§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman.]
§ Madam Speaker
Before we proceed, let me inform the House that I have had to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches between 11.30 and 1 o'clock, because there is a great deal of interest in this Adjournment motion on crime and crime prevention.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Jack)
In starting this debate, we should reflect for a moment on the word "crime". It is a neat word to describe a complex problem—crime itself is a battle and a battleground. It is like a virus. It is not seen and it is difficult to treat, but its effects blight the lives of all too many of our fellow citizens. The language that we use to deal with it is powerful. Words like "punishment", "victim", "murder" and "arrest", stir deep emotions and powerful feelings in all of us. Crime is frustrating. Crime is frightening. Crime is complicated.
Crime is frustrating to the politician because there is no easy, off-the-shelf answer to crime. It is frustrating because there are fashions in both crime and punishment and short-term policies do not always lend themselves to the best long-term solutions. It is frustrating to the public, who rightly want to lead their lives free from fear and in relative security.
Crime is frightening, because it is not easy to predict where and when it will occur. It is frightening for victims because its effects can be both physically painful and mentally traumatic. It is frightening because it represents the fight between good and evil.
Crime is complicated: complicated to fight, because it involves many agencies; complicated because its analysis brings forward as many questions as there are answers. Like the virus, it has a unique ability to keep changing its shape and form. But, above all, crime is about its victims.
As a new Home Office Minister, I spent last Easter Monday at Blackpool police station and watched for myself the victims of crime coming in and reporting what had happened to them: the old lady crying, who had had her purse snatched and lost £270, the man whose car had been broken into. All this made me resolve never to forget that, behind all the statistics of crime, are real people whose lives have been cruelly blighted by crime. That is why the first thing that I want to put before hon. Members in this debate is our response to the victims of crime.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I hesitate to intervene in an English debate, but does the Minister agree that a great deal of crime on the streets could be reduced if there were more police officers on the streets? Does not that involve two factors? The first is the recruitment of more officers. The second is taking police officers away from the court rooms. In my part of Scotland, many of them waste hundreds of hours each week of the year because they are called to court but never have to give evidence. I am sure that the same problem exists south of the border.
§ Mr. Jack
The hon. Gentleman comes from part of the kingdom—this is the Parliament of the whole kingdom—where crime levels have fallen remarkably under the Conservative Government. He may have noticed reports in the newspapers today the the Commissioner of Police of 566 the Metropolis has addressed precisely the issues that underlie the hon. Gentleman's question. He talked about a thorough review of the management of his police force and putting more officers back on the beat.
It is also right that my hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, in the work to which I shall refer later, has grasped the nettle of police reform. We are anxious to respond to issues such as that which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. But at least we are taking action, not merely talking about it. Conservative Members may be interested to know that, last Sunday, when the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) was pontificating on the "Walden" programm, he mentioned the police only twice in all his rhetoric.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Did my hon. Friend note the figure announced this week, that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police intends to take 700 police officers off paperwork and put them back on the beat? Will not that help us in London? Is it not an excellent development?
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Opposition Members welcome the appointment of Paul Condon, and were greatly encouraged by his first speech and his proposals. Will the Government support Mr. Condon's proposals for reorganisation within the Metropolitan police?
§ Mr. Jack
The thrust and theme of what Paul Condon wants to do underlies the approach which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is employing through the Sheehy inquiry and his further thoughts on improving the effectiveness of the police. To get more police officers out from behind desks on to the streets to do their vital work in the community is a cause which we have in common.
§ Mr. Jack
I wish to make a little progress, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
I mentioned that my first task was to talk about the victims of crime. I wish to put before the House what we have done to address those problems. In 1990, we published the victims charter, which set out for the first time what victims of crime have a right to expect. We support Victim Support. Its increased budget next year will be £8.4 million. That will provide 375 local victim support schemes, covering 98 per cent. of the country. It will provide practical help and emotional support to victims of crime.
We want the courts to use their powers more frequently to order offenders to compensate their victims. In 1964 a Conservative Government set up the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which last year paid out £144 million to the victims of crime. We have made it easier for vulnerable victims such as children to give evidence in court.
However, we do not forget those who are the silent victims—victims of the fear of crime—because we know that crime touches the whole community. Our response 567 involves the whole community. But there never has been a quick fix, and that is why we have a long-term strategy. I want today to cover the nature of the problem we face, our strategy for dealing with it, and respond to concerns that hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed and will undoubtedly express today.
§ Mr. Trimble
I come from the part of the United Kingdom which has the lowest crime rate. Indeed, it has the lowest crime rate of any industrialised nation in the world outside Japan. That is a point well worth remembering. It occurs to me to wonder why this is an English debate, if this is the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The Minister referred to the Government's record with regard to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Why does he not follow the excellent example of Northern Ireland and put the compensation of victims on a statutory basis, so that they have a right to compensation and do not depend on the exercise of discretion?
§ Mr. Jack
I did not notice that the title of the debate contained any delineation by geography of the kingdom of what we might cover. So keen am I to learn about crime in different parts of the kingdom that on Monday this week I visited Lisnevin to see the juvenile justice system. I realised how, for example, the secure accommodation for juveniles there made its contribution to the excellent figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred. He may well have noticed a parliamentary answer that appeared in Hansard at the end of last year, in which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said that he was looking at arrangements to improve the way in which our Criminal Injuries Compensation Board works.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
When my hon. Friend was at Lisnevin, did he discover that, contrary to what we have heard this week, there is potential for a regime of containment and education, and that Lisnevin has a success rate of about 69 per cent?
§ Mrs. Roche
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on Lisnevin. Will he confirm that one of the difficulties with Lisnevin is that education is not as properly resourced as it might be? If the emphasis is to be on education, further inquiries need to be made about the lack of resources there and proper resources should be made available.
§ Mr. Jack
One of the reasons for visiting Lisnevin and other institutions for dealing with juvenile crime is better to inform our work to develop the thoroughgoing approach and policy that were outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary earlier this week. The hon. Lady did not mention that Lisnevin tries hard to 568 follow the tenets of the national curriculum and is inspected accordingly. So perhaps we must be less selective in our use of information
§ Mr. Jack
I should like to make a little progress now.
What is the scale and nature of the problem to be tackled? One measure is the amount of crime recorded by the police. In the 12 months to the end of June 1992, the police in England and Wales recorded 5.5 million crimes. As in previous years, 94 per cent. were crimes against property, more than half were thefts of or from vehicles or burglaries and 5 per cent. were violent crimes. The total number was 11 per cent. more than in the previous year.
Those figures are a matter of concern to us, but judging the effectiveness of our action against crime by those figures is like judging the state of the health service purely on waiting lists, for the number of crimes recorded by the police tells only part of the story. The statistics are influenced by many different factors.
I am glad to see that some sections of the press acknowledge that. We are not, as has been suggested by some, in the grip of a strange new phenomenon. Throughout the industrialised world, recorded crime has been increasing inexorably since the second world war. Some of the increase is due to more offences being included in police records, because victims are more likely to report, and the police to record, offences when they occur.
The 1992 British crime survey showed that between 1981 and 1991 the amount of crime experienced rose at half the rate recorded by the police. For violent crime, the increase in the recorded figures is because more of it is coming into the open, but the actual increase is on a lesser scale. Our policies have encouraged increased reporting of such crimes as rape, domestic violence and child abuse. Only if those crimes are brought to public attention can they be dealt with.
Recent international surveys confirm that people in England and Wales are comparatively safe. Compared with other countries in western Europe, in England the risk of being a victim of crime is about average. The risk of sexual assault is well below average, and of violent assault just below average.
Of all crimes, violent crimes cause the fiercest reaction, but our statistical indicators tell us some things about violence that may surprise the House. Young men aged 16 to 24 are the group at greatest risk of being violently assaulted and, despite what some press reporting would have us believe, women over 60 are the least at risk. Indeed, women are at much less risk of violent assault from a stranger in a public place than is generally imagined.
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
On the subject of statistics, my hon. Friend will be aware that last week The Independent, and some weeks ago The Sunday Express, published figures from unpublished Home Office and police statistics showing that the latest clear-up rate had dropped in many areas, most notably in those covering the west country—the Avon and Somerset and Devon and Cornwall constabularies. That is causing great concern among my constituents and in neighboring constituencies.
First, can my hon. Friend tell the House when those figures will be published officially? Secondly, can he say 569 whether any caveats should be attached to them? Will he also deal in his speech with why the clear-up rate is falling, if it is doing so, as it is a matter of grave concern?
§ Mr. Jack
I agree that that issue is of considerable concern. The work of analysing the data has not yet finished. The Metropolitan police, for example, have been doing a great deal of work on it. We have to accept that one of the advantages to the police of improved management information is that it shows up trends in their effectiveness. If we compare the figures for 1991 and 1992 for the 40 police forces outside the London area, we find that total arrest rates have increased. For example, the number of files that provincial forces send to the Crown prosecution service has increased and the productivity of individual police officers has risen.
The picture is complicated and part of the answer may well lie in the care that the police are taking to ensure that their decision making is correct when they make arrests and charges and that there is a high probability that safe convictions will ultimately result. We are considering that matter, but it is complicated, and I note my hon. Friend's concern.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
I applaud the fact that the Home Office is making more information available to the public. Could my hon. Friend therefore explain why information about previous convictions is denied to magistrates when sentencing the people who appear before them?
§ Mr. Jack
It is not. If magistrates decide to call for a pre-sentence report, information on the previous record of the individual concerned is avaiablle. I shall be coming to some of the problems that underlie my hon. Friend's question about section 29(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and I shall certainly be interested to hear hon. Members' comments on the matter.
I was talking about the nature of crime, how we define it and what we are doing to tackle it. Our objective in tackling crime is to ensure that the public are protected, that those who commit crimes are apprehended and punished, and that every effort is made to prevent crimes from being committed in the first place. To achieve that, our strategy involves action at international, national and local level by all Government Departments, by a wide range of agencies outside government and by the whole community. It involves the Government providing a properly resourced and effective police service, well administered courts, a well managed probation service, a properly resourced prison service and a crime prevention strategy involving all Government Departments, local authorities, local agencies and local people in a broad-based partnership against crime.
The Government's record has been one of continually increasing the resources of the criminal justice system. More money has meant that police and civilian numbers in England and Wales are up by 31,600; police spending is up by 81 per cent. in real terms; the number of officers back on the beat is up; the biggest prison building programme this century is under way and 21 new prisons are to be open by the mid-1990s; and spending on the probation service, which administers punishment, is up. We have also given the police and courts more powers to deal effectively with offenders. It was the Government who introduced the 570 Criminal Justice Act 1988, which gave the Attorney-General the right to refer excessively lenient sentences for serious offences to the Court of Appeal. This Government introduced maximum penalties of life for trafficking in hard drugs and for attempted rape. This Government introduced a maximum penalty for child cruelty of up to 10 years.
We introduced the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992 to provide tough new penalties for that so-called tragic activity of joy-riding. We introduced new powers for the courts to confiscate the assets of drug traffickers and people convicted of other profitable crimes, and we introduced the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Now we are taking steps to address the problems of and deal with the persistent juvenile offenders who are a menace to their communities.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The Minister quickly passed by the question of increased expenditure on the criminal justice system. What is the total cost of that system and, to put matters in perspective, what is the cost of expenditure on crime prevention by comparison?
§ Mr. Jack
I shall deal with that in more detail, but the Home Office spends about £6.5 billion on the areas identified by the hon. Gentleman, out of its budget of just over £8 billion.
In putting before the House an unequivocal, definite and clearly stated record of our achievements, I look to hon. Members on the Opposition Benches—who are smiling—to ask what they were doing in the meantime. They were busy writing their manifesto for the general election. Those hon. Members who are pointing an accusatory finger at the Government's record on crime could find only 155 words to write on crime in their manifesto, which was less than the number that they wrote about arts and leisure.
What was their passionate statement on crime? What was their strategy and their new insight into dealing with the problem? I shall tell the House and pick out four points from their manifesto:fencing off waste land; demolishing derelict buildings; improving street lighting; modernising vulnerable estates".There is no mention of being tough on crime, and the word "community" did not appear once in their manifesto. There was no mention of tough sentences. There were a limited number of ideas in that manifesto.
It is quite remarkable how the Opposition have suddenly taken an interest in crime, when for so long they have been happy to deride our efforts. This from the party which opposed us on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, and the Criminal Justice Acts of 1988 and 1991. It has consistently opposed the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act. Was it not ironic that, last week, the Labour spokesman on Northern Ireland was telling us how the Opposition wanted to water down the PTA, as a means of trying to find a way in which they could support it, just as the IRA were bombing Warrington?
Such is the sorry record of the Opposition's thinking on crime and crime prevention. The Conservative party has a consistent record of dealing with those problems. The Opposition are the Johnny-come-latelies to the subject.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
The Minister started off quite well, but he is now digging himself into the hole 571 into which the Tory party always digs itself. The list of the actions that the Conservative Government have taken has one outstanding feature: they have not stopped the problem growing. He could have summed that up by saying that there is now one police officer for every 400 citizens, when, 20 years ago, there was one for every 600 citizens—incidentally, the number of police officers has gone up under both parties.
The issue is crime prevention—preventing it from happening. The Minister's record included nothing on that. If he looks at our manifesto and what I said in speeches in 1985 and 1986 when I was a member of the Opposition Front-Bench team on home affairs—I will send him copies of them--he will discover that we were concerned with preventing victims from becoming victims in the first place.
§ Mr. Jack
I have looked at the four key points in the Opposition's manifesto, and I cannot see the words "crime prevention". If one has the eyesight to read it, the words appear in little print down at the bottom of the page somewhere in the sentence that reads:Planning applications will be examined against crime prevention criteria.Such is the ruthless and incisive way in which the Opposition are proposing to deal with crime.
If the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) had listened to the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), he would understand—if he had ever been in government—that the resources available to spend on the criminal justice system are finite, but at least our police productivity has increased.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
Order. There is a particular manner of addressing hon. Members: it is "hon. Member": we do not use the word "you" in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Jack
I apologise if, in the fierceness of the debate, I was in any way impolite to the House and to the hon. Member for Hammersmith. He and I have debated on many occasions and the last thing that I would wish to do would be to be discourteous to him. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pulling me up on that point, because discipline is a key factor in dealing with crime. I am now duly disciplined.
As I said to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, I shall deal with crime prevention in a moment, but first I should like to consider the Criminal Justice Act 1991, in particular section 29 and the provisions for unit fines, which I know have caused concern to right hon. and hon. Members. I look forward to hearing their views in this debate and I assure the House that the Home Secretary and I will listen carefully to what our colleagues say. We will take their remarks seriously.
I should remind the House that the 1991 Act introduced changes that were supported by hon. Members and which I believe deserve powerful endorsement. The Act allows for longer sentences to be passed for violent and sex crimes. It ensures that all prisoners will serve at least half their sentence in prison rather than a third, as before. It 572 gives courts a new duty to bring home to parents their responsibilities when their children offend. It enables child victims to give evidence in new ways.
There is some concern about what is happening in the criminal justice system. I hope that hon. Members will be reassured to note that the signs are that the rate of increase in nationally recorded crime in 1992 fell back to the long-term average. We are looking hard at what is going on all over the country. The police are working effectively and productively to bring offenders to justice. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is addressing the question of the structure of the police and their overall effectiveness.
A crucial part of our strategy, which addresses the point raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, is preventing crime in the first place. The fact that so much crime is preventable supports our view that the Government alone cannot be responsible for fighting it. We have always involved the people in the home, the neighbourhood and in the city. We want to involve them a lot more.
The word "community" has always been in the Conservative dictionary, but the Labour party has only just found what page it is on. Our policies have always been founded on sound research. The crime prevention unit of the Home Office, set up by this Government, has identified what works for individual people and individual businesses; for community groups such as crime prevention panels and neighbourhood watches; for the police, local authorities and other statutory agencies; for multi-agency partnerships and within specific Government programmes such as the safer cities programme, launched by the Home Office, the urban programme and city challenge. All that is bound together by the partnership approach.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I should like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to one issue that is causing much anxiety. All over the country, good schemes that involve young people, as volunteers, are supported strongly by the youth service and the education service. There is anxiety that, with the move to grant-maintained schools, the funding for such schemes will dry up. It would be a tragedy if a major advance in one Department's work should lead to a massive retreat in the work of another.
§ Mr. Jack
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, which has not gone unnoticed by me. I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned voluntary activity, because that work and that which we fund through the Community Development Foundation, has a great deal to do in strengthening and empowering communities to deal with crime prevention.
§ Mr. Jack
I note what the hon. Gentleman says; if he wants me to stop taking interventions from his hon. Friends, I shall be delighted to do so.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent, I am concerned about what is happening to the youth service, but, equally, local authorities are victims of crime. A study in 1987 showed that local authorities face a bill of £500 million because of crime. Obviously, the youth service has a contribution to make in dealing with crime and I hope that those two points will be juxtaposed.
Our strategy is to empower people to help themselves. We empower individuals by making available advice and information—for example, with 12.5 million copies of "Practical Ways to Crack Crime". It was individuals, helped by motor manufacturers, who made such a success of Car Crime Prevention Year. We empower neighbourhoods—there are now 115,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales covering more than 5 million households. We empower communities to develop their own community safety strategies. The crime concern programme set up area reduction schemes and youth crime prevention initiatives. We have commissioned a new "Good Practice Guide" to give clear practical advice to communities on what works and how to make it work.
To empower the cities, we launched the safer cities programme, which is a major crime prevention initiative. It is having positive results in combating crime and fear of it. It was launched in 1988 and there are now 20 local projects, which, between them have sponsored more than 3,000 individual crime prevention schemes. They have produced many excellent results in combating crime. The Government wish to build on that success by offering other areas the chance to participate in up to 20 new phase 2 projects.
At the national level, the fight against crime will be boosted by the new National Board for Crime Prevention; a practical vehicle for solving problems, not a talking shop. The board will generate new ideas, draw on a wide range of expertise, suggest practical local and national strategies for crime prevention and involve all sections of the community. I have been inundated with offers of help from individuals and businesses alike. I hope to make an announcement on the membership of that board shortly after Easter and I want the first board meeting to be convened in May.
The ministerial group on crime prevention will pull all the schemes together across government. There is much in the programmes of other Departments that can be and is being done to tackle aspects of crime.
§ Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to prevent crime is to produce children who are predominantly law abiding and who become law-abiding adults? Does he agree that the only vehicle to do so is a stable and functioning family unit? Will the cross-departmental group consider that idea?
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend has made a salient point about the contribution of the family and some of the fundamental values that ultimately enable the bulk of the population to distinguish between right and wrong. Whether we like it or not, crime is an individual act of wrongdoing. My hon. Friend has made a powerful point.
I was saying that we would pull together policies with the ministerial group on crime prevention. For example, in 574 the Department for the Environment's city challenge programme, work on inner-city task forces and estate action programmes contribute to fighting crime. The Department of Health supports work with juvenile offenders and has programmes to reduce alcohol misuse. The Department for Education acts to reduce truancy and supports projects to prevent young people from drifting into crime. The Department of Transport has a successful programme of action to reduce crime on public transport.
Even the Treasury's fight against white-collar crime contributes to the policy, as does the Department of National Heritage, by its latest initiative to tackle satellite pornography, which I know many hon. Members will welcome and which we support by assisting the police to buttress enforcement of the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
I note that my hon. Friend says that he is assisting the police to tackle the problem of such material. Is he prepared to say that the Government are considering new legislation, as the police say that that is essential? Does my hon. Friend think that that is essential?
§ Mr. Jack
I have sometimes had the distasteful experience of looking at some of the disgusting, filthy and vile pornographic material available, not just for a few minutes, but for many hours. I have been looking to see what can be done practically to strengthen the effectiveness of the Obscene Publications Act. I am studying the issue, which is complex, and am left in no doubt of the feelings of the House on it.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
Earlier, the Minister said that the Government were dealing with the problem of persistent offenders. How can the courts deal with that problem when, under section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, they are bound to ignore previous convictions in most cases? How can the juvenile courts deal with a third offence when, under section 29, they have to ignore the previous two offences?
§ Mr. Jack
I hope that there will later be a lengthy contribution on that issue, and I want to listen carefully to Opposition Members' views. However, the criticism of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) of the Criminal Justice Act should not detract from the excellence of the announcement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary earlier this week. He described what specific, focused action we would be taking to deal with the persistent juvenile offenders whom the present system cannot handle as effectively as we would like.
I have given way generously, as I want to give hon. Members a chance to express their concerns about crime, and to respond to them. Crime may be about all the sectors of the criminal justice system that are welded together in our effective strategy on crime and crime prevention. However, dealing with crime also involves people's values, morals and commitment to join in a partnership against crime. I hope that today's debate will help all law-abiding citizens in this land to realise that—together with the Government and the other agencies that I have mentioned—they can form a truly effective partnership against crime.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
I welcome the debate as a sign that the Government are starting to recognise what the Labour party has been saying for some time—there is a crisis of confidence in the Government's handling of crime and a mounting chorus of pleas for action. Those pleas come from Labour Members, the police, the media and ordinary people and communities up and down the country. In the words of the shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair):Recent events have been hammer blows on the conscience of the nation.Admitting that the problem exists is only a small first step. We need action, but neither Tuesday's statement by the Home Secretary nor the Minister's opening remarks offered an analysis of Britain's crime problem or a strategy for defeating crime. In addition, the two Ministers did not make the obvious connection between Conservative policies and the growth of an environment in which crime can flourish. Home Office Ministers show no leadership qualities.
The Minister of State started with a philosophic treatise and said that crime was frustrating. It is not just frustrating; it needs to be frustrated. He acknowledged that crime involves people and that victims should come first. He said that police forces were trying to put officers back on the beart. But the Home Secretary's financial regime discourages that, and the red tape of bureaucracy created by the Government impedes police officers.
Since the general election the Government have reneged on the promises that they made. Criticism of crime is a criticism of the Government, not the police. When the Minister considers the complaint of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), he should note the crime record in recent years. In Avon and Somerset, there was a 212 per cent. increase in crime between 1979 and 1991, but an increase of only 8 per cent. in the number of police officers. In that period the clear-up rate decreased from 43 per cent. to 24 per cent. In Devon and Cornwall, there was a 159 per cent. increase in crime and a 7 per cent. increase in the establishment of police, with a drop from 46 per cent. to 29 per cent. in the clear-up rate. Those figures can be replicated all around the country.
How can the Minister say that he bases his comments on sound research? How can he praise programmes that he is cutting? The Minister gave a list of actions and announced some belated support for victim support schemes. We heard a little about compensation, but the best support for victims would be to cut crime through a proper national strategy to fight crime. The Minister played down the importance and public danger of car crime, particularly death-riding. I shall not use the phrase "joy-riding"—it is death-riding. The Minister played down that problem when he mentioned percentages, as though it were of minor importance. It is not.
In a disgraceful attempt to slur the Labour party, the Minister quoted selectively from our manifesto, which promised more resources for police in the fight against crime. In a mealy-mouthed way, the Conservative party promised more resources for the police, but withdrew its promise as soon as the general election was out of the way. Our manifesto promised help to prevent crime and to increase security, especially for women, who often feel 576 more vulnerable than anyone else. It offered support for victims and contained provisions to give equal access and treatment for all before the law.
The Minister suggested that the rise in crime was not as great as everyone else perceived and that it only seemed greater, because a higher proportion of crime was being reported. That is not the belief of the police, our communities or Members of Parliament throughout the country. The Minister gave us fine words, but condemned himself by defending the Government's record, which is awful and inconsistent.
I shall simply ask one question. If everything is so wonderful and the Government are implementing such a marvellous policy on crime, why is there so much more crime after 14 years of Conservative rule?
Before and since the general election, the Labour party has advanced arguments and made contributions to the fight against crime, including the "7 Steps for Justice" policy published by my predecessor. I have referred to the comments and contributions of my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, but what we need—and what only the Government can deliver—is action not words. My interest in the subject is not sudden; I have taken an interest in it for 20 years, since I became a juvenile court magistrate, before I came to the House and when I worked with young offenders.
It is curious that in the Minister's comments on the fight against crime, he did not mention secure accommodation. We still have 15 and 16-year-olds in adult prisons, despite the promise given by the Home Secretary and his No. 2, the present Secretary of State for Education, in February 1991 to end remand in adult prisons. That part of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 has still not been implemented because there is still nowhere to put these people. In the two years since the promise was made, not one extra place has been created.
When the Home Office Minister made the 1991 announcement, I tabled questions asking for some basic information: how many places, how much cash, how soon? Far from being answered by the Home Office, all these questions were referred to the Secretary of State for Health. But the buck passing does not stop there. In an outrageously inaccurate comment to the press this week, the Home Secretary tried to blame Labour local authorities for the lack of secure accommodation. That was as inaccurate as the Prime Minister's suggestion of where crime is rising in this country. What about research? If the Minister is doing some research, he had better pass a little of it on to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, neither of whom seems to know what is happening.
The Home Secretary criticised Manchester for not helping to provide more secure places. Is he not aware that the Department of Health steering group has told Manchester that the north-west has enough secure places, so it cannot bid for cash anyway? The right hon. and learned Gentleman criticised Leicester—a hung council which is perfectly willing to co-operate but is still expecting and waiting for capital and revenue cash which the Government have still not offered it.
The Home Secretary said that Nottinghamshire is not willing to help. It has the biggest secure unit in the east midlands, which it has run for 11 years. It has heard nothing from the Department of Health directly about an expansion of secure place provision. The inspectorate has started to talk about capital costs, but not about revenue 577 costs. The Under-Secretary of State for Health has not yet apologised, although he must know that the information that he gave the House last week was incorrect. My local authority, South Glamorgan, has been denied the cash and has been blocked by the Welsh Office in its attempt to provide secure places locallly.
§ Mr. Jack
I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I want to pick up a couple of his points. I did talk about secure accommodation for juveniles. Secondly, we have made it abundantly clear that resources are available for local authority secure accommodation, but there have been difficulties with take-up by local authorities. Will the hon. Gentleman support the Home Secretary's announcement and give it his unequivocal backing when we bring measures to the House to enable our proposal on secure accommodation for juveniles to be put into action?
§ Mr. Michael
It would be much better if the Home Secretary supported our proposals, which can be brought in now, not in two or three years' time. The Minister is not actually responsible for this matter—this is part of the buck passing around the Government—and I am sure that he did not intend to mislead the House: but the money has not been made available. Only in the past week or two, under pressure from us, has the money started to become available. I think that we are succeeding in teasing some things out of the Minister and his colleagues, and not before time. If the Government are serious about secure places, they must provide the capital cash to build and the revenue cash to run these facilities.
§ Mr. Michael
I am dealing with the Minister's point, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. The capital cost of a secure place is about £200,000 per place. In a reply yesterday, the Minister of State confirmed that the Home Office has provided no cash, while the health Minister confirmed that on top of refurbishment moneya further £680,000 is available to meet the capital cost of providing additional secure places for juvenile remands."—[Official Report, 3 March 1993; Vol. 220, c. 170.]That figure refers to 1992–93, and it means that three and two fifths places will be provided in the financial year that is coming to an end. That is really going to shock young offenders up and down the country into going straight.
The Government are not serious about their proposals for secure accommodation. Ministers dealing with this week's proposals hope to be well out of sight by the time the chickens come home to roost. The Home Secretary and the Minister of State must be accountable for the promises of their predecessors in 1991 and provide the resources needed.
§ Mr. Clappison
Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question that he so conspicuously has failed to answer this morning and which his hon. Friend the Minister for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) did not answer on Wednesday? Does he support the idea of the courts having a sentencing power for 12 to 15-year-olds so as to place them in secure accommodation—yes or no?
§ Mr. Michael
By making these proposals, the Home Secretary is catching up with proposals that the Labour 578 party has already made. The test for the Government is not the promise of legislation next year; it is providing money for the secure places now—
§ Mr. Michael
I have answered the hon. Gentleman. If he does not have ears to hear, that is his problem, not mine—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot just stand there remonstrating with the hon. Member who has the Floor.
§ Mr. Michael
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is not used to taking part in debates here.
Let take a closer look at this week's promise of secure training units for 11 to 15-year-olds. The statement given on Tuesday was remarkably lightweight. I like the press heading,Tough guy Kenny and his popgun at the young thugs".That accurately characterised the whole business. The Home Secretary's announcement answered not one of the 10 questions to which the Minister here today responded on Monday with the words:My right hon. and learned Friend will…be making a statement to the House about his proposals".—[Official Report, 1 March 1993; Vol. 220, c. 3.]That answer in itself was a triumph of hope over experience. Many questions remain to be answered: how much, who pays, where will the units be? In the light of Tuesday's statement, I must tell the Minister that I will be tabling a new set of questions, and I warn him that I want answers this time. I can give him one to answer now. Where is the money coming from? Has the Treasury agreed to capital costs and revenue costs of about £100 million in the first three years, or will the money come out of existing Home Office estimates? Is the cash extra to the cost of secure places for 15 and 16-year-olds? It will have to be more than just £680,000 next year if the Government are to live up to their promises—and they are running out of time in which to do so.
Is the £13 million on top of the Department of Health's budget? And who will be paying the running costs? All these questions require answers, but they are on the Home Secretary's own ground. It was he who chose to make the announcement this week and he who chose secure accommodation as the ground of debate, and he should have done his homework and provided us with answers. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman can answer these questions, he must then answer the question: so what? Even if he fulfils his promise, it will be three years before the units are up and running, while the problem with youth crime is here now, and victims are suffering and asking for action now.
On Tuesday, I said that I was amazed that the Home Secretary had missed his big chance to be the man who tackled youth crime. I was not the only person to say that. Others share my view. The chairman of the Police Federation said:The problem of persistent juvenile offenders is with us now. It won't go away. The measures announced today will not begin to protect the public until 1995–96. This is a missed opportunity which will dismay the general public. It certainly doesn't make our job easier. Legislation is needed now, not next year.In any event, the proposals run counter to the performance of the Government in so many areas. Next to the Home 579 Secretary on Tuesday sat the Secretary of State for Health, silent and embarrassed. In her own constituency, the facility of Peper Harrow has fallen silent. It dealt with the rehabilitation of some of the most damaged young people in society, but it closed because the market did not work, because local authorities could not afford to use its facilities and because the Government are placing too much strain and too many unrealistic expectations on the agencies that work with young people. All this is extremely relevant to crime.
If the Home Secretary's big idea for 11 to 15-year-olds has to come from inside his budget, will there be further capping and cutting of police numbers and of cash for police authorities? Does he not know that many projects with a track record of reducing local crime are being closed under the pressure of cuts and capping and of the underfunding of community care, all of which puts enormous pressure on local authorities?
Let us get to the truth of the matter. The police have to cope with a work load that has increased by more than 115 per cent. since Mrs. Thatcher came to power. Police establishments have increased by an average 7 per cent. in that time. The clear-up rate has fallen from 41 to 29 per cent. The two authorities that I have mentioned are typical in that regard. All the Home Secretary offers is a needless and irrelevant reorganisation of police forces which will demoralise those in the front line—and this as the first step in his plan to nationalise the police.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
That last remark was unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. There are no plans whatever to nationalise the police, and I appeal to him, in a spirit of co-operation, not to say things like that, which will certainly demoralise the police.
§ Mr. Michael
If the hon. Gentleman can persuade his Home Secretary to assure us that not only will he not nationalise the police force but he will not disrupt the present effective pattern by creating larger, regional police forces, taking chief constables further away from the local level and an understanding of the communities that the police serve, I shall be delighted. The Government's record in removing accountability and local control from the health service, of taking everything to the centre, is not reassuring. We demand a firm reassurance from the Home Secretary and not from the hon. Gentleman who, I know, takes a great interest in the work of the police.
We need a Government who will back the police and give local authorities a statutory role to co-ordinate crime prevention and enable police, local authorities and communities to join in a dynamic partnership to tackle crime where it exists—in the community. Many senior officers and local councils are showing the way and people are asking why Ministers do not take their courage in their hands and go for it. I challenge the Government to do so.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
The hon. Gentleman speaks about community involvement in police activity. Some years ago, police consultative committees were set up in all the London boroughs and for some time Lambeth, Hackney and Ealing Labour parties, among others, refused to nominate representatives to those committees. Why was that?
§ Mr. Michael
I am a member of a police consultative committee, which is unusual among hon. Members. Therefore, I can say with some authority that the work of 580 those committees is extremely valuable. But it has been patchy. A great deal of activity is needed to improve the criteria on which the committees operate and the quality of information provided to them. We must also develop their role. There is a need for work in that area and there is no room for the complacency that I detected in the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the major concerns of many London boroughs—certainly all the Labour-controlled ones—relates to the ineffective monitoring of the Metropolitan police force, which is completely undemocratic? We want a police authority for London that is controlled by Londoners rather than by the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Michael
I am certain that my hon. Friend is right. His suggestion will also be welcomed by the police because there is a growing recognition by the police of the need for a partnership between local authorities, local people and the police. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has spoken to me about the aspirations of people in London.
The Minister praised individual projects and referred to providing bits of cash here and there. However, he failed to translate success in a project to a strategy across the nation. He sees success and worth, but cannot will the resources. He and I were in distinguished company a couple of weeks ago and heard from people who had been involved in a project to cut car crime. We also heard from the police about the success of that project. Action is needed now to spread that type of project across the country. There is no point in having it in just one or two places or even a couple of hundred places.
Ministers stole a favourite Labour theme that is close to the question of police consultative committees when they recognised that the addition of a little cash and a few staff would enable a safer cities approach to cut crime. The Minister referred to that and said that it works. However, he cuts the money for such schemes and for new schemes. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford told me about the devastation in her area and the disappointment when people there heard that their scheme was cut.
We want every city, town and village to be safer, and not just the few on this year's ministerial goodies list. Like a latter day and unrepentant Scrooge, the Minister smuggled out just before Christmas his rejection of the Morgan report which spelt out the way in which a dynamic partnership of the sort that Labour supports could contain crime and then cut it in every community. The Minister spoke with pride about setting up a new think tank. Will he listen to its conclusions or will he fail to listen to them, in the way that he failed to listen to the Morgan report and to the standing conference on car crime?
If the bulk of car crime and home burglaries were tackled, as demanded in Labour's strategy, which was set out in "Getting a grip on youth crime", and if the Morgan report were implemented, the number of victims would be reduced and the police could target their time effectively. I urge the Minister to consider those suggestions and to think again. I welcome the Home Secretary's acknowledgement that crime has social causes. Labour's view is that such causes do not minimise the personal responsibility of the individual. However, that must be 581 understood in the context of society. Perhaps the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister need to have a chat about that and decide what to think.
It is not enough for the Home Secretary or the Minister to say that there are social causes or for the Minister's predecessor to blame the growth of the "me" society, without saying who has encouraged that society for the past 14 years. We start from the assumption that no sane person would want to increase crime. If some lunatic Prime Minister wanted to create discontent, law breaking and mayhem among the young, what would he do? He would surely destroy jobs, so that idle hands were ready for the devil's work. He would close youth clubs and push up the price of leisure facilities in the name of profit.
§ Mr. Michael
The hon. Gentleman should listen to the end of this point. After that, I shall allow him to intervene.
Such a lunatic Prime Minister would mess about with the education service and demoralise those who teach the young. He would cut training opportunities for young people and show them a dead end. He would abolish benefit for 16 and 17-year-olds and cut finances of local authorities, to diminish the chance of positive habits being inculcated at the nursery stage. He would squeeze the finances that are available for work with young offenders, thereby preventing them from being redirected into more positive activities.
Such a Prime Minister might cut drug education and other schemes that try to make youngsters understand the dangerous world in which they are growing up. He would certainly stop providing new homes, thus driving people into homelessness or unsavoury living conditions, making it less likely that the family will survive as a unit. He might send young people to adult prisons to pick up bad habits. He might freeze police numbers and limit police cash to stop them winning their battle against crime. He would encourage selfishness and set people to compete against each other, to avoid the danger that they might co-operate. Then he would blame the victims, the parents, the police and the community for all those ills, hoping that, in fighting each other, they might forget to blame him.
§ Mr. Day
Perhaps I could be allowed to continue. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the undoubted social deprivation in some parts of our society is as nothing compared with the social deprivation of my grandfather who was unemployed throughout most of the 1930s. He held a family of six children together and no benefits were available. That generation had belief in itself and dignity. What has happened to the dignity of the Jarrow marchers that the hon. Gentleman should honour? Why does he make excuses when people take actions for which there are no excuses?
§ Mr. Michael
If the hon. Gentleman had not been so intent on intervening, he would have heard me say that social factors do not excuse crime but they need to be 582 understood. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to reflect on the fact that if the references to the social causes are weasel words, they are being made by chief police officers throughout the country, by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by the Home Secretary. They are certainly weasel words by the Home Secretary, because he and his Cabinet colleagues do nothing to tackle these problems.
The whole problem needs to be tackled. We have not got matters out of proportion. We say that the whole picture—from social causes to firm dealings with serious and repetitive offenders—needs to be tackled. I have suggested what a lunatic Prime Minister who wanted to increase crime would do. It all sounds rather familiar because it is what the Conservative party has been doing for the past 14 years.
I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory or the mad dictator theory. I just think that we have an incompetent Government who have lost their way. That is why I offer our formula for success in the fight against crime. I shall do so briefly because interventions have lengthened my speech.
First, we ask the Government to accept that there is a crisis of confidence and that they must provide a national strategy that respects and supports a dynamic partnership at local level. It is unfortunate that the Government have not adopted that approach. Secondly, the Government need to speed up the criminal justice system. They must ensure that there are quick decisions in dealing with juvenile offending. If there is an immediate response to offending we shall be more likely to win the battle against youth crime. Thirdly, we need to ensure that a range of options is available early and effectively. I have in mind support schemes to make cautioning work, bail enforcement schemes, early intervention to make offenders face their responsibilities and the reparation order that we suggested in our recent proposals. In other words, there must be tough and demanding approaches in the community to take a grip on youth crime.
Fourthly, we must recognise the impact of Government policy and reverse the cuts in the youth service that we experienced last year and which will be experienced again this year. We must improve housing and increase education and training opportunities. Fifthly, it is necessary to recreate the sense of community, citizenship and mutual responsibilities, which Opposition Members value and nurture in our communities. All these things need to be backed by a dynamic partnership between the police, the local authority and the community. With that, there will be a chance of reuniting people in the fight against crime.
I ask the Government to accept that while good leadership by a local authority and high-quality policing can achieve miracles for a time, it is vital that the Government accept responsibility and launch a national strategy that is designed to fight crime. They must provide the resources that will be needed for a local fight back by local people. We bear the cost anyway. The cost of car insurance has increased by 20 per cent. this year, as has the cost of house insurance. We pay for the increase in crime as we take money from our pockets, and we do so in other ways.
People throughout the United Kingdom demand that the Government recognise their responsibility to lead the fight against crime. They demand that the Government develop a coherent strategy to prevent crime, to divert youngsters from crime, to intervene quickly when 583 youngsters start offending and to offer opportunities to leave the path of crime. They must be tough in the community and out of it in dealing with those who will not respond. On every one of these tests, the Government are failing.
I ask the Government to recognise the strength and wisdom that lie behind the demand of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield that they should be tough on crime and, at the same time, tough on the causes of crime. I hope that Ministers will be big enough to admit that Conservatism in recent years has failed and that Labour's radical and practical approach to crime offers the best chance of success, from imprisonment to crime prevention.
I have concentrated on youth crime because it is the area of crime with the greatest potential for speedy intervention. As we face the challenges of Europe sans frontiéres, of computer crime, satellite sex, video violence, international business crime and terrorism, we must remember that the bulk of crime takes place at local level among families and communities whose cohesion has been stretched to breaking point. The present generation of young people need help now, as will the young people who will follow it.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
It would be wrong if I did not welcome the parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, that showed a considerable conversion by the Labour party. It seems that it is prepared to work to strengthen action against crime. That has not always been its stance.
On this issue, the country does not want party polemics. Those who sit on the Front Benches must work in co-operation to deal with a national problem. All our constituents want to see positive action to reduce all aspects of crime. I shall make three short points before talking about crime prevention. I am sorry that there has been no reference so far to crimes that are committed by those who are on bail. There is a great need to ensure that those who are on bail do not reoffend. The sentencing policy that is directed to them must be strengthened. We must do everything possible by means of harsh sentencing to ensure that we do not have to do away with the bail system. We must discourage those who are on bail from committing another crime.
§ Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)
Will my right hon. Friend support my private Member's Bill, the Bail (Amendment) Bill, which would give the prosecution a right of appeal if magistrates granted bail against police advice? It would also reverse the burden of proof in the cases of those who, in the past 10 years, have committed offences while on bail.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I compliment my hon. Friend on his intervention. He knows the answer to his question. He wrote to me and I gave him an assurance that I would support his Bill. I am pleased to have the opportunity publicly to confirm my support.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to bear in mind that Home Office-approved secure accommodation is not being used in some instances. Netherton Hall in my constituency is near to closure 584 because local authorities are not sending offenders to it. There is a need for secure accommodation and we should ensure that it is used properly.
I urge the Home Office to encourage chief constables to promote what I call mobile foot patrols. The one feature of policing that gives the greatest confidence to our constituents is the bobby on the beat. How do we make that even more effective? I suggest that we should have a system where two police officers drive a panda car to different areas, park it and then spend half an hour or two hours patrolling an estate or town on foot. They would then return to the car and drive to another area and repeat the operation.
Areas should be selected on a random basis. It should not be know that the officers will be seen at a certain corner outside a pub every Thursday. For example, they could just turn up in a farming area and take potential criminals by surprise. Their arrival would be unknown to the public. That would ensure that the criminal could never be certain that a hand would not fall on his shoulder, followed by the question, "Here, what are you up to?" Our constituents, especially the elderly, would be given confidence by the presence of police officers. They would see that there are police about who will be able to assist them whenever that is necessary.
§ Mr. Wolfson
Is my right hon. Friend aware of a factor that brings home to everybody the level of crime that can exist not so far from London as well as within London? The police have told me that they cannot always leave a police car unattended in the high street in some towns because it would be vandalised immediately. That is not to detract from his suggestion. I merely wish to emphasise the seriousness of the situation.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I accept that that is disgraceful. I believe, however, that that is the position in only a minority of individual areas. I do not think that such vandalism would occur in the majority of places. If it did, the police would have to use bicycles in city areas rather than cars. After all, the police used to use bicycles. We do not often see police officers on bicycles these days.
The country must aim at more crime prevention. It is no use dealing just with measures to cure the illness of crime—we should take positive steps to cure the factors that cause it. The law alone is not the only means of crime prevention. At my surgeries over many years, young mothers have asked me, "How do we teach our children a code of conduct? How do we tell them how to behave?" The law does not communicate that knowledge to the ordinary adolescent or young family.
Of course, the family itself has a major role, as does education, but I was sorry that my hon. Friend the Minister did not mention the part that the Church can play in bringing about an understood code of conduct and behaviour.
I tried to persuade my own bishop of that—and have taken the matter up with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The answer I received was that observance of the first and third commandment is all that is needed. That does not mean anything to today's young people—that is not a lesson they can understand. They want someone to spell out the way that they should behave in society—sexually, in respect of drugs, and even when driving a car.
One sees amazing aggression among car drivers today —the bad language that flows when someone overtakes 585 you, or if one complains when a motor cyclist cuts in front. If one did the same, the other road users would go crazy —but if one mentions such an incident in any way on pulling up at traffic lights, for example, the other motorist becomes aggressive.
Such a code of conduct should cover not only theft, good and evil, and Christian behaviour but general behaviour in society so that young people know of the standards at which they should aim. Of course, we all fall down. Many of us will be sinners at different times, but there must be a code to which people can aspire, towards which parents can guide their children, and which the Church can begin advocating.
Such a code cannot emanate only from politicians, because, as we have seen in today's debate, there will always be arguments across the Floor of the House. If we suggest something according to the Conservative code, Labour will suggest something else. The source of such a code must command universal support.
The code also cannot come only from teachers because educationists do not have the respect in the community that they once had. There is a role for not just the Church of England but all churches in setting out a code for the benefit of parents and of society generally.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
One of the commandments to which my right hon. Friend alluded but did not enunciate wasThou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.If that commandment is respected, would not that have complete implications in achieving good behaviour in a good society?
§ Sir Peter Emery
Of course my hon. Friend's observation is accurate as far as it goes, but we must spell out how that works. People need to know how one should behave towards women and in society generally, person to person—in respect of feelings of homosexuality, and so on. Right and wrong must be spelt out in a way that they are not.
The Home Office is not the body to do that. We ought to challenge the churches to collaborate in devising a code of conduct to which society could aspire. If that can be achieved, efforts at crime prevention will be much more successful than they are at present.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Replying to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), the Minister claimed that the crime rate in Scotland had fallen, and boasted that that had happened under a Conservative Government. As the Minister boasted that anything of credit in Scotland was the responsibility of the Conservative Government, he must accept responsibility also, on behalf of his Government, for the fact that, during their period in office, crime has doubled and the clear-up rate has fallen from 41 per cent. to 29 per cent.
In a speech lasting 34 minutes, the Minister hardly referred, if at all, to the causes of crime—yet unless we deal with them, crime and the number of its victims will continue to increase, and the damage to the community will worsen.
586 I bring to the attention of the House the case of an alleged criminal in my constituency—I will not give his name. He came to me a few weeks ago to say that his giro had been lost in the post, and that the Post Office had apologised to him when that happened in the past. He was told that he would have to wait seven weeks for a replacement.
That constituent has three small children, one of whom attends a special school, yet he was left with nothing to live on. I wrote to the Benefits Agency about that constituent and it replied that there had been a number of giro cheque irregularities involving payment of income support to the constituent in question, that the sector fraud team and the police had interviewed him on a number of occasions and that investigations were still under way. The agency referred to a history of unresolved fraud, and by doing so it said that my constituent was criminal.
Last weekend, my constituent came to see me again, and told me that the police had interviewed him only once, in December 1991. They stated then that they would test for his fingerprints on giro cheques in his name that had gone astray but which had been cashed, and that, if his fingerprints were found on them, he would be charged with fraud. That was 15 months ago. The police have not been in touch with my constituent since. He is alleged by the Benefits Agency to be a criminal, and meanwhile his children go without sufficient food. The agencies have made a mess of it, denying him milk tokens and money.
The police have had to waste time on an allegation against a law-abiding man who is trying to house and to feed a wife and three small children, one of whom is attending a special school. He has been libelled as a criminal and is deprived of the means of keeping his family because he cannot get a job and is denied income support.
Heaven knows what the temptation must be to my constituent to resort to crime, to keep his family going. He resists that temptation—yet Mr. Michael Bichard, chief executive of the Benefits Agency, who receives a salary of £79,000, wants to label my constituent a criminal, and he is going to extreme lengths to do so.
At the same time, my constituency is riven with real criminals. Recently, five minutes from my home, a gunman barged into a club on a drug run. Also near my home, a man was kidnapped on the street, taken to a house and tortured.
The Minister referred to car radio sets. In my constituency, such thefts are now so common that they are mentioned only incidentally in conversation; people do not bother to report them to the police, because they know that the police can do nothing about the problem. The actual crime figures are even higher than the Government's appalling statistics, because so many people no longer bother to report petty crime to the police.
The number of crimes reported, meanwhile, has soared. As I have said, crime in the country as a whole has doubled since the Government came to power. In the Greater Manchester police C division, which broadly covers my constituency, the crime rate is now 265 per cent. of the rate when the Government came to office. That is a far larger increase than the increase in the country as a whole.
In 1980, when the crime rate in C division was little more than a third of the rate today, the clear-up rate was a very creditable 45 per cent., well above the national average. Today, the division's clear-up rate is 29 per cent. In my constituency, the number of crimes cleared up is 587 now smaller than the total number of crimes—cleared up and not cleared up—committed in my constituency when the Government came to power.
Let me make it clear that I do not criticise the police in any way. Greater Manchester has a first-rate chief constable—Peter Wilmot—who has come into the city like a breath of fresh air. He is accessible to people and will travel anywhere in his area to discuss their problems.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am talking about the present chief constable, Mr. Peter Wilmot, for whom I have the highest regard and respect. His force does the best that it can, despite sometimes being distracted and made to waste their time investigating nonsensical charges against people such as the constituent to whom I referred earlier.
How can the police, even when they are doing their best, cope with escalating crime and insufficient resources? I have received repeated complaints from the Greater Manchester police authority about the insufficient resources allocated to them to deal with one of the highest crime rates in the country—if not the highest. Much of the crime is youth crime. We do not have the figures for C division, but we have the figures for the Greater Manchester police force areas, which show that the rate of known crime committed by those aged between 10 and 16 is 30 per cent. above the national level. Those figures are, of course, inadequate: more than seven in 10 known crimes—as distinct from those that are not even reported—are not cleared up; we therefore do not know who committed them.
Many crimes are committed through pure wickedness; there is no point in pretending otherwise. All crimes—whoever commits them, and whatever that person's motive and background—are inexcusable. The overwhelming majority of my constituents are law-abiding people who know right from wrong, are determined to lead honest and upright lives and bring up their children to follow their example. When I mix with the churchgoers, community groups and ethnic minority groups in Gorton, I observe that my constituents are overwhelmingly law-abiding people; only a small minority break the law.
None the less, it is important to understand the backgrounds both of those who keep the law and of those who break it. My constituency is one of the most poverty stricken in Britain. A test of poverty is the number of households in receipt of housing benefit: 46 per cent. of households in Manchester receive such benefit—more than in any other city, including Glasgow and Liverpool, which come second and third respectively.
In my constituency, poverty is greater than in Manchester as a whole. Among 634 constituencies in Great Britain, mine comes 28th in terms of unemployment: 18.9 per cent. of my constituents are unemployed, and 26.3 per cent. of men. More than one in four males who have left school, and whom I see in my constituency, are out of a job. The national unemployment average is 10.6 per cent., compared with 18.9 per cent. in my constituency; the male national average is 14.2 per cent. Of the 18.9 per cent. who are unemployed in my constituency, 36 per cent.—more than one in three—are aged under 25. That is 24 per cent. above the national average.
The fact that a person is unemployed certainly does not mean that that person is a criminal. The overwhelming 588 majority of my 6,000 unemployed constituents would never even consider committing a crime, but the temptation to commit crime must be greater for the unemployed than for those in jobs and it must be especially great for young people with time on their hands.
What does such a young person do in Gorton? One option is to stay at home—if the person concerned has a home. My constituency has a high level of homelessness and bad housing. On 17 March, the Princess of Wales will open a housing association development in Longsight: it consists of just eight dwellings, but that is two more dwellings than Manchester city council has in its house-building programme for the whole city this year, and eight more than it has in its programme for the coming financial year. In the last year of the Labour Government, Manchester built 2,500 houses; this year it will build none, because the Government have taken away all the subsidies and ring-fenced the housing revenue account. My constituents cannot even secure proper repairs for their council houses.
Once, my constituency had a major engineering industry: it was a major engineering centre for the whole country. Today, the major industry is homelessness. Some private landlords are on the way to becoming millionaires on money that they have been paid to house the homeless, when that same money could be used to build hundreds of houses, to give the homeless proper homes and to keep families together.
If a young person in my constituency has no decent home in which to stay, or wants to vary his or her day by going out, where does he go? Until recently, he could have gone to look at the animals in the pets corners at Debdale park or Platt fields, but the Government's squeeze on council spending has forced Manchester to close Debdale park and to consider closing Platt fields. Both are within walking distance of most homes in my constituency.
I strongly disagree with the council's decision to close those amenities and I am campaigning against the closures. I hope that we can still save Platt fields; but the Government impose enormous financial compulsions for such cuts. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been taken away from my city council as a result of the reduction in what used to be the rate support grant, and the abolition of housing subsidies. At present, young people in my constituency can go to the Arcadia sports centre in Levenshulme or to the Victoria baths. Soon, unless the council is persuaded to change its mind, young people will be unable to visit those places, because both are to be closed.
The Prime Minister grabs headlines by boosting Manchester's Olympic bid, but the Secretary of State for the Environment is killing off the training grounds for future Olympic athletes in Manchester by squeezing local authority spending, which is forcing Manchester city council to consider such unattractive cuts. That is sickening hypocrisy from the Government.
We are losing all kinds of amenities in my constituency that could have kept young people off the streets. Some are going because of cuts forced on the council by the Government. Some are going because the Government are abolishing urban programme projects. I was astounded to hear the Minister boasting about urban programme projects, when many are going down the drain because of deliberate decisions taken by the Government. Some projects are going because the Government are cutting funding under section 11 of the Local Government Act 589 1966. The Home Secretary is making those cuts—the same Home Secretary who announced this week a cosmetic and almost totally useless alleged initiative to combat youth crime.
Although less than a third of all criminals are caught, the Government are spending more money on detaining them than they are on preventing crime, which, if successful, would mean that they would not have to be detained, and there would be fewer victims of crime.
I wrote to the Home Secretary three weeks ago about the cuts in section 11 funding, but he has not even bothered to send a postcard in acknowledgement.
The head teacher and staff at Stanley Grove school in Longsight—a particularly deprived part of a deprived constituency—have written to me this week in despair at the cuts in their section 11 project for multi-ethnic teaching. The Home Office agreed that project should go ahead for five years, but after eight months it is murdering the project.
Stanley Grove school had to give my constituents music lessons on the stairs to try to give them the kind of start in life that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) believes is somehow better than it was in the 1930s. I was a child in the 1930s, and in the working-class area of Leeds where I lived, we did not suffer from the despair or degradation that is being inflicted on my constituency by the Government. I do not have to listen to the hon. Member for Cheadle speak about his grandfather; I can talk about my own experience.
Programes that keep our community together are being cut all over my constituency. The other day, I received a cry of despair from Gorton community centre about the way in which cuts in funding are affecting their valuable and necessary work in a deprived area.
Problems grip other parts of my constituency. The Government boast of building a huge Olympic stadium in Manchester, but Abbey Hey AFC, a club in my constituency which took over derelict land and turned it into a football ground, and which gallantly provides something useful and constructive for young people to do and keeps them off the streets and away from the temptations of crime, cannot even find money for new changing rooms or a training area. That voluntary organisation cannot find a single source of funding for new changing rooms, yet the Prime Minister tells us that he is a football fan.
What may a young person do in my constituency? He can, and I am afraid too many do, take drugs—to his own, his family's and the community's deep disadvantage. He finances his habit by breaking into cars and houses and stealing radios, video players and televisions to sell. What he increasingly cannot hope for is to be helped to break the habit, even if he wishes to.
This week, I received a despairing letter from the Langley House Trust, a Christian venture in the care of ex-offenders. The right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) rightly mentioned what the Church can do to combat crime. Langley House Trust runs drug rehabilitation homes, yet it tells me:the Government are pulling the rug from under all drug and alcohol residential facilitiesby implementing the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 from the beginning of next month.
590 The trust runs 14 residential homes for the ex-offender, two of which are drug rehabilitative homes used mainly by men coming directly from prison, yet the Government are withdrawing funding from new residents. One of the homes, Chatterton Hey, provides facilities for my constituents. Do not let us hear glib nonsense from the Government about restoring offenders from society when they are taking money from a good, worthwhile organisation that wants to return offenders to the community.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I do not want to hear such glib nonsense from the Minister, who made a complacent speech. I was talking about the Langley House Trust, which does good work for my constituents and which wrote to me on a non-partisan basis, as it did to other hon. Members in my area, saying that the rug is being pulled from under its work because the Secretary of State for Health is taking money that it could have used for drug rehabilitation.
I will not accept complacent rubbish from Ministers. My constituents are suffering from degradation, despair and poverty. Conservative Members smirk and sneer, while my constituents suffer as a result of what they have done. I am not having it.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that Ministers would not be so supercilious if they had to face, as we do, the real tragedy and crime that emanates from drug abuse. Drug and alcohol projects throughout the country are facing closure because the Government have backtracked on their commitment to ring-fence money for drug and alcohol projects within community care funding. The Secretary of State gave a commitment on the Floor of the House, but he has backtracked on it and, ultimately, drug and alcohol projects will have to close.
§ Mr. Kaufman
My hon. Friend is right. I am being assailed by organisations that want to do good and to help but which are not being helped by the Government's withdrawal of funding.
What can young people in my constituency do? Where can they go? They can go into the centre of the city and beg. We have more beggars in Manchester in 1993 than at any time in the 23 years for which I have represented part of the city.
When constructive places of resort such as the sports centre and other projects are shutting down, my young constituents will go to the commercial amusement arcades that litter the streets of my constituency like scabs. The city council tried to refuse planning permission for those arcades, but it gave up when the Secretary of State for the Environment upheld planning appeals from those wanting to take money from my young constituents without giving them anything in return.
I do not know where those who use the arcades get the money to put in the machines. I am sure that most come by it honestly, but do all of them? How many are at risk 591 of being picked up and started along the road that turns them into the rent boys who are another feature of life in the city of Manchester?
The Government are destroying the social cohesion of my constituency. Good, hard-working, patriotic people who love their country, many of whom have served it in the armed forces or in other ways, and who love their city, are seeing the social fabric disintegrate before their eyes. The greater the sense of community, the smaller the chance for crime. My constituents fight crime by being members of home watch schemes. They attend police consultative committees, of which we have a network in my constituency. They work with the police, and they work to maintain the community. They work to maintain their own and their families' self-respect, but they are beginning to lose the battle. The odds stacked against them by the Government are just too high.
Young people, sometimes small children, are being arraigned for alleged crimes. Every criminal aged 13 or under is a child not only of his or her parents but of this Government, born, brought up and educated—if one can call what they receive an education—often with no prospect of a job or a clear vision of any future.
Crime is to be wholly condemned. It should be detected and punished, but, above all, it should be prevented. It is no good the Government having a programme to deal with the relatively few offenders who are caught. We need a programme to prevent crime, and that can be achieved only by the social regeneration of the inner cities to give a fair chance to the fine people who live there, to the fine people who live in my constituency.
The crime rate has increased massively under this Government. The crime committed by this Government against my constituents can never be forgiven.
§ Mr. Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate. It is an especially important debate now that crime seems to have moved centre stage of the political scene. It is right that it should have done so because the public are alarmed. In Birmingham, there has been an increase of about 20 per cent. in the number of schoolchildren arrested last year. That is why the public are demanding speedier action from the Government.
I was disappointed by the statement made on Tuesday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. It was far too narrow. It should have shown more urgency in tackling the problem with which he was dealing. The proposals for secure accommodation units were all very well. The Opposition have challenged the idea today, but it seemed to have all-party support. Why, then, can action not be taken at once? Why do we have to wait for perhaps two or three years before even that measure is introduced?
I suggest that we also need to consider less expensive options of secure accommodation. We have a surplus supply of ex-military establishments which were quite good at keeping out the Irish Republican Army and would keep the youngsters in. Do we need to worry that such establishments are spartan? I suggest not. They should not be luxurious abodes for young criminals.
The problems that we face stem to a great extent from years spent listening to liberals, do-gooders, social workers and Home Office advisers. They have worried for too long about the offender and have not worried half enough 592 about the victim. We now need a much stronger policy of deterrence. I do not wish to discuss at length corporal punishment or the ultimate deterrent of capital punishment, although I support both without reservation. I was disappointed that my right hon. and learned Friend did not respond to a question about corporal punishment on Tuesday. During my previous incarnation in the House, I tabled amendments—one in Committee and once on the Floor of the House—to try to reintroduce corporal punishment for crimes of violence by youngsters. Had they been accepted, there might well have been a reduction in today's figures.
The Government could tackle the problems straight away. It was important that the Home Secretary agreed on Tuesday to take up the question of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. The Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), said that he looked forward to hearing our views. My views are clear: I believe that section 29 must be amended and we do not need to wait to do that. I also believe that unit fines, the system under which unemployed people, for example, are not punished at anything near the correct level, must be examined. There is disillusionment among magistrates, especially over the unit fining system. I hope that action will be taken quickly so that we can retain the very good list of magistrates we have.
Not long ago, I read that the Home Secretary was to ask the new Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis why his force was not catching more criminals and why the clear-up rate was not higher. We know that we could ask the same question of nearly every chief constable. I offer a solution that will save my right hon. and learned Friend contacting chief constables all over the country. I have it in my left hand. It is a batch of 59 forms that a police constable has to deal with when he arrests someone for a minor offence such as shoplifting. I am assured that even an experienced officer will take at least two hours to fill them in. That is not good enough. We must get rid of the bureaucracy. I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. My then hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds, Sir Eldon Griffiths, and I warned that bureaucracy would take up too much of a policeman's time. It is now happening with a vengeance.
The other day, the chief superintendent of my area went to one of his major police stations at 3 am. He was rather surprised to find all the police cars parked in the garage. He inquired what was happening and found that each officer had arrested a suspect and was spending at least two hours on the paperwork, writing out reports. Would it not have been better for those officers to be on the streets, trying to catch more criminals? Please let us ignore the campaigns of the civil liberties lobby, which wants such bureaucracy to tie up police officers who should spend their time doing far more important work.
What can we do about cautioning? According to the chief constable of the west midlands, it is another aspect of the police officers' work which they have had to implement to the best of their ability, following guidelines issued by the Home Office. I am glad that Chief Superintendent Mike Holder of my area has found a way around the cautioning policy. Because the number of crimes committed means that there is a state of emergency, he is able to take action. He is reported in The Birmingham Post as saying: 593We don't caution for drink-driving, so why should we caution someone for taking a car without authority and driving it away? Either way, someone could get killed. In our division, 60 per cent., of crime is car related or involves burglary of houses or factories. We will prosecute when there is enough evidence.I am glad that cautioning has been suspended in those circumstances. In Wolverhampton last year, there was an increase of about 50 per cent., in cautions and a drop in the number of prosecutions.
I hope that we shall hear today that advice is being sent to all forces that the cautioning policy can be altered and that a tougher line can be taken throughout the country.
The Minister mentioned the Bail Act. Too many offences are being committed while youngsters, in particular, are out on bail. Something must be done quickly. It is not good enough to say that we will examine the matter, discuss it and decide what happens. We must act now.
Since 1979, the size of the police force has been increased and police officers are better paid. However, we can do more—and quickly—to help them. I believe that assault on a police officer should carry an automatic custodial sentence. We should give police officers the protection to which they are entitled when doing our duty. I hope—and I have not heard arguments against it—that the forces that wish to do so will be allowed to carry out trials with the side-handled baton. The American baton might well protect and save many of the injuries from which our officers suffer. [Interruption.] Labour Members may laugh if they wish at the fact that 1,720 officers in the West Midlands area were injured in 1992 and 6,682 working days were lost through injury. If police officers were given batons that would protect and save them, we should be doing good for them and for our constituents. That is important.
I should like to raise two other points. First, we are not using special constables to the full advantage. They are a deterrent if they are on the beat. They can be used when they are most needed in the evenings and at weekends. In the West Midlands, only 955 special constables, out of an establishment of 1,400, are in place.
For a long time, I have argued that we should consider moving towards a Territorial Army-type force with honorariums being paid. I am glad that the Home Office has taken up the suggestion to the extent that the Dorset force is allowed to do so as an experiment. I have seen the Dorset force in operation. I hope that the experiment will continue and be extended. I ask the Government to put pressure on the Treasury to allow the honorarium to be paid without deduction of tax. It is ludicrous. In the case of the Territorial Army, there is no payment of tax, but in the experimental system in Dorset, the officers are liable to tax. I know that the Home Office has some sympathy with this point. I hope that it can persuade the Treasury to respond constructively, possibly as early as next week's Budget.
A final question that is important in tackling the problems of crime is the right to silence. I am not a lawyer, but I am worried about the way in which the right to silence has been used. We saw the case of two parents where there was a young child attacked. Because the parents used their right to silence, the police could not move the investigation further forward. Only yesterday, 954 we saw the example of the osteopath who was killed by a hit and run driver who was moving away from a petrol station without having paid for his petrol. I remind the House of the press report in The Daily Telegraph yesterday on this important issue:A motorist who knocked down a motorcyclist as he fled from a petrol station without payingfor his petrolcould escape charges because of the right to silence laws…Mr. Timothy Brown, 32, an osteopath, died after his motorcycle was hit by a Honda Accord as it was driven away from the garage in Beaconsfield, Bucks, in November last year.But although the owner of the car has been traced, he has refused to answer police questions and charges relating to the death had not been brought.It is a tragedy. I see no reason why the right to silence should be maintained. People who are innocent should have no fear of expressing their innocence. If they are guilty, they should be dealt with by the law.
I hope that I have expressed a strong wish for Government action. It is not too late for such action, but it must be done quickly. I ask the Government not to talk about what will happen in a year's time. They should look at the bureaucracy. I was horrified to find that so much paperwork had to be done by police officers. I hope that the Minister will give meaningful answers and I hope that action will be taken to help our constituents and ensure that crime is defeated in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I should like to say a few words to defend and bring some understanding of my constituents, as well as suggest one or two solutions. In 10 minutes, I think that only one or two suggestions per Member are possible
It is important to stand up for the rights of those who are innocent and to defend the rights of constituents to be physically safe in their homes or on the streets. One of the most precious civil rights that people have is to be able to go about their business safely. The civil rights of ordinary citizens in the borough of Lambeth in my constituency are breached too frequently.
I shall give the House the flavour of that by quoting a few headlines from a single issue of South London Press. The main story on the front page says:Gun-toting teenagers as young as 13 forced a man to hand over his wallet in a robbery which has stunned police.That took place in Streatham in my borough. I quote from the next page:Woman was raped in a squalid, rundown garage after being attacked at knife-point. The 27-year-old woman was walking home along Palace Road".The story goes on about an attack with a Stanley knife.
I turn to the next page:A mother-of-two charged with murdering her common-law husband was granted bail at Camberwell Magistrates Court on WednesdayThe accused, who lives in my constituency, had knifed her husband to death.
I continue:A cashier at the Mecca bingo hall, in Streatham Hill, had £18 snatched from her hand by two men who ran off at around 9 p.m. on Sunday…A 28-year-old man appeared at Camberwell Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, after a neighbour was allegedly attacked and injured with a 3ft sabre 595 …Clinton Rowe (21), of Dalyell Road, was committed in custody for trial at the Old Bailey from Camberwell Magistrates Court, on Wednesday, charged with attempting to murdersomeoneat Tintern Street, on December 14 last year…Baby killer Christine Gibelli's mental state was not taken seriously by the authorities who failed to diagnose her illnessThat is a case of infanticide in which someone was sent to an institution.
I turn to the next page:A knife-wielding rapist who subjected a young wife to a seven-hour sex ordeal after grabbing her on a busy pavementI am glad to say that that is out of my borough: that is at London bridge. The next story is back in the constituency.
§ Mr. Fraser
I shall come to that in a moment.
I continue:A Brixton man was remanded in custody at Camberwell Magistrates' Court charged with the murder of Paul Baker in a squatin my constituency.
The final story does not relate to south London: it relates to Hammersmith but involves a person in my borough:A trainee lawyer was gunned down in cold blood for a few pence while he helped out at a friend's off-licence.Those are just a few, I was going to say headlines, in the South London Press. But they are not headlines. Two of the murders feature in the miscellaneous column. Such is the level of crime in our area that they do not feature as headlines. They are titbits in the gossip column that somebody has been murdered by someone else. That is the scale of the headlines and titbits in the local paper for only one week.
The cold statistics, rather than the headlines and titbits, are appalling. I mention robbery with violence as an example. That involves an attack on a person as well as an attack on property, so it is a good indicator of the state of our society.
In my borough, the chance of being robbed is 992 per 10,000 of the population. One is eight times more likely to suffer robbery in Lambeth than in Merseyside or Manchester and six times more likely than in the west midlands. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) interrupted me to ask about deprivation. Perhaps the following statistic is one of the indicators. One is 14 times more likely to he attacked in the street and robbed in Lambeth than in Kingston upon Thames. The difference between the two must be that one is an affluent area and the other is a poor area.
Let us compare my borough with Kingston upon Thames for other crimes. In Lambeth, one is 14 times more likely to be robbed, three and a half times more likely to suffer a crime of personal violence, four times more likely to suffer criminal damage and twice as likely to suffer burglary.
I do not want to give the wrong impression. I do not represent or live in a concrete jungle. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman): most people are decent, honest and hard working. If they are not working, at least they are honest people who want to contribute to society. They want to have a safe community and make a positive contribution to it. So I am not all that pessimistic.
596 On the whole, despite the figures that I have given, mine is a relatively safe area. However, once people have been burgled, their quality of life can be irreparably changed. In many of the housing cases that now come to me, people wish to move not because of the state of repair of their accommodation but because they have been burgled six or seven times. They can no longer afford to live there.
The other lesson that I have learnt is that the victims of crime are on the whole poor people, not rich people. If my stereo is taken, I get a better stereo on the insurance. I am relatively affluent. I was once lobbied by a probation officer, who told me that it was my own fault that I was burgled, because I had only one lock on the door and had not done enough to the windows. The probation service talks about being non-judgmental, but occasionally it is a good idea to tell people that they have been naughty or wicked.
As for the causes of crime, there is no simple relationship between unemployment, poverty and crime. If a group of monks who had taken vows of poverty found themselves unemployed, they would not automatically turn to crime. However, there is a coincidence between crime and conditions such as high unemployment and poverty, unfriendly types of tenure, indefensible space, poor housing and other pressures on families and other unfriendly conditions.
High mobility of the population tends to create crime or criminal circumstances. Medical practitioners tell us that there is a 40 per cent. turnover of population in some of our inner-London areas. That contributes to circumstances in which crime rises.
Crime is committed by a relatively small number of people. On the whole, their behaviour is predictable. One finds previous convictions, a record of truancy, anti-social attitudes and a weak family background. One can usually predict that such circumstances will lead to crime. The job of the Home Office and the law enforcement authorities is to target those who are most at risk.
Secondly, we should deal with crime seriously and intelligently. Our intelligence and experience tell us that secure accommodation such as borstals and attendance centres, although it might be tough on criminals, often creates circumstances that may lead to more crime being committed. There is a strong case for more remand into secure accommodation of people who are likely to commit offences on bail.
Thirdly, we should concentrate on measures to increase people's values. A set of circumstances, including poverty, can translate into a corrosion of values. We must set up a programme to rebuild values. I am afraid that so much of what the Government do breaks down values. They break the values that come from nursery education. They destroy our sports facilities. Football pitches are being closed. Youth clubs are having to close. We have massive homelessness. Nothing can do more damage to the family and the child than the circumstances of homelessness.
If the Government really want to do something about crime, they should examine the circumstances of crime and the predictability of behaviour and do something to restore the family values which have been hurt and damaged even further by Government programmes.
§ Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)
I welcome the debate, because my constituents have had enough of the incidence of crime, in Britain as a whole and in the constituency. What is more, so have I. Hardly a day goes by without a shocking headline in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner telling us that someone has been mugged, robbed or raped or, in one or two cases, murdered. So this is a timely debate.
My constituents are not worried about violent crime alone. They are also worried about having their houses or cars broken into or their cars stolen. So we must not simply hit the violent criminal: we must ensure that all forms of crime are tackled.
As Opposition Members have rightly said, we should consider some of the underlying causes of the increase in crime. We know that society has changed enormously in the past 20 or 30 years. Masud Hoghugi, the director of the Aycliffe centre for children, has said many interesting things about crime. He has said:This is pay-back time for the permissive society.That is right. We all know that, in the past 20 or 30 years, a dependency culture has been fostered by the liberal establishment and, indeed, by Opposition Members. We have seen how the authority of the Church of England has been steadily eroded so that there is now a moral vacuum.
More and more children do not have the disciplining figure of a father, because about 30 per cent. of all births take place outside marriage. In some inner-city areas, the figure is 50 per cent. I wish that the Archbishop of York would tackle some of the difficult moral issues instead of taking the easy route of attacking the Government. [Interruption.] Attacking the Government is dead easy—everyone does that—but talking about morality is much more difficult.
We see violence on our television screens, on videos and in cinemas. I take this opportunity to commend Sir Anthony Hopkins, who is having second thoughts about appearing in a sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs", because he is worried about the effect of violence on cinema screens. We all know that drugs are a significant contributory factor to crime.
I do not doubt that poverty and unemployment exacerbate crime. However, to suggest that they are behind much of today's crime is far too easy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) said, the same problems existed in the 1930s, yet we did not have today's high levels of crime, because there was far greater morality and the family unit was far stronger.
Once we have examined the causes of crime, there comes a time when we have to stop understanding those causes and take action to protect the public, provide deterrents and impose punishment for wrongdoing. Many of the young people who get into trouble are cautioned in the first instance. That is entirely appropriate, but a caution should be given only for the first and perhaps the second instance but no more than that.
Corporal punishment would be extremely appropriate for many young people. I know that the liberal establishment would scoff at such an idea, but outside this House in my constituency and in the real world, I find that the vast majority of people agree with me. They have an instinctive belief and knowledge that corporal punishment is an appropriate form of discipline for young people. Of course, it is unpleasant and it is slightly humiliating for 598 them, but one hopes that it will ensure that they never wish to experience it again. Corporal punishment could also teach some young people how unpleasant violence is. I wonder whether they realise that when they are mugging people in the street.
I support community sentences as a form of punishment and believe that we should make parents appear before courts with their children. However, some persistent young offenders need to be locked up simply to protect society, and I welcome the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary earlier this week about secure units.
In reality, recent legislation has made it more difficult for courts to take appropriately tough action in certain cases. It seems to me that the Home Office has two objectives: first, to keep as many people out of prison as possible; secondly, to ensure that no innocent person goes to prison. Those are laudatory objectives, but I fear that, in attempting to fulfil them, we have made it all the more difficult for the police to secure convictions.
When the prison population figures were recently released and showed a significant reduction, the Home Office saw it as a sign of success, but I saw it as a sign of failure. While crime is increasing, we need to take action to stop it.
I acknowledge that we have been tough over violent and sexual crimes, and we have also been tough on middle-class business men driving their cars down the motorway. A means-related fines system is an abomination, and we must get rid of it as soon as possible. The law needs to be seen to be fair, and such a system clearly is not fair.
I referred earlier to my local newspaper. Its headlines do not help a climate of law and order: for example,Worst offender given smallest fine",because of the means-related fines system; andLaw will not let us deal with teenage thugs' says police chief".The latter expresses the feelings of frustration felt by many police officers, and some justices of the peace have resigned in disgust at recent legislation.
As we know, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 stops courts taking previous convictions into account, which is wrong. In the majority of cases, courts cannot do so, contrary to what the Minister of State said in answer to my intervention.
A senior police officer from the West Yorkshire force proved to me that a court cannot impose a security requirement on juveniles aged 15,unless the offender is charged with a violent, sexual offence or an offence where an adult is punishable with 14 years imprisonment. Such an offence precludes burglary from shop premises and thefts of motor vehicles. The effect of this is that an offender who steals a car, ramraids into a shop, and injures a passer-by cannot be remanded in custody by the court.That is wrong and the law needs to be changed if it is having that effect.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) about the burden of administration on too many police officers.
§ Mr. Riddick
I do not have time to give way.
Some officers take hours to transcribe interviews with suspects, which is absolute nonsense. We have to do something about it.
599 In the short time left to me, I make a plea to my hon. Friend the Minister to abolish the right to silence. It helps the criminal, and it is not a problem for someone who has nothing to hide. Innocent people will be happy to tell the police where they were and what they were doing at a particular time. If that law is good enough in Northern Ireland, it should be good enough on the mainland. Juries and judges should be allowed to draw a certain inference from a suspect's refusal to respond to police questions.
I have little confidence in the royal commission, which is staffed by five lawyers, one sociologist, one psychiatrist, one industrialist and one policeman. I hope that, even if the commission does not come out against the right to silence, my hon. Friend will ignore it in that respect.
I have no intention of listening to Opposition Members, who are Johnny-come-latelies on this issue. When they were last in power, they had a terrible record.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The Minister concluded his speech by saying that he considered that the Government policies that he had described were effective. Almost every speech from the Conservative Benches has reflected a deep and sharp criticism of their effectiveness. If the debate achieves nothing else, I hope that the Minister's complacency will be severely shaken. However, in drawing his attention to speeches by Conservative Members, I do not wish to give any sign of support for some of the remedies to our crime problems that they mentioned.
The Minister should be in no doubt that there is widespread anxiety and anger in many communities about increasing crime levels and the attack on the security of society that they represent. That has been manifested by such dangerous new developments as the growth of vigilante movements, which have given rise to new crimes.
Some vigilantes have appeared before the courts. In January, in the High Court in Cardiff, we heard how a gang of residents from a housing estate near Tonypandy had beaten to death a man whom they suspected of burglary. In December, a court in Newcastle heard how a business man stabbed a suspected car vandal in an effort to stem a crime wave. Last July, 100 residents on a Scottish housing estate formed a human barricade to stop youths from causing disturbances. In Wales, one village mounted nightly road blocks and checked every car that wanted to pass through.
Those examples do not represent a society that is "at ease with itself", to quote the Prime Minister, but a society in which law and order does not prevail and in which, despite the £6.5 billion that the Minister acknowledged was spent on different aspects of the criminal justice system for which his Department has responsibility, citizens do not consider that they are getting value for money.
The reality is that the Minister's measures of achievement and effectiveness were encapsulated in a speech which listed measures that were brought before the House to stick plaster on a number of isolated criminal offences. I have carried out a little modest research on how much work has been done under the six Home Secretaries who have occupied the Government Bench since the Conservatives came to office. It is not necessarily entirely accurate, but it gives some impression of what has happened.
600 Since 1979, 62 pieces of legislation relating to new offences, the courts and the powers and organisation of the police have been passed. The Government have not attempted to implement the Law Commission's proposal that we should seek to codify our criminal law and to bring some order to its chaotic statute book, but they have introduced at least 16 new offences. Those offences concern crossbows, drug trafficking, firearms, forgery, indecent display, supply of intoxicating substances, malicious communications, nuclear materials, female circumcision, the taking of hostages, joy riding, dangerous drugs, computer misuse and war crimes. That is just a selection and I have no doubt that there are others.
Lest Conservative Members think that by dreaming up new offences we shall get to the bottom of the problem of crime, let them cast their minds back on what we have been about in this place in the past decade under a Conservative Administration.
A number of Conservative Members have tried to suggest another new treatment of the crime of offending on bail. It is not as simple as they have made out. A Home Office research paper by Patricia Morgan states:To bring about the twin benefits of minimising offending on bail while not increasing the remand population unnecessarily, remands in custody should be reserved for those who would commit offences if granted bail. But identifying this group is no easy task. The problem is that, even in the high-risk group, such as those between the ages of 17 and 20, who have been charged with burglary or mobile offences, fewer persons offend on bail than do not offend on bail. Better ways of selecting within these groups are needed.That seems like common sense, and a warning that there is no simple answer to dealing with such problems by yet another little Bill produced at the drop of a hat when a nasty headline appears in newspapers and the Home Secretary wants to pretend that he is doing something about it.
The reality, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have testified, is that crime figures have gone up. However they are measured, even by the crime survey of the Government, which shows a substantially slower rate of increase than does the rate of increase in recorded offences, but none the less shows at least a 50 per cent. increase since the Government took office, the figures are appalling. They in no way reflect the hardship, anxiety and misery that individual crimes cause in the lives of our citizens.
In the brief time that has been left to me as Liberal Democrat spokesman—I regret that it is so short—I want to address one issue on which I believe that the Government's response to the challenge has been far from adequate: crime prevention, which the debate, at least in part, is about.
The Minister says that £6.5 billion is spent on the criminal justice system. He did not answer my question about how many millions are spent on crime prevention, but he probably knows the answer.
§ Mr. Maclennan
No. The hon. Gentleman must allow me not to give way, because of the time factor. Because it is so important, however, perhaps it would be worth hearing what he has to say—so, yes, do tell us just what that figure is.
§ Mr. Maclennan
So £166 million is set aside from £6.5 billion—the disproportion is absolutely striking; and that sum is being reduced still further. The schemes that have been seen to be effective are not being backed up by successors.
The reality is that the best hope for crime reduction flows from the reduction of opportunities to commit crime, by targeting crime prevention measures. I am talking about the kind of thing that the Minister had the effrontery to laugh at. He read out some passages from the Labour party manifesto which dealt with the practical problem of reducing the likelihood of burglaries in inner-city areas and criticised them.
The Minister thought that the provision of lighting was rather amusing. If one has to live in a dark corner, in a Victorian dwelling, lighting is extremely important. If the Government smirked and sniggered less and paid more attention to such improvements, they might have a better record to boast about to the House than they have today.
Crime prevention offers the best hope of reducing our crime figures to something more tolerable in a civilised society. That means ensuring the co-operation of local authorities with the police and businesses, to find ways in which to target the protection of the most vulnerable communities. It can be done, it has been done and it will be done better if best practice is built upon by the Home Office and extended to the communities, as the Liberal Democrats are doing through their local authorities.
§ 12.5 pm
§ Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield)
The most fundamental duty of any Government is defence, whether that be defending citizens from antagonists abroad or unruly elements at home. Indeed, the very essence of a free and constitutional Government is that they keep lawlessness at bay and produce security. I hope that the Minister meant what he said about listening to today's debate.
Many of my constituents feel far from secure. They are either the victims of crime or feel constantly threatened by the wave of violence and theft that is engulfing this country. They are not the people who inhabit inner-city slums, the so-called "no-go" areas of urban deprivation and violence. They live in towns and villages, but they do not feel secure unless their houses are wired up with an elaborate alarm system. They do not go away for the weekend because they are worried about being burgled. That can only suggest one thing: there has been a failure in the rule of law. The House should face up to the fact that there is a crisis of confidence in the country. When people no longer feel safe in their homes it is time to act; time to shift the balance of power away from the criminals.
I welcomed the Home Secretary's announcement this week on juvenile offenders. For the first time, those hooligans will be locked up and, as far as I am concerned, they can throw away the key. Will the Minister assure me, however, that those institutions will not be holiday camps, but prison camps where thugs can learn the meaning of right and wrong? I hope that the Minister will note that it is important that they are run not by failed social workers, who are associated with that lot on the Opposition Benches, but by sergeant-majors.
The Home Secretary has rightly said that recorded crime has risen constantly since the second world war, in times of boom and bust. That tells me that the tack that we 602 have followed so far has failed and that urgent and forceful measures are required to stop the sickening spiral into lawlessness.
Tragically, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary continues to offer the sort of sugar-coated schemes that have been tried and failed. He advocates, for instance, a wide range of crime prevention initiatives to encourage all sectors of the community to work with the police to prevent crime. However, I believe that we should be concentrating not on the law-abiding sections of society, in the hope that they will form neighbourhood watch schemes, good as they are, but on real punishments that will stop people even contemplating crime or make those who have offended wish that they never had.
In international affairs, we have learnt to appreciate the values of effective deterrents and the use of force. It was the threat of nuclear weapons that prevented the communist bloc from transgressing the iron curtain, not the niceties of diplomacy. Despite the views of the CND crackpots on the Opposition Benches, it has always been apparent that the only language that some people understand is that of force. Unfortunately, when it comes to domestic affairs, we seem to forget that basic fact of life. We are now paying the price and the penalty for that.
Although I recognise that the root of crime must be tackled, we still need to act now to deal with the problems that are staring us right in the face. The most important distinguishing characteristic of crime is that it confers on the state the legal right to punish the offender.
Sadly, all too often, attention is focused on the rights of the criminal. I would give the criminal rights—the right to be birched, to be flogged, to be castrated and to be given a damn good hiding. Some people say that corporal punishment undermines an individual s dignity—what about the dignity of the victim? Surely, if the alarming rise in crime tells us anything, it is that many in our society believe that crime pays. Therefore, we must ensure that the punishment is of such a nature that it makes even the most hardened offender think again.
At present, prison—even though it costs the£20,000 per prisoner per year—is regarded as a soft option. Giving 20 lashes per prisoner per year may be more appropriate. Too often, the authorities treat criminals with kid gloves. The Strangeways riot was a case in point. It was sickening to see those men sticking two fingers up to the society that they had defaced. The Government and the police should have given them 10 minutes to get off the roof before using marksmen to pick them off one by one. That would have sent clear signal to all the miscreants in our society.
The state must ultimately reserve the right to take a citizen's life. Some argue that capital punishment is never justified as it violates a human's right to life but without the rope, there is no way effectively to distinguish crimes such as theft from crimes such as cold-blooded murder. Criminals should be 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 shall describe some of the origins and causes of crime. The problems that we face today result from the breakdown of discipline, whether in the home, at school or the world at large. Too many parents in this country regard their children as an unfortunate by-product of sex. They pay little attention to their upbringing and exhibit negligible control. As a result, the housing estates are 603 littered with children roaming the streets after dark, and engaging in petty vandalism and theft. Why? Because their parents could not give a damn about where their children are or what they are up to.
It is no good lecturing such people on the need to show more affection to their kids, making them pay fines or even docking their child benefit entitlement—although that would concentrate their mind. The parents of persistent offenders should be put behind bars while their children are temporarily looked after by people who exhibit some responsibility. It is nearly always left to schools to pick up the pieces. It is ludicrous that, when faced with a classroom of hooligans, a teacher cannot resort to corporal punishment or—as in my day—hurl a blackboard duster at the head of an obnoxious student. The result is that the days have gone when you could hear a pin drop in the classroom and we now have a generation that are out of control. What sort of message goes out to the public when a rapist is told by a judge to give the victim £500 for a holiday so that all will be well? The rapist should have his goolies removed.
My friends know my honest view of Europe, but one practice from the Community that I would grasp with open arms is national service. Young people—both men and women—can learn the benefits of discipline, teamwork and deference to authority. The term should be 18 months. People say that we cannot afford it, but I say that we cannot afford not to have it. People may talk about a peace dividend, but events around the world show us that we must be on our guard more than ever before. We cannot forget the schemes that incorporate community work—what young people really need to be told is to "get some in".
As well as being concerned about the breakdown of discipline and respect for authority in our society, I am also deeply worried about the extent of television and cinema violence. In a society where many children lack guidance, the violence depicted in the visual media has a disturbing effect. Where else do youngsters get the idea of maiming toddlers? Where do youths get the idea that wielding a gun or knife is glamorous? Too often, violence is depicted without a moral standpoint or, worse still, the homicidal maniac is idolised. Children must be protected from such garbage. Again, that involves the participation of parents, who too often prefer to be down at the pub.
What of the Labour party's law and order policy? What a joke it is. The malaise in our society that has contributed to the rise of lawlessness has largely been as a result of the ideology of the Labour party. That party has paid more attention to rehabilitating or excusing the offender than punishing him. The Labour party is pathetic.
Since 1979, the Labour party has fought against every major piece of legislation designed to combat crime. Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), go up and down the country moralising and talking hypocritical nonsense. They opposed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which strengthened and clarified police powers in criminal investigations, and the Public Order Act 1986, which provides the police with stronger powers to deal with street disorder.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). My constituents live on the front line of the war against crime, and my constituents and I do not need lectures from Conservative Members about how frightening and demoralising it is to live in an area of high crime rates. My constituents and I want people accused of crime to be pursued just as ferociously as Conservative Members say that they do. We want such people—including the police, when they are accused of crime—to be pursued with the full rigour of the law and, where appropriate, prosecuted.
On Tuesday the Home Secretary made a statement about the Government's plans for responding to juvenile crime. On the same day four people—Rennie Kingsley, Ida Oderinde, Dennis Tulloch and Everard Brown—had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, because the evidence in their cases from police officers at Stoke Newington police station was no longer reliable. Rennie Kingsley had already served two months of a four-month prison sentence. Ida Oderinde had served 13 months of a four-year prison sentence. Dennis Tulloch had served one year of a four-year sentence. Everard Brown was sentenced for six years in 1991. All those people had had drugs planted on them by police officers, four were accused of possession, and three with the intent to supply.
All the police officers involved are on suspension and under investigation because of those allegations, and a host of others. As long ago as April 1991, Scotland Yard set up Operation Jackpot to investigate allegations of corruption at Stoke Newington police station. They were not idle allegations, or only one or two allegations, but a series of serious allegations that has taken nearly three years to investigate. The investigation is not yet complete. An interim report was issued on 20 November 1991—the full report is still not available. But according to the information released to date, there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations. The operation was expected to end last summer, but was prolonged.
A number of officers have been accused of planting drugs, theft and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. To date, 12 officers have been named: PC Mark Carroll has been mentioned in 10 cases; PC Terence Chitty has been mentioned in 12 cases; PC Bruce Galbraith has been mentioned in five cases; DC Bernard Gillan has been mentioned in six cases; DC Paul Goscombe has been mentioned in five cases; PC Christopher Hart has been mentioned in 12 cases; DS Graham Leblond has been mentioned in one case; DC Roy Lewandowski has been mentioned in four cases; DC Barry Lyons has been mentioned in eight cases; DC Peter McCulloch has been mentioned in seven cases; DC Ronald Palumbo has been mentioned in 14 cases; DS Robert Watton has been mentioned in four cases.
The most frightening aspect of the investigations is the number of police officers who have been accused of participating in organised crime. It has been alleged that drugs discovered in raids have been returned to the community by bent policemen who have set up individuals to sell drugs on their behalf in return for a cut of the profits.
Eight of the officers have been transferred from Stoke Newington. One, DC Roy Lewandowski, was convicted of 605 theft and is in prison. PC Bruce Galbraith, DC Barry Lyons and DC Ronald Palumbo have been suspended. The number of officers implicated suggests that this is not a case of one or two bad apples in the barrel. It is difficult to believe that senior officers were not aware of what was going on or that they did not condone it. Because these allegations are so serious and because a serious investigation has been going on for so long, I call on the Home Secretary to waive the excuse of jurisdiction and to look into the matter.
When one raises these issues with the local police they get understandably defensive. The police in areas such as Stoke Newington do not have an easy task; it is easy for them to slip into a siege mentality. But it is wrong of them to imply, as they consistently do when they talk on or off the record about this subject, that the allegations are all invented by bent officers and criminal members of the public. The Government have a responsibility to take the situation at Stoke Newington seriously and I ask them to make the following commitments: first, to make Detective Superintendent Russell's report available to the Royal Commission on criminal justice as soon as it is ready. Secondly, I ask them to introduce a directive on police investigations to ensure that they do not take longer than necessary. I need not remind the Minister of the case of ex parte Cherry. In that case, police officers escaped prosecution because the investigations had taken so long.
I want figures, division by division, of the numbers of police officers who have been the subject of complaints. How many officers have been cautioned, suspended or convicted in relation to these complaints? I want the Government to allow the Crown prosecution service to take a more active role by assuming responsibility for investigating allegations of police misconduct. The system of the police investigating themselves commands no confidence among the public. It is time the police were subjected to genuinely independent external investigations.
Finally, I ask the Home Secretary to consider reviewing the police complaints system and to replace the current criminal standard of proof required with the civil standard of proof, based on the balance of probabilities. I have written to the Home Secretary about these matters, but unfortunately not yet had a reply.
It is not easy to raise matters of police wrongdoing or corruption in the House. I am sure that my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench would far rather I did not. It is easy for people to accuse us of being anti-police or of undermining confidence in the police. I am the first to say that there are dedicated police officers at Stoke Newington police station, working in difficult circumstances, but the fact is that over the past decade the police have undermined confidence in themselves in cases such as the Birmingham Six and the Tottenham Three. There cannot be effective action against crime in our inner cities unless the police command the absolute support of the community.
We have an appalling drug problem in Stoke Newington. My constituents and I want a real war against drugs there. We want the drug dealers taken off the streets. When I leave my home in the summer and push my baby along in the pushchair down to Dalston junction, I pass crack dealers in the street. We want the clubs where drug 606 deals are struck to be closed down; likewise the flats on estates where drugs are retailed. We want these crack dens cleaned up; we want a war against drugs in Hackney. It is a matter of great concern to me that the Metropolitan police still have no overall strategy on drugs.
If we mention serious allegations against the police, Conservative Members are quick to say that we are anti-police, but unless these allegations are cleared up and the police regain the confidence of the community, they will be unable to act against the serious problems in our midst. The allegations against the police in Stoke Newington are the most serious allegations of police corruption for many years. They have hung like a cloud over Stoke Newington police station. As a resident and representative of the area, I want a fresh start there. I want the Home Secretary to answer my letter and the points that I have made. I want to know which policemen are guilty and which are not. We want the Stoke Newington police station to be cleaned up and we want a fresh start, with genuine co-operation between police and community, so that we can attack the drug dealers, the drug abuse and the drug peddling that are poisoning our community.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I must declare two interests. First, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. Secondly, I have just become president of the Uxbridge victim support scheme.
The Minister has asked for the views of hon. Members on the operation of sections 18 and 29 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. In the 10 minutes available to me, I will try to give mine.
First, there is the section of the 1991 Act that deals with previous offences. As the House knows, critics of that section have complained that it prevents sentencing authorities from taking an offender's previous criminal record into account. I am advised that the Act merely reflects established legal practice. The Court of Appeal has consistently ruled that previous convictions do not of themselves make the offence more serious, and it is said to be quite wrong that an offender should be punished twice for the same offence.
I also understand that section 29(2) of the Act makes it clear that where aggravating factors are disclosed by the circumstances of previous offences, a court may take them into account. For instance, if an offender commits a series of six burglaries by night, the fact that they took place by night would not be an aggravating factor. But if in each case the victim were an elderly widow, there would be an aggravating factor—consistent selection of vulnerable victims.
I believe that the Court of Appeal's guidance has made it clear that courts should continue to receive information on previous convictions. The current dissatisfaction, it is said, stems from procedures that existed before the Act was introduced. That is the position taken by those who defend this section of the 1991 Act.
I should like to tell the House about the concern being expressed to me by some members of the Police Federation, and how it sees section 29(2) affecting sentences imposed by the courts in respect of both adult and juvenile offenders. I will preface my remarks by saying that many police officers see the 1991 Act as having, as one of its principal aims, the lowering of the prison population.
607 Let me offer the House some illustrations of recent cases. I shall not give the names of those who were convicted or the names of the courts.
Case No. 1 concerns a man who had a number of convictions for assault. He was charged with fracturing a man's jaw and perforating his eardrum and with assaulting two females with a sledgehammer. He was convicted and sentenced to a community service order of 80 hours, a probation order for 12 months and a conditional discharge for 12 months for unlawful wounding and assaults occasioning actual bodily harm.
In case No. 2 a person with serious convictions for drug offences, including convictions on five counts for supplying heroin for which he received three years' imprisonment, was arrested in possession of a substantial quantity of cannabis which he admitted he would supply to other persons. He was fined just £250. On the day following his arrest, he was arrested for a public order offence at a rave party. It appears likely that the cannabis was destined for that event.
The third case involves two men who were known to be a professional team of burglars. They were arrested following four house burglaries. Both had numerous previous convictions and one had just been released from a four-year term of imprisonment for burglary offences. They received a 75-hour community service order.
Case No. 4 is of a man arrested for burglary offences, handling stolen property and taking a conveyance. He jumped bail and when he was finally caught and convicted he was placed on probation for one year. He had eight previous convictions.
My final example is of a man arrested for shoplifting who had no fewer than 67 previous convictions. The magistrate ordered him to pay £17.43 and no other penalty whatever was imposed. I shall not take up the House's time by giving more examples. The cases that I have quoted show that there is little deterrent in the law as it stands and that the judicial system is failing to protect the public by putting burglars where they belong—in prison.
Section 18 of the Criminal Justice Act deals with unit fines. It came into effect in October last year and introduced to magistrates courts a new system of income-related fines. Those fines have two components. Magistrates assess the gravity of the offence and assign to it the appropriate number of units. Some of the fines are lower than those that would be imposed on a person with a fixed penalty ticket for offences of speeding or parking on a yellow line. Where is the justice, where is the deterrent?
The unit fine system also seems open to abuse and is seen by many people as unfair and unjust. It is thought that many defendants do not tell the truth about their earnings. What formal checks are carried out on the earnings of a defendant? I understand that there are few such checks.
I shall now deal with a matter of concern to the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents' Association and all those who are interested in the ability of the police to defend themselves against the shocking number of serious assaults which they are suffering while going about their duty protecting us, the citizens.
As the House knows, I have consistently campaigned for the introduction of the side-handled baton, which the police want because it has a longer reach. Its handle enables a police officer to defend himself or herself from assault by a person who may, for example, be wielding an 608 iron bar. It can be swivelled on the handle, and that is very useful for knocking a knife or perhaps a gun from the hand of an assailant.
I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced this week in answer to a question from me that he has authorised trials in the Metropolitan police of an expandable baton and a telescopic baton. The expandable one extends at a flick of the wrist while a telescopic baton may be compared rather easily with a telescopic umbrella. In effect, the telescopic baton is illegal.
Those batons do not have a handle and the Home Secretary has said that he wants to examine their wounding potential. He also thinks that police officers should not carry a baton external to their uniforms, but that they should be carried covertly in a truncheon pocket. The reason for that is that my right hon. and learned Friend is anxious not to change the traditional image of the British bobby, the officer whom a small child, a juvenile or an old lady may approach without fear.
My right hon. and learned Friend does not want to see police officers looking like a walking armoury. Perhaps he has in mind the police officers that we sometimes see in television films of life in the United States, with jangling handcuffs, pistols and long batons being worn on their uniforms. I accept all that, but I do not believe that the British would regard police officers as walking armouries if they had a side-handled baton worn externally to their uniform. Such batons are used in many countries in the continent of Europe and I believe that they should be introduced in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
Having spent a great deal of my life working with criminals, including extremely serious offenders, I find it frustrating to have to confine my remarks to 10 minutes. It is not possible to take up all the arguments in such a short time.
I am in a position to remind the Minister that some years ago I warned the Government—this was before the first prison riot—that we would have riots in our prisons. I warned the Government also that we would have increasing crime in the United Kingdom, especially violent crime. I suggest to the Minister—I think that he is beginning to listen, not least because of the impact that the debate on crime is having on the Conservative party, which is beginning to be frightened by it—that he reads the speeches that I made in the House in 1985 and 1986. He will find that I spent much of my time talking about crime prevention. I cannot go through them all now.
I merely say that if we continue with the policies that have been implemented over recent years, which undermine the structure of both the family and the community, crime—especially violent crime—will continue to increase. I have said many times that we can deal with crime by physical and structural methods, such as using the concierge system in high-rise flats and taking families with young children out of those flats. The children have to stay inside or they play outside unsupervised, which means that they can get into crime or become the victims of crime.
I have drawn attention to the need for stronger locks on doors and windows. Various keep-safe organisations have helped. Unfortunately, the Minister mocked the importance of incorporating crime prevention in local 609 authorities' planning policies. The key to good crime prevention is close liaison between a local authority and the police. That is why police committees and local authorities are crucial, and why planning policy, as well as housing, education and youth facilities, is so important. There is a combination of critical factors, and it is in that area that the Government have failed most dramatically. I have some hope that they are beginning to reverse their policies.
The Government are talking about millions of pounds being spent on new lock-up facilities, when they spend only £2 million or £3 million on alcohol or drug abuse prevention measures. Not long ago, the film "Grass Arena" was shown on television. It was about one of my clients, with whom I worked for many years. He is the first vagrant alcoholic so far as I know to have written a book about his circumstances. I do not think that I could have got that man off alcohol abuse in the present circumstances, because of the limited facilities that are available.
If someone is on drugs or alcohol, he will have to make many attempts to come off it. It cannot be done in one go. In the 1960s and 1970s, I had the advantage of the availability of various systems through which I could put people. They would fail and break down, as it were, but it was possible to strive and ultimately to succeed.
The talk about tougher sentences is nonsense if we are not catching offenders, and the majority of offenders do not get caught. We cannot flog, shoot or hang offenders if we do not catch them. When juveniles are caught, it is important that punishment quickly follows the crime. A parent will not delay punishing a child for several weeks. In other words, punishment quickly follows the "offence". That cannot be replicated in a legal system, but the closer we get to doing that the more effective will be the punishment. The greater the length of time that elapses before punishment is imposed, the more irrelevant it seems to the young person concerned.
The past few days have seen—not least because of the tragic circumstances of the Jamie Bulger case—an outbreak of moral concern about family structure and morality. If I had spent all my time as a probation officer and in other capacities giving moral lectures to my clients, I would have been totally and utterly ineffective. That is not to say that one's clientele should not be told that their actions were wrong—they should, but moral lectures do not work.
If a child is brought up in a family whose problems are so severe that the messages he or she receives are at best confused and at worst often destructive, or if the child is a member of a peer group that is engaged in criminal or deliquent behaviour, any message given by a teacher, probation officer or social worker will have only a marginal effect. That is why there is much greater emphasis now on working more closely and intensively with offenders.
If the Government want to be more effective, they must devote much more money in other Departments on the first five years of a child's life. Nursery and other provision is critical. It is no use expecting probation officers and others to pick up the pieces when a person reaches 15, 20 or 30 years of age. Nor is it any use—fortunately, only two Conservative Members were stupid enough to do this— 610 calling for birching and similar punishments. The background of almost all violent offenders shows that they had such severe violence inflicted upon them as children that more violence would not work. That is why extreme forms of punishment fail.
One can confidently say that 90 per cent. of violent offenders had violence used against them as children, When we shed tears, rightly, when a child is battered to death or abused in some way, we should remember that the parents who it is said should be hanged, tortured or flogged for their actions were nearly always victims themselves. If we had seen them as children, we would have shed tears for them.
One should not confuse morality with behaviour. We may say, "Yes, certain things are morally wrong," and structure our statements accordingly, but it is infinitely more important to address the behavioural problems that have evolved in a family that is collapsing.
The family is not the classic image of two adults and two children, and it does not follow that such a family is less likely to offend than a one-parent family—which can be very loving and consistent. Consistency is critical in understanding the boundaries of behaviour, for inconsistent messages produce inconsistent behaviour. One youngster told me that his mother clouted him around the ear for lying—apparently, one or two Conservative Members believe that is a good thing, but I do not—and then told him to go downstairs to tell the milkman that she was not in, because she could not afford to pay the bill. That child learned the message that lying is all right in some situations and not in others.
Dishonesty is not related just to class—it can be found among higher income groups. Every Member of Parliament who fills in an expense account ought to be careful about lecturing the rest of the country about moral behaviour. At times, we are all dishonest. What matters is that street crime and burglary in particular impact painfully and dramatically on the individual, whereas the sort of fraud practised at other levels in society does not, to the same degree. That is why the public rightly become more angry and less tolerant about the former.
If we focused on the needs of children, which desperately needs to be done, we could do much to ensure that the next generation do not get into the mess in which the present generation find themselves. I repeat my call not for a Minister for families but for a Minister for children, which might produce the co-ordination across various Government Departments that is necessary not only to deal with the present problem of young offenders but to make them better parents for the future and reduce the level of offending in future generations.
It can be done; it is complicated, but it is not impossible. There are many causes of crime, but the answers are there. Crime will never be entirely eliminated, but, certainly as long as we continue to undermine the structure of society and the function of families—however loose the description "family" may be—the crime rate will continue to increase, and the Government will continue to be embarrassed by it.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
First, let me declare two interests, as a former policeman and as the father of a policeman. Secondly, in the interests of brevity, I asociate myself entirely with the remarks of my right hon. Friend 611 the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).
The recent tragic death of James Bulger in Liverpool shocked the nation to its core. I believe that people who may not normally spend much time thinking about crime and the criminal justice system—perhaps because those subjects have not impinged on them—felt that James Bulger's death was somehow symptomatic of the growing problem of youth crime. The outcome of that case remains to be seen, but I want to cite two similar tragic incidents that have occurred in my constituency in the past 18 months and which have had the same devastating effect on public opinion.
First, there was a death of Mrs. Barbara Ross in a road accident in Filey. Two other women in the vehicle were severely injured. I have raised the matter in the House before, but it is important to remember that the 16-year-old boy who drove the stolen vehicle that caused the accident, who was sentenced to one year in prison—although he actually served four or five months—was known to the police. He has been arrested several times in the Yorkshire region; Scarborough police had arrested him only two days before that dreadful incident.
The incident provoked outrage among my constituents. Not only did they feel that what was done to the youngster concerned was an insult to Mrs. Ross and her family; more important, they felt that the police and the courts were powerless to do anything about the activities of the small hard core of youngsters who steal cars and commit burglaries.
As you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and as was reported in the Yorkshire press—PC Ken Moss recently suffered horrendous injuries in my constituency, between Malton and York. As a result of those injuries, he is now permanently blind. The symptoms were the same as in the previous case: the youngsters responsible were well known to police and had been arrested many times before for stealing motor vehicles and driving them dangerously.
Following the Barbara Ross tragedy, I campaigned even more vigorously for new legislation. Eventually, the Aggravated Vehicle-taking Act 1992 was passed. I do not want to make a party political speech, but it is worth reminding hon. Members that when the Bill was introduced by the then Home Secretary—my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker)—he was accused of introducing a panic measure without a purpose. It was because of that measure, however, that the youngster responsible for the PC Moss incident pleaded guilty to an offence under the Act and was sentenced to two years in prison—the maximum sentence. Without the legislation, he could have been sentenced to a maximum of six months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is well acquainted with that case. He will know that there was considerable disquiet in the police force—let alone the public—about the fact that the sentence for blinding a policeman was only two years. Without the legislation, of course, a much shorter sentence could have been imposed. The case provides a timely reminder in the context of the Home Secretary's statement earlier in the week. It is not a panic measure, but a response to a situation that has caused considerable alarm and concern throughout the criminal justice system.
The House will be aware that the Home Affairs Select Committee is investigating the problem of juvenile crime in 612 some depth. I recommend that hon. Members read the bound volume of written evidence that has been submitted and the volumes of oral evidence that is being taken upstairs. It is required reading for anyone who wants to consider the problem of juvenile crime.
There is overwhelming support in the police service for something to be done about juvenile crime. In evidence to the Committee, Chief Constable Hoddinott rightly referred to a gaping hole in the current provision for juveniles in the 12 to 15-year-old age group.
The Committee heard this week the reaction of other agencies that do not agree with the proposal to return to some form of custodial sentences.
I suggest that the Home Secretary's proposals have not been studied properly. My right hon. and learned Friend announced that five criteria will have to be satisfied before one of the new sentences can be passed on 12 to 15-year-olds. First, they will have to have been convicted of three imprisonable offences. Secondly, it will have to be shown that they were unwilling or unable to comply with the requirements of supervision in the community while on remand or under sentence. Next, the court—this is a crucial ingredient—must be satisfied that such an order was necessary to protect the public from further offending.
In that respect, the proposal would seem to be entirely within the spirit of the Criminal Justice Act, which places an obligation on courts, when passing a custodial sentence, to show the need to protect the public from an offender, not just the general objective test of setting an example. A place in a suitable facility must be available, and the court must take account of a pre-sentence report.
From that, we can conclude that the new punishment will have a limited application. The majority of juveniles will be dealt with as they are now. That is right, because there is overwhelming acceptance among all the criminal justice agencies that, for the vast majority of youngsters, the first or second caution is effective, and that for many more, community sentencing is equally effective. We are trying to deal with a small hard core of offenders who appear to think that they can be above the law and can cock a snook at authority. The police experience great frustration in trying to deal with them. Such offenders are arrested daily for similar offences, but no solution is found.
Despite the voluntary agencies' reaction to the Home Secretary's announcement, I took encouragement from the written evidence that we received from Barnardos, which said:For a small minority of young people there is need for secure accommodation with a regime that promotes treatment and personal growth.No doubt we could argue that other quotations would suggest a different view, but it is accepted that something needs to be done. The nature of the institution is crucial, and we must ensure proper training and proper treatment.
The facilities that have been suggested would be adequate. We must be careful not to mix criminals and social care cases, and we need new guidance for control regimes. The existing powers of the courts to sentence 16 and 17-year-olds also need to be reviewed. Not enough use is being made of the powers available under the Children Act 1989 and the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to protect youngsters from themselves.
No civilised society in the history of mankind has ever developed the ultimate criminal justice regime to deal effectively with delinquent juveniles. Our system is considerably better than many people would acknowledge, 613 but there is a gap to be filled by finding a more appropriate solution for the small number who are beyond control. If we keep the essential ingredients of containment, punishment and education, we shall succeed.
§ Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this extremely important debate.
Ten days ago, I had the pleasure of helping to open a new initiative by Hornsey police, my local divisional force. It was a crime prevention shop in a busy part of Muswell Hill in my constituency, containing displays on various aspects of crime prevention. Police officers will be on hand for two weeks to give advice to members of the public who are understandably worried about rising crime and the protection of their families and property.
I welcome the initiative wholeheartedly and was especially pleased that Hornsey police have taken on board a range of issues, including domestic violence. Last year's report by Victim Support on domestic violence recommended thatany substantial crime prevention initiatives should include domestic violence".I hope that other forces will emulate Hornsey's forward-looking approach.
As has already been said, Members of Parliament with London constituencies were extremely pleased to read the recent remarks of the new Metropolitan police Commissioner, Paul Condon. He made it clear at a recent conference that he has forward-looking policies. I and other London Members of Parliament will be watching his actions very closely to see how he implements his proposals to deal with racist attacks in the capital, violence against women and the very high rates of burglary. I am sure that my colleagues and I will be only too happy to assist him in any way we can to make our capital a safer place. But the tackling and prevention of crime cannot be handled by the police alone. The Home Office report "Safer Communities: The Local Delivery of Crime Prevention through the Partnership Approach", produced by a committee chaired by James Morgan, was widely acclaimed in August 1991. It recommended a partnership approach with local authorities and others. Such an approach makes a great deal of sense.
In the introduction to the report, James Morgan said:investing in crime prevention and safer communities is potentially an unparalleled way of improving the quality of life in many areas: it is also potentially one of the most cost-effective things it is possible to do.Even the Home Office welcomed the report, after several hon. Members, including myself, tabled numerous parliamentary questions about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) finally got an answer from the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). He said:I welcome the report's endorsement of the partnership approach to crime prevention, which is now the cornerstone of the Government's policy."—[Official Report, 16 December 1991; Vol. 216, c. 220.]We were delighted, because it appeared that the Government had seen sense and taken to heart what the Labour party was saying about crime prevention.
614 I was one of those who rushed to the Library to read a copy of the Home Office's response to the Morgan report. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed, as were the police officers, local authorities and others who had contributed to it. The Government's response does not wholeheartedly endorse even one of the recommendations. On each recommendation, they take a "Yes Minister-ish" tone and say, "Yes, the Government accept that but, no, it would not be appropriate at the moment." On one important aspect, community safety impact statements to be produced for all new legislation and major policy initiatives, we are told:such a commitment is likely to demand resources disproportionate to any results realised".That is simply not good enough. For far too long, crime prevention—which is so important to the understanding of and the way forward in tackling crime—has been the poor relation in the debate on crime.
Despite the Government's negative response, many people agree—as the report recognised—that local authorities have a vital role to play in reducing crime. Proper street lighting, concierge systems in local authority housing, youth clubs and services for young people and properly trained and full-time park-keepers can make a huge difference to the feel of an area and the life of its residents.
In my constituency, council architects and the local police have worked together to install complete security systems in some council blocks, including concierge staff on duty for 16 hours a day and a video-recording system to deter vandals and burglars. The effect of that on people's lives is of immeasurable importance.
Although we have spoken about rising crime, an important aspect is the fear of crime, which imprisons many people, especially elderly people, in their homes. They are frightened to go out on the streets at night. How many hon. Members have ever spoken to a pensioners' meeting in the evening? Of course, we do not, because pensioners are frightened to come out at night. Co-operation between local authorities and the police is absolutely essential.
In my area, Chief Superintendent Trevor Harvey of the Hornsey police issued an imaginative invitation to local councillors to go out on the beat with their local officers, and many councillors have taken up that invitation, as I have. It is a valuable exercise in seeing the challenges and difficulties which the police in London encounter.
Unfortunately, in London, we do not have the benefit of a local police authority to aid us in these tasks. The Home Secretary is the police authority in London. That is why Londoners, including police officers and those at a senior level in the Metropolitan police force, are enthusiastic about there being a new form of police authority in London. They know that such an authority will help them in their fight against crime and their desire to provide a better standard of policing in London and a better service for local people.
When we examine the Home Secretary's plans for police authorities outside London, they do not fill me and my colleagues, and Conservative Members, with hope for the future. The Conservative-controlled Association of County Councils wrote to all Members of Parliament on 13 January 1993 to say:In the Association's view the removal of local accountability for the police could place a dangerous concentration of power in a most sensitive and important aspect of British life within the hands of one Secretary of State 615 and Government Department. The ACC believes that local government has a genuine and important role to play in what is universally accepted should be a locally-based service.It is exceedingly difficult to see how removing local accountability can contribute to implementing the partnership approach which the Government claim is now the cornerstone of crime prevention policy.
The reason why we need a multi-agency approach to crime prevention and community safety—as the Morgan report made clear—is that the environment in which we bring up our children and young people, and in which we all live, makes a huge difference.
In my area, great work has been done by the Finsbury Park Action Group to improve Finsbury Park station. My good opinion of that work is shared by my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott). The group has done a great deal of work to make our local British Rail and the tube station safer. But the downside is that, if the Government's privatisation plans for British Rail go ahead, further destaffing of the station at night will leave women, elderly people and many others in our community understandably too frightened to travel.
The Archbishop of York was right to point to the link between the rise in crime, the availability through unemployment of more people with nothing better to do than commit crime and the competitive materialism engendered by years of Conservative government—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. Time is up.
Before I call the next speaker, I draw it to the attention of hon. Members that the replies are to commence at 1.50 pm. No fewer than seven hon. Members hope to catch my eye in the 45 minutes that remain. With the co-operation of all hon. Members, they may be able to do so.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)
Although the rule technically no longer applies, I shall restrict myself to 10 minutes and possibly do even better.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the debate, which is of great importance to my constituents in Eastbourne. Like the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), I have many elderly constituents who are afraid to go out or open their doors at night. We all know that the fear of crime often runs ahead of the statistics.
We have had a recent surge of burglaries in the Eastbourne area. That has been a major problem, especially in the Roselands area of the town. But I am delighted to say that the local police, headed by Superintendent Bentham have had some major recent successes in catching and charging the burglars.
Crime is an important but complex issue, as my hon. Friend the Minister rightly said. But it seems to attract the easy answer merchants who are in considerable supply on the Opposition Benches. There is no better example than the Liberal Democrats both locally and nationally. I am surprised to see that no Liberal Democrat Members are present in the Chamber now.
Labour Members, especially the Front-Bench spokesmen, always appear self-conscious when we discuss law and order and crime and punishment. My conviction is that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke 616 Newington (Ms. Abbot) is more the authentic voice of the Labour party on law and order. It is anti-police, anti-authority and anti-family.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) made an excellent point when he said that the Labour party was the Johnny-come-lately to the importance of law and order. I need only quote the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) in 1988 when she was the junior Front-Bench spokesman for the Labour party on law and order. She is now the Labour spokesman on education. She said:We cannot see the merit in giving the Attorney-General the power to send a case to the Court of Appeal, to consider a case that he considers to be unduly lenient. That would mean subjecting the offender to a form of double jeopardy". —[Official Report, 18 January 1988; Vol. 125, c. 751.]Yet I imagine that Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Dewsbury, might well hypocritically welcome the decision made the other day to refer to the Court of Appeal under that Conservative provision, the disgraceful sentence to which my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) referred in his characteristic speech, of £500 and a supervision order On a 15-year-old rapist. That was an absolute disgrace. It was rightly condemned by my hon. Friend.
The answer to crime is not simply more police. In Sussex we have been fortunate in the past seven successive years to see a growth in real terms. The effective budget increase in that period is equivalent to an extra 21 per cent. over and above inflation. We have taken on 109 extra police officers, excluding those required for Gatwick airport. I and my hon. Friends who represent the county will continue to press for more police, but one could put a policeman on every street corner in my constituency arid there would still be a major problem with disorder arid lack of respect for the law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) voiced an important argument about police equipment. If the police feel that they need equipment such as the side-handled baton, they should have it, and I have made representations on the subject to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. We understand that the wounding power of that baton is about nine times greater than that of the somewhat old-fashioned truncheon which is carried by our police officers.
Recently there have been examples of police officers —especially policewomen—being unable to fend of vicious attacks by thugs, who are often armed with knives or other weapons. It is high time that the police had that sort of equipment if they feel the need for it, and I join my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge in welcoming the trials of new telescopic batons in the Metropolitan police area.
We know that over one half of all offenders are under 21, and we have heard much useful comment in the debate about the need for discipline and respect for the law. Those things happen not by accident, but because such ideas are inculcated in children at an early age. We have also heard that 87 per cent. of young people cautioned are not convicted again within the following two years.
I enthusiastically welcome, as will my constituents, the Home Secretary's proposals to deal with the small, hard core of persistent young offenders between the ages of 12 and 15. Hon. Members may have seen the sorry story of one young man on television the other day. During the 617 lunch hour, while waiting for one of his cases to come up in the magistrates court, he committed another offence, to keep his hand in, as it were.
Of course it is right to say that schools have a major role to play. Research at Cambridge university shows that 48 per cent. of juvenile offenders have been truants at school. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has rightly said more than once that so often the problems start with truancy, and young children begin on the long road to becoming professional criminals in later life. Parents must also have a major role to play, by bringing their children up in the right way so that they know the difference between right and wrong.
Corporal punishment has been mentioned by several Conservative Members and opposed with some vigour by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). My hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley and for Welwyn Hatfield both have a point. In dealing with children and young offenders, we have got to the stage where we have tried all the clever answers and ideas produced by the experts. Is it not time to reconsider corporal punishment? I seem to remember that the mere existence of it as a possibility and a deterrent seemed to bring about magical transformations in the behaviour of some of my fellow pupils. We should not merely confine it to schools, however, but make it part of the criminal justice system.
Considerable research in America suggests that many offenders do not see the connection between the offence and the punishment if there is a long delay between the two, so the punishment is therefore a waste of everyone's time and effort. If we could evolve a system under which, in certain cases, young offenders were subject to brisk corporal punishment within a short time of committing an offence—almost on a summary basis—they would also not suffer from a criminal record. [Laughter.] Opposition Members may laugh, but until I hear them coming up with some concrete solutions to the problems I am inclined to think that the Conservative side of the House has shown the most thoughtful approach to the debate.
If that brisk, summary corporal punishment did not include any criminal record or incarceration, which might blight a young person's career prospects, it would represent a genuine short, sharp shock. It need not have any long-term effect on a child or young offender and might produce the right result.
This serious subject must be viewed seriously. The recent superficial conversion of the Opposition to the cause of law and order and policing is precisely as I have described it. It is Conservative Members and Ministers who know about the subject. We are prepared to treat it as a complex issue and to act accordingly.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I am glad to note that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) is in his usual place. I always listen with something approaching disbelief to his cerebral contributions, particularly on law and order. As I listened to the hon. Gentleman I realised that he is one of those who makes Ayatollah Khomeini seem like one of the bleeding heart liberals of whom the hon. Gentleman accuses our country of having.
618 I thought of some of the other punishments that the hon. Gentleman did not touch upon that appertain around the world.
§ Mr. Banks
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could have taken us on a tour. I wonder what he thinks about the punishment of being stoned to death for adultery. If that punishment were to be applied there would be an awful lot of by-elections for this House very quickly.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) did my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) less than justice by saying that she gave an anti-police speech. The hon. Gentleman could not have listened, because she made it quite clear that in her constituency they want effective policing. They want something to be done about drugs on the streets of Hackney. My hon. Friend paid tribute to the honest policemen and women of Stoke Newington, but she said that the trust between people and police is undermined if there are bent coppers in that area. In our discussions with Sir Peter Imbert, he made it clear that he would not tolerate that in Stoke Newington or elsewhere. He endorsed the views that my hon. Friend expressed.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne and his hon. Friends should note that Opposition Members do not need any lectures about the victims of crime. I come from the east end of London, where people are such victims. It is a much harsher environment than that of Eastbourne, even though crime is on the increase there.
My constituency house in Forest Gate looks a bit like Stalag Luft III, given the amount of barricading that has had to go up around the place. It is just as well that I did that, because my neighbours are broken into regularly. We in the east end understand what it is like to live in a community where muggings, rapes, racist attacks, burglaries, car crimes and drug abuse are the daily penalties paid by many of our citizens. We do not need any lectures on policing, victims or crime prevention. We want the police to be effective. Opposition Members have always demanded that, because the people we represent suffer the most, not the Tories in the leafy shires.
We want a two-tier approach to crime. We want action now against those who perpetrate crime on our streets in London and elsewhere. We want more policemen on the beat. That is part of the answer, because it gives some confidence to people when they see uniformed officers on the beat. However, as has already been said, it does not help safety and crime prevention when British Rail destaffs its stations in the east end and elsewhere. It does not help when uniformed staff are removed from the platforms or the trains on the London underground, another area where crime is still rampant, although recent improvements have been made.
When wrong-doers are caught, we expect appropriate punishment to be imposed on them by magistrates and others. We accept, of course, that something must be done about the symptoms of crime. I am not being party political, because Labour and Tory Members who represent some of the inner-London constituencies know what it is all about. We need something done to address the symptoms of crime, but we also need to address the causes.
The Opposition have said—we stand by it and repeat it time and again—that there is no justification for most 619 crimes. However, there are reasons behind criminal activity that are many and varied, and should not be ignored. Reasons are not excuses, but they still have to be addressed as reasons. It is facile and politically dishonest to disregard the causes of crime.
There is no need for the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield or anyone else to take my word, but perhaps they will take the word of Lord Whitelaw. When he was the Opposition spokesman in 1978 he said:if boys and girls do not obtain jobs when they leave school, they fear that society has no need for them. If they feel that, they do not see any reason why they should take part in that society and comply with its rules.When Lord Whitelaw was reminded of those words just a day or so ago he said:I simply have to admit that they are as true today, with greater force, than they were then. I have never changed that view".Lord Whitelaw can see the link between cause and symptom.
I remember the previous Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, saying that every Prime Minister should have a Willy. The present Prime Minister still has his Willy—I only hope that he has the balls to carry out what Willy is saying today and when he repeats what he said in 1978.
In an interview with David Frost, the Archbishop of York said that Tory values were partly to blame for criminality. He said:The Government, with its strong emphasis on competitive success, feeds the notion that in our society we are against each other.That was what the lesson of the 1980s was all about. It is easy to blame the 1960s. In their arrogance, Ministers today always blame somebody else for everything that goes wrong in society, but are ready to give a press release or a press conference to claim the credit for everything that they do that goes right—not much these days.
My last quote on the issue of cause and effect comes from the Metropolitan police. In its evidence to the Sheehy inquiry on police responsibilities and rewards, the Metropolitan police—not me—state:Any substantial decline in the UK economy could produce a "polarisation" in demands on the police service —the creation of an "underclass" at one end of the social scale and the willingness of more affluent consumers to pay for their own security and private policing at the other. The impact of the current recession has been hardest in the South. There may be severe implications for policing‖The compelling link between crime and economic factors may be further evident in future demands for policing‖continued high levels of unemployment in the future could possibly lead to extraordinary demands upon police time for public order duties.Those were not the ravings of a bleeding-heart liberal who would be readily condemned by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield or of the do-gooders at whom he is always sneering. I much prefer do-gooders to do-badders. I have quoted the words of police officers at the sharp end of what is happening in London. Will Ministers ignore those words and say that they have nothing to do with crime? That would be evidence of the Government's arrogance and their opinion that only they know best.
I wish that I were as certain of one thing as the Government seem to be of everything. The Government reject and throw to one side the evidence of people who are involved in crime prevention and who suffer from the problems of crime in our capital city and elsewhere. Many factors—which are not excuses—lead to crime. We live in a something-for-nothing society in which public property and public service are sneered at and devalued by the 620 Government who always elevate private property and private provision to the highest level. We live in a society in which images of violence, decadence and sexual exploitation bombard us all day through television, newspapers, video games and films.
In the Daily Star Sir Anthony Hopkins said that he does not intend to make another film like "The Silence of the Lambs". There will be no "Silence of the Lambs II", because Hopkins is worried about how images of violence influence the behaviour of young people. I also notice that Stanley Kubrick, who made "A Clockwork Orange", became so alarmed by the effect that it was having on younger people that he banned the film from being shown. So there are many factors involved in crime. We must look at them all objectively and realise that we all share a common interest and a common purpose in trying to deal with them.
Unemployment, poverty, homelessness—these all play their part. Young people who have no stake in society and no hope cannot be expected to share the values of well-fed, well-housed people in well-paid jobs—such as Members of Parliament and lawyers. How can we talk about these people sharing our values when they share none of the benefits that we enjoy in this House and in our middle-class occupations? The Government cannot dismiss all this as irrelevant.
In London we are taking an approach to dealing with crime based on four key principles; first, obtaining a proper analysis and understanding of the causes, incidence and consequences of crime; secondly, providing adequate resources devoted to effective responses and solutions; thirdly, establishing a partnership between the various agencies involved and the public; and, lastly, ensuring that these agencies are accountable to Londoners. We want a police authority for London, not because we want to call the shots on the day-to-day operations of the Metropolitan police. At senior level, the Metropolitan police know that they can only police London well with the trust and confidence of Londoners, with the latter sharing in decision making and the allocation of resources.
We do not want to have to pay for national responsibilities in the form of the Metropolitan police duties that result in charges on local people—diplomatic protection, royal family protection, and so on, cost Londoners an extra £20 million a year. These are national responsibilities and they should not fall on the London taxpayer.
In parts of London such as the east end we know what crime is all about. We do not need lectures. We want understanding and help; we want co-operation from the Government. As long as the Government are prepared to offer us these things, they will have our unreserved support.
§ Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). In his usual way he forcefully and sincerely made the point that social deprivation is a key factor in crime. He also rightly said that many factors are at work; in some instances, social deprivation may be one of them. We should not, however, run away with the idea that social deprivation or a disparity between people's means are necessarily a cause of crime.
621 When Conservative Members say that those who make statements such as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West made are making excuses, we mean that sincerely, too. They may not intend what they say to appear to be an excuse, but it is often taken as one. Many of these persistent offenders commit acts of violence that are not economically related—they stand to gain nothing from them. We are talking about sheer violence, and there is no excuse and no human reason why people should commit it.
I have still not heard an adequate explanation in the debate of why, in the 1930s, when there was grinding poverty, there was no outbreak of lawlessness. That is a significant fact and we have to balance it against other arguments that we have heard in the House.
There are no easy answers. It is not purely a party political issue; nor should it be. There is such concern in society that we all need seriously to address and analyse the matter. We must seriously consider the views of every hon. Member.
The country will have welcomed the recent statement by the Home Secretary on persistent juvenile offenders. Will the proposals allow the police to hold a persistent juvenile offender overnight until he can appear in court next morning? If they do, I must have missed that essential point and I should like clarification.
In the Stockport borough, offenders under the age of 15 must be handed over to the social services. I think that most hon. Members know that, but it bears repetition. The borough has no accommodation for persistent offenders. When will the House know where the cost of that provision in Stockport and elsewhere will fall? If the Minister cannot tell the House about that, perhaps he would ask the Home Secretary to address the matter. It is essential to know how such accommodation will be financed, because that is a key factor in making it work. Will parliamentary time be made available for the Bail (Amendment) Bill which is sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen)? It is essential that the Bill be given such time.
While I welcome the Home Secretary's statement, I am concerned, as are many hon. Members, about the time that it will take for the proposals to be implemented. Such worthy provisions to take persistent offenders out of circulation need to be implemented now. In my constituency, as in many others, burglary and car theft are an ever-present threat. People feel threatened and unsafe. Perhaps the television set in the corner which brings every incident immediately into our living rooms gives people the wrong perspective. However, people feel threatened and for society to work cohesively they must cease to feel that way. It is the Government's duty to bring that about.
There is more to do. The Government are certainly not to blame for the current situation, but their first responsibility is to address the problem, not only to the satisfaction of the House but, more importantly, to the satisfaction of people outside. That is a key factor in ensuring a coherent and workable society.
Many people doubt whether the Government are fully meeting their needs and dispelling their fears. Opposition Members have spoken about the fear of their constituents. That fear applies irrespective of social background. It occurs in my constituency, as I know from speaking to 622 people about their fears and worries. I hope that the Government will not think that that one measure is sufficient to address all the problems faced by our citizens.
People want to be sure that persistent offenders, juvenile or not, will be removed from circulation. We need a new deal on law and order—not just for victims but for potential victims; the people who may never be attacked, thank God, but who think that they might be must be given faith and security. They want to know that previous convictions will again be taken into account. That must be urgently addressed by the Government. People also want to be sure that violent crime of any sort will be severely dealt with.
The Government have done much to ensure that more of a sentence is served, but the majority of my constituents do not understand our conception of that. They think that those who are convicted should serve the full sentence. We have some way to go to meet public aspirations on that score. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear that in mind.
The rule of law should not, as a first priority, take account of the interests of those who have offended. Reform of a character is a worthy and worthwhile aim, but it should not be the first priority of the legal system. First, we must ensure that society is protected from those who are willing to inflict damage to it as a result of behaviour that is entirely unacceptable to the majority of the people. Secondly, we must determine what to do to reform the character of the perpetrator of a crime. The balance has been wrong for too many years. It was wrong long before the Government came to power. The imbalance goes back to the 1950s, and perhaps even further back to the feeling of freedom and elation following this country's success after a terrible time during the second world war. Ministers must give consideration to these matters. If they do not, my constituents and I will be extremely disappointed.
I am not a religious fanatic. Indeed, I am not a regular church attender. I am sure, however, that many have forgotten that evil exists. There are people outside the House who are just plain evil. They will not, they cannot and they never will share our idea of what is right and what is wrong. They are not immoral, they are amoral. They have no understanding of the rights and wrongs that must apply if a society is to work. If we are dealing with people like that, evil must be punished. It is as simple as that. Society cannot function unless it is made clear that society will not tolerate certain forms of behaviour. Society will be unable to function if it is tolerated.
I suspect that we have tolerated for far too long the sort of behaviour that we see outside the House all too often. People are nervous. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) made an interesting and worthwhile speech—
§ Mr. Day
The hon. Gentleman took up various matters that are essential to the argument that I am advancing. If people feel that they are not secure, they will start to take the law into their own hands. That is the greatest danger of all. People must have faith in the institutions that are set up to protect them. The primary responsibility of the Government is to ensure that that faith remains. If people take the law into their own hands, there will be a breakdown of law and order. I suspect that there are parts of the country where decent, honourable citizens feel so 623 much despair that they are on the verge of turning their backs on the law and acting independently of it. I do not, of course, seek to encourage that. I say to people who take that view that they will contribute to the destruction of society to a much greater extent than those from whom they are trying to protect themselves. The Government must be aware, however, that that is how people are feeling.
I wish that hon. Members and others would stop saying things that can be taken as excuses. There cannot be excuses for raping elderly women or attacking young women. That must stop. I wish that Church leaders would address themselves to the spiritual needs of the nation. Obviously a gulf exists there. Instead of dabbling in politics, and offering half-baked political philosophy to boot, they would do better to look after the nation's spiritual needs. They are better equipped to do so than I am.
People at all levels must participate in that effort. It is up to us all to show that we care about society. If it is to work, we must all contribute. It requires parents to back teachers. It is no use parents demanding discipline in schools and then objecting when their child is disciplined —as so often happens. That attitude must change.
If we want society, all of us must play a role. The Government must give a lead, but, in a free society, they can do nothing unless the public also accept responsibility. I hope that the House and the nation will view recent events in such a way that the suffering of people such as the young child in Bootle will prompt them to acknowledge the scale of the problem and their responsibilities. It seems to me that everyone knows their rights but no one knows their responsibilities.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)
Members in all parts of the House acknowledge that there is a need to restore confidence in the criminal justice system. The proposals concerning juvenile crime that the Home Secretary announced this week will fail in that. Before entering the House, I practised criminal law as a solicitor in juvenile and magistrates courts. I am also a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which—as the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said—is currently examining the issue of juvenile crime.
The Home Secretary's proposals were ill thought-out, partial and inadequate. Juvenile crime is an enormous and important problem. It is about more than just locking away a hard core of persistent offenders, yet the Home Secretary had nothing to say about tackling the perpetrators of the majority of juvenile crime.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman presented no proposals on the concept of cautioning plus, no statutory framework for cautioning, and no plans to spread best practice on cautioning or to change the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the restrictions on sentencing that sections 29 and 1(2) of that legislation impose on courts—and which courts and the police have asked to be changed.
Neither did the Home Secretary enter the discussion on reparation orders. He made an inadequate response on the issue of truancy, saying that extra funding would be provided to some authorities but not all. A national, properly funded policy is needed to confront truancy, which right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House identify as important to overcome.
624 As to bail bandits, in television and radio broadcasts several weeks ago, the Home Secretary expressed anxiety to tackle that problem, but a parliamentary answer that I received this week states that the 65 secure places for remand juveniles promised in 1991 will not be available until the end of 1995.
The Home Secretary failed to present any proposals for speeding up juvenile trials, which could reduce the incidence of offending while on bail. There is to be extra cash to finance the successful bail support scheme that operates in some parts of the country, which has a proven record of preventing offending on bail. Neither was anything said about the Morgan report.
The Home Secretary's proposals do not address I he concerns of voters in my constituency—ordinary working people who are feeling the brunt of crime. They tell me weekly that crime is at record levels and that too few police officers are on the beat. The designation of the Home Office as one of the four Departments due for cuts does not inspire me with confidence that the Treasury is prepared to find the funds to mount an effective campaign, and devise an effective policy, to crack down on criminals. The Government do not seem at all willing to tackle the causes of youth crime.
The Conservatives should be strong on law and order, but, according to newspaper editorials and people whom one meets on the streets, it is Labour which is hitting the right note. The public perceive the need for a broad set of policies to crack down not only on offenders, but on the causes of crime. The provision of a few more places for a few juvenile offenders does not represent a policy to reduce crime; it is a temporary expedient, intended to conceal the lack of vision and overall policy.
We cannot expect simply to lock up a 13-year-old persistent offender and throw away the key. We must address the causes of individual offending and reduce the incidence of reoffending when juveniles are released from custody. The vain hope that a harsh sentence will slop crime has been demolished by the Government themselves. In their 1990 White Paper "Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public", the Government examined the "hang 'em and flog 'em" idea of imposing harsh sentences to deter criminals. The section concerned is worth quoting in full.
It states:Deterrence is a principle with immediate appeal…But much crime is committed on impluse, given the opportunity presented by an open window, or unlocked door, and is committed by offenders who live from moment to moment; their crimes are as impulsive as the rest of their feckless, sad or pathetic lives. It is unrealistic to construct sentencing arrangements on the assumption that most offenders will weigh up the possibilities in advance and base their conduct on rational calculation. Often they do not.A policy of imposing harsher sentences is inadequate and does not constitute any sort of answer. Custodial sentences are, at best, a temporary solution, protecting the public while the offenders are in custody. There is a wider need to tackle the causes of offending while the offenders are in the institutions involved—and, more important, after their release.
The Labour party believes that we cannot just ask the police and the criminal justice system—both already over burdened—to take all the responsibility for reducing youth crime. Pointing to the social factors that contribute to crime does not reduce individual responsibility. Hon. Members have referred to the Home Secretary's proposals for juvenile offenders: wider policies are needed to tackle 625 the factors that contribute to offences committed by those aged between 10 and 16—inadequate parenting, social deprivation and poverty, the breakdown of family relationships, the problems of children in care, overstretched schools and bad housing. In the case of 16 and 17-year-olds, we need to tackle problems such as homelessness, unemployment, little or no independent finance and a lack of support for those who come out of care, as well as the problems of drug and alcohol abuse.
A narrow concentration on the provision of a few more secure places will not tackle the causes of crime. Although more custodial institutions are needed, the Home Secretary's proposals do not address the real problem. He proposed an order similar to the approved school orders; 78 per cent. of offenders with previous records who were sentenced under those orders reoffended within five years. Research done at the time, taking the characteristics of such offenders into account, showed that the chances of their reoffending was 49 per cent. greater as a result of custody in institutions of that kind. Concentrating 40 juvenile offenders on one site reinforces offending attitudes and behaviour. The juvenile has broken family ties, reduced access to proper education, and finds himself thrown in an institution with other offenders.
The Government have repeatedly said that the Criminal Justice Act 1991 has helped to tackle the problems of crime. The Home Affairs Select Committee has heard from the police, the courts, judges and magistrates, who all say that the Act is causing problems. The Government must urgently review sections 29 and 1(2) or the courts will face the problem of not being able to deal with persistent offenders.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this important debate and, at once, I declare an interest as a member of the Bar.
Strangely enough, I agree with the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) about the operation of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I also endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) said about the operation of section 1(2) and section 29. Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Minister of State made it clear that the Government will review those sections. It is good that we have a Government who are prepared to listen to these important points, some of which were not foreseen when the House was considering the measure.
It must be said, however, that the Act also did an awful lot of good. I welcome its provisions on exacting and constructive sentences in the community and on offenders having to serve at least half their sentence in prison. I welcome, too, its emphasis on parental responsibility: parents should be responsible for the actions of their children. I welcome its broad philosophy of sentencing: that sentences with the greatest deterrent effect should be reserved for the most serious offences, especially those involving sex and violence, which cause the greatest fear among the public.
I think long and hard about the sentences that are imposed on sexual offenders, but such troubling offences 626 need to be deterred. I welcome the fact that the Government have increased the maximum sentence for indecent assault from two years to 10 years.
It would be wrong to overlook, as we sometimes do, offences involving property, which also are very serious. I welcome what the Minister said about listening to the victims of crime at a police station. It is good that Ministers listen to victims and others who are involved in the criminal justice system such as practitioners, probation officers and police officers. My hon. Friend the Minister may have met victims of house burglaries, which I regard as a particularly serious offence for which a custodial sentence is often necessary. When the occupants of a house are out, burglary is upsetting enough, but it is terrifying when an intruder enters when the occupant is at home, especially if he or she is elderly. The courts need to visit such offences with serious sentences.
I welcome the Government's proposals for juvenile offenders. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) that they deal with only part of the problem, but it is a part which must be addressed, and here I depart from what the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North said, because secure accommodation must be available to deal with persistent young offenders for whom other methods of disposal have been tried but with which they have not complied. It is not fair on the public to leave them at large to continue to commit offences, as they would, or on the offenders to let them continue to become increasingly immersed in a life of crime. Action must be taken to break that link. I welcome the proposals that have been made to deal with such offenders.
I welcome the emphasis in the Home Secretary's statement on the nature of the secure training centres. He said, in effect, that the secure training orders will be different from anything that has ever been provided before. There must be a distinction between that type of custody and the other types available for older offenders. By definition, we are talking about young people who have got into serious trouble, who are, in all probability, beyond parental control and whose education has been disrupted. The emphasis must be on care and education as well as training and supervision. We need an intensive approach which is different from ordinary custodial sentences.
Above all, the sentence must not be viewed merely as the first rung on the ladder of custodial sentences which the young offender ascends. It must make a break from the past for these very unfortunate young people. I welcome the new approach and wish it every success.
I hope that everything will be done to make the sentence as unlike ordinary criminal sentences as possible and that the young people can emerge with new opportunities in the future. I also hope that the sentence is not regarded as a criminal sentence but is forgotten. It should not be subject even to the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 but should immediately be spent. It is a necessary step which will be greatly welcomed by my constituents.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I welcome the debate and the fact that we are at last able to discuss the problem. A disturbing consensus is developing in the newspapers, television programmes and elsewhere that the 627 only solution to the problem of crime is increased custodial sentences and increased punishment and retribution against offenders.
No hon. Member likes criminals or crime. I represent a constituency in which the level of crime is, unfortunately, quite high and where juvenile offending is very high. In such constituencies, we have nothing to do except try to control and reduce it, but I believe that the causes of crime have to be considered far more seriously than many newspapers and television programmes are considering them.
There is undoubtedly a strong social link between increasing crime, poverty and unemployment and the ethic of a greedy society—perhaps best articulated by Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister—in which it did not matter what one did as long as one became richer in the process and in which it did not matter what enterprise one undertook as long as one made a fast buck. That was the completely amoral society which was promoted in the 1980s. We are now reaping the whirlwind of the meanness, misery and greed of the Thatcher years. It is time that someone said that and that some people finally understood it.
I cite examples of the way in which crime has risen in London as a whole. This year, for the first time, there are likely to be I million crimes recorded in Greater London. There are only about 5 million people in Greater London so that means that there is one crime per five people in the capital. Police numbers have been increased, but there has been a persistent reduction in the rates of arrest. I cannot give the figures for subsequent prosecutions, but I know that the level of reported crime is way below what actually happens.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), who represents the constituency next to mine, made several pertinent points about the under-reporting of sexual offences and of crimes against the person and the gross under-reporting of racist offences and attacks.
We must begin to consider some of the social causes of crime. They cover a wide range of issues, not only the images of a greedy society which are fed to young people throughout their lives. Children without access to a nursery place, who are stuck in front of a television for hours or days on end as spectators on the rest of the world, do not have a stimulating environment. That does not take into account the violence that they may be watching on television and the denigration of the individual that occurs in television programmes.
Cuts in nurseries have an effect. Increasing class sizes make it extremely difficult for teacher to deal helpfully and sympathetically with disruptive pupils. Instead, they must resort to disciplinary measures to control pupils because they do not have time to do anything else.
Often, a disruptive pupil in an infant or primary school is a cry for help. We should recognise it as such and try to do something about it. If the teacher does not have time and the pastoral work of the school is neglected because of cuts in education budgets, there is a knock-on effect.
If youth centres close down because of a lack of money to pay youth workers, there is a knock-on effect. The police in my community recognised that to the extent that, last summer, they paid for most of the cost of a summer youth project that operated in two large schools in the borough of Islington. I applaud them for doing it. I visited the schemes on several occasions. The justification of the 628 police for paying most of the costs was that it cut down the number of young people roaming the streets with nothing to do, and cut down the amount of crime.
It should be the job of the local authority to pay for such a youth service. The local authority could not afford it because of the expenditure cuts made by central Government. We must recognise that that is an important aspect. The cut in social services expenditure has meant that a number of children on the at-risk register do not have social workers allocated to them. There are many other related issues.
I shall conclude with two quick points because I recognise the pressure of time. There is a danger in the speeches made by several hon. Members, especially Conservative Members, who said that it is important to get tough on crime. It is also important to get tough on justice and miscarriages of justice. If people are to have arty confidence in the judicial system, they must see that miscarriages of justice are being examined. At present, I understand that the Home Office is examining more than 600 cases of miscarriages of justice which must be dealt with.
We must look to our own society—the greed, misery, poverty, unemployment, violence and exploitation—for what leads to such a miserable life for so many people who become victims of crime. They are often victims of a minor crime which grows into the sort of fortress mentality which is developing throughout our inner-city communities.
§ 2.3 pm
§ Mr. Michael
With the leave of the House, I shall reply briefly. If the Minister has listened as he promised he would, he must acknowledge that the case that I made at the start has been widely endorsed.
There is a case for a national strategy pinning responsibility on the Minister, for developing that strategy and for providing resources, while supporting the police, the local authority and the community in making their analysis of local problems and developing well-targeted programmes to tackle the problems in communities. That is the sort of partnership we need, and calls have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House to develop it.
In a thoughtful speech, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) said that he wanted to see more police on the beat. I must remind the House that that was a promise in the Conservative party's election manifesto t o which reference has been made today. I remind the Minister and other Conservative Members of what the Labour manifesto says:Elected police authorities will use the extra resources available for the war against crime to ensure that more police officers are visible on the beat, backed by the modern technology which is essential to crime prevention arid detection.We got a balance in our proposal and it does little to strengthen the arguments of Conservative Members when they seek to misrepresent that.
Hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) asked why we had to wait two or three years for action on problems that exist now. Why does so much bureaucracy surround the police? My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) rightly underlined the importance of values and 629 structure to bring out the best in cur young people. We must look at how we bring out the best as well as how we tackle the bad.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) ended on a note that was appropriate to his attitude during the debate. He said that he would not listen. That is a problem for all of us, but perhaps more for the Minister. It is a problem of a section of the modern Conservative party that is complacent and will not listen. The hon. Gentleman claimed that our interest was recent, but that simply is not true. He should remember the esteem in which my predecessor Lord Callaghan was held. I have been involved in law and order issues for 20 years of practical experience, as have many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who take an interest in the issue.
I remember coming to the House in 1986 to discuss juvenile crime. I left greatly encouraged by the detailed grip of the problems shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who made an excellent speech earlier. He demonstrated that concern and understanding are the only basis for real toughness and protecting our communities from the effects of crime.
My right hon. Friend referred to the imbalance in dealing with offences and dealing with people in Conservative Britain. I share his anger at the devastation that has befallen local people as housing and leisure facilities have been cut and young people everywhere are left to drift. He was right to refer to the undermining of drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres against the advice of the all-party group on alcohol misuse and the all-party group of drug misuse. Conservative and Opposition Members have warned Ministers of the effects that will flow from that decision and from the Government's reneging on their promise to ring fence the funds. The anger expressed in one of our meetings by Conservative peers was certainly as strong as that of Labour Members. Yet Ministers have disregarded all the advice that they have been given.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) highlighted the need for speed in acting on a young person's offence. He was right. The way in which we deal with our own children is to react immediately to misbehaviour. It is when we do not react immediately that the problems start. Yet our court system allows people to drift for a long period. It takes far too long to bring the young person before the court and to reach a decision. That is one of the major problems of our time. No one seems to own the court system. No one is truly responsible for it. That issue needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency, as we promised to do if we won the general election.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) was rightly scathing about the Government's failure in crime prevention and to undertake sufficiently targeted work to reduce crime. I welcome his recognition of the benefits of street lighting and other positive actions to reduce the opportunity of crime.
The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) said one sentence with which we could all agree. I choose the sentence carefully. He said that there was a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system in Britain. I would hardly agree, however, and neither, I am sure, would the 630 Minister, with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we should simply lock young people up and throw away the key. The short, sharp shock failed because it was a knee-jerk reaction—like the reactions of the hon. Gentleman.
We must all recognise that only one in 25 offences result in a young person appearing before a court to be sentenced or given a caution. So 24 out of 25 offences do not lead to that result. We may have doubts about figures, but it is certain that the bulk of offences do not result in a court appearance or caution. That should lead us to say that we want to tackle the 24 as well as the one. If we are to do that, we must examine carefully the effectiveness of prevention and creating a society in which offences do not occur.
The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) will probably feel insulted if I describe his speech as balanced. He rightly said that the majority of offenders respond and the minority do not. I hope that he agrees that we need to identify the numbers involved, the ages of those involved, where they are, where facilities should be located and what is the best regime for reforming young people. Unfortunately, the Home Secretary has signally failed to make that identification. In a parliamentary answer to me, he said that he had been able to identify 106 young people in 41 police authorities. He rightly said that there was some doubt about whether that covered the whole problem.
The problem was that that was hasty research to justify a judgment that had already been made, rather than careful and open-minded research which I hope that the Minister will agree that we should seek, so that we go out to find the real problems. We should amend the monitoring system to make it more effective and to enable proper policy decisions to be taken. We should undertake more research on the effectiveness of different solutions.
Having done all that, we should not just say, "That's interesting; somebody ought to do something." The Minister should put in place a national strategy and the necessary resources to curtail the continued rise in crime.
I welcome the comments on domestic violence made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). Courts have certainly been slow to respond to repetitive domestic violence, which can be among the most frightening and dangerous offences to the victim. I was disappointed at the Government's curt dismissal of the thrust of the Morgan report, which my hon. Friend also highlighted. That disappointment is shared throughout the country and people find it difficult to understand why the Government turned it down in that way in December.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) returned to his obsession with comparing the 1990s with the 1930s, but there have been complex changes in society. Far earlier than the 1930s, Plato's Socratic dialogues contained an interesting discussion about the unruliness of the young, and the fact that the next generation was not behaving as they did in the good old days that their fathers and grandfathers could remember. We must study what is happening now, in the ethos of an accelerated society and in the electronic age of video and television.
We must accept the Home Secretary's grudging admission that social causes have an impact on crime. As hon. Members have said, some of those causes are obvious. The devil makes work for idle hands and if Ministers create greater idleness, through their cuts, there 631 will be more work for the devil to do. Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I believe that there is evil for us to tackle and to fight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) was right to emphasise truancy, as 50 per cent. of truants offend, compared to 15 per cent. of non-truants, and that needs to be tackled.
In conclusion, we need from the Government more action without delay, better monitoring and more and better-targeted research. Projects that work locally should be spread more widely, as part of a national strategy to tackle crime. We also require the Government to accept that they must provide the resources for the police, local authorities and communities to work together. Above all, we need the Government to keep their promises and to provide secure accommodation. Despite past promises, they have not done so.
When Ministers recognise that they have a responsibility to young people in the community, we shall be on the way back to a society in which everyone can accept and receive the protection of the law, and that is the serious message which I want the Minister to take from the debate.
§ Mr. Jack
With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to reply to an excellent debate, which has set before the House the views with which I started the debate. Crime is complex, emotional and difficult, and everyone has a view—there are lots of solutions, but some are difficult to achieve.
Conservative Members have unequivocally and clearly laid out our strategy for dealing with crime and crime prevention and have pointed out, in stark terms, the resources that we have brought to bear on the matter.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and my hon. Friends the Members for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) and for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) have been kind enough to tell me that they would not be able to join us for the winding-up speeches. I am grateful to them and to other hon. Members for their contribution to the debate.
I must inform the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that we have done a great deal of research. It is sad that many Opposition Members do not read the information that the Home Office turns out, as was revealed during the debate on street lighting. That information is available.
In the minutes left to me, I shall try to comment on contributions to the debate. I listened to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) with care. I understand the problems that he and his constituents face, but he fell into the trap of presenting us with an over-simplistic analysis of crime, and having done so went on to discuss some of the great complexities. His thinking was muddled.
The hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien), in common with a number of hon. Members, spoke about the availability of secure accommodation for juvenile offenders under the existing arrangements. By the end of 1995, 65 places will be available and the not inconsiderable sum of £680,000 will be spent on the project in the present financial year. In the following two financial years, £3.7 million and £5.9 million will be spent respectively. The project is under the direction of the 632 Department of Health and it has taken the lead in negotiating with local authorities to ensure that those resources are properly spent.
I did not agree with what the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North said about juveniles. If he has genuinely listened to his constituents, as I have to mine, he will know that they warmly welcome our action on juvenile offenders. People are fed up with those young criminals, with long criminal records, who slip through our criminal justice system. They welcome the Home Secretary's decision to develop policy on that issue.
§ Mr. John Greenway
I gather that, this morning, at Durham Crown court, a 14-year-old boy failed to appear. He has 43 previous convictions and he has already pleaded guilty in another court this week to helping to rape a 15-year-old girl, mugging a 78-year-old woman and taking cars. What are we supposed to do with such young offenders if we do not adopt the Home Secretary's proposals?
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend has made a powerful additional point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made some interesting remarks on the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I thank him for those succinct comments and for his written representation on the subject, which I shall study with care. I welcome his support for the work that we are undertaking on juveniles.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) made a spirited speech. He laid particular emphasis on the importance of sentence length and the most effective way in which to deal with serious crime. Average sentence length for assaults against the person has increased under the Government by 15 per cent. The average length of sentence for rape increased, quite properly, by more than 70 per cent. between 1984 and 1989, following Court of Appeal guidance in 1986. That shows that we take the question of being tough on crime seriously, unlike the Opposition who, on many occasions, have thwarted our attempts to introduce hard-hitting criminal justice policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle also asked about the Bail (Amendment) Bill, which is still before the House. We are listening carefully to the arguments put forward and we have undertaken much work to deal with the concerns that have been expressed about bail. My hon. Friend was also right to draw the House's attention to the importance of rights and responsibilities. The balance in that argument has, sadly, gone out of kilter.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), in a characteristic pithy contribution, drew our attention to urban crime and police effectiveness. I hope that he will have a chance to read today's edition of the Evening Standard, which has reported on the excellent details that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has released about the way in which he intends to highlight the performance of our police forces.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was right to talk about the effectiveness of the police. I am also glad that he spoke about crime on the underground and acknowledged the improvements that have been made
§ Mr. Jack
He is indeed and I hope that he always pays them on the underground. I am sure that he does.
633 I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention, and that of the House, to the research undertaken by Simon Field, on behalf of the Home Office. It deals in unequivocal and plain terms with the causes of crime, analysis of which has underlined many of today's contributions. His analysis has tried to point out that there is no simplistic connection between levels of unemployment and crime per se. The Government understand that crime occurs with all too sad frequency in our urban areas; many of our urban programmes are designed to address that problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) referred to sentencing, if indirectly, when he mentioned the Criminal Justice Act 1988. He will know that the Opposition opposed the ability that that Act provides to review a sentence should it be considered too lenient. I entered Parliament after the 1987 election and questions about lenient sentences were among the most oft asked during that election campaign. We acted and they opposed, which says something about the Opposition's approach to crime.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and other hon. Members mentioned the Morgan report. We totally endorse the partnership approach contained in that report—it underpins our safer cities projects. However, the fact that the report did not give local authorities a statutory duty is what gets up the noses of Opposition Members.
Opposition Members, particularly those with London constituencies, should go to Brent to see what has been done there. Brent council has formed an effective partnership against crime prevention which has taken away crime from no-go areas. It has done so without being given a statutory responsibility.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green also mentioned domestic violence. She and I are at one on the importance of taking action. We are trying to develop policies—such as the excellent initiative at Islington, which we are supporting through our safer cities project—designed to prevent crime. More importantly, that project deals with preventable violent crime. That shows our intent to become involved in the detail of some of the important issues. I welcome the work that she and other members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs have done.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) spoke with the experience of having been a probation officer. I listened carefully to his thoughtful contribution in which he picked out the role of education. I commend to him the detail of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's statement on juveniles. At its heart are initiatives announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to deal with truancies and exclusion. If the benefits of education are to be gained by young people, they must be in school. If they are not in school, but playing truant or excluded, how can they learn some of the important lessons?
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge raised important issues relating to the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I undertake to read carefully and draw to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary some of the important issues that my hon. Friend raised about the operation of that Act. When considering the concept of the proportionality of sentencing, it is 634 important not to lose sight of the fact that the Act gives the courts powers to take serious action where serious crime occurs. Much as it is right to debate hon. Members' concerns about section 29(2) and unit fines, I hope that my hon. Friend will support the Government in their endeavours to outline to the public the contribution to thwarting serious crime that the Act can make.
My challenge is to convince the House and members of the public that our probation service can use community punishments that are demanding, even when serious crimes are involved. The probation service is anxious to demonstrate its effectiveness. From what I have seen, the work that it can do through community-based sentencing can be effective in dealing with serious crimes. Anyone who met the no-nonsense lady in Manchester would be left in no doubt that, even in that area, the probation service can make a vital contribution.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) spoke with the passion of a constituency Member of Parliament concerned about events in her locality. Were she present to hear what I am saying, I should draw her attention to the objectives of the royal commission. The hon. Lady talked about the investigation and subsequent events surrounding the actions of police officers in her constituency. The raison d'etre of that commission is to deal with the sort of issues that the hon. Lady outlined. I hope that she will forgive me if I do not comment in detail on the specific officers as she asked me to do, but the collection of evidence and the other important matters that she raised are covered by the royal commission.
The hon. Lady also mentioned drugs. I acknowledge how much that problem troubles her constituents. Her area is benefiting from the excellent Home Office drug prevention initiative which we recently announced would be extended until 1995.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made a singular and important contribution to the debate. He underlined the importance of the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992. We are committed to legislating at an early opportunity to increase sentences from five to 10 years when death results from dangerous driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I hope that that will command the support of the House. I thank my hon. Friend for his comments on juvenile justice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield made his speech in his unique way—we will make of it what we will—and articulated an idea to which we are committed: that we need robust action against crime.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland spoke about his party's action on crime and rightly emphasised crime prevention. I wish that he had read the Home Office research into lighting and crime; if he had, he would know that we do take it seriously. I also wish that he had read his party leader's letter to my right hon. and learned Friend in which he attempted, in two paragraphs, to spell out the Liberals' crime prevention policy and spent the rest of the letter discussing credit card fraud, as if it were the only crime worthy of note. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not here to hear these remarks.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) talked about Lambeth. I live there and I understand some of the problems that he mentioned. His opening comments echoed the importance that I attach to the work that we are doing for the victims of crime. We also accept the importance of diversionary activity to take young people 635 away from the temptations of crime. I think for instance of the excellent Trax project which I recently visited in Oxfordshire; it deals with motor offences. The Home Office is funding 30 such projects around the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley—unfortunately, he is no longer here—mentioned violence. Sir Anthony Hopkins has been mentioned more than once. One of the reasons why he is reluctant to make another film like "The Silence of the Lambs" is that he learnt that a 12-year-old had been watching it. Why was a 12-year-old allowed to see the film? What on earth were its parents doing? I also draw my hon. Friend's attention to remarks, quoted in the Daily Express, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who draws our attention to the need for the television and movie producersto curb the diet of violence".They have a responsibility, like others, to play their part in the fight against crime.
Hon. Members have mentioned cautioning: 87 per cent. of those cautioned are not reconvicted within two years, but policy in this area is left to the discretion of chief constables.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made a personal statement about crime and urban problems in and around Manchester. I wish that he had done justice to what is happening there—£19.6 million is being spent under the urban programme, there are city grants of up to £6.6 million to private developers, there is derelict land grant worth £3.5 million, there is the city challenge, worth £7.5 million, and there is backing for the Olympic games fund. Car crime in Manchester actually fell between July 1991 and June 1992.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's points about his constituency. He expressed them with passion and with knowledge, but it is important not to paint a completely black picture of Manchester and to acknowledge the Government's efforts to deal with some of its urban problems.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) drew our attention to crime prevention and bail issues. I welcomed what he said about the Churches. They certainly have a major responsibility to make a contribution to the moral debate in this country.
Among the many interesting points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley), for Uxbridge and for Eastbourne were matters connected with the side-handled baton and the protection of the police. Work continues in the Home Office working group on ways to protect our police officers. As hon. Members know, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is not yet persuaded on that weapon.
I listened to the hon.Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth—
§ Mr. Jack
I am glad that he thinks that that was kind of me. I have left my reply to the hon. Gentleman until last because, in my opening speech I dealt with everything that he and his hon. Friends had to say. It is the Conservative party which has a clear strategy on crime and a record of dealing effectively with it. We have put more resources into the police and our courts and Prison Service. Ours was not the party which devoted—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.