HC Deb 07 June 1993 vol 226 cc120-6

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

10.19 pm
Mr. David Evans (Welwyn, Hatfield)

I am disappointed to find it necessary to take up your time, Madam Speaker—and the House's time—to bring to the attention of a Conservative Government the current problem of law and order. In my view, that problem has been caused by a succession of weak-kneed, pathetic Home Secretaries—not least the immediate past incumbent, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I will not detail the many examples of the lack of will demonstrated by those Home Secretaries; I will simply remind hon. Members of the scandal surrounding the lawlessness of criminals on the roof of Strangeways prison. Night after night, we had to witness on television the humiliation of the prison service, the police and—even more important, in my opinion—the law-abiding citizens represented by the Government and the Home Secretary of the day, who categorically refused to take the action for which the circumstances cried out. Those criminals should have been given 10 minutes to get off the roof, then a police marksman should have been told to knock them off one by one.

We are told that borstals are to be up and running in three years' time; but my constituents want to know what we are going to do with these thugs at this moment. They want to know what will happen this afternoon, not what will happen in three years.

In recent years, the chattering classes—especially that lot opposite—have generated new concepts, the effect of which has been to complicate and fudge previously simple and widely supported principles.

Let us take the concept of security. I have always believed in the uncomplicated principle that the fundamental duty of any Government is to defend and protect their citizens: they must punish lawlessness to provide security. In the real world, evil, if it is allowed, will spread like wildfire. Security is about fighting fire with fire. It is a basic fact of life that some people only understand the language of force. To provide effective security, Governments must deter crime with the threat and, where necessary, the use of force.

In the international arena, Conservative Governments have successfully followed the simple rule of security. It was a Conservative Government who sent British troops in to protect the Falkland islands; it was a Conservative Government who deployed British troops in the Gulf to teach Saddam Hussein a lesson; it was a Conservative Government who prevented the Communist bloc from transgressing the iron curtain with the threat of nuclear weapons. Despite all the whingeing and whining of the CND crackpots on the Opposition Benches, we stayed loyal to the tried and trusted principle of security, and, naturally, our way prevailed.

In the international arena, Britain is a world leader in security. Sadly, that basic principle has not been adopted in the domestic arena; instead, our policy on crime has been hijacked by a bunch of woolly-jumpered, woolly-tongued do-gooders who come up with increasinly complex terms and theories. They sound persuasive and feasible on the surface, but in reality they are slowly but surely leading us to anarchy.

These silver-tongued softies would like us to believe that a law breaker is not a criminal, but a victim of society who should not be punished—God help us. The little yob has rights: he should be counselled and cosseted. The bleeding hearts have bent over so far backwards to protect the criminal that we have ended up with a social revolution on our hands. The results speak for themselves. We are now in a crazy situation: burglars and violent thugs merely receive cautions, while a young lad is jailed for whistling at a girl.

The brother of the boy jailed for whistling—a Mr. Wayne Posell—is reported to have asked: Has British justice gone mad? He added: How can my brother be sent to jail for whistling when drink-drivers and violent criminals are fined peanuts or let off with a few hours community service? The answer is that we have allowed our crime policy to be fudged by those who live in a world of pink candyfloss: they would not know a criminal even if he bashed them over the head with a copy of The Guardian and drove off with their 2CVs.

I shall not linger on the subject of car theft, as I know that it is a bit of a sore point with the wriggler from Monklands, East, the Leader of the Opposition, who recently had his chauffeur-driven Rover stolen. As Oscar Wilde might have said, to lose one's car is unfortunate, but to lose one's chauffeur-driven car is bloody ridiculous.

My constituents feel far from secure. A wave of violence and theft has engulfed the country, and them. They feel that the Government have not done enough to tackle the problem. I agree. Crime has risen constantly since the second world war, in times of boom and bust. We have had a succession of Home Secretaries who have merely tinkered with the problem. They have allowed themselves to be bamboozled by the flashy terminology and complex theories of the do-gooders.

I hope that the new Home Office Ministers realise that community sentences have not only failed to tackle the problem but have increased it, by pursuing a conscious policy of diverting more and more hardened and serious. criminals away from custodial services and instead placing them on community sentences.

By allowing these criminals to mix with young and naive first-time and petty offenders, the Government have created the wrong kind of role models for these impressionable youngsters, who will view these hardened and persistent offenders as living proof that they will not be punished if they carry on offending. Rather than a deterrent, community sentences are effectively encouraging youngsters to pursue a career in crime.

Do not get me wrong. I am not advocating a policy of throwing every criminal into prison [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, for a start, it would cost the taxpayer a fortune, and for what? So that some law-breaking scoundrel can lounge around in a cell eating three meals a day—with access to television, games areas and a holiday camp atmosphere—and can have plenty of time to plan his next crime as soon as he is let out. Where is the punishment? Where is the deterrent?

The Minister no doubt saw the article in the The Sunday Telegraph on 2 May. This is what it said: Are you enjoying your porridge? The article followed a circular that was sent to all prisoners, issued by the Home Office. Some of the questions included were: Is your supply of underwear adequate? Is the prison canteen sufficiently well stocked? Is the midday meal served at the right time? Is the food up to scratch? Is the prison clean enough, or is it dirty? Is it too hot, or too cold? Is it too noisy? Is it too quite? That says it all. Then there are complaints that two in a cell is too many. I think that two in a cell is not enough. There should be more to a cell. And if they spend 23 hours locked up in a cell, so what?

I hope that the Home Office will take heed of the public outrage. Community sentences are merely tinkering with the problem. They have been tried and tested, but they have failed. The alarming rise in crime tells us that many in our society believe that crime pays. Forceful measures are the only solution to this sickening spiral of lawlessness. We must return to the basic principle of security, where one must deter evil with the threat of force and, when necessary, with the use of force.

Take the recent case of a young mother who was waiting in broad daylight for a bus in the Holloway road, one of London's busiest thoroughfares. Three black men bundled her into a car at knifepoint, took her to a cemetery, beat her unconscious and then raped her. What would be the use of locking up these animals at a cost to the taxpayer of £20,000 per year per prisoner?

The only way to punish them is to ensure that they wish they had never committed a crime and guarantee that they could never do it again. The solution is castration. It would make the streets safer overnight. Such animals would think twice before doing it again. I am sick to death of the whingers who churn out nonsense about corporal punishment undermining the dignity of the individual. Who cares about the dignity of a beast? What about the dignity of the victim?

A few weeks ago, two teenagers—Paul Chapman and Philip Barber—were given prison sentences. Chapman received 10 years for rape and Barber received eight years for abetting. They attacked Ethel Denyer, a 76-year-old spinster, while she was lying in her bed. She was repeatedly stabbed with a toasting fork, beaten with a chair leg until it snapped, throttled, punched and kicked. She was then raped. Chapman and Barber got away with £26. Ethel Denyer later died from the ferocity of the attack.

Neither boy has shown a trace of remorse for the evil deed. Within an hour of the attack, the pair were seen laughing and joking in a kebab shop. During their three-week trial, they sat sniggering in the dock. What about the dignity of Miss Ethel Denyer? Those boys should have been flogged or cat-o'-nine-tailed—that would have wiped the smirks off their faces. They should have been castrated. Some people fail to grasp the fact that we are dealing with dumb and violent beasts who respond only to the law of force. Those two animals will be out of prison in five years, robbing and raping once again.

Some people argue that capital punishment is never justified as it violates the human right to life but, without a death penalty, there is no effective way to distinguish a crime such as theft from a crime such as cold-blooded murder. Let us take the case of the ruthless murderer, John Edwards. In April this year, 22-year-old Maria Turvey was taking her seven-month-old daughter, Charlene, for a walk in the Fairley Hill estate in Luton. Edwards jumped out of a van, seized the baby from the buggy and threw her into the back of the van. He shot Mrs. Turvey in the head with a shotgun and later shot baby Charlene. Mother and baby were murdered by a maniac with a gun. Edwards should not be given a prison sentence which he will spend lounging around with petty thieves. He should be hanged. All murderers should be hanged.

The new Home Secretary has a history of supporting capital punishment, although I read only last week that —surprise, surprise—he is reconsidering his position. I hope that he is not to be added to the long list of Home Secretaries who funk the issue. I hope that he has the strength to overrule his Home Office bureaucrats and wishy-washy advisers and to return capital punishment to the British legal system. It would mark a triumphant return to the simple principle of security in the domestic arena, where criminals would be left in no doubt that, when they contemplate a murder or participate in acts such as armed robbery, which so often tragically result in death, their own lives are on the line.

I have concentrated on the need to deter and punish crime. However, it is also important to identify and understand the origins and causes of crime. I believe that the problem we face today originates from a breakdown of discipline in society. Too many parents pay too little attention to their children. As a result, housing estates are littered with children roaming the streets long after dark, engaging in petty theft and vandalism and making a general nuisance of themselves. Why? Because their parents could not give a damn about where their children are or what they are up to.

I wish to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), for Dover (Mr. Shaw), for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) for supporting me in this debate on law and order.

Finally, on behalf of my constituents of Welwyn and Hatfield. I do not want a wishy-washy, civil servant, Home Office reply to the debate. I should prefer the Minister to go away and then come back to tell the British people that the Conservative Government have the will and the heart' to look after their citizens in a way that they can take for granted, which enables them to go out at night, safe in the knowledge that they will not be mugged, raped or murdered; and that, on returning to their homes, they will find them as they left them and not, as so often happens now, find them ruined by someone whom the police have little or no chance of apprehending. I ask the Minister, are we going to protect our citizens—yes or no?

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

Yes, we are. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) on raising the very important issue of law and order tonight. I am glad that he put his points across in his customary forthright manner, because he is articulating not just what his constituents say, but what the constituents of most hon. Members and millions of ordinary people throughout the country say. I have never seen the House so full for an Adjournment debate. That is a measure of the concern felt, certainly by Conservative Members.

Crime and the fear of crime are rightly at the forefront of the public mind. It is essential that we give such an important issue our sustained attention and action. We are concerned about rising crime. Crime is. of course, rising in all western nations;'it is not a uniquely British problem. Thankfully, violent crime is only 5 per cent. of all recorded crime. Some of the recent increases are due to more people reporting crimes that were previously hidden because we have encouraged them to do so. These are facts.

My hon. Friend and all our constituents want to know what action we intend to take against those who threaten their lives, their families, their properties and their right to move freely about this country. I shall tell them, but I shall first briefly state some of the things that my predecessors have done, because my predecessors deserve credit.

First, since 1979, we have increased the police force by 16,500 policemen. More officers are being put back on the beat. Since 1983, more than 6,300 officers have been released for other duties by bringing in civilian staff. Since April 1991, we have opened 12 prison establishments, creating 6,994 prison places. We have given the courts power to pass longer sentences to protect the public from violent and sexual offenders. We have increased the maximum penalties where we have found them to be inadequate.

We have, for example, increased the maximum penalty for child cruelty from two years to 10 years, and the maximum penalty for trafficking in hard drugs from 14 years to life. For attempted rape, we have increased the maximum penalty to life imprisonment. We have acted against the so-called "joyriding" offences, introducing tough new penalties under the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 enables the Attorney-General to take action against excessively lenient sentences. We have also given the courts power to confiscate the assets of drug traffickers and people convicted of other profitable crimes.

I say to my hon. Friend that all those actions are part of our strategy to bear down heavily on crime and to protect the innocent. The Government's commitment to taking action has been demonstrated by the plans announced by my predecessors to act against those who offend on bail, to deal with persistent juvenile offenders, to amend the sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 that have caused so much public concern and to raise the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving and drink-driving.

The protection of the public, the detection and punishment of offenders and the prevention of crime will continue to be a top priority of this Government, of this Home Secretary and of this Minister of State. Tonight I take the opportunity to state my approach in tackling the problems of lawlessness in society.

It is my profound belief that the honest citizen is entitled to a decent country in which to live and that it is the Government's duty to bear down hard on crime. People are crying out for Britain to be made safe for decent people. I intend to ensure that the system is on the side of the law-abiding, the honest and the decent. I tell my hon. Friend that I shall listen to the opinions of ordinary people who are afraid of crime and the victims of crime before I listen to the sociologists in their woolly jumpers with their theories on offenders.

I do not want the police to become demoralised because the young offenders whom they catch time and time again are walking free and putting up two fingers to justice. We shall ensure that persistent young offenders who have not responded to community supervision do not walk free in future.

The House will be well aware of our plans to protect the public from those young criminals and their crimes. I can tell my hon. Friend and the whole House that the necessary legislation will be introduced at the earliest opportunity to give the courts the power to sentence the hard core of persistent young offenders to a new secure training order.

We must give the criminal no hiding place. We will ensure that the neighbourhood watch schemes are re-energised so that no criminal is safe walking down any streets. I want people working in partnership with the police and volunteering to be part-time special policemen and police officers so that every part of the country is covered by the eyes and ears of the vast majority of good, decent. honest citizens.

Let us have no political nonsense about surveillance cameras being Big Brother. In public areas, they can help cut crime, and the public want more cameras and less crime, not the other way round. I therefore welcome the wish on the part of some local authorities to use surveillance cameras. They should not be deterred by concerns over the use and storage of tapes. I will address those concerns if they are genuine, because I do not want anyone to have an excuse not to use such cameras.

Just as the criminals must have no hiding place, so I believe that we, the honest decent citizens, must come out of our hiding places. Why are we the ones hiding behind locked doors, afraid to go out? We can come out of our hiding places by confronting crime, reporting crime and helping the police.

I particularly liked the words of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis at the end of last week. Talking about Operation Bumblebee, he said: 'I want the burglar to start being frightened rather than the law-abiding citizen. I would like it to be the burglar who will he running scared, not ordinary members of the public. It is time for London to fight back. I say that it is time for all of us to fight back and we can start by backing the police and working in partnership with them, supporting them in their effort to protect our communities. If crime prevention is to be effective and long-lasting, we must all, as parents and neighbours, play our part.

My hon. Friend called for hanging, flogging and castration—though not necessarily in that order. He knows my views. Personally, I regret the fact that the House rejected capital punishment by a large majority in 1990, but I must tell my hon. Friend honestly that I can see no prospect of the present House of Commons changing its mind, and that there is no point in engaging in a further debate on that issue in this Parliament.

Corporal punishment also runs contrary to article 3 of the European convention on human rights—I know that that will not be good news to my hon. Friend—and it would be a fruitless exercise to try to reintroduce it. Of course, it is still right and proper for parents to administer reasonable corporal punishment to their children if they so choose.

Action against crime must involve a criminal justice system that is seen to deal effectively with offenders. In the very near future, we shall be tabling amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill, which is in Committee at the moment, that will let magistrates and judges have full access to the past record of criminals. The courts can properly punish and deter only if they have the full criminal history and know whether or not criminals have responded to past sentences. That news will be welcomed by all Conservative Members.

We shall also table amendments scrapping the over-restrictive unit fines system, which certainly did not work as anticipated. Our proposals will require magistrates fully to consider the means of an offender when imposing a fine, but will not contain a statutory mechanism for calculating the fine. It will be for magistrates to make full use of their discretion in determining the most appropriate fines in individual cases.

We shall fulfil our manifesto commitment to get tough on those who persistently commit crimes while on hail for other offences, by inviting Parliament to agree to amend the Criminal Justice Bill to give the courts a statutory power to increase the length of sentence for someone who offends on bail. That was a particular concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope).

We are determined to see such offending reduced to the lowest level possible. A prosecution right of appeal against the grant of court bail provides another important safeguard, and in that context, I note the good progress that my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) is making with his Bail (Amendment) Bill, which is now in another place.

This tough action will probably result in more people in prison. Full prisons are of course a problem, but so are the empty streets because honest people are too afraid to go out. It should he the criminals who should be hiding behind locked doors, afraid to go out because they will be caught, or unable to get out because they are already in prison.

I hope that I have given my hon. Friend tonight a flavour of the approach that I shall bring to this job. He knows that there are no easy solutions and that crime is constantly changing and evolving as criminals become ever more devious or brutal in the way they operate. That is why we must constantly make changes in our approach and try to get one step ahead of the criminals.

I congratulate my predecessors in the Home Office on the action they have taken. If my predecessor as Member for Penrith and the Border, Lord Whitelaw, had not launched the biggest prison building programme and police recruitment drive this century, we would, to put it bluntly, be in queer street right now.

As criminal behaviour changes, so our responses will change. However, the one thing that will not change is my determination to strengthen the position of the innocent and of the potential victims and victimss. We shall do that by listening to them and by hearing what they have to say. After all, they are our constituents—and the only reason that we are here. It is about time their voices were heard.

As we introduce these new measures to take tough action on all aspects of law and order, I look forward to the continuing robust support of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield, and of all my hon. Friends, in the Division Lobby.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fourteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.