities. It failed to do the job that I thought it would, a job which I thought was essential if capital punishment were to be restored. That led me to re-examine my position and to inform my constituents about it more than two year; ago.

Few people would argue that it is impossible to deal with offenders effectively without capital punishment. Only the courts can decide what the appropriate sentence is in an individual case. If the courts decide that, in an individual case, the punishment required by justice, fairness and the protection of society is a custodial sentence, the Government's duty is to provide the prison capacity to make it possible for such a sentence to be passed and served.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

There is a fast ball coming up. If my right hon. and learned Friend is satisfied that the Runciman royal commission proposals on the appeal system will deal adequately with the problem that he has identified, will he be prepared to reconsider his decision not to support capital punishment?

Mr. Howard

The answer that I give to my hon. and learned Friend, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, is that I do not see how it is possible to have a more wide-ranging appeal process than that which I previously favoured and which was used in the case to which I have referred. That is why I came to the conclusion that I did. If I had thought that something in the appeal process in that case had led to my conclusion, that would not have caused me to change my mind on capital punishment, as I did in 1991.

I do not believe that society can put up with a growing, if small, hard core of offenders who commit a disproportionate amount of crime. That is particularly the case, as we have been reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, when the crimes are perpetrated by young people who have the potential to carry on offending for years to come. Their habit of offending must be broken, and society must be given a break from them. While they are in secure conditions, they must be made to confront their offending behaviour. They must be supervised closely when they return to the community. I attach the highest priority to dealing with that problem, and I shall soon bring before the House the legislation necessary to set up secure training centres. Juveniles who persist in anti-social behaviour must be made to fear being caught and dealt with effectively and severely.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Howard

I am afraid that I must get on. Many of my hon. Friends want to speak in the debate. The longer that I take, the less time there will be available for them.

I believe profoundly that attitudes in this country towards crime and criminals are changing. More and more people see combating crime as the biggest challenge that faces us. They recognise increasingly that we must all get involved in the campaign. We are witnessing a sea change in the mood of the country on the matter. People are coming increasingly to appreciate not only that something must be done, but that they can do something. I want to make full use of what they can do. I want to channel the public's energy in a constructive way to build a new, stronger and more effective alliance against crime.

The change of mood has been noticed even by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). On Monday, he called for a crusade against crime and said that the Opposition would lead it. A crusade against crime? Without the powers that the Public Order Act 1986 gave the police to deal with street thugs and hooligans? A crusade against crime? Without the extra penalties for drug trafficking that were contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1988? Without the powers of the Attorney-General to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal? Without the increased sentences for violent and sexual offences that were contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1991? Without the powers of the prevention of terrorism Act?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. We start with order in the Chamber, and strange gestures from the Opposition Front Bench do not make order in my book.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Member for Sedgefield was not parachuted into his current responsibilities from the moon. Like me, he has been a Member of Parliament for 10 years. In that period, I have voted for all the legislation that introduced the measures that make it possible to wage a crusade against crime. The hon. Gentleman voted against them. I sometimes think that the hon. Gentleman simply does not realise what an utterly ridiculous figure he cuts when he calls for a crusade against crime.

The Conservative party and the Government take seriously the need to address the concerns of people throughout Britain about rising crime and lawlessness. That is not, as is the case with the hon. Member for Sedgefield, because we see the subject as the flavour of the month. We agree fundamentally with their instincts, principles and feelings about what needs to be done. We are putting our principles into action by raising penalties for drunken drivers who kill, cracking down on bail bandits and dealing severely and effectively with juvenile offenders.

Last weekend, I had reason for the first time to use the powers conferred on me by the prevention of terrorism Act. It was a heavy responsibility. But I knew that in using those powers, I was taking action that could help in the apprehension and conviction of those who use the bomb and the bullet to terrorise our society. If the hon. Member for Sedgefield had been Home Secretary last weekend, he would not have had those powers to exercise. He would have been helpless, and his helplessness would have been entirely self-imposed.

The people of Britain are fed up with helplessness. They do not want a helpless Home Secretary. They want strong and sustained action, and, so long as I have the privilege to hold this office, that is exactly what I shall do my very best to provide.

5.18 pm
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

I thought for about the first half hour of the Home Secretary's speech that we had an entirely new right hon. and learned Gentleman. He was constructive. He made some good points. There was a great deal with which I agreed. But just at the point when we thought that he had been reformed, he suddenly destroyed himself and became recidivist. He went back into his unappealing and unedifying rant about the Labour party.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has spent most of the time since he became Home Secretary attacking me. I take every attack as a compliment. I am delighted when he attacks me, because it shows how desperate the Conservative party is about the issue of law and order. In the past few months—I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not Home Secretary then—the Opposition pointed to the reform of the Criminal Justice Bill but the then Home Secretary supported it.

The Opposition raised the issue of juvenile offending when the previous Home Secretary told us that the problem was "happily declining". The Opposition are now campaigning on the breakdown of the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary gave no impression that he understood that breakdown. The breakdown means that fewer cases are coming to court, more prosecutions are being dropped than ever before, and longer court delays are occurring. But crime is rising faster than ever before.

This week, the Opposition tabled amendments on crime prevention and the treatment of victims, some of which even found support on the Conservative Benches. Yet the Whips organised to defeat those amendments. So, if we are to have a tit-for-tat argument about law and order, the Conservative party does not emerge well.

I can do no better than quote the Prime Minister to the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister said with uncharacteristic candour in the Los Angeles Times: We have been here for 14 years. There is no one else one can blame for anything that has gone wrong. Simply trading blame is not constructive in a debate on law and order. We should begin by understanding the scale of the problem that we now confront in Britain.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

In his new-found zest for law and order, will the hon. Gentleman support the order which will shortly be introduced in the House to ensure that persistent young offenders who commit crime time and time again can have detention orders served against them?

Mr. Blair

I shall deal with that point later, in detail. But I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition first raised the issue of persistent juvenile offending. Of course it is right that the problem should be dealt with and that the courts should have the powers to do so. Our disagreement with the Government is that, instead of waiting two years to build new training centres, which I believe are a mistake for reasons which I shall be happy to adumbrate later, the Government should build on the local authority secure accommodation that is already available.

The Government should fulfil the promise that they gave two years ago to make that secure accommodation available. That is our position, and if the hon. Gentleman reflects on it, he will see that it is rather better thought out than the position that the Government have adopted.

Crime has risen dramatically in the past 10 or 12 years. It has more than doubled. Robberies have more than quadrupled. We have about 5.5 million recorded offences. The true crime rate is infinitely greater.

Several Conservative Members pointed up the problems of rural crime during the Home Secretary's speech. The Prime Minister referred to the issue a few months ago, when he complained that crime was an inner-city phenomenon which was all the fault of socialist Labour councils. But crime has been rising in every part of Britain. There is rural crime just as much as there is crime in our inner cities, as anyone who represents a rural constituency knows.

My constituency consists of old mining villages and several new towns. They are small communities. Even 15 or 20 years ago, they were not scarred by the level of crime that they face today. The problem of crime is nationwide. If we believe that it is simply confined to the inner city, we are wrong.

It is not merely the recorded level of crime to which people object. They object to the hassle, the abuse, the petty vandalism and the destruction of decent standards of community life in a hundred ways which never show up in Government statistics but which have a devastating impact on the quality of life of our constituents.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

The hon. Gentleman wants us to take his party seriously, but how can we? Only about eight or nine Labour Members have been present so far for the debate, while three times as many Conservative Members have been present. The Labour party manifesto had more to say on art and leisure than on law and order. Will the hon. Gentleman give a straight yes or no to the question whether he will support the Conservative party in its proposals for secure training centres?

Mr. Blair

I have made my position clear on that point. I have stated the point of agreement and the point of disagreement.

What I find curious about this great day of law and order is that, before the debate, some pretty meaningless statement on student unions was scheduled, which delayed the beginning of the debate. That is an odd sense of priorities on the part of the Government business managers.

If the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) can be a little more constructive, I was talking about the problems that people face and the impact on the quality of life of our constituents. For example, the elderly lady living in a council flat is afraid to open the door. Women cannot use public transport at night for fear of attack. Young people go out to enjoy a perfectly law-abiding, peaceful evening and find themselves embroiled in an attack. Black and Asian families are terrorised in certain parts of our inner cities, even in their own homes.

I believe, and I think that the Home Secretary shares my belief, that a society that tolerates such behaviour is a sick society, and that it is time to cure the sickness in our midst. The Opposition have never said that burglary was merely a crime of property, and therefore nothing to worry about. The problem of crime is not merely about crimes of violence. It is the persistent burglaries and car thefts. Car thefts have increased dramatically—doubled or tripled—in many parts of our country.

The problem with the Government's strategy is simply this. First, they do nothing. Then, as public anxiety rises, they talk tough, which is easy. But they still do nothing. Finally, they act, but they do so in a piecemeal and haphazard way, which never properly gets to grips with the problem. Juvenile offending is a perfect example. There is no doubt that a small element of young people are either outside or beyond parental control and have the capacity, young as they are, to make life hell for many people in local communities, and to take up inordinate police time.

We raised the issue of juvenile offending for months, but the Government delayed. They then talked tough. They are now prepared to act. I ask the Home Secretary at least to approach the matter with an open mind.

To set up entirely new borstal training centres—that is what they are—and revisit the old institutions is simply to repeat the mistake of previous wasted experiments. Yet we could act now by fulfilling the promise that the Government made, building on the secure accommodation that is already available in local authorities and combining that with sensible measures to divert young people from irresponsible behaviour.

Perhaps the Home Secretary will confirm, if he wishes to intervene, that the 60 or so secure training places promised more than two years ago have still not been created, and that there is still no undertaking from the Government that they will meet the revenue costs of building the centres.

A good example of the way in which the Government simply attempt to pass responsibility occurred the other day with the problems in Sutton and Cheam.

Mr. Howard

The hon. Gentleman talks about passing responsibility. Will he confirm that the essential difference between our proposals and his proposals for dealing with persistent young offenders is that the Government believe that the courts should have the ability to pass a custodial sentence? Under his proposals, all that the courts could do is make a care order. It would be for the local authorities to decide how the young offender should be dealt with.

Mr. Blair

The answer to that question is no: that is not the difference between us. We accept that there are circumstances in which the courts lack the proper power, but it is true to say, as I shall show by reference to the case in Sutton, that the problem is not always a lack of powers. It is often a lack of secure accommodation and the facilities that local authorities want.

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman took up the post of Home Secretary, there was a discussion in some of the newspapers about secure accommodation. The Conservative newspapers were running hard the idea that many local authorities refused as a matter of policy ever to put young people in secure accommodation. When we investigated the stories, we found that many local authorities, including those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), asked the Government for the funding to deal with the lack of secure accommodation. The Government had refused to provide the funding.

Mr. Edward Gamier (Harborough)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative group on Leicestershire council has consistently voted for secure accommodation to be introduced under the present system, but that the Labour and Liberal groups have consistently voted against that proposal?

Mr. Blair

I understand that that is not the case. I cannot comment directly on that particular example, but I believe that that was another case in which, on investigation, the facts were different from those reported.

Recent events in Sutton have been reported in the newspapers. Hon. Members will remember that a so-called posse of troublemakers have been roaming around causing many difficulties in the local community. We took the time and trouble to do a little further investigation into that case.

We discovered that the social services had not refused to use secure accommodation, but that, in some instances, the courts said that the criteria under section 25 of the Children Act 1989 were too narrow to allow that accommodation to be used. In other cases, the secure accommodation was simply not available. I was told that in one instance, which was also mentioned in the papers, social services had to fly a 13-year-old to Scotland, and back, to be held in secure accommodation because there was none available any nearer.

The idea that all those problems can be dumped at the door of local authorities or social services is foolish. That is what I mean by saying that it is necessary to combine existing measures relating to secure accommodation with other measures to deal with all the problems associated with juvenile delinquency.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are two types of secure accommodation? The first is that required to accommodate juveniles who would otherwise go to prison. In that respect, the Secretary of State for Health has made the necessary provisions. The other type is the more general secure accommodation required for juveniles. The provision of that accommodation is subject to difficulties and shortages.

Mr. Blair

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw that distinction. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth will deal with that issue when he replies on behalf of the Opposition. I am not sure, however, whether the first type of secure accommodation is always available.

The Home Secretary has talked hard language, which is always the stock in trade of Conservative Home Secretaries. In the 1979 manifesto, the Conservatives promised: we will restore the rule of law. At the 1982 Conservative party conference, the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, said: The time for a counter-attack is long overdue. When the present Foreign Secretary was Home Secretary, he said: It is time to bring the victim back to centre stage. Successive Conservative Home Secretaries have made the same pledge.

The recurring problem with the way in which the Conservative party has handled the issue is that it refuses to accept that we cannot reduce crime in this country unless we escape from the idea that one chooses between punishment and prevention; between dealing with criminals and tackling the underlying causes of crime.

I know that the Home Secretary uses the word "prevention", but he does so in too limited a sense. Any serious policy on crime must deal with both prevention and punishment. One can see why when one considers the attrition rates—the number of crimes that are cleared up. When I took on the responsibility of shadow Home Secretary, I was startled by those statistics. Just one in 50 crimes ever leads to a conviction, and one in 33 to a caution or a conviction. Two in three crimes are never even recorded.

Once we take on board the significance of those statistics, we then understand that a policy that does not deal with prevention and underlying causes of crime, as well as simply criminal justice, is an incomplete one. That policy is bound to fail. I want to illustrate that by reference to one specific topic, drugs, which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). It is fundamental to the war against crime, and it is being savagely neglected.

The use of drugs in this country has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. Seizures of heroin and cocaine have virtually trebled. The number of offenders in respect of all types of drugs has also risen dramatically. We may now have better means of registering addicts than in the past, but even making allowances for that, the number of addicts has also risen greatly.

The latest estimate reveals that the market for illegal drugs is worth about £3 billion. The most recent reports also suggest that, with the increasing number of open frontiers in Europe, more and more drugs will enter our country.

What is more worrying than anything else, however, is the rise in drug abuse among young people. The percentage change in convictions of persons found guilty of being in possession of controlled drugs is horrific. Since 1988, the number of persons under the age of 17 who have been found guilty of possession has risen by 269 per cent. Between the ages of 17 and 21, the conviction rate has increased by 113 per cent. Those are horrific statistics.

Earlier this week, on the very day that the Home Secretary published his White Paper on policing, another extremely important document, which has achieved virtually no publicity, as is often the case, was issued by the Home Office. It is entitled, "Drug Education in Schools: the Need for New Impetus". It is a report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. It is ironic that it was published on the same day as the White Paper, because the many changes proposed in that White Paper in relation to the Home Secretary's ability to nominate the chairman of police authorities are pretty irrelevant to the fight against crime. The drug education document is, however, deeply relevant to the fight against crime, but it was virtually ignored.

That Government document reveals that, in the north-west of England, it is estimated that 60 per cent. of 14 to 15-year-olds have been offered drugs, and that a third of them have tried drugs. In the 15 to 16-year-old age group, 60 per cent. have tried drugs. Those figures are horrific. In Wales, one in four of 15-year-olds have tried drugs. In Mid Glamorgan, a survey of 13 to 18-year-olds revealed that 10 per cent. had used drugs in the week before being questioned. In Strathclyde, one in four of those aged 12 to 16 years had tried illegal drugs at least once.

The document also revealed that, in 1991, those in the 17-to-21 age group accounted for 85 per cent. of the increase in the number of drug offences. Around 150 young people die every year as a result of substance abuse.

We know that the use of pills such as ecstasy is increasing greatly. They are freely available in many parts of the country, and there is no doubt that their use is linked to crime.

Mr. Howard

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the increasing prevalance of drug use and its clear link with crime. Does he not agree that one of the ways in which effective action can be taken is by increasing the sentences on drug traffickers? Why did he and his party vote against the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which introduced heavier sentences for those traffickers? Does that not illustrate the yawning gulf between what he has said today and the action that he and his party have taken in the past 10 years or more?

Mr. Blair

A Bill is going through Parliament now that will increase the penalties for drug trafficking. It has commanded the full and 100 per cent. support of the Opposition. I cannot comment in detail on the debates of 1988, but I am almost certain that the issue of heavier sentences for drug traffickers was not part of our opposition to the 1988 Act.

I agree that we need strong penalties for drug traffickers, but putting legislation through Parliament to do just that is the easy part. The hard part is settling down to ensuring that we prevent drug abuse, increasing drug education and ensure that young people are not being drawn into a life of drugs and then crime.

Last week, I was in Castlemilk in Glasgow, and visited several people involved in drugs projects. In that part of the inner city, there are whole families whose life is geared to crime. The generations of a family can be virtually dependent on drugs and, of course, commit crimes in order to feed their habit. Drug addicts are three times more likely to have criminal convictions than virtually any other part of the population.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that, unlike the Home Secretary, he pays considerable attention to the link between drugs and crime. In areas such as mine, the police estimate that 70 per cent. of crime is drug-related, which is a staggering statistic in its own right.

The Home Secretary might want to talk tough on sentencing—I am not adverse to tough sentences for those involved in drug trafficking—but he must understand the point that my hon. Friend has just made: if we do not have the necessary education and health programmes, and if we do not have a strategy to deal with drugs across the board—something that the Government have never had—we shall lose not the war on drugs, which is a silly phrase, but a generation.

Mr. Blair

My hon. Friend is right, and makes his point very well. A few days ago, the Association of Chief Police Officers gave a presentation at a drugs conference. It was stated that the drug culture in some inner cities may end in guns, but that it often starts with a much lower level of criminal offences.

The Home Office publication to which I referred reveals not only the size and urgency of the problem but the utter inadequacy of the Government's response. It states: Prevention is always better than cure, but a deteriorating drug situation must give urgency to a review of what policies can be put in place to strengthen prevention. It concludes: Half-hearted efforts can offer no prospect of success and the inevitably poor outcome will reinforce pessimistic expectations… What is needed to back our recommendations is a commitment to making high quality…drug education a tangible reality on a national scale. It is also pointed out that the Government are currently withdrawing funding for the health education advisers whose job it is to go into schools and youth services to advise young people about the problems of drugs. As the Government are withdrawing the funding, local authorities canot afford to continue such services, and many will be left without any service whatsoever.

In addition, under the community care provisions, the money for drug abuse projects and residential drug care is no longer ring-fenced, although the Government promised that it would be. As a result, residential projects are closing all over the country. A recent survey of 48 residential drug and alcohol projects revealed that they would all suffer severe cuts, all in the cause of saving money. However, we are not saving money; we are storing up problems for the future in such a way that, in the end, we pay a much heavier price.

Yes, there are enormous problems in our criminal justice system, which has become incompetent to deal with the country's problems, but, because of a perverted sense of ideology, the Government are denying the need to tackle some of the basic underlying causes.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The hon. Gentleman has hit on an important point. I share his concern about the closure of residential drugs centres, such as the Priory unit in my constituency. Trendy, liberal do-gooders seem to think that all people can be dealt with in the community, but those of us who have studied the matter for a long time believe that that is fundamentally wrong.

On this issue, the hon. Gentleman has my 100 per cent. support; and I say it in front of my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope that the closure of residential drug and alcohol centres will be stopped, because their work is exceptional and they achieve far greater success than can be achieved by dealing with people in the community.

Mr. Blair

The hon. Gentleman has made his point well, and I hope that it is taken into account.

In the few minutes remaining, I shall say why I think the Government are wrong. They pose—

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

The hon. Gentleman said that he did not oppose that part of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which dealt with drug trafficking. I remind him of one of the parts which he voted against and which his party bitterly opposed, which was the part that gave the prosecution the right to seek a review of over-lenient sentences. That measure has been widely welcomed, and the public believe that it has enabled justice to be done in many cases. Does the hon. Gentleman support the prosecution's right to appeal against over-lenient sentences—yes or no?

Mr. Blair

As I have made clear, I support it. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth has been of great assistance in ensuring that bail legislation has been passed which, had the Government's business managers had their way in another place, might have failed.

I was saying why I believe that the Government are wrong, although it is possible to change their position. In the debate on law and order, a wholly false dilemma is posed between personal and social responsibility. The Home Secretary uses language that implies that, if one talks about social conditions, one is excusing crime. That is the essential message that he and many others of his political persuasion give.

The time has come to move beyond that. No one of a sensible persuasion excuses crime, but nor does one ignore the conditions in which crime can breed. The House need not take my word for that. In his 1991 annual report, the former Metropolitan Commissioner, Sir Peter Imbert, said: The crime map fits all too closely over the map of disadvantage. He later said: The continuing growth in crime is a fundamental concern which, in part, I attribute to the marginalisation of some elements in our society. The notion that there is a link between crime and social deprivation is a compelling one". Similar points have been made by Sir John Woodcock, the Inspector of Constabulary, and even the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor began to accept the idea.

In a statement on youth crime, the deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner said: Physical security measures need to be supplemented by actions addressing the social, economic and physical conditions in which youngsters grow up". The sensible approach deals with both sides of the problem. Speaking to police officers across the country, I found that they understand that very well. They have no desire to be put in the position of having to keep the lid on the dustbin of society's problems. In many parts of the country, they believe that that is what they are doing.

To say that we must have tough measures to deal with those who commit crimes is in no way inconsistent with saying that we also have to deal with some of the underlying problems. To use the Home Secretary's language, to say that in drawing attention to this we are blurring the distinction betwen right and wrong is so misguided that if we do not rid ourselves of our blindness about this problem, we shall never tackle it properly.

The nature of what is right and wrong does not change. The problem that we face is not in defining right and wrong but in ensuring that the distinction is adhered to. The purpose of connecting improvements in education, employmentz55 , housing and family life with reductions in crime is not to blur the distinction between right and wrong but to give it a realistic prospect of success.

The understanding of right and wrong does not arise by instinct alone but from what is taught in the home, at school and in the community, and by what is seen and set by example. Any sensible person should see that. I hope that, in the coming months, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will find areas of agreement in which we can construct an agenda to give the people of this country a real opportunity to reduce crime and once again to make our cities, towns and villages safer for people to live in.

5.48 pm
Mr. David Mellor (Putney)

I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend, first, on achieving the high office of Home Secretary and, secondly, on the manner in which he addressed the House this afternoon. He has been in action since the very first morning of his appointment, but he made an extremely impressive debut in the House in a major debate. It was all the better because his firmness and resolve had no element of instant solutions or easy answers. He set out a sensible strategy for the future, building on both the successes and the disappointments of the past.

I spent more than five years as a Home Office Minister and I am afraid that one does not have to be in the departmental building very long before one discovers the reality of many of the nostrums that are commonly waved at Conservative party conferences or in public bars. One of the tragedies of my right hon. and learned Friend's job as Home Secretary is that every public bar has a great "Home Secretary" who waves his arms and deals with all the complex problems of crime with a few verbal haymakers. Of course, matters do not work out like that.

I hope that my comments about my right hon. and learned Friend's responsibilities will be helpful. I shall try not to aggravate him as I have done from time to time in the past. My association with my right hon. and learned Friend extends over almost a quarter of a century. Long before he necessarily believed it, I profoundly believed that he would one day occupy one of the great offices of state and it gives me great joy to see him in his present job.

When my right hon. and learned Friend was a well-established member of the chambers in which I was a pupil, he sat at an imposing desk and I sat at a rather smaller round table that had been left in our chambers by that most benevolent of socialists, Lord Lever. On one occasion, I so aggravated my right hon. and learned Friend that he fell from his chair, knocked over his desk and upset a cup of coffee over himself. I shall try not to aggravate him quite as much in my speech. No doubt the process of maturation means that he will not be quite so susceptible to such stimuli anyway.

I was a Home Office Minister at the time of the Roskill report and, under the superintendence of the then Home Secretary, introduced to the House the measure that set up the Serious Fraud Office. It was right to do that because nothing could be worse in setting the values for society than that the poor man is run in for a bit of pick-pocketing while the rich man in the City gets away with millions through sophisticated fraud. However, it is idle to pretend that the techniques that are effective against the petty criminal will be effective against serious fraud.

The Roskill committee proposed far more radical solutions than the Government are rightly prepared to contemplate. Roskill wanted to change court room arrangements and jury arrangements. There is a paradox here because, by its nature, serious fraud is enormously sophisticated, but people devoid of business experience, let alone experience of how financial systems can be misapplied, sit in judgment on it. Roskill was right to raise that issue and, literally and metaphorically, the jury is still out on that one.

The Serious Fraud Office was set up so that the investigation of serious fraud could be pursued by all the specialist groups that were needed to make an effective contribution to identifying and clearing up such crimes. That requires not just the police but accountants and lawyers who are brought in not just at the end of the process but are continually involved.

It was not easy to persuade the House that the Serious Fraud Office should have the right to investigate financial crimes and require answers to questions, because the right to silence—with which some people disagree—has been a fundamental entitlement of our citizens for many centuries. It was thought that the nature of fraud and the need to unravel some of its complex mysteries made it appropriate for the powers of the SFO to include the power to require answers.

It should be no surprise to any of those who are currently involved in the Serious Fraud Office that, as Parliament has entrusted them with that special power, it is more incumbent on them than on any other officers involved in law enforcement manifestly to conduct their affairs with integrity.

I do not know the rights and wrongs of what my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) said about the Asil Nadir case. I have here a document that has been thrust into my hands—perhaps other hon. Members have also seen it. It is the filleted, although I hope not too heavily filleted, correspondence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General with my hon. Friend. No doubt further mysteries will be explained when there is a chance to read through it. It is clear that if confidence is to be maintained in the Serious Fraud Office, ready answers to what my hon. Friend said and to the other points that have been made must be put before us quickly.

I do not associate myself with suggestions that we need some great public inquiry, because that would only undermine the body that we now need more than ever, but it is clear that some causes for concern go beyond anything that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire. I hold no brief for Mr. Kevin Maxwell, know nothing of him and probably do not wish to. When he was arrested at 6 o'clock in the morning, why were many press men mysteriously around the house? No one can tell me that that was a coincidence; those press men were tipped off.

There seems to be an idea that the Serious Fraud Office is not guilty of every charge that is levelled against it. That includes a ludicrous episode of forgery as an April fool joke. I have a sense of humour—I have had to have—but I find that a little puzzling. It is puzzling that it happened but even more puzzling that, apparently, there was no disciplinary action against the person concerned.

It would be helpful if those points were answered and, although they are not my right hon. and learned Friend's responsibility, they do pertain to law and order. If there have been errors, let them be clearly stated. They must not be allowed to fester and it must not appear that people are being unduly defensive. There should be a review, with a small r, of the manner in which the SFO operates, why some cases have ended in the way that they have and why it sometimes appears that the complexities of fraud cases are made even more complex by a mass of charges which mean that a case takes years to come on, years to dispose of, costs millions and does not have a satisfactory outcome.

I pay tribute to the fact that there is a 65 per cent. clear-up rate, according to Mr. Staples's figures. I do not want to do or say anything that would undermine an office at whose creation I was present. Success has many parents but failure is a bastard child. I am happy to claim to be a parent of the Serious Fraud Office. It would be helpful to have a quiet look at the way matters have shaped up over the past few years. If it is admitted that some things should have been done a bit differently, that will strengthen rather than weaken the Serious Fraud Office.

I do not propose to raise any matters pertaining to cases that are before the courts. However, if I were minded to do so, I would not know how to advise myself on whether what I said was in order. In the context of what my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire and Madam Speaker said, it would be helpful, after reflection, to have some guidance on the sub judice rule as it applies in the House. As I understand it, the remarks in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire could have been uttered outside. It appears from the fact that he was allowed to continue speaking that he could say those things in the House, but that is uncertain because he may have been allowed to go on merely because he was determined to do so, even though Madam Speaker had a right to stop him.

We need to think about that issue. I am not holding my breath until Mr. Nadir returns to this jurisdiction, because I doubt that we shall ever see him again, and answers to some of these questions should not be based on the supposition that he will return. If the sub judice rule precludes Mr. Nadir's case from being discussed in the House and if we assume, as I do, that Mr. Nadir will not come back to our jurisdiction, we are left with the interesting conclusion that it will never be possible to raise his case in the House.

I cannot think that that is what anyone has intended and it would he helpful if that issue, which has emerged in the agony of the moment as such things tend to do, could be reflected upon so that the next time there is such a controversial matter we all know where we stand. It would not be good if people thought, "We had better say what we want to say on the radio. We can get away with it there but cannot say it in the House." The House is the forum of the nation and it must be a place in which we can say what we want to say rather than having to sneak on to the "Today" programme.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I support much of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, particularly about our capacity to speak here and the instance to which he referred. Does he share my concern at the fact that the Table Office declined to let me table a question about a report in a Sunday newspaper two weeks ago that the person who stood bail for Mr. Asil Nadir tipped off the Serious Fraud Office?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that was a very fruitful intervention.

Mr. Mellor

I know that the hon. Gentleman's intervention was well meant, but I would not have dreamt of commenting on it. I was not trying to say what was right or wrong, merely that it would be helpful if there were a period of reflection and we knew what the sub judice rule was. Turning to—

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Law and order?

Mr. Mellor

The police. I thought that the Serious Fraud Office was to do with law and order and I am sorry if my hon. and learned Friend thinks differently; certainly the police have to do with law and order—but I shall give way to my hon. and learned Friend, who thinks differently. We can assume that the SFO does, so I shall continue.

The police have been the subject of a great deal of work by the Home Office recently. Let us face it, it must be a great disappointment that the tremendous efforts that have been made to improve police pay and conditions have not led to dramatic improvements in the quality of policing and the morale of the police. That is not a criticism of the tens of thousands of extremely effective, committed officers. I have had the privilege to meet many policemen, almost all of whom I warmly admire for doing a difficult job; never has the task of being a policeman been more difficult.

It is not easy to persuade the police of the case for change, but I would strongly urge my right hon. and learned Friend to persist in the course he has set out in the White Paper. There might even be a case for going further which would be supported from these Conservative Benches. Quite plainly, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that there may be some structural rather than personal reasons why more success has not been achieved and I would strongly urge my right hon. and learned Friend to continue.

My right hon. and learned Friend has been delivered a very potent package by Sir Patrick Sheehy, and rightly so. I do not think that the old Edmund-Davies formula can continue. Although it is painful and it will be difficult for the police, one hopes that the Police Federation will address the issue with maturity rather than in the way in which old style manual trade unions used to address these matters. How the police respond will be an interesting test for them as well as everyone else.

I cannot help feeling that the Sheehy report represents a close look from a management perspective at the best way to ensure that the police service contains highly motivated, well-rewarded and successful people and that there is an ebb and flow in the service whereby people can move up quickly and people who are not up to it can be moved out quickly. That is an inevitable development.

I should make one point about the Metropolitan police. It is right to acknowledge, as my right hon. and learned Friend does, that there is no proper process of accountability for the Metropolitan police. He was right to draw back from the initial interest of his predecessor, whom I warmly admire, but even Homer nods.

The idea of getting local councillors involved in the Metropolitan police simply would not wash in London, where the climate has been ruined by all the arguments that emanated from the Labour party before it began to listen to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) when the police became the subject of political coontroversy. No one in his right mind would entrust the police to some of the left-wing councillors who were sounding off about them. Perhaps things have changed, but I do not know whether they have changed as much as the hon. Gentleman asserts. However, it is not my aim to make a party political speech; I wish simply to say that I do not think it is possible that that argument could have survived scrutiny, given the background.

Mr. Blair

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mellor

I shall finish this point and then I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary would like to tell us a little more in due course, or even in the White Paper, about from where he proposes the 16 people who comprise the proposed body should be drawn.

One must be wary of obvious solutions because they are almost always wrong, but here in the House there are nearly 100 London Members of Parliament. It is recognised that there is something special about the Metropolitan police. Given that it is much larger than other police forces, has national functions and rightly falls under the aegis of the Home Secretary, should we not contemplate giving London Members of Parliament some role in this, perhaps through a new committee? I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will reflect on whether that might be an alternative worthy of consideration.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend has not lost for ever his commitment to amalgamate police forces. There is no logic in the present pattern of the police, with some metropolitan forces, some an amalgamation of two or three counties, and others on a single-county basis. I cannot believe that having 43 separate police forces is the most effective way to fight crime. Of course, local feathers will be ruffled and there will be a great deal of nimbyism, but it is worth pushing on.

We all must be deeply distressed every time there is a major terrorist outrage. The IRA will not secure its political aims by bombing and nothing that I say suggests to the contrary. However, we must recognise that just having a stiff upper lip about these outrages and looking like walk-on players in Mrs. Miniver, saying, "Britain can take it", is no more than a starting point in the reconsideration of our anti-terrorist policies.

It is sad but true that, although there is much dedicated police work being done against terrorism, the clear-up rate for major terrorist outrages in Britain over the past 10 years has been lamentably small. If we think back, each right hon. and hon. Member will have his or her own memories of particular outrages. I was appalled by the murder of Ian Gow, for which no one was brought to book; by the slaughter of the bandsmen at Deal barracks, for which no one was brought to book; and by the slaughter of the two young children in Warrington.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

A Member of the House.

Mr. Mellor

Ian Gow?

Mr. Winterton

No, Robert Bradford.

Mr. Mellor

Indeed. Everyone will have his or her own example, and I appreciate that. Let us not argue about what is the right example but draw a conclusion from it.

Although, of course, we want to express our confidence in the manner in which such issues are approached, it is extremely difficult to say that the results have been anything other than inadequate. We have to ask ourselves what we can do about it.

I shall not go into detail, but we have to ask whether, in setting the leadership of the anti-terrorist squad at commander level, we are giving it sufficient significance. I cannot think of a more important aspect of law and order; I am sure that even my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) thinks that it is part of law and order that the anti-terrorist squad should have the best and brightest members of the police force. If it is necessary to expand that squad, let it be done. In relation to intelligence gathering, that responsibility has now been given to the intelligence services.

It was a trip down memory lane for me to hear the hon. Member for Sedgefield talk about drugs policy. One of the more interesting problems when I was dealing with drugs policy was the chafing between the police and customs who were both involved in drugs policy. There was a feeling that one could not tell the other something because it would not be handled properly.

It is not necessarily a matter for public response, but we have to take out into the open the question whether we can be satisfied that the new arrangement with the intelligence services and the police is working well and that they are working together effectively. I am worried about some of the rumours about people hissing behind their hands about this and that.

Is there not a case for a unified anti-terrorist agency giving this issue the profile that it deserves? Surely, with so many intelligence personnel presumably liberated from the duties of monitoring what is happening in the Kremlin now that the Kremlin is run differently, is there not a case for looking seriously at whether, in the light of these outrages, we need more effective action?

We rightly rejected mass action that would drive the minority community in Northern Ireland against us. We elected to follow a highly specific policy of going for particular terrorists and of proving offences against them. Of course, intelligence has worked in thwarting a number of outrages, but not enough people have been brought to book. We must ask ourselves before the next outrage what we are going to do about that.

We need to make absolutely sure also that the Government of the Republic of Ireland do not just say that they are with us on terrorism. It is not edifying that, just a few months ago, a Sunday newspaper was able to publish a picture of a notorious IRA criminal fishing in the Irish Republic while on bail, because he could not be extradited. It is not good enough that co-operation has improved—it must be total. After all, we and the Republic of Ireland are partners in the European Community, and we are being invited to do even more to open our borders and to think of ourselves as one nation. How can we do that if people can escape and claims of non-responsibility can be made by Dublin, when presumably the terrorist must be known?

More must be done if public confidence is to be retained. Although the IRA will never achieve its aim by further outrages, it is clear that there is a limit to public tolerance to outrages—particularly on the scale of those that occurred in the City of London—before the public lose confidence in the ability of those in power to do anything effective.

I do not want public confidence to be lost, but it will not take many more outrages for the public to be sick in their guts and to realise that nothing has been achieved by way of convictions. My right hon. and learned Friend said that the best way to fight crime is to catch and to convict the criminal. That is not being done enough.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I agree with much that has been said by the right hon. and Icarned Gentleman, and I will not quibble with him about the best examples of terrorism. I welcome his concern, even if it could have been displayed years earlier. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has not mentioned one aspect that relates particularly to the City of London. Right hon. and hon. Members will have read newspaper reports of the measures that are being introduced to restrict vehicle access to the City, which I am sure are reasonable and necessary. They may be necessary also in other cities in the United Kingdom.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that such measures should be put on a proper legislative footing? The legal basis for the road blocks and road checks that are currently being seen in London is somewhat uncertain. There is a need for not only a national agency and for the proper co-ordination of intelligence of the kind that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, but uniform legislation against terrorism throughout the kingdom.

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman's question would be better directed at my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I admit that the hon. Gentleman's point was not the first that occurred to me. Although I do not like the public being stopped without proper legal powers, it is good news that it will be more difficult for a terrorist to drive a clapped-out old lorry carrying tonnes of exposive into the City of London and park it there for a couple of hours undetected—but we cannot win by a ring of steel. That will not work. The terrorists will simply move on to another target.

I am calling for more effective action in identifying terrorists. We keep hearing that there are only a few hundred of them. It should not be beyond our resources to identify them. If those in authority who are currently responsible cannot do so, it is time that we expanded the operation to ensure that that is done.

I wish my right hon. and learned Friend every success in discharging his duties. I cannot think of a more difficult post than Home Secretary, because so many and varied matters fall within it. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend can make progress, in line with the speech that he made this afternoon.

6.13 pm
Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East)

It was fascinating to hear the Home Secretary say that he is prepared to crack down on crime—particularly as a member of a Government who have continually denied the evidence of their own eyes that crime in Britain is spiralling out of control and have denied any responsibility for that.

We on the Labour Benches have pointed to increased car crime and home burglaries, and to the 110 per cent. increase in violent crime, since a Conservative Government came to power. Such is the loss of public confidence in the system that the attitude is developing that it is hardly worth chasing the young offender, because nothing much is likely to happen to him anyway. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said, the British crime survey showed that two out of three crimes go unreported. It is no wonder that the police and local communities feel that property and juvenile crime are at an unprecedented level.

The Home Office claims that young offending has fallen across the country and has rejected Labour party proposals to tackle youth crime, which should be at the heart of a national strategy developed through careful research and effective local initiatives. We want action to prevent young people offending in the first place. We will be tough on crime and on the causes of crime. That requires a dynamic partnership between local authorities, police and local communities. It means also—as my hon. Friend emphasised—adequate provision for drug rehabilitation centres, youth clubs and leisure activities for the young, to ensure that they are diverted from crime.

The past three Home Secretaries have consistently and deliberately starved local councils and voluntary organisations of the resources to do the job properly. Despite the Government's antagonism, Labour local authorities in London have established more than 30 community safety groups with the Metropolitan police to control and to prevent crime. Meanwhile, the Government stand idly by.

Last year, the Apex Trust was on the verge of going under, until my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield and hon. Members in all parts of the House spoke up for it to ensure that it could continue its work of rehabilitating offenders and finding them appropriate training and employment. In south London, the Apex Trust is working with South Thames training and enterprise council, and it is also doing excellent work with prisoners at Belmarsh.

It is vital to intervene when a young person begins offending. In many places, the simple caution enjoys a high success rate, but some young people need more than that—a package of support and advice that will steer them away from crime. In the 14 years in which a Conservative Government have had an opportunity to do something about the problem, no Home Secretary—including the present holder of that office—has produced any national information or guidance on using the caution, or advice on the best approach to use in some areas as distinct from others.

There is no check either to ensure that the caution is not used as a means of avoiding paperwork and taking up court time instead of as an effective control measure. There is certainly a fear among police officers to whom I have spoken that the Crown Prosecution Service refers cases back for caution when the police themselves would prefer to prosecute.

There must be prompt intervention also when a youngster offends while on bail. The Home Secretary spoke of speeding up the trial process but failed to give any specific examples. It is extraordinary that cases take many months to come before the courts. We want national bail support and enforcement programmes, with regular reporting on the young offender, school attendance checks and work with the young offender's family to ensure that he does not offend while on bail and that he turns up when his case is to be heard.

The Home Secretary spoke only with an eye on the Tory party conference, so that he could wring his hands there, promise to stamp out crime and make the usual diatribe against those of us who are concerned not only about present crime levels but about preventing crime in future. One would think that a Government so strapped for cash would take the opportunity to combat crime in an economical and common-sense fashion. It costs about £1,700 to keep a young offender in a secure unit. If the Government concentrated on trying to prevent the youngster from committing crime in the first place, it would be money well spent.

We accept that some youngsters need to be in secure accommodation and we realise that the Government accept that, too. They have said that they will provide secure accommodation for those youngsters. However, in the two years since that promise was made, not one place has been provided by the Government. We need those places if we are to help the young people and ensure that they do not reoffend.

The Government have done no research on why supervision orders with residence requirements are used so rarely by the courts and they have failed to take on board the issues raised by organisations such as the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which has said that the Government are simply seeking the failed solutions of the past. Research has shown that 78 per cent. of offenders with previous convictions who were given approved school orders were reconvicted within five years; yet we know that those who are put under proper local authority secure supervision are much less likely to offend.

On 23 March, the Home Secretary said: The police must respond to the needs of local communities and of the victims of crime".—[Official Report, 23 March 1993; Vol. 221, c. 765.] Such utterances fail to reflect the reality of the gaps in the provision for the victims of crime.

Victim Support has made it clear that it will not have the funding to provide sufficient posts to meet the need that it has identified. It knows that the funding that the Government are providing is inadequate. Next year, Victim Support is likely to find its funding position even more difficult. The Home Office figure of £8.6 million shows a shortfall of £2.3 million. By raising the threshold for claims from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board from £550 to £1,000, the Government have denied people the opportunity to have some form of support. Victim Support estimates that one in three victims of violent crime who would previously have received compensation will now be excluded from the scheme. That displays a callous disregard for the needs of victims of crime.

The Home Secretary has stated a desire to respond to local community needs. How can that desire be met in London when, in the face of the views of the Association of London Authorities, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the Police Federation as well as those directly involved in preventing crime in London, the Home Secretary has refused to provide a police authority for London?

The Home Secretary is about to appoint a body to act as an advisory board on his behalf on policing strategy in the capital. That is nothing more than an unaccountable quango—yet another example of the Conservative Government placing Conservative people in positions of authority without any recourse to local need, local accountability or what local people want. Londoners will be left without an elected authoritative voice on policing in London. Across the country, the amalgamation of forces will make the police even more distant from the local communities than they are at present.

The proposals paraded by the Government in the White Paper on Monday fail to address the scale of the crime wave that has hit the capital over the past decade. All the evidence of escalating crime and low clear-up rates confirms that the present arrangements, whereby the Home Secretary is the police authority for London, have served the capital badly when compared with the rest of the country, where policing has been overseen by police authorities comprising elected members of the community.

The level of crime in London is massive and it is rising. Almost 1 million notifiable offences were recorded by the Metropolitan police in 1992. The Government have failed to take any responsibility for the escalating crime figures, yet crime in London has almost doubled in the 14 years in which they have been in power. In the operational police review undertaken by the police staff associations, a survey of the public revealed that 64 per cent. considered burglary of people's homes to be a priority. It was second only to assaults on women. However, despite the intensive efforts of the Metropolitan police, the Government have made no serious attempt to support them and the local community in dealing with those crimes.

Nearly 200,000 burglaries were reported in London in 1992. In the same year, almost 38,000 crimes involving violence against the person were reported. Mention was made earlier of the use of guns in crimes. That was a relatively stable figure in London until the last couple of years, but we are becoming more and more concerned about the rise in the use of firearms and the escalating violent drug war that seems to be waging in the capital. We are concerned about whether the Metropolitan police have the resources to cope with that new, heavily violent and internationally mobile criminal set. We heard nothing from the Home Secretary to address that problem.

How can the needs of the local community be met in these times of ever-increasing property and violent crime when a basic lack of resources pervades the system, reducing the number of police? Promises to the police have been broken and their budgets have been cut. Since 1991, the number of offences per police officer in the Metropolitan police has risen by almost 33 per cent. Across the country, the increasing work load is way out of proportion to any increase in staffing and the police have considerable difficulties in coping with that.

Last week, I received a letter from a primary school in my constituency—the Good Shepherd school in Downham. It wrote saying that the school had been subjected to petty vandalism, of an ongoing and expensive nature. The resident schoolkeeper rang for police assistance. During the weekend in question, Catford police station received 17 telephone calls requesting police presence. On that Saturday, the Good Shepherd school could get no response. When the head teacher raised the matter with Catford police station, she was informed that the station was seriously undermanned and that it was 40 personnel down and had been so for nearly two years.

Where is the Government support for Catford police station, the primary schools in my constituency and the others in the area? The Downham area in my constituency has a large number of elderly people who are afraid to go out in the evening. If they heard an example like that, they would be even more afraid to go out because they know that the police are not available to protect them.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Does the hon. Lady agree with the measures that have been taken to civilianise the police, so that more police are on the beat now than in 1979? Does she regret the fact that, when the Labour party left office in 1979, the police were 8,000 under establishment?

Mrs. Prentice

I have already said that crime has doubled in the 14 years in which the Conservative party has been in power. The Government have accepted no responsibility for that. The Conservative party can no longer call itself the party of law and order. It is clearly the party of law and disorder.

I assure the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) that we support having police on the beat. We have been asking for that for a considerable time. If the Government spent less time attempting to privatise sections of the police force, perhaps we would see more quickly some response to the call for more police on the beat.

I spent eight hours on Monday with a policewoman from Lee Green police station. I walked around my constituency on the beat with her so that I could find out the sort of problems with which the police have to deal; we did not have to check only on burglaries or the increase in car crime, some of which I witnessed.

Having done that, the policewoman has to return to the station, complete paperwork and deal with matters in the knowledge that, on that very day, the Home Secretary was producing a White Paper that was to give the police little help in ensuring that they could continue to do good work on the beat and visit local schools.

That police officer said that she wanted to go into schools as often as possible, to talk to young children as early as possible so that they understood that the police service was there to serve, help and support. The visits were also to ensure that children would be reminded of their own responsibilities and be steered away from the criminal road. I am quite convinced that the police officers in Lewisham, with whom I have been in regular contact over the past few weeks, will not be assured by the Government statements yesterday and earlier in the week.

The Government's ill-advised and ill-co-ordinated responses to crime in our society have failed on all counts. They have failed to achieve a practical and realistic strategy to fight crime. They have failed to involve the local community in that battle. They have failed to understand and meet the needs of young offenders, who require local community support to stop reoffending. Most of all, they have failed to support the victims of those crimes.

6.32 pm
Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

There are two major problems in our society. The first is the breakdown of law and order all over the country—in cities and in the country—and the second is our current huge financial deficit. In the long run, the most serious of the two is the breakdown of law and order because people will take the law into their own hands, the vigilantes and the rest will move in and there will be a breakdown of society. The problem basically arises because we no longer pass on the accepted values of a civilised society from generation to generation in our schools, churches and homes.

I wish to make nine points. First, religion should not be the substitute for a policeman, but if people believe that they will be responsible for their actions in another life, it acts as a sobering thought. That does not mean that one has to be a Christian or have a religious belief to be moral, but in the society of the 19th century, when 80 or 90 per cent. of the population believed that there was a judgment after death, it was a great help in maintaining law and order. That has gone.

Secondly, untold harm was done in our schools, educationally and morally, by the so-called discovery method. Children go to school to learn what society is about; to realise that they are the heirs of the past and the custodians of the future and that they can stand on the shoulders of people before them only if they are taught learning, mathematics, science and morality at school. Instead of that we have had pretend learning that one can discover something for oneself, and children in schools today grow up believing that they are the masters of creation and that they can do everything. The infant school discovery method has done untold harm in lowering the standards of mathematics, arithmetic and English because it did not peg people into society. People need to be pegged in society to understand what society is. If people think they can do it all for themselves, selfishness becomes the god of their creation.

Thirdly, there has been a decline of school and youth games. That is especially important to boys. I have never been a girl so I cannot comment on that, but a distinguished lady, my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), is present, so perhaps she can talk about that. After 23 years of school mastering, I know that boys are dangerous creatures unless they are regularly worn out. Sport is great for achieving that. If they are not worn out, they will take things into their own hands. When I left Highbury Grove comprehensive almost 20 years ago, the decline of sport was beginning. Wives now expect their husbands to go to the supermarket on Saturday morning and help instead of being at school taking responsibility for a school team.

Then it was said that there must not be any competitive games and that everyone must compete with themselves. That was left-wing nonsense, but I do not blame the Labour party for that. It is difficult to play tennis with oneself. One would be worn out by one serve following the method of jumping the net. A head of department under me became, in a midnight seance, one of those against competition. We need many sports for juveniles. In my constituency, the private sports clubs are setting up such activities and not the schools. Sport is leaving the schools, and that is bad.

Fourthly, we face a similar problem in youth work. We are short of youth leaders. There are more children wanting to be organised than there are people wanting to organise them. That is a responsibility of society.

Fifthly—people will have divided views on this—corporal punishment has been withdrawn from schools. The idea that everybody grows up abiding the law is untrue. People have become law-abiding and have had a sense of civilisation since the advent of the Peelers. We have the best infantry in the world because we are a bloody-minded people. Unless we organise, it is dangerous. We took the right of corporal punishment away from schools and put nothing back. The result is a high crime rate among children at the age of 14 because teachers do not want them in school. The teachers have passed round the cap to get them out because they can teach the other 24 children at the age of 16 if the six who will not behave are not there. Unless we put something back to replace corporal punishment, there will be more juvenile crime at the age of 14 as they become a betrayed generation.

Sixthly, there has been a decline in the instance of apprenticeship. That is a way of pegging one generation to another. Twice as many young people in Germany have apprenticeships than in Britain. A trained journeyman teaches young people the habits of maturity. The youngsters do not run with their own group all the time, but have an adult pattern to follow, with the man who is training them in that job, if not at home. I would like to see the return of apprenticeships, including the boy apprenticeships in the services to train them so that they have the skills and also have that sense of responsibility that a good journeyman brings. There is no substitute in further education for an apprenticeship where a youngster is attached to one person who becomes his friend or guardian, almost for life.

Seventhly, we have suffered from the ending of national service. I am not suggesting that we should bring it back. It took people away from their homes, and, in many cases, gave them a second chance in life. Most European countries still have national service. Our armed services do not want it to return because it takes too long to train somebody. I was in the boy services myself a long time ago and it was a great training ground. We must realise that we lost something when national service ended.

Let me say something that I did not intend to say—I always live an exciting life; I shall listen carefully to myself. It is about firearms. I once spent time in Switzerland where every man has a gun and where there are far fewer murders than in Britain, not because they do not have guns, but because they all have a gun. In this country it is only the criminal fraternity who have guns and only the law-abiding citizens who do not have guns. That should be considered.

Before the introduction of the Peelers, people had guns under their pillows. We read about that in Victorian fiction. Let me return to the rest of my speech; hon. Members cannot have the best beforehand.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

I am trying hard to follow my right hon. Friend's logic, especially with regard to the use of firearms and the general ownership of firearms. I should have thought that the example of the United States was not an encouragement to the universal ownership of firearms. Perhaps my right hon. Friend has some remedy for that.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

That is an excellent intervention to which I have no answer. However, I shall not change my mind. I shall think about and pray for the answer. Europe may be different from America. As an anti-Maastricht man, I shall not go into that point. I must be careful because I am in dangerous territory and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) did not intend to bring me into dangerous territory. I shall pass on and merely nod in his direction.

Eighthly, there is the question of the police. They are burdened by forms. They do not walk the streets; they fill up pieces of paper. They do not want to get into trouble by arresting someone and then finding that it does not come off. The great thing is for them to look busy as they walk round the streets. When one asks what one should do at the second coming, the answer is, "Look busy. Everyone will pass you by if you look busy." The police are burdened by written reports, and that has not helped us.

My ninth point is this. If there is a diet of sex and violence on television, sex and violence will increase in society; there is no doubt about that. If we say that great art, great literature and great poetry uplift, bad ones will downlift—is that the opposite of uplift?

Mrs. Gorman


Sir Rhodes Boyson

Yes, the word is "downgrade". I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). I do not know whether she was sitting here to help me, but she did help me with a graciousness that is very becoming in the House.

I make no apology for saying that I want more censorship of broadcasting. I am not a libertarian; my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay is more libertarian than I am. I want more censorship of what children see, especially as television is on all the time, even when the parents are not watching.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

On the subject of the role of the media, does my right hon. Friend share my concern and the concern of my constituents who contacted me yesterday and today expressing shock and horror at the report on the front page of The Daily Telegraph yesterday that the BBC is planning a train robbers' reunion in Rio? Is that not glorification of crime? How can we beat crime if the BBC behaves like that?

Sir Rhodes Boyson

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I read that article yesterday and I was horrified, especially hearing in mind what happened to the driver of the train. However, two letters in The Daily Telegraph today suggest that the reunion will not happen. That was my reading of the letters, and I hope that it is right. However, if the BBC goes ahead, the House must make its views perfectly clear, not only on behalf of our constituents, but on behalf of our own moral beliefs.

We face a total breakdown of law and order in Britain because of the weakening of the powers of the schoolmaster, of the police, of the courts and of parents, and because of the collapse of the social cements of religion, of patriotism and of controlled and responsible behaviour among the younger generation. Boys, girls, men and women are not naturally good. They need to be taught the difference between good and evil, and between right and wrong. They also need to be taught about original sin.

I became a Tory—I do not suggest that all Labour party members should do the same—the day I discovered original sin. I realised that man was not perfectible in this life. Even I am not perfectible in this life, although my children may be. I discovered original sin and what it means in moral law. Alas, in recent years, many schools have betrayed their responsibilities and have taught skills without values. The family has been under continual attack and the Church has in many instances ceased to be a saviour of souls for eternity and has preferred to become a branch of the welfare state. We have forgotten original sin.

Britain is becoming a dangerous society for the young, the old, the handicapped and the vulnerable to live in. Unless drastic action is taken, vigilante groups will arise because frustrated people will take the law into their own hands, as has happened recently, for their protection and for the protection of their neighbours.

That may be a dangerous statement to make with lawyers sitting round me in the House. Moral law is superior to statute or any other law because it gives a moral base to human behaviour. Men and women came into society for their own protection, and they put down their own weapons to be protected by the group, by the locality and by the country. Once those things no longer defend them, they have every right in moral law to take up their weapons again. That is the dangerous situation that we now face. Either our people, via the police and the courts, give full protection, which they do not do now, or society as we have understood it for the past 150 years will break down in Britain.

6.45 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Home Secretary began this debate—his first major debate on crime—with a sober and careful speech, to which I listened with great attention and with some respect for his outline of the Government's priorities. The tone of his speech was strikingly less triumphalist than the tone of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) whom he has replaced, and it was all the more welcome for that. A note of humility from any Home Secretary at the end of 14 years of Conservative government which have seen a doubling of recorded crime rates is certainly not out of place.

I have no doubt that many hon. Members agree with the Home Secretary that the country would be a more tranquil place if we lived in a society in which the criminal and not our neighbour was frightened. It may be Utopian to believe that we can achieve a society in which criminals are automatically frightened. None the less, for a Home Secretary embarking on a difficult role, it must be right to have high objectives.

It was only when the Home Secretary came to the end of his speech and indulged in a little partisan exchange with the Labour party about who was to lead the crusade against crime that I found myself deeply out of sympathy with what he was saying. The country needs a national crusade against crime. If it is to be effective, it cannot be based on a split of perception between political parties about the causes of crime and the proper Government responses to crime.

As a member of a third party in the House, I ask the Home Secretary to remember the wise words of Sir Robert Peel, a Conservative of some distinction in these matters, who said as long ago as 1835: Between the dissenters and the established church there is an enormous ground of infidelity. Translated into the terms of this debate, there is an enormous ground of people who are not persuaded that Conservative Home Secretaries or Labour Home Secretaries are necessarily the people who will prescribe the cure to an endemic and growing problem.

The Home Secretary spoke of one of the issues to which I attach high importance and in which I want to promote his interest beyond what he said today. I stress the importance of crime prevention in tackling opportunistic crime, especially crime against property, which is a scourge which makes life in many communities insecure and fearful.

I do not believe that the Government have begun to appreciate the value of crime prevention measures or the scale of help that they can deliver in local communities to those who live in fear that their home will be broken into, their car stolen, or their handbag snatched; that they will be mugged in a dark corner, or that their property will be vandalised.

The Government have backed a number of worthwhile, well-publicised schemes of crime prevention—the safer cities scheme, for instance—and I am glad to learn that they have in mind 40 new projects. But let us get this into perspective.

According to the Government's own figures, in 1992, only £16 million was spent by the Home Office on crime prevention, out of a total of nearly £7 billion spent on the criminal justice system. Out of a total of 125,000 police, only 750 are dedicated crime-prevention officers.

The arrangements for training in crime prevention are exiguous. They are conducted from a training centre in Staffordshire which is a mere Portakabin. It can train—if that is what is being done there, and it is a pretty limited amount of work that is done—only 1,000 officers a year.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that very few of us on this side of the House have any respect for his concern about crime prevention or for his party's concern about law and order when he is the only representative of his party who can be bothered to turn up and speak in this important debate? There have been no other Liberals on those empty Benches throughout the entire debate. It is an absolute disgrace that the Liberal party treats the whole issue of law and order with such obvious contempt.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman will be listened to with respect, if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and addresses any of these issues in a slightly better-tempered manner than he has just displayed. It must be regarded as poverty of argument that leads the hon. Gentleman into personal abuse.

The job of the police is not simply to enforce the law after it has been broken. I believe that, in the minds of the public, it is exceedingly important that they should play an ever-growing part in preventing it from being broken. They cannot do that on their own; they require the co-operation of local communities and local voluntary groups, and I believe that the Government can do a great deal more to promote this.

It is not simply a matter of dedicated schemes, although those are important; it is also a matter of collating the evidence of what is effective. That is something which, with considerably fewer resources than those of a Government Department, the Liberal Democrats have already attempted to do, producing a handbook based upon the experience of local authorities, in which they have played some part, in dedicating schemes to tackling particularly perceived threates to society by criminals.

This is the kind of thing that can best be done and disseminated at local level, but it can be done with even greater authority if the information is collated nationally, and the Home Office is well placed to do this. Even the process of collection of such information would be a stimulus to local authorities and local police forces to come together in this valuable work. I was glad to hear the Home Secretary say that he has it in mind to pick up this idea.

He also spoke of the need for a partnership between the police and the public, and the important part played by individuals in society in combating crime. I am 100 per cent. in agreement with him on that general proposition. A society that turns its back on crime leaves individuals at much greater risk, and we all have a responsibility. It is easy to say that; it is more difficult, when confronted with a criminal act, to respond.

One of the features of the society in which we live that is different from that of our parents is that there are now fewer people in positions of authority below the police who, as in the past, have the capacity to defuse potentially criminal behaviour. We see fewer park attendants, fewer bus conductors, fewer people who have the respect of the community because of their role within it. Those people provided a form of service that perhaps modern technology has made unnecessary, but a gap has been left. I believe that the gap can be filled only by personal respect for the need to participate in the fight against crime.

The Home Secretary also spoke of the need for an effective criminal justice system and a greater concentration of the system on bringing the guilty to justice. It is certainly true that there is widespread concern about the effectiveness of our criminal justice system at this time. There is widespread concern among the police that their efforts to catch criminals do not always lead to prosecutions being pursued effectively. There is wide-spread concern that perhaps the rules of evidence are not sufficiently adapted to secure convictions.

There has been questioning of some of the fundamentals of our criminal justice system. That, no doubt inspired by evidence of miscarriages of justice of a peculiarly appalling kind, led the Home Secretary, as he told us this afternoon, to change his views entirely about capital punishment.

That widespread concern about the criminal justice system led to the setting up of the royal commission under Lord Runciman. No doubt, when its report is published, we shall wish to debate its recommendations. I do not think, therefore, that it is sensible in this debate to trail the debate that would more naturally follow the publication of that report. But that the new Home Secretary is aware, at least, of these concerns is very much to be welcomed.

I particularly welcome what the right hon. and learned Gentleman had to say about capital punishment, for, by nods and winks, some Conservative leaders sought in the past to suggest that, if only capital punishment were restored—that was something favoured by Conservative leaders—perhaps the whole tenor of our attitude to law and order would be changed. I am quite sure that the Home Secretary's attitude towards that is right. It is good that he made it so clear that capital punishment cannot play a helpful role in strengthening the forces of law and order in our society.

The Home Secretary dealt at some length—in a particularly contentious manner as between himself and the Labour party—with the need to give the courts the powers to deal with offenders effectively. He touched on a matter that will be covered in part by the royal commission, but if he focuses exclusively on amendment of substantive criminal law, he will miss the need to which he in his great office of state can respond better than any other member of the Government—to complement the law with other urgent Government action where such measures are necessary.

The exchange between the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and the Home Secretary at the end of the debate was one of the more profound exchanges about law and order to which we have listened for some years. The dialogue was more genuine than we have heard for some time.

I hope that the Home Secretary will acknowledge that instant criminal law reform to deal with problems that have been headlined by the tabloid press, which no doubt are real—joyriding, dangerous dogs and so on—will not be the test of whether he has succeeded as Home Secretary. The volume of legislation on law and order will not prove his abilities as a great Home Secretary. I draw his attention to the comments of Sir Robert Peel, who, in a debate in the House in 1844, said that there were many matters of morals which he knew to be wrong, but which could not be put right by legislation. That is as true today as it was 150 years ago.

We are having this debate because, I suppose, there is a new Home Secretary, not because there is a coherent package of measures to tackle the problem of expanding crime. We are caught in the middle of a series of proposals for change in respect of policing, some of which are of considerable importance.

We shall return to the subject of law and order in detail in the autumn, when the Government announce their conclusions on the Sheehy report, which was published yesterday and which drew together the different strands after hearing what the police and others had to say. What has been said so far cannot give great pleasure to the Government, whose proposals have been universally condemned from the police forces. None the less, I should like to make a few general points about policing in this country.

We have to take seriously the risk of an over-centralised police force. I have no objection in principle to amalgamation of police forces where the case is made out. My noble Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead presided over the largest ever programme of force amalgamation in 1966–67, reducing the number of forces to 155 at the time of the Willink commission to 51 in Great Britain and 43 in England and Wales.

The rules for amalgamation that were laid down in schedule 3 to the Police Act 1964 seem sensible. They were established by Mr. Henry Brooke, the father of the present Secretary of State for National Heritage. They provided that the Home Secretary must publish any plans for amalgamation, and that if there was any objection from the police authority or local council, a public inquiry must be held. The report of the inspectors should then be laid before Parliament, together with a draft statutory instrument for implementation. The procedure ensures that the Executive must justify its plans before an independent panel, and seek the approval of Parliament and of local people.

The White Paper says that the Government will simplify the statutory procedures. It appears that they wish to abolish them. The Secretary of State may have it in mind to force through amalgamations without a public inquiry. I do not think that that is wise. My reasons for that are established over many years. It is not a partisan point. The procedures exist, are perfectly satisfactory and should be adhered to.

The second strand in the Government's thinking about the police which has been revealed is their wish to establish greater control over local police authorities. It has perhaps over the years been an aim of Home Secretaries to take greater power over the police. The Government's proposals to appoint and pay chairmen of police authorities are misconceived and should be abandoned, as they are causing great anxiety throughout the police service, as are the proposals for political appointees to police authorities.

The view that expenditure on police authorities should be capped by central Government follows the same line of thinking. It is presented as giving greater freedom of expenditure to police authorities, but in reality it is cash-limiting police expenditure, and as such will have a damaging effect on the ability of local police authorities and chief constables to set their own objectives.

The success of the police in working with the public in attacking crime in rural areas, in areas where ethnic minorities predominate and live in fear of racial attack, and in deprived inner cities where drug abuse is endemic and is blighting the lives of our families, depends not on the Home Office setting targets of achievement, which have to be adhered to in a rigid bureaucratic way, and achievement of which will lead to adjustments in the pay of police officers. That system of incentives and promotion cannot be responsive to the local communities that the police serve. It cannot be apt to tackle the disparate circumstances of the heterogeneous societies that make up this country.

Local policing has been the core of policing in this country. Community policing, commended by Lord Scarman and implemented increasingly throughout police forces, is the best hope of reducing the role of the criminal, and we shall wish to look at the Government's proposals for the future of the police with those considerations in mind.

I do not believe that the drastic proposals that the Home Secretary adumbrated in reports published this week will command the support of the police or public when they are properly understood. They seem to import into the management and remuneration of policing concepts that may be familiar and appropriate to business and commerce but are not appropriate to the greatest public service in this country, which depends on the police enjoying the confidence of, and being able to react to, the local community.

The Home Secretary, in embarking on his job, has a number of great assets and difficulties to contend with. He has a splendid Home Office research and planning unit, which has produced some first-class research and advice. The hon. Member for Sedgefield drew heavily on the document on drugs that was published earlier this week, and it is a powerful indictment of the view, if that view persists, that the problem of drugs can be effectively tackled by passing ever more punitive legislation against those who are involved in dealing. We must have severe, condign punishment for those who engage in the drug trade, but let us not believe for one moment that that is enough.

The unit has produced valuable work on juveniles, bail, victim support and the unit fines, which the Government have so cavalierly abandoned. Let the Home Secretary pay great attention to the work that it has produced, digest it and, where it is sound, disseminate it.

The Home Secretary also draws on the asset of the police—the bravery and hard work of officers, and the intelligence and dedication of some of our outstanding chief constables. He has at his disposal a probation service that plays a major role in preventing recidivism and in seeking to protect the public from reoffending. He has an incorruptible judiciary—not something that we should take for granted, even in Europe. He has, I believe, local communities who are, as he said, perhaps in a new mood—ready for change, ready for participation in crime prevention and willing to work with the police to prevent crime as much as possible. I hope that he is successful and, as he embarks on his different role, I wish him well.

7.13 pm
Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not match the eloquence of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). The public want to hear the House debating this topic, which is probably the most important subject of this Session.

I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has made such an immediate impact on the subject by raising the debate and, for example, by giving the police the right to use side-handled batons in trials, which they wanted and which are an important element in the protection of women police officers who, with the silly little truncheons that they have at present, simply cannot defend themselves against men carrying knives. This debate, and my right hon. and learned Friend's actions since taking office, has inspired us.

I am delighted to see the Minister of State in his place; if he fills his office with as much distinction as he filled his previous post he will be a credit to the Conservative law and order team.

I was a little disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). He did not show the confidence that I would have expected—

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

This is petty stuff.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present for the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield, who lacked a little confidence in his presentation and did not live up to his previous best performance.

It must be embarrassing for the Opposition to say that they have a policy for tough law and order when they must live down the fact that for so long they have opposed every strong law and order measure that the Government have introduced seriatim over the months and years. The hon. Member for Sedgefield always voted against the Government. It appears that, even now, the Labour party will oppose some of the important law and order measures that are being taken. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating; if the hon. Gentleman supports the Government, we can increase our respect for him in home affairs.

Mr. Michael

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, will the hon. and learned Gentleman comment on the Government presiding complacently over an increase of 121 per cent. in recorded crime?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

That is the sort of ridiculous statement that one would expect from the Opposition. Such a comment is fallacious and unreasonable. It is fallacious because it is based on the fallacy that there has been a massive increase in the amount of crime committed. But with 16,000 more policemen and another 12,000 policemen on the beat, because civilians have been substituted for police office work, it should not surprise us if more crime is detected.

One hundred thousand neighbourhood watch schemes offer 5 million households some protection and observation of crime, so it should not surprise us if more crime is detected. With 5 million more cars than we had a decade ago, it should not surprise us if more young people are tempted to commit auto-crime. If insurance companies insist on claims being reported first to the police, it should not surprise us if more crime is reported. In addition, the courts, the police service and the judicial system have made themsleves more attractive to women who have been seriously abused, raped or sexually assaulted and encouraged them to complain about attacks, so we should not be surprised if more of this crime is reported. Everybody now has a telephone, which they never used to have, so it is easy to report crime.

It is clear that we are witnessing a massive increase in the proportion of recorded crime, but the British crime survey reveals that the increase in recorded crime is roughly double the rise in actual crime.

Mr. Michael


Sir Ivan Lawrence

Is the hon. Gentleman going to keep interrupting my speech?

Mr. Michael

I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman, as Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, would aspire to some objectivity. Perhaps he will tell us whether he thinks that the rise in crime and reduction in reporting, which is perceived in communities up and down the country and which has been reflected in the comments of Labour Members and some Conservative Members, is in the minds of the public?

Sir Ivan Lawrence

A lot of it is panic engendered by the media and much is concentration on the limited areas where there has undoubtedly been an increase in crime—burglary and auto-crime. However, 94 per cent. of all crime is property crime and only 5 or 6 per cent. is violent crime. It is still much safer to walk the streets of Britain than those of practically every other country in the western world. The chances of being robbed, mugged or violently assaulted are about half of what they are in Australia. The chances of being murdered are half what they are in France. If we consider the number of countries where the crime situation is very much more serious than it is in this country, we put the matter into perspective.

Reference has been made to the success of some crime prevention programmes and, as the Home Affairs Select Committee discovered, it is a fact that there have been substantial improvements in the crime situation in particular areas. That is especially true in areas where the safer cities projects have been reducing crime. There is also a closer relationship between the police and local communities.

Estates in Manchester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and all over the country have not experienced a mere 5 or 10 per cent. reduction in crime; burglaries have become practically unknown, where there used to be burglaries daily; they now see practically no car crime, when there used to be a lot of it; and they now see hardly any muggings. Those are substantial successes. As in all things, we seem to concentrate on the things that go wrong and do not concentrate so much on the things that go right.

We all use London Transport. London Transport has cleaned up its act massively in recent years. It has had tremendous successes in policing the underground and in making it safe for all to walk around. The hon. Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and for Sedgefield do not do the House much credit by concentrating on the things which do not appear to be going right, while forgetting entirely the successes that have undoubtedly occurred.

When the Select Committee on Home Affairs visited Washington, we asked the law and order authorities there how we could deal with the hard core of 200 or 300 persistent juvenile offenders in this country. They laughed at us and said, "Is that all you've got?" They told us that practically every town and city in the United States has a hard core of 200 or 300 persistent juvenile offenders. They wanted to know what we could teach them.

The Opposition's criticisms are also unreasonable. After all, we could have less violent crime if we brought back capital punishment. The objection to capital punishment is not, on the Conservative Benches at least, that it would not deter. The objection is that it is too risky and that there are too many problems about bringing it back. However, it surely cannot be said that some people would not be deterred from committing murder if they knew that, at the end of the day, they would suffer the death penalty. That is what the overwhelming majority of the British people believe.

We could have much less crime if we had a police state. However, we all agree that that would be totally unreasonable. We do not advance law and order if, whenever we try to introduce restraint, for example, through the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, through changes in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 or in prevention of terrorism legislation, half the House persistently refuses to agree with us. The attitude of consensus which the hon. Member for Sedgefield shows is not convincing when he does not support the measures to which I have referred in a consensual way.

One of the paradoxes of the present law and order system—and this may be a side effect of the misleading statistics—relates to the police. The police are our main weapon against crime. We have more police. They are better equipped, trained and led. We have given them more powers. However, we still have too high a level of crime, whether or not it is rising, and we have a falling number of arrests and convictions.

What can we do about the police? If we think about it, the conclusion is that there must be something wrong with the organisation and management of the police which can be improved so that their best practices can be more widely spread. That is precisely what the Government have done this week. They have tried to bring more locality to the police.

The Government want to involve local business men with the police. They want to ensure that the local police report to their local people. We want to encourage the local policeman to be there for longer periods. We also want to ensure that the budget is tailored to the local needs of the local police force. Those are moves towards the improvement of locality, not moves towards Government centralisation.

We will have to study the Sheehy proposals with great care. They are directed towards improving the management and structure of the police with fixed 10-year contracts; by cutting out some of the bureaucracy and some ranks; by introducing performance-related pay and more realistic pay scales. The editor of Police Review, Brian Hilliard, is reported in The Daily Telegraph today as saying that once the knee-jerk reactions subside and the implications of the report have been studied, it will be seen as an attempt to improve the service. That is what the police service needs. We have given it everything else and the police must now respond by improving their management.

I could show that it is unreasonable to criticise the Government for not having done more to reduce crime in matters apart from the police. We have massively improved crime prevention through neighbourhood watches and drug teams. We have massively improved prison building with £1 billion spent on prisons and 20 new prisons and we have also introduced private-sector management. We have massively improved the range of sentences available to courts.

I could go on,but, as other hon. Members wish to speak, I want to conclude by referring to one area in respect of which the system of law and order is undoubtedly falling down. That area is the crazy situation in relation to cautioning. The hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) referred to a different aspect of that problem.

To give police the power to caution offenders, whether they are juveniles or adults, rather than to charge them must always be a rather dubious policy, because it gives ordinary police officers the power to choose who to charge and whether or not to charge. It leaves wide open the possibility of abuse of power and even corruption. I am not suggesting that there has been widespread abuse of power or corruption. However, such a possibility exists when we talk about not needing to bring people to justice because a police officer has decided not to charge someone. If we have such a system, it must be monitored very closely.

Where cautions are available, there may be frustration about the working of the criminal justice system. As was said earlier, frustration arises when the police work hard to bring someone to court and that person simply receives a pat on the head and tuppence from the poor box or, if that person is a juvenile offender, is released back to his family. That person is then back on the street once more doing his wrong-doing. The frustration about that must be immense.

Combined with cautioning, I am not convinced that that is not a bad system. Indeed, a spokesman for the Police Federation told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that frustration was felt in relation to cautioning. He said that people who should have been brought to justice are not being brought to justice.

Mr. Nigel Evans

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that the public are also very frustrated by what he has described? I received a letter from a constituent recently who told me that his son had become involved in clearing up a crime. The perpetrator pleaded guilty instead of going to court and he received a caution. However, when my constituent's son was caught speeding at 40 mph instead of 30 mph, he immediately received a £40 fine. He thought that it was a great injustice that the person who pleaded guilty received a caution, while he received a fine of £40 on the spot.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but the problem is more widespread than that. Offenders are cautioned, but that does not seem to happen when they drive cars. In those circumstances, they are fined. That is very irritating to law-abiding members of society.

If people think that I am exaggerating, I invite them to enter any Crown court in London and ask whether it is busy. It is quite an eye-opener, when there is such a massive level of crime, whether or not it is increasing, to go into the courts of London and find that only half the courts are sitting because cases are not being brought for trial. If hon. Members go around the chambers in the Temple and see how many barristers are sitting on their backsides doing nothing because the work has dried up, they will realise that the cautioning process has much to answer for.

Our police, unlike those in Germany and the United States, have discretion when they encounter a criminal. The can take no action, give an informal warning which is not recorded, give a formal caution, or charge an offender and begin the process of presenting him to the court. Perhaps there is justification in cautioning a juvenile, because one needs to try one more time to avert a juvenile from the criminal justice system—but an adult? An adult should know the difference between right and wrong. There are not many who offend for the first time and are unlucky enough to appear in court. Many people who appear in court for the first time have been offending for many years.

There is great worry about the policy of cautioning. If we do not punish offenders, there might be more temptation to offend again. Whereas conviction and sentence might be a deterrent, cautioning and freedom from further blame most definitely are not.

Home Office research tells us that more than half the police forces in England and Wales have no policy for the use of informal cautions. Therefore, the use of cautions is hardly standardised. If it is not standardised, it could lead to abuse.

Informal cautions are not even recorded. That almost certainly distorts statistics on the incidence of juvenile crime in particular. Our responses might be wholly inadequate because we have a completely wrong idea of the amount of crime that is going on. Crime is not even recorded because people are not being formally cautioned.

There are reports that even crimes of burglary and violence are resulting in cautions to offenders and a caution is allowed to be given only when there is clear evidence of guilt; it is a requirement of a caution that the offender must acknowledge guilt. Offenders who have undoubtedly committed crimes as serious as burglary and violence are getting off with a pat on the head.

There was evidence before the Select Committee that there are things called multiple cautions—that is, cautioning an adult or juvenile offender not once but twice, three times or four times. One of the Police Federation witnesses told us that on such occasions juveniles actually laugh at them.

If people who should be caught, charged and convicted are not charged and convicted, the whole criminal justice system falls into disrepute. Once the system falls into direpute and people do not respect it, there is a temptation for people to take the law into their own hands, and that is where vigilantes have been coming into the matter. If people who should be charged and convicted are not convicted, their victims, about whom hon. Members are very concerned, can make no claim for compensation for their suffering.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)

I am having difficulty in putting together the two halves of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. At the beginning, I understood him to say that the increase in crime was not as large as had been made out because of increased detection. The hon. and learned Gentleman now seems to be saying that the crime wave that is undetected and unprosecuted, because of the caution procedure or whatever, is much greater than we think. He cannot have it both ways.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

If the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) cannot put together two logical sides of an argument, that must be for him to worry about. The point that I am making is that, high as the level of crime is—nobody disputes that it is high—I dispute that it is rising at the rate at which it is portrayed. I am pointing out also that, because of the policy of cautioning, considerable problems must be addressed.

Undoubtedly, there has been a worrying growth in the use of cautions, both formal and informal. Undoubtedly, there is growing concern about the effects of cautioning. My guess is that if people outside this place knew how much cautioning was going on, they would be worried and distressed. Undoubtedly, there is a need for more research to tell us exactly what is happening. If what I think is happening is, in fact, happening, we should certainly stop multiple cautions. When serious offences such as burglary and violence have been committed, cautions should be stopped altogether.

7.34 pm
Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I did not expect that I would follow a Conservative Member who, at one stage, seemed to say that there was not exactly a rise in crime and that, if there was, it was really to do with the way in which the police managed their own police officers. I expected that I would follow a different set of arguments which I have heard from Government Members more frequently—that crime must be understood in relation to a crisis of values.

I place that remark in a context that is somewhat wider than that which has emerged tonight. When Conservative Members have talked about a crisis of values, they have not expressed their indignation about that crisis in terms of the Asil Nadirs of this world. They have not risen in indignation about the Ernest Saunders of this world and the way in which large-scale fraud is taking place. They have not vented their spleens on the vast tranche of the criminal classes who fiddle their tax returns or those who find ways in which to conduct illegal and illicit arms deals. Conservative Members have defined crime as being about young people.

One of the saddest aspects that I have encountered since becoming a Member is that, by and large, that is the only context in which young people are referred to. We hear them referred to as a problem. Rarely, if ever, is there reference to, or recognition of, young people as the best and most important assets of society. Invariably, issues to do with law and order are about young people and what we do about them as a problem.

When I listen to Government rantings on the matter, I have to ask myself how many Conservative Members who vent their spleens about young people have contact with any young people who are at the margins of youth crime, let alone those who are actively involved in it. A large part of my life has been spent working with young people who were involved, in one way or another, in crime. I began by working with children who were nicking off school—truants. As the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said, in many ways their teachers were relieved that they were nicking off school because it made it easier to conduct classes for the pupils who remained.

I spent a very useful period working with youngsters for whom school was an extremely negative experience. They were not stupid kids. They were difficult and they were disruptive—they were kids who often had an awful lot of get-up-and-go about them. However, it taught me a very important lesson—that it is possible to work with that group of young people and to deflect them into far more productive channels that make the most of their talents, rather than to paint them as caricatures of difficult and disruptive people who will be a problem for society all their lives.

I was also fortunate enough to be involved in setting up the Home Office's pilot scheme in relation to non-custodial treatment of offenders. Following that, I was an active worker in delinquency prevention work. Against that strong background, I shall be fairly critical of some of the lines of thinking that have been offered to us in a succession of debates about law and order.

My first point relates to the fact that the Government's successive reruns of policy on law and order will never achieve anything. They cannot combat what they fail to comprehend. There is usually a great hue and cry from Tory Members about punishment. There is much enthusiasm about equipping the police with extra batons—presumably, to be tried out by smashing engraved watches. There is great enthusiasm also for stiffer prison sentences. But all the evidence and all the advice from people in the prison service indicate that, on youth crime, such penalties are not just singularly ineffective but counter-productive and financially wasteful. This simply is not a coherent response to the problems, even as they are perceived by the Government.

Recently, I spent some time talking with prison officers about young people in custodial institutions. I was horrified to hear about the incredible financial cost. Keeping a person in detention in a secure unit costs from about £400 to £1,700 a week. Even in the Government's own terms, the value of that punishment ought to be measured against the cost of intervention schemes, most of which involve expenditure of less than £100 per person per week.

I should like to give an illustration by referring to a project in my constituency. It is called Wheelbase and caters for youngsters of precisely the type about whom many Conservative Members have been talking—those involved in burglary and car crime. Perhaps I ought to notify the Home Secretary that I intend to bring a group of young people taking part in that scheme to Westminster to give a presentation of the work that they are doing and to present Members of Parliament with a first-hand account of how those involved in car crime perceive the Government's approach. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) has said that young people laugh at the courts. But they laugh at this House also. They laugh at the policies we offer, which are regarded as irrelevant and absurd.

It would be far more productive to listen to what these young people have to say about initiatives that have made a difference in their lives by deflecting them away from active involvement in car crime and burglary. When I asked one of them to describe his background, he said, "Me—I'm a 25-a-night man." I did not understand what he was saying. I thought that he was perhaps talking about smoking. In fact, he was saying that stealing 25 cars a night had been a norm before he became involved in the Wheelbase project, whose participants build and race their own stock cars, and then go on to take up apprenticeships of the sort mentioned by the right hon. Member for Brent, North. That lad would go from one car to another as it took his fancy. He and his colleagues on the project had been through penal institutions. What had that taught them? It had taught them how to do the jobs better. What persuaded them to do less car theft was an initiative in their own locality that gave them something more constructive to do with their lives.

In my constituency there are similar initiatives to do with preventive work in relation to health and drugs abuse. The irony is that such projects are almost entirely dependent on urban programme funding and will cease to exist when that funding runs out; thus, it is precisely the measures that are working for young people that will be discontinued. It is in that context that we have to measure the seriousness of commitment and the understanding that the Government bring to a debate about law and order.

I should like to give a few comparative figures that I was asked by the project to present in this debate. The average cost of a serious road accident in which juvenile car thieves are involved is £25,000. For every fatality, the cost is about £700,000. The cost of a project like Wheelbase is £50,000 a year. What we are talking about here is the fact that the avoidance of two road accidents a year or one death in every 14 years would make the project cost-effective, and that is before we even begin to address the cost in terms of human suffering and grief. The Government do not pay this bill out of a law and order budget or an urban programme budget. Somehow, the cost is a discrete one that we are not prepared to address, but it is still a cost we end up paying.

I do not want to minimise the problem of the growth of crime in our cities. We in Nottingham have our own difficulties arising from crimes involving serious drugs abuse and, unfortunately, guns. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I was a county councillor in Nottinghamshire. My experience throughout my time in that capacity was of putting in bids for more police officers on the beat but seeing those bids turned down or cut by the Conservative Government.

On the issue of drugs, I have to set against the Government's claims of concern comments in a report issued recently by the National Union of Civil and Public Servants: We were astonished to hear the Government's announcement in November 1991 that it would be cutting Her Majesty's Customs and Excise previously agreed funding for the five-year period 1992–96, causing a reduction of 400 customs officers engaged in the war against drugs. These reductions are on top of the job losses already accepted by the Department due to changes brought about by completion of the single market. Against the background of those cuts, we must ask how serious is the commitment to an assault on the problem of drugs. If one opens the traps, one should not be surprised if the dogs go on the run. We are asking police officers to contain something after it has been let loose on the streets. The big issue is the supply of drugs. Unless the problem is tackled at that level, their distribution will continue to be a nightmare with which we cannot deal.

I should like to refer to the Government lessons that I have learnt from my work on the streets with young people involved in crime of this sort. The first is that prevention is more effective than punishment.

A recent study in the United States concluded that, in terms of mileage per buck, investment in child care for the under-fives produced more value than any other type of preventive intervention. Are the Government of this country committed to increased investment in the under-fives? Certainly not. Secondly, punishment without provision for a way back into responsible society simply creates better criminals. Thirdly, youth gangs involved in crime have a limited number of leaders.

One hon. Member has made the point that in the United Kingdom there is a limited number of seriously disruptive young people involved in crime. I accept that. It is a point that chief police officers around the country make. But if one asks what is to be done about those young people and about those on the periphery of youth gangs, the answer is that people do not have a clue because we do not have a programme.

Some countries have started to do more useful work on that issue. They have accepted the challenge of working with seriously disruptive and alienated young people and those on the periphery of youth crime. Part of that requires a commitment not only to the expansion of the youth service but to a statutory youth service provision.

When I was in local government, one of the saddest realisations was that as successive cuts in government spending were made by this Goverment the areas cut most severely were the ones in which the local authority had discretion to spend. When the local authority had an obligation to spend, it had to shell out the money. When it had discretion to spend, those areas were pruned. Unfortunately, the youth service, which is potentially one of the most important ways of intervening constructively to develop the talents and skills of young people, has been massively under-resourced for more than a decade.

There can be no evasion of the uncomfortable fact that one of the starting points in our response to crime must be the protection of victims. I am not suggesting that all the young people involved in crime can be dealt with in the community in the first instance. I know a number of young people with whom it is impossible to do any remedial work unless they are taken out of the community. However, they must not then be put into a children's home that is already under pressure as a result of having to deal with many children who have been traumatised in different ways. We need different models for working with those seriously disrupted and alienated young people.

In terms of corrective work with the perpetrators, the right hon. Member for Brent, North was right. We need youth apprenticeship schemes and schemes that build links across the generations. It may be extremely difficult for those young people to develop links with their parents. From my experience, however, I have found that it is remarkably easy to develop constructive relationships between those young people and other adults in the community. One of the spin-offs from such relationships is mutual recognition and respect that develops between those groups of people.

We have made little progress on the notion of reparation schemes in Britain. I have some reservations about whether reparation should be from the perpetrator directly to the victim. In many ways, it is asking too much of the victim to be in that position. The notion of reparation to the community has more to commend it, partly because it recognises that people have an obligation to society and it gives them a way back. I cannot tell the House the number of occasions, throughout the years in which I worked on the non-custodial treatment of offenders scheme, when people who were required to work in the community after they had finished their sentences continued to do that work because they had recognition and respect for the way in which they were doing it. Building up people into that role is the biggest challenge that we face.

When I ask people in my constituency, especially pensioners, what they would do with young people in crime, the overwhelming answer is, "Give them a job." Young people without work or a place in society will repay society in their own ways. The huge challenge that we face relates not to crime but to how we value young people in society. We will not positively address that question if, for example, we continue to say to those 18 to 25 year-olds who are out of work, "We expect you to live on £4.97 a day without skirting around on the margins of crime." Half a million young people aged 18 and 24 are in precisely that position.

One in every three unemployed people is under 25 and lives on or beyond the margins of poverty, and 100,000 young people aged 16 or 17 live without a job, a training place or any benefit at all. If we ask ourselves how we would live in those circumstances, I am not sure how many of us would say that we would do so always honestly and legally without drawing on the network of opportunities that earning an illicit coin offers people. If we do not want people to live those sorts of lives, we must give them the opportunity to live better, more respectable and more legitimate ones.

I frequently have discussions with young people on my streets. From time to time, some of them were in the habit of taking my car and driving it away—I have never been keen on that—and we have had rather heated exchanges about the virtues of it. We have also had heated discussions about racing cars up and down the street. At one time, I collared a group of them and asked, "What are you doing? These are your brothers and sisters who are wandering across the street. It could be you who kills them. You cannot go round nicking cars, marauding around the streets and leading your lives as criminals."

I was stopped in my tracks when one of the lads said, "I am not a criminal—I am an entrepreneur." I was surprised mainly because I did not think that he would know the word, let alone be able to use it in the right context. I asked him to explain what he meant. He said, "I can deliver. Do you want a radio? I can get you a radio. I can get you a car to go with it, if you like. You look as though you could do with a new jacket. What size are you? Do you have any preference for colour? Why don't you come into town and try a few suits on? Go and have a cup of coffee and we will meet later to sort out a price. I deliver in this estate. People know that I can deliver. You say to me 'I have no say because I have no recognition.' I bloody well do. I will tell you what though—I will do you a deal. I will happily give up this on condition that you do one thing for me. Tell me this—can you give me a job?" The truth is that I could not get him a job. I could not offer him a legitimate way to get into a society of which he wanted to be a part.

I realised that, in many ways, that group of young people understood the message that society was giving them much better than I did. They told me that if they were voters, they would not vote for me. Their model was Mrs. Thatcher. They liked her. They thought that she was tough. She knew what the world was about—looking after No. 1. These were Thatcher's children. They frightened and saddened me because I had known all of them since they were children.

All of them had a little dream. Up until the age of about 12 or 13, I could tell the House what they wanted to be. They wanted to be bus drivers; they wanted to work in Raleigh; they wanted to work in Players; they wanted to be mechanics and they wanted to work in a nursery. It did now matter what it was—it was a simple dream. Somewhere beyond that age, we stripped them of that dream and the belief that society would offer them any reasonable opportunity to fulfil that aspiration.

When we are talking about reparation schemes, the biggest challenge for the House and society is whether we can address the reparation that we owe to a generation of young people from whom we have stolen their hopes. I do not condone the thefts that they perpetrate. However, when I compare them with what I hear from Conservative Members and the Government, I ask: what is the difference? The difference is that these kids are honest thieves. They are not "twoccers" in suits who have stolen access to and ownership of public resources and jobs. They live the life that the Government and society write on the wall for them and tell them is their only prospect.

Until we address the challenge not in a soft namby-pamby, wishy-washy way but by challenging those young people, redirecting their energies and making the most of their talents, we will do nothing.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. There are nine hon. Members hoping to catch my eye in the remaining time available for the debate. If hon. Members give short speeches, most may have a chance of doing so.

8 pm

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Further to that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall make an observation. We have had speeches lasting half an hour from several colleagues and interventions from people who want to speak in the debate that have taken 40 minutes out of the time available. I hope that those hon. Members will give those of us who have sat quietly and patiently the indulgence of making our speeches without interruption.

I wish to make a point about the speech by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), although I will not comment in detail. I was interested that the hon. Gentleman said that funding for youth services should be compulsory. He added that he found that when local authorities could make up their mind whether they wanted to spend on youth services, they tended to cut the funding. The hon. Gentleman would, I hope, make the same speech to his Labour party colleagues in local government. Most urban areas have been under Labour control for many years. I am not trying to make a party political point, but politicians of all parties, to a certain extent, must do something about it.

I shall read a few lines from a previous debate on the subject: Crime and dishonesty pay as never before … Cheating … has become common practice and dishonesty generally has been allowed to pay … Is it any wonder that Dr. Trevor Huddleston"— a leading churchman— was quoted as having said … 'I think this country's very sick indeed.—[Official Report, 4 May 1970; Vol. 301, c. 40–41.] That is not an extract from a speech by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) or by any other Opposition spokesman on home affairs. It is an extract from a speech made by the Member for Wellingborough on 4 May 1970. I am delighted to say that it is the same Member for Wellingborough who addresses the House tonight.

After 23 years, what is new? Crime figures seem to be much worse. Perhaps just as important, and more significant for the future, is the growing loss of confidence among the public that Parliament, the courts and the police are tackling problems in the right way. It is no wonder that some members of the public take the law into their own hands.

There is a great deal of frustration, anger and disgust and that has led some people to take the law into their own hands where they believe that the responsible authority has acted and failed. The danger now is that, despite the enormous amounts that we have spent not just on policing but on education and social work, public confidence is waning. The public are becoming impatient for action, as the letters in any hon. Member's postbag will tell him.

It is no good the Lord Chief Justice, or any other judge, criticising and condemning those who take their own action. It is no good Parliament tut-tutting and talking about the rule of law. It is no good the heads of our police forces saying, "Leave it it us", when far too many of our fellow citizens see crime going unpunished and obviously paying. Those citizens are the victims.

The chairman of one public company was quoted this week as saying that £20 million had been lost in theft from the company's premises, much of it committed by those who are not yet teenagers. It is worth making the point that the crimes that disturb most people are not the major crimes that hit the headlines, although of course they do not worry about those. Most people are worried about the crimes with which they have contact, rather than major murders, bank robberies and sensations in which newspapers delight. They worry about minor burglaries of their homes, the theft of cars from outside their houses, the theft of radios and other items from their cars. the vandalism of their property, and hooliganism in general.

I suggest that hon. Members should go to any local authority housing estate. They would often find a horrendous list of complaints. I was told by one housing association that, in this time of housing shortages, it has houses in one city in the north of England that it cannot let because people would not accept living in that neighbourhood.

The quality of life of so many of our people is undermined by petty crime, but the loss suffered by each person who feels violated and that he or she is a victim is important. Too often these days, that loss tends, in their eyes, to be ignored. One of my constituents reported the loss of his car radio. When, many hours later, a policeman came to take details, my constituent asked why he had taken so long. The policeman replied that he had been taking details of car radio thefts all day. My constituent asked what was to happen. The policeman said that nothing would happen. He would put the theft down on his list and that would be the end of it. No wonder that constituent has little faith in the way in which the law operates.

I go further. That type of crime is not only being ignored; it is being condoned. We have heard how the youth in certain parts of our country who have no job and little or no social security are in such a desperate state that it is understandable that they should become law breakers. I have heard even a senior police officer say something along those lines. That is a tremendous insult to the law-abiding majority of people and also the law-abiding majority of our young people.

People ask themselves, "Why do I obey the law? Why should I teach my children about right and wrong when too many others benefit from crime?" Too many people are making excuses for crime. Even the Government are doing so. When they finally agreed, after representations from colleagues including myself, to provide long-term secure accommodation for juvenile joyriders, an official handout from the Home Office played down the unpleasant aspects of such confinement and stressed that conditions would not be too hard in those facilities. Most people in this country would want to know why on earth not? How many offences do that minority of 12, 13 and 14-year-olds have to commit before they are taken away and stopped from being a nuisance to the rest of society? Do they have to kill by the reckless use of a motor car before effective action is taken?

It may be asked what the response of the courts, Parliament and police has been to the situation that I have been describing. I shall give some examples from the local courts. A grandfather wrote to me saying that his grandson had bought his first motor cycle, which was later stolen. He then discovered that the motor cycle had been sold to somebody else and, being percipient, was able to track down the offender and give the information to the police. He received a letter from the police, thanking him for his action and adding that the offender had been arrested. However, due to official policy, the offender had been let off with a caution. That point was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The House may find interesting what I would describe as two weeks in the life of a magistrates court. One of my constituents was arrested and told to attend court on 25 April. He failed to attend, and a warrant was issued. On 29 April, he was arrested for a new offence. On 30 April, he appeared before the court which promptly bailed him, although residency and reporting conditions were placed on that bail. On 3 May he failed to report, and on 4 May he was arrested for breach of bail conditions. The court continued the residency and reporting conditions. On 4 May, he failed to report. On 5 May, he was again arrested for breach of bail conditions. On 6 May, the court bailed him and removed the reporting conditions. Is it any wonder that on 8 May he was arrested for several new offences?

My local magistrates court unfortunately has the reputation of being the softest in Northamptonshire and, with a record like that, it is not surprising. It is not a matter of pride to me or to the majority of my constituents, who strongly feel that much sterner and stiffer action is needed. It is not just a local problem; we all know of the ludicrously light sentences that have been handed down by some of the judiciary, even for killing people. Increasingly, too many of those who are guilty of serious crimes seem to get away with a very light sentence, whereas those who commit what might be considered lesser crimes, such as motoring offences, tend to be dealt with severely.

I am full of admiration for the policeman on the beat. He is the one at the sharp end and has to deal with the public. He needs and deserves our support. The reality is, however, that they are called on to be firefighters. They are supposed to deal not with the causes of crime but only with its symptoms. I take the point that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South made in that respect.

The task of the police has become enormous because there is too much bureaucracy and the courts are too weak. The effectiveness of the police has been undermined. As a result, some senior police officers seem to have decided to say, "We cannot cope with everything, so let us cope with what we can."

In my own county, what is called a diversionary policy has been followed for a number of years. Our present chief constable—an excellent man, whom we are very sorry to lose; however, we congratulate him on his promotion to Her Majesty's inspectorate—has recently issued a new version of that policy. It applies to juvenile offenders and is based on the premise that 10 per cent. of youngsters are responsible for 40 per cent. of juvenile crime. The aim is to target the young people who are most likely to reoffend rather than those who might be brought before the courts on one occasion only.

Under this system, when a youngster is caught for his first, second or third offence, he is diverted away from the juvenile court to the juvenile liaison bureau, where he is counselled and cautioned. It is claimed that, as a result, 70 per cent. of such youngsters do not reoffend.

That policy has been backed by local magistrates, youth agencies, the Crown Prosecution Service and, to my surprise, by the local branch of the Police Federation. I understand why the policy has been introduced, but I do not share the enthusiasm for it felt by so many estimable bodies—nor does a very large section of our local population—because 30 per cent. of such youngsters do reoffend. They may receive just a ticking off for as many as six offences. That policy is far from a deterrent; it actually encourages youngsters to commit more crimes because they get away with it very easily.

Some juvenile magistrates have complained that they cannot understand why court sittings have been cancelled when juvenile crime is on the increase. Many individual policemen do not like the policy. I was sent a copy of the revised document and on it was inscribed "The Thugs Charter". It had obviously been surreptitiously sent by someone in the police headquarters in Northampton.

By talking to individual policemen, I have learned that the police do not much like the policy. The public like it even less. It seems to them and to me an admission of failure that we cannot cope with all the crime and all the potential criminals. At the same time, it is sending the wrong message to those young offenders, who are encouraged to offend again. I find it deeply depressing that the police are being forced to use such a flawed system.

What of Parliament and the Government? I welcome the announcement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about removing so much of the red tape and bureaucracy that have been endured by our police forces. I am delighted that parts of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 are being reviewed in relation to past offences and income-related fines. I am grateful that offenders who reoffend on bail will receive heavier sentences. I am also pleased that we will now be able to put persistent joyriders and juvenile offenders into more permanent secure accommodation.

Opposition Members will be interested to know that there was a youngster in Wellingborough who was reckoned to have stolen at least 25 cars—that was as many as could be attributed to him. Every time he was arrested and taken to the local authority home, the police believe that he had got out, stolen another car and got home before the police car that had taken him to that home had arrived back in Wellingborough. The whole process had become a total mockery.

I am grateful for everything that the Government have done, but I must say to my hon. Friends that we need to do more. I mean no insult, but the House must pay greater attention to law and order legislation as it is considered by Parliament. We would not have had some of the errors in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 if hon. Members had not left its consideration to the lawyers of the House.

Any hon. Member who does half a job knows that the electorate are worried that not enough is being done and that there is a lack of confidence in law and order. The Government should consider a number of issues. The right to silence needs to be examined. We find that 15 or 16-year-olds are instructed by their lawyers to say nothing to the police, so that it becomes impossible to convict them properly. A refusal to answer a reasonable question should be allowed to raise doubts in the minds of justices and jurors.

We should examine whether the pendulum has not swung too far towards protecting the guilty rather than protecting the victims of crime. We should look again at the age of legal criminal responsibility. A few years ago, a gentleman came to me and said, "The local gipsies are sending their youngsters into our village to steal our produce. They are very clever because they are sending youngsters below the age of criminal responsibility." I asked, "Surely your village has a policeman. Why don't you report it to him?" He said, "I am the village policeman and I cannot do anything about it."

Whatever we do about the Sheehy report, may I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that we should be most careful not to do anything to reduce police morale. The police must not feel that they are being got at or that their job has been downgraded.

None of the policies that we have put forward will be successful unless we harness the power and co-operation of public opinion. An area in my constituency suffered from many difficulties, but, with the encouragement of the police and the local authority, we set up a residents association and the amount of crime was vastly reduced. That kind of experiment is a positive way forward. The police cannot do it on their own; they need the public not just to report offences but to be willing to give evidence. Both the police and the public need the support of the courts and we who are the law makers.

If we respond to the challenge, we shall regain public confidence, police morale will rise and the legal system will be held in higher respect. It is an enormous challenge and I do not envy my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Home Department. But it is more than a challenge it is a duty. The happiness and quality of life of so many of our Fellow citizens depends upon our success. I do not believe that we can fail them.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I must point out that the winding-up speeches will commence at 9.30. There are at least six hon. Members who wish to speak, so may I make a request for succinct speeches?

8.18 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I listened carefully to the Home Secretary's speech to discover whether I would hear anything other than the routine rubric of a new Conservative Home Secretary talking platitudes about what is wrong while ignoring the fact that he and his colleagues have been in office since 1979. He cannot possibly deceive the House nor do I think that he can deceive the people in general by trotting out the speech that has been used by perhaps half a dozen Conservative Home Secretaries two or three times every year in the Chamber and on countless occasions outside.

Conservative Home Secretaries make excuses and deliver many speeches about law and order which are full of platitudes, but they are slow to tackle the causes of crime or to bolster the sagging morale of police officers. The Conservatives must recognise that the hallmark of the Thatcher years was the creation of a selfish society, which has contributed to rising crime and the breakdown of law and order. In brief, they must be charged with contributing—albeit unintentionally—to the breakdown of society and to the increase in crime.

Conservative Members, and especially Home Secretaries, repeatedly imply criticism of the police. It is typical of this Government that they have gone through professional group after professional group, implying that they are failing society and the public but without recognising that. they themselves have failed to Fund properly many essential public services, including the police service. If Conservative Members think that I am making an unfair charge, I refer them to paragraph 2.2 of the White Paper that was published this week. It states: The main job of the police is to catch criminals. In a typical day, however, only 18 per cent. of calls to the police are about crime, and only about 40 per cent. of police officers' time is spent dealing directly with crime. I do not accept that the most important or exclusive responsibility of a police officer is merely to fight crime; there are the issues of public confidence, mobility and general order as well. When a crime is committed and when society has failed, it is the police who come to the rescue on our behalf. Putting aside that issue, the implication in the White Paper is that too much police time is spent on bureaucracy; but what about the traffic division of the police? It does not combat crime; it ensures mobility and makes certain that traumatic and harrowing accidents are dealt with expeditiously and humanely and that proper reports are made for the victims and the various authorities. It is nonsense to suggest that there is a vast police bureaucracy which merely shifts paper. The Government's repeated charge against these good professional public servants is very unfair. I reject the charge and wish, on his behalf, to defend the average police officer.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) said that we must have regard to police morale. I agree that police morale is low, and it is low for a variety of reasons, including underfunding, lack of support from the House and also because of documents such as those which have been published this week.

Police officers are deeply cynical about the Government's intentions. The Government announced a little while ago that they were setting up the Sheehy inquiry into pay and conditions—[Interruption.] If the Government Whip will contain himself, he will hear what I have to say. The Sheehy inquiry was to look into the pay and conditions of service of police officers. It was supposed to be independent but, within a short time, the Government announced that they were also publishing a White Paper. The White Paper on the future structure of the police has this week preceded the so-called independent Sheehy report—clearly the Government have pre-empted the Sheehy inquiry.

I believe that the pay, conditions and structure of the police service are indivisible. The White Paper has been published in advance of the Sheehy report. Either the Government decided to pre-empt Sheehy or there has been collusion between that inquiry and the Home Secretary; which would mean that it is not to be an independent inquiry. Police officers have noticed this and they are deeply worried because their service is not being judged fairly or objectively.

There is a Cinderella part of the police service which has not yet been mentioned, or at least not while I have been here, and I should like to remedy that omission. I am referring to the many dedicated police officers who are in what are known, inappropriately, as non-Home Office forces. They do not receive the attention that they deserve. They include the British Transport police, the Ministry of Defence police, the Atomic Energy Authority police and the Royal Parks Constabulary as well as the Northern Ireland Airport police which the Government recklessly and foolishly intend to privatise. That is breathtaking.

When police officers, whether they are in the Home Office or non-Home Office forces, realise that forces can be privatised, they regard it as a great threat to the dignity of their office and their capacity to protect and promote our interests. They know that the Government's secret agenda is to extend the privatisation of police services, as happened with the Port of London police authority which was privatised before the last general election. The Northern Ireland Airport police force is now to be privatised. Many officers fear that these are intended as experimental runs before the hiving-off of many other police functions.

At the same time as the Edmund-Davies report which, like the Sheehy report, dealt with Home Office forces, the Government of the day commissioned what became known as the Wright report. This looked into the pay, conditions of service and structure of non-Home Office forces. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance to those police officers in the non-Home Office forces that their service will on this occasion have a matching inquiry and report into their pay and conditions of service, comparable to the Wright report of 1979.

If the Government get around to legislating, I hope that they will think it appropriate to define carefully what a police constable is and what his or her basic training should be. It may concern hon. Members to know that the Government have no knowledge about how many police constables there are or where they are. They know where the Home Office constables are but they do not know the number or location of many officers from a variety of small constabularies; although they are also sworn constables. It is not fair to those constables and it is bad public policy not to know exactly who and where they are.

I think that all hon. Members will agree that it is important that every constable should be of a common professional standard. He should not be sworn in at an obscure magistrates court, given a surplus police uniform and told that he is a constable. However, that is what happens at the moment in some cases. The London borough of Wandsworth and the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea have their own police officers in their parks. Those officers do a superb job, and I do not knock them, but central Government do not know who they are or how many there are, and they certainly do not oversee their training. The same is true of constabularies elsewhere. It is bad for police officers generally, and a proper standard should be applied.

I am also worried that non-Home Office forces are not subject to the same rules of inspection as Home Office forces. I recently tabled some parliamentary questions and learnt that forces, from the largest to the smallest, from the British Transport police down to the Wandsworth park police, are not automatically subject to inspection by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. They should be; that is in the interests of the officers. Their federations and professional associations would welcome it.

It is an important fact that when inspections are made by Her Majesty's inspectorate, the federations do not automatically have an independent meeting with the inspector; in some cases, rather unhealthily, I believe, management or senior officers are present.

I should like an assurance that the federations, professional associations and police trade unions will be able to have independent meetings with Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary.

The Sheehy report seems to contain a threat to the ability of police officers to be represented to the fullest possible extent by the Police Federation. Page 109 of the report contains an ominous paragraph which states: Police Federation and other staff association representatives should be paid … when attending joint meetings with management or preparing for them but not for attending meetings concerned solely with staff association business;". That is worrying because it is subjective about what is meant by preparing for joint meetings and what is meant by "solely … staff association business". Common sense should prevail. I had assumed that it always did prevail, but the introduction of such a paragraph is deeply disturbing because it threatens the Police Federation and its officers.

Page 134 of the Sheehy report contains a definition of in the execution of duty". London contains not just the Metropolitan police and the City police but the Royal Parks Constabulary, which plays an increasing role in security in the Westminster area as well as the British Transport police in the tube and British Rail stations. On many occasions those officers are inhibited from spontaneously executing their duty because the law is unclear about when and where they have the right to act as police officers. Those officers should have co-jurisdiction in central London and similarly such co-jurisdiction should also apply to uniformed officers serving with the Atomic Energy police and the Ministry of Defence police, and so on. Their powers are unclear, and that is unfair to police officers who have to make split-second judgments that could subsequently embarrass them or their force. I hope that that matter will be examined.

Our police do a good job and I am proud to have this opportunity to say that in the House. They are the meat in the sandwich of rising crime and public demands for a change in the law and order climate. They are overstretched and underfunded. The proposals in the White Paper and in the Sheehy report do nothing to improve their morale; they will do the reverse. These documents will not halt the rise in crime.

The Government must reassure police officers that they have the confidence of the House and that they will be properly funded. Special constables are good public servants who volunteer their time. Increasing their numbers should not be seen as a way of getting policing on the cheap. They should be increased but not at the expense of providing the requisite number of properly paid police officers. Not only the House but the people we represent expect the Government to provide such a professional force.

8.33 pm
Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on their appointments to office. Many Conservative Members are nothing less than overjoyed at their appointments because we know about their commitment to solving some of the many law and order problems that give rise to such great concern. There was a Liberal Democrat spokesman in the House earlier, but the Benches of that party are now empty. The Liberal Democrats often make an issue of law and order and cynically whine about crime figures and issue "Focus" newsletters on the subject, but it is disgraceful that they cannot take the time to listen to this debate. Much of their rhetoric is humbug, and we shall tell our constituents that when the chips were down and the House had the opportunity to discuss law and order the Liberal Democrats did not even bother to turn up.

In many ways, law and order is the most important issue facing the country and it concerns ordinary people far more than anything else. They are especially worried about property-related crime. Most hon. Members who are fortunate enough not to have been burgled, robbed or attacked will certainly know someone who has been.

The scale of the problem was clearly brought home to me a few days ago when I was at a football match in Blackpool. I spoke about the issue to a Liberal councillor. Some Liberal councillors appear to be concerned about such issues, even though their parliamentary party is not. He told me that he had recently been burgled and I told him that my wife had had her handbag stolen. While we were discussing those two incidents, a friend entered the room and announced that his car had just been stolen from outside the football ground.

Those three property-related incidents were reported to the police, but many similar incidents are not. The official statistics for such crime are bad enough, but they probably do not reflect the real scale of the problem. Some 94 per cent. of all recorded crime last year was against property, and in Blackpool alone there were 5,224 recorded offences of burglary. Many offences, even if they are recorded, are not registered in the book because the police often simply urge victims to put in an insurance claim. Property crimes have a relatively low clear-up rate. Only 31 per cent. of last year's burglaries in Blackpool have so far been cleared up.

As the Home Secretary rightly said, the Government understand and are concerned about the importance of tackling property-related crime. I was delighted to hear the Home Secretary stress that, and I am sure that he will stick to it. The Government's efforts on such crime appear to have made some difference to the official figures. A greater emphasis on community policing and the establishment of more than 11,500 neighbourhood watch schemes have undoubtedly contributed to slowing the high rate of increase of recorded property crime. But much more needs to be done.

Property-related crime must be taken seriously, not only by the Government but by the police and the judiciary. It must be understood from the victim's point of view and our response should be determined from that perspective. Sentencing policies must properly reflect the hardship and suffering of victims of such crime. Few people who have not experienced a burglary or a break-in can possibly understand the emotional and psychological scars and the long-term fear caused by such an occurrence. We must tell the judges to take account of that in their sentencing.

The police must also take property-related crime much more seriously. I understand that the Metropolitan police have now made it their top priority and I hope that Lancashire constabulary will do the same. It should take priority over some of the other issues which appear to concern the police, such as bullying motorists. What does it matter if they have to divert resources from bullying motorists if it means that they can catch more real criminals? We have to make sure of two things: first, that property-related crime does not pay, for the criminal, the fence or the parent, guardian or anyone else with a degree of responsibility. We must teach criminals that society condemns them and that our response will be swift, harsh and unrelenting.

Secondly, we must show our determination to catch and prosecute those responsible for property-related crime. A 31 per cent. clear-up rate is simply not good enough. We have to ensure that resources are available to enable the police to catch and convict those responsible for such crimes.

I am particularly concerned about the special problems faced by the police in constituencies such as mine. Tourist resorts such as Blackpool contain large populations of elderly people who are terrorised by the increasing numbers of break-ins and burglaries. They also contain large numbers of hotels, restaurants and small businesses whose trade is particularly difficult at times when the police appear to be swamped by the sheer scale of the problem.

Blackpool has 17 million visitors every year, but there appears to be little understanding of the extra strain that this places on police budgets. The Lancashire constabulary receives little extra practical help from the Government to cope with the problem.

Our limited resources are considerably depleted by the fact that the cost of policing Conservative and Labour party conferences falls entirely on Lancashire council taxpayers. It is little wonder that local people in my constituency are annoyed when they see the streets full of policemen for one week in October every year, but, at other times, cannot find a policeman for love or money.

The problem is made still worse in some tourist areas by the large numbers of "commuter criminals" who visit Blackpool and other tourist areas courtesy of the Department of Social Security and end up plundering the local population and defrauding the taxpayer. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will urge the police and the DSS to make Blackpool the centre of a major crackdown on crime and social security during this year's holiday season.

People throughout the country are worried as never before about crime and the likelihood of becoming victims of it. We have seen a slow erosion of confidence in an individual's ability to go about his business securely without molestation or attack. We now have to change the balance of fear which has slipped dangerously away from the criminal, who was once wary of the consequences of his action, to the innocent who believe that they will become the helpless victims of people who feel no threat from the law.

The balance of fear is the biggest challenge facing us all. We have to shift it back so that criminals are the ones who have to skulk in the shadows and live in a twilight world instead of the innocent, law-abiding British citizens, many of them elderly, having to look over their shoulders when they leave their front doors and increasingly having to look under their beds when they return home at night.

If we want the sort of society that the Prime Minister talks about, where elderly ladies can bicycle to evensong without expecting to find that the church bells have been stolen or the vicar mugged, we must address the question of deterrence as well as detection and of punishment as well as confidence. I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary appears determined to do just that.

People know that crime cannot be solved overnight, but they are sick and tired of being the ones who have to worry about it while criminals with broad grins gloat at them from the dock in the sure knowledge that they will get every care and consideration.

We have in my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend a Home Secretary and a Minister of State determined to drive back the rising tide of crime. I hope that they will steel themselves to usher in an era of unprecedented harshness in our counter attack against crime.

8.43 pm
Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)

I regret having missed the Home Secretary's opening speech. It was an unavoidable discourtesy. I was attending the launch of the Lancashire housing inquiry upstairs, chaired by the Bishop of Burnley, which has revealed astonishingly frightening housing conditions in Lancashire.

I am tempted to embark on a discussion of the complex connections between bad and overcrowded housing, homelessness and crime. I shall not do that, but it illustrates the fact that the fight against crime should be fought on many fronts as well as fiddling with the structures of the police force or police authorities, building more prisons and altering sentencing powers.

At the risk of prolonging my speech, I cannot resist commenting on the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). It was an alarming speech from an hon. and learned Gentleman who is so prominent in this field. He seemed to be trying to smooth over all the worries being expressed by his right hon. and hon. Friends as well as by Labour Members about the rising level of crime and the changing nature of crimes by saying that it was simply a matter of rising detection rates. He displayed alarming complacency for someone in his position. I was also interested in his comment that barristers are sitting on their backsides in chambers because all their work has dried up. My withers are wrung at that prospect; no doubt we will have a collection for them.in Skelmersdale in due course.

I want also to mention briefly what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Burton and the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) about the absence of the Liberals. People who live in glasshouses ought to be more careful. When the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was speaking and being insulted by Conservative Members, he was representing almost the exact proportion of his membership of the House as Conservative Members were theirs. There were 14 Conservative Members present at the time and there are few more than that here now. They should be rather careful about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) mentioned the Sheehy report. I received a letter from the North-West Police Superintendents' Association complaining about the fact that their entire organisation, representing 43 authorities, was given only two copies of the Sheehy report as they cost £40 a go, when previously they had been promised enough copies to go round their various districts as important consultees in the coming decisions.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise one important aspect of the law and order crisis which the debate is struggling to address—the awful problem of what appears to be an increasing incidence of attacks on elderly people.

In my constituency, which is generally a peaceable place and which is sensitively and well policed, there have been in recent months a disturbing number of attacks on the elderly, particularly elderly women. The motivation for those attacks is usually theft, although the excessive and brutal violence that is sometimes characteristic of them suggests something more sinister. Some elderly people have been positively heroic in their physical resistance, but, unfortunately, as a result they have been worse hurt.

I have no reason to believe that this particular villainy is worse in my constituency than in any other. The horrible news items one hears and sees in the media of elderly women being raped and badly beaten suggests that my constituency might be relatively fortunate.

I am sure that every right hon. and hon. Member would agree that it is utterly intolerable for elderly citizens to live in fear, often feeling exposed to outrageous and unpredictable violence from thugs who think nothing of attacking them, sometimes for pennies.

A number of issues arise out of that obvious and incontrovertible comment. Such attacks grab the headlines, and rightly so. The press has a duty to condemn, to inform and to warn the public. However, I suspect that the frequent telling of such stories not only increases fear but serves to advertise to both the ruthless and the desperate the existence of easy targets in easy reach in every community. I am not arguing for the suppression of that kind of news, but I am anxious that measures to protect the elderly and to punish offenders are publicised with something close to equal effectiveness as at least some sort of counter-measure. If that is to be remotely useful, those measures must be in place and progressively improved and perceived to be progressively toughened.

While the Home Office must take the lead in such matters, the burden falls on local police and local authorities, and so there are implications for the Department of the Environment. Elderly people do not live just in sheltered accommodation, which offers a modicum of protection. In my scattered constituency, many of the elderly live in isolated lanes, cottages separated from villages by acres of farmland, and—as everywhere else—spread throughout the rest of the community in villages and towns. There are about 15,000 elderly people in my constituency, and all are potentially vulnerable in different ways.

West Lancashire district council has a successful mobile warden scheme, which seeks to prevent distress from illness or accident—but it cannot reach everyone or act as an emergency crimewatch service. The local police force has begun to institute community policemen and women with their own bailiwicks, which is a tremendously popular and effective approach. However, it similarly cannot hope to cover everyone on a regular basis.

The district council has a programme to introduce intercoms and security locks, with the specific aim of helping the elderly defend themselves—but the steady strangulation of funding prevents the council from realising its improvement programme. I do not expect the Government—least of all this Government—to produce X millions of pounds to solve that problem, but I believe that a huge effort should be made to tackle it in the short and medium term.

This is a resource problem, and standard spending assessments should be carefully examined to see how the funding of protection of the elderly can be enhanced and earmarked. Councils should set targets to provide every elderly person with a personal alarm and an instant emergency line, house intercom, security locks, doorstep lighting, and better street and lane lighting in key areas. Funding should be increased to provide better information to the elderly on how to be cautious. Many elderly people have slowed down—as we have, or will do—and find it difficult to absorb detailed warnings or to take quick decisions in a crisis. Every means of advising them of the right action in such circumstances should be used. Similarly, attention should be paid to educating communities on how to watch out for and to care for the elderly in their midst. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) mentioned young people working with the elderly.

It may be that postmen and women and milkmen and women, who often act as unpaid social workers, could be offered incentives and training on how to be especially vigilant in respect of their elderly customers.

Above all, the steady extension of community policing should be vigorously encouraged. It might be an effective way forward in police forces that are moving strongly in that direction to encourage them to do more by allocating extra police on the basis of existing provision of beat police rather than the lack of it.

I hope that a determined programme along those lines, led by the Government and well publicised, would do something to make some thugs hesitate. It might also help to alleviate some of the fear that is felt by the elderly, and it would at least ensure a feeling among them that national and local government and their local communities are alert to their fears and are on their side.

For many years, Labour Members have pointed out that most victims of crime are the poor, young and elderly, and those who live on rundown estates. Most of them cannot afford sophisticated means of defending themselves from crime or harassment. Most are not effectively organised to demand more policing or additional resources. It is unacceptable to me for any of my constituents to be exposed to violence. It is also unacceptable to me that means of helping to combat that violence are not applied, or are insufficiently applied through a shortage of resources, when the technology exists to do the job.

It is even more unacceptable to me when the targets of such violence are those least able physically to defend themselves. We should all be determined that we will not allow such a situation to continue. If we cannot offer sufficient protection to our elderly, we are failing as a community—and the Government are failing in their duty to lead such a campaign.

8.55 pm
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

I remind the House of my interest as a consultant to the Dixon group. I do so only because of the considerable publicity recently given to remarks on this issue by the chairman of that company.

Many hon. Members referred to current massive widespread concern about crime. Like one or two of my hon. Friends who have spoken, I represent a largely rural area that has seen an explosion in crime of different sorts, and particularly in burglaries. That is evident in correspondence from individual constituents, parish councils, and so on.

Cambridgeshire has the additional problem of travellers. I do not mean huge bands of new age travellers but smaller groups of itinerants, who have been described to me by senior police officers in the county as nothing more than a mobile crime wave. There is no doubt that they pose a serious problem in many of the villages that I represent.

Public perception of the situation is of too few prosecutions and that the police are either unable or unwilling to help. The public are angry. Because crime is ever increasing, they perceive that the intellectual approach to solving it that has been adopted for a number of years appears to be failing. They see lenient sentences being passed. In the past two years, there were two cases in my constituency of causing death by dangerous driving that both resulted in a massive public outcry because of the leniency of the sentences imposed.

The public see too few police evident on the streets and in the villages. They see parents apparently getting away with allowing their children to run totally out of control. No wonder that the villages are seeking to hire their own security guards, and that in Norfolk two men took on the role of vigilantes, and that there was a massive public outcry at their initial sentences—thankfully, now reduced. Yesterday we saw reports about the Welsh hill farmer, Mr. Bill Price. He was assaulted by a band of new age travellers while the police stood by, and was then prosecuted after using his digger to push those parasites off his land. Thankfully, the judge was sensible enough to throw out the case, but it was a massive waste of time. What has happened to our sense of proportion?

As several colleagues on both sides of the Chamber have said, even the police are frustrated by the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to carry through cases into which they have put a vast amount of time and effort. At the same time, they see the CPS pursue cases such as that of Mr. Bill Price, whose only offence, if it is an offence, was to defend his property. Whatever has happened to the ability of the British people to stand back and take an objective and balanced view of the seriousness of crimes?

We have a dichotomy. Despite their concerns, the public do not fully accept that they have an important role to play. They tend to expect the police or the Government to do it all. The Government have devised and entered into a multitude of crime prevention measures, such as neighbourhood watch or safer cities. You name it, and we have thought of it. However sensible those schemes may be, the fundamental question is, why should people be forced to turn their homes and vehicles into fortresses? Why should we be encouraging people to become nothing more than snoopers on their neighbours and others? When we do that, we treat the symptoms, not the disease. The disease is the inability of too many people to know right from wrong. That is why we are now having to adopt what we call crime prevention, but which is, in some ways, simply defending oneself against crime. For generations the moral value of not knowing right from wrong has been in steep decline and it is, therefore, self perpetuating.

It is easy to apportion blame to one group or another, usually the group furthest from one's own position. We are all to blame. Most of us are or will be parents. Many parents were probably insufficiently controlled or disciplined themselves, and that comes through generation after generation. There is no doubt that teachers have largely abdicated any responsibility for discipline. The end of corporal punishment in schools was one factor in that and it was shameful.

The media—television and videos—have already been mentioned and I will not spend much time on that. However, people say, "Oh, there has always been violence on television. There were cowboys and indians when we were youngsters." I enjoyed cowboys and indians and I still do. However, the significant difference between cowboys and indians and much of today's violence on television is that much of today's violence is presented in an every-day scenario with which people can identify. The western was set in some sort of make-believe land with which people could not so easily identify.

The Church has been far too wishy-washy for years on the question of moral values. Whatever happened to the hell fire and damnation vicars that we used to have in my childhood? They did a great deal to encourage people and to help them to understand right from wrong.[Interruption.] Yes, politicians too. We have concentrated on the symptoms to which I have referred rather than on the disease.

How should we address the problems? It is very much a carrot-and-stick approach. There is no simple, single solution. The stick has to be tough sentences and tough policing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) said, there has to be a uniformed presence on the streets and in our villages.

I value the special constables immensely. They must be used wisely and, wherever possible, they must be used to police their own community. They should not just be used for crowd control at football matches or for paperwork. They find that frustrating and get fed up and do something else. They can find something more interesting to do with their time. They want to be involved in protecting their own community and villages want to have their own special constables. They want to be able to employ them if possible. I am looking forward to the early results of the pilot scheme running in Dorset where special constables are being paid.

We need the ability to lock up the worst of our young criminals. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will accept that the accommodation must be available on the day the law changes next year. It is no use local authorities or anybody else saying that they will have problems for a year or two. There are plenty of buildings available that could be adapted over the coming months.

The carrot of the approach that I recommend has to be opportunity. If there were any Opposition Members left in the Chamber, they might find themselves in some agreement with what I have to say. I totally reject the idea that poverty itself is the cause of crime. It is offensive to many people to suggest that. However, one cannot escape the conclusion that boredom and hopelessness are part of the equation. "The devil makes work for idle hands" is a saying that I remember from my childhood.

I recently saw a report about the Bonnemaison scheme in France, where three tiers of councils for the prevention of delinquency were set up at national, departmental, and town and city council levels. The councils were not excessive in their cost, but the approach was one of prevention and repression working together. All departments and city councils have set up such schemes and they are working extremely successfully.

The attitude of the Treasury pervades so many of our debates. One of the problems of crime is the inability of the Treasury to recognise the costs of crime: the direct costs of keeping people in prison or in bail hostels and the indirect costs to the community, to insurance companies and, of course, to individuals. The Treasury needs to understand that there is a significant trade-off between expenditure on programmes such as the youth training scheme and others and the costs of crime, and that there is a trade-off between the costs of secure accommodation and the costs of crime. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) said, there has to be a clear recognition that the cost of providing some of the curative measures that he recommended is insignificant compared to the costs of keeping people in prisons and elsewhere.

There is no simple solution, but tough policies and tough sentences have a vital role to play. The public expect them, but it is not the solution for every individual criminal. There must be greater co-ordination between all Departments and a far more positive approach by the Treasury.

My final message to my right hon. and hon. Friends, and especially to my Whip, is this. We are now in the season of guessing the contents of the next Gracious Speech, which will be made in November. Excluding the Finance Bill, which is an inevitability, I do not mind if there is only one other piece of legislation in next year's Gracious Speech, as long as it is comprehensive and addresses the problems of crime. It needs to bring together not just the Home Office but every other Department. Nearly every Department must work together in a co-ordinated programme—a combination of the stick and carrot—to crack down on the problems. My constituents in Cambridgeshire expect that of a Conservative Government, and I hope that we can deliver.

9.8 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

The constructive speech made by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) raised the important issue of rural crime, to which I will return shortly, because it is also a problem in my constituency. I exclude him from some of the comments that I intend to make about some of his hon. Friends.

I am awed by the gall of some Conservative Members, who, after rightly condemning rising crime and drawing attention to the problems in their constituencies, said how much confidence they have in the policies of a Government who, for the past 14 years, have presided over the largest ever increase in crime. One wonders who has been in government for the past 14 years. It seems almost a triumph of party loyalty and complacency over reality, because the reality of crime has been felt by over 30,000 victims in my county. Since the Government came to office in 1979, crime in my county has trebled, car thefts and burglaries have quadrupled and, in the same period, the number of police has increased by only 16 per cent.

The Government have now announced a year-on-year freeze on expenditure on future police recruitment. The nation is calling out for a fight back against crime. There is real fear out there, and people want to see more policemen on the beat. The Government have not only failed to halt the rise in the crime rate, but have now decided that they will not put the resources that the public are demanding into the police.

The failure to resource properly not only the police but drug rehabilitation centres and other social projects which help to reduce crime is a false economy. If we do not continue to provide the resources, the public will pay the price—in increased crime, increased debt, increased insurance premiums, higher charges, higher prices and greater fear.

In our rural areas, as the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East has already said, where once people lived in relative safety, there is increased fear of crime and a demand for more village policemen and more policemen on the beat.

I was speaking at the weekend to Police Constable Adrian Lofthouse, who works very hard in the village of Arley, a small former mining village in north Warwickshire. In Arley, over the last few months, we have had to have a number of public meetings to address the increasing concern about severe crime. They have been attended by senior county officers.

PC Lofthouse is doing a really excellent job in seeking to restore confidence in law and order in Arley, as are the rest of the Warwickshire police. He is a credit to his force and his community, yet he works against a background of little help from Government. In particular, there have been, for example, cuts in the youth service in Warwickshire, following two years of poll tax capping. This has meant youngsters on the street who perhaps otherwise would not have been there, and the recession has left many unemployed and increased deprivation in my constituency.

Increased crime is linked not just to a lack of police, but also to social conditions at home and in the community. But the police play a key role and, at a time when they are under such pressure, it is essential that that public service be provided with adequate resources, and important that we do all we can to maintain and improve police morale.

At the last Police Federation conference, the chairman of the federation, Mr. Alan Eastwood, said: I have truly never known a time when the service at every level has been so demoralised. It seems to me that, after reading the Sheehy report, he is likely to see morale fall even lower.

One senior Police Federation member said to me this afternoon: I do not understand what we have done to deserve this. It is a mill owners' charter. Edmund-Davies treated us better, because we had no right to strike. Sheehy treats us worse. The Sheehy report is a report for saving cash, not for beating crime. Many of the provisions will bring a reduction in the standard and conditions of police officers. Any group of workers who have their conditions made less attractive are likely to suffer a fall in morale and motivation. At a time when crime is escalating and the public are demanding action to fight crime, it would be wrong of the Government to implement policies that would undermine police morale.

The Sheehy report has provoked anger among many police officers. It comes on the back of announcements that local police authorities will include Home Office appointments and be reorganised—something that I know has caused great disquiet in my area, and doubts as to whether police forces such as Warwickshire's may face amalgamation in the not too distant future.

It cannot be sensible to impose one change after another upon the police, while at the same time freezing recruitment. No one denies that some changes are necessary, but we need reform and gradualism, and Sheehy and the other changes all brought together provide a revolution in policing that will shake it to its foundations and cause dislocation, at the very time when we need stability in the police force in order to enhance the fight against crime.

I do not dismiss the Sheehy report. Many of its provisions are well worth considering. There are too many chiefs and not enough officers on the beat, and plans to remove some layers of management can be supported if they release resources to put more officers on the beat.

Better management structures and efficiency are necessary, and the report has much to recommend on that. It deals with the need to remove incompetent officers quickly but fairly. All police officers want to ensure that that is possible. Some allowances are antiquated and should rightly go—but beware: I say, not all the allowances. Allowances for removal, for example, are important, as police officers can be removed almost at a moment's notice to another area, and it can be quite a considerable distance in rural areas. Such allowances are important.

Many of Sheehy's proposals are not helpful. For example, its pension proposals are considerably worse, which will cause great concern among many officers. Fixed-term contracts and a reduction of up to £5,000 in the income of recruits are likely to reduce the incentive for young people to join the force and place their lives at risk in a difficult job. Those contracts introduce semi-privatisation, based on theories of productivity which will be difficult to define and implement.

The handing of unprecedented powers over police conditions to chief constables and the curtailment of negotiating rights make the report almost a Gradgrind's charter. It places the police officer at the mercy of senior management, with little ability to negotiate better conditions.

Police officers forgo the right to a trade union. The Police Federation is, after all, a staff association. They forgo many employment protection rights. They cannot take industrial action, and they daily place themselves at personal risk to protect other members of the community. We owe them better support than simply to impose change upon change, cuts in the income of their new recruits and the under-resourcing of this most important public service.

The Sheehy report was produced by a group of academics and business men, few of whom know much about the realities of policing. The result is that police morale may be undermined by what one newspaper today called half-baked and misapplied theories of market forces. The danger is that the Government will put ideology before common sense and damage the police in the process.

The Home Secretary said that combating crime is the greatest issue facing us. It is unfortunate that the Government are not prepared to recognise it as such in their policy. They are adopting cash-saving policies instead of properly resourcing the fight against crime. They are undermining police morale rather than supporting the police.

They have no policy to deal with crime, and their main concern seems to be cutting the cost of the forces of law and order. In addition, their social policies almost seem to create the conditions in which crime festers—bad housing, high unemployment and cuts in public sector provision.

My constituents want policies that tackle crime and its causes. I regret to say that my constituents will see from the policies that have been pursued by this Government in the past 14 years just why Britain has experienced unprecedented rises in crime. Finally, let me issue a warning to the new Home Secretary. Many of his policies were initiated by the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). Our people will remember well his tenure of education and the national health service. His responsibility for those sectors resulted in his successors having to deal with serious damage to services.

I warn the current Home Secretary to beware of the poisoned chalice that has been passed to him by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe. If the present Home Secretary follows the policies pursued by the previous one, he may end up spending most of his time trying to remedy the serious damage that was done by those policies.

We need a real fight back against crime. Yes, we need to be tougher on crime and, yes, we need to be tougher on the causes of crime. At the moment, the Government have not shown that they are prepared to do either.

9.19 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

I am grateful for this brief opportunity to speak in the debate. I will attempt to gallop through my speech, but I assure hon. Members that we are quite used to galloping in my part of Leicestershire.

One of the main policy planks of the Conservative group on Leicestershire county council before the county council elections was to provide, with great urgency, secure accommodation with training and education to deal with the problem of persistent young offenders. However, when that proposal was made, it was voted down by a pact between Labour and the Liberals. When the Liberals and the Labour party were presented with a Conservative proposal for capital spending, that was also voted down in committee.

The issue has great public support in Leicestershire. Our opponents, the Liberals and the Labour party combined, are only too aware of their own vulnerability on the issue. Their claimed support for a so-called regional unit is merely a smokescreen for the continuance of the hopelessly restrictive existing local criteria.

The Conservative policy was to take the lead in developing a co-ordinated Leicestershire strategy to tackle the problem, working with all the agencies concerned—the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the juvenile panel, the youth court, the probation service and the social services in their newly enhanced role. In the latter case, the Conservatives sought to establish new criteria that made the most effective use of existing law pending a commencement order under the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

The Conservatives were particularly concerned that the current county council guidelines go far beyond legal requirements virtually precluding most applications for secure placements for persistent absconders and re-offenders, both on remand and under supervision orders. The Labour claim that we need only two to four places in Leicestershire is based on maintaining the fiction that those criteria and existing practices will adequately serve the needs of society and promote the welfare of offenders.

We are not seeking to lock up children in a spirit of penal vengeance. We wish to remove some of the more impressionable young people from self-perpetuating peer group influences at a stage when skilled and caring treatment can still prevent a juvenile's criminal habit from becoming an adult way of life. With a fairly constantly renewed representative group of 28 juveniles responsible for more than 2,000 offences, we would also wish to afford better protection to the public and continue to reduce the drain on police resources.

We are equally concerned to promote other measures, not just remand to security and supervision in secure accommodation, that will ensure earlier positive action to curtail persistent and potentially persistent offending.

Taken together, the Conservative strategy, as advocated at county hall before the county elections, was for the treatment of offenders and the facilities and operational methods proposed which could be said to be a new initiative. That might almost be thought of as a Leicestershire system. I believe that that system was justified, at least on a trial basis, on its own merits. I suggest that it is certainly justified and crucial in the present climate of public concern.

In the Leicestershire context, that system must be seen against a background of previous secure accommodation and, more importantly still after remarks from the Opposition Benches, in the light of the combined votes of Labour and the Liberals to knock down every proposal to increase the provision of persistent young offenders institutions in the county.

My colleagues on the Government Front Bench should beware of the Opposition's kind words. What they say here is quite different from what they do in the country.

9.23 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

The House is aware that I am the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales, and I wish to declare that interest.

The massive shake-up proposed by Sir Patrick Sheehy and his fellow committee members could change for ever the very nature of the police service as we know it today. I believe that it strikes at the root of a dedicated and professional service committed to maintaining law and order. It will cost about £200 million in redundancy payments to middle ranks and it is said to save about £312 million over five years.

Out will go the long-serving, experienced constable whose friendly manner and wise advice make him or her the person to whom we and the general public turn, and whom we trust, to help us when danger threatens. In will come a new breed of short-service, hard-nosed police officers on 10-year-contracts renewable every five years, who, from day one, will make it their business to get a fresh contract. But even a contract will not protect them from compulsory severance on what was described as structural grounds.

A police officer could lose his job if the need for police officers of a certain rank or in a certain place had ceased or was expected to do so. That could mean, for example, that if Liverpool were no longer top of the first division, and attendance at football matches dropped and fewer officers were needed to patrol the ground, police officers could be sacked—just like that. That is a major departure from the way in which we run police forces today.

Pay will be determined by reference to the median scale of non-manual workers in the private sector, plus a bonus scheme that will result in officers doing the same job being paid at different rates. That will be divisive and set officer against officer. As the Evening Standard pointed out in its leader today, Having officers effectively competing with each other for bonuses might help keep them on their toes, but it might also lower morale … but not fracturing their … comradeship in the struggle against crime. A leaner, more efficient force is what we need—not one destabilised by half-baked and misapplied theories of market forces. Those words were used by the Opposition. I agree with the Evening Standard.

An example of the application of those forces is to cut the pay of an average new entrant from £12,055 to £10,360. With the loss of housing allowance, that cuts a constable's starting pay by about £5,000 a year, because, Sir Patrick Sheehy and his colleagues claim, it is above what he or she could get in the private sector. But., as the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, one Major Baird, told the House in a debate on the Police Bill 74 years ago,

When a man goes into the police force he must necessarily forfeit a certain amount of the liberty which he enjoys as an ordinary citizen. He assumes distinct responsibilities towards the community, and we have endeavoured to recognise those responsibilities by greatly improving the conditions under which he serves."—[Official Report, 18 July 1919; Vol. 118, c. 839] Those were the words of a Minister in a Government who brought forward the Police Act 1919, one of the most enlightened measures that have been placed on the statute book this century.

I do not believe that the Sheehy committee is following those principles. Why is that? It is because the Sheehy committee considers that police base rate salary entry rates were well above the market. I wonder how many hon. Members would like their sons or daughters policing the tougher areas of our towns and cities and putting their lives at risk to maintain law and order to be paid as little as £199 a week. Why is it that only the day before the Sheehy report was published members of the Fire Brigades Union, who are threatening industrial action because they, like all other public sector workers, are limited to the Government-imposed ceiling on pay rises this year, were promised by their official side that their pay formula, which was secured around the time of Edmund-Davies and which gives them a guarantee of the upper quartile movement in the earnings index each year, would be honoured in full in 1994? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer that question because it is rather important.

One of the prices that has to be paid by the police for maintaining law and order is the high risk of suffering serious assault leading, perhaps, to the loss of a limb, an eye or even the loss of life. At the present, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board provides compensation for loss of earnings. However, I understand that the forthcoming White Paper on reorganisation of the board will abolish that. The Sheehy report recommends that sick leave on full pay should be limited to six months, with a further period of six months on half pay. But those periods are capable of being reduced, in individual cases, at the discretion of the chief officer. After six months, an injured officer could get nothing for maintaining law and order on our behalf.

Another aspect of respect for law and order relates to the personal record of a police officer, which may be challenged in a court by defence counsel. The celebrated case of Regina v Edwards makes it necessary to disclose even the most minor infringement of police regulations. But Sheehy—incredibly—recommends that statutory regulations governing the keeping of such personal records be regarded as "entirely unnecessary" and that" any necessary procedures in relation to personal records should be decided locally. I mention these points just to illustrate the very strange proposals emanating from that committee. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will indicate that he has taken careful note of what I have had to say.

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

I am delighted that a number of my hon. Friends followed my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) by trying to make positive and constructive contributions. Several Conservative Members have done likewise.

I was at a loss to know why the Government should have sought a debate on this topic, as their recent record is so poor. I hoped that the purpose was to offer a new analysis, a new understanding, and to announce a new set of proposals for action. We did not hear that from the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate. However, among Opposition Members, hope springs eternal. We continue to hope that we shall hear, in the Minister of State's winding-up speech, evidence of a positive approach.

The Minister should listen to the warning given by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) and by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) with regard to the approach that should be adopted to the police. The hon. Gentleman should listen also to the thoughtful contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) and to that of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), who rightly asked that we treat not just the symptom—the crime itself—but values in society, and said that he accepted a share of the responsibility. I disagree with some of his analysis, but I welcome his constructive contribution to the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) talked about having spent time with a police officer, so she spoke from experience. I have done likewise, having been with the police through the night in the centre of Cardiff. That experience makes one realise just how thin is the blue line that looks after the interests of the public at night in our great cities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) made a very forceful rejection of what seems to be a concerted effort by the Conservative party to make the police the whipping-boys for the Government's failure to tackle crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) referred, from direct experience, to projects that work and to the motivation of young people. I have had direct experience of such projects. The truth is that most young people do not need to be offenders, that they can be challenged into constructive behaviour—and could be so challenged, up and down the land, were the opportunities and facilities available. With that diversion, we could concentrate the machinery of punishment and incarceration on those who refuse to give up their criminal and anti-social activity, instead of, as now, having to address youngsters who, given the right opportunity, could be attracted out of that way of life.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South referred also to reparation, either directly to the victim or indirectly to the community. It is with some regret that I have to say that that proposal was made recently by the Labour party during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill but was rejected by the Minister and his Conservative colleagues.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) wanted to know what had changed since 1970. Well, he has aged a little since he has been in this place. I started in youth work at that time, and a year later I became a magistrate. I saw a decade of progress, and then I saw things become perceptibly worse under Mrs. Thatcher. It angered me to see hope stolen from young people, hope stolen from families with the loss of housing cash in local areas, and hope stolen from communities. I cannot go too wide in my speech, but the Government must make the connection between their policies and rising crime over the past 14 years.

The right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), who courteously gave a reason for leaving the Chamber, gave a devastating indictment of the past decade. He warned the House that vigilantes will move in and society will break down. He referred to the shortage of youth workers. Many of our local authorities have been devastated by the pressure that is put on them to cut back on non-statutory responsibilities such as youth work because of the inadequacy of support from the Government. There is a clear place where the responsibility for that development must lie.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly set out the effect of the decline in areas such as apprenticeships. I agree that the loss of opportunity for some youngsters on our great housing estates to train in the services has been a devastating loss recently, as has been the loss of schemes which sought constructively to work with young people and which often succeeded in motivating them.

I draw the attention of the Minister to reports published on the links between those who break the law, unemployment and multiple debt. That is no excuse for crime. However, I say to the Government: for God's sake—understand the connection and the way in which the environment for crime is being developed and encouraged.

The Home Secretary gave a simplistic four-point strategy for tackling crime. The problem is that the Government have failed badly on each of the four elements. First, the Home Secretary said that we need to prevent crime. I strongly support the expansion of neighbourhood watch schemes and welcome the additional number of special constables. But that is no substitute for proper support for the professional police service. The Home Secretary fails the test of seriousness. Clearly, he does not understand the nature of the problem; nor does he make the same connections as those of the right hon. Member for Brent, North.

On Tuesday, the Home Secretary failed the litmus test when he and the Government Whips made an arrangement to vote against a Labour amendment to accelerate work on crime prevention to create the right partnership between the police, local authorities and the community. He failed another litmus test when Conservative Members voted against a Labour amendment to help the victims of crime. They voted against the principle that victims and their families should be consulted before charges are dropped or downgraded in the courts.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Michael

There is little time to give way. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, should have addressed the subject of victims when he had the opportunity earlier. This week, we gave the House an opportunity to do something for victims and the hon. and learned Gentleman trooped in the Lobby in obedience of the Government Whips to vote against our amendment. The Government's record on prevention is poor.

The Home Secretary paid tribute to a number of projects that have worked well. I agree with him on that. However, I ask him to reject the project mentality adopted by his predecessor, which was to praise a project here, give a little bit of money for a project there and fail to put in place a strategy that learns the lessons of those constructive projects. It is not enough for him to praise projects and then fail to offer the opportunity for that success to be developed and redoubled around the country.

We know that many approaches and techniques work, but it is the Government who fail to turn those projects into a national strategy. As a result, the cost of crime is borne by every community, by every victim, by every person who pays insurance and by every shopper who now pays a sort of Conservative crime tax, which is exacted by criminals in an unplanned way. The Government need to put a strategy in place.

The Home Secretary's second suggestion was that we should catch criminals. I certainly agree that that is the greatest deterrent but the Government are not doing it. We saw crime rise and the clear-up rate drop from 41 per cent. in 1979 to 29 per cent. in 1991. At the same time, we saw a minimal increase in police numbers and a rise in crime of 121 per cent. All that has developed because we have seen the greatest rise in crimes of violence and, in volume, crimes such as home burglary and car crime which are so damaging to so many individuals and communities.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), after making a cheap jibe at my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, suggested that rising crime was all in the mind. [HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, he did. That is precisely what he implied. That is not what I hear from chief constables throughout the country; it is not what I hear from constables; it is not what I hear from councillors and Crime Watch representatives; and it is not what I hear from Victim Support groups.

Mr. Garnier

That is stupid.

Mr. Michael

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It was stupid for his hon. and learned Friend to make that remark.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton also said that he wanted the people of this country to continue to feel that they could walk the streets safely. He said that we could walk the streets of our country feeling safer than people in other countries could. We want to keep it that way. We want to restore the sense of security that is being lost in Britain. It is worrying that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, is so complacent on that issue.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to the success of the safer cities programme, but did not seek to explain why the Government are now cutting those projects. Again, we have a Government who learn a lesson and then throw away the results of their learning. The hon. and learned Gentleman then shed crocodile tears about the members of his profession who sit around with nothing to do because not enough cases are being brought before the courts. He said that there is too much cautioning.

Why is this breakdown happening? It is because there is a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system, which is falling into disrepute. That needs to be addressed by the Government. No one owns the criminal justice system. The Government must concentrate on getting the whole act together nationally. That would enable police, local authorities, magistrates and communities to get their act together locally. Support, instead of criticism, should be provided by the Government to those groups.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton also said that the police should become more local, and we agree. Already forces around Britain are devolving authority to local commanders, mainly at superintendent level. But this week the Government have made proposals that will result in a loss of local accountability. We have seen the threat of mergers, which the Home Secretary tried to hide when he presented the White Paper.

The right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) rightly said that nostrums waved at the Conservative party conference did not work, and he went on to call for amalgamation.

The Home Secretary must come clean, and not simply ask for an expedited procedure, because answers from Home Office Ministers have shown that that is not needed. The Home Secretary should tell us what his intentions are. Does.he intend to amalgamate forces if he is given those extra powers to do so, without consulting and regarding the views of local people?

The Home Secretary then said that we needed to get people to court. There are two aspects there. We need to speed up the criminal justice system. But, again, the Conservative Members of the Standing Committee voted against the idea that we should place the principle of "justice delayed is justice denied" in the criminal justice system.

We asked for ways of speeding up action and making the system more effective. For example, we proposed that if a person received a second caution, things should happen rather than the person—in particular a young person—simply walking away from that caution. There should be help for the young person and his family. That was rejected in the Committee also.

We must tackle the issue of offending while on bail. I understand that the Bail (Amendment) Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) comes back before the House tomorrow. The Bill was handled poorly by the Government's representatives in the Lords and has survived as a result of the co-operation and support that has been given by the Opposition to a welcome initiative by a Conservative Back Bencher. That has resulted in the Bill getting so far. I hope that it will complete its passage speedily tomorrow.

The fourth element that the Home Secretary asked for was that we should punish offenders. I agree, and we have proved that by supporting measures to deal with drug trafficking, terrorism, City fraud and causing death by dangerous driving, as we did only this week.

Attrition in the criminal justice system means that for every 100 offences committed, only two result in a conviction. That is a reduction on three last year. That is why the Government must tackle not only the element of punishment, but the 98 per cent. of crime that does not result in a sentence in court. They must tackle that problem with urgency and determination so that they also make better use of prison and secure accommodation.

The issue of secure accommodation has been mentioned on several occasions. When the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) was Minister of State, Home Office he promised in February 1991 that secure places would be provided to deal with 15 and 16-year-olds. I have checked again today, as we checked in February, and no additional places have been provided to fulfil that promise. What is the value of a promise by the Government to take action if action is not delivered?

When the Government's record is so poor and when concern has been expressed so loudly by both Opposition and Conservative Members, I ask the Minister to reply to this question tonight: will he accept the analysis and the advice that we have so freely offered, and reverse the situation? I hope so.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) saw a glimmer of cause for optimism in the exchanges between my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield and the Home Secretary at the beginning of the debate. The fight against crime was weakened in recent years by the party-political knockabout and inattentiveness of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe when he was Home Secretary. I hope that this Minister and this Home Secretary will aspire to the more constructive and positive attitude exemplified by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield. That is what the people of Britain are crying our for.

9.46 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

Almost every debate in the House on law and order for the past 40 years has been held against a background of rising crime. We should not conclude from that fact that we are powerless to act in the face of growing disrespect for the law. On the contrary, we should conclude that we face an immense challenge. The challenge is to turn the tide of rising crime, to come up with new ideas, to make life more difficult for the criminal and easier for the law-abiding citizen and, above all, to take the tough action that law-abiding people throughout Britain so clearly want and my hon. Friends have called for.

I believe that in meeting that challenge we should be guided by some straightforward principles. First, protection of our citizens and the maintenance of law and order is the first duty of the Government. Secondly, those who break the law must be held to account for their actions. Attempts to blame society or anyone else are a distraction, and a dangerous one at that. We shall never shilly-shally about who is responsible for it, or make excuses for the criminals.

Thirdly, while we must do all that we can to prevent crime, we must give the courts the powers that they need to deliver tough punishments to deter criminals and protect the public. Fourthly, the Conservative party stands four square behind the police and wants to give them all the support that it can in their difficult and often dangerous job.

No Government has a better record than the present Government in supporting the police in their work. It is a record of which we are rightly proud. There are 16,700 more police officers today than in 1979 and 14,000 extra civilians. I am amazed that the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) ignored the extra 6,000 policemen for the Met. Spending on the police is up by 80 per cent. in real terms. Police pay is up by 40 per cent. above inflation. That is an enormous investment by the taxpayer in the police and it shows the high priority that the Government give to law and order.

However, we also have a duty to make sure that we are getting the best value for money and the best service from the police. That is what our reforms are all about. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary explained the main thrust of our reforms on Monday. I welcome the support of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I Lawrence). The reforms envisage a clear set of aims and objectives for the police, to be issued by the Home Secretary each year. There will be a better partnership between police and local communities. There will be smaller and more effective police authorities, in control of their budgets and drawing up local strategies with the police and local people. Chief constables will have more freedom and responsibility to use their resources to meet the tasks set for them. What we want is an efficient and effective police service, working with local people to prevent crime and bring criminals to book.

I listened very carefully and respectfully to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) when he expressed his concerns. I believe that the Sheehy report is an important contribution to the work of the police in preventing crime and in bringing criminals to book. We will study the Sheehy report recommendations very carefully over the summer before coming to conclusions. I also accept the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) that we must always maintain police morale.

I point out to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) that the White Paper and the Sheehy report address totally different issues. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman came to his conclusions.

The police are part of our defence against crime, but our attack on crime must start with its origins. This is where we have to banish the trendy, so-called progressive thinking so favoured by too many of the Labour party. It began in the 1960s, when a former Labour Home Secretary, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, told us that the permissive society is the civilised society. That was the start of the decline into sloppy attitudes. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) so rightly reminded us, the attitude was that examinations and competition were bad and prevented children from expressing themselves; that there should be no respect for authority. That was all part of the question-everything attitude; the let-it-all-hang-out era.

That sort of attitude and belief, prevalent in some sections of society, hastened our decline in the 1970s. It was thought that mass picketing was the right way to persuade others to one's point of view; that rights were more important than duties and that society owed people a living, no matter how little effort they made to help themselves.

We will not arrest those attitudes by merely legislating in the House. They will only be changed in homes and schools. But we have a duty in this House to take measures to crack down on criminals and crime, and that is what we have done. The whole range of measures that we have introduced, and will introduce in future, have the same goal of making life more difficult for criminals and easier for law-abiding citizens.

I thank the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for his support and the warm welcome that he gave to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

We have many schemes and many initiatives for crime prevention. We have had considerable success, but we want to mobilise as many people as possible and get them involved. Between the Home Office, the Department of the Environment and other Departments we are spending more than £200 million on all aspects of crime prevention.

A great deal of concern has been expressed in the House, the media and up and down the country about persistent juvenile offenders. I share that concern. Some of those offenders have caused havoc in local communities by breaking the law again and again but getting off scot free. Action needed to be taken, and that is why, on 2 March, the Home Secretary announced his plans to create a new sentence of detention, a secure training order.

That sentence will be available for the small hard core of persistent offenders aged betweend 12 and 15 years who have not responded to community sentences. Those training orders are not for innocent young scallywags scrumping a few apples; they are for persistent young offenders who have become hardened criminals and who have a string of convictions. They must be taken off the streets in order to protect themselves and the public, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) rightly said.

It is time that we had a straight answer from the Labour party about secure training orders, instead of the pretence that a few more local authority secure places would satisfy a different need. Its proposal to extend local authority secure accommodation simply will not cut the mustard. We need to give the right to the courts to sentence persistent young offenders to custody, where they will receive special treatment and not be mixed with other youngsters.

It is time for a decision from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Will he let the courts have that right to sentence directly persistent young offenders to juvenile custody? I think the answer, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton said, is that the proof of the Labour party pudding is in the eating. Perhaps the hon. Member for Sedgefield will also tell us when he had his great change of heart on lenient sentences which he appeared to show at the start of his speech.

I shall reflect on all that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton said about cautioning. He made some important points, and I can tell him that new guidance will be issued shortly which will discourage repeat cautioning. He might be interested to know that I spent the whole weekend reading the memoranda which have been submitted to the Select Committee.

We are also determined to crack down on rural crime. People in the countryside, in our villages and small towns are particularly frightened of crime. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice) spoke so eloquently and passionately for rural constituents. Country people are unused to crime. We do not always take precautions to prevent it, not because we are careless but because we have never found it necessary before as we used to be able to leave the house unlocked and the keys in the car.

Although rural crime is rising, it is rising from a very low base. The 700 per cent. increase reported in this week's Country Life was an increase of two crimes to 14. It also cites a 75 per cent. increase in Cambridgeshire, which meant two extra crimes, one in a telephone box—although it did not say what it was. We should not take any comfort from the low figures. Indeed, we must crack rural crime before it becomes established. That means that all of us who live in the countryside must do a lot more for ourselves in terms of crime prevention.

There are several successful initiatives such as County Watch and Farm Watch which must be copied and extended. I give Country Life much encouragement in its campaign against rural crime. Above all, country people should use their natural camaraderie and community spirit to be the eyes and ears of the police in rural areas.

In the House three weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) gave me some extremely good advice. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North will agree with his excellent plea on behalf of victims and his speech tonight about the balance of fear. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield asked me to meet the victims of crime before meeting sociologists with their woolly jumpers and their even woollier theories, I think he said. I promised that I would, and I have kept my word. I have met magistrates and policemen and this morning I met the victims of crime. These people offered such good common sense advice that I am not sure that I shall need to meet too many sociologists in the future. I hope that my hon. Friend can rest more easily having received that news, but I assure the House that, in the months ahead, I shall look forward to meeting everyone involved in combating crime and criminals.

I must tell the hon. Member for Lewisham, East that our criminal injuries compensation is the most generous of any in the world, standing at £152 million. We have spent £500 million on various aspects of drug control and prevention, and we are increasing the safer cities programme from 20 projects to 40, not cutting it.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland made a passionate speech about drugs. I wish that he had also made it at the Scottish Liberal party conference in Dunoon which passed a resolution to legalise cannabis.

We have a packed agenda on law and order, promoting crime prevention, supporting and reforming the police, toughening sentences for criminals, dealing strongly with young offenders and rolling back decades of wrong-headed nonsense in our schools. They are the measures that people expect from this party which is dedicated to law and order, to protecting ordinary people and to upholding the rule of law.

What did we hear from the hon. Member for Sedgefield? We certainly did not hear a set of concrete measures to hit criminals; we heard nothing to reassure people who are frightened of crime and not a hint of regret for the years that the Labour party spent calling for softer sentences, undermining the police and encouraging law-breaking. What we heard was merely a lot of words. Whatever post the hon. Gentleman has held on the Opposition Front Bench, he has always taken the same approach: no speech, no press release and no interview is complete without a call for immediate action. It does not matter what the action is as long as it is immediate and as long as he has called for it. He cannot get out of bed in the morning without calling for a Government statement or a new initiative. He is a good dealer in sound bites. This time the sound bites are on "law and order", but they could just as easily be on "training and investment" or "motherhood and apple pie".

There is no substance to the hon. Gentleman's words, but that is hardly surprising because Labour has no record of sticking up for the police and law-abiding citizens against those who break the law. Where were the Opposition when the Militant Tendency organised a campaign of non-payment of the community charge? They were not exactly encouraging people to obey the law. Some Opposition Back Benchers were encouraging them to break it.

Where were Opposition Members when policemen were attacked by pickets during the coal strike or at Wapping? They were not behind the police: many of them were behind the pickets. Above all, where were they when the Government repeatedly legislated to toughen sentences for criminals? They did not support us but tried to vote us down. No doubt they were following the advice—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.