HC Deb 25 November 1993 vol 233 cc571-3
9. Mr. Parry

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the recent crime figures for the north-west.

Mr. Howard

Notifiable offences recorded by the police in the north-west region rose by 2.6 per cent. in the 12 months ending June 1993, compared with an increase of 3.8 per cent. for England and Wales as a whole.

Mr. Parry

Is the Secretary of State aware of the increasing number of drug offences in the north-west? In particular, is he aware of the number of drug seizures and arrests by the police, and the number of guns and other arms found by the police? Is the Secretary of State satisfied with law and order in the north-west, particularly Government funding on Merseyside and in Manchester?

Mr. Howard

I am certainly not satisfied with law and order in the north-west and that is why I have announced a series of far-reaching measures to improve law enforcement and enhance confidence in our system of criminal justice in the north-west and in other parts of the country. We have seen an enormous increase in spending on law enforcement, on the police and in other ways, since the Government took office. We must ensure that the police become the most effective police force that it is possible to make them. That is the object of my reforms.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that what people in the north-west really want, including those in my constituency in Blackpool, is to see implemented all the measures that he announced recently, also in Blackpool? In particular, they want to see those who are convicted, especially of violent crime, serious crimes of dishonesty and drug-related crime, locked up because they know that custodial sentences are effective, not least because they ensure that offenders are kept in custody and stopped from preying on the victims?

Mr. Howard

My hon. Friend has captured comprehensively the mood of the people of the north-west, and I took particular pleasure in the fact that it was possible for me to make my speech of 6 October in the north-west in Blackpool.

Mr. Kilfoyle

I was happy to hear the Home Secretary say earlier that he will not be making any snap judgments about the James Bulger case, but will he join me in condemning those who have already made snap judgments, particularly those in the media who sought to sensationalise the most sordid parts of that case? Will he also join me in extending the deepest and most profound respects of the House to the Bulger family who have shown such forbearance in their terrible tragedy in the past nine months?

Mr. Howard

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in extending our deepest sympathy and consideration for his constituents, the Bulger family. The whole country has mourned with them in the terrible plight that they have suffered. It is understandable that there should have been the widest public interest in the case. I agree that we should not rush to snap judgments, and I have no intention of doing so, but it is entirely understandable that people should wish to explore the possible reasons, if they can be identified, for this dreadful crime.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

As my right hon. and learned Friend is aware, Macclesfield lies within the north-west. Will he accept that there is growing concern in my constituency and other areas of the north-west about the increased incidence of burglary, theft and car-related offences? I welcome the provisions in the Queen's Speech that will be part of the criminal justice Bill, but will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the best way to deter would-be offenders in those categories is for them to realise that if they are caught they will be severely punished, and that he must therefore give the courts, particularly in dealing with young juvenile offenders, the appropriate punishment to fit the crime?

Mr. Howard

I agree with my hon. Friend. The objective that I seek to achieve with the measures is to make criminals much more afraid of the prospect of being caught, convicted and punished than they are at the moment. That is the object of the measures that I shall be bringing before the House shortly.

Mr. Alton

Is the Home Secretary aware that many people throughout the region will join him in his remarks to the family of James Bulger? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also accept that many are concerned that the video that was mentioned in connection with the tragedy—the video "Child's Play 3"—was scheduled to be broadcast on Sky TV tomorrow evening? Does not that demonstrate that the levels of violence that are transmitted via video and televison have reached unsurpassed levels, and that that does not square with the claim that was made earlier today from the Dispatch Box that we have the toughest laws in the world?

Does not the Home Secretary accept that many will be looking to the Government, through the new criminal justice Bill, to find ways of dealing with gratuitous violence? Does he agree that programmes that revel in violence and harrowing scenes undoubtedly must have an impact on the young people who watch them, and that those programmes should be removed from our television screens?

Mr. Howard

I have great sympathy with the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. He will recall that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister expressed similar sympathy when the hon. Gentleman raised the point earlier this week.

It is important that we should not rush into snap judgments on those matters. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary was right a few minutes ago when he referred to the exceptional stringency of the regime that we have in place. I will reflect on what the trial judge said in the Bulger case and on what others have said, including the police officer who was in charge of the case. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the British Board of Film Classification is conducting research into that matter, and I shall want to take account of all the available material before I reach any conclusions.